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Richard Divall AO OBE

1945 – 2017

Frà Professor Richard Divall AO OBE (1945–2017), conductor, composer and scholar, grew up in Manly and was educated at Manly Boys’ High School. After leaving school at age fifteen, he joined the ABC, starting out in the mail room but ending up as the radio producer who instituted the ‘Musica Australis’ series of programs delving into Australian music history. During the 1960s he also attended night classes in singing at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and appeared in a number of amateur opera productions. After cutting his teeth as a conductor with the Young Opera in Sydney, he took up a role with the Queensland Opera Company in 1971. He left for Melbourne the following year on being encouraged by soprano Dame Joan Hammond to accept the position of inaugural Music Director of the Victorian State Opera. As director, Divall instituted an eclectic repertoire, including many operas either rarely or never performed in Australia until that time, and worked closely with then-Premier Rupert Hamer – later the VSO’s chairman – to ensure a financial footing for the fledgling company. He was closely involved in planning for the Victorian Arts Centre and conducted the first operas in the Concert Hall and State Theatre in 1983 and 1984 respectively. Divall received an OBE in 1981 and was named Victoria’s Conductor Laureate in 1995, shortly before he commenced a five-year appointment with Opera Australia as Principal Resident Conductor. In addition, throughout his career he made guest appearances as conductor for the Adelaide Festival, the Australian Ballet, the Australian Philharmonic Orchestra, and each of the state opera companies as well as for companies in New Zealand, Asia and Europe. Paralleling Divall’s work as a conductor was his distinguished contribution to scholarship in areas including the history of medicine, sixteenth to eighteenth-century Maltese music, and Australia’s musical heritage. He served as the chair of the Marshall Hall Trust, which sponsors the publication of early Australian music, co-editing the complete musical works of the Australian writer Henry Handel Richardson, and orchestrating numerous colonial Australian pieces. He was a Fellow of Queen’s College at the University of Melbourne from 1988, and artist-in-residence there until 1991. From 2011, he was Vice Chancellor’s Professorial Fellow and an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Arts at Monash University. He also served as an Associate Professor of Music at Melbourne and as a Visiting Professor at the University of Malta and King’s College, London. Having for several years been engaged in studying the faith, he converted to Catholicism in his thirties and in 1989 joined the Order of Malta, a religious order of the Catholic Church devoted to humanitarian work and also a Catholic order of knighthood. Later, he took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to become a Knight of Malta in Solemn Religious Profession, devoting himself to charitable work with the sick and homeless. Divall held a PhD in Sacred Music from the University of Divinity as well as honorary doctorates from Monash and the Australian Catholic University. He was named an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2009 for his services to music and the community.

Updated 2017