George Palmer had a secret life. For nearly 45 years, he worked in the law with great success. He started his career as a solicitor, then practised as a barrister for 27 years, and spent the last 11 years of his career as a justice on the NSW Supreme Court before his retirement in 2011.
And, he says, ''I never regretted it. I loved the law: I found it exciting, stimulating, challenging.''
But there's another, more private side to Palmer: all those years, while dealing with clients and cases and courts, he was composing music.
''I've been writing music ever since I was a child,'' he says.
''I studied piano with some really top teachers and was also instructed in composition.''
But when it came time to choose a career he didn't fancy the idea of ''starving in a garret'' so he entered the law. Still, he kept composing, in private, and in many forms. Now 64 and recently retired, he has been able to devote himself to music.
And one of his pieces will be having its world premiere with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra in its Llewellyn Series on May 9 and 10. It will be the first time the CSO has performed one of Palmer's works.
The concert, which is being conducted by Andrew Mogrelia, will also feature Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte Overture, Richard Strauss's Oboe Concerto in D major and Beethoven's Symphony No 1.
Palmer will be present for both performances of his Ruritarian Dances, arranged for full orchestra. He originally wrote it for string orchestra - but that wasn't how be envisaged it.
''I always wanted to do it for full orchestra but when I first wrote it I couldn't afford to do it with full orchestra,'' he says. ''I had to wait for someone who wanted to do it with full orchestra to ask me to do it.''
So he jumped at the chance to ''flesh it out a bit''.
He says, ''There's far more colour and texture than if you're just using strings.
''The various sections of the orchestra get to show off - the woodwinds, the brass, the percussion in addition to the strings.''
Not that the original version hasn't been successful in its own right. Palmer wrote it in 1999 and it premiered in 2004 when he, as he puts it, ''came out of the closet'' (musically speaking).
''In 2003, I wanted to record a few little pieces for my father who was very ill at that stage,'' he says. ''I got a few musicians for the pieces and the sound engineer happened to be the chief sound engineer for ABC Classics. It all came right out of this: you couldn't organise this sort of thing.''
The string version of Ruritarian Dances was recorded by ABC Classics the following year and has been performed around the world, including in Germany and Anchorage, Alaska.
It was inspired by a performance by a gypsy band he and his wife saw in Prague, where ''none of the musicians was less than 75 years old but they were such fabulous virtuoso musicians''.
Although his piece makes use of gypsy idioms, it's an entirely original work that doesn't quote any folk tunes.
''Part of my background is Slavic and music is in my blood, anyway,'' he says.
Palmer is ''especially delighted'' the CSO will be premiering this new version.
''I have a very high regard for the CSO under Nicholas Milton,'' he says.
''It's a very fine orchestra that deserves to be better known.'' The CSO's artistic director and chief conductor, Milton conducted another Palmer work, The Six Days of Creation, for orchestra and solo voice - the singer was Yvonne Kenny - at The Concourse performing arts centre in Chatswood, Sydney last year. They got to talking about other possibilities and so this performance came about - and Palmer is excited to have the chance to share his music with people.
Palmer is too busy with commissions nowadays - including an opera project he can't discuss (except to say it's on ''a very well-known subject'') - to continue writing music just for himself (an earlier opera about Sir Redmond Barry, the judge who sentenced Ned Kelly to death, remains unfinished). But he's not complaining. He's composed everything from solo piano works to chamber music to concertos to a mass commissioned by the Catholic Church for the Pope's visit to Australia for World Youth Day in 2008.
''It was performed before 350,000 people,'' he says.
His music, he says, has been described as ''contemporary but very understandable and accessible … there's a tune in it.''
■ The CSO Llewellyn Series 12:2 is on at Lllewellyn Hall, ANU School of Music on Wednesday and Thursday at 7.30pm (free pre-concert talk at 6.45pm). More information and bookings: cso.org.au.