Top pianist home for a Chopin birthday treat
Penelope Thwaites … “As children we had very good quality music.” Photo: Peter Hislop
Music writer TONY MAGEE previews “Chopin’s Birthday Concert” to be played in Canberra next month.
An outstanding British-Australian pianist will soon be in Canberra to present “Chopin’s Birthday Concert” for the Friends of Chopin Australia.
Penelope Thwaites will join cellist Patrick Suthers and violinist Kirsten Williams in a concert featuring “Piano Trio in B flat, K502”; Chopin’s “Ballade No. 2 in F, Op.38”; A Thwaites commission and premiere performance, “Au Tombeau de Chopin” for piano trio and Chopin’s “Piano Trio in G minor, Op.8”.
Thwaites is the daughter of the poet, the late Michael Thwaites, who with his wife Honor was a long-time resident of Canberra and a well-known figure who played a leading role in the Petrov affair in 1954.
Michael Thwaites’ poetry is filled with images inspired not only by life in Australia as in “Canberra Autumn”, “Creation” and the delightful “Metamorphosis”, but also in Britain as in “Coming into the Clyde” and his account of ‘ n 1940 sea battle in the North Atlantic, “The Jervis Bay”.
His hymn “For Australia”, set to music by Henry Purcell, was sung at an Anzac Day service in Westminster Abbey, as well as at the Australia Day Bicentenary celebrations at the Sydney Opera House and when the late Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the new Parliament House in May 1988.
“Both my parents were deeply musical,” says Thwaites.
“As children we had very good quality music. And they had a poetic quote for every situation. I owe them a lot. I think what children get from their parents is more what they do than what they say.”
Thwaites is a citizen of Australia and the United Kingdom and spends much of her time in Canberra. She was made a member of the Order of Australia in 2001 and is a representative composer at the Australian Music Centre.
Known as an intensely communicative concert pianist and recording artist, she is also a composer, writer, editor, broadcaster (including for the BBC) and music festival curator. She has appeared as a recitalist in more than 35 countries, and as a soloist with leading orchestras in Europe, Australia and America.
Thwaites wrote some of the first themes of her work, “Missa Brevis”, in Canberra.
“The Greek and Latin words have so much power and strength and I hope that people will think that they fit,” she says.
“It’s interesting to let the texture of the voices merge with the notes and words. The sentiments are forever expressed in these words and I consider it a privilege to be able to set them to music.”
She is also recognized as an international authority on the music of Percy Grainger and was artistic director of London’s first international Grainger event in 1998, which also helped launch the monumental 19-CD Grainger recording series on Chandos , in which she was a soloist.
Violinist Kirsten Williams enjoyed an international reputation before joining the Canberra Symphony Orchestra as concertmaster in 2019, also leading the ANU’s Women in Music program in 2021.
Her passion for music-for-healing led to her recording two CDs for Australian Bush Flower Essences and in 2014 she was named Volunteer of the Year for her work playing in the Intensive Care Unit at Westmead Children’s Hospital. In the same year she became patron of the Goulburn Strings Project, designed to bring music education to children in low-socio-economic regional contexts.
Patrick Suthers, a graduate of the Canberra School of Music, is the Principal Cellist of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, a position he has held since 2012. He regularly performed chamber music concerts with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Fellowship Ensemble, including private performances for Pope Benedict XVI.
“Chopin’s Birthday Concert”, All Saints Church, Ainslie, 3pm, 19 February.
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Ian Meikle, editor