Going for Baroque
When injury forced Sally Melhuish, OAM BMus ’87 , to switch from strings to woodwind, she discovered a rich new world of musical experience.
My musical life began as a violinist. It was wonderful growing up in Canberra with such a rich musical and cultural scene. While I was still at school I was performing with many different groups, including the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and all of the opera and theatre productions, including memorable CSO concerts conducted by the legendary Ernest Llewellyn, who was the visionary behind establishing the Canberra School of Music. It was an incredibly broad and formulative education and I learnt so much from a lot of fantastic musicians, including inspiring teachers such as Vernon Hill and Richard McIntyre.
In the third year of my Bachelor of Music degree, a neck injury brought an end to my violin playing, and I was fortunate to be allowed to complete my degree on recorder. But it was a difficult time, not only confronting the fact that I would never play violin again, but also dealing with people questioning how I could be doing a university degree on something that “wasn’t a proper instrument”.
After graduating, I was accepted into Amsterdam Conservatorium for three years of postgraduate study and quickly discovered how seriously the recorder is revered in Europe. The Conservatorium was fantastic – not only was it the best place in the world to study recorder at the time, but it also opened a whole new world of experiences for me. With so many international students, it was not unusual to have masterclasses in up to four different languages, with the expectation that we would understand them all. It was exciting but terrifying to be working with such famous musicians who were on all my favourite CDs and I felt as though I had an enormous amount to learn.
I loved living in Europe, particularly during such a dynamic period of change with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but I felt that I needed to return to Australia after receiving my Masters degree. It was very lonely being a professional recorder player in those days, so I decided to establish my own ensemble. I had grown up being inspired by the pioneering early music performances of Cynthia O'Brien and Paul Thom, and I wanted to create something similar as a space for emerging young artists and also the fantastic musicians specialising in baroque performance in Europe who wanted to contribute to the development of early music in Australia. Salut! Baroque was born in 1995, and next year we celebrate our 25th anniversary of subscription concerts and we’ll be releasing our 10th CD later this year.
I have travelled widely and lived in several different parts of the world, including Boston (where I directed the Harvard University Baroque Chamber Orchestra) and Madagascar (where my husband was senior adviser to the president), but Canberra is my favourite place. There’s a wonderfully supportive audience here too. We present a series of concerts in Albert Hall – I have lovely childhood memories of taking part in Eisteddfods there, despite my memory being that they were always held in the middle of winter in an unheated hall! Now Albert Hall has been transformed into a beautiful performance space that has a great acoustic for our baroque instruments.
Music has been a wonderful career, enabling me to combine my passions for programming and performing sublime music with discovering more about the social and political context in which composers were working and how that is reflected in their music. I have fond memories of the remarkable education I received during my formative years at the ANU School of Music and really hope to see increased opportunities for music education in Australia for students in the future.
Sally Melhuish is the Artistic Director of Salut! Baroque