Roland Peelman. By Anthony Browell & Antony Jeffrey

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Author: Anthony Browell (photographs) & Antony Jeffrey (text)
Category: Biography
Queensland, Australia: Connor Court Publishing Pty Ltd, 2021, 110 pp.
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[On Roland:] …there is all that repertoire that he has had a hand in bringing to life—the commissions, the premieres, the outstanding performances and the recordings. But less visible is his work as artistic director, curator, collaborator, mentor, thinker and custodian.’ – John Davis

This beautifully presented coffee-table book is a tribute to Roland Peelman by his long-time friends, photographer Anthony Browell and writer Antony Jeffrey. The respect and affection they feel towards their friend shines through in both Browell’s impressive photography and Jeffrey’s choice of texts—Jeffrey brings Peelman to life through his own observations, stories and anecdotes, plus comments from twenty-five musicians, artists and friends who have worked with Peelman throughout his musical life in Australia.

Roland Peelman. All photographs are by Anthony Browell except one, as noted.

An epigraph by John Davis sets the tone of the book:

Roland, thanks for your generous spirit, your embracing heart, and your ever-exploring mind. We are blessed to have you with us! – John Davis, CEO Australian Music Centre

On the following page, the authors state their intentions. Antony Jeffrey writes: ‘This is a book about Roland’s wide-ranging achievements from the perspective of friends and creative people he has worked with. Roland has such vision and passion for helping create and perform music at the highest level, yet he lacks the ego that usually goes with success. Our hope is that his achievements can be celebrated by the widest possible audience’.

‘I have photographed many artists and musicians,’ says Anthony Browell, ‘but rarely anyone as expressive as Roland. There is a quality about his gestures, his movement and his facial expressions that seems to embody the music he is performing. I know of no musician with quite his intensity’.

The text is divided into eight sections, portraying different aspects of Roland Peelman’s life and musical career. Each section includes observations about him from colleagues, friends and family members. We begin with the story of Peelman’s contribution to the Canberra International Music Festival (CIMF) where, as well as coming up with original and exciting creative ideas, he assists in fund-raising (largely due to Government cuts in arts funding), writes programme notes and gives pre-concert talks. This book was ‘assisted by the generous support of the Sydney Supporters Group of the CIMF’ so it is fitting that Peelman’s story begins with this festival where, despite the effects of Covid 19, plans are forging ahead with the idea of bringing Vienna to Canberra in 2021. (https://cimf.org.au)

Peelman has worked with the CIMF since 2015 and currently divides his time between CIMF, Ensemble Offspring, various projects, operatic and other, in Australia and overseas, both as conductor and pianist. He previously worked for seven years with Opera Australia (1984–91) before becoming The Song Company’s Artistic Director (1990–2015). He was Music Director of Sydney Metropolitan Opera from 1989 to 1994 and conducted the Hunter Orchestra in Newcastle from1990 to1997.

All of these periods of Peelman’s life are presented colourfully and sympathetically. Author Antony Jeffrey writes: ‘most of Roland’s musical colleagues will agree the greatest achievement of his career to date has been his twenty-five-year direction of The Song Company, until recently Australia’s premier vocal ensemble and one of the leading ensembles of its type in the world’.

Anna Fraser, member of the Song Company.

This book is not an in-depth biography but should certainly achieve its stated aim of helping Roland Peelman become better-known to Australian music lovers. It does not need to be read all at one time, so both images and text can be enjoyed section by section. As well as introducing us to Peelman’s early life in Belgium and his emigration to Australia in 1984 with his wife and two little children, the book includes short descriptions of the major events in Peelman’s ever-evolving musical career.

Jeffrey writes that a significant early event in 1988 was triggered by an initiative of Richard (Dick) Letts who ‘established a new program for contemporary Australian opera and commissioned two one-act operas. Several submissions were received but the consensus was that the outstanding project was Black River by Andrew Schultz’. Peelman and John Wregg had founded Sydney Metropolitan Opera to perform new works so they produced Black River starring Indigenous singer Maroochy Barambah. Black River toured Australia and was made into a film by the ABC.

Two composers with whom Roland has collaborated: Elena Kats-Chernin…

… and Brenda Gifford (reflected in water). Photos by Anthony Browell

This book reveals many facets of Peelman’s rich musical life and presents a talented man who is passionate about the culture of his adopted country. He has a particular interest in promoting Australian music, women composers and Indigenous culture and has worked with and encouraged many Australian musicians. He has, as well conducted many ensembles and orchestras both in Australia and internationally.

The Appendix lists 164 new works from a total of eighty-five composers commissioned by Peelman himself or through another commissioning body.  Peelman’s friend Amy Curl speaks of him as an ‘influencer’—he has influenced a whole generation of young music people and inspired them’.

Roland at the piano.

Jeffrey ends the book by commenting on the need for change at all levels to music in Australia. Music education is sadly lacking, most performing organisations are under-funded and popular music is struggling in the current situation. After the pandemic, musicians of Peelman’s calibre, able to connect with politicians and philanthropists as well as with artists of all kinds, will be needed to use their influence to facilitate change in both the music industry and music education in schools.

Bigger than oneself. Photo by Roland’s son Florian, in the Dolomites, Italy


VIEW AND LISTEN

LOUDMOUTH, INSIDE THE MUSICIAN. Roland Peelman: To be or not be a composer
https://musictrust.com.au/loudmouth/inside-the-musician-roland-peelman-to-be-or-not-be-a-composer/

A long list of works in which Roland has had a part
https://www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/artist/peelman-roland

YouTube, ROLAND PEELMAN PLAYS:

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