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17 February 2020

This Is Not a Violin, It Is a Doorway

ReVerse Butcher's collage on Paul Davies's semi-acoustic violin - <a href="https://micnet-cdn.s3.amazonaws.com/images/resonate/doorway-violin.jpg" target="blank">larger view</a>. Image: ReVerse Butcher's collage on Paul Davies's semi-acoustic violin - larger view.  

Violinist Sarah Curro and Melbourne artist ReVerse Butcher's new digital book This Is Not a Violin, It Is a Doorway is not a conventional publication, rather a living document of an artistic process involving, among other things, the decorating of a semi-acoustic violin designed and built by Curro's husband, luthier Paul Davies. Covering the violin with a collage of nine graphic scores (all related to the 'Dies Irae' from Benjamin Britten's War Requiem) became a metaphor for music as a form of transportation, a doorway between this and another reality.

Around the finalising of the book, Sarah Curro's father passed away at the age of 86. John Curro AM MBE was the Queensland-based founder and conductor of the Queensland Youth Orchestras, whose life's work lives on in those thousands of musicians and music lovers who found their own calling in the ranks of the QYO. The following passage 'Music clips' from This Is Not a Violin, It Is a Doorway doesn't mention Australian music, so it's worth adding here, as a reminder of John Curro's wide-ranging tastes, a list of composers whose work he championed through performances and commissions. These included at least: Peter Sculthorpe, Brett Dean, Carl Vine, Allan Zavod, Anton Koch, Julian Yu, Richard Mills, Wilfred Lehmann, Philip Bracanin, Samuel Dickenson, John Rotar, Alexander Voltz, Peter Rankine, Chris Andrews, Ian McKinley, Stefan Cassomenos, Simon Cobcroft, Robert Davidson, John Gilfedder, Iain Grandage, Geoff Grantham, Thomas Green, Michael Knopf, Stephen Leek, Gordon Hamilton, Sean O'Boyle, Chris Patrick, Larry Sitsky, Joseph Twist and Katherine Summit.

> Sarah Curro's own series of commissions has grown into ten 'Volumes' - read an earlier blog article about Volume 4 (Resonate 31 October 2011). See also website www.volumeconcert.com.au.

Memorial celebration of the life of John Curro brought together 300 QYO musicians, past and present,
on 22 December 2019 at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane.
Music clips (extract)

In 1967 my father John Curro created the Queensland Youth Orchestra.

In 1988 I was 14. It was the year of my first paid performing gig as the only violinist in a production of Iolanthe by Gilbert and Sullivan. It was a fabulous year for Brisbane. Expo 88 was so exciting, just like an up-sized Royal Show. Renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin found himself wanting to play a concerto as part of the prestigious expo but no professional orchestras were available. Luckily for us it, was mentioned to him that the QYO was no ordinary youth orchestra, so we accompanied him for Beethoven's Violin Concerto. The musicians of the youth orchestra were given an all access pass to the grounds because we were performing. How completely exciting!

That year, the Festival of Youth Orchestras was hosted by the Queensland Youth Orchestra. There must have been money growing on trees in those days because the QYO managed to organise a national tour for the Bavarian Youth Orchestra, New Zealand National Youth Orchestra, Tokyo Youth Orchestra, Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra and the Australian Youth Orchestra. I'm embarrassed to say I don't remember the concerts as much as the parties held at my house in New Farm.

Also in that utterly intense year, my father programmed the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten for his top orchestra QYO 1 (later renamed Queensland Youth Symphony or QYS). I remember thinking how annoying it was to be playing something so un-famous, not to mention the fact that the actual sheet music was so hard to read and written in an unfamiliar harmonic language (I knew basically nothing then). It required a symphony orchestra, a chamber orchestra, a children's choir, a full chorus and soprano, tenor and baritone soloists. My sister Monica lead the chamber orchestra and I did my bit at the back of the second violins of the main orchestra proud to be a tiny cog in the orchestral machine. What followed was a total rewiring of my neural pathways, a permanent transformation of the way I felt music.

The only other event I can think of to match it is the magnificent and miraculously attempted Gothic Symphony by Havergal Brian. If you need any proof of my father's dogged determination in musical matters, please watch The Curse of the Gothic Symphony, a documentary by Fury Productions.

My father's attitude to music is the same as his attitude to people. Towards both he is fair-minded and respectful, and diligent in bringing out the absolute best. He values The 3 Bs (Bach, Beethoven and Brahms) no more or less than the English masters Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Britten or the Italian masters Verdi, Respighi and Puccini, and equally hailing the Eastern Europeans Bartók, Janačék and Ligeti. And he would not dream of placing the French masters last, as I have done so here, knowing Debussy, Ravel and Messiaen to be both astounding orchestrators and vandals of traditional harmony.

But to hear him wax lyrical on the topic of the Americans like Barber, Copland and Bernstein, you'd think they were his favourites. Then he'll start singing Sondheim tunes (Send in The Clowns or A Weekend in the Country) and talk of the great musical theatre canon as utter genius. With a childhood that did not discriminate between the orchestral giants of the last two centuries, I had the very best foundation from which to appreciate all music. And I mean all music. Although Dad wasn't too happy when we kids fought with him about watching Countdown. Strangely, he never stopped us watching Dr Who (guaranteed nightmares), The Goodies (questionable role models) or The Benny Hill Show (ew). [...]

> Sarah Curro & ReVerse Butcher: This Is Not a Violin, It Is a Doorway (Make Books 2020) - More details and purchases: Apple Books

> Obituary of John Curro in the Limelight magazine


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