|When the much-loved Australian conductor Brian Stacey died tragically on 25 October 1996, the night before the premiere of Sunset Boulevard in Melbourne, Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber described “Stacey’s” death as “a loss to the world of music theatre, not just Australia”
Passionately Australian, Stacey was above all committed to the future of the arts in his own country. He refused to be pigeon-holed into one musical genre. He conducted for ballet and opera, was unsurpassed in his musical direction of works by Sondheim and Bernstein, could and did swing with the best of the jazz musicians, and brought to musicals such as The Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Boulevard the same professionalism and attention to detail that inspired his work in the classical repertoire.
Working with Stacey on a show was special. He gave equal attention to all, from the most junior chorus member to the most established star. Fame did not change him. His success was won through talent and hard work and he never forgot what it was like to be a beginner. Stories about him abound. He always took his tea from a bone china cup and saucer, producing a fine china tea service (a present from one of “his” orchestras) from the Liberty of London carpet bag he carried with him everywhere.
At performances Stacey would arrive on his Kawasaki, enter his dressing room in motorbike leathers and helmet, emerge in tails carrying a baton, then step onto the podium to conduct anything from grand opera to cabaret. As the programme notes for the memorial celebration concert put it – extremely cool.
‘…the conductor must not only make his
orchestra play, he must also make them
want to play. He must exalt them, lift
them, start their adrenaline pouring.
Either through cajoling or demanding or
raging. But however he does it, he must
make the orchestra love the music as he
loves it. And when this happens there is
a human identity of feeling that has no
equal elsewhere. It is the closest thing I
know to love itself. On this current of love
the conductor can communicate at the
deepest levels with his audience…’
Leonard Bernstein in The Art of Conducting in
The Joy of Music, White Lion Publishers, 1974
To family, friends and all those who worked with him or were touched by his performances, Stacey is unforgettable. The Trust established in his name will endow a fellowship to ensure that other conductors like Stacey can develop and flourish in their own country and on the world’s stage – passionately Australian and individual.