An interview with Ian Roberts on Clifford Hocking AM

In our upcoming concerts, FQ will be celebrating the life of impresario, Clifford Hocking AM. For the next three years (2019-2021), we are dedicating one of our concert programs each year to the man who was instrumental in giving the ensemble its first ‘leg up’ as a professional string quartet. In true Clifford Hocking style the concert will be a cross-cultural program involving erhu and recorder, shining a light on Debussy’s fascination with Asian sonorities. Joined by long-time friend of the quartet, Genevieve Lacey, and celebrated erhu virtuoso, Hao Zheng, it promises a unique musical feast and a just tribute to one of Australia’s most influential and loved impresarios.

Ahead of this year’s ‘Clifford Hocking’ concerts, we sat down with FQ board member and Clifford’s dear friend, Ian Roberts, to find out more about this man who did so much for Australia’s cultural landscape. We feel very privileged to be remembering Clifford in this way.

Clifford Hocking AM

Clifford Hocking AM

How did Flinders Quartet come to know Clifford?

Clifford Hocking was one of the original board members of the Harold Mitchell Foundation, and Harold Mitchell was the chair of the Melbourne Festival when I was General Manager and when Clifford was the Artistic Director. Harold asked me to set up the foundation for him and he invited Clifford and a couple of others to join the board.

So it was maybe the second or third funding round, and an application was made by the Flinders Quartet. Clifford, who knew what everybody in the scene was doing, seized on this application and said, “Look, these young players are extremely good, but I don’t think we should give them the money they’ve asked for; I think we need to give them a whole lot more than that.” He said, “the reason for that is, if they’re going to be a great string quartet, they need time to really play together, they certainly have the ability. They’ve got the technique, the training and the passion for it, but they just don’t play together enough to become really great”.

So Flinders Quartet were offered an amount of money to buy a period of time away from the sessional work they were doing, so that they could be together to delve into the repertoire. And that’s how Harold Mitchell, Clifford Hocking, me and the Flinders Quartet met!

How do you think Clifford’s legacy has influenced the presentation of music in Australia today?

I think the great legacy of Clifford Hocking, which persists today in the festivals movement in Australia and in the programming policies of the recital centres (and I suspect in many other arts centres in Australia) is this: Clifford was never a part of an expert group for one particular art form. From his earliest days he recognised that virtuoso playing was being conducted through all the traditions of the west and the east and all of the great canon going back centuries and in all modern music. So his eclecticism and his ability to recognise and support virtuosity in any form of music and the performing arts was what he brought to the country.

He toured the Kronos Quartet and he presented Regurgitator. He was the man who said to me, “I want to see Bangarra dance with The Australian Ballet”. I said, “What do you mean?” and he said, “I want Bangarra and The Australian Ballet to dance together”. So he never gave a higher priority to western ballet than he did to emerging contemporary Indigenous dance. The very first concert that he presented commercially in Melbourne were two Indian musicians. I think he showed that there didn’t have to be a hierarchy of culture.

What drove Clifford to this position was that he wasn’t captured by one particular art form or discipline within an art form; his real interest was humans’ capacity to reveal themselves in art.

What do you think Clifford would have enjoyed about
this upcoming concert program?

He certainly would have enjoyed the Sculthorpe. In fact, it was Clifford’s idea to commission Sculthorpe to write a piece for the opening of the recital centre itself; and that piece was commissioned in the memory of Clifford. Clifford had started the negotiations and then he died before it could happen.

I think he would have loved the program because he would love hearing those wonderful players.

Ian Roberts is a member of the Flinders Quartet Board of Directors.

Join Flinders Quartet, Genevieve Lacey (recorders) and Hao Zheng (erhu) this October for this very special concert program dedicated to Clifford Hocking AM. Click here for details.