I find great satisfaction in the fact that we - Australia - have one composer who can succeed in a medium of sensitivity in spite of the ugliness and violence predominating in so many countries.
Thus wrote Dr. Miriam Hyde about the music of Australian composer Phillip Wilcher.
Born in Sydney, New South Wales, on 16 March 1958, Phillip Wilcher commenced piano studies at an early age with Gladys Woodward and Jean Teasel. At 14, his first piano composition Daybreak was published by the publishing house of J. Albert & Son Pty Ltd making him the youngest published composer in Australia at that time. This piece has been recorded by John Martin on a CD titled Ancient Rivers, released by Publications by Wirripang.
As a result of this piece, Wilcher was accepted as a student of Dr. Franz Holford. It was this association with Holford, spanning seven years, which expanded his musical horizons to take in other genres of creativity including art and literature. Further studies with Elpis Liossatos - a graduate of the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, and Neta Maughan, together with the valuable guidance from mentors Miriam Hyde and Dulcie Holland rounded off his education.
His music encompasses a broad stylistic range and incorporates harmonies and textures from many different cultures.
“Musically, Wilcher’s influences are similarly expansive and the impact of classical composers, particularly J.S. Bach, Chopin and Tchaikovsky, is apparent. Even though Wilcher’s work is notable for its exploration of the East, through his utilisation of Japanese scales in Haiga, Arabic in The Walls of Ukhaydir, and Egyptian in Ushabti, there is never a sense of Wilcher compromising his own musical language. Imposing such strict rules on a composition from the outset might be construed as limiting, such as the Kumoi scale of the Kumoi Prelude comprising only five tones Wilcher embraces this – “know your limitations and you can fly anywhere.” One senses that he is employing these musical tools to facilitate his final aim – to know himself – which solidifies Wilcher as a true individualist. “Everything felt second nature,” he said of the exercise. He also questions any notion of conformity to trends or labels – to do so “denies composers their truer sense of self by way of sound.” Consequently, there is an aspect of Wilcher’s music that is free flowing and self-evident.” (Samuel Bugeja, Lot’s Wife Magazine, Monash University)
Pianist Jeanell Carrigan has recorded quite a considerable amount of his piano music to CD. Dr. Carrigan said of Wilcher: Whether he wishes to transport the listener to a cafe in Paris or to the top of a mountain in Java, his skilful use of harmony, rhythm and tempi creates the perfect atmosphere.
Wilcher exhibits a strong structural sense, maturity and innovation all within a unique stylistic framework, composing for all levels of difficulty ranging from educational music for young children to pieces of supreme intricacy and difficulty. He has received two Australian Record Industry Awards for his educational contribution to the 1991 debut album release, The Wiggles.
His music is broadcast by ABC-FM and 2MBS-FM. Two documentary presentations on his music have been broadcast by 2MBS-FM:"Wilcher and the French Connection" by Mike Smith, and "Wilcher's World" by Jan Brown.
He has written a full-scale piano recital for the virtuoso pianist Simon Tedeschi, and his music has attracted the attention of, and been performed by pianists overseas, notably Gerhard Eckle, Eduardo Fernandez, Lemuel Grave, Adam Jackson, and Emanuel Rimoldi.
Simon Tedeschi: Phillip Wilcher's music dreamily evokes another time, another place. It has a searching quality that conjures up images of the great Romantic composers. Phillip wrote a recital for me, which I hope to present soon. Included in that are the ‘Etudes Tedeschi’ which have all the flavour and technical imagination of similar great works in the piano repertoire. I am proud to watch the evolution of this musician and composer who I count as a great personal friend.
Other musicians who have performed and recorded Wilcher’s works include John Martin (piano), Rachel Tolmie (oboist), Marina Marsden (violinst), Justine Marsden (violist), Elizabeth Neville (cellist), Emily Long (violinist), Melissa Doecke (flautist), Martin Cooke (singer), Neil Fissenden (flautist), David Wickham (pianist), Minah Choe (cellist)
Soprano Ayse Goknur Shanal premiered songs written for her by Wilcher at the Sydney Opera House, “In The Nape Of a Dream” and “Spirit Song”, both published by Wirripang.
“Spirit Song”, was specifically written at the request of Goknur Shanal for inclusion in her 'Songs for Refugees' concert.
“The idea for this concert was a seed I have been watering since September 2015 when I saw the image of the Syrian toddler with the tiny jeans shorts and red t-shirt washed up on the Turkish shores. It broke me,” Goknur Shanal revealed. Together with cellist Kenichi Mizushima and pianist Harry Collins, this monumental evening, was organised by the grassroots network, Mums 4 Refugees, with the proceeds being donated to the charitable law firm, Human Rights for All, which represents refugee cases, on pro bono basis.
"The concert includes works by, Massenet, Puccini, Giordano, as well as the world premiere of Spirit, written by Australian composer, Phillip Wilcher." (Sydney Opera House press release)
His composition Ballade for Clive Robertson is featured on the ABC Classics CD "Felix and Me".
Phillip Wilcher is an Elected Life Member of APRA and a Board Member of the Australian Music Teacher Magazine for whom he has written many articles on the music of Chopin, Brahms, Ravel and music education generally.
In 2003 he delivered a paper and workshop at the inaugural Keys Competition in Brisbane on his studies with Dr. Franz Holford called "Himself a Landscape."
Wilcher has also turned his creative attention towards the written word to include the authorship of several books, Dialogues, a narrative on the oneness of being; Divinity: A dialogue between the self and music at the source; The Poetry of the Preludes, in which Wilcher interprets the preludes of Frédéric Chopin, and his autobiography, Thinking Allowed: a life in conversation with itself.
“Wilcher’s words are as his music, thoughtful but never contrived, sensitive but never overwrought, introspective but never narrow. There is one difference Wilcher recognises, though: “It is quieter composing words than it is writing music.” (Samuel Bugeja, “Lot’s Wife Magazine”, Monash University)
Photograph: Bridget Elliot
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