Darwin Symphony Orchestra is pleased to announce Claire Kilgariff as Chairperson. 

Claire performing with Arafura Music Collective at Desert Song Festival, 2019

Briefly outline your history with Darwin Symphony Orchestra.

I joined the Darwin Concert Band in 1979 under the leadership of Nora Lewis, and eventually, a string player from the concert band formed the Darwin String Ensemble.

Over the next few years, the DSO began to develop, driven by the passion of many people. The initial iteration was the Darwin String Ensemble, led by determined string players including Pat O’Leary, Adina Poole, Trish Doyle, and Ros Bracher.

The first iteration of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra was a one-off, under the baton of John Hopkins, in 1984. That marked a significant turning point, paving the way for the Darwin Chamber Orchestra (DCO) under the leadership of Paul Cathcart. With the opening of the Darwin Performing Arts Centre, we renamed the ensemble as the Darwin Symphony Orchestra in 1988. Throughout this period, I was the first flute and served on the Board as Deputy Chair, with Ros Bracher as Chairperson. The development of DSO serves as a testament to the convergence of dedicated individuals, community support, and unwavering passion, resulting in the thriving cultural force that is Darwin Symphony Orchestra today!

Can you share a memorable “aha” moment in your musical journey that profoundly impacted your approach to music or arts leadership?

I had the good fortune to complete a major in ethnomusicology at the University of New England in the late 1980s. The study of the origins of music and the amazing complexity of music around the globe completely transformed my understanding of the role of music in people’s lives. It helped me gain a deep understanding of different cultures and societies through their music, and how music reflects and shapes cultural identity, values, and practices.

Are there any specific musical traditions or cultural influences that have shaped your artistic sensibilities and leadership style?

Yes, there are many, and the list changes and expands constantly. Some of significant note include the Baroque era, Javanese gamelan, the Persian music tradition, 1950s and ’60s contemporary minimalism, and the music of early 20th-century French composers including Fauré, Poulenc, and Satie.

What do you hope Darwin Symphony Orchestra achieves in the coming years, and what does this mean for you?

I hope the DSO will maintain its prominent place in Darwin’s cultural life and extend its reach to engage even more with the whole NT. I’d like the Orchestra to be known not only as Darwin’s Orchestra but also as the Northern Territory’s Orchestra, through touring, education, and outreach opportunities. I look forward to seeing DSO secure sustainable funding and stewardship to maintain its presence in the NT’s cultural landscape. I also anticipate their continued artistic excellence and growth, as well as further innovative and culturally significant collaborations.

What’s your go-to piece of music to listen to when you need to unwind or relax after a busy day?

Well, this changes all the time depending on what I’ve been listening to, but some of my recent favourites are:

Bach’s Flute Sonata in E Minor, John Cage’s “In a Landscape,” “Ellis Island for Two Pianos” by Meredith Monk, “Canto Ostinato” by Simeon ten Holt, Fauré’s Requiem, Hotteterre’s flute and continuo, Haydn’s String Quartets, Ross Edwards’ “Maninyas Series,” Karin Schaupp & Katie Noonan’s “Songs of the Latin Skies,” Nardi Simpson’s “Wilga’s Last Dance,” and music by The Djari Project.

Can you recall the most unforgettable live performance you’ve attended, and what made it so special?

One unforgettable live performance for me would have to be by Winifred Atwell when she came to Alice Springs in the late ’60s. I think I was about 12 at the time. I met her and spent a few hours with her. My mother and I were at the airport, and Winifred was waiting for the people who were supposed to meet her. She was so glamorous and beautifully dressed and coiffed, complete with hat and gloves, in that wonderfully glamorous 1960s style.

We invited her to come along with us into town and promised to look after her until the group managing her tour turned up. She said, “Sure!” So, she got into our car, and off to town we went. There, she and I had a wonderful afternoon talking about music and playing the piano. She treated me like a serious musician. Her concert later that evening was completely enthralling. Her stage presence was astounding, her frock was amazing, and her technical skills were equally impressive. Since then, I’ve always had a bit of a love for ragtime and boogie-woogie!

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians or artists who wish to pursue a career in the arts industry?

Do it! Develop and nurture a personal vision for the purpose and contribution of the arts in both community and society, and strive to make that contribution a reality. With this vision, you can contribute with resilience and persistence, effectively leveraging the vagaries of chance and happenstance to your advantage.

We hope you will join us in welcoming Claire as Chairperson of Darwin Symphony Orchestra.