The Night that the Museum Burned
for choir SATB and strings (2022)
duration: 9’
text by Ross Baglin
GRT • 229

score available soon from
Australian Music Centre

program note
The Night that the Museum Burned sets a new text by poet Ross Baglin, written specifically for this commission. It contrasts the removed opulence of a high-rise penthouse arts function simultaneously with the museum burning below at street level. Baglin’s poem alludes to rioting on the streets, but doesn’t directly say whether the museum is a deliberate target or incidental collateral damage. The inference, however, is hard to escape – that the preservation of culture and history is under siege. This choral work was commissioned by Brett Weymark and the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs for performance in their Grant us Peace concert in St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney on 9 July 2022.

The night that the museum burned  
There was a party for the cast  
Of a curated image, soon to screen 
Across a million paying lives,  
Forty storeys in a shaft of light :   
His dental porcelain enclosing 
All the opinions that a suit supposed, 
A chromium magnate man arose  
And scanning stockings like a barcode  
Said all the room was priced to hear :   
In washed silk, under swaying trays  
Caryatids offered canapes  
And in champagne flutes with graceful limbs  
The bubbles rose and raced from base to brim. 
Flung from a hieroglyphic bridge,  
A bottled comet tailed its flame  
Into the ragged membrane  
Of a window.  Soon, the sirened, red  
Torrential engines tore the glass,  
And on the windows of the passing trains  
The tattooed fires instagrammed  
Their blitzkrieg for the second page. 
No silver tower knew what embers whirled  
In sparks on graphite skies, or mourned  
For things it deemed too old to learn
Or caryatids overturned  
The night that the museum burned  

“Stuart Greenbaum’s The Night that the Museum Burned throws us immediately into a thriller suspense story with dark deserted streets and the looming threat lurking in the shadows. It captures us and takes us along for the dramatic adventure with dynamics that are astounding as they are pleasing, and powerful terrifying chords of complex dissonance. The Chamber Singers certainly brought out the best of the work to their credit”
Paul Neeson, EastsideFM, July 2022

“Jazz is a major influence on Greenbaum’s work, The Night that the Museum Burned, a setting of a new text by Melbourne poet Ross Baglin. Strolling bass lines and sliding bluesy chords underpin the unsettling image of a curated arts party being held on the penthouse floor while below the museum is on fire, presumably started by the angry mob on the street. This was given additional relevance by the muffled sounds of a rally outside the cathedral on Town Hall Square protesting against the overturning of Roe v Wade in the United States.”
Stephen Moffatt, Limelight Magazine, July 2022

“Two premieres were also on the program, both by Australian composers. The second premiere was commissioned from Melbourne based composer Stuart Greenbaum, ‘The Night that the Museum Burned’ based on a poem also commissioned for the occasion from Ross Baglin. Greenbaum and Bagln have been collaborating for more than 30 years and it was easy to recognise a good working relationship. The poem describes two scenes, one above the other. The one on top is a swish apartment on the 40th floor of a high rise building. Impeccably dressed guests are celebrating a film release with champagne and canapés. Below them on the ground floor a molotov cocktail (a “bottled comet” with flaming tail) is thrown through the window of a museum, setting the building alight. It draws multiple fire engines and makes perfect instagram fodder. 

It’s a fun, clever poem of two verses, which feels like a canapé itself whetting your appetite for more. The music epitomised Greenbaum’s love of diverse application. The sopranos and altos sometimes serious, then swooping down and dropping away, the tenors and basses in pizzicato. The work was frequently filled with tension moving from anxiety to high drama, then closing with an appropriately audible fade to black. The premieres were well received with both composers on hand to accept gratitude and generous applause. 

Following was another work from Vasks “Dona nobis pacem” (Grant us peace). With the opening Vasks work being quite close to traditional sacred music, it was hard to imagine how we could move from the high drama of Greenbaum’s work back to Vasks but, in fact, they transitioned very smoothly.
Annabelle Drum, Sydney Arts Guide, July 2022