This is the latest in a series of major operational and managerial crises impacting Australia’s major music institutions.
The Head of the Australian National University’s School of Music, Peter Tregear, has announced his resignation. His decision to end his contract prematurely follows a tenure dogged by controversy surrounding inadequate funding, and rumours of the School of Music’s tenuous long-term future. This is the latest in a string of major operational and financial mishaps disrupting some of the country’s top music institutions. In April this year the Dean of the Sydney Conservatorium, Karl Kramer, suddenly resigned, allegedly forced out due to misused expenses. His resignation echoed the dubious circumstances surrounding the departure of his predecessor, Kim Walker. In May, management at Australia’s oldest music college, the Elder Conservatorium of Music in Adelaide, sparked outrage from the student body when plans of substancial money-saving cuts to the school’s curriculum were leaked in an internal memo.
Professor Tregear, who is also a contributor to Limelight Magazine, was appointed as head of the School of Music, based in Canberra, in August 2012. The beginning of his time leading the school coincided with major budget stresses at the University that led to five veteran staff of the institution, some of whom had worked for the School of Music for nearly 20 years, being made redundant in October 2012, in order to make $1.5 million in savings. Budgetary issues would continue to be a major challenge throughout Tregear’s time at ANU. “The term poisoned chalice came up all the time and I used to joke that if I was given the proverbial dollar for every time that phrase was used, I could have solved all the school’s budget problems,” Tregear said in a radio interview on 666 ABC Canberra. However, despite financial issues, under his leadership the school has still managed to achieve some impressive accomplishments. Tregear reinstituted a number of previously discontinued chamber to large scale ensembles, as well as organising both the Winter Jazz Festival and the second Australian Chopin Piano Competition in 2014.
Australian National University School of Music
However despite the successes of previous years, particularly in 2014, this year has seemingly been more fraught. After deciding to take some extended leave in 2015 to allow himself time to focus on performing and research projects that had been on pause during his time at the School of Music, an embarrassing incident in May sparked rumours that Professor Tregear had abandoned his position, when his job was mistakenly advertised online, only to be hastily withdrawn by university management. Deputy vice-chancellor Marnie Hughes-Warrington was forced to issue a statement admitting the advertisement had been made in error.
Regardless of previous tensions at the School of Music, Tregear remains steadfastly loyal to the students he has nurtured during his time leading the institution. “The decision to leave was not an easy one but I felt that I had been able to help the School to a renewed sense of purpose and new curriculum and it was now time for a new person to come on board,” he told Limelight. “It is hard, however, not to leave a job like this without some regret, both in terms of always wanting to achieve more than one’s own capacity or the limitations of available resources might allow, but above all also because I know I am leaving the company of so many deeply talented students and staff.”
Tregear declined to comment on if he would be applying to the currently vacant Deanship of the Sydney Conservatorium, although he did affirm his belief that Canberra should be the home, as it once was, to the nation’s flagship music college. “To be sure, however, I remain committed to the ’cause’ of great music education in Australia, and indeed, that it should be available in the nation’s capital, not least.”