Before the artists moved in, the Sydney suburb of Paddington was a dirty and overcrowded slum. Drawn by the cheap rents and a renewed interest in its Victorian era architecture, the 1960s saw Paddington become a hub for Sydney’s arts crowd, which kick-started the suburb’s gentrification.
Now, with the median house price at about $1.5 million, there are perhaps more buyers than makers of art living in Paddington these days. But thanks to the late composer Peggy Glanville Hicks, who gifted her Paddington home for composers to live and work, there will remain at least one artist in Paddington in perpetuity.
As the composer-in-residence at the Peggy Glanville-Hicks House (PGHH) for the past six months, Julian Day is carrying the torch for artists in Paddington. Julian – who is a prolific composer, performer and sound artist – is one of about 20 composers who have had the privilege of staying at PGHH since 1993. What makes Julian’s stay different is that, due to a partnership between the Australia Council’s Music Board and the PGH Trust, his residency is the first to be supported by a $20,000 stipend for living and travel expenses.
Glanville-Hicks once said that leisure and silence are prerequisites for composers to be creative, but it’s fair to say that the first half of the residency has been light on leisure and silence for Julian. He has already completed three commissioned works, including his first ever string quartet, and travelled frequently interstate and internationally to work on the many collaborative projects he has on the boil, including Super Critical Mass and An Infinity Room .
‘It’s been very useful to have this place during a very busy year,’ he says. ‘But it’s painful not be here to enjoy the house.’
His hectic schedule fits the picture drawn by the Music Board Chair Matthew Hindson, who describes Julian as not only someone who dreams big, but as someone who gets things done. ‘He’s thinking about what music can be, rather than what it is,’ says Matthew. ‘And he makes things happen. He puts them into effect.’
Matthew, who was himself the composer-in-residence at the PGHH back in 2000, remembers his time at the house fondly. ‘This was a very fertile time for me in terms of writing,’ says Matthew, who wrote a number of large pieces during his residency, including Heartland and his Violin Concerto which are still being performed to this day. ‘Having the house really takes the pressure off.’
The house, which was renovated in 2012, now has more space for living and composing following the extension of the living room into the back courtyard. ‘It’s been a bit of nice drop-in place for artists who might want to rehearse with me,’ says Julian. ‘I’ve got the space to spring out the keyboards and mates bring over their instruments.’
Both Julian and Matthew agree that staying at the home makes you feel part of an important lineage of Australian composers. ‘When I think about the pedigree of artists that have lived here, it’s rather daunting,’ says Julian, who is confident that the residency will also be a ‘calling card’ for his career. ‘I’ve met several artists from overseas who have heard about this residency … they can see there’s an arc or trajectory to my career.’
Given his suite of accomplishments in the first half of 2013, there is no question that Julian is making the most of Glanville Hicks’ gift. Those accomplishments might give him the permission to enjoy those other elusive gifts of silence and leisure in the second half of 2013. One gets the feling that leisure, at least, might remain elusive for Julian Day for some time to come.