The Crossroads Festival of Chamber Music 2017 is dedicated to the memory of the Musica Viva founder and zipper designer.

Richard Goldner was a great Australian. Mind you, he very nearly didn’t make it here! As a jew born in Roumania all borders closed, quotas were filled and as one door closed another slammed shut at the time of the German Anschluss in Vienna. It was only due to his brother’s inclusion of a little piece of costume jewellery with their application for immigration that this particular miracle happened. The application documents were opened by a woman who thought it was charming and brought it to the attention of the minister who saw it as a new industry for Australia. So when the two brothers and their wives arrived, after kissing the ground during a heat wave they set to making brooches out of casein.

Richard GoldnerRichard Goldner, 1953

A successful business, “Natty Novelties” brought some publicity to Richard’s inventive skills and when all had to be converted to the War effort the Army came to get Richard. Answering the door to a group of men in uniforms was a somewhat terrifying moment, but soon Richard was working on a secret project for the Army Inventions Directorate. Classified as an “Enemy Alien” he was not permitted to drive so he was picked up each day by the Army. Much to his own surprise he cracked the problem and managed to get a patent on a new zipper that fulfilled the needs of the Allied Air Force.

Sale of the patent later brought Richard what he saw as a considerable fortune. This was when he decided to start Musica Viva in 1945, in memory of his great teacher, Szymon Pullman, who Richard learned had been killed with his whole orchestra in Treblinka. After the romantic first concert at the Sydney Conservatorium during a blackout, he set about forming an Ensemble. He brought violinist Robert Pikler from Batavia where he had been interned by the Japanese forces and cellist Teddy Salzman from Israel. Edward Cockman was the other violinist and Richard Goldner the violist. They were joined by pianist Maureen Jones, just a teenager at the time. Over the next five years they played hundreds of concerts in Australia and in New Zealand where a Czech refugee, Fred Turnovsky had begun the Chamber Music Federation.

A ridiculously generous man, Richard had “blown” his imagined fortune by the time I came to know him in the 60s. He had a full class of talented students at the Conservatorium but things had become difficult financially. It was a wonderful time for Musica Viva, though, with the great triumvirate of Ken Tribe as President, Charles Berg,Treasurer and Richard as Musical Director, all giving their services in honorary capacities. Regina Ridge was the only paid person as manager, and a great manager she was. There were famous groups touring, Budapest and Hungarian Quartets, for example, and this was the time of the Younger Group with workshops at private homes where local groups were coached by inspiring local luminaries and overseas visitors. Musica Viva was a vital part of our lives as young musicians at that time. I personally am tremendously grateful and I hope many others whose lives were enriched by Goldner’s vision and generosity feel the same. Australia has never officially honoured him but the establishment of the Goldner String Quartet keeps his name alive in a way that he would have cherished immensely.

To make a long, convoluted and improbable story short, as things never seemed to happen to Richard without turmoil and emotional extremes, he left Australia in 1966 and soon was appointed a full Professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. This ushered in a whole new segment of his life which I shared. There were new and successful inventions and in 1982 when we moved to the West Coast of the USA we started Musica Viva International. Ken Tribe enjoyed many of our concerts during his visits. Richard’s legacy includes former students all over the world many of whom of course became good friends who stayed in contact till his death in 1991.

The Crossroads Festival of Chamber Music 2017, now in its 10th year, is dedicated to the memory of Richard Goldner. The festival is at Greenway Chapel in Green Point, Central Coast, August 19 and 20.