Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
February 21, 2019

Conductor, composer, columnist, educator, impresario, activist, mentor and friend: these were just some of the roles Richard Gill fulfilled in his remarkable life; a life tragically cut short by cancer in October last year, when he was just 76. While Gill’s life by modern standards was short, he accomplished more than most mere mortals could in several lifetimes.

Richard Gill. Photo supplied

Given his enormous energy and influence in so many different areas of Australia’s musical life, it was not surprising to see Hamer Hall filled to the gunwales with those who wanted to pay their respects to this amazing musical dynamo.

Interspersed among the spoken tributes were a number of attractively varied musical tributes which represented a cross-section of the Australian classical music scene, ranging from the emerging musicians of the Australian Youth Orchestra and the Australian National Academy of Music, to the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra, through to Victorian Opera, Orchestra Victoria and the Melbourne Symphony, all of whom had benefitted from Gill’s advocacy and professional involvement.

After a welcome from Arts Centre CEO, Claire Spencer, the former Victorian premier, Steve Bracks recalled Gill’s appointment as the founding Music Director of Victorian Opera, leading naturally to an operatic bracket accompanied by Orchestra Victoria. Jacqueline Porter and Samuel Dundas brought charm to Bei Männern, the duet between Pamina and Papageno from The Magic Flute, followed by the VO chorus (presumably still recovering from the previous evening’s triumphant opening of Parsifal) launching into Va, pensiero from Verdi’s Nabucco, ably directed by Daniel Carter.

ARCO’s Nicole van Bruggen spoke movingly of Gill’s creativity and enthusiasm in the formation of the orchestra, which then under the direction of Rachael Beesley honoured Gill with Grieg’s popular Two Elegiac Melodies, the second of which again featured Jacqueline Porter.

Colin Cornish from the AYO recalled the establishment of the National Music Teacher Mentoring Scheme which is administered by the orchestra and was also another of Gill’s far-sighted initiatives. (A short video about the scheme featured the man himself.) The members of the orchestra (who also must have been recovering from their considerable role in VO’s Parsifal the night before) then gave a moving account of the Allegretto from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, in which Daniel Carter was at pains to create as broad a range of dynamics as possible.

An ensemble from ANAM provided a splendid contrast to the Beethoven with a crisply articulated performance of the finale from Dvořák’s Wind Serenade.

MSO cellist, Rohan de Korte recounted an amusing story about Gill and a boy called Rugby, before joining the orchestra in an atmospheric and heartfelt reading of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune conducted by Benjamin Northey, yet another recipient of Gill’s encouragement.

Gill’s children, Claire and Anthony gave personal reminiscences of their father, before the audience rose to its feet to sing Parry’s Jerusalem (in the splendid Elgar arrangement). Gill, I’m sure, would have loved this hearty audience participation, recalling the Last Night of the Proms.

It is interesting that the printed program described the occasion as “celebration of a life” yet the slides projected above the Hamer Hall stage consistently proclaimed “celebration of life”. The omission of the indefinite article was indeed telling. While at one level this well co-ordinated, multi-faceted event was indeed a fitting celebration of Richard Gill’s extraordinary life, perhaps more importantly it was a celebration of Gill’s vision that all people, particularly children, should be able to live life to the full. That full life, for Gill, meant children having access to music education.

Gill, as we know from his trenchant criticism of education in Australia, expressed in his Limelight columns and elsewhere, worked tirelessly to enable all Australian children to experience the joy of music in their lives. His vision is slowly bearing fruit through such ventures as the music school established in Muswellbrook that bears his name and in the Don’t Stop the Music Campaign run by the ABC, Salvation Army and Musica Viva. As we were reminded at this memorial, Gill believed that the world was now seemingly run by imbeciles, and that a music-led global recovery was the answer. The best tribute we can offer Gill is to participate in just such a recovery.