CD REVIEW – THE RUSSIAN ALBUM

THE RUSSIAN ALBUM
Christoph Croisé, cello; Alexander Panfilov, piano
Avie AV2410
✶✶✶✶1/2

When you think of classical cellists, whose names come to mind? Certainly, Jacqueline du Pré and Yo-Yo Ma, and then there’s Steven Isserlis and Mischa Maisky. Make a note now of another name to add to those ranks, that of Christoph Croisé. He’s only 26, but already has three successful CDs released and now adds a fourth with The Russian Album.

There are two sonatas for cello and piano, one by Rachmaninov, the other by Shostakovich, both played with what can only be described as Russian fire (although I wished that Panfilov could have toned it down a little at times!) This is followed by a short work from the 20th century Russian composer, Rodion Shchedrin, In the style of Albéniz, an unusual piece to say the least, and that’s followed by the March from Prokofiev’s The love for three oranges.

That’s the Russian line-up, but then there’s a bonus track, where Christoph plays a cheeky little two-minute piece composed by the Swiss cellist Thomas Demenga called New York honk. It’s this young man’s mastery of his instrument that enables us quite clearly to imagine New York’s traffic complete with all the bustle and sound of car horns. Altogether a first-class CD and one which lovers of the cello should add to their collections.

Michael Morton-Evans

Sydney Symphony Hour

​Sydney Symphony Hour​
​with Andrew Bukenya 


Tune in from 1pm on the second Tuesday of every month for Sydney Symphony Hour!

Andrew Bukenya looks ahead at the SSO concerts for the upcoming month, perhaps with some special interviews and guests!


Listen to the February program on demand

Andrew with previous Sydney Symphony Hour Guests

Fine Music Sydney, Celebrating 45 Years

2MBS-FM/Fine Music attracted many talented individuals, some of whom were frustrated at the lack of broadcast classical music and other minority genres.

This is a random sample of the station’s photo archives – people involved from Day 1 (15 December 1974) to mid 80s.

Sadly, some are no longer with us – having moved on to other things or deceased. We are proud of our volunteer team which tends to be around 250 at any one time.

If you think you know anyone in the above picture, you can check their names below!

From the Chair

David James

This month, we not only celebrate the official opening of 2MBS-FM 45 years ago but we reveal our rebranding in line with the expectations of our audience. For too long we have promoted ourselves as ‘FM’ with a lesser regard for the other delivery channels: digital (DAB+) and streaming.

We are now Fine Music Sydney and our name encompasses all the delivery platforms available to us as well as identifying the station’s geographical source.

This month, we not only celebrate the official opening of 2MBS-FM 45 years ago but we reveal our rebranding in line with the expectations of our audience. For too long we have promoted ourselves as ‘FM’ with a lesser regard for the other delivery channels: digital (DAB+) and streaming. We are now Fine Music Sydney and our name encompasses all the delivery platforms available to us as well as identifying the station’s geographical source.

We almost invented FM. Well, we launched it in Australia and other stations followed suit. The commercial sector originally thought that no one would listen to it because ‘everything you ever wanted is on AM’. The ABC experimented back in the 60s but no one listened because no one knew it was there. It took a ‘mob called the Music Broadcasting Society’ to come along and change it. And change it we did!

We had broken new ground for a few weeks when the station opened officially on 1 February 1975. You’ll notice a selection of special ‘anniversary’ programs this month, particularly those recorded by our volunteer sound engineers.

We are also beginning our quest to enable more information to be provided electronically about the station and our programs. Our volunteers are beavering behind the scenes to make Fine Music Magazine information available on subscribers’ smart devices. Over the next few months you will notice changes and the ability, soon, to access more information.

Please tell your friends about Fine Music Sydney. They’ll be rewarded with music presented by knowledgeable music-lovers for less than 30c a day and not just dished out from a computer server. There are other rewards, too; they’ll be helping to maintain an independent music service.

David James
Chair, Fine Music Sydney

In Conversation with Christopher Waterhouse

Next Wednesday 5th February Robert McDougall is our ‘In Conversation’ guest!

​His musical journey began in Tamworth, but he bucked the trend of Country music and instead pursued a career combining classical choral music, music education and music theatre. His studies took him from the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney to the famous Julliard School in New York.

Robert shares stories from his life and his musical journey with Christopher Waterhouse. Listen to their conversation below!

YOU WOULDN’T WANT ANY MONEY, WOULD YOU?

DAVID JAMES COLLABORATES WITH MAX BENYON ON GETTING TO AIR

This was the question asked of the fledgling broadcasters 2MBS-FM and 3MBS-FM by Miles Wright (then chair of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board) when offering licences to broadcast under the cutely named Wireless Telegraphy Act 1905-1973.

In 1971 The Australian Broadcasting Control Board recommended the introduction of frequency modulation broadcasting on the UHF (ultra high frequency) band, a spectrum unfamiliar in other countries. The international FM band was 88 to 108 MHz and that’s where almost all receivers were set at manufacture. To adopt any other would be akin to installing an odd-gauge railway system. Just as well we persevered in promoting the international band rather than one that would make the government’s ‘mates’ happy. I’m sure other FM broadcasters were grateful to the Music Broadcasting Society!

The MBS core committee of Trevor Jarvie, Michael Law, Max Benyon and Grahame Wilson were instrumental in convincing the government that Australia should have FM in line with the rest of the world and to not put it on an inaccessible part of the broadcast spectrum.

Our formal licence was offered on 27 September 1974. We were on air five weeks later. One might suggest that ‘string and sealing wax’ contributed to the hasty assembly of a broadcast studio. USB, Bluetooth, CDs and anything remotely ‘digital’ was still far in the future. It was all ‘plug and pray’, according to Founder and station technical ‘wiz’ Max Benyon. Max was one of a handful of enthusiasts who assembled the first transmitter and the early broadcast studio. The transmitter was a modest affair, placed atop the all-important fridge on the wall of our ‘donated’ premises adjacent to Alexander Lane in Crows Nest. The site for the fridge and transmitter was important because the transmitting antenna was mounted on the roof peak directly above with the cable dangling out the window.

Assembly of a ‘studio’ began quite late. In fact it wasn’t until the day before planned on-air broadcasts that we started to think seriously about how it would all work. We had some donated equipment: turntables that were so highly ‘sprung’ that they shook in any breeze, a mixer borrowed (from me), a microphone and stand borrowed (from me), a chair and tables, purloined from somewhere, some rudimentary sound insulation and acoustic treatment. Wall mounted egg-cartons were not acceptable; too ‘common’.

Our first challenge was to wire the microphone circuit so that the studio monitor speakers would ‘mute’ when the microphone was ‘live’. Yes, we had two speakers because we knew that soon we would be ‘radio for both ears’ and that the drought of good quality FM broadcasts would soon be broken by a bunch of ‘amateurs’. Several of the early ‘techies’ had broadcast experience. Three stalwarts, with the unknowing help of large institutions, would design and assemble a low-power transmitter, later to be used as the ‘exciter’ for a larger transmitter, both purpose-built because the market in Australia for FM transmitters was pretty slim. Other assistants were drawn on for their specific expertise, mostly incognito because their employers might have objected to their involvement.

With the low-power transmitter humming away on the fridge and the studio nearing completion there was great anticipation at testing time: 2am Sunday 15 December 1974. Ten hours to go. “I heard that,” someone called our single telephone line in response to an open-mic expletive. Great! We were ready to broadcast on our allocated frequency at that time of 92.1 MHz.

In a parallel universe (the programming room next door) David Rumsey, Vincent Plush and a small team were working to create the iconic first broadcast of a modern FM radio station. We had acquired a few handfuls of vinyl from the record companies who were only too glad to have their classical repertoire publicised for free. This content was augmented by more specialised material from private collections. Where else would one find Le jeu de Robin et Marion by Adam de la Halle? The opening work was Overture to a momentous occasion (1957) by John Antill and the first voice on air was David Rumsey.

A momentous occasion it was indeed! The first opera we broadcast was Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. All we had to do now was to assemble programs for the rest of our days. Easy? We encouraged music lovers to become programmers and presenters to share their knowledge and enthusiasm. There were fewer other avenues for people to listen to classical music and certainly no other radio station encouraged such participation. Our volunteer force was born and was most likely the model used by other community radio stations.

The rest of December and January (1975) was ad hoc. On 16 January 1975 we enabled ‘stereo’, the first such licensed transmissions in Australia. Listeners phoned in great excitement when they saw the stereo light come on their radios.

On 1 February the official opening took place with goodwill messages from Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and the Premier of New South Wales, Tom Lewis, which were arranged by Foundation Chair Professor Neil Runcie. This was the start of itemised programs that were printed in our new ‘Guide’.

February programs didn’t go down well with many listeners, nor the hi-fi industry who saw us as the means by which they could flog receivers, amplifiers, speakers to enthusiasts. They expected ‘light’ classical music as the best way to demonstrate the ‘oomph’ of their wares. The Board of the day decided a part-time paid programmer would be an asset to the ‘balance’ of the programming so a young upstart by the name of Philip Scott (later famous for collaboration in The Gillies ReportThe Republic of Myopia, and the Wharf Revue) was engaged to ‘fix’ the balance; and indeed he did. Our music balance improved rapidly and an invitation for people to subscribe to the station bore fruit in the form of cheques, cheques and more cheques. The hi-fi industry was somewhat appeased. The audience grew to realise that we were here to stay and 2MBS-FM was a radio station for music lovers.

The need arose for jazz and contemporary music to be represented. We were a bit surprised when a ‘DJ’ asked us for air-time from midnight. Andrew Davies arrived with his bundles of well-cared-for LPs (in a milk crate) and proceeded to wrest the ears of the post-midnight listeners. Thence followed Tom Zelinka and we gradually filled the midnight-to-dawn ‘graveyard’ shift. I believe that Andrew’s relentless playing of Autobahn by German electronic group Kraftwerk was the reason why they became successful in Australia at the time. No other radio station would play it. How would they squeeze in the commercials?

Our volunteer base has been steady ever since that first influx. We have always maintained that we are a radio station run by volunteers and supported by a small team of staff.

Early in December 1975 we commenced a move to larger premises at 76 Chandos Street, a former film-sound studio. It took three weeks to establish a temporary studio and move office administration. In 1976 we started construction of our two on-air studios which were finally commissioned and officially opened by Jill and Neville Wran in May 1977.

ABC-FM began broadcasting on Australia Day 1976, closely emulating our style (printed program guide detailing works as we have done since 1975) and we greeted them with mixed emotions. Were they a complement, or a competitor? We were always the ‘music lovers’ station’.

We moved our transmission site to the AMP Centre, and changed to 102.5MHz on 30 March 1978 thereby giving greater coverage of the Sydney area.

2MBS-FM can be credited with launching or sustaining the careers of many household names. Of course we kicked off with David Rumsey and Vincent Plush assisted by Martin Wesley-Smith and Wesley Want. Martin Hibble was dragged from behind the counter at Tarantella Records and was eventually poached by ABC Classic FM, as it was known then. We also claim Mairi Nicolson, Belinda Webster and several recording engineers. 2MBS-Fine Music is unashamedly a training ground for music lovers who wish to kick-start or advance their career. We’ve also taken professionals under our wing who have become disgruntled in the wide world of radioland. We don’t purposely push people to other radio stations, nor do we knowingly steal them.

Fine Music has flourished for 45 years, kept afloat by a steady band of dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers and donors.

Max Benyon is the station’s senior technical adviser and one of the founders. Max will be profiled in the January magazine. David James, also a founder, was the original station manager from 1 October 1974. He is still hanging around as a volunteer and you can read a short profile in this edition

2MBS/Fine Music Virtuosi

Chris Blower Highlights Some Past Winners

Nicholas Parle has earned an international reputation as an organist and harpsichordist, the Academy of Ancient Music being only one of the distinguished ensembles with which he has been associated. To Fine Music, he has the additional distinction of being the very first winner, in 1984, of the Station’s prestigious Young Performer Award, now known as the Young Virtuoso Award.

Since Nicholas, 36 young musicians have won recognition for their musical talents. Not all have gone on to international fame but many have pursued a successful career in their chosen musical genre.

Composer and guitarist Phillip Bolliger, the winner in 1988, is active in performing and teaching in Sydney, while William Chen, our 1989 winner, combines performing with an academic career, as Professor of Piano at the Shanghai Conservatorium.

Violinist Asmira Woodward-Page, who won the 1990 title, performs internationally as soloist and chamber musician. Praised by the New York Times for her ‘transforming intensity and beauty of tone’, she enjoys an eclectic career focused on performing traditional and new classical works. Asmira is one of a number of Australian musicians who regularly visit Australia as a member of the Australian World Orchestra.

Pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska, the 1992 winner, needs no introduction to Sydney music lovers familiar with her many recordings, particularly of the works of Elena Kats-Chernin. The year 1996 saw clarinettist Philip Arkinstall take the prize. Philip is Associate Principal Clarinet of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and was previously with the Malaysian Philharmonic. He is also an active chamber musician and has toured Australia for Musica Viva.

In 2001, the prize was awarded for the first time to a singer: mezzo-soprano Dominica Matthews. Currently a Senior Principal Artist with Opera Australia, Dominica has established herself as one of Australia’s best-loved singers. The next singer to win was in 2008, when soprano Emma Moore was chosen. Since 2016 Emma has been following a career in Europe with the German National Theatre in Weimar.

What do the musicians themselves think about these competitions? Perhaps the words of Benett Tsai, the young cellist who at the age of 12 was awarded first prize in 2016 (and also the National Award), sums it all up: “Competitions for me are occasions to perform and get feedback. Playing my best is more important than the result and I would just go for it without worrying about the outcome.”

Memories of Day One

John Xuereb Recalls His First Broadcast


I had the honour and pleasure of presenting music on air on Day One of Public FM Broadcasting in Australia. At last, an alternative to low fidelity AM radio!

My recollections of that day, 45 years ago, are a little hazy but there are a few memories of that experience which come to mind. My two-hour ‘slot’ was during the afternoon, I think at 4pm. In those early days we used an oscilloscope to monitor studio output. My briefing was to strictly maintain signal levels within a certain range on the screen in order to avoid transmitter overload. Needless to say, my eyes were glued to that screen when not cueing records.

I was given some classical LPs and the order in which to play the tracks; I also had the opportunity to play some of my jazz albums. I believe that I played the classical music first and then jazz. The jazz music I played was from a then (and still now) favourite, Portrait by Cleo Laine (first released in 1971) and I started with On a clear day. The band was led by her husband, saxophonist John Dankworth. So, with eyes glued to the oscilloscope, I had to look again when Cleo hit a note and held it and, for a brief moment, the oscilloscope trace did not move; yes, she could really sing!

I remember the studio being warm (perhaps the air conditioning was not running or I was nervous). An executive decision was taken: open the window for some fresh air. Wrong! A gust of wind caused the stylus to skip halfway across the side (of a classical disc). Within moments, David Rumsey appeared and the communication between us was along the lines of ‘What was that all about?’ with the timid response of ‘Whoops’.

I left 2MBS-FM because of the work pressures but these days, I am part of the project at Fine Music to digitise the station’s CD collection. The team has been working on it since June 2016 and has completed ripping 15,000 CDs. If you see me around the station, I am not offended if you refer to me as John The Ripper.

45 years on from 1974: who would have imagined music stored digitally?

Stereo FM Radio

The Magazine Before Computers and Email

On 1 February 1975 more than 650 subscribers were able to turn the pages of the first edition of Stereo FM Radio, the magazine that listed the works to be played on each day of the month. On that day the subscribers knew exactly which pieces of music were to be played, enabling them to make their listening choices according to their musical tastes and the time available to them. They could also read articles about the music. That first Stereo FM Radio featured Trevor Jarvie on the cover. It was Trevor who, with vision and determination, was the driving force in gathering other FM enthusiasts to found this volunteer-operated stereo FM radio station.

For many years the magazine was in black and white but in July 2012, when 2MBS-FM became Fine Music, the magazine was published in glorious colour and renamed Fine Music Magazine. This has not been the only change over the years. The production, which was for many years very labour intensive, moved from manual typewriters and green ink to computer and email.

Every program was typed on a manual typewriter; the program sub-editors then proof read the typewritten program and made corrections with a green pen (standard editorial colour for editing at the time). This marked-up copy (as well as copy for articles) was sent to a commercial typesetter and the formatted type returned to the editor who, with some helpers, cut the typesetter’s document into individual articles and programs. These were pasted on to a large sheet, each page being formatting in this way. For the ‘computer generation’ this is the origin of ‘cut and paste’.

Technology advanced and the manual typewriter was replaced with the electric typewriter but the original process remained the same. Finally, the first computer came into service: a Mac with such a tiny screen that one could only see a few lines at a time. This was the beginning of a new era in magazine production. It was a little hard for some to adjust but they did. One volunteer, a Holocaust survivor, typed through these changes and only retired in her early 90s because travelling by public transport became too difficult.

These days every part of Fine Music Magazine is produced by computer with communication by email between editor, writers and sub-editors. However, the Program Guide would not be as accurate without the musical knowledge of the program sub-editors and the quality of the articles would not be possible without the awesome grammatical knowledge of the sub-editors of the articles.

A Vision Fulfilled

Elaine Siversen Continues the Story

The founders of 2MBS/Fine Music rightly acknowledge Trevor Jarvie as the driving force in the founding of this station. It was he, with his persuasive personality, who drew in so many of the early volunteers who filled and developed the roles needed for setting up and operating this new and exciting venture. Until now, in these pages, we have not mentioned the role of Professor Neil Runcie, first Chairman of the Music Broadcasting Society of New South Wales Co-Operative Limited.

I have recently listened to an interview with Neil Runcie recorded on cassette in 2004 and, through this, learned more about his role in the founding of the station. His interest in FM broadcasting began while he was conducting research in London (in the field of economics) and found that it was conducive to his work to listen to classical music from the BBC. He realised that Australian broadcasting was not of the same high standard as that of the BBC already broadcasting in the FM band. Neil and fellow academics, Murray Low and David Menzies, began gathering evidence in favour of very high frequency modulation (VHF) for FM broadcasting in Australia but, by the time they returned to Sydney in 1970, the Federal Government had already decided that FM broadcasting would be in the ultra-high frequency range (UHF).

As a result, Neil and his colleagues founded a Listeners Society which had three objectives: to aim for higher standards in broadcasting; to try to get FM on the VHF band introduced into Australia; to edit a publication similar to the BBC’s The Listener.

Over a period of several years, Neil helped to establish, and also managed, a credit union at the university (giving him valuable experience in running a co-operative) and he became involved in a number of resident action groups opposing aspects of government planning (a useful exercise in working with volunteers). It also installed in him a deep belief in community self-help.

In a different sphere, Trevor Jarvie, at the time a university physics student, was also working towards the introduction of FM radio. A Music Broadcasting Society had already been set up in Melbourne and Trevor wished to do the same in Sydney. Neil and Trevor joined forces to form the Music Broadcasting Society of NSW Co-operative Limited. At first only two or three people attended meetings but sometimes there were as many as six. Trevor suggested that Neil should become the Chairman but Neil declined and instead became Director of Research. The Society operated without a Chair until our broadcasting licence was approved for an FM station in the VHF band. Neil then took on the chairmanship. David James and Max Benyon have already written (in December) about the representations made by Trevor Jarvie, Michael Law and Max himself to a Committee that influenced the Government’s decision to use the VHF band for FM broadcasting.

In the first Stereo FM Radio publication issued to subscribers in February 1975, we find Neil Runcie’s first Chairman’s Message in which he wrote: “Response to the launching of Australia’s first community broadcasting station and FM stereo broadcaster has been most encouraging. Enthusiastic listeners, helpers, donors and even kindly critics have nurtured this important community advance in an area where Australia has tended to lag behind the rest of the world.

“Right now, 2MBS-FM is in the vanguard of the movement to raise standards in Australian radio and to realise more fully radio’s potential for meeting community needs. Our station aims to play its part by providing high quality sound broadcasting of music suitable for serious listening, by encouraging participation in operations including programming, [and] by supporting Australian musical life.”

He also gave credit to those in the community who had subscribed to support the new FM station: “In mid-January 1975, just five weeks after our test broadcasts began, over 650 people had become subscribers. The Music Broadcasting Society of New South Wales Co-operative Limited is pioneering subscription radio in Australia … the more subscribers, the better our service can become.”

In July 2012, 2MBS-FM 102.5 became Fine Music 102.5 and this month we move to a new name, Fine Music Sydney, that better reflects the wider range of media receiving our transmission. Concluding his Chairman’s Message of February 1975, Neil Runcie wrote: “This milestone in Australian broadcasting will be celebrated in an official opening planned for February 1-2, 1975. It has been reached by the co-operation and sacrifice of our extraordinary team of talented people, and on behalf of the serious music listeners of Australia, and especially of Sydney, I would like to extend heartfelt thanks.”

We, at Fine Music Sydney, also wish to thank everyone who has supported us during the last 45 years, whether it be financially or through volunteer work. We look forward to many more years of broadcasting fine music.