1987 – 1996
Graduate Singers’ association with Hilary Weiland as Director of Music began in 1987. Hilary came with considerable experience in choral singing and conducting, having studied music at Cambridge University. There, she sang, toured with and directed the Cambridge University Chamber Choir before
commencing her singing, conducting and teaching career in London.
The first concert that year was in another new venue for the choir, St Francis Xavier Cathedral, and featured music for Easter: Demantius’ Deutsches Johannes Passion and Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories. This was followed by a concert devoted to music from the Romantic Era in association with the Trevelyan Duo (William Hennessy, violin; Merryn Brose, piano). The Christmas concert returned to St Francis Xavier with the choir performing seasonal works by Schütz, Verdi and Respighi – ‘a perfect present for the city that thinks it has everything’ (Elizabeth Silsbury, Advertiser, December 1987). It was a rewarding end to a year that had demanded some soul-searching on the part of choir members with regards to commitment and attendance, issues which inevitably rise from time to time.
In 1988, the choir got off to an exciting start with a performance of Handel’s Dixit Dominus, Palestrina’s Stabat Mater Dolorosa and Purcell motets at St Patricks, Grote Street. This was the first in the choir’s subscription series which saw the best ticket sales (maybe ever up to that point) across the year. An evening of Shakespearian music followed, featuring readings by Edwin Hodgeman and a spectacular slide show, with Holy Trinity Anglican Church hosting the Christmas offering of Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols. Despite gaining Arts Grants, additional fundraisers were needed to meet the choir’s aspirations. The committee put in an enormous amount of work (as ever) and achieved the following: ABC performances ($1100), Barber Shop Quartets for David Jones and the AMP Society ($2700), a Lottery ($490), a Quiz Night ($330) and the ever popular Chocolate sales ($360). Hilary, particularly, undertook a lot of negotiation with the ABC, and this bore fruit with further broadcasts and invitations to assist with a performance of Berlioz’ Damnation of Faust, under the baton of (now Sir) Mark Elder for the Adelaide Festival of Arts, and to combine with the Adelaide University Choral Society (AUCS) to sing Poulenc’s Gloria and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (Choral) with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO). AGMs were held in conjunction with wonderful dinners prepared by choir members, in particular Vera Green and Neil Piggott.
It was an ambitious start to the 1989 concert season with ‘A Coronation Celebration’ (including Handel’s Coronation Anthems 1–4 and Mozart’s Coronation Mass KV 317) at the Memorial Hall, St Peter’s College on 22 April. It was, on the whole, a very successful concert, despite the reviewer’s tongue-in-cheek references to the choir’s Royalist tendencies! The ASO concerts were a great opportunity to sing larger choral works, and also respite for the committee on the organisational front. The final concert saw the choir collaborate with the early music ensemble Musica da Camera in a program of French Seasonal music. On the day, it was challenging for choir, instrumentalists and audience alike as the concert came at the end of a string of 40-degree days and St Patrick’s was like an oven. And being recorded for a live broadcast by the ABC added to the tension! However, the reviewer could ‘think of no higher mark of Hilary Weiland’s achievements with Graduate Singers than the sustained effect of their singing in Josquin’s great motet, Ave Maria’ (Raymond Chapman Smith, Advertiser, December 1989).
Graduate Singers bid farewell to Hilary Weiland with Monteverdi’s Vespers for the Blessed Virgin on 5 May 1990 at St Francis Xavier Cathedral. Hilary had instructed the choir that each person had to sing as a soloist. A standing ovation (in part, a recognition of Hilary’s contribution to the choral life of Adelaide) and being able to hear the performance again on ABC FM radio, reassured all that performance standard had been very high. Hilary and Douglas were farewelled with a cocktail party at Carclew, with the guests of honour arriving in a limousine to an avalanche of flashbulbs. This was another wonderful catering feat by choir members Vera Green and Neil Piggott (with Sherry Proferes’ husband, Nick, mixing cocktails). Another major work ensued in August with Grads (Graham Abbott, Chorus Master) combining with Adelaide Chorus, AUCS and Adelaide Boys’ Choir to perform Britten’s War Requiem with the ASO under the baton of Nicholas Braithwaite. The choir worked briefly with Brian Chatterton, Father O’Brien (Royal Adelaide Hospital Chaplain) and Tim Sexton, before preparing a concert with conductor, pianist and teacher Graeme Quinn, entitled ‘Contemporary Sounds: 20th Century Religious Settings’ at St John’s Anglican Church on Halifax Street, Adelaide. The program included Samuel Barber’s Agnus Dei, Five Negro Spirituals from Tippett’s A Child of Our Time and John Rutter’s Requiem. Graeme also conducted the choir for the annual Light Pass service of Lessons and Carols. This event was much anticipated every year, and was hosted by choir member Michelle Zweck's parents, Pastor Cedric and Mrs Margaret Zweck. They were exemplary hosts, and participants availed themselves of the delights of the Barossa Valley, performed items at the Saturday evening dinner and soirée and then shared the joy of Christmas music with the congregation the following morning. It was a particularly well-earned break that year, as the choir had just sung in two performances of Handel’s Messiah with Graham Abbott and the ASO, in which the reviewer noted that ‘Graduate Singers were a good choice, having not sung the piece as a group. They sang with clean, precise diction, good body and accurate pitch’ (Elizabeth Silsbury, Advertiser, December 1990).
The two-hundredth anniversary of Mozart’s death was celebrated by the ASO in 1991 through a series of concerts, two of which involved Graduate Singers. Carl Crossin prepared the choir for the May performance of Mozart’s Kyrie in D Minor and Requiem, and again for the September performance of Thamos in Egypt, both of which were conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite. Carl was also the choir’s guest conductor for its concert in June, which featured Sheppard’s Jesu Salvator Saeculi, redemptis, Padilla’s Deus, in adiutorium meum intende and Mirabilia Testimonia Tua, Stravinsky’s Mass for Mixed Chorus & Double Wind Quintet and J.S. Bach’s Magnificat in D. In November, now with Graham Abbott as Director of Music, the choir performed works of Byrd, Stravinsky and J.S. Bach. Graham had moved to Adelaide from Sydney in 1986 and was working as a full time conductor, holding positions with the University of Adelaide, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Melbourne Chorale as well as many other organisations.
In April 1992, Graham Abbott conducted Graduate Singers from the harpsichord in the first Australian performance of the complete autograph score of Georg Friedrich Handel’s Messiah, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the first performance in 13 April, 1742. The choir was accompanied by the Ensemble Fleurieu with Tessa Miller, Vanessa Benger, Tasso Bouyessis and Alan McKie as soloists. These singers were prominent in the Adelaide music world, and Alan McKie, particularly, had a strong relationship with Grads over many years, with this being recognised through Life Membership. The choir’s work with the ASO continued with three performances of Haydn’s Te Deum and Kodaly’s Psalmus Hungaricus, prepared by Graham and under the baton of János Fürst. Grads’ concert with Graham Abbott in September, entitled Italian Masters, featured works by Giovanelli, Marenzio, Palestrina, Verdi and Scarlatti. The choir produced its next concert, a St Cecilia’s Day Celebration at Elder Hall on the actual Saint’s Day, 22 November, with guest conductor, and Adelaide singer and teacher, David Blight. Two more successful performances of the Messiah with Graham Abbott and a small ASO in St Peter’s Cathedral—presented ‘with a lightness and clarity about the whole which delighted the ear’—capped off another very full year.
At the end of 1992, Jason Shute was appointed Graduate Singers’ fourth Director of Music. Welsh-born, he had experience as a singer with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company and as chorus-master for the BBC Welsh Chorus. The ‘Young Schubert’ concert that started the 1993 season featured that composer’s Stabat Mater and Mass in G, along with works by Buxtehude and Bach. Even though the reviewer had a different stylistic taste, the audience size and reaction was good. The following concert, ‘Sheep may safely graze’, proved challenging in the variety of styles and number of languages required (including Welsh), but had a successful outcome, with Professor of Philosophy and actor Graham Nerlich providing complementary readings. Two collaborations followed: Fauré’s Requiem (Chorus Master, David Blight) with David Porcelijn and the ASO, and Beethoven’s Mass in C with FAUCS and John Grundy. ‘Christmas Brass’ lived up to its name with an ensemble featuring a number of ASO brass and string players accompanying the choir in varying combinations in works by Gabrieli, Watt, Monteverdi and Schütz. In addition, there was a premiere performance of Jason’s own work Summer Noels.
In 1994, the choir committee and Director of Music returned to doing one major work for a Graduate Singers-only concert. This time it was Handel’s Samson. Brisbane tenor, Gregory Massingham, was flown in with the assistance of sponsorship from the Hyatt Hotel, and four Adelaide-based soloists completed the ensemble. Despite the generosity of the Department of the Arts and an audience of 300, Grads sustained a large loss. It led to the committee and choir, at a Future Directions meeting, having to rethink the hitherto accepted approach of hiring professional musicians at professional rates. Musically, however, the concert was an undoubted success. Then it was on to Kodaly’s Missa Brevis, Stravinsky’s Pater Noster and Ave Maria, and Dvořàk’s Mass in D at the Flinders Street Baptist Church, which drew soloists from the choir. ‘The Brothers Haydn’, with a ‘scratch’ orchestra who played with great discipline for little financial return, followed in November and drew another audience of 300. The organist and choir accompanist was Anna Goldsworthy. The choir had previously been well supported by a number of accompanists including Matthew Atherton, Jillian Bartsch, Chris Burrell, Leith Rogers, Graeme Quinn, Kate Stevens and Elizabeth Wells (Finch). The end of the year also brought the final Light Pass weekend due to Pastor Zweck’s retirement. The memories of many happy times there still live on.
Grads returned to an Easter concert as its first offering of 1995, as did a number of other Adelaide choirs! Schütz’ St Matthew Passion and works by Mendelssohn and Purcell were joined by a first performance of Adelaide composer Matthew Atherton’s Requiem Aeternam. The choir also premiered Jason Shute’s new composition Llef, with his family members playing in the ensemble as tribute to his late mother. About half the choir joined with other choirs to perform the Berlioz Requiem in the Adelaide Entertainment Centre in June. Richard Gill conducted the enormous forces of two orchestras, 300 singers, four brass bands and 13 timpani. The size and nature of the venue reduced the enjoyment that such a work should bring. Grads was then involved in a Peace Day Concert at St Peter’s Cathedral commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima (Fauré’s Requiem and Cantique de Jean Racine) and a performance of Orff’s Carmina Burana with the ASO under Vladimir Verbitsky, the latter receiving a standing ovation. Then it was back to Grads’ own final concert for the year featuring Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols and Saint Nicholas, with the Adelaide Boys’ Choir (directed by Kynan Johns). Despite the end of Light Pass, the choir’s Social Secretary, Penny Tranter, ensured we enjoyed each other’s company, with the ever-popular soirees and a Medieval dinner.
After a five-year break, it was time for another performance of Mozart’s Requiem. This was held at St Peter’s Cathedral on 27 April 1996 and included Purcell’s Funeral Music for Queen Mary and Bliss’ Pastoral "Lie strewn the white flocks". The soloists were Rosalind Martin, Erica Breuer, Thomas Edmonds and Keith Hempton. An enormous publicity campaign resulted in an appreciative audience of around 550. Graduate Singers then adopted a new programming direction with a concert entitled ‘South Australian Artists in Concert I’. This saw the premiere of Matthew Atherton’s Requiem to the Unknown (with Matthew on organ), and collaboration with two South Australian artists: soprano Amara Seabrook, who sang in the Atherton and Palestrina’s Missa Qual É il Piu Grande Amor, and pianist Anna Goldsworthy, who performed three works by Liszt. Grads was invited to be the choir from South Australia to attend the 4th World Symposium of Choral Music and sing in the Australian National Choir’s two performances in August of the Berlioz Requiem with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House. It is not clear if this went ahead.
The final performance of the year saw Denise Rothall, a conductor with the Adelaide Girls’ Choir who had recently completed a Masters of Music (Choral Conducting) in the United States, conduct Graduate Singers for an Advent Carol Service at Christ Church, North Adelaide, on 1 December. The committee of the day also commenced a selection process for the next Director of Music, which resulted in Andrew Close being appointed to the position from the beginning of 1997.
Compiled and written by Alison McDougall