St George’s Cathedral, Perth, has announced its 2019 Concert Series, with Bach featuring prominently and the debut of a new piano. For the Series’ Artistic Director, the Cathedral’s Organist and Master of the Choristers Joseph Nolan, programming the series is about “trying to keep the old things new.”

The series opens in April with an old, but well-loved thing indeed, Bach’s St Matthew Passion. “It’s a cornerstone really of Western music culture,” Nolan told Limelight. “It’s just an incredible story and Bach just tells it better than anybody else can.”

Joseph Nolan, Perth CathedralJoseph Nolan, Artistic Director of the St George’s Cathedral Concert Series. Photo © Russell Barton

The performance in Perth Concert Hall will see the Cathedral collaborating with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra for the first time. “It’s terrific that we’re actually collaborating with WASO on this,” Nolan said. “That gives you some idea of the impact that the consort has had now upon the city, that the main players in town – and that is the symphony orchestra – will take on a collaboration with the Cathedral.”

May will see another first, with the official debut of the Cathedral’s new Fazioli piano, in a recital performed by Mark Coughlan. “He’s a very well-known music personality in Perth and much of Australia – the reason we’ve called this Moonlight in the Cathedral is because he’s going to play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and he tells me that that was actually voted on ABC Classic FM as the most popular piece of music of all time,” Nolan says.

August’s Sir Francis Burt Memorial Organ Concert will see rising star American organist Ben Sheen come to Perth. “He’s the Associate Director of Music at St Thomas Fifth Avenue, a very famous church in New York, and he won the Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition,” Nolan says.

Joseph Nolan conducts the St George’s Cathedral Consort. Photo © Russell Barton

Just as Bach opened the year with the St Matthew Passion, his music brings it to a close with the Christmas Oratorio in December, a work that “couldn’t be more different,” says Nolan. “Its opening chorus with the three trumpets, its a blazing, joyful D major – it celebrates Christmas in style throughout. There’s very few sombre or languid numbers – the whole thing has a very celebratory flavour.”

Was Nolan tempted to do a Messiah? “There are so many Messiahs done at Christmas, I just don’t really want to get involved competing along with those,” he says. “We haven’t done it now for a few years, quite deliberately, because I’d rather explore other repertory.”

Looking to the future, Nolan has plenty of other repertoire in mind. “I very much hope in 2020 that we’ll be doing things like Handel’s Samson,” he says. “It’s unbelievable in Perth that we gave the first professional performance of Solomonfor example, last year. That’s one of the things I want to keep doing, there’s so much of the repertory that can be done in Perth as a professional premiere that hasn’t been done – that’s the way I want to go really.”

All in all, Nolan is incredibly please with the way his series is going, the Rachmaninov Vespers concert at which the 2019 season was unveiled sold out a month in advance.

“We’re a small brand, boutique, but with a punch,” he says. “I try to make sure the four, five, concerts we do a year are absolutely world class. If it’s quality people will come and pay the tickets, and I think that’s been demonstrated.”


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Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine