The seventies were heady times for artists in Australia. The Australia Council was established, the Sydney Opera House opened, our film industry made great strides forward, and a wide range of new musical initiatives, commercial as well as classical, changed the landscape. One of the new professional groups was the Leonine Consort led by Charles Colman. Colman assembled some of the best young singers in the country for performances of early music and vocal chamber music of the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1983, Peter Seymour, Artistic Director of the Sydney Philharmonia, invited Charles Colman to become the director of a new professional vocal ensemble as a part of Sydney Philharmonia. Auditions were held throughout Australia in early 1984. From over 100 applications, the initial octet was formed with Margaret Schindler, Romola Tyrrell, Susan Gotts, Narelle Tapping, James Bonnefin, Adrian Brand, Martin Cooke, and Stephen Bennett.
The Song Company’s first performance took place in July 1984 at the Rothbury Estate winery in the Hunter Valley. As further performances took place around the country, the singers’ aspirations and Colman’s quest for a top quality vocal ensemble with its own repertoire led to complete independence from Sydney Philharmonia. One year later, on 15 July 1985, The Song Company Pty Ltd was a legal entity.
By the end of that year, the company had presented a number of challenging programs including a concert with the contemporary ensemble Flederman, had started commissioning composers, and set up a schools touring program through Musica Viva in Schools. Conductor David Porcelijn engaged the ensemble to perform in Stravinsky’s Les Noces and Ravel’s L’enfant et les Sortileges at the 1986 Adelaide Festival. From that moment, The Song Company never looked back.
After ill-health forced Charles Colman to resign in 1988, the group became a sextet led by John Grundy until Roland Peelman was appointed in early 1990. Under Roland’s leadership, The Song Company built an enviable reputation as a vocal group of unmatched scope and expertise. While its point of reference lies in the vocal consort repertoire of the 16th and early 17th centuries, frequent explorations in medieval music, and ongoing creative development with composers and artists here and abroad continue to expand the group’s repertoire and skill base. After a quarter of a century at the helm, Roland stepped down and global auditions were held for a new Artistic Director, resulting in the appointment of British composer and conductor Antony Pitts. Since Antony's inception as AD in 2016, The Song Company has continued to grow from its thirty-year heritage, exploring new directions and collaborations, including commissioning many young and emerging Australian composers, and working together across genres and artforms as diverse as a progressive metal band from Melbourne, The Omnific, to Shakespeare scholar Professor Gary Watt. As well as working closely with and encouraging Indigenous creative artists and composers, The Song Company has expanded its discography and filmography, including a vinyl album featuring an a cappella version of Gavin Bryars's Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet and Antony Pitts's own 25-part motet in homage to a canon from the Eton Choirbook, Transiens, and a semi-staged version of Hildegard of Bingen's Ordo Virtutum in Circle of Virtue.
Since 1997, the group has performed at some of the world’s most prestigious venues and has been hosted by major festivals in Europe, including the Flanders Festival, Utrecht Early Music Festival, and the Budapest Music Festival, and is equally at home singing in Nullagyne, Trangy, Barradine, or Dungog. The group’s 10th anniversary was celebrated together with the Australian Chamber Orchestra in a performance of Bach, Fauré, and a new work by Elliott Gyger. The 20th anniversary was marked with a large new setting of Song of Songs by Andrew Schultz which saw the start of an ongoing collaboration with William Barton, one of Australia’s most celebrated Indigenous artists. The 30th anniversary season included a performance of Berio’s Laborintus II at the Sydney Festival, the première of a new Mass for Voices and Didgeridoo by Gerald Brophy, and a soloistic performance of J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor. There are exciting plans afoot for The Song Company's 40th anniversary in 2024.
New and innovative collaborations have taken The Song Company’s unique voice onwards through the first two decades of the 21st century, most notably with choreographers Kate Champion, Martin del Amo, Shaun Parker, and Thomas E.S. Kelly's contemporary Indigenous dance company Karul Projects, demonstrating the transformative power of dance and voice together. After almost four decades The Song Company can be seen as a pioneer in a cappella singing in Australia. The quality of The Song Company’s ensemble singing and the diversity of its repertoire and unique programming have earned its place as Australia's leading vocal ensemble, made up of Principal and Guest Artists from around the country, under the artistic direction of an outstanding leadership team.
photograph: The Song Company c.1994: (L–R) Matthew Glasgow, Jo Burton, Richard Black, Jane Edwards, Penelope Sharpe, Clive Birch, Roland Peelman