Fallen WW1 soldier of Bendigo honoured through music
These are the heartbreaking last words of a Bendigo boy in a final letter to his mum before the young soldier was killed in action on the Western Front in WWI. Private Leslie Robins’ poignant words formed the inspiration for his great-great-nephew Andrew Harrison to compose an extraordinary contemporary classical work, If Not In This World, to be premiered at two major concerts of the same name.
If Not In This World, along with another new work by Bendigo-based composer Rohan Phillips, Meditations on der Krieg, will be performed by the acclaimed Arcko Symphonic Ensemble in two powerful and emotionally-charged concerts in Bendigo on Saturday 10 November and the following day in Melbourne on Sunday 11 November, the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.
Arcko, featuring 21 virtuoso Melbourne musicians for these concerts, has forged a reputation for delivering original, memorable and creative concerts that acknowledge significant events in world history with new Australian music.
As well as the two new works, the concerts will feature two dramatic solo piano pieces and readings of poetry, using words and images of Australians who saw action during, or were directly affected by, WWI.
The piano solos are: The Drumfire Was Incessant (solo for piano, also by Andrew Harrison, depicting the Battle of Pozieres; to be played by Peter Dumsday) and Menin Gate by revered octogenarian composer, Helen Gifford, a musical interpretation of Longstaff’s eerie painting Menin Gate at Midnight. (Serendipitously, Gifford’s father actually served in the same battalion as young Private Robins. This has led to Gifford and Andrew Harrison forging a strong friendship. Gifford is also the second cousin of Rohan Phillips and a major influence in his work). Menin Gate for solo piano will be performed by Joy Lee. Vocal soloists for If Not In This World will be Justine Anderson (soprano) and Robert Latham (tenor).
Selected readings will be taken from An English Vision of Empire by Corporal Frederick Wynne Phillips, who is Arcko founder and conductor Timothy Phillips’ (no relation to Rohan Phillips) grandfather, and who served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.
Rohan Phillips’ new piece, Meditations on der Krieg, is based on the harrowing war paintings of German expressionist painter Otto Dix, who saw action on the Western Front fighting for the Germans.
Similarly, the tragic last letter of young Private Robins contains matter-of-fact descriptions of the relentless shelling and the traumatic conditions suffered in the trenches. The document, together with Robins’ mother’s letters to the War Office, as she sought solace and comfort in artefacts to remember her son, inspired composer Andrew Harrison to explore the loss and mourning of soldiers by their families left behind. In If Not In This World, a deeply moving and personal work, Harrison addresses the universal themes of war, telling a tale of love, loss and longing in music.
While there is a strong Bendigo connection to these works, with the local performances enabling those connected to Private Robins and Rohan Phillips the opportunity to engage with this singularly important event, the stories and themes are deeply relatable to thousands of people the world over. The concerts promise to form a heart-wrenching—but also uplifting—element of this year’s Armistice Day commemorations, honouring the bravery and sacrifice both of our fallen soldiers and their families.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. Philanthropic partners are the Robert Salzer Foundation and the Australian Cultural Fund.
DatesSaturday 10 November 2018
St Paul's Cathedral Bendigo
8 Myers Street, Bendigo, Victoria 3552, Australia 7:30pm to 8:40pm
Sunday 11 November 2018
Carlton Church of All Nations
180 Palmerston Street, Carlton, Victoria 3053, Australia
7:30pm to 8:40pm