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28 August 2018

Ralph Middenway (1932-2018)

Ralph Middenway Image: Ralph Middenway  

Hobart-based composer, editor and writer Ralph Middenway has died on 22 August at the age of 85.

Middenway was born in Sydney on 9 September 1932. Through various studies (music, anthropology and linguistics, among others) at Sydney University, he began to develop his ideas about music in our own and other cultures. He was influenced by Peter Platt's and Donald Peart's conducting, sang in choirs, and appeared as a conductor. He studied aspects of composition with friend and neighbour Raymond Hanson, as well as Eric Gross.

Writing and teaching music and drama, singing and conducting kept him increasingly busy, and, instead of completing a degree, he soon found himself working in various roles from teacher to theatre manager, stage director, production manager and theatre consultant. He moved to Adelaide where, for twelve years, he worked at Adelaide University Union, ending up as its CEO, followed by a period managing the Parks Community Centre.

In 1983 he started working as a full-time freelance composer. His work was championed by conductor Patrick Thomas, and performed by the ABC Adelaide Singers, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and West Australian Symphony Orchestra. Other notable performers of his music include Elizabeth Campbell, Australian String Quartet, Australian Brass Quintet, Robert Dawe, Sally Mays, the Australian Youth Orchestra and Michael Kieran Harvey. In addition to Australia, his music has also been performed in Europe, North America and Japan.

Through his theatre work and love of the human voice, Ralph Middenway inevitably gravitated towards opera. His three operas are The Letters of Amalie Dietrich, a one-act four-hander commissioned by the State Opera of South Australia; Barossa, a Singspiel commissioned by Brian Chatterton for Australia's Bicentennial; and The Tempest.

For twenty years Middenway was also a critic and feature writer for publications including The Australian and The Advertiser newspapers. In 2001 he co-edited a book of essays on Parsifal for the South Australian Wagner Society.

In 2008 he and his wife sold their native flower farm near Adelaide and moved to Hobart. A major project undertaken in Tasmania was a new full performing edition of the Play of Daniel, to be sung in Latin, in three different versions. A recent, large-scale project was a cantata about St Francis of Assisi, The Sun of Umbria (2013), using poetry by Hobart poet and educator Clive Sansom.

In August 2015 Middenway graduated with a PhD from the University of Tasmania, with a folio of compositions and an exegesis focussed on setting words to music.

He is survived by his wife, Aina Dambitis, daughters, Leigh Middenway, Marion Middenway and Alison Bounds and three grandsons.

A memorial service for Ralph Middenway will be organised at Graham Family Funeral Home Chapel, 73 Risdon Road, New Town TAS 7008 on Saturday 8 September 2018 at 1.00pm. Family and friends are warmly invited to attend. Flowers accepted or donations may be made to the RSPCA and will be gratefully received at the Service.

> Ralph Middenway - AMC profile

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