“There are moments of magic all the time in works of art, but I think what happens is that each one of us becomes receptive to them at different times and in different ways.” David Robertson.

For those of us who collaborated on ex Oceano – a love song for the Oceanto hear what David Robertson, principal conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, had to say in this lecture is  important: affirming of our sense to try to express Ocean science in sound – to envelope the listener, so that they might “feel” something of the power and significance of the Ocean to all our lives. Read about the Making of a Symphony here.

We invite you to reflect on this as you listen to the 2016 Stuart Challender Lecture broadcast on ABC CLASSIC FM 20 August, 2016.

Extract: Robertson describes an experience while listening to Brahms String Sextet No.2 in G major – a piece he knew well –

Suddenly, there was a phrase in the third movement that seemed to reach out and grab me by the soul. It was violent, and as unstoppable as it was surprising. I began to weep and had to work hard to keep myself from sobbing (there were others in the rows right next to me, for heaven’s sake!).

What was going on? Why had this familiar part suddenly become filled with a power so great that I was forced to surrender? What is it about the poem, the painting, the dance gesture, the spoken dramatic line, the musical phrase that can take us beyond ourselves in a way we cannot explain or adequately convey after the fact?

We are, each one of us, filled with so many experiences, fleeting impressions, memories, interior spaces that we barely know are there. Art has the power to unlock who you are. . . .

You are the only one who can have a particular experience of a work of art. You alone bring a privileged combination of your past and your present state of being. The art, of whatever kind, acts as a catalyst in a neurochemical reaction that will not leave you where it found you. . . .

What is fascinating is just how free the associations can be for each of us. It requires us to be receptive not only to the works at hand, but also to ourselves. For this, we often need quiet to really be in the moment. This is the same quiet the composers need to write a piece, the same one the performers need to convey its ineffable meaning. For, as with my Brahms example, the moment of greatest inspiration can suddenly surprise us, like a bird hidden in a thicket bursting out in flight. . . .

Reading these comments reminds me that when Composer, Matthew Dewey and PhD Candidate Nick Roden were in Prague for the recording of ex Oceano, each evening the movement recorded that day was sent electronically to me and Rob Johnston, who was the leader in writing the Science Score. On a particular occasion, Rob donned his head phones to listen to the first movement – and found that somewhere about nine minutes into the work – he was in tears.  Isn’t this experience exactly what Robertson is describing? Not only did Rob feel that his science had be heard by the composer, Matthew had expressed it back to him in a way that moved him beyond the “knowing” he had previously had through pure science.  Similarly, Nick Roden, listening as he filmed the recording sessions, at times felt the hair on the back of his neck rise and find himself almost fall to his knees in recognising these “sounds of science”.  As for myself, as Program Coordinator – the experience was overwhelming; hearing what had emerged from a collaboration between science and the arts, was all I could have hoped for.

Art is the thing that allows all of us to join the highest achievements of the human imagination. With so much evidence of how horribly man can behave, art is the counter balance which restores the soul, uplifts the spirit, inspires us to share what we love, and continues to remind us how lucky we are to be illumined by that light.


Read the lecture here.


Listen to the Music Show interview with David Robertson: He asked ‘Why should you care about art?’, and he discusses the answers with Andrew Ford.

Sunday 7 August 2016 11:10AM (view full episode)