Regional Australia’s richest opera award, the Dame Joan Sutherland Vocal Competition Award (DJSA), has taken its final breath. For nearly three decades, the finals of the prestigious national opera award were held in Noosa annually (and later bi-annually), proudly hosted by its patron Noosa Federation of the Arts Inc. (NFA).
Since 1999, the DJSA has helped 13 past winners plus numerous other young Australian singers aged 20-34 to reach dizzying heights performing with illustrious opera houses nationally and abroad. Past winners who have achieved international fame include Mirusia Louwerse, who sang under contract to Andrei Rieu, and Kang Wang who is under contract to the New York Metropolitan Opera. Guy Booth, Virgilio Marino and Shaun Brown currently have major roles with Opera Queensland.
Founding chairman of NFA, Meg Lawrence OAM, said it was with deep regret that the Federation had to shut down in April due to a continuing lack of funding and a paucity of interest by a younger generation.
The NFA was founded in 1989 to promote the arts within the local community and to elevate Noosa as a cultural destination. The Federation was based on four pillars: music, art, dance and avant garde. It became a cultural force to be reckoned with when Professor Anthony Camden, the then provost and director of the Queensland Conservatorium, became NFA’s artistic advisor. The following year (1990), Prof Camden invited founder and music director of St Martins in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner, to be the NFA’s patron, which he was until his death in 2016. Marriner and his Academy hold a record for the largest number of classical music recordings in the world – more than 500 albums – but he was most famous for his soundtrack to the 1984 Oscar-winning film, Amadeus.
“As a champion of the arts, we really were unique in Australia,” Meg said.
“We were a museum, art gallery, film club, dance organisation, music, theatre and more, all rolled into one. Anthony was instrumental in our being able to present, here in Noosa, the entire Queensland Philharmonic orchestra, conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite, and featuring Xong Dong Kong, the winner of the 5th Sydney International Piano Competition.”
Other luminaries brought to Noosa by NFA include international pianist Piers Lane, renowned flutist Jane Rutter, Sir Neville Marriner, two 13-year-old pianist prodigies from the Hong Kong Performing Arts Academy as well as the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra, which played on four different occasions at NFA’s Strauss balls. NFA also screened the Queensland premiere of the film,’ Love’s Serenade’, winner of a Camera D’Or in Cannes (1996-7), ‘32 films by Glen Gould’ and the iconic ‘Tales of the Vienna Woods’. At the Noosa Regional Art Gallery it held an exhibition curated by Arthur Boyd and other specially-curated art exhibitions.
“One of the most magical experiences was the John Nixon singers with the Camerata of St John singing the Maria Mass,” Meg said. “I recall looking around me and seeing the audience on their feet, hands clasped in rapture with tears of joy streaming down many of the faces. That experience has never left me.”
Noosa high schools were enriched by the annual Year 12 graduate incentives, each receiving an award valued at $300; the $600 Rick Farbach jazz scholarship (awarded to an Immanuel College student for the past 14 years); and the Schools’ Instrument Bank, which loaned three cellos, a violin and the Hofmann pearl flute for talented school children to use.
“We found the kids who were playing stringed instruments were absolutely fantastic musicians but because the instrument and bow they were using were inferior, they thought they couldn’t play,” Meg said.
“We gave them quality instruments and when they heard the ‘colour’ of the music, they were assured it wasn’t their bad playing.”
NFA also created the Anthony Camden Fund, which lent exceptional quality instruments to older talented musicians. Its assets include a $37,000 Capellini cello, the last one made by Virgilio Capellini in Cremona, Italy, when he was 80, and a $25,000 Primavera violin. The Capellini is to be donated to the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, Griffith University in memory of Anthony Camden.
Meg said she would like to express her heartfelt thanks to the Coast community because without their moral and financial support over the years NFA wouldn’t have existed.
“The most important people in the world are an audience, because without them there is no point in staging a performance,” she said.
Pictured: NFA founding members. Left-to-right Hillary Roots, Albert Thoma.