In December, the Australian arts world reacted with fury to the news that the arts had been demoted in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s restructuring of the public service, and was being merged into a department that didn’t even include its name – the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.
But that didn’t stop the arts community from immediately stepping forward to raise funds to help the people and wildlife affected by the catastrophic bushfires that have been raging across Australia since November. Artists from every genre – from comedian Celeste Barber, who has raised an astonishing $50 million through her Facebook appeal, to actors like Chris Hemsworth, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, to authors via a viral Twitter campaign #AuthorsForFireys, to umpteen pop stars – have dug deep into their own pockets or organised bushfire benefits.
The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra will raise funds for the Red Cross at its first Sidney Myer Free Concert. Photograph courtesy of the MSO
Classical musicians around the country have also joined forces to raise funds and offer other forms of support. Members of Sydney’s classical music community are presenting the Music for our Country concert at City Recital Hall on January 30. Hosted by Margaret Throbsy, ABC Classic will broadcast the concert live. The extensive list of people performing includes William Barton, Tamara-Anna Cislowska, Elena Kats-Chernin, Claire Edwardes, Taryn Fiebig, Kathryn Selby, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and Sally Whitwell among numerous others, as well as musicians from the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Sydney Symphony Orchestra. One hundred percent of the proceeds from ticket and bar sales will be donated to WIRES Wildlife Rescue, the Australian Red Cross and other charities.
“We have all watched with shock and sadness at the unprecedented devastation of our towns and bushland. City Recital Hall is the meeting place and home to the Sydney music community. In coming together for this fundraiser concert, individual artists, ensembles and orchestras, we hope to not only send a strong message of collective support but to raise much needed funds to support the enormous task in relief, wellbeing and rebuild,” said Elaine Chia, CEO of City Recital Hall.
A group of young singers from Sydney Children’s Choir has been raising money to help their fellow chorister, 16-year-old Gabriel Kam, whose family lost its home in Balmoral, when it was destroyed by the Green Wattle Creek bushfire just before Christmas. To date, their GoFundMe campaign has raised over $23,000 so that Kam can continue with his singing.
Twenty of the choristers visited Kam and his family after their devastating loss and performed an impromptu concert in Balmoral. Their fundraising has also included bake sales and busking. Taking some solace in singing, Kam has participated in this week’s Gondwana Choirs’ Festival of Summer Voices, featuring more than 300 young singers, where climate change is one of the things addressed in several compositions including Lisa Young’s new work Sacred Stepping Stones.
The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is dedicating its first Sidney Myer Free Concert on February 5 to people affected by bushfires. All funds raised at the event will be donated to the Australian Red Cross, with volunteers collecting donations on the night. ABC Classic will broadcast the concert live across Australia from 7.30pm.
“All of us at MSO are extremely saddened by what has occurred in Victoria and throughout our beautiful country,” said MSO Managing Director Sophie Galaise. “A number of staff and musicians have been directly affected by the bushfires and our hearts go out to all Australians, who have been, and continue to be, impacted by this distressing catastrophe.”
The special event will see the premiere of Deborah Cheetham’s musical acknowledgement of country Long time living here. Cheetham, a Yorta Yorta composer, director and singer, who was the 2019 Limelight Australian Artist of the Year, will perform the piece in the Boon Wurrung language. Conducted by Tianyi Lu, the concert will also feature works by Jordan Moore and Matthew Hindson as well as Dvořák’s Symphony No 9 From the New World.
Melbourne’s opera community is banding together to raise funds for the Red Cross Bushfire Disaster Relief Fund, with 50 leading singers performing at the Bushfire Charity Gala to be presented at the Athenaeum Theatre on February 7. Singers participating include Rosamund Illing, Suzanne Johnston, Antoinette Halloran, Alexander Lewis and Roxane Hislop among many others. Led by bass-baritone Adrian Tamburini, the program will feature arias, duets and ensembles from operas by Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, Donizetti, Bernstein, Bizet and Strauss.
“It was breaking my heart that huge parts of the country were burning over the Christmas period. All I could think of was to bring together my friends in the opera community to raise money for all those who have lost their property and their loved ones, and need to rebuild their lives,” said Tamburini.
Other classical music benefits include two concerts in Sydney on January 27 presented as part of the NSW Bushfire Fundraiser Concert Series. Performers include oboist Diana Doherty and flautist Joshua Batty, both from the SSO, with all proceeds going to the NSW Rural Fire Service.
The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra has added an extra performance of its family Bush Concert on February 1, with proceeds going to SAVEM – South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management.
A big benefit is also taking place in London where Australian musicians are joining forces to stage the Australian Bushfire Benefit London at the Royal Academy of Music on March 1. Organised by violinist Bridget O’Donnell and mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean, the concert will feature a full orchestra and choir with Simone Young as guest conductor alongside conductors Jessica Cottis and Toby Thatcher. Singers Helena Dix and Samuel Sakker are among the performers taking part.
With over 2000 homes lost during the current bushfires, many musicians have lost their instruments. The organisation Resound is working to replace as many as they can. Run by musicians, Resound was originally established for the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, when it matched over 150 donated musical instruments with fire affected musicians, schools and music students in Kinglake, Bendigo, Marysville, Steels Creek, Flowerdale, Traralgon, Whittlesea as well as giving instruments to displaced musicians living in Melbourne.
Now there is a Resound Bushfire Appeal to replace instruments lost during the current bushfires. Musicians can apply for an instrument via the Resound website. You can also pledge an instrument or make a donation through the website.
Meanwhile, Support Art is providing financial and emotional support for people working in Australian music who have been affected by the bushfire crisis. The organisation is running a 24/7 Wellbeing Helpline and a Crisis Relief Program. Donations can be made via their website.