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Goulburn Oratorio | Interview With Composer, Stephen Leek

150 years, in the making, the Goulburn Oratorio in November will be a major musical event in NSW


This year, Goulburn celebrates 150 years, and the regional city will celebrate with a historic Oratorio staged in November. Director of the Goulburn Regional Conservatorium, Paul Scott-Williams, commissioned  Stephen Leek  (Artistic Director and Conductor -of the Shanghai Youth Choir) to compose the 90 minute piece that will be performed at sunset to a picnicking audience. It will feature 22 pieces, interspersed by dramatic performances by the Lieder Theatre group. Here, the composer tells Estelle Pigot the story behind the story. 

“In celebrating the anniversary 150 years of Goulburn the idea behind the Goulburn Oratorio was to present and project positive and forward thinking visions of the present and future of the city. So, in keeping with this theme the Oratorio team have been working with locals to determine some of the positive things that they currently cherish and what might be their dreams for the future. In the work we have tried to capture as many of the elements that we discovered in song, in image, and in drama, and have engaged a diverse cross section of the performing talent from around the area to perform in the one-off outdoor event.

“There is no direct storyline per se,  rather, an interconnected sequence of tableaus and dramas that unfold throughout the performance. Some of the themes that are developed are the beauty of the natural landscape, the heritage through significant architecture, the sacrifices of the past in order to develop a bright future and some of the imaginings and visions of the Goulburn region in the future.

“The form and title of an oratorio was selected because, traditionally, an “oratorio” is a sequence of musical events that connect a drama, a story or some other event. In contrast to a play or a musical (which uses full theatrical devices) an oratorio is usually performed as a concert work but includes some staging or other theatrical elements. So, the form of an oratorio beautifully sums up what the Goulburn Oratorio is all about; a spectacular offering of sound, image and drama.

“I believe it is important to create works that have a life after the initial event. This way, the event lives on indefinitely and is marked in Australia’s heritage. This is what I have done in the Goulburn Oratorio where, after the event, the 20 or so smaller works will live on as smaller works that will be performed by other groups around the globe and carry with them a recognition of the Goulburn 150 Celebration – this is one way of leaving a legacy which marks this historical event – it also repeatedly puts the township of Goulburn on the world map.

“We hope that the Goulburn audiences will come and support this massive venture which brings together more than 500 performers – children, youth, adults, musicians, actors, poets, artists, etc, from around the region in a beautiful outdoor event by the Cathedral. There will be more than 2 hours of music, spoken word, projections and theatre, on what we hope will be a wonderful early summer evening. I think audiences will be surprised to see the wealth of performers and artistic that are involved in the performance and the way that the uplifting music brings the drama and visual elements of the performance together.”


Bring your picnic blankets, cushions, some wine and cheese then sit back and enjoy being immersed in an arts experience that happens once in 150 years.