Robert Constable is an Australian pianist, composer, teacher and music education leader. Throughout a long career he was head of music at the Universities of Newcastle (Australia), Auckland (New Zealand) and Canterbury (Christchurch New Zealand) and is regarded by his peers as a renowned musician and music leader.
A graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium in 1973 he has the distinction of immediately being offered a position on its full-time staff as a lecturer in academic music studies from early 1974. In this position he undertook a full range of teaching across all academic coursework including all periods of Western music history from medieval to nineteenth century romanticism. As a teacher he was much loved by his students, many hundreds of whom remember him with great respect and affection. His tenure at the Sydney Conservatorium also covered the period of rapid transition from diploma to degree and postgraduate awards and he gained invaluable experience in curriculum design in music and preparing documents to meet the standards of the higher education authorities. He also held influential positions on the Conservatorium’s governing board and senior academic committees.
As a performer Robert Constable was a foundation member of the Sydney-based contemporary music ensemble, the Seymour Group, and with that ensemble gave many Australian and world premiere performances of new music in the 1970s and early 80s. He was also an active recitalist across the full spectrum of piano repertoire.
In 1984 Robert Constable moved to Newcastle, New South Wales where the Sydney Conservatorium had a small branch. During the next 22 years, initially as deputy principal and later as head, he worked to transform the Newcastle Conservatorium into one of Australia’s most respected and successful music schools. This included its amalgamation with the University of Newcastle in 1990. With amalgamation the Conservatorium became a Faculty of the University and Robert Constable became its Dean in 1994, a position he occupied for four highly successful consecutive terms. From that time he held the rank of Professor of Music.
During his time in Newcastle he was responsible for the rapid transformation of the institution across all areas including personnel development and staff structure, student coursework development including new honours and postgraduate programs, promotion of the Conservatorium throughout Australia and internationally, the building up of community level music studies to an enrolment of 1500 students, building support in the community, the development of ensembles such as the symphony orchestra, wind orchestra, chamber choir and the establishment of the Stuart piano factory in Newcastle. Among the many international partnerships he established during this time were active student exchange programmes with the Royal College of Music, London, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and the Royal University College of Music Stockholm (KMH). He established cooperative linkages with several theological universities in Seoul, South Korea, while developing a specialist church music stream in the Bachelor of Music degree. Through the church music stream he was also strongly connected with the Guild of Church Musicians in the UK and is an Honorary Fellow of the Guild.
His sustained leadership of the Newcastle Conservatorium saw the institution grow from a small student base of less than a hundred to an institution of some 450 tertiary students and 1500 community students with international touring ensembles and a full range of orchestras, bands and choirs. In last few years of Professor Constable’s period as Dean of Music, honours music graduates became regular recipients of University Medals, winning no less than four of the University’s medals in the year 2000. Each medal recipient and many other graduates of that era have gone on to make impressive professional careers in music and many now hold key positions of influence in the music world.
After resigning from the University of Newcastle Professor Constable moved to New Zealand where he became Head of New Zealand’s largest School of Music at the University of Auckland (2007-2012). As in Newcastle, he re-structured the School’s undergraduate and postgraduate curricula and created a new academic staff profile for the School, including many new teaching and research appointments across the School’s five departments. Further, as a replication of his developments in Newcastle, Professor Constable encouraged the development of a chamber choir and in 2011 this 30-strong group made a tour of the UK with important concerts and recordings in St Pauls and Saint Georges Chapel at Windsor Castle. At St Pauls, an Evensong service featured the University of Auckland Chamber Choir. This service was witnessed by a packed cathedral and was used as a memorial event for the victims of the Christchurch earthquakes, which had occurred in February that year.
Professor Constable followed up his time in Auckland with a move to Christchurch soon after that city had experienced devastating earthquakes, becoming Head of Music at the University of Canterbury in mid 2012. While declining a long-term appointment in Christchurch, during an intensive short period he designed and delivered a new Bachelor of Music degree, a new and affordable staff profile, and assisted the University identify a suitable permanent head for the music school. He further assisted the University of Canterbury with a review and restructure of the College of Arts and the appointment of its new Pro Vice-Chancellor.
As a university academic head, teacher and practicing musician, Robert Constable has established and maintained a prominent position in a number of important areas including advanced music tuition and mentoring, piano performance including improvisation, composition and the development of music research capability within the Australian and New Zealand university context.
One of his most significant research leadership achievements was establishing the Stuart Piano research and development project at the University of Newcastle. As a leading and innovative technology, the Stuart piano, through the Australian Technology Showcase was championed by State Premier, Bob Carr and Treasurer Michael Egan. Under their patronage, the instrument became, in the words of Michael Egan, the ‘unofficial mascot of the 2000 Olympic Games’. Among the many dozens of Stuart piano recordings that were made in the period 1995-2003, the complete Beethoven Sonatas featuring University of Sydney pianist, Gerard Willems, stands out for its impressive sales figures (over 100,000 copies sold world-wide), and the numerous national and international awards these recordings have won. While attached to the University, the Stuart project served many individuals and organizations in a multitude of ways and its role in re-imaging the city of Newcastle in the post steel-making era was of major importance.
Following the project’s highly successful initial achievements the Stuart piano project was transformed into a manufacturing company called Piano Australiawith the help of patron, Robert Albert (Albert’s Music Publishing) and continued to expand and manufacture high quality pianos in Newcastle for several more years. Now, more than 25 years after its establishment in Newcastle the Stuart technology continues to evolve with the Stuart factory now being located in Tumut, New South Wales.
Robert Constable has developed two parallel streams of creative activity: composition and live improvisation with silent films of the 1920s.
Over nearly three decades he has performed as a silent film collaborative partner in the UK, Austria, New Zealand and particularly in Australia at an annual Buster Keaton Festival, which he helped to establish in the Kangaroo Valley, NSW. This festival ran for a total of thirteen years. Robert Constable also appeared as a guest at the Australian Silent Film Festival in Sydney. His improvisations with silent film create a unique soundscape which illustrates
the film in much the same way as an orchestra acts as musical partner to the dancers in a ballet. The late Lesley Ho, Director of the Singapore International Film Festival said after a performance in 2016, “…when he [Robert Constable] plays with great silent films we hear the film and see the music.”
As a composer of notated music, Robert Constable works in a wide range of genres including solo, choral and instrumental ensemble genres, documentary soundtracks, music for theatre productions. His music always has strong theatrical elements and much of his extended written composition work has a slow-moving hypnotic quality (even when the musical action is fast) which draws the listener into its sound-world.
Robert Constable was awarded the Order of Australia (AM) in the Australia Day Honours of 2021.
A full list of written and electronic compositions is located under the Composition heading in this website.