The Curse of the Gothic Symphony - on ABC1 TV TONIGHT!

Here's a story that for me, started eight years ago.

Sometime in 2004, I was doing work experience at 4MBS Classic FM - a community classical music radio station in Brisbane. If the words "community classical music radio station" trigger in your mind images of jolly retirees discussing opera and the last cruise ship they went on, with a backdrop of homemade bottled jam and a soundtrack of Mozart, well, you've nailed it.

But the more time I spent at 4MBS, the more I realised this wasn't just a place for baby boomers and older to come and play their favourite tunes. Rather, the station was very active in producing concerts and festivals, engaging and encouraging local classical musicians - both young and old. 

And as it turned out, the station's General Manager Gary Thorpe had a MUCH bigger vision.

I was sitting at my desk one day when, completely out of the blue, Gary came to me and asked, "Have I told you about the Gothic?".  

I said no. And he plopped a giant score (A3 size and half the thickness of a phone book) and a photocopy of an old photo on my desk. The score, he said, was of a symphony by a relatively unknown eccentric British composer named Havergal Brian. Symphony No. 1, The Gothic was considered to be the largest, longest and most complicated symphony ever written. It was such a ridiculously huge thing that hardly anyone had performed it. 

Gary had managed to catch a rare performance of the work in England in 1980 and ever since then, had dreamt of getting it performed in Brisbane. He'd had about four failed attempts already.

The photocopied photo he showed me gave a clue as to why. It was of one of the few performances ever staged - showing hundreds and hundreds of musicians and singers crammed into a concert hall. This mammoth symphony actually requires over 1000 musicians. That includes over 600 singers, four brass bands, one massive orchestra and one self-disrespecting conductor. 

Where in Brisbane, do you find a stage that can fit that many musicians, let alone find that many musicians who are skilled enough to handle such a musically complex work? Oh yeah, and the music itself divides people. For every person in the world who thinks the Gothic is an undiscovered masterpiece, there's another spitting and saying "Ugh, it's horrible!".

So yeah, Gary had a bit of a challenge on his hands. But also a potentially fascinating story. So I called my friend, documentary producer Veronica Fury (from WildFury), and she was crazy enough to take it on.

Eight years later, the feature-length documentary The Curse of the Gothic Symphony screens on ABC1 TV, December 30 2012 at 10.20pm.

I sang in the chorus so I can testify how NUTS the piece is!

But it was a pretty special experience. I've written more about it here

And now I shan't tell you any more because you've got to watch the documentary!