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Just in: Aussie music axeman grabs top Hong Kong job

Last week, the Australian National University announced, with deep regret and blah-blah, that it was sacking all 32 music teachers at the School of Music. Uproar ensued. Students collected a large petition. The decision was roundly condemned by the state legislature.

When they went looking for the head of the music school to review the details, professor Adrian Walter was nowhere to be found, so they suspended him.

Professor Walter was supposed to be ‘guiding the institution through a period of change’, a phrase that usually means difficult and painful choices. Instead, his mind was plainly elsewhere.

Today, Adrian Walter was announced as the new director of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, staring in September. See here.

Both Canberra and Hong Kong should be asking themselves whether Prof Walter has been telling them the whole truth.

Next-day UPDATE here.


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  1. starting* in September.

  2. Peter Young says:

    Well here are a few questions that could be asked:

    when did Prof Walter know he was getting the Hong Kong job?
    was this before the announcements in Canberra?
    did the ANU know as well? If so, why would it be appropriate to announce such major changes only a few days before?

    You’d think surely the head of the institution defending them would be expected to put them in place!

    Until this announcement, Prof Walter has been thought of as the fall guy trying to defend his institution against a philistine university management who never wanted anything to do with the arts, who can’t understand why one-to-one teaching in music is so important, and give every impression of not having been to a concert (of any kind) in their life.

    Looks like there is a lot more news to come out of this disaster. Now it’s up to the local media to tackle some of the awkward questions.

  3. Gyula Cseszko says:

    Thank you Mr. Lebrecht for caring about us, taking the time report on something that has deeply affected the musical landscape here. Conductor Greg Hocking, at the ovation of a performance of Melbourne Opera Company’s Carmen at the Canberra Theatre last night, made a stirring appeal to the public to sign the petition. Your and his contribution help to make a difference.
    Gyula Cseszko

  4. Ben Kremer says:

    Prof Walter has show bad faith to the ANU and to the HKAPA. This is appalling conduct after spilling all the jobs at a respected music school. Seems that only public critic has been the fortepianist Prof Geoffrey Lancaster, who is among the most prominent of the 32 souls abandoned by Captain Walter on the ship after running it aground.

    • Siew Erh says:

      Chilling news. Thank you Mr Lebrecht for picking this up. Australian National University’s School of Music sounds like the Costa Concordia, it is sinking into a sea of university managerialism, Adrian Walter sounds like Captain Schettino who steered the ship onto rocks and now thinks he is safe in his lifeboat, and Geoffrey Lancaster reminds me of that coast guard telling him to get back on board to rescue the 260 passengers. There will be records of when Mr Walter got his job here in Hong Kong, so like the Costa Concordia, this is all going to end in tears.

  5. Luciano says:

    Of course he knew this job was in the pipeline when the cuts were announced. These things aren’t organised over night! Personally I found it rather bizarre that some were trying to defend him in the first place, that he was some kind of fall guy. If he really was against the cuts he should have resigned in protest. No reason not to resign in protest if you have another job lined up, but that ain’t what happened.

  6. Mr Lebrecht, thank you for giving this unfortunate story it’s due attention.

    It seems to be a common miscalculation by music-training institutions around the world that their strength and attraction for students lies in the institution’s own name and reputation, rather than the reputations of their instrument teachers. The instrumental teaching talent is unequivocally the primary draw for talented music students. Underestimating the importance of teachers, as the ANU clearly do, is to initiate the decline of the institution.

    There would be nation-wide uproar were the famed Australian Institue of Sport to make an equivalent decision to cut back on coaching staff and hold classes by internet link. It would be unthinkable.

  7. Thank you for this, Norman.

    As a Fellow at ANU this whole event has saddened me deeply and caused me to reflect on my association with the University. I for one thought the proposed changes at ANU, which had been mooted 5 years ago, had been valiantly fought off by Prof Walter until the announcement was made recently.

    The treatment of teaching and research staff has been abominable and the demonstrated value of music to the management of an Australian University has never been more clear – even in he recent axing of programs all up and down the east coast.

    I am at a loss for words at this latest development. These jobs are not won overnight, and ANU must’ve known as much as Walter himself, unless Walter is completely untrustworthy.

    There may be nothing for me to do here except walk away – God knows the job of heading up whatever replaces the School of Music is going to be a poison chalice.

    Nice point about the Australian Institue of Sport , Patrick :)


  8. @ Norman Lebrecht If this was footy the ensuing riots would be on the front page of the paper.

  9. I don’t suppose it’s worth pointing out that this “Aussie” Axeman is actually an Englishman ;-)

  10. Yes but he’s wielding the axe on Aussies. What a piece of work

  11. Stephan Bulmer says:

    This is the first time I have felt compelled to write on such a site as this. I have known Adrian Walter for 40 years and have found him to be an exceptionally honourable man, who has dedicated his life to music in different roles. I have no doubt that he has conducted himself with the best interests of music in Australia at heart. The political environments at tertiary institutions in Australia are appaulling; common sense has long gone from the major decision makers and the only criteria for decisions is money. Universities maybe fighting in a commercial environment for survival but they are also abandoning their resposibilities towards our cultural heritage.

    • Peter Young says:

      I don’t doubt his commitment or dedication, and music lovers would sympathise with the hostile academic politics he has had to face; but I think he does owe it to his staff, students and the local music community (which after all the new curriculum is supposed to better engage) to explain the situation to them, including the circumstances of his own departure.

      Hopefully he can do this more freely now he has a new position. I’m sure local press, TV and radio would be glad to interview him (they’ve all given time to the protests and the Vice Chancellor’s side of the story).

    • Luciano says:

      Sadly, it does seem that Professor Walter has not acted honourably on this occasion. However if that is not the case, now is the time for him to speak up!

  12. Barry Johnstone. says:

    Nobody – but NOBODY – dishonours music and gets away with it! This is NOT the actions of an honourable person.

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