Peter Burch’s parting message on retiring from Musica Viva

The end of the Kuss Quartet & Naoko Shimizu’s Australian tour marks a momentous occasion in the history of Musica Viva Australia – the retirement of Peter Burch after 32 years as Victorian Concerts Manager. As Peter shares some of his experiences with us, we take this opportunity to thank him for his remarkable contribution to this organisation!

The 718 last words from Peter Burch on the Cross for MVA’s blog

After leaving university I worked with Hoyts cinemas and on country radio before joining J C Williamson Theatres. It was a dream job that introduced me to arts management and its extraordinary practitioners.

In 1970 the Victorian Ballet Guild and the Victorian Opera Company (VOC) jointly invited me to administer them, which I did for three years before opting to remain with the VOC, encouraged by the distinguished Australian soprano Joan Hammond who became its artistic director. Following Richard Divall’s appointment as musical director, the VOC quickly began to make its mark.

Subsequent Australian Council for the Arts assistance supplemented by Myer Foundation support made it possible for me to work as an intern at the Business Committee for the Arts in New York and then attend Harvard University as an Institute in Arts Administration Summer School residential participant.

On my return I was approached by Kim Williams and asked if I would manage Musica Viva in Melbourne.

Musica Viva now is very different to Musica Viva in 1980. The median age of audiences is younger and there is a heightened audience musical inquisitiveness and sense of discovery.

Under Carl Vine’s artistic direction, the evolution of Musica Viva’s programs from essentially string quartets and piano trios into the broadest imaginable small-ensemble music-making has revolutionised the breadth and depth of available programming. In recent years, we’ve continued to hear extraordinary quartets and trios. But in addition, we’ve enjoyed a feast of Early Music with ensembles including Jordi Savall and his Hesperion musicians, Tafelmusik, and the Academy of Ancient Music; the welcome return of solo recitals and, unimaginable 20 years ago, the explosion of thriving, locally-based ensembles.

Unexpected things happen during concerts. One of the most memorable occurred during a performance of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time by an ensemble of exceptional European maestros, one of whom was the legendary German, Siegfried Palm, a master cellist who was at the time also the Intendant of the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Palm was a big, I mean BIG man who breathed heavily. His quartet performances were more like quintets – four instruments and his gasping! Midway through the Messiaen Quartet’s extended cello movement, without missing a beat, he slipped his right hand into his jacket pocket and quickly popped something into his mouth. I sped back-stage and as the four of them walked off to thunderous applause, said ‘Did you just have an angina attack?’ He laughed heartily and said ‘Yes, but don’t worry, I have them all the time and always carry the necessary tablets!’

And equally unexpected things happen around concerts, like the time a decade ago when a homeless person entered the Collins Street Baptist Church – where Musica Viva was hosting a twilight concert – and stabbed two women with a razor-sharp Bowie-knife. With the assistance of a colleague and an audience member we apprehended her, but not before she also ran her knife into me. She was apprehended by the police, while one of the two women was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital for two months of observations and tests that managed to avert her having to bear the burden of wearing a lifelong colostomy.

The other was taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital for overnight observation and released, mercifully unharmed, the following morning. I spent a couple of nights at the Alfred Hospital following an emergency laparoscopy that confirmed a deep cut, but no damage to vital organs, all of this preceding four months of daily visits by the Royal District Nursing Service to dress the wounds. The assailant was sentenced to three-and-a-half years prison on three counts of Intentionally causing serious injury (I always preferred the old charge of ‘Grievous bodily harm’) and my only legacy of the experience has been an unhappy inability to ever again enjoy a good night’s sleep.

But these perversities aside, it’s been an endless pleasure and privilege to work with Musica Viva. Many of its staff have worked there for years, and are constantly refreshed by the challenges and rewards of the relationship. It’s often said internally that nobody ever came to work with Musica Viva by accident and this is true. Musica Viva enjoys an outstanding national board, visionary artistic and management team, a dedicated staff and strong local committee support. I leave it very confident in its future success.

Peter Burch

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About Musica Viva Australia

Welcome to Musica Viva’s International Concert Season blog. Here you can follow and read more about our wonderful touring artists.

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