Andrew Schultz music news

Blog and news for

The Children’s Bach in Canberra

Canberra International Music Festival will present Andrew Schultz’s two act chamber opera (based on Helen Garner’s novel of the same name), The Children’s Bach, opus 74 (2008) in a concert performance at 7:30pm on Friday, May 10, 2019. In the days after the performance they will also be recording the work for CD release.

Genevieve Jacobs is in conversation with Helen Garner and Andrew Schultz at a special breakfast event at the National Library of Australia, on Saturday May 11.

The Children’s Bach is an opera by Andrew Schultz in two acts commissioned by ChamberMade Opera with the aid of a Project Fellowship from the Music Board, Australia Council and The RE Ross Trust Playwrights’ Script Development Awards. The work has a libretto by Glenn Perry after the novel of the same name by Helen Garner. The work is set in inner suburban Melbourne in the 1980s and is about 80 minutes duration with a cast of seven including a teenage girl (Poppy) and a ten-year old autistic boy (Billy). The cast is accompanied by an instrumental ensemble of clarinet, violin, cello, double bass, percussion and piano; there is also an on-stage piano that is played by most of the opera’s characters but especially Billy. The work had its first season with ChamberMade Opera in Melbourne in June-July 2008 in a production directed by Chris Kohn and conducted by Brett Kelly and Nicholas Carter.

The opera concerns, Athena and Dexter, “who lead an enclosed family life in Melbourne, innocent of fashion and bound by duty towards an autistic child, Billy. Their comfortable rut is disrupted by the arrival of Elizabeth, a tough nut from Dexter’s past. With her sister (Vicki), fickle boyfriend (Philip) and his smart teenage daughter (Poppy), she draws the couple out into a world whose casual egotism and sexuality they had barely dreamed of. Can they get home again?” (Helen Garner, The Children’s Bach, Penguin Books, 1999.)

Three reviews from the Canberra performance this month:

Review: The Children’s Bach, Canberra: Fitters’ Workshop, Friday May 10, 2019
Michael Halliwell, The Conversation

“A new production of an Australian opera is an unusual event. The performance of Andrew Schultz and Glenn Perry’s 2008 opera, The Children’s Bach, as part of the Canberra International Music Festival, was refreshing and welcome.

Perfectly suiting the central thematic strand of the Festival – the music of Johann Sebastian Bach – the opera is based on the 1984 novella by acclaimed Australian writer, Helen Garner. The title is derived from a book of relatively simple Bach keyboard pieces for children.

Garner herself described the musical structure underlying the novella as “contrapuntal … I wanted all the characters to have a voice”. It is a work investigating “the possibility of alternative means of communication, means other than the ‘symbolic’ or patriarchal order of language. Obviously music is one of these…..”

Vincent Plush, Limelight
“For many Australians, the first contact with the music of Bach would have come with the publication in 1932 of The Children’s Bach, edited by Professor E.Harold Davies of Adelaide. It comprised 20 short pieces Bach wrote for his own ‘family use’. Davies dedicated his modest volume “to the children of Australia in the hope that they will find in it the beginnings of a life-long love and appreciation for the greatest music-composer of all the ages”. The Children’s Bach at Canberra International Music Festival. Photo © Peter Hislop The Children’s Bach is also the title of the acclaimed novella by Helen Garner, first published in 1986, with three further editions since then. It revolves around the lives of a Melbourne couple, Dexter and Athena Cox, and their two boys. In Glenn Perry’s compressed yet eloquent libretto for Andrew Schultz’s opera, we meet only one boy, Billy, who has a form of autism and whose principal engagement with the world of sound appears to be by means of the family upright piano….”


Clinton White, CityNews

“IN an article for the online magazine, “Resonate”, Rhiannon Cook casts doubt on whether Helen Garner’s celebrated novelette, “The Children’s Bach”, could be operatic material: “[n]obody dies, the action is subtle, housework is a major theme and much of the drama is internal.

But Cook observes that “this is partly what attracted composer Andrew Schultz [t]hat, and the fact that the novel is full of music.

Schultz, who wrote the work in 2008, told Cook that the music in the novel triggered a whole range of possible approaches – it was as if the music was generating the opera rather than the other way round.

At the Fitters’ Workshop, an ensemble of top-quality singers and musicians brought Schultz’s vision to life.”

An innovative use of Bach


“Schultz and Perry’s opera faithfully recreates the novel’s inner- suburban world and its central romantic collision. The score plays on the book’s musical references while remaining utterly original. It employs everything from jazz-inspired riffs to fugal structure to accompany the progression of romantic entanglements. A wild arrangement for marimba evokes the disorienting jungle of Billy’s mind. In a striking scene straight from the book, Elizabeth’s sister Vicki (Tess Duddy) sings the Skye Boat Song while Billy hums wordlessly along. And the novel’s conclusion is sung, effectively, as a rising, speculative duet…” [Cameron Woodhead, The Age, 23 June 2008]

Read more reviews of the work from earlier performances.

Full details of the concert and the talk below as posted on the CIMF website.


  • Fitters’ Workshop11 Wentworth AvenueKingston, ACT, 2604Australia (map)



Helen Garner’s novella The Children’s Bach from 1984 has been described as one the most perfect short novels in the English language. By 2008 Andrew Schultz’ operatic transformation had turned the work into a gripping study of human and musical counterpoint. Central to the story is a young autistic boy whose rendition of Bach’s Polonaise for his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann brings the piece to its cathartic conclusion.


Children's bach.jpg

The Children’s Bach by Helen Garner, opera by Andrew Schultz (b. 1960) on a libretto by Glen Perry


Athena – Natalie Peluso, soprano
Dexter – David Greco, baritone
Billy – Michael Cherepinskiy
Poppy – Anna Khan
Elizabeth – Anna Fraser, mezzo soprano
Philip – Andrew Goodwin, tenor
Vicki/Angie/girl – Amy Moore, soprano

Jason Noble, Chris Latham, Blair Harris, Max McBride, Nicole Johnson, Edward Neeman, directed by Roland Peelman


This concert is generously supported by Gail Ford. Portrait of Helen Garner by Jenny Sages used with permission of the artist.


  • National Library of AustraliaParkes Pl WParkes, ACT, 2600Australia(map)


Breakfast at National Library of Australia, followed by a performance and discussion.

8:30-9am – Breakfast

9-9:25am – Performance

J.S. Bach Cello suite nr 1 in G BWV 1007 Anton Baba, baroque cello

9:30-10:15am – Talk of town

Genevieve Jacobs in conversation with Helen Garner and Andrew Schultz.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: