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...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.
- I’m surprised myself!
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.