The Point of the Baton: Memoir of a conductor
Lyrebird Press, $66 pb, 259 pp
My memory of John Hopkins – in fact, the memories of most of my generation of Australian music-lovers – goes back to the Proms he conducted in Sydney and then Melbourne from the mid 1960s to the early 1970s. Hopkins was, to young audiences of the day, an anti-establishment musician who dared to strip the furniture from the stalls and, in the process, also strip away what he calls the ‘dynamic conservatism’ of the then Australian Broadcasting Commission. ‘Hoppy’, as he was known, was a hero – the Sir Henry Wood of the Great Southern Land. He was, after all, English, with a broad Yorkshire accent.
Of course, from the vantage point of a tartan picnic rug on the dusty hardwood of the Melbourne Town Hall, we all looked up to John Hopkins: that balding, toothy, eternally cheerful fellow in a white tuxedo who filled our long, hot summers with music by composers whose names we didn’t know and couldn’t spell, and which were speckled with curious foreign accents: György Ligeti, Luboš Fišer, Edgar Varèse, Witold Lutosławski. Then there were other composers, more easily spelt and without the accents, who were just as challenging, even though they were closer to home. Where would Australian music have been without Hoppy to bring to our attention works by Peter Sculthorpe, Nigel Butterley, Richard Meale, Margaret Sutherland, Don Banks and a legion of mid twentieth-century Australian or Australian-born composers?