Royal Melbourne Philharmonic, keeping classical music alive

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By Rubal Kharbanda

 

Andrew Wailes photographed by Ken Pryor 2012

Andrew Wailes photographed by Ken Pryor 2012

In 1853 in Melbourne, a group of civic leaders and music enthusiasts formed a not for profit organization; the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic (RMP), to bring musical culture of a high standard to the early colony of Victoria. Since that time the RMP has presented performances at many historic occasions in this city, such as the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880, the opening of the First Australian Parliament in 1901, the opening of the Melbourne Town Hall, and the 1956 Olympic Games.

This year RMP celebrates 161 years in Melbourne, making it Australia’s oldest surviving cultural organisation and one of the oldest secular choirs in the world. Today, the 120-voice RMP Choir and RMP Orchestra continue to present critically acclaimed performances to national and international audiences. Operating and performing under the supervision of the RMP’s quintessential and internationally acclaimed Music Director, Andrew Wailes, the RMP is also committed to the encouragement and fostering of young musicians, and is recognised by many as Melbourne’s premier symphonic choir.

In recent years the RMP choir has appeared at many iconic Melbourne events; from ANZAC Day Dawn Services at the Shrine, to AFL Grand Finals, the Prime Minister’s Olympic Dinner and the Melbourne Cup, with major touring artists such as Josh Groban alongside them. Currently the RMP Orchestra has been invited to tour China three times and has not only supported the RMP Choir but also many of Melbourne’s other choral organisations, most recently appearing with superstar Michael Bublé in his Melbourne concerts.

Despite its long standing heritage, RMP faces numerous challenges in keeping up with the modern world, including embracing new music cultures through technology, such as iTunes and YouTube, that provide a new means to accessing music. Whilst the roots of music originated from native tribes and indigenous communities around the world, technology has brought digital music to the forefront, fast reducing our interaction with analogue and acoustic timbres. Pop culture has brought ‘One Hit Wonders’ to the top of iTunes charts while classical masterworks by legendary composers such as Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart are sadly becoming merely a part of the archives of music in history.

This genetic shift in music has had appalling repercussions on classical music. A testament to that shift is many local institutions; including Geminiani Orchestra, Academy of Melbourne Orchestra, Victorian College of the Arts Symphony Orchestra, Australian Classical Players, and the Australian Catholic University Choir, amongst others, all of which have closed down in the last decade. While other highly-funded ensembles such as Melbourne Chorale and Orchestra Victoria have been forced into take overs by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Australian Ballet, respectively. This is no coincidence. All suffered from declining audiences and particularly from a lack of funding for the arts and music education. Naturally, it doesn’t help when there are further cuts for the Performing Arts in the Fiscal Budget, and Government bodies, instead of supporting NFP organisations such as the RMP, have tended to provide more funding for privately owned businesses to thrive and boost revenue for the tax man.

While classical music ensembles sail through rough seas, there are still some NFP organisations such as RMP that are excelling artistically, but which are faced with the ever-daunting task of staying afloat for the sake of the future of classical music and the future of music in this country in general, despite the financial challenges they face.

Having met Andrew Wailes (RMP Artistic Director and Chief Conductor) and some of the extremely talented members of the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, I was compelled to reach out to the community in hope to trigger a conscious effort in preserving our heritage, our culture, and our music, and let them continue to prosper artistically. There is no harm in progression and modernisation. However, there is intangible benefit in preserving our inheritance, and passing on this legacy of Classical Music to future generations of classical audiences.

Royal Melbourne Philharmonic’s next project is the RMP Aria (a professional singing competition for emerging young soloists), and a performance of Mozart’s iconic _Requiem, at Deakin Edge Federation Square on August 10th. Visit www.rmp.org.au and grab a ticket to this amazing show and help this respected and venerable Melbourne institution in their efforts to keep classical music alive in our lives and our city.

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