Having performed and attended new music gigs in Sydney for over twenty years now, I have been lucky enough to meet many people, fans, devotees who thrive on hearing the new works played by groups like Ensemble Offspring. One such character I recently reconnected with is Don Macleod. I first met Don in the 1990s at Sydney Alpha Ensemble concerts, and since then he has been a regular fixture in the contemporary music scene across Sydney. Keen to share his thoughts on any composer from Saariaho to Xenakis, Don sat down with me to talk about his passion for contemporary music, how he became a patron, and his recent move to the small town of Dalmeny, on the NSW South Coast.
JN: Where did you grow up and what were your first experiences with music?
DM: My first 18 years were in Newcastle, NSW before I went away teaching for 3 years, then I moved to Sydney. At home my mother listened to light classical music, and at high school I was introduced to composers such as Tchaikovsky. It wasn't until teachers college that I was introduced to Beethoven's Violin Concerto and 5th Symphony.
JN: When did you start attending concerts?
DM: At high school the SSO came to Newcastle and I heard works such as Beethoven's Egmont Overture. When I moved to Sydney, i tended to listen to jazz at the famous El Rocco Jazz Club in Kings Cross. I then subscribed to the SSO concerts...including the famous Proms in the Sydney Town Hall.
JN: Who are your favourite composers to listen to?
DM: I have MANY favourite composers! I usually refer to the Three Bs:Bach to Boulez and Beyond. I like to concentrate on "forgotten" composers and just about all classical music written in the 20th and 21st Centuries.
JN: What in particular do you love about attending new music concerts?
DM: I get a special "buzz" at new music concerts as I get to talk to composers who are still alive, and I get the chance to hear brand-new music, as well as necessary repeat performances of new works.
JN: What are some of your most memorable gigs you have ever been to in Sydney?
DM: Too many great concerts to list (in the past 18 years I've averaged 120 concerts a year).If I were to select one I would nominate the Seymour Group concert at Newtown some 20 years ago when the complete "Points on the Compass" by Mauricio Kagel was performed.
JN: Has concert going changed much in your view?
DM: Yes there have been changes over the years. These days one just turns up and gets a seat (although I can still book if necessary)....in the late 1960s, we even lined up overnight in Elizabeth Street (where the ABC used to be) to get the best Proms seats! Only one SLIGHT criticism..I wish some of the new music concerts were longer - the now defunct Sydney Alpha Ensemble used to have close to 3 hour concerts at a time.
JN: Why did you gain an interest in financially supporting new music organisations and new work?
DM: I've never had a lot of money and over the 50 or so years, I've tried to support new music by concert attendance as well as purchasing CDs and scores. Now that I have a small amount of spare cash, I feel that I should help out where I can. So, I've put my money where my ears are!!
JN: Why the move to Dalmeny? And how will you satisfy your thirst for contemporary music down there?
DM: It took some convincing, but not too much, that at my "advanced" age (I'm now 76), that a retirement village in the South Coast would be a great idea. The convincing came from my niece, Rachel and her husband David. I'm not completely out of it down here as there are 5 local concerts a year, and despite the "tyranny of distance", I can still get to Canberra and Sydney for concerts....I've already booked for Elena Kats-Chernin's opera "Whiteley" next year.
I still have ABC Classic FM to listen to (thank God for the ABC!!!), as well as too many CDs of new music, plus DVDs of classical music (from Bach to Ferneyhough, to Xenakis, of course!!!!).
Don't forget, a change is as good as a holiday!
Don Macleod wears his love of new music proudly! He’s a font of knowledge about the contemporary music landscape, a regular attendee of gigs, and a patron to boot. We need more like Don!