Concert 5 2023: The Worth Of My Music

Performance: 7.00pm Saturday 28th October 2023

Venue: Blackburn High School Auditorium, 60 Springfield Road, Blackburn

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Leo Nguyen – pianoforte soloist

Leo Nguyen is a Melbourne-based classical pianist, who quit a commerce degree to study music and Japanese. He always hopes to bring a unique and exhilarating performance to his listeners. He plays a wide range of repertoire, enjoying works by lesser-known composers, while at heart remaining a romantic – with a not-so-secret penchant for Chopin.

After completing a Bachelor of Arts/Music at Monash University, Leo completed an Honours year in Music at the University of Melbourne. Throughout his tertiary studies, Leo has studied with renowned pianists, including Tamara Smolyar, Hoang Pham, Jerry Wong and Len Vorster.

Leo has performed on 3MBS’ The Talent,  as well as winning Monash University’s Anna Chmiel Memorial Prize. He also gained third prize in the Enkor International Music Competition, and placed as a finalist in USCI Piano Festival and Competition. Leo recently performed Beethoven’s ‘Emporer’ concerto with the South Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. 

This year, Leo continues his musical education in his second year at the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM), under the tutelage of Timothy Young. When he isn’t practising in the early hours of the morning, he is exercising his competitive side on PC strategy games.


Welcome to Percy Grainger: The Worth of My Music. This performance embarks on a tantalizing odyssey, peeling back the layers of complexity that entwine Percy Grainger with a cohort of distinguished composers. The composers in this illustrious roster are Antonio de Cabezon, Frederick Delius, Peter Sculthorpe, Stephen Foster, Duke Ellington, Edvard Grieg and Percy Grainger. This performance unveils connections that link Grainger to these maestros, shedding light on the profound influences that coursed through their creative veins.

Edvard Grieg, the resplendent Norwegian composer, kindled an enduring camaraderie with Grainger, united by their shared love of folk music. Grainger’s fervent mission to conserve folk songs found resonance in Grieg, who passionately interwove Norwegian folk melodies into his own compositions. This shared passion for the folklore birthed a creative synergy, explored with reverence within the pages of “The Worth of My Music.”

Frederick Delius, known for his lush and evocative compositions, shared the same artistic sensibilities as Grainger’s. Their shared directions in music etched profound contours on both of their approaches to composition and orchestration.

Duke Ellington’s inclusion, as a jazz icon, may raise an eyebrow, but “The Worth of My Music” unveils the intriguing kinship between Grainger and Ellington’s jazz revolution. Admiration was key to their relationship and testament to Grainger’s embracing the new without boundaries.

Stephen Foster, lauded as the “Father of American Music,” shares an affinity with Grainger through their shared dedication to preserving folk traditions. Grainger’s transformative arrangements of Foster’s works underscore his unwavering commitment to safeguarding cultural heritage.

We delve into a brief but profound meeting between Percy Grainger and Peter Sculthorpe. A single conversation sowed seeds that helped Sculthorpe to follow a direction in composition.

“The Worth of My Music” embarks on an exquisite journey, unravelling the intertwined destinies of Percy Grainger and these remarkable composers. It pays homage to the intricate interplay of influences that enriched 20th-century music, reminding us that the artistic cosmos is a collection of diverse voices and inspirations.


The Duke of Marlborough Fanfare by Percy Grainger, edited by Donald Hunsberger

The Duke of Marlborough Fanfare, composed in the tumultuous year of 1939, carries with it the weight of history and the resonance of tradition. This English folk composition draws from the melody performed by Henry Burstow. This familiar melody is also used in the 1st movement of Lincolnshire Posy.

Within the score of this piece we find dedications that run deep. The first is the homage to Lucy Broadwood, the guardian of this precious melody, carried forth through the voice of Henry Burstow in the heart of Sussex, England. Grainger’s reverence also extends to the memory of Edvard Grieg, a guiding light during his early years as a piano soloist who passed away in 1907.

The meaning of this fanfare is steeped in the turbulent backdrop of the times. The shadow of war loomed ominously. British authorities reached out to the owner of the cottage that Grainger was living to say that they would need this land if war broke out. Grainger realised, with a heavy heart, that this was his cue to farewell his European colleagues. It was this sentiment that breathed life into the fanfare, which he gave the subtitle, “British War Mood Grows.” In its resounding notes, we hear the echoes of an era defined by sombre reflection, underlining the profound emotional depth that infuses this musical creation.

Prelude in the Dorian Mode by Antonio de Cabezon, scored for wind band by Percy Grainger, edited by Keith Brion and Michael Brand

Grainger’s is mostly known for his work with folk songs and even electronic experiments. Yet, amidst his contemporary, groundbreaking work, there’s a lesser-known facet of Grainger that ventured into the distant past.

Percy Grainger’s name isn’t typically synonymous with Spanish music. However, as a pianist, he considered himself a trailblazer in championing the cause of modern Spanish music in the English-speaking world. Throughout his career, Grainger hailed Isaac Albéniz as the best of Spanish composers, crediting him with the most profound influence on piano writing since the era of Chopin and Liszt.

Among his ventures into the world of Spanish music, Grainger’s “Prelude in the Dorian Mode” is noteworthy. In this composition, Grainger worked with the concept of “elastic scoring,” a technique where each musical voice is assigned a unique ‘Tone Strand,’ stretching from the soprano part down to the bass line. He then artfully selected instruments that harmonized with the texture of each strand, creating a harmonious interplay of voices and timbres that breathed life into Cabezon’s work.

In essence, Percy Grainger’s foray into Spanish music is an example of his passion for musical exploration and shows his dedication to preserving tradition while exploring the boundaries of musical expression.

The Walk to the Paradise Garden from the opera A Village Romeo and Juliet by Frederick Delius, transcribed by Jos van de Braak

The year 1907 carries with it a unique time in Percy Grainger’s life. It was during this fateful year that Grainger crossed paths with Frederick Delius. A year earlier, Delius laid eyes on Grainger’s setting of the folk song “Brigg Fair”. To Delius’ astonishment, he declared their approach to harmonising was identical. 1907 was also the year of Edvard Grieg’s passing. He meant a great deal to both Grainger and Delius.

Delius then started on a creative journey inspired by this newfound connection. He composed his orchestral rhapsody, “Brigg Fair,” a majestic tribute to the similarity of their musical settings, dedicating it to Grainger with heartfelt admiration.

Meanwhile, in Berlin, the curtains rose for the premiere performance of “A Village Romeo and Juliet.” It’s important not to become ensnared in an idyllic vision of a Paradise Garden. In this work, the Paradise Garden is a weathered, dilapidated pub. The music paints a picture of the journey undertaken by Romeo and Juliet, a narrative fraught with the complexities of love amidst family discord. The year 1907 serves as an important moment for both Percy Grainger and Frederick Delius. They were united by their shared love for harmonies and the Norwegian terrain and forged a bond that transcended their time.

Kakadu by Peter Sculthorpe, set for wind band by Mark Aldrich

In the early days of his musical journey, Peter Sculthorpe had completed an AMEB theory exam supervised by Professor W.A. Laver from the Melbourne Conservatorium who had been impressed by Peter’s ability. Later on a trip to Melbourne, Peter and his mother were walking through the Botanical Gardens, that a coincident occurred. They noticed Professor Laver approaching, accompanied by another gentleman – none other than Percy Grainger.

At that moment, meeting Grainger held little significance for Peter, who knew of him only as a pianist. Looking back later in life, Sculthorpe recognized the importance of the encounter, that he hadn’t fully appreciated at the time. In that conversation with Grainger, Sculthorpe shared that he wanted to become a composer. In response, Grainger, with a sage’s wisdom, imparted a simple yet profound directive: “My Boy, you must look to the north.” And so, he did. The composition “Kakadu,” named after the sprawling Kakadu National Park in northern Australia, is a musical testament to Sculthorpe’s connection with this land. This expansive wilderness, stretching from coastal tidal plains to rugged mountain, is not merely a geographical entity but a repository of living Aboriginal culture. Through his music, Sculthorpe invites us to step into this vivid landscape, to experience its dry and wet seasons, and to witness the perpetual cycle of life and death that defines it.

Foster on My Mind by Stephen Foster, arr. by Hoshide Takashi

In the early days of his life, Percy Grainger found a muse in the melodies of Stephen Foster leaving an indelible imprint on his musical soul. Grainger reminisced that one of his earliest recollections was the sound of his mother’s voice, singing “Camptown Races.” This folkloric refrain resonated deeply within him, it’s echoes reverberating through the corridors of his memory.

As Grainger embarked on his own musical journey, he sought to pay homage to the influence that Foster’s compositions had on his creative spirit. In a testament to his reverence for Foster’s legacy, Grainger composed a piece he aptly titled “Tribute to Foster.” This work brought together a mixed choir, a symphonic orchestra, and an unexpected yet enchanting addition – pitched wine glasses. At its core, this composition drew its lifeblood from the timeless melody of “Camptown Races.”

Through “Tribute to Foster,” Grainger wove a tapestry that honoured not only Foster’s musical prowess but also the folk traditions that fostered their shared love for timeless melodies. It was a musical voyage through the heartland of American music, a journey that celebrated Foster’s work.

Caravan by Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol, orchestrated by Barry McKimm from the arrangement by Reg Owen

On a crisp October day in 1932, Percy Grainger orchestrated a remarkable convergence of worlds at New York University, an intersection where jazz, academia, and the unorthodox rhythms of his own life met. He extended a groundbreaking invitation to none other than Duke Ellington and his orchestra, inviting them to perform the enchanting “Creole Love Call” as a part of a music lecture. It was an audacious move, one that marked the first time a university had ever welcomed a jazz musician into the hallowed halls of academia.

Grainger, with his unorthodox persona and a habit for challenging conventions, was not the most seamless fit for the formal rhythms of academic life. His lectures, often a symphony of unconventional ideas, rarely drew large crowds. However, on the day Duke Ellington and his orchestra graced the stage, the auditorium was filled to the brim.

The lecture notes from that fateful day are now at the Grainger Museum in Melbourne, artifacts that capture a momentous occasion in the history of music education. Grainger is said to have opened the class with a declaration that reverberated through the room: “The three greatest composers who ever lived are Bach, Delius, and Duke Ellington. Unfortunately, Bach is no longer with us, Delius is ailing, but today, we revel in the presence of The Duke.”

Piano Concerto op. 16 in A Minor by Edvard Grieg, arr. by Carlo Balmelli

Percy Grainger and Edvard Grieg, two titans of music, each wielded their distinctive musical palettes, leaving an indelible mark on the world’s musical landscape.

Edvard Grieg, Norway’s musical ambassador, possessed a rare gift for channelling his homeland’s essence through his compositions. His musical odysseys, such as “Peer Gynt” suites and the beloved Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor, act as windows into the heart of Norway. The piano concerto, a masterwork in its own right, captures the spirit of Norway’s rugged fjords and picturesque meadows with its lush melodies and virtuosic piano passages. Grieg, through this concerto, doesn’t just display his compositional prowess; he invites us on a transcendent journey to the very soul of Norway.

On the flip side, Percy Grainger, the musical maverick straddling Australian and American identities, embraced eclecticism as his creed. His diverse output spanning folk-inspired compositions to avant-garde explorations in harmonics and instrumentation, even venturing into the world of electronic music. Grainger’s pioneering spirit knew no bounds, pushing the envelope of what was possible in his era.

Beneath their stylistic disparities, Grainger and Grieg converged on a shared love for folk music. Grainger’s tireless work to collect and safeguard folk songs mirrored Grieg’s passion for preserving Norway’s rich folk traditions. This common thread underscores the universal potency of music in preserving and celebrating our cultural legacies. Grieg stated that Grainger was the only non-Norwegian who could interpret his music.

In essence, Percy Grainger and Edvard Grieg, with their divergent yet harmonious voices, remind us that the world of classical music is an ever-evolving, kaleidoscope. Their legacies endure as eternal beacons of inspiration, proving that music transcends boundaries, bridges cultures, and resonates with the human soul.

Walking Tune by Percy Grainger, wind band setting by Larry Daehn

Percy Grainger’s “Walking Tune” is a sonic voyage into the mind of a musical maverick. It’s a composition that speaks volumes about his unapologetically innovative spirit and dancing to the beat of his own musical drum.

This piece is like a musical crossroads where tradition and modernity converge. Grainger, ever the folklorist at heart, draws inspiration from the deep well of folk traditions. As you listen to “Walking Tune,” you’ll find yourself on a musical journey that’s both familiar and refreshingly different. It’s like strolling through the pages of a musical travelogue, where Grainger’s vivid imagination takes you to places you’ve never been, yet there’s a comforting nostalgia in the air.

In the end, this composition isn’t just about the notes on the page; it’s a testament to Grainger’s commitment to preserving and revitalising our musical heritage. It’s a reminder that in the world of music, there are no rules, only possibilities waiting to be explored. So, take a walk with Percy Grainger, and let his “Walking Tune” be your guide.