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Contributor Profile: David Barker

Born in 1960, I have lived most of my life in the Antipodean Newcastle (on Hunter), 100 miles north of Sydney. I spent nine years at Newcastle University, avoiding the real world, and gaining a B.Sc (Hons) and Ph.D. in chemistry. A brief dalliance with the world of commerce and industry convinced me that my talents, such as they were, lay elsewhere, and I have lectured in applied science at the Hunter Institute for almost 20 years. My expertise in chemistry has been required to expand into other areas: environmental monitoring, waste management, food processing and most recently, forensic science. I wrote a series of introductory level texts on chemistry, laboratory work and safety with a few of my colleagues, and have been involved in state and national curriculum development for much of this time.

My musical talents have never extended beyond the ability to use a stereo and purchase LPs and CDs, and I do admit to being exceedingly proficient in the latter. Listening to music was always important, but a love of classical music came late - my early thirties - supplanting previous interests in Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Cockburn and others of that era. The tipping point into classical music came from a most unlikely source: a series of very basic magazines (with CD) available on a weekly basis from the newsagent, each issue concentrating on one composer. It took about a dozen issues for the bug to bite, Schumann's piano concerto making the key impact because I had never heard it before.

The standard repertoire beckoned, and with the aid of the Penguin Guide, a credit card and a benevolent wife, the collection grew - rapidly - despite the paucity of classical music shops in Newcastle (and for that matter, Sydney). The Internet, and the ease of online purchases from British and American retailers, created the conditions for contraction of acute "collectionitis". Mercifully the Naxos Music Library arrived before the house foundations collapsed, and the number of new "physical entity" CDs has slowed to a safe and manageable level.

My musical tastes are fairly diverse, ranging from the 1600s to the current day, but I have yet to see much merit in music where melody and harmony are sacrificed for the cause of effect. My wife and I refer to such works as "boat noise" after attending a world premiere (from then, a worrying term) of music (I will not mention the composer) that could only be described in those terms.

I do have a great fascination with the obscure byways of music, and have found some quite wonderful works in the "undergrowth". I cite Johann Kalliwoda as a prime example of the rewards of going beyond the great composers.

Nevertheless, my two favourite composers are from the pantheon of the great ones: Bach and Vaughan Williams. The recordings of Bach's keyboard works by Angela Hewitt and the cantatas by Masaaki Suzuki and Bach Collegium Japan hold pride of place in my collection, and I continue to buy the physical CDs of the cantatas, even though they are available as part of the Naxos Music Library.

As for Vaughan Williams, three bars of Tasmin Little playing The Lark Ascending at a Last Night of the Proms probably 15 years ago made me stop what I was doing and watch the TV until it had finished. I then began to buy as much VW as I could and everything sounded just right. I knew his music was part of me when it took less than 30 seconds of the first and, therefore most obscure, work on a Mystery Composer Quiz episode of Karl Haas's Adventures in Good Music to recognise a VW piece I didn't know.

I have been fortunate enough on a few European holidays to undertake JSB and RVW pilgrimages. Other memorable music moments include (remember we are somewhat starved of the best performers out here):

  • Fabio Galante and Europa Galante playing The Four Seasons in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford
  • Diana Doherty playing the world premiere (the exception that proves the above rule) of Graeme Koehne's oboe concerto at the Sydney Opera House
  • Angela Hewitt at a lunchtime Wigmore Hall concert
  • Murray Perahia at Royal Festival Hall
  • a Saturday afternoon "concert"/service at the Thomaskirche, Leipzig
  • a 2007 Proms concert with Kurt Masur conducting on his 80th birthday (in the company of MWI colleague Patrick Waller)
  • Springsteen in Sydney in 1984 (to prove that my earlier loves haven't entirely faded)



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