On June 10 2005, Australian composer Martin Wesley-Smith turned 60. So, not surprisingly, did his librettist/lyricist twin brother Peter Wesley-Smith.

To help mark the event, the Australian vocal ensemble The Song Company presented, in Kangaroo Valley Hall and in The Studio, Sydney Opera House, a concert of Wesley-Smith works.

This page is a collection of some of the reviews and tributes from that time.

reviews: Sydney Morning Herald | The Advertiser | Opera~Opera | RealTime
from letters from friends: one | two | ex-student || Pete's general rave | Martin's general rave

Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 13 June 2005
Brothers in Crime
60th Birthday Concert for Martin and Peter Wesley-Smith
Song Company
Kangaroo Valley Hall, June 11
Reviewed by David Vance

The Kangaroo Valley Hall seemed the perfect setting to honour two of the town's residents, Martin and Peter Wesley-Smith, on the occasion of their imminent [sic] arrival at 60, or possibly 120 given they are twins. It was here, amidst family, friends and community, that the Song Company chose to celebrate a composer and librettist whose collaborative efforts have continued to challenge and engage audiences with works that have found a lasting place in the repertoire largely because they speak with such immediacy and directness yet are never bombastic nor preachy.

Roland Peelman commented that, short of Bach and Monteverdi, there were few composers to whom one could devote an entire vocal program. With the Wesley-Smiths, the problem is not so much as what to include, but rather what to omit. In this case, the choices were such as to illustrate the diversity of their output, yet to find within it a consistency of approach, one that never fails to stimulate the mind along with the ear.

The first half rightly belonged to Quito, a work some 10 years old, but in fact even more compelling now given recent histories of political and religious oppression. The tale of a schizophrenic boy from East Timor who committed suicide in a Darwin prison [sic] became for its creators a metaphor for the plight of East Timor. The work epitomises the commitment of the brothers to create works that challenge authority, and that question dogma of any variety.

Exactly in that mould is a newly commissioned work, doublethink, premiered on this occasion, and capturing the ongoing fascination of the Wesley-Smiths with language and meaning. A mordant text and wicked musical parody make this yet another of those immensely captivating works that keep mind and spirit alert.


The Advertiser
Edition 1 - State TUE 05 JUL 2005, Page 069
Musical genius in good company
By Elizabeth Silsbury

Brothers in Crime
Kangaroo Valley Hall

ADELAIDE born, bred and musically nurtured twins Martin and Peter Wesley-Smith celebrated their 60th birthdays with a weekend of whoopee in the idyllic setting of Kangaroo Valley (population 250), where they live on a 68ha farm and write music and words respectively.

The local hall (capacity 205) was packed solid for Australia's premier professional vocal ensemble, Song Company, making a special visit to pay their respects with a concert devoted entirely to the astonishingly varied output of the self-styled Brothers in Crime.

Their inventions can be very, very serious. The major work, Quito (1998), for six singers, piano and computer, tells in sound and images the appalling story of a young refugee from East Timor who dies by his own hand, his schizophrenia untreated, in a Darwin jail after being shot in a confrontation with police.

The music ranges from plangent, tightly disciplined chorales to screaming quasi-hysteria - with crazily shattering pixilations following the breakdown of Quito's tortured mind and soul. Also very serious but tummy-achingly funny was doublethink, slamming into political obfuscations and hypocrisies all the way from Onward Christian Soldiers and Hitler Youth songs to Abu Ghraib.

Then 40 years' worth of witty little ditties, some going back to children's television shows Playschool and Here's Humphrey, some pandering to littlies' love of naughty words. One from the eminently memorable Wesley Three's Mister Thwump is, with Banjo the Singing Rabbit, still for me the best children's music story ever.

Two treasures came from the same source as Boojum (Adelaide Festival 1986); the Wesley-Smith passion for Lewis Carroll lives on.

Shots were fired at a multitude of targets - some with humour, some with pathos, all with the passion and compassion of two outstandingly gifted blokes who have chosen to apply themselves to righting the world's wrongs, wherever they are, and to making people laugh and cry at the same time.

Rather like Mozart, when you think about it.


Twins celebrate 60th birthday
DAVID GYGER, opera~opera, Sydney, Aug 2005, p332.20

As Song Company mogul Roland Peelman told the audience in the Studio of the Sydney Opera House on Wednesday, June 15, there are not many composers to whom his group could devote an entire program.

Martin Wesley-Smith is one of them, and the vocal sextet was doing just that, in celebration of the 60th birthday of Martin and his twin brother Peter. Entitled Brothers in Crime, it was an impressive, and impressively varied, sampling of the creative output of the Wesley-Smiths.

Peter, of course, provides the words for Martin to set, and the wide-ranging sweep of their collaborations involves not only significant mission statements aimed at the political environment but a host of songs for the kids and drolleries for their elders.

The serious meat on the bones of the twins' collaborations was given pride of place at this concert, which had been premiered four days earlier in Kangaroo Valley, south of Sydney, where both twins live.

Before interval, we had a reprise of Quito, the Wesley-Smith's music theatre piece of the late 1990s focussing on the injustices of the East Timor situation equipped with evocative visuals and news clips as well as a varied and interesting musical commentary.

On first encounter some years ago, it struck me as a highly valuable conscience work on the plight of the young Timorese youth known as Quito, a schizophrenic who was transplanted to Darwin, subsequently maimed and finally driven to suicide by the callousness of the Northern Territory justice system - a personal tragedy the music theatre piece uses as a springboard to underscore its resonance of the wider plight of East Timor under Indonesian rule. Years later, it retains much of its considerable initial impact.

The premiere of these twin 60th birthday concerts as entitled doublethink. Commissioned by the Song Company, described in the program as "music theatre for six singers and bucket (2005)" and splendidly performed, doublethink zeroes in scathingly on the recent sins of Australian and American politicians in Iraq and behind the razor wire of Guantanamo Bay and the Australian detention centres deployed in remote precincts beyond the black stump but not far enough into the outback to escape the national consciousness and conscience altogether.

Here. the considerable acting prowess of the current members of the Song Company was intermittently pressed into service - producing, for instance, a memorable visual aftershock of the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib complete with hooded prisoner standing atop a low platform with hands outstretched to simulate a human cross. After that the concert evolved into a cook's tour of the Wesley-Smiths' vast flood of songs composed in the four decades between 1965 and 2005. Some were simply fun for the kids, one or two were peripherally risqué, but many more bore the unmistakable social consciousness imprint of the thoughtful twins - rounding out a rewarding evening of music-making in the company of one of our most accessible and productive composers and the poetic twin brother who provides him with his lyrics.


The breath sung and seen
Keith Gallasch, RealTime

On June 11, in Kangaroo Valley, NSW, and on June 15 in The Studio at the Sydney Opera House, the Song Company presented Brothers in Crime, a celebration of the 60th birthday of Martin and Peter Wesley Smith (the valley is their home). What the concert brought home is not only the affection and respect for the brothers in the musical community, but the totality of their vision: accessible, direct, sometimes satirical, often overtly political works drawing on popular musical idioms and pushing them to new levels of complexity. The first half of the concert came from their powerful 1994 music theatre work, Quito, not only an indictment of Australia's mishandling of East Timorese refugees in the 80s and 90s but prophetic of our government's subsequent cruelties to refugees from other countries. The remainder of the concert included a range of works new and old that entertained and enlightened with their gentle wit, whimsy and droll barbs, all done justice by the Song Company.


a friend writes about the Sydney concert:

it was an absolute joy to be at that concert - we loved it! I didn't so much listen to it all, but bathe in it. Thankyou for such a memorable and superb night of great music,great words for the music, tears, and laughs.(more like chortles, not guffaws, sitting in that slightly reserved audience.) I hope you have allowed yourselves the luxury of relaxing into Great Pride after that performance of all those works, big and small.

I absolutely adored the Song Company: what a stunning group of singers. What a marvellous thing to have them perform your work!..but no more marvellous than them having you to write for them. It was a celestial celebration indeed. I thought Roland was masterful, meticulous, probably highly demanding of the group..but with great results, wonderful pianist (I really enjoyed Ross Edwards' piece as well as all the other things he played). I loved hearing the SC in that excellent space where the connection was so strong with the audience. Such warmth and lustre and grace, and yet death-defying precision. I heard them in Llewelyn Hall years ago, and didnt feel nearly as much magic - not because of their lack of it, but because of how far away I was sitting from them.(Also I had something of a bias at your gig to the composer and weaver of words)

I wish I'd seen the review - that beautie by David Vance in the SMH. I often buy it, but subscribe to The Australian and the Canberra Times, neither of which really warrant the deforestation of the entire east coast of Australia.

Thanks again for the colour, the chemistry ..the delightful dazzle of it all.


another friend writes about the Kangaroo Valley concert:

All the dust has settled, the people gone home, the seats put away and now we are all just here thinking about the great night that we had.

It was a stunning two nights and first things first, we just want to say how much we loved being with you and to thank you so much for including us. To be part of your special family, and KV friends was marvelous and we felt so happy to be amongst it all. Thank you for hosting such a wonderful party - that was for every second, just fab. Please give our love to Olivia for everything that she did.

And the concert - how good was that?! How I love Roland and everything that he does - he sure did you both proud and as a mere audience person - it was just the most gorgeous singing and musical performance - and if I felt that - then I know you two must have been completely blown away.

Your work was so well presented and so beautifully performed and it gave us all such a rare treat that I really hoped we could do it all again (the only down side was a person right in front of us vomited - I then was nearly sick too - God can you imagine!) But Roland kept on! Your dear Rob went and got a bucket. Really liked meeting him and in fact kept hoping for more "time" just to chat to him but it seemed to fly by that I didnt.

Thank you for sending me doublethink. Can't wait for the next performance for that.

I thank you both VERY MUCH for having us to the party of the decade and the concert of the century.


from an ex-student who was at the Sydney concert:

Just a short note from me to tell you how thoroughly Robyn and I enjoyed Wednesday night's concert.

The second half was something of a revelation for me, since I've only really been exposed to your electronic/multimedia material. Whereas now, I believe Peter and you to be the Gilbert and Sullivan of Australia. (that's a compliment BTW since I am such a big fan of G&S)

Robyn and I have decided that "Together" is now officially our theme song. I would love to get a recording of it somehow, or even just the lyrics.


Pete's general rave:

It was quite an event, or rather series of events. The whole family came here for it - Sheila and Jerry drove over from Adelaide, Rob flew in from Darwin, Martin's lot came down from Sydney for the weekend - Olivia was the comptroller-general in the food and beverages department, Rob was invaluable as a general resource, Sheila personelled the sink for hours at a stretch ...; other visitors came from the US, Adelaide, and Melbourne. The first event was the birthday party on the 10th, held at Jane the neighbour's, with various bits of equipment and so on hired for the occasion. Sixty people attended: excellent food, good grog, some entirely unauthorised and scurrilous entertainment, toasts, speeches, a song or two written to honour the birthday boys. Several characters, who claimed they'd been victims of contributions we'd made to their own sixtieth birthday functions, sought revenge. Their preoccupation was, we think, a reflection of elderly male fantasising: an apparent belief that, just because we generally have attractive young female wwoofers, Road Ends must often resemble some kind of sex farm. It's not true, of course, but it was persistently alleged, in crude doggerel and to badly-performed melody, to Sheila's evident dismay: we had to reassure her that it was all nonsense. I mean, we've been nearly sixty for some time. The sub-theme of the presentations was my alleged aggression on the tennis-court - again, some misapprehension derived from the lack of sensible things to say about me and a failure to distinguish competitiveness from hostility and personal animosity. Martin and I responded to these farragoes of defamation with dignity and restraint, and sang our own song - a sensitive, tender ballad about being sixty - while The Song Company gave a rendition of "Lollipop Man". The party was generally accorded the title of best party in the Green Valley district for some weeks. Saturday morning we set about setting up the Kangaroo Valley Hall, a big task. The concert by The Song Co was magnificent. They devoted the first half to Quito, began the second with the new piece doublethink, and finished with a selection of songs written over forty years. The two hundred people in the audience - a full house - seemed to love it. The group was in magnificent form. "Quito" has always proved powerful and moving, and "doublethink" was a success (its potential self-importance tempered by a certain knockabout manner of performance, and everyone probably appreciated its theme even if not its political position). The songs displayed a wide range of styles; the affecting ones were affective, the humorous ones got laughs, the boring ones were ... there weren't any boring ones! Martin and I had to take a bow and suffer a standing ovation and the whole audience singing "happy birthday". After the show we repaired to another neighbour's, where there was more food and drink. Sunday morning it was back to the hall to bump out. Hard work for a bit. Then the multitudes descended on Road Ends for brunch, lunch, and afternoon tea, threatening at times to be for dinner and breakfast as well. It was a gorgeous day for it, so we sat around the deck, or walked about the property, and ate more leftovers from the party and drank more wine and other imbibements. Everyone concurred that, as a weekend of indulgence, great singing, and general conviviality, it was almost unsurpassed. To Martin and me it almost made it worth while to have reached such a great age. Certainly the opportunity to have it demonstrated that our stuff can sustain an entire concert was wonderful. The crowd was very predisposed to like it, of course; the concert was repeated on the following Wednesday in the Sydney Opera House (studio) and fortunately a more neutral audience seemed to find it as pleasing, though the atmosphere was more subdued.

Now it's back to the minutiae of daily life, confident that another such weekend won't disturb the verities for another decade at least!


Martin's general rave ("Musings"):

Now we are sixty ... how did it come to this?? I remember fellow composer Ross Edwards and I agreeing, when we were students together, that 35 - the age at which Mozart died - would be a good limit: [a] people over 30 can't be trusted, [b] 35 seemed ages away, and [c] who wants to be an Old Fart? Two observations from this side of 35: being an Old Fart is fun, and whereas Mozart wrote 40 symphonies, I'm still to write my first one - I'd better get moving! But I've composed lots of other things. Looking back, the works I'm most pleased with (I mean, least displeased with) are those composed with no nod at all to what was then currently fashionable in contemporary music circles. Like For Marimba & Tape, Who Killed Cock Robin?, and Boojum!. It wasn't always easy, in terms of getting commissions, performances, broadcasts etc, to break free from the shackles of the Contemporary Music Thought Police, but I was uncomfortable with their strictures relatively early on. I remember giving a seminar paper, as a student, on Webern's Opus 9. The night before I'd been playing banjo to all hours in a dixieland jazz band, and was somewhat worse for wear, prompting a colleague to advise me that I would have to choose between Webern and the banjo. I went home, thought about it all, and decided that I couldn't give up either: Webern (representing so-called "serious art-music") was a passion, but so was making good toe-tapping music for fun and entertainment. I decided to keep both, thinking that if my music ever amounted to anything it would be because of, not despite, my catholic tastes and interests. As it happens, I haven't listened to Webern or played the banjo for years, but I still love, and am influenced by, a wide range of music. Current favourite music: New York Voices' recording of Duke Ellington's Caravan and birthday boy (same day as ours) Ian Munro's recording of Ross Edwards' Kangaroo Valley Blues!

I must say that within the Australian composer fraternity, I've rarely come across the bickering and back-stabbing in which most artists are supposed to indulge. Perhaps that's because the cake is so small that it's not worth fighting over. One crumb or two? It hardly makes much difference. Times are tough for Australian artists today, and the outlook bleaker (although with tonight's concert I could hardly be happier!). I believe that a society whose creativity in all areas has been fostered by its enjoyment of - and participation in - the arts will prosper even in times of economic gloom. Thus I long for a government that insists that there be a vibrant arts scene and provides the required resources. Similarly, it should encourage a vigorous intellectual environment by, in part, valuing education for its own sake rather than seeing it merely as vocational training. And by insisting that the ABC fulfill its charter and be a source of debate and dissent, welcoming rather than suppressing programs and ideas that challenge accepted wisdom, that challenge even the government itself. Democracy, in whose name we send troops overseas, demands no less. In short, we need government that sees culture, broadly, as something more than a sloppy meat broth in which bacteria grow.

I've recently been re-reading Edward W. Said's Orientalism. In his 2003 preface to the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of his classic 1978 book he writes: "Reflection, debate, rational argument, moral principle ... have been replaced by abstract ideas that celebrate American or Western exceptionalism, denigrate the relevance of context, and regard other cultures with derisive contempt." Such thinking lies behind doublethink, Weapons of Mass Distortion, Black Ribbon, Songs of Australia, and other works of ours, including the East Timor pieces. Poor East Timor! Its brutal occupation by Indonesia was accompanied in Australia by the brutal taking over and subversion, by successive Labor and Coalition governments, of Australians' insistence on a fair go for all, our disrespect for authority, and our penchant for standing up for the little bloke. Howard, who took action in 1999 only after years of denying the reality of what was happening in East Timor, and only after being bullied by public opinion, emerged triumphant, typically turning the situation to his advantage. This has enabled him to complete the process of turning those traditional Australian characteristics on their head. Where now our penchant for standing up for the little bloke? Gone with the perceived need to pander to the big bloke. Er, West Papua, anyone? What happened to reflection, debate, rational argument, and moral principle in the lead-up to our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq? And what's happened to the thing that I grew up believing, courtesy of my parents, to be the very first principle: respect for, and desire for, the truth?

My father Harry's advice was generally sound, except for this: stand up, son, for what you believe in, and speak your mind without fear or favour. This attitude has got me into a lot of trouble! I was put under considerable pressure to leave the Sydney Conservatorium of Music when I expressed views contrary to what the new managers wanted to hear (I wisely succumbed, and am now living in the serenity of beautiful Kangaroo Valley, a million miles from the mind-numbing "efficiencies" of what now passes as education). And my East Timor pieces have not advanced my "career" as a composer. There's X, and there's Y, and there's Wesley-Smith over there in the ratbag corner. But no worries: with excellent performers such as The Song Company prepared to stand up along side, the pieces are being performed more than they would be if they'd been abstract pieces instead. Last year the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra courageously commissioned Peter and me to write yet another one (A Luta Continua), and clarinettist Ros Dunlop and cellist Julia Ryder are constantly performing, with great skill and flair, the East Timor multimedia pieces. I salute all performers who accept the challenge! I'm privileged in being able to work with some of the world's best: not only can they play whatever I write, they can make it mean something even when I myself don't know what it means. Cellist David Pereira said of the last section of Welcome to the Hotel Turismo that when playing it he felt like an old Portuguese whore with too much make-up dancing by herself around the trashed remains of the hotel's dining-room, and asked if I thought that appropriate. I pointed out that just as Lewis Carroll was happy to accept good meanings that other people found in his epic nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark, I was very happy to accept David's interpretation, which works wonderfully well. But I'm also happy to accept other performers' good interpretations. Creating live music is a partnership where I'm an important member of a team that has other equally-important members. That team can include performers, lighting designer, sound and image projectionists, director, actors, and so on - and lyricist and librettist. Those last two roles have been combined, for me, in the person of twin brother Peter, whom I've been able to bully and cajole over many years with great success! We fight over lots of things, of course, being brothers, but we've been able to come up with at least a few things aspects of which still please me (if no-one else), some after many years e.g. Mister Thwump (1965), Pi in the Sky (1968) and Boojum! (1986). My thanks to him, and to all other fellow voyagers - particularly Roland Peelman and The Song Company - on the good boat "Discovery" as we navigate often-stormy artistic seas.

Other valued colleagues include Belinda Webster, whose Tall Poppies Records has enabled some of us to get our work heard more widely, who has put together the program you're now reading, and who started, ten years ago, what now appears to be a dec-annual tradition of concerts of all our stuff (you have been warned!); the pioneering nerds in the now-defunct computer music collective watt; and various freelance free-form improvisers who, mostly, somehow survive as they explore the musical unknown with great ideas and ingenuity, challenging the rest of us. Grainger's sons and daughters, all. But it's not just colleagues, and fellow composers, to whom I owe a debt: I'm privileged to have many good friends, many of whom having contributed - usually unwittingly - in some way to my compositions. My family, including ex-wife Ann, is a bedrock of support and love, even when I don't deserve it. To Sheila Wesley-Smith, who at 89 still drags herself off to all my premieres (she's here tonight): thanks for having me, Mum. I acknowledge with gratitude the work of various journalists, philosophers, writers, activists etc who provide us with alternative views to, and plausible explanations of, the world according to most mainstream media (to name a few: Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, George Monbiot, John Pilger, Arundhati Roy, Brian Toohey and our very own Rob Wesley-Smith). And cartoonists such as Leak, Moir and Nicholson, masters of the art of making incisive political comment while making us laugh. And, of course, there's Leunig ...

Aaaah, Lewis Carroll, mentioned above: the master of nonsense and a source of great inspiration over the years. I am particularly drawn to nonsense as, paradoxically, a source of good sense. Contrast this to official good sense, which can often be arrant nonsense e.g. "We had to destroy the village in order to save it", quoted in doublethink. Carroll would have appreciated, though not welcomed, the paradox in Tony Blair saying "I have never told a lie in my life". Humpty Dumpty ("When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less") plays an important role in the audio-visual Weapons of Mass Distortion, for clarinet and computer (2003), another look at propaganda, doublespeak and lies where I was able to combine Carroll's fantasy and nonsense with real-life fantasy and nonsense. That piece is also, I think, one of my more successful attempts to integrate sound and image, which has been one of my main compositional interests.

I have often been criticised for bringing politics into music. My response is usually along the lines of this: [a] why not?; [b] composing a piece of music is already a political act; [c] if the plight of the people in East Timor, say, inspires me to compose, then as a composer trying to reflect in music, as honestly as possible, my relationship to my time and place, I should not ignore that impulse; [d] unlike Nero, I don't want to fiddle around writing abstract pieces while the world transforms itself into an ugly authoritarian market place of everything except ideas (but I would love to get back to abstract music, one day, and I applaud those who compose pure, beautiful music, bringing light into the darkness); [e] I still have the right, I think, as a citizen of a democracy, to express my views in whatever forum I can get access to; and [f] I don't see the offending pieces as overtly political but, rather, as pieces that show, or try to show, humanitarian or humanistic concern.

Edward Said, again: "Human agency is subject to investigation and analysis, which it is the mission of understanding to apprehend, criticise, influence, and judge. Above all, critical thought does not submit to state power ... Humanism is centered upon the agency of human individuality and subjective intuition, rather than on received ideas and approved authority ... (it) is ... the final resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history." If, through a combination of critical thought and subjective intuition, I've occasionally been able to come up with something that moves people and/or objects to inhuman practices and injustices and/or offends either state power or the Contemporary Music Thought Police or both, then the last sixty years haven't been entirely wasted.


reviews: Sydney Morning Herald | The Advertiser | Opera~Opera | RealTime
from letters from friends: one | two | ex-student
Pete's general rave | Martin's general rave

Martin Wesley-Smith [email] | Peter Wesley-Smith [email]