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18 May 2011

Art Music Awards 2011 - John Hopkins and Patrick Thomas (presentation speeches)

Patrick Thomas and John Hopkins at the Awards ceremony on 3 May 2011 Image: Patrick Thomas and John Hopkins at the Awards ceremony on 3 May 2011  

The highlight of the 2011 Art Music Awards ceremony on 3 May was the presenting of the special Award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music to conductors John Hopkins and Patrick Thomas. The recipients of this Award were determined by the Board of Directors of APRA and the AMC. (For a full list of winners, please see the Awards subpage.)

One of Australia's most esteemed conductors and administrators, British-born John Hopkins OBE was the youngest chief conductor of the BBC Orchestra at age 24. On settling in Australia, Hopkins became recognised as an innovator. As Federal Director of Music for the ABC, he initiated a concert series featuring avant-garde works by international composers as well as actively championing the work of Australian artists.

Orchestral conductor, flautist and writer, Patrick Thomas OBE has had a distinguished career in music spanning 60 years. Originally from Brisbane, Thomas made some of his first appearances as a flautist with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and went on to become the orchestra's chief conductor. He founded the Patrick Thomas Singers in Brisbane and, in 1964, became resident conductor of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust Opera Company and the Australian Ballet. He has worked with numerous Australian orchestras and guest-conducted the Moscow Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra and Prague Radio Orchestra, among others.

John Raymond Hopkins - presentation speech by Benjamin Northey

Measuring the contribution of an individual to Australian music is a difficult task. It is made all the more difficult when that contribution has been so sustained and far-reaching as is the case with conductor, educator and administrator John Hopkins. John arrived in Australia in 1963 at the tender age of 36, to take the post of Federal Director of Music for the ABC, a vast leadership position responsible for overseeing the activities of all the then ABC orchestras. He held the post until 1973 and, during this decade, oversaw the most vibrant and prolific period in terms of performances of Australian music new and old.

His pioneering 'Proms' series of orchestral concerts tapped into changing social attitudes of the late 1960s and early 1970s, providing a more informal concert platform to showcase a generation of Australian composers alongside the best new European orchestral works of the time. It's also interesting to note that this series was a wild box-office success, with subscriptions being regularly sold out and queues stretching city blocks for tickets. Its focus on the now captured a vibrant new young audience whilst only ever so slightly, and perfectly appropriately, offending sections of the conservative establishment.

During this decade with the ABC and beyond John has consistently championed Australian music. The legacy of this support for Australian composers at pivotal periods in their development can be seen in the distinguished careers of Peter Sculthorpe, Richard Meale, Nigel Butterley, Felix Werder, Don Banks, Barry Conyngham and others too numerous to mention. John is also internationally regarded as a leading expert on the music of Percy Grainger and has been the primary figure in sustaining the Australian performing tradition of his music.

As an educator, John has made an equally important impact on Australian music. He was founding Dean of the Victorian College of the Arts, Director of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Head of the National Academy of Music, and is currently an honorary professorial fellow of the School of Music at the University of Melbourne where he runs a flourishing conducting program - of which I am very proud to be a graduate. Indeed our state orchestras are filled with musicians who played under John either at university or with the Australian Youth Orchestra or at National or State music camps. All still retain the greatest respect and affection for this important figure in their musical lives.

A firm believer in grass-roots community music making, John is an example of a bold innovator who believes in the art of possibility. Where it seems there is no way, John has a knack of finding one. His innate musicality, his strong-willed northern English work ethic and his visionary and inspirational leadership have changed the musical landscape in Australia and helped shape our cultural history. It is my very great honour to present the 2011 Award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music to my very dear friend and mentor, John Hopkins.

Patrick Thomas - presentation speech by Martin Buzacott

Brisbane-born Patrick Thomas is exactly the same age as the ABC - both came into the world in 1932 - and his career has been inextricably linked with that of the national broadcaster.

When he was 12 years old, Patrick attended Eugene Ormandy's legendary wartime performances at the Brisbane City Hall, acquired the great man's autograph, and decided that he wanted to become a conductor himself. It was a childhood decision which would have major ramifications not just for Patrick himself, but for Australian music-making generally, and Australian composers in particular.

Patrick initially came to prominence with the Adelaide Singers which he conducted from the mid-1960s. This was the last surviving ensemble of the ABC's old wireless choruses, and under his direction, a long and distinguished catalogue of Australian works were programmed and premiered. It would become a theme of Patrick's entire career. Wherever he went, whether conducting with vocal ensembles or orchestras, whether in hardcore avant-garde extravaganzas or light music soirees, throughout the country, outstanding performances of new Australian music would follow.

In 1973 he became Chief Conductor of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra - the orchestra with which he made his debut as third flute in the first-ever QSO concert in 1947. During his five years in the job, he demonstrated that he could conduct anything, from Mozart to Sibelius, to Penderecki, and he did, in scintillating concerts that those of us who witnessed them have never forgotten.

Most of all, though, those of us who grew up in Brisbane during the 1970s will always remember those Modern Music Forum concerts, organised by Patrick and the ABC's Queensland Music Manager at the time, Tony Gould. In these landmark events, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under Patrick played the major new works of Australian orchestral repertoire emerging at the time, by composers like Peter Sculthorpe, Don Banks, James Penberthy and Eric Gross, as well as local composers like Colin Brumby and Philip Bracanin, plus older works by Raymond Hanson, and so many more. There were so many of us - I dare say so many even in this room tonight - so many young Queenslanders at the time who were inspired by his example to pursue careers in contemporary music ourselves.

But this kind of activity on behalf of Australian music wasn't confined to the improbable setting of Joh Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland. Patrick conducted this kind of new Australian repertoire all over the country, with all the orchestras, as his vast recording legacy, much of it with the Sydney and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras, demonstrates.

Then in the late 1970s, Patrick moved to Sydney to become the ABC's conductor in residence, and as part of that role he helped to uncover new Australian composers - names we hadn't heard of at the time like Graeme Koehne, Gerard Brophy, Andrew Schultz, Michael Smetanin and Brenton Broadstock - a whole new generation of Australian composers who are now leading figures in our musical life.

The nearest figure we can calculate with certainty is that during the height of his Australian career from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, Patrick conducted the music of at least 110 different Australian composers. There are probably many more than this. With many of these composers he established long-term relationships, conducting multiple works of theirs at all stages of their careers, and championing their cause at every opportunity.

This was one of the really important things about Patrick as a conductor and as an advocate for Australian music - he didn't just give first performances by contemporary composers, although he certainly gave an unprecedented number of those. He championed the music of ALL Australian composers, living and dead, and he gave as many second and third and fourth performances - keeping the new music alive and circulating - as he did premieres.

So now you can type the name of almost any Australian composer you can think of into a sound or broadcast library catalogue, and chances are you'll turn up performances conducted by Patrick Thomas.

But this extraordinary legacy was achieved at considerable personal and professional cost. For a man who had done so much for so long for so many others, and whose international career was flourishing at the time, his opportunities to conduct in Australia from the mid-1980s onwards were limited to almost nothing. This long-time champion of Australian composers now found himself without a champion himself.

But history is already treating him with deservedly greater respect. In fact, aside from our main reason for honouring him tonight, I'm delighted to announce that later this year, ABC Classics will release an eight-volume collection of Patrick Thomas's ABC recordings, to appear in our Australian Masters series. Fittingly, the boxed set will include the work of up to a dozen Australian composers.

But that's in the future. Tonight, it is my great pleasure and my privilege to present the 2011 Award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music to Patrick Thomas.

Further links

Art Music Awards - AMC Online
'Distinguished Services Award to Hopkins and Thomas' (Resonate 29 April 2011)
'Winners of the inaugural art music awards announced' (Resonate 4 May 2011)
Art Music Awards 2011 - photo gallery

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