4MBS Festival of Classics Celebrates Its Twentieth Birthday.

On the eve of this year’s 4MBS Festival of Classics, Gillian Wills talks to Gary Thorpe about the Festival’s beginnings, its position in the context of other Queensland Festivals and some of the highlights of this year’s celebratory program.

Gary Thorpe“The philosophy of 4MBS is to entertain and educate. I don’t see the radio as the end of that process. We see it as the start. I like to create special events that stay in people’s memories. It’s also a forum for exploring new ways of presenting and introducing classical music”, says Gary Thorpe General Manager of 4MBS Classic FM Brisbane’s classical music radio station.

There are those who say that say Thorpe is stubborn and obsessive. He mischievously insists he is merely persistent and enthusiastic. No one can quibble about his patience. For thirty years, Thorpe lobbied Queensland’s arts organizations to program Havergal Brian’s whopping Gothic Symphony.

Never deterred, despite the naysayers, The Gothic was performed in December 2010, a collaborative venture between 4MBS, QPAC and Brisbane Festival. Thorpe has pioneered many ventures including the popular Brisbane Shakespeare Festival. He was awarded an OAM for services to music and broadcasting in 2009.

When talking about the 4MBS Festival, Thorpe’s voice glows with pride. This Festival, jostling in the wake of other Queensland Music Festivals, began in 1993 after local classical musicians whispered in his ear there were few performance opportunities. Six hundred of Queensland’s musical elite will be celebrating the Festival’s twentieth birthday.

Over the last 20 years, this annual event has presented 400 performances. I ask how he retains his stamina and enthusiasm for organizing this enterprising happening.

“I believe in our approach, the concentrated focus on specific composers”, he says.

Compositional giants are highlighted through one-man plays such as “Beethoven’s Letters” in which Eugene Gilfedder starred as Beethoven. This year, Gilfedder presents “Wagner – The Twilight of Richard Wagner” in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth. The show surveys Wagner’s life revealing the composer’s psychological quirks.

“Presenting other disciplines is all part of the brief. There’s a special emphasis on theatre, but the guiding principle is that whatever we program must relate to our primary focus – classical music”.

A production of Amadeus with Eugene Gilfedder as Salieri and Tama Matheson as Mozart won a Matilda Award for Best Independent Production. The show toured in 2008 to Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, and Hobart to great acclaim – an extraordinary achievement for a community radio station.

The Festival began in Coorparoo State High School’s Hall with a concert featuring the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra. There was also a harpsichord recital given by Sue Forster in this very meeting room”, says Thorpe tapping the buffed and polished table with his fingers.

Each year, the program grows. Yet, the driving mission to program local orchestras, bands and soloists burns bright as does the mandate to ensure content is accessible. The exclusive local emphasis distinguishes the Festival from the QMF and Brisbane Festival. This year, Thorpe concedes Roger Woodward’s Medici Piano Recital is included but only because Woodward is the Station’s Patron.

Thorpe doesn’t see any conflict in a Radio Station running a Festival. He believes that the Radio should drive music-making activities. The 4MBS management team watch and listen to Queensland’s soloists and ensembles who are asked to perform as their star rises. Careers have been made through the calculated risks taken.

Thorpe recalls giving soprano Jessica Pratt her first professional engagement when she was cast in a leading role in a 4MBS Festival production of Don Giovanni. Two years ago, Pratt received rave reviews in her debut performance at Covent Garden.

When Lyndon Terracini was the Artistic Director of the QMF he came to listen to the Brisbane Philharmonic Orchestra. Impressed, the orchestra was hired to accompany a string of treasured arias for Jimbour Opera in 2005.

It was “O Fortuna” (from Carmina Burana), used as background music for a documentary about Nuns, that sparked Thorpe’s passion for classical music. As a sixteen year old, Thorpe, was enthralled by The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Yet, Orff’s sweeping choral drifts opened up an alternative musical vista.

Queensland Choir“My crane driver Dad looked worried when I said I’d like Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Ballet Suite for my seventeenth birthday. We had a small house surrounded by bush. There were no privileges”.

“I can’t read music. Yet, I can sit in a meeting full of professional musicians and put up ideas that are accepted. In the 70’s, I was on the ABC Youth Concerts Committee and the conductor Patrick Thomas heard me confess to not being able to play an instrument. He said, ‘don’t learn an instrument it will kill your natural enthusiasm for music’.  

Highlights of this program includes; a performance of Verdi’s Requiem, a Beethoven Sonata marathon featuring exceptional youngsters Stewart Kelly and Alex Raineri, Richard Wenn, the Artistic Director of the QSO and, the much admired Pam and Max Olding.

Featured in the Festival of Classics –

Carmina Burana, 4 May
Beethoven Piano Marathon, 5 May
Verdi’s Women, 11 May
Wagner, The Twilight of Richard Wagner, 14 May
Roger Woodward in association with Medici Concerts, 18 May
Romeo and Juliet, Queensland Youth Orchestra 1 June

Visit: 4mbs.com.au/festival-classics

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