The Curse of the Gothic Symphony
A film by Randall Wood and Veronica Fury
Duration: 82 minutes
Filmed from 2005-2010
Premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival, 2011
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 globe.
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 chance.
An outstanding documentary of one man’s seemingly unachievable dream.
There is a trailer for the film on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfVg9vn4jCc