Since the dawn of history, the human voice and the act of singing have been intrinsically linked with storytelling and the acquisition of culture. The Song Company belongs to a land whose first peoples used songlines and vocal music to pass knowledge and culture from generation to generation, and is proud to continue that tradition, in a unique way, sharing music from across western and non-western art traditions. From its beginnings in 1984 the ensemble’s schedule has grown to include a mix of national and international touring, a subscription series in cities across Australia, recording and broadcast projects, education activities, and special collaborative projects.
The Song Company’s repertoire covers vocal music from the 10th century to contemporary works, and is unique in its stylistic diversity. The Company remains at the forefront of contemporary vocal music through an extensive commissioning program and collaborations with artists and composers of the highest calibre from around the world. A longstanding commitment to education sees the ensemble perform regularly in schools throughout the country, including bringing music workshops to children in regional and remote areas.
From 2016 the ensemble has been led by the British composer, conductor, producer, and lecturer Antony Pitts, whose award-winning career has taken him from the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace and New College, Oxford, via the BBC, the Royal Academy of Music, and performances in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and the Berlin Philharmonie, to the forefront of the Australian music scene as Artistic Director of The Song Company.
The seventies were heady times for artists in Australia. The Australia Council was established, the Sydney Opera House opened, our film industry made great strides forward, and a wide range of new musical initiatives, commercial as well as classical, changed the landscape. One of the new professional groups was the Leonine Consort led by Charles Colman. Colman assembled some of the best young singers in the country for performances of early music and vocal chamber music of the 19th and 20th century. In 1983, Peter Seymour, Artistic Director of the Sydney Philharmonia, invited Charles Colman to become the director of a new professional vocal ensemble as a part of Sydney Philharmonia. Auditions were held throughout Australia in early 1984. From over 100 applications, the initial octet was formed with Margaret Schindler, Romola Tyrrell, Susan Gotts, Narelle Tapping, James Bonnefin, Adrian Brand, Martin Cooke, and Stephen Bennett.
The Song Company’s first performance took place in July 1984 at the Rothbury Estate winery in the Hunter Valley. As further performances took place around the country, the singers’ aspirations and Colman’s quest for a top quality vocal ensemble with its own repertoire led to complete independence from Sydney Philharmonia. One year later, on 15 July 1985, The Song Company Pty Ltd was a legal entity.
By the end of that year, the company had presented a number of challenging programs including a concert with the contemporary ensemble Flederman, had started commissioning composers, and set up a schools touring program through Musica Viva in Schools. Conductor David Porcelijn engaged the ensemble to perform in Stravinsky’s Les Noces and Ravel’s L’enfant et les Sortileges at the 1986 Adelaide Festival. From that moment, The Song Company never looked back.
After ill-health forced Charles Colman to resign in 1988, the group became a sextet led by John Grundy until Roland Peelman was appointed in early 1990. Under Roland’s leadership, The Song Company has built an enviable reputation as a vocal group of unmatched scope and expertise. While its point of reference lies in the vocal consort repertoire of the 16th and early 17th century, frequent explorations in medieval music, and ongoing creative development with composers and artists here and abroad continue to expand the group’s repertoire and skill base.
The group’s 10th anniversary was celebrated together with the Australian Chamber Orchestra in a performance of Bach, Fauré and a new work by Elliott Gyger. The 20th anniversary was marked with a large new setting of Song of Songs by Andrew Schultz which saw the start of an ongoing collaboration with William Barton, one of Australia’s most celebrated indigenous artists. This year, the 30th anniversary season started with a performance of Berio’s Laborintus II at the Sydney Festival, will feature the premier of a new Mass for Voices and Didgeridoo by Gerald Brophy, and will conclude with a rare soloistic performance of J.S.Bach’s Mass in B Minor.
Since 1997, the group has performed at some of the world’s most prestigious venues and has been hosted by major festivals in Europe, including the Flanders Festival, Utrecht Early Music Festival, and the Budapest Music Festival, and is equally at home singing in Nullagyne, Trangy or Barradine.
New and innovative collaborations have taken The Song Company’s unique voice into the 21st century, most notably with choreographers Kate Champion, Martin del Amo and Shaun Parker demonstrating the transformative power of dance and voice together. Thirty years on, The Song Company can be seen as a pioneer in a cappella singing in Australia. No other vocal ensemble in the country matches the quality of The Song Company’s ensemble or the diversity of its repertoire. There are arguably few vocal ensembles anywhere in the same league.
Taking up the baton from Roland Peelman in 2016. the award-winning British composer and conductor Antony Pitts is The Song Company's new Artistic Director. Antony brings with him a wide and distinctive range of programming, already recognized by Australian critics as "seriously interesting", and an approach to vocal sonority which promises exciting times ahead for the Company.