One year ago today the music world mourned the loss of one of its fiercest advocates, beloved conductor and educator Richard Gill. Amongst the tributes celebrating Gill’s life that have taken place all around the country, plans for a new music festival in the conductor’s home town of Stanmore, in Sydney’s inner west, have been hatched, with the first Stanmore (or St.Anmoré) Festival of Music set to take place on November 16.

Richard Gill, Sydney Symphony OrchestraRichard Gill (1941 – 2018). Photo © Brendan Read

“Living in Stanmore for over 30 years, Richard was of course a local icon,” says Simon Chapman, who lived a couple of streets away from the conductor, and who has been the driving force behind the new festival, along with Gill’s wife Maureen, the Stanmore business community, the Inner West Council and others. “You’d pass him striding the pavements and your day would get that extra little lift.”

The festival will see a massive line-up of musicians take to those pavements, including Leichhardt Espresso Chorus, Sydney Chamber Choir, ensembles from Stanmore Public School and Burwood Girls High School, as well as the NSW Police Band, George Washingmachine and even a ukulele flash mob – and many, many more. Brass and percussion players will gather to form The Richard Gill Allstars to perform the Dam Busters March, in a recreation of the performance that took place outside Gill’s house the day before he died.

The festival is based on an event that has become known in the English-speaking world as Make Music Day. “My wife and I had lived in Lyon in France in 2006 and experienced the fabled French Fête de la Musique so we had long been intrigued with the idea of adapting it for Australia,” Chapman says. “Richard’s family had also experienced it in Dijon and he needed no persuading when I first approached him with the idea.”

Chapman suggested the idea of a festival based on the Fête de la Musique in Stanmore to Gill in 2016, and the pair jokingly gave the suburb a French moniker: St.Anmoré.

While the idea initially stalled, it has gained incredible momentum in the wake of Gill’s death. “We have been blessed by a very supportive EDGE team at Inner West Council and its mayor Darcy Byrne,” Chapman says. “Our small committee has worked like clockwork from the very beginning. Huge kudos has to go to the publican at the Salisbury Hotel, Ged Dore, who has personally supported the festival in many ways. The biggest challenge was programming acts along the outdoor street sites in Stanmore to minimise the likelihood of serious sound leakage into other acts. We had to think about positioning Arabic women drummers, a capella groups, a viola quartet and amplified rock acts. We know there will be some sound footprint overlaps, but this happens at all multi-stage festivals. It’s part of the vibe.”

On the committee is City Recital Hall CEO Elaine Chia. “I met Simon Chapman and his wife Trish early this year at a birthday party of a mutual friend,” she says. “We got chatting about Richard, music and the idea of a festival. I recall saying to Simon at the time, well, if I can help with anything, count me in. And I’m so pleased he did!”

“This festival is important for so many reasons,” Chia says. “It’s carrying on Richard’s unwavering commitment to bringing the joy of music to everyone, no matter if you’re 4, 40, or 80. It’s about a bunch of neighbours, friends and others (even a ring-in like me, who doesn’t live in Stanmore!) rallying together to make something from nothing, and have great fun in the process. This festival sits right at the heart of the community, and as you can already see from the sheer volume of acts involved, the community really wants this to happen.”

Chia was instrumental in securing a number of the acts for the festival. “I’ve just helped a little where I can in opening my black book,” she says. “There was very little persuasion needed. I just had to mention the magic words ‘Richard Gill’ and everyone said yes.”

“From the moment we put out a call for performers, we were deluged,” Chapman says.

One of the acts is Sydney Chamber Choir, of which Gill was Artistic Director. “It’s perfect,” says Alison Lockhart, President of Sydney Chamber Choir and one of its longest serving singers. “Sydney Chamber Choir will be part of a large, very diverse group of musicians gathering to enjoy music making – that’s the sort of spirit Richard wanted from a community festival of music in Stanmore, to bring performers and the local community together in music. This is our chance to pay tribute to him on the anniversary of his death and celebrate him in the best way, through music making.”

“Singers responded to the call quickly,” she says. “Richard mattered to us. He’d been our beloved Music Director in the last few years of his life and he’d been connected with us over so much of the Choir’s 43-year life. Only months before he died, we’d toured in northern NSW with him, sharing not only concerts but meals, car trips and so many stories and laughs, and fond memories of repertoire discussions over Richard’s dining room table. This is our way of honouring and remembering Richard and our times with him.”

Soprano Belinda Montgomery will conduct 16 choristers in a program performed on the street outside Adam’s Pizzeria. “We’ll draw on Richard’s favourite choral composers,” Lockhart says. “Debussy, Ravel, Mozart and Brahms and Australian composers, Ross Edwards and the late Martin Wesley-Smith. We’re planning Mozarts’ Ave Verum Corpus, Ross Edwards’ Ab Estatis and a couple of those stupendous French composers, so suitable for St. Anmoré Festival. And Martin Wesley-Smith’s Caterpillar Song – which is so much fun and a good choice for busking outside a pizzeria!”

So what can audiences expect from the festival? “The message that music is thriving and lives in all of us,” Chia says. “A world without music is, well, unimaginable.”

“We know they will experience an absolute knock-out day,” Chapman says. “They’ll see unsung talent that will have emerged from behind the doors of our suburb and the inner west. We hope many will think ‘hey, I’d like to do that’ and perform next year.”

The Stanmore Festival of Music takes place on November 16

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