Perhaps the biggest event of the 2011 Proms was the staging
of Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony at the Royal Albert
Hall on 17 July. What was rather less publicised, at least outside
the confines of the Havergal Brian Society, was that it had
been preceded by another performance on the other side of the
Just before Christmas 2010 in Brisbane, Australia, one man’s
dream (or should that be folly) stretching back almost thirty
years came to fruition. That man was Gary Thorpe, at the time
of filming this documentary, the manager of the local community
classical music radio station, 4MBSFM. He had battled the supposed
“curse” of the Gothic - that it couldn’t be
staged successfully - singlehandedly for much of that time.
His struggles attracted the attention of a filmmaker, and from
2005, a film crew led by director Randall Wood and producer
Veronica Fury, followed the ups and downs - mostly the latter
- of the project. Veronica Fury became so caught up in the efforts
that she joined the organising committee and was a major force
in achieving the unachievable.
The film documents the sequence of near misses, and the mounting
anticipation and stresses as the planned performance date approaches.
Three months out, there was still not a complete orchestra and
choir, nor was funding and the venue - the Queensland Performing
Arts Centre - absolutely nailed down.
Naturally, there were compromises. The absence of significant
support from professional orchestras and choirs meant that this
was being done essentially with amateurs, admittedly well-schooled
ones. The majority of the orchestra were past or present members
of the Queensland Youth Orchestra, whose conductor, John Curro,
had been part of the project for a number of years. Assembling
the desired four hundred strong choir in a city of less than
a million was an insurmountable challenge. Even finding a venue
capable of holding the performers was an issue.
As they say in the classics, it was “alright on the night”,
actually a lot better than just alright. “A triumph beyond
all expectations” was how one reviewer described the event.
The compelling story is enhanced by outstanding cinematography
and incorporation of Gothic themes into the structure. You can
be lucky as well: one interviewee continually strokes a black
cat, another’s feline is a hairless species, which filmed
in close-up looks more like a gargoyle than a cat.
The Brisbane story is interspersed with dramatic recreations
of events from Brian’s early life, interviews with his
daughter Olga Pringle and Brian scholar and biographer, Malcolm
MacDonald, footage of Brian Society meetings in London and archival
footage of the composer.
The chances of this getting an overseas release or making it
to DVD would seem to be somewhere between remote and nil. Even
its cinema release here in Australia is very limited. If you
are interested - and you should be, regardless of whether or
not Brian’s music appeals - an appeal to the BBC, PBS
or whoever is your local quality TV station might be your only
There is a trailer for the film on Youtube.