Brian Benjamin is a generous supporter of the arts, not just donating money, but also his time and expertise. He was instrumental in the establishment and success of Melbourne Chamber Orchestra where he was Executive Chairman for five years, and he is an active supporter of classical music and musicians in Melbourne.
In the last 3 years, Brian and his wife Esther have made several donations to music projects through the ACF and Brian generously agreed to give us an insight into his love and support of music in Australia.
ACF: Firstly, what inspired your interest in music?
I come from a musical family. My mother was a pianist and church organist. I sang at Sunday School concerts and the piano was an important item in our home. My wife’s musicianship has always inspired me. We lived in a garret for the first 3 years of our marriage as she undertook her BMus and it was great to hear her piano music throughout the house as I worked.
Do you remember the first work that really connected with you?
Other than the Everly Brothers, Jonny Tillotson & Crash Craddock you mean? The Bach Double Violin and Beethoven’s Violin Concertos with the Archduke close behind. Barenboim, Perlman and Ashkenazy in their prime. I still listen to them but have expanded a bit. I did, however, sing Johnny Tillotson’s hit, Poetry in Motion, at my 50th birthday party.
What spurred you initially to donate to the arts? What was the first donation that you made? My wife, Esther, and I joined the administration of what was then Australia Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra at Jeff Crellin’s invitation in 2004 to “make it or break it”. Esther was by then an experienced arts manager and I was interested in applying good business practices in the arts to see if we, as private entrepreneurs, could fill a gap in Melbourne’s music structure for a quality chamber orchestra.
We came to realise that we couldn’t ask others for money if we didn’t give ourselves; even though we were donating our time and underwriting the financial performance of what became Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, we had to put money in too. It had a snowball effect and the company became quite successful.
When an artist or organisation comes to you for support, what do you want to know about them and their project? What makes you want to give to them?
Quality, sincerity, feasibility are all important. Good quality musicianship is a must; good strategy – making the most of things, expanding the quality of our community’s musical environment – is important; personal commitment and integrity.
Finally, what would you say to encourage others to support local artists and why is this so important?
It’s a way of drawing us together as a community, nurturing our finest qualities, against all the forces of fragmentation that exist now.