President’s Report to 2019/2020 Annual General Meeting

I remember saying in my report at our last AGM that we had had an interesting year with the closure of the Civic Theatre for renovations and then the terrible flooding. But this year has been just as unusual with the continued effects of the flooding and now the Pandemic. Who would have believed in December last year how the world could have changed so much?

At our last AGM we were soon to welcome Dr Mark Eager from the UK to lead the orchestra through an intensive workshop; funded by a grant from RADF (Regional Arts Development Fund). This workshop culminated in a full concert, titled Tchaikovsky, held in the Sir George Kneipp Auditorium at James Cook University on Sunday 14 July. The concert featured Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, as well as music by Morfydd Owen and Paul Dukas. Both workshop and concert were a great success.

Just three weeks later the Australian Festival of Chamber Music Concert in Queen’s Gardens was held with an audience of around 4,000; being made up of local families and visitors. This year the concert was also the finale of the North Australian Arts Festival (NAFA) which was a new venture for our city. We joined with musicians from the 1RAR Band to create a fabulous afternoon of entertainment. On this occasion the orchestra accompanied three AFCM soloists – Martin Kuuskmann from Estonia/USA, who showed the amazing versatility of the bassoon by playing two entertaining works for bassoon – some of which were written for him. Lotte Betts-Dean is an Australian soprano based in London. She gave a very wistful rendition of ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story, and for her grandparents who were in the audience, a very moving performance of the song made famous by Vera Lynn, ‘We’ll Meet Again’. We then accompanied Amy Dickson on her soprano saxophone playing Theme from Cinema Paradiso and the Piazzolla tango Libertango.

Fortunately, the Civic Theatre opened in time for our final concert on 26th October. Our guest conductor was Brisbane-based cellist and conductor, Gwyn Roberts, who had been eagerly waiting for a couple of years to conduct the BRO. Usually our final concert for the year features a lighter repertoire, so Gwyn suggested the theme Let’s Dance, and subsequently chose a range of classical and contemporary works around this theme. These took us from Bach through a range of styles through to modern day, featuring popular local mezzo-soprano, Alice Beams singing ”Habanera” from Carmen, and Ravel’s’ Piano Concerto in G Major, 2nd Movement performed by guest artist, Jenni Flemming. Then it was on to Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor, through to energetic Argentinian tangos by Cairns dancers, Gianni and Elena, and finally to Riverdance with three young Celtic dancers. The real surprise of the evening when violinist, Lucy Fagez enlivened the encore in full costume with a spirited performance of Offenbach’s Can Can.

2020 is our 20th Anniversary, and we launched our season again at the Pier Restaurant – emphasising a full year of celebrations ahead. It was a privilege to have Mayor Jenny Hill present, along with other special guests. A String Quartet welcomed guests and a Wind and Brass Quintet provide further entertainment during the afternoon’s proceedings. Life member Carol Dall’Osto, who was with the orchestra from the very beginning, gave an interesting talk about the early days and the first workshops from which the orchestra grew.

We were then straight into rehearsals for our first concert with Theodore (Ted) Kuchar, who had returned to Townsville from the Ukraine to help us celebrate our birthday. Early rehearsals for the Barrier Reef Orchestra Celebrates 20 Years with Theodore Kuchar were going well under the baton of Dr Mark Smith. The programme included works by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Shostakovich. Ted and his new wife Lyubov arrived and Ted continued the concert rehearsals and preparations. During a weekend break, Ted and Lyubov headed to Port Douglas, and returned to find the European borders were all closed. As the world began to feel the horrible effects of COVID – 19, we listened to the new restrictions and realised we had no option but to cancel our March concert. Ted and Lyubov were then stranded in Townsville until the middle of May, when they managed to obtain flights out of Australia.

Unfortunately, we also had to cancel our Birthday concert, which was to have been in June, and our September concert, which was to have been conductor by the BRO’s very first conductor, Richard McIntyre. I think we will have to celebrate turning twenty-one rather than twenty! Our history, written by Jean Dartnall is almost complete, but because of the cost of printing, we will publish it as an e-book. At present our plan is to publish it initially in chapters in our newsletters and it will then be available in full on our website. Some special copies will be made available as a print run.

I am retiring from the role of President at this AGM and Lorraine Gray-McConnell is stepping down as Secretary. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Lorraine on behalf of the committee and members for all the hours of hard work she has done as Secretary since 2014 and on the committee before that.

I must also thank Sally Frewen Lord, our amazing Orchestra Manager who finds players, music rehearsal venues and much more and remains clam and cheerful throughout. Her husband, Stephen, our Concert Manager shows great skill and dedication as he guides all the players in our orchestra.

I would also like to thank all our committee for all the hard work they have done over the past year, and all our members, friends and the Townsville City Council for the support they have given us during the year.

Judy Hunter