Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Clifford Hocking has died


All are invited to celebrate the life of Clifford Hocking at the Arts Centre’s Hamer Hall -- formerly the Melbourne Concert Hall -- on Tuesday August 29, 2006 at midday. There will be some very special guests performing.

I’ve never presented anything purely with an eye to commercial success. I’ve been delighted by success, but I have never gone out and said “I must book that person, cos that person will make money” -- I have never worked that way.
I’ve just received confirmation that Clifford Hocking died yesterday after suffering a stroke on Friday. Details are still very sketchy -- there’s nothing on the web as yet -- but he would, by my reckoning, have been 74.

Hocking was artistic director of the 1990 Adelaide Festival and 1997 Melbourne International Festival of the Arts. He was also a mighty concert promoter with rare good taste... one of the few willing to trust his judgement and wait for audiences to catch up.

A former employee of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, Hocking’s first private venture -- 45 years ago -- was to tour some classical Indian musicians. Years before the Beatles discovered Ravi Shankar, Australian audiences did. “People,” he told me with a chuckle, “thought I was totally insane!”

The payoff from another of his early ventures was more immediate and more long-lasting. Hocking persuaded Barry Humphries to return to Australia for a series of solo performances. His very first.

Hocking had a knack of staying a board-length ahead of the New Wave. He offered concerts of early music when such things were unknown here, he brought Arlo Guthrie, Allen Ginsberg, Keith Jarrett, Paco Peña and Kronos Quartet to Australia long before they became household names.

Though he was one of the most successful impresarios of his generation, he spoke like a lefty arts bureaucrat under a benevolent Labor administration. He claimed never to have done a budget in his life and talked about the “right to fail” like La Mama’s Liz Jones might.
If your attempt is valiant and your intentions are good... No-one wants to fail, but I don’t like to see people denounced for having failed, particularly in a festival context. It’s not as if you’re playing fast and loose with public money in a regular season, where people are structuring subscription series...
Hocking was a man blessed with taste and imagination and had a unique willingness to cultivate the sensibilities of the public by never underestimating their ability to appreciate and embrace the unfamiliar.
- A lot of people would be surprised that you’ve made a living from leading...
- I’m surprised myself!
Hocking was the man you turned to when you needed an arts festival programmed in a hurry. Dividing his time between Melbourne and New York, he was well-connected and skilled at ferreting out the exceptional.

He was approached by the board of the Melbourne Festival in February, 1996, after Leo Schofield stepped down as artistic director, to curate the 1997 festival. He initially declined. “I said: ‘I don’t want to do it, I’m too old.’ It was bad enough doing Adelaide in 1990 with more than two years notice. It takes three to five years to do something effective and exciting. The companies that we want here are booked five years ahead.”

I asked him, then, to describe the kind of festival he would create given the time and resources. He said he might have used Faust or Romeo and Juliet as a theme. But he dreamed, he said, of curating a festival that plunged headlong into the demilitarized zone dividing spiritual authority and temporal power.

What a shame we never got to see that dream realised.

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Blogger Alison Croggon said...

Very sad news. Thanks for that obituary, Chris. Hocking deserves to be remembered for the part he played in encouraging new and challenging theatre: he was an old fashioned arts patron of a kind that really no longer exists. Funny to think that a commercial entrepeneur could program so much more challenging work than much subsidised theatre, but there we we are, he did. Though I remember Hocking and Woods were known as Shocking and Hoods. Fondly, of course...

8:09 AM  
Blogger Chris Boyd said...

I can't think of anyone else who could curate a wide-ranging arts festival without having to delegate visual arts or dance or music or spoken word to a "specialist".

My first contact with Cliff was after the third (?) tour of the Kronos Quartet in 1991. I had just started reviewing for the Financial Review and wrote about the last concert in Australia, which was in Melbourne.

Cliff picked up the phone and called, the day the review was printed. Kronos, of course, were long gone. It wasn't a "thank God someone else noticed they're brilliant" call after some mixed reviews, it was more a "thanks for helping spread the word, I'm gonna bring them back one more time..."

You realise, I'm sure, that Shocking and Hoods (later Elston, Hocking and Woods) was Greg Hocking, no?

And, lest we forget, Greg did some risky stuff. He burnt money trying to find a middle market for the cream of the fringe. A couple of La Mama shows were picked up and served up reheated at the Universal, in the smaller theatre. Like the Malthouse without a net.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Marek Buksinski, PL said...

I am very depressed. I have not beet in touch with Cliff for several years (that's why I did not know about his death) but I remember his influence on my young life and kindness. I will always remember HIM.

8:11 PM  
Blogger Chris Boyd said...

Thanks, Marek. Yes, melancholy news. I'm curious to know how and where you and Cliff crossed paths. Gdańsk? New York? Melbourne?

8:40 PM  

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