“There is an intimacy about Wilcher’s style that defies criticism. How can you criticize beauty?”
Fine Music, 2MBS-FM
“I find great satisfaction in the fact that we – Australia – have one composer who can succeed in a medium of sensitivity in spite of the ugliness and violence predominating in so many countries.”
AO, OBE, HonDLitt, HonFMusA,
If you hold on to your dreams and live the life you imagine you will come to the realization that one’s potential is greater than one’s ability.
Phillip Wilcher’s childhood dream was to become a composer and to whisper magic into the ears of anyone who would listen : I remember an early age, perhaps not yet in my teens, when I had dreams of becoming a composer. I was stretched out on the lounge room floor, head idly propped by one hand while the other hand romanced my muse designing covers for imaginary pieces of music I hoped I would one day write.
Daybreak was published by the Sydney-based publishing house of J. Albert & Son Pty Ltd making Mr. Wilcher the youngest published composer in Australia at that time. As atmospheric as its title suggests, this piece has recently been republished by Publications by Wirripang and recorded by the pianist John Martin on a CD titled Ancient Rivers. Another piano piece also written at 14 years of age which was recorded for The Wiggles 1991 debut album under the title Archie’s Theme has recently been recorded under its original title Summer Dance with its companion piece A Winter Reverie by the renowned Greek pianist Elpis Liossatos – a graduate of the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest - on a CD of piano music for children titled Lift Off, released by Tall Poppies.
As a result of these compositional milestones, Mr. Wilcher is one of the few privileged musicians to have been accepted as a student of the composer and musicologist Franz Holford. It was an association spanning some twenty years, seven of which were as Holford’s student wherein Mr. Wilcher’s musical horizons were primed and expanded to take in other genres of creativity. One of the many highlights from Mr. Wilcher’s early childhood years of study with Franz Holford was performing for the legendary Italian organist – and then the Pope’s organist – Fernando Germani, who was visiting Holford from Vatican City. After hearing the 15 year old Wilcher play Chopin, Germani was moved to the point of tears
Wilcher: An early vibration in my own memory from these formative years of study was a chance meeting with the legendary Italian organist Fernando Germani who was visiting Franz from Vatican City. Then the Pope’s organist, Fernando was educated in his art at the Rome Conservatoire and during his lifetime he received several highly prestigious honours : The Commander of St. Gregorious Magno; Commander Order of St. Sylvester and Knight Crown of Italy. He held professorships at the Rome Conservatoire, Chigiana Music Academy and the Curtis Institute. I had been working on Chopin’s Mazurka in Bb minor which Franz asked me to play for Fernando. I was 15 years of age. Fernando was so moved by my interpretation of this work at such a young age that he had a tear in his eye. He was a man whose physical stature was in inverse proportion to his musical stature – a legend and a lovely man.At 17 years of age, Mr. Wilcher wrote another piece of piano music, Autumn Rain - in falling seeds of rain, the seeds of heaven on my face - which was also published by J. Albert & Son Pty Ltd and broadcast nationwide by the pianist Arthur de Rozario. This piece has recently been re-released by Publications by Wirripang.
Further studies with Neta Maughan and Elpis Liossatos, a graduate of the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest and an association spanning some 30 years with the acclaimed composer Miriam Hyde, served to enhance Mr. Wilcher’s natural ability and fine tune his sense of style and craftsmanship to such a degree that today he ranks as one of the most articulate composers working in Australia today. Over 160 letters written to Mr. Wilcher from Miriam Hyde have recently been archived by the National Library of Australia as historical documents. These letters not only serve as a barometer of Mr. Wilcher’s own musical development from the age of 14, but also a biography of the late Miriam Hyde who was one of the leading female composers of her generation and who has been described as a creative polymath, a pianist, composer, teacher, examiner, writer, poet, lecturer and artist. In a published and broadcast tribute to Miriam Hyde on the occasion of her 90th birthday , Mr Wilcher wrote:
“She has been a mentor and friend and I am the better for it, both as a musician and as a human being. Whether it be about matters musical or some frailty of the heart, she has been there, and not at all casually so, but with a commitment and generosity of spirit that can only be described as golden. Where yesterday I may have signed off a letter to her with best wishes, today I do so with love.”
Mr. Wilcher’s career in music has been as diverse as it has been long. On leaving school in 1976 at just 18 years of age, Phillip Wilcher accepted a position as Assistant Editor for the Classical/ Educational Division of J. Albert & Son Pty Ltd which immediately brought him into contact with some of the most highly regarded and influential musicians shaping the musical frontiers of Australia at that time. It was also a position through which he briefly rubbed shoulders with several major rock musicians, most notably the songwriting team of Vanda and Young, Bon Scott and Marc Hunter. Mr. Wilcher remembers with affection the many conversations Marc Hunter had with him on the music of Ravel and French scene:
“I was working at the piano in my office at Alberts. I looked up to see a tall, elegant young man with blue streaks in his hair at the door listening intently. He thought I was playing Ravel’s Pavane but I told him it was one of my own pieces I was working on. Way led on to way, and Marc would often call in to have chats with me about music whenever he was there recording albums with his group Dragon. This was about the time they were working on ‘April Sun in Cuba’. I was greatly saddened by his passing several years ago. Now whenever I hear the Pavane by Ravel I always think of the charismatic Marc Hunter.”
Mr. Wilcher also worked for several years for the ABC. Wilcher: I worked for the ABC during the early years of the 1980’s. When I would get bored I would pretend I was a famous composer and autograph scores housed in the Federal Music Library. On a copy of Stravinsky’s “Histoire du Soldat” I wrote the inscription: To Sir Eugene Goosens, with admiration, Igor Stravinsky, New York, 1934. Some years later the score was placed in a glass case and displayed in the foyer of the new Ultimo Centre in Harris Street where it remained for the viewing public for many years. Appearances can be deceiving! I remember another time attending a performance at the Opera House by the Sydney Dance Company. Everyone’s attention was drawn to a rather portly member of the audience dressed in sandals, shorts and a T-shirt on which was written “Music In The Round”. There was lots of talking from behind cupped hands : “Don’t look now but…..”
No one seemed to know who this casually dressed man was, but I did because I had spent several hours with him earlier that week in his hotel room helping him complete a commissioned work for Tokyo. He was the composer, Sir Malcolm Williamson, Master of the Queen’s Music. We exchanged glances, he smiled at me mischievously and that was that!
As a solo pianist he has performed four times at celebrations honouring Liberace in the United States where he was invited to stay as a guest in the late entertainer’s Palm Springs Villa , a sprawling Spanish-style villa of secluded luxury which America’s 60 minutes described as “the most famous house in the world”. One of the many highlights from his stay there was dining with Ruby Keeler, the wife of the legendary Al Jolson who held her own exact and satellite place in the vast expanse of twentieth century musical theatre and film. At the time of Ruby Keeler’s death in 1993, in a published tribute titled “Memories are like Ruby’s”, Mr. Wilcher wrote: Last year, while performing in the United States for the Liberace Foundation for the Creative and performing Arts. I had the pleasure of dining with the legendary Ruby Keeler who died last weekend. She was Al Jolson’s wife and held her own exact and satellite place in the expanse of 20th century theatre and film. The only thing unknown to me was the woman herself. Unpretentiously elegant in her summer frock and hat, she looked up at me from her table with Picasso eyes and smiled. I sensed there was an innate and articulate goodness about her. Like gold-plate on silver, this alone is worth remembering, for this alone was Ruby Keeler.
But it was always the composer at the helm of Mr. Wilcher’s creative ship and it is to that genre of self expression he dedicates the majority of his working life today.
Mr. Wilcher was also a founding member of the children’s entertainment group The Wiggles for whom, at the request of Anthony Field, he wrote and financed the majority of their 1991 eponymous debut album. At that time, the other members of the group were still students. (article by Steve Dow) He is the recipient of two Australian Record Industry Awards in recognition for his educational contribution to this album – a Gold Award presented to him from Phonogram Records in April 1994 and a Platinum Award presented to him from EMI in October 1995.
Wilcher : In 1997 I was discovered as the Fifth Wiggle. Freelance journalist Di Borrell wrote an article about me headed “Too Shy To Wiggle”. Not long after, The Wiggles began to phase out and re-record the debut album of 1991. It was re-released as Wiggle Time but with all of my work removed. I don’t know why. I was never given a reason, nor was I notified about it. Journalist Steve Dow writes about this in his fine article titled “A Life Less Wiggly”. At that time, another fine journalist named Cheryl Critchley wrote a piece about my involvement with The Wiggles titled “The Fifth Man” – I liked that! Sadly, during the immediate weeks following my mother’s death in 2005, two mainstream journalists, Christine Sams and Chris Tinkler wrote further articles about me wherein they totally misrepresented my words. The press made out I had launched an attack on The Wiggles. I did no such thing. I chose silence as the best way to deal with what followed. I couldn’t do anything else. Curiously, just weeks later I received an email from a man named Greg Truman who claimed he was Anthony Field’s cousin. In that email he wrote me he was writing a book on The Wiggles’ business practices and asked if I would care to make a comment. I felt that was a little strange so I politely declined and assured him that I had at no time launched an attack on The Wiggles. He simply replied back: Thank you.
Over the years there has been some conjecture over why I left The Wiggles.
Once I’d done all I had for them, friendships seemed to change and I no longer felt comfortable in their presence. They have simply said I wrote a letter of resignation. A spokesperson speaking on their behalf has said I wished to pursuit a career in classical music and that I was not interested in children’s music. Not so. I never said that. It is true I wrote a letter of resignation, yes. I was advised to so as not to incur expenses for the recording of future albums. I wrote a formal letter of resignation towards the end September 1991. I had no reason to leave to pursuit a career in classical music since I was already well established and I most certainly did not say I was not interested in children’s music. Having been a child who had studied music, I can think of no greater joy than to educate a child in the wonders of music. It was agreed however that I would stay behind the scenes to write for the second album release “Here Comes A Song” which I did. In March 1992 I came back as a performer to be in the film clip for “Dorothy the Dinosaur” and I remained a member of the business partnership until November 1992. There seems to be a misconception that the debut album of 1991 was a project assigned them by Macquarie University. That’s not true. Greg Page was in a different year to Anthony Field and Murray Cook and Jeff Fatt was not a member of the student body. Had it been a project assigned them as a part of their studies I would not have been allowed to contribute as much as I did to the recording of the debut album. What I have read of their beginnings today is not at all as I remember it.
The year 2005 proved a difficult year for me. Through it all, there was always music and as ever, my spirit reigned supreme. I have never wanted to be anything else but a composer. Of late I have felt a genuine need to give back to young aspiring musicians and composers what has been given me all my life : encouragement and the magic of believing. I have been very blessed through music. If I can give back to others what has been given me by musicians far greater than myself, I am a success.
More recently Greg Page has released his autobiography titled "Now And Then". It is an intimate account of his life's journey and his adjustment to what he calls the "real world" after having left The Wiggles due to illness in 2006. He details as best he can and not without some speculation my involvement with the group during its formative stages and my early departure. He has paid me fair due, more than has anyone over the twenty years that have come to pass since Anthony Field first approached me. Greg has been a gentleman and he has spoken kindly of me and praised my musicianship and for that, I am very thankful to him. I have no real desire to speak any further of my time with the Wiggles and I am content to let history play its part as it invariably does in life. Thank you Greg for the courtesy you have shown me. It means more to me than you will probably ever know.
As a composer, Mr. Wilcher’s music encompasses a wide stylistic range to incorporate the harmonies, rhythms and textures of many cultures. His music illustrates the importance of preserving traditional concepts with an emphasis on lyricism and melody, all within a uniquely broad stylistic framework with an unerring control of balance.
Mr. Wilcher’s music is frequently broadcast by ABC-FM and 2MBS-FM. A two hour documentary program on his piano music – “Wilcher and the French Connection” was broadcast by Mike Smith, and a half hour program “Wilcher’s World” by Jan Brown for 2MBS-FM. On September 11, 2002, his piano piece One Tuesday in September, a reaction to the events of September 11 2001,was broadcast nationwide to mark the first anniversary of the tragedy. His music can also be heard on the television show “Neighbours”.
In recent years Mr. Wilcher’s achievements have seen him become a leading figure in Australian music. He recently wrote a full scale piano recital for the world acclaimed virtuoso pianist Simon Tedeschi (visit web site)– a unique achievement and contribution to the literature of music for the piano . This recital has been published by Keys Press. He has also composed concert works for the London based Australian pianist Alexander Boyd.
Mr. Wilcher has also written music for another one of Australia's finest pianists and musicians, the very gifted and courageous Aaron McMillan.
Mr. Wilcher’s music has been recorded on several CDs released by the Jade label,
The Australian Music Centre and Tall Poppies. The most comprehensive and praised being the four CDs of his piano music recorded by Jeanell Carrigan which he has released under his own label. In 2004 Mr. Wilcher was honoured to have his Ballade for Clive Robertson specially recorded and released on the ABC Classics CD “Felix and Me” played by the pianist Sally Whitwell:
Clive Robertson (ABC) : Phillip Wilcher writes to us, he sends us little handwritten notes with CDs of his music and we like that.
Felix Hayman (ABC) : Phillip’s pieces are clever and very appealing and we’re happy to play unpublished recordings when the music is good.
On this particular CD Mr. Wilcher is in good company alongside the music of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Grieg, Vivaldi and Schubert.
In 2003 Mr. Wilcher was invited as a guest speaker at the inaugural Keys Competition in Brisbane where he delivered a paper centred on his studies with Dr. Franz Holford called “Himself a Landscape”.
Mr. Wilcher holds two Performer’s Diplomas and is an Elected Life Member of APRA and a Board Member of the Australian Music Teacher Magazine for whom he has written many articles on music and music education generally.
In recent years, Mr. Wilcher has been invited to address Macquarie University’s Early Childhood Liberal Studies students as a guest composer, conducting tutorials and master classes:
Emily Ap (Music Lecturer): Students were amazed. I think it took their level of thinking about music to greater heights.
Alan Rice (The Dean): The enthusiasm of the master class and the student was very encouraging and a tribute to your commitment and expertise. It is only occasionally that we experience these peaks in our daily activities.
In July 2007, the Bourbaki Ensemble (http://users.tpg.com.au/ddangell) under the baton of conductor David Angell with renowned oboist Rachel Tolmie gave the world premiere performances of Mr. Wilcher’s 1791 for oboe and string orchestra. Written especially for Rachel Tolmie – the title being the year of Mozart’s death – a lyrical cantilena for oboe is supported by gently murmuring strings with occasional important contributions from a solo cello.
Wilcher: At the time I wrote “1791”, I wasn’t that consciously aware of the fact that it was the anniversary of Mozart’s death. I knew it was, but what impelled me to write the piece was the lingering thoughts surrounding me after reading Maynard Solomon’s biography of Mozart and what such a sense of loss must have felt like at the time of his passing – did the world’s heart ache?
Rachel Tolmie has also widely performed and recorded not only Mr. Wilcher’s Tolmie Tune for oboe and piano, but many of Franz Holford’s works for oboe and piano with the pianist John Martin
As a composer and one who believes music to be a manifestation of human spirit, in his day to day way leads on to way type world, he has been blessed over and over again by the timeless joys of artistic satisfaction :I would not want to be anyone but me. He has been described as everything from a “wunderkind” at age 14 to a composer highly skilled in his art and an example of Lisztian grandeur reborn.