THE FACE

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile - JANE FRASER GAVIN LOCKLEY COM­POSER

FOR as long as he can re­mem­ber, com­poser Gavin Lockley wanted to use mu­sic to il­lus­trate the beauty of Aus­tralia, the achieve­ments of the peo­ple and their cul­tural di­ver­sity. It’s some­thing he thought he would never ac­com­plish, but on Tues­day his Sym­phony of Aus­tralia will pre­miere at the Syd­ney Opera House. It is the cul­mi­na­tion of ev­ery­thing he’s ever dreamed of, and Lockley is only 29.

Mu­sic is in his genes. Singing teacher Ruth Lockley, her pri­mary school teacher hus­band Arthur and their chil­dren Gavin and Catherine were a singing quar­tet who strut­ted their stuff in an in­con­spic­u­ous pub in the Blue Moun­tains re­gion of NSW. In be­tween th­ese en­gage­ments they would per­form in lo­cal nurs­ing homes and churches, so singing was al­ways part of Gavin’s daily diet.

Lockley’s pro­fes­sional mu­si­cal ca­reer goes back 18 years, to the role of Gavroche in Cameron Mac­in­tosh’s pro­duc­tion of Les Mis­er­ables in Syd­ney. This was fol­lowed by an in­vi­ta­tion to join Opera Aus­tralia’s chil­dren’s cho­rus, where he sang the role of Miles in Ben­jamin Brit­ten’s Turn of the Screw and Au­gust in Douglas Kne­han’s cham­ber opera The As­cen­sion of Robert Flau . . . and on it goes, a reper­toire of which any­one would be jus­ti­fi­ably proud.

In his free time Lockley started to write and con­duct and be­came a mem­ber of a com­edy rou­tine called The Three Wait­ers on the in­ter­na­tional cor­po­rate en­ter­tain­ment cir­cuit, so it is hardly sur­pris­ing that af­ter school he stud­ied at Syd­ney’s Con­ser­va­to­rium of Mu­sic, sang in the Aus­tralian Opera cho­rus and won a schol­ar­ship to Ger­many to con­tinue his jour­ney into the world of mu­sic.

Lockley’s time there was cut short in 2001 when a night­mare that haunts many mu­si­cians came true. He de­vel­oped repet­i­tive strain in­jury and, un­able to make a liv­ing play­ing the pi­ano, had to come home. At 21 he thought it was all over. This was all the more hor­ri­fy­ing be­cause age and in­dis­po­si­tion does not of­ten weary mu­si­cians, es­pe­cially con­duc­tors. Among those who play in­stru­ments, sing, com­pose or con­duct, there is a peck­ing or­der, ruled by se­nior­ity. ‘‘ I think we’re all trau­ma­tised un­til we’re about 60,’’ Lockley ex­plains. ‘‘ I met a man who is prob­a­bly the best pi­anist around. He’s 17. But if I was con­duct­ing, even if he was a bet­ter mu­si­cian than me, be­cause I am 12 years older, I would call the shots.’’

Some­how, Lockley says, even the most tot­tery of con­duc­tors rise above phys­i­cal glitches. Charles Mack­er­ras, for ex­am­ple, has shoul­der prob­lems, Vladimir Ashke­nazy has arthri­tis, but there’s some­thing about the role of con­duc­tor that tran­scends pain. ‘‘ Per­haps it’s the ex­er­cise in­volved, the arm move­ments, the sheer phys­i­cal­ity, the ap­plause, the rush of power, which makes ev­ery one of them come alive on stage.’’

Lockley re­cov­ered from his trauma and, en­er­gised, per­haps by an in­ner re­al­i­sa­tion that his mu­si­cal am­bi­tions could be thwarted at any time, threw him­self into ev­ery as­pect of his tal­ent, from com­pos­ing to singing, pi­ano play­ing and con­duct­ing. His epiphany came with the com­po­si­tion of his work My Coun­try Aus­tralia.

Lockley and friend Michael Crouch, chair­man of the Friends of the Aus­tralian Fly­ing Doc­tor Ser­vice, had long thought that Aus­tralia needed a piece that would bring 100,000 peo­ple to their feet at sport­ing events, some­thing other than the some­what an­o­dyne Ad­vance Aus­tralia Fair or Waltz­ing Matilda.

He sur­prised him­self, he says, by writ­ing the song, which was sub­se­quently per­formed for Rugby Aus­tralia as well as at the NSW Schools Spec­tac­u­lar, the Youth Olympics and at in­ter­na­tional con­certs for the Royal Fly­ing Doc­tor Ser­vice.

Lockley be­lieves the fly­ing doc­tors rep­re­sent the spirit of Aus­tralia; the box of­fice from Tues­day’s per­for­mance will go to the ser­vice.

Lockley’s most re­cent ac­com­plish­ment was co­con­duct­ing the opera Dead Man Walk­ing : not ev­ery­one’s cup of tea, but nev­er­the­less a very pow­er­ful sub­ject, he says. ‘‘ It wasn’t an evening with Cole Porter!’’

Lockley is at present on leave from work­ing to­wards his PhD in mu­sic at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford’s Mag­dalen Col­lege.

He’d like to take Sym­phony of Aus­tralia ev­ery­where. ‘‘ We’d like to do it in Asia and all the rest of Aus­tralia, es­pe­cially at Uluru, the spir­i­tual soul of the coun­try, out­doors.’’ The sym­phony, which in­cor­po­rates the themes of My Coun­try Aus­tralia, was writ­ten far from home while the mu­si­cian was liv­ing in Lon­don and felt home­sick. ‘‘ As I wan­dered the streets wish­ing for a bit of sun, I was struck with the idea of cre­at­ing a sym­phony that would tell the story of the Aus­tralian na­tion. What were the key events in Aus­tralia’s his­tory which could best be de­scribed in mu­sic?

‘‘ I de­ter­mined that the Dream­time had to be the be­gin­ning and, re­al­is­ing that this could not be writ­ten in gloomy Eng­land, I flew to Cairns and dis­cussed the project with a man called Vic­tor St­ef­fensen, a film­maker and land con­ser­va­tion­ist, who ex­plained that I needed to cap­ture the feel of the land if my mu­sic was to carry any weight. To my huge re­lief, he liked the fin­ished prod­uct.’’

And now this leit­mo­tif con­tin­ues in Sym­phony of Aus­tralia with The Ships, the story of the First Fleet, the third move­ment of which de­picts the jour­ney of Burke and Wills, sum­ming up the strug­gle of pi­o­neers.

This is fol­lowed by the Pie Jesu, a lament for the ser­vice­men and women who gave their lives in war. Then there’s mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and, fi­nally, a song of cel­e­bra­tion to Dorothea Mackel­lar’s im­mor­tal poem My Coun­try.

‘‘ The end of the per­for­mance has the chant­ing of the word ‘ Aus­tralia’ by choir and orches­tra,’’ Lockley says. ‘‘ I guess my dream is to see all Aus­tralians on their feet at rugby and soc­cer games, singing the name of their coun­try at the top of their lungs.’’

Pic­ture: Alan Pryke

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