Beloved music educator and conductor Richard Gill has been awarded the Arts Leadership Award in this year’s Creative Partnerships Awards, announced at the Art Gallery of New South Wales last night. The award comes barely two weeks after Gill was awarded the Musicians and Opera Singers Trust (MOST) Achievement Award at the 2018 ABC Young Performers Awards Finals concert.

Also honoured were Adrian Fini for the Business Leadership Award, Mark Rubbo and Beau Neilson who jointly won the Emerging Philanthropist Award and Tim and Gina Fairfax, who won the award for Philanthropy Leadership.

Richard GillRichard Gill. Photo © Sam Grimmer

Gill was unable to make the ceremony in person as he is currently undergoing treatment for colorectal and peritoneal cancer, which has forced him to cancel several recent engagements, but the self-described “bulldozer” is still as fiery as ever talking to Limelight.

“I think it’s the age of awards – and it’s very Lewis Carroll, everyone shall have a prize, like the Caucus-Race,” Gill says. “However, every other aspect of life has awards, I guess why shouldn’t the arts? The thing is that arts awards tend to be on performance basis, like the Archibalds or Young Performers etc., this type of award is quite different. But nonetheless a very, very nice award to receive and I’m very humbled by the idea that people thought I should receive it.”

“Richard’s impact on music education is probably one of the most pronounced impacts he’s had in the arts, generally,” said Kim Williams in a video for Creative Partnerships Australia. “He’s someone who attunes himself to others in a way that’s quite rare. It’s sensitive but it doesn’t mean that he ever compromises from what he wants to achieve. He’s an adherent to music being the most precious thing in life. What drives Richard is a passionate belief in music and musicians, he is able to achieve phenomenal outcomes in performances, remarkable outcomes with students and really, really remarkable outcomes that are always memorable for music.”

“Richard is a household name,” said Nicole van Bruggen, who formed the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra along with Gill and Rachael Beesley. “He regularly has columns in newspapers, he comes on television. Really the thing that sticks in people’s minds about Richard is he has a view and he is passionate about his view, he wants to convince you of his view. Whether he’s on TV or in his living room, he’s the same guy, he loves what he does and wants everyone to be with him with that.”

“Perseverance is fundamental to leadership, resilience is fundamental to leadership, listening is fundamental to leadership,” said Williams. “Richard is absolutely endowed with clarity in all those things and it makes him a unique and remarkably effective leader. He is the most positive, exuberant and dynamic individual that I’ve ever encountered.”

The award is in honour of Gill’s leadership in the arts community. “I think one of the significant things I did was the establishment of the Sydney Sinfonia, the Sydney Sinfonia’s composition program and the way in which Sinfonia provided a nexus between training institutions and the profession,” Gill says. “It was a very powerful musical tool for students to get experience with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and make that transition between studentship and young professional.”

The Sinfonia also led to the Fellowship program, which continues today.

“I think one of the saddest things is that the Sinfonia stopped, because it cut off an access to the orchestra for a large number of students, and quite frankly, getting into the Sinfonia was seen by the kids all over the country as the hottest gig in the country,” he says. “I was really proud of that. Whoever decided to stop the Sinfonia program, probably made the most stupid decisions of their lives.”

Gill is also proud of his National Music Teacher Mentoring Program, the subject of a number of his columns for Limelight. “That’s going very well and we’ve just had a paper presented at the International Society for Music Education in Prague by our General Manager, Bernadette McNamara,” Gill says. “There is great international interest in this program and that’s part of a plan that I have to try and get music taught by properly trained teachers. The mentoring program is again a nexus between training classroom teachers and then leading ultimately to the appointment of professionals. We need properly trained teachers and that isn’t universally happening.”

“From the professional side, I’m proud of having established ARCO, the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra with Nicole van Bruggen and Rachael Beasley,” he says. “That grew out of performances of Figaro, which we did together in Melbourne in 2012 and it was during one interval that I called Rachael and Nicole into my dressing room and we all agreed – this orchestra, in some form or another, should try and stay together. And we have – we’re celebrating our fifth year next year, it’s great. It’s a great addition to the Australian music scene.”

He also nominates his tenure as the first dean of the West Australian Conservatorium of Music. “That was an amazing opportunity for me,” he says. “It was fantastic to open my own music school and appoint staff and devise courses.”

Gill was also the founding Artistic Director of Victorian Opera, when it commenced operations in 2006. “So I’ve started lots of things off that are still going,” he says.

But advocacy for music education has been, as Williams pointed out, Gill’s most significant impact on the arts industry and an area where the conductor continues to work tirelessly. “The biggest challenge we have in this country is education and it’s not just music education, it’s education generally,” Gill says.

“The education system nationally is an absolute disgrace, because it’s interfered with by bureaucrats and politicians who know next to nothing about education. “If they left it to the teachers and the principals to sort it out then they would,” he says. “But once a bureaucrat gets involved it becomes political and education should never be political. We will never get this country right until we sort education out.”