From the desk of Roland Rocchiccioli – 10 December

December 10, 2023 BY

25th anniversary: The pipes and brass of the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic will rattle-the-rafters of St Paul’s for Carols in the Cathedral. Photo: SUPPLIED

Carols in the Cathedral – 2023, with the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic orchestra, is a Christmas-week music highlight for the entire family!


THE three, two-hour performances in Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral are a magnificent feast of spectacular fanfares, traditional carols, and glorious Christmas music and verse, performed by massed choirs, superb soloists, and the orchestra’s majestic brass and percussion.

This year’s program is a celebration of composers from around the world, including the ever-popular carols, O Come All Ye Faithful, Once in Royal David’s City, Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angel’s Sing, and Unto Us Is Born A Son, augmented by compositions from Peter Cornelius, Eric Whitacre, Dan Forrest, Philip Stopford, William G. James, John Rutter, and others! The angelic voices of special guest performers; the National Boys Choir of Australia, the soaring tenor Roy Best, and the glorious bass-baritone Jeremy Kleeman, will delight the devotees of traditional works in the days leading-up to the Christmas festival.

Under the baton of Maestro Andrew Wailes, the collective vocal and instrumental strength of the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir, Melbourne University Choral Society, Box Hill Chorale, RMP Orchestra soloists, RMP Brass and Percussion Consort, City of Melbourne Highland Pipe Band, and the thundering St Paul’s Cathedral organ, will create a sound to stir your soul, and make your spirit soar.

As Australia’s oldest, extant musical organisation, the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic has, within its charter, provision for the running of both a choir and an orchestra. Before the advent of television, much of the earliest orchestral activity in Melbourne, and which enjoyed such popularity, was connected to the erstwhile Melbourne Philharmonic. Saturday night Town Hall concerts were a regular, sold-out feature.

It was partly from the merging of the Melbourne Philharmonic with various other ensembles – chiefly the University of Melbourne orchestra, which led to the formation of what, ultimately, became the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Under the chief conductor of the time, Sir Bernard Heinze, the Melbourne Philharmonic Choir became the ABC’s preferred choice. Consequently, during this period of some 40 years, it was the Melbourne Symphony which almost exclusively accompanied the choir in concerts of major orchestral and choral works.

The advent of radio helped Sir Bernard Heinze in his most successful general public, musical achievement. Appointed director-general of music with the new National Broadcasting Service 3LO-3AR (forerunner to the ABC), he was able to imbue a generation of radio listening Australians with a love of orchestral music, which, until then, was a joy confined mostly to the upper-classes. Radio concerts were introduced and embraced, enthusiastically, by an eager, listening public.

For 150 years the RMP orchestra has presented concerts featuring its own choir; and while the choir has become more established with Melbourne audiences, it was the orchestra which introduced Beethoven’s fifth and eighth symphonies, Mendelssohn’s Fifth Symphony, numerous symphonies and concerti by Haydn and Mozart, and many of the great works of the choral repertoire to Australian audiences.

The present music director Andrew Wailes re-established a professional orchestra, and in more recent years has formed a close-working relationships with Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, Melbourne Youth Orchestra, and the Australian Classical Players.

Together with Julie Houghton, this is my 15th year as a reader. The opportunity to write and read a personal homily is a performance to which I look forward, and enjoy above all else.

Carols in the Cathedral is at St Paul’s Flinders Street on Friday 15 December at 8.30pm and Saturday 16 December 2pm and 7pm. Enquiries can be made via [email protected] and for bookings visit trybooking.com.

Roland can be heard with Brett MacDonald on 3BA on Mondays at 10.45am and can be contacted via [email protected].