Chris Latham is the Australian War Memorial's first musical artist in residence
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Chris Latham is the Australian War Memorial's first musical artist in residence

Musician Chris Latham has been appointed as the first musical artist in residence for the Australian War Memorial.

Latham's appointment will run until 2021. "Tim Sullivan of the Australian War Memorial and some of the staff engaged quite seriously as partners in the Flowers of War concerts about Gallipoli and the Somme so had seen the work up close," he says.

Chris Latham conducting a movement from The Gallipoli Symphony at Anzac Cove before the Dawn Service.

Chris Latham conducting a movement from The Gallipoli Symphony at Anzac Cove before the Dawn Service.

"Tim had also overseen the project as part of the Anzac Centenary Cultural Fund committee which had funded the Flowers of War. It was felt that the work was strong and cost effective and that it would be good to extend me so that I could continue after the 2018 funding ran out for my World War I work.

"They also felt they had a weak spot in the collection around music that internally they had decided to address and the position will help with that [their art holdings, for example, are much stronger]."

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Chris Latham has been appointed musical artist in residence for the Australian War Memorial until 2021.

Chris Latham has been appointed musical artist in residence for the Australian War Memorial until 2021.

Much of Latham's job will involve researching, recovering, restoring (often through typesetting and arranging) and recording musical works written during war by serving Australians. Where pieces don't exist, he will propose a commissioning program whereby prominent composers create works about major battles that have no pieces of music to represent them. He says he will "act as a midwife, helping the composers to create works that can speak eloquently about these terrible events and give a voice both to the lost, and to those who lost them".

Latham has been involved with war-related music for a long time: he began work on his Gallipoli Symphony in 2005, working on it for "about three months a year of work for a decade".

While he says "artists are often the last ones to understand why we make the things we do", he acknowledges that "with the benefit of distance, there were clues that pointed the way. A childhood spent daydreaming with toy soldiers about the archetypes of manhood – courage, fortitude, sacrifice and loss. Growing up with Saturday afternoon war movies, the cheap left over propaganda of a previous generation, and the astonishing memorising of a vast, seemingly useless minutiae: the details of battles, planes – the names and specifications of the weapons of war.

"I was also fascinated by the war service of my family and the damage it had caused. I had two grandparents who served, one in World War I, one in World War II, who were both unable to love their children [his parents] as a result. My grandmother, who conversely loved everyone, was cruelly haunted by nightmares from her time serving as a nurse in the Somme. My great-uncle Peter, a famous musicologist, as a young man had hoped to be a great pianist and composer, but for his shoulder being smashed by a bullet, making it deeply painful for him to play."

Two new projects in his new role are The Diggers' Requiem and the 100 Songs Project.

The Diggers' Requiem is the follow-up to the Gallipoli Symphony which ABC TV broadcast from the Istanbul premiere and released on DVD and CD.

"The Diggers' Requiem comprises commissioned music from Australia's leading composers, along with music either written or played during World War I," says Latham.

Composers who have written new movements are Ross Edwards, Elena Kats-Chernin, Richard Mills and Graham Koehne, while existing music by Nigel Westlake and First World War soldier/composer F S Kelly, who died in action, will also make up the work.

The Australian Army Band under Latham's direction premiered the Bapaume movement from The Diggers' Requiem on April 20 in Bapaume, France, a village that was destroyed. The movement combines the music of Westlake and a New Zealand-Australian composer from the period, Alex Lithgow, who wrote the Victoria March which the band played as they entered the town on March 17, 1917.

Kats-Chernin's Lacrimosa movement from The Diggers' Requiem, which represents the tragic battles of Bullecourt, in which thousands of Australian, British and German soldiers died, will also be performed by the same musicians in Bullecourt on Anzac Day.

Latham says: "I am doing the military band versions this year to preview the piece and also mark the events that occurred in 1917. There will eventually be two versions – one for the military bands to play and one for full orchestra choir and soloists. The orchestral premiere occurs with the Orchestre de Picardie and musicians from the Jenaer Philharmonic on April 23, 2018, in Amiens at the Cirque Jules Verne."

As for the other project, Latham says: "I am really looking forward to the 100 Songs Project in which we will record 100 songs sung and performed during World War I, many for the first time over the next two years. People will be able to download them from the Australian War Memorial site. The memorial holds a growing collection of sheet music which currently includes more than 900 titles, some of which were written by serving soldiers, either during the war or after their return to Australia, or by iconic and well-known composers and lyricists.

"A number of the songs were performed by concert parties, or were heard at concerts in London or in France. The 100 Songs Project are songs which have connections to war diaries or the like that Theresa Cronk of the memorial has curated – we know they were sung during World War I in various contexts."

He says that as many are unknown and unrecorded, recordings will be made for long-term research purposes – and a CD might be issued in 2018.

"My role is to recover music from the conflicts of World War I, World War II and Vietnam and thereby to enrich the music collection for the Australian War Memorial and also give a human face to our nation's losses," Latham says. "Music had such an important role in helping people express their grief and to sustain them throughout these wars."

More information:theflowersofwar.org.

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