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Margaret Olley trust funds Sound of Art -

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LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: When national treasure Margaret Olley died six years ago, she left behind a multi-million dollar estate dedicated to funding the arts.

For the first time, funding from her trust has been used for a musical performance.

'The Sound Of Art' coincides with the opening of a new exhibition by Margaret Olley's friend, William Robinson, as Peter McCutcheon reports.

(Music by Elena Kats-Chernin, performed by her on the piano)

ELENA KATS-CHERNIN, COMPOSER: The most important thing for each painting is to make the still life - that frozen-in-time moment - animated. So: doing something to actually undo the still life, strangely.

PETER MCCUTCHEON, REPORTER: A tribute to two very different icons of Australian art: William Robinson and Margaret Olley.

WILLIAM ROBINSON, ARTIST: Margaret was a great mentor. She was generous in her - what she did in all directions.

(Footage of concert featuring Elena Kats-Chernin on piano)

PETER MCCUTCHEON: This performance by internationally celebrated composer Elena Kats-Chernin is partly improvised. She only arrived in Brisbane last week.

ELENA KATS-CHERNIN: This is kind of great. I specifically tried not to prepare, so that everything I do is exactly inspired by what I see here.

WILLIAM ROBINSON: I think it is a wonderful idea. It means quite a great deal to me. It was just interesting to see somebody not only who I had never met before, but from a completely different discipline: a discipline which I had a little bit of an insight into - but not like hers, of course.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: That little bit of insight refers to the fact that William Robinson nearly became a concert pianist himself. He even made the Queensland finals of the ABC's Vocal and Concerto Competition in 1957.

WILLIAM ROBINSON: Then we went to the City Hall and I played there. And I actually got through it. I couldn't tell you what percentage of the notes were correct: a fairly small percentage, I would have guessed. (Laughs)

QUENTIN BRYCE, AD, FRIEND: As we say, it's been for our great good fortune as Australians that he went on to fulfil his other great talent as a painter.

(Montage of images in detail from landscape painting by William Robinson)

PETER MCCUTCHEON: But critics remarked about the musical qualities of William Robinson's ground-breaking landscapes.

JOHN MCDONALD, CURATOR, 'ETERNAL PRESENT': I think within his work, a sense of rhythm and a musicality in the way that he goes about putting things together. He thinks in terms of harmonies, rhythms, counterpoint, structure.

(Music: 'Eliza's aria' from the ballet 'Wild Swans' by Elena Kats-Chernin)

PETER MCCUTCHEON: That musicality is present in Robinson's still lifes, which is now on display in a new exhibition, 'Eternal Present'. This is a genre the artist explored in the 1970s and took up again seven years ago.

QUENTIN BRYCE: Of course he couldn't have kept on doing those enormous landscapes. You know, he's 80 years old now.

JOHN MCDONALD: A really great artist: they never stand still. They are always questioning and challenging themselves. And you see that in Bill's work.

(Footage of Elena Kats-Chernin rehearsing 'Eliza's aria' with chamber ensemble)

ELENA KATS-CHERNIN: Can we just do that? Do you mind? Just two bars before, or...

PETER MCCUTCHEON: To mark the new phase, Elena Kats-Chernin has been overseeing a performance of some of her work, as well as an improvised performance of her own. This has been funded by the Margaret Olley Arts Trust, the first time the artist's estate has been used to support music rather than painting.

(To Elena Kats-Chernin) Do you see that as a great honour? Or also as something of a burden?

ELENA KATS-CHERNIN: No way. No burden. I love it. You see, I love that. I think it's wonderful. And I'm just taking and accepting it with full arms: what has been offered to me. And I just want to make something great out of it.

(Footage of concert featuring Elena Kats-Chernin on piano)

PETER MCCUTCHEON: It all came together last night at the William Robinson Art Gallery at Queensland's Old Government House, with Elena Kats-Chernin's musical response to 10 paintings from both William Robinson and Margaret Olley.

(To Elena Kats-Chernin) Can these pieces be recreated?

ELENA KATS-CHERNIN: Well, this is what I'm hoping: that they can be. And I will write as much as possible once I'm very secure in what I think is the right thing for the particular painting. And then I will actually write them out properly, because I think there is merit in those works that I have created.

(Elena Kats-Chernin finishes a piece. Audience applauds)

PETER MCCUTCHEON: And indeed, after the performance, the composer presented William Robinson with the originals of her composition.

ELENA KATS-CHERNIN: And there is one special one. I specifically did this for you.

(Footage of concert featuring Elena Kats-Chernin on piano)

(William Robinson addresses the audience)

WILLIAM ROBINSON: I feel sure that some musicians can see colour in the mind, as an extension of the sound. And I'm most appreciative of Elena. Just meeting her and listening to her is a wonderful experience for me. Thank you very much.