Olive Pink inspires Anne Boyd's new orchestral work

21 March 2017
A world premiere performance at The Chancellor's Concert

The University's first female Professor of Music, Anne Boyd AM, premieres her new orchestral work inspired by Australia's first desert botanic garden, founded by anthropologist, artist, Aboriginal-rights activist and alumna Olive Muriel Pink (1884-1975).

Will Nichols harpist runs through his solo part with Anne Boyd

Will Nichols, University of Sydney music student and harpist, runs through his solo part in Olive Pink’s Garden with Professor Boyd AM.

Professor Boyd’s new work, Olive Pink’s Garden, premiering at The Chancellor’s Concert at the University of Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music on 31 March, will signify an important moment in the Australian composer’s distinguished career.

It is 50 years this year since Anne Boyd graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts, with Honours in Music. It is also her 27th year as a Professor at the University of Sydney; the end of this year will mark her retirement from fulltime academia.

The new work is significant for Professor Boyd for many reasons. “I have only written a handful of orchestral works during my career. Women composers rarely have the opportunity to write for an ensemble of this size, which is sufficiently expensive that women composers are seen simply as too high a risk. With a very few exceptions, orchestral commissions more typically go to men,” she said.

“My new work is something of a watershed; throughout you may hear echoes of my earlier compositions.”

Olive Pink’s Garden introduces ideas connected to Boyd’s forthcoming opera, one of a trilogy of works she has been developing over the past five years as a collection of ‘heritage’ operas, inspired by three Australian women – Daisy Bates, Olive Pink and Annie Lock – all of whom worked closely with Aboriginal Australians and whose lives were intertwined in significant ways.

“The stories of these inspiring women show a path to cultural maturity through a two-way approach in telling Australian stories as opportunities connecting us culturally and spiritually with our fellow Indigenous Australians,” said Professor Boyd.

Located in Alice Springs, the Olive Pink Botanic Garden was Australia’s first botanic garden reserved for desert flora. It was founded by Olive Muriel Pink, a former anthropology student at the University of Sydney.

An impoverished Miss Pink in her 70s, was granted a quarter acre block in 1956 and lived on 16 hectares allocated to the garden. With the help of her Warlpiri gardener Johnny Jambijinba Yannarilyi, her vision was that the flora reserve be preserved for posterity, as a place of peace and beauty. It was her refuge from local tensions that saw her live out her life in a disused army hut transported from uptown Alice Springs to a spot in the garden she called home.

A fiercely independent, determined and volatile woman, Miss Pink’s principal passion was social justice for local Aboriginal people whom she saw as her extended family. Her character, along with her commanding, high-pitched voice and imperious manners are embedded in the fanfare and upwardly inflected motto theme of Professor Boyd’s composition.

Olive Pink’s Garden evokes the ancient and sorrowing landscapes of the area, documenting the composer’s creative experiences as she imagines Miss Pink at work in her garden set within the inspirited and sacred caterpillar country surrounding Alice Springs, which Professor Boyd has visited several times.

A snippet of harpist Will Nichols running through his solo part in Olive Pink’s Garden with Professor Boyd

Featuring in the music is a trio of solo instruments - the alto flute, harp and marimba – to reflect the colours of the vibrant central Australia landscape. They are pitted against the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Symphony Orchestra, in which brass and wind instruments provide the red and orange hues of earth, rocks and towering ridges animated by vivid sunlight – under the baton of Maestro Eduardo Diazmuňoz.

If her latest composition is anything to go by, Professor Boyd’s inspiration to write music continues to thrive. She draws an analogy to composing her latest work to gardening. “With the privilege of a period of special studies leave, this is a rare occasion I have had the time to sink into an imaginary space, allowing the composition to grow at its own pace and even to give it a good weed it at the end of the creative process.”

The Chancellor’s Concert sees Breeanna Moore, student winner of the 2016 SCM Woodwind Concerto Competition, also perform Gordon Jacob’s Flute Concerto No. 1. Igor Stravinsky’s masterpiece, The Rite of Spring, which changed western music at the start of the last century causing a riot at the first performance in a Paris theatre, will also be performed by the Conservatorium’s Symphony Orchestra.

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