Richard Gill with students at Rosamond School in 2015
The public outpouring of grief with the death of Richard Gill over the past week is unprecedented in Australia. Yes, perhaps for a politician or a sportsperson, but for a musician, unapologetically classically-oriented in an age when the demise of such music is regularly touted? This outpouring is evident that so many lives have been touched, so many eyes and ears opened, so much laughter and music has been shared with this great man. I find it fascinating how so many of us have been compelled to share our Richard story – with the sense that this is exactly what he would have wanted.
I recall so clearly having lunch with Richard not long after I had been appointed CEO at Musica Viva in 1999. Richard was then Artistic Advisor to the Musica Viva In Schools program but his main point on the day, delivered with his typically passionate urgency, was that our key task was to find “the next Richard”. Over the years, this was a refrain often repeated… but, I realised, it was ultimately a futile search. No single person could ever encompass the depth of his musical understanding, the excellence of his musical pedagogy, and the breadth of his musical knowledge. There was, and will ever be, only one Richard Gill.
When I first heard Richard address a schools audience, back in the 1980s when I worked at the Sydney Symphony, I feared that the audience would be put off by what sounded at first like a condescending tone, in which he deliberately articulated each syllable, gently poking fun at the more outrageous responses, urging people to avoid the glib and obvious. Instead, I was quickly drawn into the web he deftly wove, illuminating the music and encouraging all of us to listen with fresh ears. That was my first big lesson from Richard: that listening well to music, in and of itself, was important and that very act offered the active listener an array of intellectual and emotional responses of enormous value to their life overall.