History

THE MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ORGAN AND HARSICHORD

A BRIEF HISTORY

John Maidment OAM

The Festival was founded in 1971 by Sergio de Pieri, organist of St Patrick?s Cathedral, Melbourne, as the Melbourne Autumn Festival of Organ and Harpsichord. The initial Festival was a small event and closely focussed upon the music for the two instruments; using local performers, it took place in inner-suburban churches.

Douglas Lawrence took over as artistic director in 1972 and continued in this role until 1985. In 1973, thanks to a very dedicated committee and the work of an administrator Nada Brozel, attendances greatly increased. By 1975, international artists of the calibre of Peter Hurford were being engaged.

Audiences consisted not only of Melburnians, but were increasingly attracted from interstate and New Zealand. Many students of the organ and the harpsichord attended and benefitted from the masterclasses and lectures that were conducted by the Festival?s artists. An important sense of camaraderie developed, aided by the social events that took place every evening.

The Festival commissioned a great number of new works from Australian composers and these were performed at various Festivals. This is a very important legacy from those days.

Over the years, many important overseas artists were engaged. These included the organists Gillian Weir, Peter Hurford, Piet Kee, Susan Landale, Ton Koopman, Peter Planyavsky, Christopher Dearnley, Martin Haselb?ck, David Hill, Thomas Trotter, Hans Fagius, Olivier Latry, Harald Vogel, Petr Eben and Kevin Bowyer, with the harpsichordists Igor Kipnis, Robert Edward Smith, Christiane Jaccottet, Glen Wilson, Bob van Asperen and Davitt Moroney. They performed not only solo recitals, but also with instrumental ensembles and gave lectures and masterclasses. Many of the important exponents of the organ in Australia and New Zealand have also appeared at successive Festivals.

When the Festival was established, the early music movement was in its infancy. Instruments made in the baroque style were almost impossible to obtain. Over two decades, performers were able to acquire period-style string, woodwork and brass instruments and develop appropriate playing techniques. At the same time, mechanical action organs of classical style and splendidly crafted harpsichords were featured at Festivals and indeed at exhibitions that took place in public locations.

By 1979, the Festival had incorporated the name International into its title and it certainly had established an international reputation. The administration of the Festival changed in the late 1980s and David Agg became its administrator, maintaining the high standards of musical performance that had been established by Douglas Lawrence.

Sadly, the existing Festival closed in 2003.

John Maidment OAM