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PROFESSOR PETER PLATT, AM (19242000)

With the recent passing of Emeritus Professor Sir Peter Platt known to almost
everybody simply as Prof; he shunned his inherited title Sir, for the sake of bonhomie
Australia has lost a cultural giant. Brilliant yet humble, forever painstaking, gifted with an
unquenchable enthusiasm, Peter Platt was a paragon of the protean musician a
composer, performer, scholar, conductor, musicologist, administrator, educator, ... and
life-long mentor. In his academic rle, Platt was professor of music at the University of
Otago, New Zealand (19571975) and at the University of Sydney (19751989), where he
succeeded the founding professor, Donald Peart. Prof built significantly upon Pearts
vision, moulding a music department widely respected for both the breadth and depth of
its interests and scholarship; Peter Platts catch-phrase of always connect guaranteed
that any musician under his tutelage would emerge well-rounded, possessing insights into
numerous musical fields from planet Earth.

It was my privilege, as a greenhorn first-year composition student at Sydney University, to


first encounter Prof in 1980. He was always keen to instil into young student-composers
like myself two things: a love for the inner life of sound (to revel in its intelligence via the
harmonic series, with its causation of modalities); and a sensitivity to formal structure and
proportions (one exercise that he used to set was to compose a short work using the form
of one movement from Anton Weberns Five Pieces for orchestra, Op.10 where one
wrote in ones own style, not necessarily that of Webern). Within his seminars, who could
forget a shoeless Prof playing the sitar while giving a perspicacious commentary on it in
his hilarious quasi-Indian accent; or his utilization of an electric razor as a sound-
generator, whereby his mouth functioned like a variable equalizer to sweep through, filter
out, and resonate elements of the harmonic series from within the shavers buzz? His
educational philosophy one which I try to emulate was to flood students with
knowledge, to overwhelm them with time-bombs of connective discernment, some of
which might only explode a decade or so later, to bestow joyous illumination upon
reaching a certain level of (artistic) maturity.

Peter Platts commitment to Australian music for which he was made a Member of the
Order of Australia (an honour about which he was justifiably proud) was, perhaps,
unparalleled. He was certainly a fearless advocate for its cause. At the international
musicology conference held in Sydney just a few months ago, he was uncharacteristically
trenchant in his public criticism of Stanley Sadie (editor of the New Grove Dictionary of
Music and Musicians) regarding the relative paucity and brevity of entries devoted to
Australian composers in this encyclopedias latest edition. Prof was Chairman of the
Australian Branch of the International Society for Contemporary Music [ISCM] from
1975 until the late 1980s (when the organization was inexplicably denied government
funding); as with his professorship, the ISCM reins were handed over to him by Donald
Peart. Under Peter Platts wise leadership over these years, many memorable concerts of
new music took place at the Sydney Opera House (engaging both overseas and local
performers), numerous Australian composers were commissioned, and dozens of pieces
were selected to represent Australia at the ISCMs annual World Music Days. More
recently, Prof also served with distinction on the board of the Australian Music Centre
[AMC]. In an e-mail to me, John Davis noted that Prof sat on our assessment panels for
the AMC awards, and on the ISCM World Music Days selection panel. He always was
pleased to contribute, and said that it kept him in touch with what was happening
something he was always vitally interested in.

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As a scholar, Prof was the leading authority on the 17th-century composer Richard
Dering, and was also an expert on Igor Stravinskys music his enthusiasm for Stravinsky
was truly infectious! Prof maintained a long-term association with the Musicological
Society of Australia, editing their journal Musicology for a number of issues.
Ethnomusicologist Allan Marett avers that it was his deep and abiding interest not just in
music, but in musical lives and the aspirations of his students and colleagues that made
him a great teacher and mentor. Two examples shall suffice. Winsome Evans
acknowledges a profound intellectual and musical debt to Prof: so much so that
Winsome made him a patron of her group The Renaissance Players of which Platt was
always a staunch supporter. As a supervisor of Ian Fredericks that much-undervalued
composer who is currently undertaking a PhD in computer-music composition at the
Sydney Conservatorium Prof, I know, was personally supportive of Ian throughout a
period of serious illness and beyond, and that the flow of knowledge in their fruitful
relationship was bidirectional, a genuine dialogue: Prof, whose curiosity knew no
bounds, had begun to create his own electroacoustic music (under Ians guidance), using
software developed by Ian.

Peter Platt was an indefatigable attender of concerts in Sydney, right up to the end of his
life. He was often seen brandishing a battered notebook into which he would jot down
salient points about the work presented. When he encountered new music that to him was
initially perplexing (as was the case, say, with certain pieces by Chris Dench), Prof would
persist in listening to it until the musics beauty was fully revealed and understanding of it
had dawned. Such was this extraordinary mans humility.

Elsewhere, Professor Peter Platts character was encapsulated thus: His personality is
one of great youthfulness of spirit, energetic initiative, down-to-earth humanity,
exceptional sense of humour and unostentatious wisdom. For me, his loving-kindness
remained constant in a world of ever-changing variables. Henceforth, whenever I will
attend a (new-music) concert in Sydney, I along with many others, Im sure shall
acutely feel Peter Platts absence, and yet render him present by remembering him with
fondness and sincere gratitude. Prof lives on through the musicianly multitude whose
lives he touched so deeply.

Ian Shanahan.

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