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21 March 2013

Arcko at the tip of the iceberg

Arcko Symphonic Ensemble Image: Arcko Symphonic Ensemble  

Since Michael Kieran Harvey's Peggy Glanville-Hicks address last year there has been a fair bit of debate around the place of Australian classical music on the stages and in the programs of Australia's leading music organisations and concert halls. It is also an apt time to reflect on a group that for five years has quietly been tackling this situation head-on with programs jam packed full of Australian music!

The Melbourne-based Arcko Symphonic Ensemble is my creation and began life in June 2008 when it was known as the Arcko Symphonic Project. While based in Germany during the 1990s, performing with the likes of Ensemble Modern and Klangforum Wien and at the same time contemplating a return to Australia, I identified a hole in the performing landscape during the inaugural summer tour with the Ensemble Modern Orchestra - this is a group formed once or twice a year since, to perform the symphonic music of this and the last century. This was what was missing here, and so the seed for the Arcko was sown.

What separates the Arcko from the many other wonderful performing groups in Australia is its commitment to the large-scale repertoire (when money allows), and its programming policy of 90-100% Australian content per concert. Running on the smell of an oily rag and with immense good will from players and a select number of volunteers, the Arcko can, in one concert, perform as much Australian repertoire as some organisations do in a year!

I am a hopeless idealist and probably very naive, but there are several goals driving my work with the Arcko:

• the creation of a more sustainable classical music scene through performance and re-performance of works (not this 'premiere and forget' mentality),
• to discover and re-discover our wonderful but neglected heritage composers and create a link between them and our present day composers, and
• to give audience-members and performers alike the chance to hear and perform the music of our time again and again, thus contributing to greater appreciation for, experience with and knowledge of, some truly amazing music.

This is an almost insurmountable challenge, to counter Australia's conservatism as a nation, and there are numerous institutional and financial obstacles in the way (and I often feel like chucking it all in), but a small and growing number of people care about this sort of thing and that's what keeps it afloat. While there are still any icebergs at all, Arcko will remain at the tip of one, doing its tiny bit to address the imbalance I identified all those years ago, from a European vantage point.

We'd love to see you at one of our shows - please visit the website.

Forthcoming Arcko events

Two Worlds
6 April at 8pm, at Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne
Works by Hullick, Bastow, Gifford
More event details (AMC Calendar)

Chamber View Three
1 and 2 June at 7:30 and 3pm, respectively, at Fitzroy Town Hall,
Works by Butterley, Lim, Dargaville, Gifford

Subjects discussed by this article:

Timothy Phillips is a Melbourne-based conductor/percussionist who trained in Canberra and Germany. His main focus these days is the Arcko Symphonic Ensemble of which he is the artistic director.


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