Meet our music director, Christopher Bowen OAM

Sydney based composer/conductor Christopher Bowen OAM, is one of Australia’s most prolific composers and versatile musicians. As an orchestral/choral conductor his enormous repertoire embraces all genres of music. He is also known for his skills as an expert arranger, pianist, vocal coach and clinician, and is proficient in languages.

His striking and thought provoking compositions combined with innovative concert programming have introduced both audiences and performers to a unique and inspirational world of music.

Bowen was born in Melbourne and studied music at Melbourne University and the Konservatorium der Stadt Wien, where he studied conducting, piano and korrepetition. He has worked with many organisations including the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, Opera Australia, the Victorian State Opera and has been a staff member of the Vienna and Sydney Conservatoriums.

His conducting repertoire embraces the major orchestral and choral works from the 16th century to contemporary music. Known for his imaginative and innovative concert programs, he has introduced audiences to many unjustly neglected works such as Mozart’s Thamos König in Ägypten   Mendelssohn’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht and the extraordinary oratorio Paulus. He has conducted the Australian premieres of Beethoven’s Kantate auf den Tod Kaiser Josephs II, Saint-Saëns’ Le Déluge , Mass Opus 4 , Oratorio de Noel and Requiem, and Bruckner’s Requiem in D minor. The works of composers such as  Cherubini, C.P.E. Bach and the great bohemian composer  Jan Dismas Zelenka  have also been featured in concerts.

His considerable body of composition comprises many orchestral and choral works, instrumental and chamber music. He has also written two works, Nosferatu and Casablanca for the stage. His compositions and arrangements have received critical and public acclaim and have been broadcast on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation),the ORF (Austrian Radio) and Fine Music 102.5 and performed by orchestras such as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Australian National Orchestra.

In recent years major commissions have produced works such as Triste, Triste; Chorea; The Liberdade Requiem (dedicated to those who died whilst fighting for East Timor’s independence); the satirical Démocratie based on Arthur Rimbaud’s prose-poem; Tenebrae; and an extended setting of Christopher Brennan’s evocative poem Sweet Silence after Bells. In 2011 he was commissioned by the Sydney University Graduate Choir to compose Songs of the Heart which was dedicated to Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC AVO. The premiere of this work, a setting of five poems by Christopher Brennan was greeted with acclaim.

His most recent composition An Australian War Requiem was commissioned to commemorate the Centenary of World War 1 and the Anzac tradition. It received its premiere on August 10th 2014 in a performance given at the Sydney Town Hall which was acclaimed by critics and audience alike.

In 1997 a CD recording of his music was released by the Australian National Orchestra and Choir. Since then other CDs of his music and arrangements have been released, among them, For the Beauty of the Earth, Botany Bay and Beyond, A Touch of Heaven and Reflections. In 2011 a recording of Saint-Saëns’ Mass Opus 4 and motets was released featuring the Sydney University Graduate Chamber Choir.

As part of his commitment to developing young artists, he was instrumental in establishing the Joan Carden Award for young singers which honours the name of one of Australia’s greatest sopranos.

He has also initiated the extremely popular and successful choral events “Sydney Sings Messiah” and “Sydney Sings Verdi Requiem” which take place in the magnificent Sydney Town Hall.

In 2008 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the University of Sydney in recognition of his contribution to its cultural life. That same year he also received the Stephen Lardner Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions to adult education.

In 2009 he received an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for his services to music.

Christopher will be conducting the Sydney University Graduate Choir and Orchestra with Guest Choir in Sydney Sings Verdi Requiem this Sunday 12th November 3pm at Sydney Town Hall. For tickets and more information please click here.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank the sponsors of Sydney Sings Verdi Requiem, Westfield and the City of Sydney.

For more information about Christopher, visit

Posted in Background reading | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Meet the Verdi Requiem Soloists

The magnificent Verdi Requiem, performed by the Sydney University Graduate Choir, a large guest choir and full orchestra, under the baton of music director Christopher Bowen OAM, is coming to the Sydney Town Hall on Sunday 12th November 2017.

The Choir is delighted to have assembled a very talented group of soloists for this concert and we’d like to introduce you to them!

Armenian-Australian soprano Natalie Aroyan was awarded first place in both The Opera Foundation New York Competition and the Herald Sun Aria Competition in 2008. Subsequently, she studied with soprano Ruth Falcon, Maestro Richard Bonynge, Kiri Te Kanawa, Renata Scotto and Mirella Freni, and is now a principal artist with Opera Australia. Her roles with the company have included: MIMI (La bohème); DESDEMONA (Otello; MICAELA (Carmen); ANNINA (La Traviata); HIGH PRIESTESS (Aida); AMELIA GRIMALDI (Simon Boccanegra); MICAELA in Carmen for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, and the title role in Aida in Opera Australia’s premiere opera on the beach season on the Gold Coast.

Writing of her performance of the lead role of AMELIA in Simon Boccanegra, The Australian noted that her “voluptuous tone and fluid phrasing created a vivacious portrayal of the opera’s most appealing character.”  The Verdi Requiem is her debut with the Sydney University Graduate Choir.

Ashlyn Tymms, alto, has won numerous music awards and recently graduated as an HF Music Scholar at the Royal College of Music, attaining a Master’s of Performance with Distinction. Earlier this year, she performed as ROSIMONDA in Handel’s opera Faramondo with the Royal College of Music and the London Handel Festival conducted by Laurence Cummings and directed by William Relton. Other performances include staged scenes from Albert Herring, The Rape of Lucretia and The Turn of the Screw directed by John Copley at the Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music and the role of JUDITH in The Two Sisters, a new opera by Algirdas Kraunaitis.

Reviewing her performance in London earlier this year, The Financial Times remarked that she “provided glamour and a voice with colour and depth”.

Ashlyn has previously performed with the Choir as a soloist in the Dvorak Stabat Mater, CPE Bach’s Magnificat and Heinichen’s Missa Nr 9. She was also the winner of the 2015 Joan Carden Award, which is sponsored by the Choir.

Tenor Andrew Goodwin has appeared with opera companies in Europe, the UK, Asia and Australia, including the Bolshoi Opera, Gran Theatre Liceu Barcelona, Teatro Real Madrid, La Scala Milan and Opera Australia.

He has toured with the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra with Maestro Temirkanov, performed with the Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide Symphony Orchestras, Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and given recitals with pianist Daniel de Borah at the Wigmore Hall, and at the Oxford Lieder, Port Fairy and Canberra International Music Festivals.

Recent engagements include Biographica with the Sydney Chamber Opera as part of the Sydney Festival, performances at the Adam Chamber Music Festival with the New Zealand Quartet, Bach’s Magnificat and the title role in The Rake’s Progress for Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra; Mozart’s Litaniae de venerabili altaris sacramento (Sydney Symphony Orchestra); Lyle Chan’s My Dear Benjamin (Queensland Symphony Orchestra); Britten’s Serenade for Tenor and Horn (Adelaide and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras); Egeo in Cavalli’s Giasone and Florival in Grétry’s L’amant jaloux (Pinchgut Opera); recitals with Daniel de Borah at the Melbourne Recital Centre; the Evangelist in St Matthew Passion with the Melbourne Bach Choir; as well as featuring at Musica Viva’s Huntington Festival and the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, Townsville.

Adrian Tamburini, bass, is one of the most promising young Australian singers today, as recognized by his winning the prestigious YMF Australia Award and the Armstrong-Martin Scholarship at the 2017 Opera Awards.

Recent engagements for Opera Australia have included: ALCINDORO and BENOIT in Gale Edwards’ production of La bohème; LEPORELLO in Don Giovanni (touring throughout Australia); ZUNIGA (Carmen); ANTONIO (The Marriage of Figaro); SCIARRONE (Tosca); THE SPEAKER (The Magic Flute); PIETRO (Simon Boccanegra); THE COOK (The Love for Three Oranges); and THE MAESTRO (The Eighth Wonder). His concert repertoire includes the Mahler Symphony No.8 and Shostakovich’s Symphony No.13 (‘Babi Yar’).

He has performed with the Choir on numerous occasions, including the world premiere of Christopher Bowen’s An Australian War Requiem.

Tickets for the Sydney Sings … Verdi Requiem are now available at

Posted in Soloists, Sydney Sings | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sydney Chamber Opera’s Rape of Lucretia

Sydney Chamber Opera’s production of Britten’s Rape of Lucretia at Carriageworks offered an opportunity to showcase the splendid talents of a number of the outstanding young soloists the Choir has worked with in recent years.

Anna Dowsley (mezzo), who performed in our Verdi Requiem of April 2013 and a number of subsequent performances, sang the title role. Celeste Lazarenko (soprano), who co-starred with Anna in Verdi’s masterpiece, sang the important role of the Female Chorus. Andrew Goodwin (tenor), who was a very impressive soloist in our performance of Mendelssohn’s Paulus in May 2012 and will repeat his performance in December, was the Male Chorus and Simon Lobelson (bass), who is a regular soloist with Sydney Chamber Opera and performed most recently with SUGC in May this year, sang the role of Junius.

The vocal quality of the soloists was the best feature of the performance.  Britten’s music is far from easy and the difficulty for the singers was compounded by the production’s design, which had the orchestra and conductor behind the stage and out of their sight. Despite this, they performed flawlessly, without missing a beat.  Reviews have been constantly favourable.  Peter McCallum in the SMH, wrote that the performances were “consistently strong” and praised Anna’s “ringing rounded purity of sound”, Celeste’s “engaged communicativeness”, the “splendid noble bloom” to Andrew’s sound, and Simon’s “expressive darkness and well-moulded sound.”

All in all, despite some eccentricities in the production, your correspondent enjoyed the opera and could not avoid a feeling of smugness that the Choir has established excellent working relationships with these outstanding young singers.

John Bowan

Posted in Soloists | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sing On Report – Joan Carden Award 2017 Final Concert

On 13 August, the Choir presented for the second time the finals of the Joan Carden Award as part of a Great Hall concert with orchestra, in tandem with a performance of Mozart’s Requiem.

It is always a pleasure and privilege for choristers to sit on the risers, while others perform, and in this case, the three young finalists each sang two arias, one each by Mozart and others by Gounod, Massenet and Meyerbeer. Your correspondent had the afternoon off – on the basis of a dodgy doctor’s note – and enjoyed the entire concert as a member of the audience. It was a beauty.

In a week when the Korean bass, Kwangchun Youn, was giving a remarkable performance as Gurnemanz in Opera Australia’s Parsifal, it was particularly appropriate that two of the three finalists, Barbara Jin (mezzo) and Haotian Xi (baritone) were of Asian background.   These two singers were joined by Joshua Oxley (tenor) in a close, artistically high quality competition for the judges’ approval. On this occasion, great soprano Joan Carden AO OBE and Christopher Bowen OAM, the Choir’s Music Director, were assisted by distinguished Australian baritone, Geoffrey Chard AM.

The arias performed by the young singers were ambitious and challenging.  Mozart can appear straightforward but has that “nowhere to hide” dimension.  The French romantic repertoire required vocal power and pyrotechnics.  The performances were all of high quality and the judging must have been very close and difficult.  The judges awarded the first prize of $6,000 to Joshua Oxley, while the audience’s choice was Barbara Jin.  Congratulations to all three contestants.

As a member of the audience in a packed Great Hall, which included our esteemed Patron, Prof. The Hon. Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, I was struck by the evidence of high level organization that had clearly gone into the event.  This was far beyond what might ordinarily be expected from a volunteer operation. It was a credit to Jackie Rotenstein and the Committee and especially to David Moser, closely assisted by Inta Heimanis, who had the task of putting it all together, and had the opportunity to draw on the pioneering work done by Cath Crittenden, who managed the 2015 edition.  The Choir can be very proud of what it has achieved through the Joan Carden Award.

In August 2015, the last (and first) time the Choir presented the Joan Carden Award in its new, expanded form, the concert program was rounded out by choral works by Brahms and Fanny Mendelssohn that were new to practically all of us.  On this occasion, the concert program was rounded out by a performance of one of the most familiar works in the choral repertoire, Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor, K.626.

Four fine soloists were engaged and did an excellent job: Morgan Balfour (soprano), Anna Yun (mezzo), John Longmuir (tenor), and David Greco (bass).  By a nice coincidence, Morgan was the winner of the audience vote in the 2015 Joan Carden Award final.

As usual, the orchestra was outstanding.  Kirsten Williams, who had been busy with the SSO’s recent exceptional performances of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and Mahler’s Third Symphony, was Concertmaster and was supported by lovely woodwind playing from Deborah de Graaff (clarinet), Duncan Thorpe (oboe) and Leah Lock.  This concert with its requirement for the orchestra to switch rapidly between different styles was a further reminder of how fortunate the Choir is in its talented orchestral musicians.

Your correspondent is normally reluctant to offer warm praise for the Choir.  But let me throw modesty to the winds and say that the Grads’ contribution was first-class and was commented on positively by a number of fellow-audience members with whom I spoke.

John Bowan

Posted in Concert reviews, Joan Carden Award | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet the 2017 Joan Carden Award Finalists!

This Sunday, 13th August, sees the Finals of the 2017 Joan Carden Award take place in the University Of Sydney’s Great Hall at 3pm. Details here. The 2017 Finals feature three wonderful young soloists – Haotian Qi, Joshua Oxley and Barbara Jin.

Baritone Haotian Qi began his music studies when he was 6 years old. He graduated with a bachelor degree from Nanjing university of Arts.

He has won numerous and awards to date, including: First Prize in the Theodor Leschetizky International Music Competition, Vienna (2015); First Prize in the Belloc International Opera Competition, China (2015); Special Prize in Jiangsu Art Performance for Undergraduates, China (2014); a Gold Award at the La Fenice International Opera Competition of Vocal Performance (2013); First Prize in the 4th Zhongke Cup Music Performance and Creation Competition, China (2013); Award for Creative Achievement in Nanjing University of the Arts (2013); Gold Award for Vocal Performance in the 3rd National Art Performance for Undergraduates, China (2012); and the Silver Award in the 5th National Opera Performance for Undergraduates, China (2011).

He is currently in the first year of a masters degree in Opera Performance at Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and is studying singing with Barry Ryan.

In the finals Haotian will be performing ‘Hai gia vinta la causa’ from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and ‘Vision fugitive’ from Massenet‘s Hérodiade.

Tenor Joshua Oxley is based in Sydney, and has studied at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where he won a full scholarship to the prestigious ESTIVO Summer School in Verona, Italy. Under this scholarship he studied singing with Lella Cuberli and Fabio Centanni. He has been tenor soloist for St. Andrew’s Cathedral (Handel’s, Messiah; Bach’s, Cantata Nos. 4, 80 and 115), and other solo concert performances include Mozart ‘s Requiem; Bach’s St John Passion; Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, and Bernstein’s Mass.

Joshua has performed with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in the role of TCHAPLITSKY in Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame under Vladimir Ashkenazy, and as a member of the ensemble for Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer under David Robertson. Other appearances include: a concert performance of Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust  with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under Sir Andrew Davis; ALFREDO (La Traviata) for Opera New England; the role of MOZART in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri; REMENDADO (Carmen); and FREDERIC in the Pirates of Penzance.

At the Sydney Eisteddfod, Joshua has twice been the recipient of the Ronald Dowd Memorial Prize, Finalist in the Opera and Arts Vocal Final, and Semi-finalist in the Opera Scholarship. Currently he is studying with Rowena Cowley, completing a postgraduate diploma at the Sydney Conservatorium, and is an associate artist with Pacific Opera.

Joshua will be performing ‘Un’ aura amorosa’ from Mozart’s Così fan tutte and ‘Ah! Lève-toi, soleil!’ from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.

Mezzo-soprano Barbara (Yuanyuan) Jin graduated from the Opera Studio at the Sydney Conservatorium of music, where she studied with Maree Ryan. She is a recipient of the Diane Wishart and Quin Quin Foundation scholarships, and is in the 2017 Young Artist Program with Pacific Opera.

Barbara’s opera credits include: MERCEDES (Carmen): LA BADESSA, LA SUORA ZELATRICE and LA SUORA INFERMIERA (Suor Angelica); MISS FITZHENRY, LADY JERSEY and SECOND NUN (Williamson’s English Eccentrics); and DAWN’S ATTENDANT, MOPSA and SECRECY (The Fairy Queen). Barbara has also appeared in the ensemble for Adamo’s Little Women, Bernstein’s Mass at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, and in the premiere of Geoffroy Colson’s opera Ui no Fa’aoe.

In 2016, Barbara performed the role of DORABELLA in performances of Cosí fan tutte at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music conducted by Stephen Mould. Other more recent roles have included MRS MCLEAN in Susannah (Floyd) with Opera New England and the lead role of ANGELINA (La Cenerentola) with Lyric Opera Studio Weimar.

Barbara’s concert repertoire includes: The ‘Nelson’ Mass (Haydn), Messiah (Handel), Symphony No.9 (Beethoven) and Stabat Mater (Rossini).

In the finals Barbara will be performing ‘Nobles Seigneurs, salut!’ from Les Huguenots by Meyerbeer and ‘Parto, parto’ from Mozart’s La Clemenza Di Tito.

For full details of the concert, during which the Sydney University Graduate Choir will perform Mozart’s Requiem, please click here.

Posted in Joan Carden Award, Soloists | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Anna Dowsley and Andrew Goodwin Star at Coriole Music Festival

Anna Dowsley

Two of the Grads’ favourite soloists, Anna Dowsley (mezzo) and Andrew Goodwin (tenor) recently played starring roles at the annual Coriole Music Festival in McLaren Vale, South Australia.  Anthony Steel, who has directed a number of Adelaide Festivals, reprised his role as Director of this year’s festival.

Anna starred in our memorable Verdi Requiem in April 2013, after being highly commended by the judges in the 2012 Joan Carden Award, and has sung with us on several other occasions, most recently in the von Suppé Requiem in May 2016.  Andrew has performed with us on several occasions, including Handel’s Messiah and Haydn’s The Creation in late 2016, and our most recent concert, ‘La Belle Ėpoque’ on 21 May.

At Coriole, Anna sang Mahler’s Rṻckert Lieder, while Andrew performed Ravel’s Histoires Naturelles, among other solo numbers. Together, they performed Janáček’s fascinating unstaged drama, The Diary of One Who Disappeared. This was the first time that these two fine young singers have performed together.

They both received good reviews for their performances at Coriole.

Andrew Goodwin

On the Janáček, The Australian commented that “tenor Andrew Goodwin gave this with the most intimate emotion, but the high point was when mezzo-soprano Anna Dowsley joined with total conviction to sing the role of the gypsy seductress who leads a farmer’s son to despair.”

The Adelaide Advertiser wrote that the Ravel songs were “beautifully sung” by tenor Andrew Goodwin” and that Anna “impressed” in the Rṻckert Lieder.

Andrew’s Russian wife, Maria Timofeyeva, who sang the mezzo solo in our performance of Mendelssohn’s Paulus in May 2012, was also at Coriole for the festival.  The Australian reported, “to cap off a superb weekend of music-making, the audience was treated over lunch to an impromptu Russian duet sung by Goodwin and his wife, mezzo-soprano Maria Timofeyeva.  This was one of those special moments that make small festivals such as Coriole really shine”.

John Bowan


Posted in Soloists | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Meet the Composers of La Belle Époque, Part 2

The golden age of French artistic creativity, ‘la belle époque’, is the setting for the first concert of the 2017 season for the Sydney University Graduate Choir on the 21st May 2017. In this final instalment in a two part series, we’ll meet the composers Franck, Bowen and the poetic genius Rimbaud.

La Belle Époque, the first Sydney University Graduate Choir concert for 2017 offers a French themed programme drawing on the time between the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Marked by optimism, prosperity and technological, scientific and cultural innovation, this period came to be regarded as a Golden Age when artistic pursuits flourished.

At the end of our first instalment we met the composer Gabriel Fauré, whose Racine Canticle was dedicated to the third composer on our program, César Franck. Franck composed a setting of Psalm 150 (in French, Psaume CL), the piece to be performed in the La Belle Époque concert.

Franck (1822-90) became a French citizen and artist, having been born in Liège, now the largest French-speaking city of Belgium.  There is an established tradition of Belgian artists achieving fame and fortune in France (Georges Simenon, author of the series of novels about the archetypically Parisian Maigret is  a good twentieth century example, as are the popular singer Jacques Brel, the  artist René Magritte and cartoonist Prosper Remi, known as Hergé, creator of the marvellous Tintin comics). By the later part of his life, Franck had achieved a successful career as a Frenchman and became an influential figure with younger French composers.

In the last decade of his life, Franck produced several masterpieces, which represent the best part of his legacy: the piano solo, Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, the Piano Quintet, the Violin Sonata, the Symphony in D Minor, the symphonic poem, Le Chasseur Maudit, the Variations Symphoniques for piano and orchestra and the oratorio, Les Béatitudes.

The Psalm 150, to be performed in concert by the Grad Choir, was composed in 1883 but published posthumously. It conveys a sense of joyous celebration, appropriate to its text, and has something of the spirit of La Marseillaise about it.

The final work of the concert is not by a French composer.  It is a setting of the hair-raising prose poem, Démocratie, one of the constituent parts of Les Illuminations, the major work of the teenage evil genius, Arthur Rimbaud, and is composed by the Choir’s Music Director, Christopher Bowen OAM. This work was premiered by the Grad Choir in 2002, and now finds itself in the La Belle Époque concert programme given the text and its author.

Rimbaud (1854-1891) lived one of the most astonishing lives of any figure in world literature.  He had written his entire body of work by the time he was twenty-one and spent the rest of his short life travelling in Southeast Asia and Africa, where, among other things, he became a gun-runner.

In Démocratie, Rimbaud imagines a political world that reflects many aspects our modern political landscape, which is an amazing achievement for a French teenager writing before 1900.

Bowens’ musical imagination is clearly ignited by this remarkable text and the score is marked by frequent changes of tempo, syncopation, swinging rhythms and a choral part that ranges from whispered injunctions to shouts of defiance.

Sydney based composer/conductor Christopher Bowen OAM, is one of Australia’s most prolific composers and versatile musicians. As an orchestral/choral conductor he has an enormous repertoire, embracing all genres of music. He is also known for his skills as an expert arranger, pianist, vocal coach and clinician, and is proficient in languages.

Over the years, his striking and thought provoking compositions combined with innovative concert programming have introduced both audiences and performers to a unique and inspirational world of music.

The Choir is delighted to be performing his stirring composition, and importantly, the performance marks the 25th anniversary of Christopher Bowens’ appointment as Musical Director of the Sydney University Graduate Choir.


Enjoy La Belle Époque with the Sydney University Graduate Choir!

WHEN:  3:00pm, Sunday, 21 May 2017

WHERE:  The Great Hall, Sydney University

Music Director:

Christopher Bowen OAM


Elke Hook (Soprano)

Barbara Jin (Alto)

Andrew Goodwin (Tenor)

Simon Lobelson (Bass)


Peter Kneeshaw


Démocratie – Christopher Bowen

Requiem – Camille Saint-Saëns

Psalm 150 – César Franck

Pavane – Gabriel Fauré


$50 Adults

$45 Full Pensioners (Not seniors cards)

$25 Full time students and children under 16 years.

TICKETS: Seymour Centre Box Office – ph 02 9351 7950 or online

Posted in Background reading, subscription concerts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Meet the Composers of La Belle Époque

The golden age of French artistic creativity, ‘la belle époque’, is the setting for the first concert of the 2017 season for the Sydney University Graduate Choir on the 21st May 2017. In this first instalment in a two part series, we’ll travel back in time to meet the composers, delving into the period when music, literature and painting flourished, leaving a lasting legacy of beauty for future generations to enjoy.

La Belle Ėpoque, the first Sydney University Graduate Choir concert for 2017 offers a French themed program referencing the time between the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Marked by optimism, prosperity and technological, scientific and cultural innovation, this period came to be regarded as a Golden Age when artistic pursuits flourished.

There were great achievements in French music during ‘la belle époque’,including those by the composers on our program – Saint-Saëns, Faure and Franck.

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) was the most influential figure in French music in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His active musical life spanned almost the entire Romantic era and ended early in the period of musical modernism.  In his long composing career, he was a great organist, pianist, as well as a masterful composer.  Saint-Saëns wrote major works across the gamut of forms – opera, symphony, concerto, symphonic poems, sacred music, chamber music, and song.

Saint-Saëns’s Requiem Op. 54, which will be performed by the Choir, was composed in 1878. Requiem is written on an imposing scale, combining grandeur with moments of tenderness and poignancy. The composer’s mastery shines throughout the work, so much so that we can describe it as a masterpiece, albeit unfortunately a neglected one.  The Requiem deserves to be heard more frequently and the Choir is delighted to be performing it.

One of the greatest contributions of Saint-Saëns to music and posterity was his lifelong friendship and support for Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), the composer of two works on the La Belle Epoque concert program, the Pavane Op 50 and the Cantique de Jean Racine Op. 11.

They met when Fauré, a young man from a provincial family in the far south west of France, was a student at a music school in Paris for those contemplating a career in religious music. In 1861, Saint-Saëns arrived to teach piano and composition, and introduced Fauré to contemporary music outside the school syllabus, notably that of Liszt, Schumann and Wagner. Fauré graduated in 1865 with the first prize in composition for the famous Cantique de Jean Racine Op. 11, a piece still very popular with choirs around the world, which will be reprised by the Grads’ Chamber Choir at the La Belle Epoque concert.

Fauré remained close to Saint-Saëns, through whom he made contact with all sections of Parisian musical society.  The Société Nationale de Musique provided a platform for the first performances of a number of his works, including the one we perform today, the  choral version of the famous Pavane  Op. 50, which dates from 1887.

Fauré went on to become teacher of composition, and  later head of the Paris Conservatoire, where he positively influenced the careers of a number of important composers, including Maurice Ravel. During the 1890s, Fauré’s music started to become known and he won the support of important private patrons, including Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the international Olympic movement.  In 1896, he became chief organist at the Madeleine Church, following in Saint-Saëns’s  footsteps (Olivier Messiaen was a subsequent holder of this post, as was Naji Hakim, teacher of the Sydney University organist, Amy Johansen).  Later the same year, Fauré succeeded Massenet as the composition teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, where his pupils included Nadia Boulanger, Georges Enescu and Ravel. In 1905, he became the Conservatoire’s Director, where he made important reforms and opened the institution to new ideas and new music. In the 1890s, he continued to revise his most famous work, the superb Requiem Op. 48, originally composed in 1887.

Fauré retired from the Conservatoire in 1920, a revered figure but with a cloud of impending deafness and declining health. To the end Fauré, who was born when Chopin and Mendelssohn were alive, continued to encourage younger musicians such as Arthur Honegger and other leading figures of French twentieth century music.

Fauré’s music is marked by melodic and harmonic originality, tempered by restraint and exquisite sensibility. There is a recognisable Fauréan musical language, subtle, refined and distinct.  One of his particular gifts is a mastery of the art of unfolding long melodies, which retain a sense of organic logic and naturalness, despite taking unexpected turns.

These qualities are present in the Pavane, which, like the Requiem, also dates from 1887.  Fauré originally composed it as a purely orchestral work, in which guise it remains quite famous.  He subsequently dedicated it to a noble patron, Elizabeth, comtesse Greffulhe, and to set it to the words of her cousin, Robert, comte de Montesquiou (model for the decadent des Esseintes in J-K. Huysmans’s novel, A Rebours, and for the sinister Baron de  Charlus in Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu).

Faurés Racine Canticle was dedicated to another composer on our program, César Franck. In the next post we’ll meet Franck, and explore the most controversial piece of the concert programme, a modern setting of the hair-raising prose poem written in the 19th century, Démocratie, one of the constituent parts of Les Illuminations, the major work of the teenage evil genius, Arthur Rimbaud. Composed by the Choir’s Music Director, Christopher Bowen, and premiered by the Choir in 2002, this exciting composition is sure to pique interest, given its uncanny reflections of the tensions and drama of our current world politics.

Enjoy La Belle Époque with the Sydney University Graduate Choir!

WHEN:  3:00pm, Sunday, 21 May 2017

WHERE:  The Great Hall, Sydney University

Music Director:

Christopher Bowen OAM


Elke Hook (Soprano)

Barbara Jin (Alto)

Andrew Goodwin (Tenor)

Simon Lobelson (Bass)


Peter Kneeshaw


Démocratie – Christopher Bowen

Requiem – Camille Saint-Saëns

Psalm 150 – César Franck

Pavane – Gabriel Fauré



$50 Adults

$45 Full Pensioners (Not seniors cards)

$25 Full time students and children under 16 years.

TICKETS: Seymour Centre Box Office – ph 02 9351 7950 or online



Posted in Background reading, subscription concerts | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Interview With Janine Newell

One of the choir’s valued volunteers is second soprano Janine Newell who has supervised refreshments for the Orchestra and Soloists at rehearsals and concerts for more than  five years This is no easy task as it involves the purchase of provisions and the carrying of equipment to and from the venues. Janine’s busy life is catching up with her so she is putting the tea towel away and handing the baton to alto Giselle Cooke who will be assisted by Sue Capon who has always been Janine’s little helper.

Q. Where were you born and do you come from a musical family

A. I was born at Sydney’s Crown Street Women’s Hospital and yes, my parents and sister all sang and my 2 uncles attended The Sydney Conservatorium of Music. There was always music in our home.

Q. What school did you attend and did they have music

A. I attended high school in Sydney , but sadly, in the 1950’s, Music and Art were classified as ‘half subjects’ but I was a member of the School Choir and sang in the Choral Concerts at The Sydney Town Hall and on two occasions as a soloist which led to Lindley Evans asking me to sing on his segment of The ABC Children’s Hour. Meanwhile I studied piano lessons, privately.

Q. What career path did you follow.

A. When I left school I did secretarial studies and became a legal secretary.

Q. Was your husband musical and what of your daughters.

A. My husband did not perform music but had a great appreciation of good music and our daughters did learn music and were also involved in School Bands and  Choirs.

Q. Your involvement with the Welsh Choir . Do you have Welsh blood or do you just like the music they sing.

A. My parents and sister were born in Scotland but I was asked to join the Welsh Choir in 1997 by a friend from a former choir and I have enjoyed the challenge of learning and memorising Welsh but consider music is the universal language and have enjoyed this experience.

Q. Tell us about your travels or perhaps what place gave you the greatest pleasure.

A. Most of my travel has been with The Sydney Welsh Choir and we have sung in many wonderful Cathedrals in Europe and castles in Wales. It is very hard to choose between the many wonderful places in Europe but a workshop in Vienna was memorable.

Q. What led you to the Sydney University Choir and what music do you enjoy singing.

A. When The City  of Sydney Choir disbanded in 1990, Devon Szentkuti, a fellow chorister of that Choir encouraged me to join Sydney University Choir, so after my husband died in 1993, I rang Devon and she accompanied me to join in 1994 where I have been privileged to learn so much from Christopher Bowen, learning the music he selects and enjoying the camaraderie of fellow choristers.

Interviewer: Dawn Plasto

Posted in Choir members | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Joan Carden Award 2017 – Applications open

Applications are currently open – closing April 28th – for entries for this year’s Joan Carden Award.

Conducted with the gracious support of Miss Joan Carden AO OBE, this Award aims to:

  • identify and encourage young singing talent
  • strengthen the Choir’s relationship with the University of Sydney and the Sydney music community, and
  • honour the contribution of Joan Carden to music in Australia.
Ashlyn Tymms Photographer David Gross

Ashlyn Tymms

The last winner of this biennial event, in 2015, was mezzo-soprano Ashlyn Tymms. Ashlyn is currently a HF Music Scholar at the Royal College of Music, London, undertaking a Masters of Performance. Her numerous exciting recent engagements in the UK and elsewhere have included performing as a soloist within Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music with the Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra at Buckingham Palace hosted by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales in February. She returned to Sydney to perform the alto solo parts for the CPE Bach Magnificat and J D Heinichen’s Mass no.9 in concert with SUGC last August, and we look forward very much to welcoming her as soloist for the Sydney Sings Verdi Requiem concert in Sydney Town Hall this November.

This year on August 13th, the finals of the 2017 Joan Carden Award will be held in the Great Hall of the University of Sydney, accompanied by a full orchestra. The audience will once again participate in the judging through a ‘Peoples’ Prize’.

If you enjoy the performances of the soloists at our concerts, this is definitely a date for your diary. And if you are – or have a friend or relative who is – a young professional soloist, then this could be your/their chance to perform and to win a prestigious Award with a significant cash prize.

Young singers aged between 22 and 35 years are invited to become part of this exciting event! The Award has a cash prize of $6,000 and the opportunity to perform as a soloist in one of the Choir’s forthcoming concerts. Apply here – the closing date for applications is Friday April 28th 2017.

David Moser

Posted in awards and competitions | Tagged , | Leave a comment