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Mary Finsterer returns to Canberra

Emma Macdonald

The Canberra International Music Festival brings internationally acclaimed musicians to our city each year.

Mary Finsterer may not be an immediately recognisable face around Canberra. But she is undoubtedly one of the city’s most internationally successful musical exports—if not one of the country’s.

Raised in the suburb of Dickson, educated at St. Brigid’s Primary School and Merici College, Mary left Canberra for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and a stellar career as a composer.

Her list of accolades is lengthy—she’s received awards from Paris to Pittsburg and composed everything from chamber music, electro, and the score for Die Hard 4 which she recorded at Fox Studios in LA while on a Churchill Scholarship.

Describing herself as “the quiet one in the family” while other siblings jostled for performance rights in their suburban home, Mary never felt comfortable being the focus of attention.

Her younger brother Jack Finsterer has appeared on the small and large screen in everything from Neighbours to the feature film Kokoda. Her sister Anni is an AFI-award winning actor who has featured in Rake, Secret City and, most recently, the feature film Sweet Country. Mark is an accomplished guitarist while Kate worked in film casting for many years.

While the family has dissipated across the east coast of the country, Mary is returning to her place of birth as the composer-in-residence for the Canberra International Music Festival.

Fittingly, the theme of this year’s festival is “Return”.

According to the festival’s artistic director Roland Peelman, inviting Mary to become the central attraction was a “no-brainer”.

“I’ve known Mary for a long time now and I regard her as one of our most extraordinary composers—and a composer who deserves greater recognition for her many achievements.”

“She has gone out and left Canberra and proven herself internationally, and now she is coming back. I would invite audiences to come just to see and hear what this homegrown talent has become. Because I think Mary is very special.”

Mary is delighted to return, describing Canberra as a city containing hidden secrets and a “beautiful sense of understatement about it.”

On the theme of return, Mary feels both happy and emotional. She cannot bring herself to go back to the family home since the death of her father and her mother’s relocation to Sydney, and talks about her childhood with a catch in her voice.

“The circumstances of my life have changed but I don’t feel in my essence that I have changed. So, when I come back to Canberra and talk about my childhood, that can feel a little emotional.”

Yet she finds comfort in the city itself.

“I feel that Canberra really offers a different atmosphere, and it always has. It embodies what I can only describe as a feeling of repose.”

“I come back and I feel…well I feel I can relax. I will always have a deep connection to Canberra as my pace of birth and where I first realised that I wished to enter the world of music. “

Mary has composed two pieces which will debut at the festival which will also feature a number of her earlier works.

the essential

What: The Canberra International Music Festival
When: From April 27 – May 6
Where: A variety of locations around Canberra
Check out the festival program here.

HerCanberra are proud sponsors of the Canberra International Film Festival 2018


Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author