Standing Ovation for 3 former students
After graduating from St Andrew’s Cathedral School in 2005 and being named dux of his year, Louis Garrick went on to study Musicology and piano at the Conservatorium of Music. Less than six years later, Louis and two of his fellow St Andrew’s peers — Jack Symonds and Huw Belling — embarked on a professional journey, founding Sydney Chamber Opera together. It’s a move which reflects their shared passion for music, a love Garrick believes largely blossomed during his years at St Andrew’s. Here, Louis Garrick speaks to Rosie Dalton about pursuing your passions and the quest for innovation.
After several years of paving their own way in the field of music, three former St Andreans — Jack Symonds, Huw Belling and Louis Garrick — reunited for a common cause: establishing their own opera company. Sydney Chamber Opera quickly became a labour of love for these three diversely talented music scholars. After graduating in 2004, Huw Belling studied composition at Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music, following which he was accepted on a scholarship into the Masters programme at the Royal College of Music London, where he graduated with distinction in 2010 for his chamber opera Carousel of Blood. Like Belling, Jack Symonds also studied composition at the Con and was named the Dux of his year at St Andrew’s when he graduated in 2006. Louis Garrick describes Symonds, his friend and collaborator as “a musical genius”. Indeed it was he who undertook the ambitious task of adapting a Dostoyevsky novella into an opera on behalf of Sydney Chamber Opera. One of Symonds’ compositional masterpieces and the debut opera for the company, Notes from Underground, opened at Darlinghurst’s Cell Block Theatre in February 2011 to rave reviews.
Combining Louis Garrick’s background in Musicology and his organisational skills behind-the-scenes, with the conducting and compositional skills of both Belling and Symonds, as well as the dedicated hard work of the other company members, Sydney Chamber Opera is certainly in very capable hands. “We realised that no else was doing what we wanted to do in Sydney so we just decided to start our own company,” Garrick recalls casually, as if it were a walk in the park. He points out that the nation’s biggest performing arts company, Opera Australia, not only produce traditional nineteenth century publications exclusively, but also split their time between Melbourne and Sydney. Another major company, Pinchgut Opera specialise in Baroque seventeenth century opera and only stage one performance per year. This leaves three or four months of the year devoid of operas in Sydney, a void that Garrick and his peers were determined to fill with their aim of producing three operas per year.
“We wanted to be responsible for fresh, energetic and, above all, new operas,” Garrick says. “No one really does that here in Australia so we feel like the door is wide open for us to really become leaders in this area and, although we are very young in the scheme of things, we are very passionate about what we do.”
Garrick describes Sydney Chamber Opera as smaller and more intimate than most other production companies. “We try to focus less on the spectacle and instead place emphasis on producing really good quality, original theatre.”
So far, this is exactly what Sydney Chamber Opera have achieved, with three successful productions already under their belt. All three 2011 productions — consisting of February’s Notes from Underground, July-August’s The Cunning Little Vixen and November’s I’ve Had Enough — have received much success amongst critics and have emerged as testaments to the hard work and innovation of this group of talented individuals. “St Andrew’s has really been instrumental for us during this process, in more ways than one,” Garrick says, as he describes how the School’s Music Department have assisted Sydney Chamber Opera by lending them musical equipment for their debut production. Apart from the help and support of the St Andrew’s community now that the company is in full swing, though, Garrick also recalls his years at the School as very formative in helping him to realise his passions. “My love of music really developed at St Andrew’s,” he continues. “I don’t think it would have been the same had I gone to a different school, where music wasn’t available as such an intense focus. And my peers and I, we all fuelled each other’s passion for music.”
From first meeting at a SACS Athletics Carnival, to studying separately both locally and abroad, and eventually winding up establishing their own very innovative, progressive company at such a young age, these three former students of St Andrew’s are reflective of what school should be all about. Their relationships with their School and with their school peers haven’t waned over the years, but quite the contrary. With Huw Belling now the resident composer at St Andrew’s and the director of 2011 school production, Children of Eden, and Garrick and Symonds making return visits to the School as often as possible, their involvement with SACS is as significant as ever. One teacher in particular continues to inspire these three young men even after they have graduated; it is abundantly clear that the Head of Music, Mrs Chris Belshaw, has been very influential in helping these talented three to realise their passion and potential.
“The culture of music was one of the greatest things about coming to SACS,” Garrick says. “It really made a lasting impression on me because it isn’t just the nuts and bolts training that we receive, but also the fact that I’ve been able to meet some wonderful people who I know will be lifelong collaborators, like Huw and Jack.”
Words: Rosie Dalton