Great Scot Archive
Issues from 1998
Issues from 1998


John Carmichael – discovery in melody

Composer, pioneer music therapist, musical director – John Carmichael has covered a wide spectrum of virtuosity.

Born in Melbourne, John Carmichael attended Scotch from 1939 to 1942, and then studied piano with Raymond Lambert and composition with Dorian Le Gallienne at the University Conservatorium before continuing his piano studies at the Conservatoire National in Paris with Marcel Ciampi. Contact with Arthur Benjamin while he was still in Australia led to a period of study with him in London, and studies in composition continued later with Anthony Milner.

John was a pioneer in the field of music therapy; he developed music teaching and music appreciation projects at Stoke Mandeville Hospital (where the Paralympics were born) and Netherden Mental Hospital in Surrey. Then followed a period as musical director of the Spanish dance company Eduardo Y Navarra, with extensive international touring including an Australian visit, during which ABC Television recorded the company’s dance program Fuego en la Sangre (Fire in the Blood).

In 1980 James Galway premiered John Carmichael’s Phoenix – Concerto for Flute and Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House; he gave the American premiere at the Hollywood Bowl a few months later, and included the work in his Flute Masterpieces series. His Trumpet Concerto, released on CD with John Wallace and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, was originally written for Australian trumpeter Kevin Johnston.

Writing for the piano has always stimulated ideas for compositions, including works for four hands, and has led to collaborations with Australian pianists such as Victor Sangiorgio and Antony Gray, who gave the premiere of Carmichael’s Piano Quartet: Sea Changes in London in 2000 with Australian string players Belinda MacFarlane, Morgan Goff and Matthew Lee; the work was later released on the ABC Classics CD, Sea Changes.

John Carmichael’s latest work, On the Green, for wind ensemble, was premiered in London in September 2007. It celebrates the green spaces of West London where the composer has lived for the last 40 years.

Concentration on melodic and thematic development within well-wrought musical structures has always been a feature of Carmichael’s music, something remarked on by both listeners and reviewers. In 2007 on the release of the ABC Classics CD Solo Flights, a complete recording by Antony Gray of Carmichael’s music for solo piano, it was selected as CD of the Week on the ABC network and was reviewed in the Classic FM magazine in the UK as ‘77 minutes of enchanting music’, while Rob Barnett in Classical Music on the Web, reviewing the CD Sea Changes, remarks that Carmichael is ‘completely serious in his pursuit of discovery in melody – blissfully accessible and often sheerly beautiful’.

In the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours, John was awarded an OAM ‘for services to the arts as a concert pianist and composer’, and in August 2011 he returned to Melbourne for the premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 2 given by the Chamber Strings of Melbourne, conducted by Stefan Cassomenos with Antony Gray as soloist.

During this visit to his home town, the Melbourne University Conservatorium arranged a concert to celebrate John’s Queen’s Birthday award. The programme included the premiere of Escapades for flute, oboe and piano and the Sonata for oboe and piano - Music Grave and Gay, performed by Melbourne oboist Stephen Robinson who commissioned the work in 2010 for its premiere in London.

Updated: Monday 24 June 2013