A few quiet sobs filtered through the auditorium at City Recital Hall during Sydney Brass’s refulgent performance of Giovanni Gabrieli’s Sonata XX à 22. They were soon drowned out by the blaze of brass, however, in what had originally been planned as Richard Gill’s Birthday Bash, but became a moving celebration of the beloved conductor and educator’s life, following his death on October 28, a week shy of his 77th birthday.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Associate Principal Trumpet Paul Goodchild led the brass ensemble, arrayed across the Recital Hall stage, in what was to be one of only a few truly elegiac pieces of music on the program. Goodchild, a long-time friend and colleague of Gill’s, was responsible for the brass flash mob that erupted outside the conductor’s house on Saturday to perform the Dam Busters March, but here he paid a more solemn tribute, drawing on his and Gill’s shared love of 16th-century composer Gabrieli.

There were moments of sadness – there were few dry eyes in the house during the Larghetto of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, performed by musicians from Gill’s period band, the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra, with Nicole van Bruggen on basset clarinet – but despite the poignancy of the event, it stayed true to its initial remit: a birthday celebration which, instead of being streamed to Gill at his home, was streamed across the country.

Celebrating Richard Gill was put together by the organisations and ensembles with whom Gill worked closely in his final years, and tickets sold out fast. Leigh Sales took a night off from the ABC’s 7.30 to be Master of Ceremonies, striking a perfect tone as she introduced the artists, read out a selection of birthday messages, and reflected on the life and career of a man who reached so many across the music industry and the country.

 Leigh Sales. Photo © Nick Gilbert

Leigh Sales. Photo © Nick Gilbert