The Hinterland of the Sunshine Coast has a way of drawing highly talented individuals away from the big city to its alluring green hills.
One such talent is Paul Coppens, the internationally-renowned musical director, conductor and composer.
Now in his late 60s Paul has settled In Maleny and has slipped seamlessly from directing huge productions of Aida to composing home-grown pantomimes and male voice choirs.
Paul told HT editor, Michael Berry about his delight at working with a passionate community on stimulating local productions.
BORN IN HOLLAND and musically educated in Austria, Paul Coppens founded the Melbourne Philharmonic Orchestra in 1975 and went on to enjoy busy musical years directing the orchestra for international ballet and opera companies including the Stuttgart, London Royal and Bolshoi Ballets as well as the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company.
“I was very lucky,” says Paul. “I was in Melbourne at the right time when they needed an orchestra for their ballet tours. The entrepreneur, Michael Edgley, mainly imported Russian ballets which were financially viable in the 70s and 80s. And it worked well for me because I like big orchestras. I know it’s a niche but it’s what I do.”
Paul was a contract musical director in those years providing everything connected with orchestras. For example, he would stand in as conductor if someone fell ill. One of his most emotionally-charged contracts was conducting the Rudolph Nureyev ballet tour orchestra in 1991.
“It was miserable conducting Nureyev for that last tour. He was as sick as a dog, dying of AIDS. He knew he was going. He could barely move and certainly couldn’t dance anymore. He wasn’t the man we all knew, and it was
very sad.” Paul looks back fondly on his two years as music
director of the huge Arena production of Aida which premiered in Singapore in 1996, moving on to Perth, Auckland and Brisbane.
He cast solo artists, appointed chorus masters, repetiteurs, band masters, the local professional orchestra, a 250-voice amateur chorus, two brass bands and 60 trumpeters. The production also included 450 ‘extras’.
Paul also edited the score, and wrote the two brass band parts not originally scored by Verdi.
“That was close to the end of that kind of entrepreneurial production,” says Paul. “The bottom simply fell out of the market, and the entrepreneurs I was working for made some fatal mistakes.”
However, Paul is philosophical about the loss of the big orchestral productions.
“I went on to do a few musical tattoos, but there were no more clever entrepreneurs who had the will to fund big productions. You need keen investors who will look beyond the single event; who have vision, and are focussed.”
Paul Coppens is not someone to sit around and mourn for what might have been. His reputation and contacts mean there are always projects coming his way. However since settling in Maleny he has been delighted to have found talented writers of musical comedy. Last year he composed Up The Tiber Without A Toga with a libretto from local writer, John Cundill. It played to packed houses at the Caloundra Events Centre and confirmed Paul’s sense that there was satisfying creative work to be found in his new home.
“For Up the Tiber we basically formed a new production company from scratch to produce a musical comedy. I know it’s a matter of scale, but I think any composer around the world would feel lucky to have that opportunity,” he says with some delight.
In his spacious studio at the top of Eagles Nest in Maleny, Paul sits at his electronic piano with computerised software programs for writing complex scores. He is clearly enjoying the challenge of writing the 100 piece orchestral score for David Crew’s pantomime, Aladdin which will be premiered at Christmas by the Maleny Players.
“There’s a ballet and a Persian dance,” says Paul, “and of course, the climax is the marriage of Aladdin to the princess. It’s a typical English pantomime where someone has to get married, so there’s a happy ending. “
Individual students at the Sunshine Coast Grammar School are also benefitting from Paul’s enormous depth of experience and talent. This year he taught composition for term 3 and has been invited back for the coming year.
Apart from orchestral productions Paul also has an interest in choral groups.
“I like male voice choirs. As a boy soprano I sang in a 100 male voice choir in the local church which was quite normal for Dutch communities. So I am delighted to write, arrange music and conduct for the Buderim Male Choir.
“There are 35 guys, all from early to late middle age and with great morale. Next year we are making a big push to try and increase the number to 60 guys. We have a motto that says ‘Singing men are healthy men’ and that certainly shows, as almost 25% have gone through all the possible health issues associated with men that age. And they are still singing with us.”
Paul is impressed with the musical activity on the Sunshine Coast and wants to continue contributing where he can.
“It’s amazing. There are orchestras, bands and string quartets and many choirs here. We just need some more entrepreneurial activity and funding. People need to appreciate that our cultural life is not all about rugby and football; but at the same time I will one day get the Buderim Male Choir to sing at one of the main matches!”
Paul Coppens Gig Guide …
Heavenly Harps & Harmonies Buderim Male Choir
Guest Artists – The Lipman Harp Duo Conductor – Paul Coppens
Sat Nov 12 – 2.00pm – Caloundra Uniting Church
Sun Nov 13 – 2.00pm – Buderim Uniting Church
Aladdin And His Wonderful Lamp Maleny Players – Maleny Community Centre
Words / Artistic Director – David Crewe Music Director – Paul Coppens
FriDec 16–7.00pm Sat Dec 17 – 2:30pm
Sat Dec 17 – 7.00pm Sun Dec 18 – 2:20pm