On March 1, 2020 the Tait Memorial Trust co-presented the Australian Bushfire Benefit London at London’s Royal Academy of Music and raised over $84,000 for victims and affected wildlife.

Originating from an idea by Tait Awardee, violinist Bridget O’Donnell, the Benefit was “a magical concert and reception,” recalls Isla Baring, the founder of the Tait Memorial Trust and Chairman of the Tait Committee. She is hard pressed to list highlights as there were so many, but mentions, among others, “the sight of so many Australian musicians on the stage with the knowledge that they were all there to support their country in its time of need”, Simone Young playing for Stuart Skelton then conducting Peter Sculthorpe’s Earth Cry and excerpts from Verdi’s Requiem, Amy Dickson’s slow walk into the hall playing Yanada by Ross Edwards, and Ella Macens’ orchestral work The Lake.

“The definite highlight for me was Misha Mullov-Abbado’s stunning arrangement of I Am Australian. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, it meant so much to us all,” says Baring.

A lot has happened since then, with COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the arts and entertainment industry in the UK as it has done in numerous other countries.

“The Bushfire Benefit seems like a very distant memory. I can’t believe two months have passed since that concert. We currently live in a very different world,” says Baring. “We planned to continue fundraising [for bushfire relief] after the concert but COVID-19 seemed to have other plans.”

Once again, the Tait Memorial Trust has leapt into action, establishing the Tait Emergency Relief Fund to help the talented young Australian and New Zealand performing artists that it has been supporting in the UK, whose livelihood has been decimated by the coronavirus.

The Tait Memorial Trust was formed in 1992 by Baring in memory of her father Sir Frank Tait and his four brothers who played an important part in the establishment of theatre and the performing arts in Australia and New Zealand. The Trust offers awards/grants for postgraduate study and performance opportunities to young Australian and New Zealand musicians and performing artists in the UK, with one of the major awards named in honour of Baring’s mother Viola, Lady Tait, who was a founding patron of the Trust.

Isla Baring. Photograph © Hannan Images

When the coronavirus hit, many of the young performers supported by the Trust lost six months work or more, and so it has begun presenting weekly live streamed performances under the banner Tait Tuesdays at Home to raise money for its Emergency Relief Fund, with 80 percent of the net box office going to the artists.

Currently the funding is going to Tait Artists and anyone in need who donated their time to the Bushfire Benefit. “If we raise more money we will then be able to open this support up to any Australasian artists in the UK,” says Baring.

Forthcoming live streams include tenor Paul Tabone from The Phantom of the Opera who will perform with friends on May 19, Australian conductor Simone Young (who takes up the position of Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2022) in conversation with Royal Ballet stars Leanne Benjamin and Steven McRae on May 26, and Isla Baring’s Birthday (at Home) on June 2.

The idea to program Tait Tuesdays at Home came about shortly after the introduction of the lockdown. “As the Trust has had 27 years of supporting instrumentalists, singers, dancers, conductors, composers (and we were about to announce our new Musical Theatre awards supported by John Frost) we could see that our huge cross range of arts practitioners would all be terribly affected by the crisis,” says Baring.

“I was having my daily meeting with Trust Administrator, James Hancock, and we decided that we simply had to put all of our efforts into providing some performance opportunity to help focus our artists in this period of loss and to lend some financial support to them at the same time. The Tait Tuesdays at Home was born to provide a performance platform for our awardees, to entertain our Friends and Supporters during these strange times, and to promote the Tait Emergency Relief Fund.”

“Like all artists, this sudden and complete cessation of work has hit them all very hard. We don’t really know what is around the corner. It’s a very worrying and unsettling time for them. They are here in the UK, on the other side of the world away from their friends and family, then this happens.”

Initially, Australian and New Zealand artists in the UK with Tier 1 visas (Exceptional Artist Visa) were not covered by the government support package. “Thankfully this position changed a few weeks ago but it still doesn’t provide the required help for them all. People who make over £50,000 a year should ultimately be OK but if they have family responsibilities this arbitrary cut-off point set by the government will cause a great deal of hardship,” says Baring.

“Those who’ve taken maternity leave, had an enforced work break due to injury, or a myriad of other legitimate reasons may suffer because their taxable income will be far less than it should be to qualify for the terms of the 80 percent government payment scheme and may fall between the cracks.”

Jessica Cottis. Photograph © Kaupo Kikkas

Baring discussed programming ideas for Tait Tuesdays at Home with Hancock and Jessica Cottis, the Chair of the Trust’s Music Board. Artists who have already performed include harpist and vocalist Tara Minton, classical guitarist Andrey Lebedev, mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean and oud player Joseph Tawadros.

“In the early days it was difficult to engage performers because we were all learning how to perform remotely. Many of our artists just couldn’t imagine the thought of performing as they had the proverbial stuffing kicked out of them so the opportunity to perform not only gave them a financial windfall but it did wonders for their spirits,” says Baring.

“It’s been such a positive way for us to engage with our artists and the feedback from them has been that it’s so good for them to have a performance date to look forward to and to prepare for.”

Paul Tabone, who performs on May 19, plays Piangi in the West End Production of The Phantom of the Opera. He will perform musical theatre repertoire with fellow Australians Corinne Cowling and Amy Manford, both from the current London cast of Phantom, and Australian soprano Rachael Birthisel who now lives in Italy. They will be accompanied by pianist Nuno Fiest.

Isla Baring with Richard Bonynge signing Lady Tait’s book at the launch of the book earlier this year. Photograph © Hannan Images

The Chairman’s Concert on June 2 will be streamed from Baring’s home in Hampshire where she has been staying during the lockdown. “I thought what a great excuse to use my birthday (May 30) to try and help raise some more funds for our artists,” she says.

Director Cameron Menzies, who is Artistic Director of the Tait Performing Arts Association, will oversee the concert which will feature artists including Leslie Howard, Valda Wilson, the Trust’s first awardee Liane Keegan, Brad Cooper, Grant Doyle, Jeremy Kleeman, Rosemary Tuck, Tara Minton, Caitlin Hulcup and Baring’s granddaughter Maggie Baring who is a singer/songwriter. The program will include music by Novello, Strauss, Grainger and Wallace “with a few surprises in store”, says Baring.

The Trust will continue to present similar concerts for as long as there is a need. “We are currently booking July and August and we think that we will progress through to the end of the year,” says Baring. “I hope that Stage 1 is a huge success and that we can open up Stage 2, depending on our funds, to then help the wider community of Australasian artists in the UK.”

Tait Tuesdays at Home stream at 9pm AEST (12 noon and 7pm BST). Tickets cost $20 and can be purchased through the Trust’s Facebook page

More information about the Tait Memorial Trust