Concert Review: From the Heart/ DocsVox


From the Heart

NSW Doctors Choir – DocsVox, NSW Doctors Orchestra – Musicus Medicus, Jill Sullivan mezzo-soprano, Young Artists of Pacific Opera, Simon Kenway, Music Director

Sydney Conservatorium of Music

17 February 2019

Written by Dr Paul Bennett


Trial successful – Proceed to Launch!

The final stage in taking a medicine from benchtop to bedside is to test it on large numbers of patients in a clinical trial. And, as guest Music Director Simon Kenway said in his opening remarks, we, the audience for this delightful concert on Sunday afternoon, were the final test in the development of the NSW Doctors Choir – DocsVox. The reports are in, the data has been examined and happily, the results have exceeded all expectations! DocsVox is launched!

The programme entitled From the Heart was presented by DocsVox in collaboration with the NSW Doctors Orchestra – Musicus Medicus and Pacific Opera It featured soloists Drs Jill Sullivan, mezzo-soprano and Andrew Kennedy, clarinetist. The programme contained well known opera choruses and arias. Three excellent and well credentialed Pacific Opera sopranos Michelle Ryan, Emily Turner and Livia Brash joined Jill Sullivan who has placed her work in medicine on hold, while she sings with the chorus of Opera Australia, currently performing in Turandot and La Boheme at the Sydney Opera House.

The familiar favourites allowed the soloists the scope to showcase their considerable talents – a good dose of Verdi arias from Il Trovatore, Falstaff, La Forza Del Destino and Nabucco together with a liberal dose of Mozart (Marriage of Figaro, Idomeneo) and a tincture of Bizet (Carmen). Jill Sullivan has a voice of exquisite timbre, tone and power. Her portrayal of Carmen was especially entertaining. Andrew Kennedy is a gifted clarinetist who navigated the range and technical demands of the Adagio from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with a beautifully even tone. Soprano Livia Brash is precociously gifted and ably performed her selections from Verdi with confidence and charm; we will watch her career with interest as she moves to Europe. Sopranos Michelle Ryan and Emily Turner have a delicacy of voice which are yet supple and secure. Michelle’s voice is especially suited to Mozartian repertoire and Emily Turner sang a delightful Nanetta.

The soloists clearly enjoyed the opportunity to sing these signature arias. The variation in style and approach kept the audience entertained throughout. The choir, accompanied by a string quintet and organ opened the concert with arguably the most beautiful 4 minutes of music ever composed – Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus. It’s never easy to convincingly deliver such a simple yet well-known motet but the choir, under Simon Kenway’s expert direction gave us a sensitive and nuanced performance. The concert moved from Jill Sullivan’s sensitive rendition of Brahms’ Die Mainacht, about a journey out of depression, through despair, deception, desire, flirtation and revenge to the beautiful hymn from Verdi’s The Force of Destiny.

Finally, the choir (and some of the audience) finished the scheduled programme with the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco famously sung at Verdi’s funeral by the residents of Milan in 1901.

A central symphonic interlude showcased Music Medicus on its own merits. The NSW Doctors Orchestra has been a fixture for 15 years in the musical calendar. They contributed 3 well-known orchestral pieces to the program as well as accompanying the choir and soloists – the overture to the Marriage of Figaro, the slow movement from Mozart’s Concerto for Clarinet featuring anaesthetist Dr Andrew Kennedy and Carillon, the 4th movement from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite No 1. It’s impossible not to be infected by the enthusiasm, energy and focus the orchestra members bring to their performance.

Finally, this concert would not have been anywhere near as successful without the expert hand of the very experienced guest Music Director Simon Kenway. As well as conducting, he acted as an entertaining MC, giving interesting insights to each piece on the programme along with accompanying some of the singers on the piano. He acknowledged the late Richard Gill, dedicating the Ave Verum Corpus to his memory, as the day of Gill’s passing coincided with the first rehearsal of DocsVox. One was reminded of the similarities in approach between Richard Gill and Simon Kenway – effortless command of the repertoire, great enthusiasm and energy for the music and the gift of being a wonderful communicator in words and music, coupled with the ability to get the very best out of the ensemble at all times.

After a 10-year gestation and a year’s planning according to Chair and founder Dr Shamistha de Soysa, DocsVox is launched! That’s roughly how long it takes to develop many of the blockbuster medicines used in clinical practice – except that music can be enjoyed in liberal doses and has no side effects! It is healing at its best. Based on Sunday’s concert DocsVox can look forward to similar success in the world of classical music performance.


Dr Paul Bennett is a medical musician- part of the long tradition of medical doctors whose passion is music but whose day job is medicine. Paul trained in piano at the Sydney Conservatorium under Margaret Hughes and has since been involved with many choirs and soloists as an accompanist and teacher. His special interest is jazz and he’s the pianist in the Sydney jazz trio “Not The Full List”. Paul has an active interest in the use of film and video production in medical education and he has a qualification from the Australian Film,Television and Radio School. 


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