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Wondrous music in the nation’s capital

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“The people involved in amateur music in Canberra are so talented, and work hard to create some amazing performances.”

Canberra’s music scene is one of its best assets, says an up-and-coming harpist preparing for a collaboration between the Canberra Choral Society and the National Capital Orchestra.

This Saturday 3 June, two of Canberra’s great musical institutions will come together to present ‘Wonder’, a celebration of contemporary Australian Music, at the Llewellyn Hall.

Elizabeth Alford

Elizabeth Alford

Elizabeth Alford is principal percussionist with National Capital Orchestra and also plays harp. She moved to Canberra from Sydney just over two years ago to take up a graduate post in the public service, and says she was immediately impressed by our musical vibe.

“The people involved in amateur music in Canberra are so talented, and work hard to create some amazing performances.”

Alford says Canberra’s music scene is one of its strengths. “Everyone is just so dedicated and talented, yet also very friendly and eager to help newcomers get involved. And, unlike Sydney, everything is just a short drive away,” which makes collaborating with many different artists across the city an easy proposition.

After starting piano lessons as a small child, Alford’s teacher suggested she learn a rare instrument. The seed was planted and she began learning the harp when she was nine. In high school, her orchestra was lacking percussionists, so she took that up too.

Is there much call for the harp these days? Quite a bit, apparently. Alford says modern music “seems to like them”. She’s excited to be performing in the upcoming concert, particularly as it features music entirely by Australian composers, “which is really rare for an amateur orchestra”.

“Modern classical music often has an unfair reputation as being inaccessible, but I think this concert shows that it definitely isn’t. There’s something for everyone.”


Artistic Director of the Canberra Choral Society, Dianna Nixon, says this is the second time the CCS and NCO have teamed up, which demonstrates the “depth of interest in this type of performance-making in our community”.

Nixon has combined her skills as pianist, singer, actor, director and producer over the last 35 years, working on an impressive array of projects – from major festivals, operas and concerts to community cultural development and from TV and film to touring music theatre.

Nixon says she was “mad about music and dancing” even at the tender age of two, and her first favourite album was a recording of arias by Dame Joan Sutherland.

Nixon arrived in Canberra in 2004, and has steadily built a living here as a multidisciplinary artist. Currently she’s working on choral projects, theatre works, teaching both piano and voice, developing film projects, and working towards recitals.

“I love the artistic freedom I’ve been able to create for myself here,” she says.

Nixon says Canberra is “somewhere off the radar” so it’s possible to create a practice without being hamstrung by the “usual expectations” of a bigger city.

“There is a good amount of infrastructure, it is a wealthy city, the climate is gorgeous, and one can ride a bike to rehearsals and performances.

“I live out of town enjoying the natural environment, but still have easy access to the great collecting institutions for research, and access to great visiting artists and many local events of high quality.”

So, what can the audience expect from Wonder?

Firstly, one of Australia’s finest composers, Artistic Director of Musica Viva Carl Vine, will be in attendance and will give a pre-show talk about his works.

The National Capital Orchestra, led by brilliant young conductor Leonard Weiss, will present Graeme Koehne’s vibrant Tivoli Dances to set the scene.

This will be followed with Vine’s Choral Symphony which Nixon says “seems to come from deep in the earth and float to the heavens”.

After interval, the audience will be treated to Matthew Hindson’s It Is Better To Be Feared Than Loved, which Nixon calls a “fiery and meticulous setting” of Machiavelli’s famous words from Chapter 17 of The Prince.

“It’s a very apt text for our turbulent political times, and a theatrical and exciting piece utilising contemporary, jazz and rock idioms.”

The concert concludes with the “hopefulness” of Vine’s glorious setting of Walt Whitman’s beloved poem Wonders, featuring Penelope Mills and Christopher Hillier who sang the solos for the world premiere in September last year.

Each piece gives the orchestra and choir “a chance to show what they can do, and be stretched to their maximum potential,” Nixon promises. I can’t wait.

Tickets are available online.


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