Melbourne Musicians string together 40 years of classic delight

The Melbourne Musicians in rehearsal at the Whitehorse Centre, 11 July 2010

by Janet Graham –

Melbourne is rightly renowned for its eclectic art and music scene. There is wide agreement that its pub culture of local bands is Australia’s most vibrant, and classical music, opera and musical shows thrive in Melbourne’s myriad performance venues.

With this abundance, however, there is a downside. Small, established musical companies find it increasingly hard to attract government and philanthropic funding. Audiences are often small because of competition from more fashionable, better publicised productions.

One such group is The Melbourne Musicians. Since its formation in 1975 by Frank U. Pam this chamber orchestra has delighted discerning music-lovers with the quality and variety of its concerts and the obvious enthusiasm of its members, most of whom play in other orchestras as well.

The group’s home base is St John’s Southgate, an exquisite contemporary church and a comfortable venue with excellent acoustics for chamber music. If you are unfamiliar with Southbank, though, it would be wise to allow time to find your way through the shopping centre after crossing the river via the footbridge opposite Elizabeth Street or along Swanston Street/St Kilda Road.

It says something about the orchestra’s reputation that international stars enjoy performing with The Melbourne Musicians. Oboist Anne Gilby, a long-time favourite, is one. When other works in a concert don’t contain an oboe solo she takes her seat among the orchestra.

The Melbourne Musicians are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year.

Their June concert, titled Baroque, treated the audience to works, some familiar and others less so, by Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, Pachelbel, Boyce and Sammartini. The performance of Giuseppe Sammartini’s recently discovered Oboe Concerto in F major (1717) was an Australian premiere. Anne Gilby handled the virtuosic solo with her customary skill.

This followed the famous Canon in D major by Johann Pachelbel. It was a wonderful opportunity to see, as well as hear, the melody passing from one instrument to another. Being present at a performance adds this visual dimension that a CD or vinyl recording cannot provide.

People sometimes forget that when these works were composed there was no way to experience them other than by attending a live performance, whether in a concert hall, a church or a musical family’s drawing room.

Director Frank Pam has led and nurtured this group since its inception. An accomplished viola player himself, he performed the solo in Telemann’s Viola Concerto in G major while conducting the orchestra with minimalist gestures.

Frank’s humorous introductions and explanations are notorious and lend an intimacy to concerts. His party piece, sometimes sung as an encore, is Flanders and Swann’s ‘Ill Wind’ — lyrics set to the rondo finale in Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 4 (“Oh where can it have gone? … Who swiped that horn?”). It takes a lot of vocal agility to keep up with the allegro vivace theme!

Encores are almost obligatory at Melbourne Musicians concerts and the players have a large repertoire to draw on.

The September and November concerts again promise to delight, featuring, respectively, soprano Elena Xanthoudakis and award-winning violin prodigy Jackie Wong.

Next performances

Sunday 20 September, 3.00pm

Includes Elena Xanthoudakis, soprano: Wedding Cantata, J.S. Bach

Sunday 15 November, 3.00pm

Includes Jackie Wong: Violin Concerto No. 3, Mozart

and Zoey Pepper: Bassoon Concerto, J.C. Bach

Venue: St John’s Southgate

20 City Road, Southbank

Cost: full price $50, concession/senior $45, student $25

For more information and bookings go to

Tickets also available at the door


From North and West Melbourne News Issue 170 September 2015 – Arts & Entertainment


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