What a pleasure to meet and paint the portrait of the celebrated Australian Composer, Margaret Brandman for my 2023 Archibald entry. My congratulations to all 949 entrants and the 57 finalists. (Exhibition 3 May – 6 September 2023 – Art Gallery of NSW).
Currently listed No 1. in the Aria Charts, Margaret Brandman is the accomplished Australian pianist and recording artist, accredited piano teacher, award-winning composer, arranger, and music educator.
In her portrait, I aimed to capture her energy ‘grooving’ to one of her many engaging Latin-American rhythmical compositions, such as her ‘Warm Winds in Havana, Suite for Saxophone Quartet’ (recorded in Cuba) with its strong melodic themes and lively rhythmic varied time signatures (7, 5, 4 and 3 beats per measure), contrapuntal techniques and syncopated rhythmic effects.
In her portrait Margaret is wearing a turquoise flowing wide sleeve jacket over the top of a black velvet shirt with lace at the neck. The sheet music behind Margaret, is from the uplifting orchestral composition, ‘Spirit Visions’, which has been played on the ABC Classics program and Fine Music 102.5 many times. Check out her ‘Binna Burra Dreaming‘ Album (with my landscape painting on the cover) which recently achieved Number One position in both the ARIA Classical and Classical Crossover charts in April 2023. The album presents six exquisitely crafted contemporary classical works for ‘Cello with Piano, inspired by Australian nature, Dreaming, and Astrological themes.
In her portrait, Margaret swings her arms and twinkles her fingers as if playing an imaginary piano. Check the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra’s recording of SPIRIT VISIONS on You Tube https://youtu.be/8fvCWEMpPws. Also check out her ‘Sensations Album’ on You Tube. https://youtu.be/nOO5YlawOdo
I enjoyed the process of also learning about Margaret during the creation of her portrait. I found it a fascinating story, as she shared how much she admired other musical artists including, American jazz pianist and composer Bill Evans whom she had the good fortune of meeting in New York in 1979 a year before he passed away. Margaret felt a strong connection with him and his work. So much so that she dedicated a contemporary classical piano work to him that she titled Sonorities in homage to his delicate and sensitive chord voicings and inspired improvisations. Her performance of this work is included on her album, also titled ‘Sonorities’ (MMP0014)
Margaret also spoke about learning the piano accordion from the age of 4 from her mother, Else Brandman, followed by formal piano studies from the age of 6. Her mother established the Brandman Music Studios which took place in the three studio rooms in the front of their home in Maroubra. Margaret rehearsed and learnt to play a variety of music for both piano and accordion, including some famous Argentinian Tangos. In her late teens she began work as a professional pianist. She was fan of the music of Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66 and Antonio Carlos Jobim, composer of ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ and many well-known pieces in the Bossa Nova style. She found she had a flair for Latin-American dance music, including Bossa Novas which she performed in gigs around Sydney, and that has carried through to the present day, resulting in her being commission by violinist Vov Dylan in 2021 to compose ‘La Vida Apasionada, a suite of 8 Latin-American dance movements for his Palace Orchestra. The suite received its premiere performance in 2022.
Margaret’s parents were both musicians. Her mother played both piano accordion and piano and was a sought-after teacher and AMEB examiner. Her father played violin and piano and managed the music studio.
Her paternal grandfather, Fritz Brandmann was a fine tenor and became the first Cantor at the Temple Emanuel in Woollahra in 1939. Margaret’s fathers’ family were a typical middle-class German family where all the children learned an instrument. The Brandmann family owned the largest jewelry shop in Berlin until early in 1939 when they had to flee Berlin and the business was confiscated by the Nazis. Margaret’s uncle Hans played accordion and cello as did her grandfather, Fritz Brandman (seated in the picture). Picture: Family Music Abend (music evening) in Berlin, 1934. Margaret’s father Frederick is playing the violin.
Amazingly Fritz, and is wife Charlotte, and their five children including Margaret’s father, all escaped Germany just before the outbreak of war. They flew from Germany to England and from there boarded a ship to Australia. Margaret’s maternal grandmother, Marie Scheffler who helped the Brandmann family during the difficult pre-war days, baked bread for them to take on the plane to England. She hid diamonds in the bread so they would have some items to sell, as they were able to pay for their first-class tickets with German Marks but were not allowed to take any money out of the country.
The story of why they ended up immigrating to Australia, was that in 1936 when the Olympic Games were on in Berlin, the NSW Commissioner of Police, William John Mackay traveled to Germany and visited their family jewelry shop in Berlin. He wanted a special camera, so her uncle Hans took him around Berlin to find the camera. Mackay could already see that things were not going well for Jewish families, so he gave his calling card to her grandfather and said if you need to get out, let me know. Margaret still has the correspondence between them, offering sponsorship so that they could come to Australia. When they arrived via ship into Sydney Harbour, her grandfather, father, and brother were picked up by a special police boat and the women separately were whisked off the boat, avoiding having to go through customs. Traveling from England they also had diamonds sewn into their clothing to help them create a fresh start here in Australia. Their new family jewelry shop was established in King Street, Sydney, Australia. Margaret’s mother wrote the family story, and it is now included in an historical novel about two families that immigrated to Australia: “THUISLAND” by Dutch author Rita Kniff-Pot, published in The Netherlands in 2020.
Margaret’s works continue to inspire me and many others. Her works have been performed in Australia and abroad, including at the Donne in Musica festival in Italy in 1997, at the World Forum concert in Oxford UK in 2011, a concert of her song cycle The Cosmic Wheel of the Zodiac, by the Prague Mixed Chamber Choir, in Prague in 2017, at the Australian Rhapsodies to Rhumbas Concerts in 2013 and 2014 and in her album launch concerts in Sydney in 2016 and 2018 and Highlights and Premieres concert in 2022. In September this year, she has been invited to present two concerts of her compositions in Amsterdam.
You can find more about Margaret and her wonderful music on her website.