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Listening Back

Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Macquarie Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Sydney Conservatorium of Music Library, Level 2

Mondays to Saturdays, 8am to 6pm Tuesday 5 September 2023 to Saturday 7 October 2023



In the 1920s, Sydney had a boom in classical music. Concert halls were overflowing – but the names of some Sydney’s foremost violinists, Cyril Monk, Patrick Moore MacMahon and Phyllis McDonald, are completely unfamiliar today. Listening Back is an exhibition which shines a light on these forgotten musical figures and tells the story of uncovering their histories.

This free exhibition at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music invites viewers to reimagine Sydney’s musical past through objects, antiquated technologies, handwritten notes and personal recollections. On display are recently discovered musical scores with handwritten performance annotations, reel-to-reel tapes, 78 RPM discs, concert programs and photographs. Digitised audio of the reel-to-reel tape recordings and radio broadcasts can be listened to via QR code, alongside oral histories and musical re-enactments of the musical scores.

The three characters at the heart of this exhibition are Sydney violinists Cyril Monk (1882-1970), Patrick Moore MacMahon (1898-1973) and Phyllis McDonald (1905-1977). Monk was at one time touted as the ‘best known violinist in the Commonwealth’, MacMahon was famed for his Aerial Concert tours on which he piloted his own plane and McDonald was heard regularly on ABC broadcasts with the Phyllis McDonald Players, the Phyllis McDonald Sextet and the Monomeeth String Quartet. The objects in the exhibition invite viewers to listen and imagine how these violinists may have sounded in their own time, as well as discover their lost stories.

Violinist and PhD candidate Julia Russoniello is the researcher behind the exhibition with multimedia artist Victoria Monk, the granddaughter of Cyril Monk. Victoria has contributed historical items of Cyril Monk’s to the display as well as three sculptures that speak to the theme of the exhibition, listening back.

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