2MBS Fine Music Sydney’s presenter Jill Hickson
Jill Hickson talks Austria and all things music and travel
First Class Magazine’s Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan sits down with 2MBS Fine Music Sydney’s Jill Hickson to talk all things music and travel.
Jill Hickson on Austria, Adelaide and Dame Joan
It starts with a knock. There’s the sound of the buzzer. I push open the door and enter a courtyard fragrant with early jasmine. Jill Hickson, as she is known in music circles, otherwise Jill Wran, wife of the former Premier of NSW, Neville Wran, glides on to the terrace dressed in elegant black. There is summer in her smile as she invites me into her life of dandelion tea and travels afar.
We sit in her office filled with books and cupboard doors behind which everything is catalogued. “My first job was in Fisher library,” she tells me. And I can see why; she was perfect for it. During our interview I’m treated to lots of memorabilia including a pretty little dress Joan Sutherland brought back from Switzerland for a three-year-old Harriet and documents and newspaper clippings from Jill’s early days at 2MBS Fine Music FM.
Schwarzenberg in Austria
Austria is Jill’s favourite travel destination. It’s where she feels at one with the world whether sipping a hot chocolate in a Viennese café, exploring charming villages or “wandering in the mountains around Schwarzenberg where you actually do come upon children singing like they do in The Sound of Music”.
The very mention of the village of Schwarzenberg moistens her eyes and warms her voice like a low fire in the quiet evening hours. She talks readily about the soft faces of milking cows and the sound of their bells away in the fields during interval at the concerts of Schubertiade, held every June/July in the Western district of Bregenz. It’s a special place and she has a very special souvenir like no other from Schwarzenberg. “They are my ‘Schubert specs’ she says, fine gold rimmed reading glasses found in a village antique shop.
Some of the happiest times in her life were spent singing, first in school plays, choirs and Eisteddfords and later, after she sold her publishing business, with the Jacobean Singers then based at All Saints Woollahra. She will go a long way to hear an English Cathedral or College choir. “Vienna, of course, has one of the best choirs, The Vienna Boys Choir. I took my children to hear them sing in the Hofburg Chapel when we were there in January one year”.
Vienna’s Bristol Hotel
There are a number of luxurious hotels in Austria. Jill has stayed at one or two in Vienna and Salzburg. She mentions Vienna’s Bristol Hotel – because it’s a stone’s throw from the Opera House – also the Hotel Imperial which was once a palace and whose clientele have included Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, the Rolling Stones and more.
When in Vienna, Jill suggests hot chocolate and Sacher torte at the Sacher Hotel; a visit to Beethoven’s house where he wrote the Heiligenstadt Testament; and, she says, “Don’t miss the Vienna Zoo. It is surprisingly good, and unusual because all the creatures roam around in a natural habitat. “
There are museums galore including the Albertina Museum “where you can see the original of Dürer’s beautiful etching of a Hare, or the Kunsthistorisches Museum “with all those magnificent Bruegels”. (It also houses Raphael’s “Madonna in the Meadow,” Vermeer’s “The Allegory of Painting,” the Infanta paintings by Velazquez, masterworks by Rubens, Rembrandt, Dürer, Titian and Tintoretto as well as many treasures in the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection).
Salzburg’s Mozart Week
In Salzburg, Jill raves about Mozart Week in January and the big Festival there in the spring. The Christmas markets are like no other and for dinner before a concert she loves the Goldener Hirsch but has more often stayed at the Blau Goose. “It’s so uplifting to walk along the River, climb up to the castle, and come upon a Mozart mass in the Cathedral.”
Back home in Australia, Jill loves Adelaide for the festival. She hasn’t missed a festival in many years and especially remembers the premiere of “Voss” with Marilyn Richardson, Geoffrey Chard, “and that unbelievably moving libretto by David Malouf. And I certainly never expect to see a better Ring Cycle than the one directed by Elke Neidhardt in 2004”. Usually she stays at the Intercontinental “because it’s right there in the middle of the theatrical enclave and the choice of quite a few of the visiting artists. Delicious pre-theatre tapas can be had at 2KW up on the top floor of the old bank building on North Terrace, or there is Fishbank downstairs at street level, and numerous interesting restaurants around Peel Street for a good hearty meal,” she says.
Skillogalee Estate in the Clare Valley
With time away from the Festival Jill goes out to the Clare Valley, where lunch in the garden of Skillogalee Estate’s 1851 cottage overlooking the vines is ‘very heaven’. The menu invites a long relaxed meal and chef Diana Palmer’s creations highlight local produce, matched with estate wines.
Jill also is looking forward to ‘bird music’ in the Megalong Valley. ‘Bird music’ refers to the Lyrebird Festival this November with its concerts, nature walks, talks and of course food and wine. She will also be attending Opera Australia’s Ring Cycle this December in Brisbane.
We chat about her many travel experiences beginning with ten years as a Qantas executive on the administration side. Later, when she worked in publishing, there were annual visits to New York and London as well as other centres like Chicago and Bologna for Book Fairs. “But always I would look at the calendar of international music events and try to plan trips around things I badly wanted to see.” I ask about very early memories. “Going right back to 1978 I remember dragging Neville to Covent Garden to hear a very young Yvonne Kenny sing the soubrette role in Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” and meeting her backstage afterwards with the conductor Charles MacKerras. What a huge treat. On that same trip we sat with the families of the choir boys during the Christmas Carol Service at Kings College, Cambridge. I was transported but Neville, with his wicked humour, said what he remembered best was the smell of wet Macs!”
“Music has been a sort of continuous silken thread through my life. My mother studied at the Conservatorium with ‘Mr Melody Man’, Lindley Evans. My aunt became a favourite pupil of the great English pianist, Solomon and later, as a key member of the ABC Subscribers’ Committee would entertain visiting artists at home. It was an incredible privilege to find myself at her dinner table seated alongside some very distinguished artists.”
“I first learned piano beside my mother then formally for eleven years. I had a deep, enduring relationship with my Royal Academy trained teacher at boarding school and then was lucky enough to learn from the venerable Miss Lottie Edwards during my undergraduate years. She had, in her youth, accompanied Melba.
“Another great stroke of good fortune was a lifelong friendship with Australian banker and musician Jim Wolfensohn and his wife Elaine. As well as being President of the World Bank, Jim was also chairman of Carnegie Hall and subsequently President of The Kennedy centre in Washington. I would often stay with them just off Fifth Avenue in New York where I remember artists like Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich at the piano. At Jim’s 50th Birthday party on the stage of Carnegie Hall he seated me between Isaac Stern and Ted Kennedy which was altogether unreal.”
Dining in Sydney with Jill Hickson and Slava the Koala
“At home in Sydney, we had some truly memorable dinner parties for their friends amongst visiting artists, people like Mstislav Rostropovich- who seemed to like me calling him Slava Koala – and several conductors including Charles Dutoit”.
In the early 1980’s, whilst Jill was doing her MBA, the ABC invited her to write and present their first live opera simulcasts beginning with the Joan Sutherland/Pavarotti Gala followed by three other productions. And she has served on a slew of Boards, including the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Opera House Trust, Sydney Theatre and a stint as Deputy Chairman of Governors at the Sydney Con.
“2MBS came into my life at a time when I wasn’t particularly happy at Qantas and was looking for some way to go on with music. When I became a presenter in the very early days, (late 1974, early 1975) it felt like I’d found my tribe.” After she was married she and Neville helped inaugurate the new studios in Chandos Street and Jill became Patron of the station’s Foundation.
On Roger Woodward and Roast Duck
We move on to First Class magazine’s favourite question. Which three people would Jill dine with if she could sup with anyone?
“First, there’s Roger Woodward. He and I have had a very long-lived friendship for more than 40 years. He loves to come to our farm, Jumjum, so it would be lunch there and I’d give him roast duck.”
“Throughout the 1980’s we shared some great times with Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge. So, secondly, I’d love to see them together again, back on our terrace at Woollahra for a seafood extravaganza.”
“Thirdly, there is that wizard of a woman, a truly heroic musician and amazing teacher, the inimitable Lynne Williams. I have the most enormous respect and admiration for her work with choirs and know this at close hand because my daughter Harriet sang with the Sydney Children’s Choir and later went on tours as a member of Gondwana voices. I would love to be with her anywhere, anytime, but let’s say a café near Pier 4/5 in Millers Point. “
I descend the staircase with Jill and take in her marvellous terrace thinking about how many talented lives had enjoyed mirth and wine and good food with the ever-elegant Fine Music presenter, Jill Hickson.
For more information on 2MBS Fine Music Sydney visit 2MBS Fine Music Sydney