FM 102.5 Fine music magazine April 2015



Australia's first War Requiem has been by the eminent composer-conductor, Christopher Bowen OAM to commemorate the centenary of World War 1 and the Gallipoli campaign. It was premiered in the Sydney Town Hall to great acclaim in August last year. Scored for orchestra, five soloists, massed choir, semi-chorus and children's choir, Bowen's long held desire to write an Australian War Requiem was fulfilled when Sydney University Graduate Choir commissioned the work. The choir got behind the event with immense enthusiasm while the small, dedicated management committee brought exceptional expertise and skill to the large enterprise which achieved an unqualified success.

The genesis of the work lay in Bowen's decision to set his music to letters written between young Australian soldiers on the battlefields and their mothers at home in Australia. the Australian War Memorial holds scores of these letters and reading them became a highly emotional experience. Text of the Marian hymn Stabat Mater (generally ascribed to Jacpone da Todi ca. 1230 - 1306) which describes the suffering of Christ's mother at her son's crucifixion, was then interwoven with these wartime letters. The juxtaposition provides a powerful text.

An extract from just one of these soldier's letters written by Vivian Neville Main to his mother on Christmas Day, 1917, reads:

My dearest Mother. We're somewhere in France and I've just finished Christmas dinner. I've been thinking of you all at home today. Oh! How I would like to be there with you all. Had my birthday in the trenches in none too comfortable spot but one must put up with these sort of things in these hard times.

By Jove it has been cold over here. Everything frozen and the water in my water bottle was one hard lump.

I had a very narrow squeak this time: Apiece of shrapnel came and tore my clothes and then went in to the ground. It was quite near enough.

Vivian was killed in action later that Christmas Day, aged twenty-four.

And a letter from a mother, Alice Crowley, to her son Lieutenant Clive Stanley Crowley dated March 31, 1918 reads in part:

My very dear Clive, I am feeling awfully low spirited dearest since hearing very such terrible news relating to this fearful war. It just feels to heavy to bear: Whenever will it end and I am always wondering how you are. I have never felt my old self since you left us. I try and imagine you at home here with us again and see your dear good face as in the happy days of yore.

Lietenant Crowley died on June 25, 1918. A fellow officer wrote of his death:

At daybreak during an early-morning bombardment at Villers-Betonneux in June 1918 I met Lietenant Crowley coming out walking from the front line. He was badly gassed but just able to speak to me and I heard that he died at the dressing Station the same afternoon. he was a friend of mine.

Another officer reported: "I saw Lietenant crowly walking out and heard him say, "I'm done. Get your gas helmets on , boys." These are just some brief examples of the material which inspire the text.


An important and profoundly significant step in the evolution of the composition occurred when Bowen embarked on a journey to Villers-Bretonneux, Pozieres, Passchendaele, Tyne-Cot, Ypres and Gallipoli. In these historical locations he experienced first-hand what were once the terrible battlefields where so many lost their lives during the "war to end all wars". As he travelled through towns and villages, it was as if he could hear echoes of the rumble of artillery fire and the cries of the fallen. he wrote in his extensive diary: "I have just returned from a very intensive twelve-day pilgrimage which has provided me with so much inspiration and material for this composition and has moved me to my very core. It is my hope that this War Requiem speaks a universal language and reinforces those qualities which bring all people together and enable them to share a common humanity in peace."

The premiere performance proved to be an intensely emotional experience for both performers and audience alike. Soloists Celeste Lazarenko and Ayse Goknur Shanal (sopranos), Henry Choo (tenor), Adrian Tamburini and Christopher Richardson (basses) and all those who participated were deeply moved. The performance received a standing ovation from the packed audience at the Sydney Town Hall.

Following the performance, Kim Williams AM, author, leader in arts, business, government and media, described the work as :"majestic, monumental and a deeply moving experience". Australia's mezzo soprano Lauris Elms AM OBE wrote: "Christopher Bowen has written some fine work over the years. In Australian War Requiem he has established himself as a great composer for all time. Musically this was a thrilling and unforgettable experience".

You can experience this extraordinary performance when Fine Music plays its live performance of An Australian War Requiem on ANZAC day , 25 April from 2pm.




FM 102.5 Fine music magazine February 2018

Always in search of interesting material for his vocal compositions, Christopher Bowen found that Rimbaud’s words appealed to his sense of justice and of the satirical. His music is characterised by frequent changes in tempo and syncopation while whispered injunctions give way to shouts of defiance in the choral writing.

Fifteen years ago, Christopher Bowen wrote about his then new composition, Démocratie. “It is not my intention to make a political statement with this work, as politics from my perspective have become a rather futile and impotent means by which to implement positive change for society as a whole. Democracy in its most ideal form is fast diminishing, hi-jacked by those whose only concern is to increase their own power to the exclusion of others. One can rationalise any change in many ways and justify it, but if the mechanisms of change demeans humanity and its most basic and fundamental qualities, then I would question its motives.”

Now, on this second performance of his work, he says that ‘democracies throughout the world are now more fragile than ever’. He says that it is a time when facts are described as ‘alternative’ and when people cry ‘fake news’ when what they are hearing or reading is really objective journalism. Amongst a certain part of the population, there is an acceptance of the most outrageous prejudice and bigotry.

He also wonders now how we should view all of those who have fought inequality, discrimination and injustice, including those now-revered protestors Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela when, in our own country, some denounce the right to protest against injustice.

While he says that Démocratie is not political, Christopher Bowen’s wish is that his composition proves to be provocative and challenging for the listeners, causing them to reflect on the state of democracy today. Although Arthur Rimbaud wrote in a satirical vein, he was not trying to make fun of the democratic system. His message was that democracy was failing to protect the vulnerable at the expense of the powerful. The message of Les Illuminations lives on!

Démocratie will be heard in Showcasing Australian Artists on Thursday 22 February at 8pm.

Classikon August 2014

Christopher Bowen’s An Australian War Requiem is the end result of a truly staggering effort…..Bowen’s music, was at turns haunting, stark and dramatic, with a flair for clever orchestration and rich choral writing…..The Sydney University Graduate Choir displayed excellent control, diction and uniformity of sound, notably in the exciting 7/8 rush of the ‘Shells Burst’ chorus…..Other highlights included the exceptionally well-trained voices of the Waitara children’s choir…the audience at Sydney’s beautiful Town Hall was left feeling as though they’d been part of something truly unique.  On this solemn anniversary what better way to remember and honour the memories of Australia’s fallen soldiers than through the beauty and clarity of the human voice?

Luke Iredale

Australian War Requiem

"It is a terrific work – majestic, moving, monumental and a wholly convincing commemoration of an exceptionally important moment in human and Australian history.

It was a deeply memorable experience."

Kim Williams 


"Christopher Bowen has written some fine work over the years. In Australian War Requiem he has established himself as a great composer for all time. musically this was a thrilling and unforgettable experience"

Lauris Elms AM OBE



A moving, inspiring and wonderful concert.

I can't recall a more immediate standing ovation."

Andrew Mc Kinnon







North Shore Times

"An odd program coupling, but an unfailingly interesting and rewarding one, came with a well attended concert by the Sydney University Graduate Choir of 70 voices and its orchestra under the keen and musically decisive conducting of Christopher Bowen in the university's Great Hall."

North Shore Times

Sydney Morning Herald

"My own 33rd complete Messiah came from the 84 singers and orchestra of the Sydney University Graduate Choir conducted by Christopher Bowen. It was a deeply probing reading which had the inestimable asset of a fine soloist team in soprano, Leslie Martin, mezzo-sopranos, Catherine Hassard and Nicole Smeulders, tenor Robert Boyd, baritone Tim Collins and treble David Thomson. The audience was large and the continually riveting performance diverted attention from the stuffiness of the Great Hall."

Sydney Morning Herald

Fred Blanks

"Trilogy a triumph in risk taking."

Fred Blanks

North Shore Times

"Last week the Sydney University Graduate Choir of some 85 voices performed a concert version of Catulli Carmina, the Songs of Catullus. The musical content, not without rhythmic and oratorical complexities, was handled remarkably well under the vividly detailed conductorship of Christopher Bowen. The various choral sections had been well rehearsed. Before this Orff offering came the popular Misa Criolla by Argentinean composer Ariel Ramirez. It all added up to an unusually enterprising concert which attracted a large audience."

North Shore Times

"We felt very priviledged to be involved in the first ever hearing of "Songs of the Heart". The spell-binding orchestration was almost overwhelming in its power and its plumbing of the heights and depths of emotion. A truly memorable day"

Sing On

Sing On Review

"This positive response was evident throughout the evening as the audience enjoyed a rich musical program. The SUGC Chamber Choir delivered a haunting calmness in an earlier work of Christopher's, Sweet Silence After Bells and the orchestra moved through an exquisitely luscious performance of Danses Sacrée at Profane and Prélude à l'Aprè Midi d'un Faune by Debussy. In the second half of the program the choir perfromed a stirring rendition of Stanford's seafaring choral work Songs of the Fleet. A rousing Jerusalem was the finale and prompted calls for an encore, in which the audience enthusiastically joined in.

Sing On

"We felt very privileged to have been involved in the first ever hearing of "Songs of the Heart". The spell-binding orchestration was almost overwhelming in its power and its plumbing of the heights and depths of emotion. A truly memorable day"

The positive response  was evident throughout the evening as the audience enjoyed a rich musical program. The SUGC Chamber Choir delivered a haunting calmness in an earlier work ofChristopher Bowen's, "Sweet Silence After Bells", and the orchestra moved through an exquisitely luscious performance of "Danses Sacrèe et Profane" and  "Prelude à l"Apr
ès Midi d'un Faune" by Debussy.