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Brits in Oz: Trevor Green and Charles Bodman Rae

John Robert Brown

Trevor Green is now in his ninth year as managing director of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. His impressive career includes a spell as assistant principal trumpet with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, time spent as a teacher of trumpet at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and work as a freelance member of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble during 1970 and 1974. Between 1977 and 1985 he was Orchestral Manager of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, then director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) orchestras from 1985 to 1988, before returning to the BBC Philharmonic.

"I've had two goes at the orchestras, really," he says. "I came out on the back of the Tribe Report, which looked into the future of orchestras in Australia. The recommendation in that report was that these orchestras, all six of them, should be divested to the states. Then we've been through two reviews since I've been here: the Nugent Inquiry, and the Strong Review."

The latter completed its findings in 2005. On 31 December last year all the Australian orchestras ceased to have a relationship with the ABC, except through broadcasting. "We are independent of the national broadcaster. Our money comes from the federal government and the state government.

"We have a set of guidelines, with a lot of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to own up to. We get just over $11 million. We have to be very accountable for that. In the agreement are things like industrial reform, so we have to prove each year that we are improving our industrial relationship with our musicians. Not so easy! There's a big debate in Australia about the power of the unions, about workers' relationships, about the kinds of work practices that happen here. It's a big thing for this particular government. We don't have strikes - nothing as bad as that! Australia has done quite well. Productivity growth is about seven per cent at the moment, and I think unemployment is as low as it has been for 33 years." That was when the Labour party (lead by Gough Whitlam) got into government after a period of 23 years of a conservative Liberal Party government in Australia. "Our government has a really good scene going here. All the workers have collective bargaining with their union and with the employer. What the Government has put in is a series of Australian work place agreements. This gives one a packaged contract, with no overtime, no penalty payments, but holidays are included."

Green sees it as a good system, provided the employer doesn't abuse it. "All my staff are on Australian work place agreements. I put them on to them. Nobody complains, because I honour all their days off. But I don't pay overtime, I don't pay weekend penalty payments. They can take time in lieu if they work at weekends. We are now locked into this Government policy on industrial reform, and we have to deliver or we don't get our cash each year. And that's every orchestra, every company. There are sets of KPIs that we have to honour and deliver - in education, in new music, in broad repertoire, in audience development, in lots of different things - to get our money back each year. The government gave me 62% of my total funds; it's now down to about 52%. If you look at Manchester, Birmingham and Scotland, they are at about 38%, I think. We are nearer 50%, and places like Tasmania, which has a very small orchestra, is 85% Government sponsored. If you want an orchestra in Tasmania, that's the price you have to pay, because there's not the population.

"Melbourne and Sydney, as big orchestras, dominate the orchestral scene in Australia. Then there are reasonably sized orchestras in Perth, Adelaide and Queensland, and a small band of about 50 players in Tasmania. That's about 560 musicians. "It's a 'can do' country. I find it very exciting and stimulating working out here. With the MSO we've had some great projects - major tours, and good recordings. We manage to break even each year, and bring in a surplus of a million dollars each year, which is terrific." After the war, Australia, and particularly Melbourne, took more of the refugee holocaust survivors than anywhere else. "Jews leaving Europe came to Melbourne in droves," he says. "They brought the culture of music and music appreciation with them. Our subscriptions are 90% renewal, which is marvellous. Some have been coming for 70 years.

"The standard of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has risen out of all recognition. We've just come back from a major European tour in January, played in Spain, Paris, Berlin and Milan, and they had a great success. The reviews in Spain and Paris were fabulous. It's a big gig, $2.5 million to get us out of Australia. We've been to St Petersburg, to China, to Japan.

"The population of Australia was only six million in the fifties. Now we have 20 million people in a continent that's bigger than North America. I think Melbourne is one of the most sophisticated cities in the world, and certainly the most sophisticated city I've ever lived in. The restaurants are superb, the wine's good, it's all affordable. We have a great climate, there's lots of produce here, fresh fruit. In the last 25 or 30 years, Australia has blossomed. It's an incredible quality of life." Also enjoying that good life is Charles Bodman Rae who, just over five years ago, was recruited from the UK to become the Elder Professor of Music at Adelaide Conservatorium, part of the University of Adelaide.

"I suppose I was chosen principally because I was already in a senior position at the Royal Northern, in Manchester," he says. "I think my role there, and my experience there, appealed to them a lot, because clearly what they wanted to do here in Adelaide was to rebuild the reputation, and to rebuild the physical fabric of the Elder Conservatorium and, in my view, wisely judged that the best way to do that was to get somebody from the conservatoire sector, as opposed to the university music department sector.

"There are very clear differences between those things in the UK. The differences are perhaps less well understood in Australia. But they made that assessment. The person who was responsible for that, Malcolm Gillies, then had a senior position here as an executive dean. He's a musician, a musicologist. He has held various music appointments. He's the author of many books on Bartók, including the Grove Dictionary article on Bartók; he's the key scholar in English. I think he was able to make those assessments, about the nature of what a conservatoire is. Malcolm has now gone on to much greater things. Recently he's been appointed as Vice Chancellor of City University in London.

"Clearly they wanted to rebuild the Elder Conservatorium and make it back into what it should have been, and had been in its history, which was Australia's leading conservatoire. I wouldn't wish to overstate the case and say that we are the leading conservatoire. That kind of expression can be irritating to other institutions. I think it's fair to say that we are re-established as one of the top three in Australia. A few years ago that was certainly not the case. I suppose my all-round activities - composer, part-time pianist, done a bit of conducting, written a few books - that kind of all-rounder was probably a good match for this institution, because the core activity is musical performance, and we are very strong in composition. We have Australia's leading jazz department and my experience at Leeds College of Music was highly relevant in that regard. They judged that I would have sympathy for jazz education - which, of course, I do. "My experience at Leeds College of Music was experience of a dual-sector institution, which was funded partly from higher education and partly from further education, which many conservatories don't have - but we do. One of my tasks was to introduce that FE dimension here. The University of Adelaide is one of Australia's leading research intensive institutions. It's like a Russell Group university in the UK; it has that kind of status. Previously it didn't have any of that vocational FE training. One of the ideas for that was to merge two institutions - the existing Elder Conservatorium in a research university, plus what was the school of music in the FE sector. We merged the two. We now have this unique dual-sector status, a bit like Leeds College of Music.

"Before I was appointed there had already been a decision to change the name to Elder School of Music. I made it clear at the time that I didn't think that was a good idea, and that at some point the name should be changed back - which it was. We had to go through a long process of various government approvals to achieve that. It took effect from August 1st, 2005. It's not just a label; it's more than that. It genuinely indicates the ethos of an institution. The flag that I have always flown is that a conservatoire must provide intensive performance training. That means that individual one-to-one performance training, performance lessons, 30 hours or more per year, alongside everything else, is a given.

"It's not always a popular view in the university sector, always being regarded as a very expensive thing to deliver. One has to fight constant battles over it. Each time the senior management of an institution changes - vice chancellors and so forth - you have to convince new people. You have to go through all the old arguments again.

"We are fortunate to have a close, symbiotic, relationship with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO), which is one of the leading symphony orchestras in Australia. Because the ASO is on the doorstep, we can engage many of the players from that orchestra as part-time teachers. All the section leaders teach for us. Clearly their time is limited, but that is a strong attraction for students to come to us to study here, because they know that they can have their primary lessons with well-known practitioners in the field. That is, of course, what they want.

"The Elder Conservatorium of Music is one of Australia's largest musical institutions. We currently have about 575 music students altogether - 320 are undergraduates. We also have an honours programme, which is the equivalent of the UK's fourth year. We have about 35 masters students, and 40 or 50 or so doctoral students, which is the largest concentration of doctoral candidates in music in Australia. Five years ago there were three!"

First published in Classical Music magazine, 23 June 2007. Used by kind permission. www.rhinegold.co.uk
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