A member of the Myer family has replaced a scion of the Transfield dynasty as chairman of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
After 24 years at the helm of the renowned string ensemble, Guido Belgiorno-Nettis – the youngest son of Franco, the Italian immigrant who co-founded Transfield in 1956 and transformed it into an engineering giant – retired from the chairmanship at an ACO board meeting at its new Walsh Bay headquarters last Thursday.
The former chair of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Guido Belgornio-Nettis, with new chair Martyn Myer at the ACO’s Walsh Bay performance space. Dominic Lorrimer
The board unanimously voted that his replacement would be Martyn Myer, an ACO director since 2017 and third generation of the family whose arts philanthropy has its most obvious expression in Melbourne’s Myer Music Bowl.
“I’m an engineer, I like helping people build things. Getting involved with the excellence we have here at the ACO, and helping them achieve even more, is one of my greatest pleasures,” the new chairman said.
Mr Myer, who has been a skiing partner of ACO artistic director Richard Tognetti since they met in Utah in the early 1990s, and an attendee of his concerts since then, said Mr Belgiorno-Nettis had set the orchestra up for the future with his long campaign to get it re-housed at Walsh Bay’s Pier 2-3.
One of Mr Myer’s top priorities as chairman will be to establish an endowment fund, in part so that the ACO can maintain the state-of-the-art home it moved into last year.
“It’s a beautiful facility, but it’s in a century-old building and something will always need fixing,” he said.
About half of the ACO’s existing reserves, which at the end of 2022 stood at $36 million, are ring-fenced for gradual repayment to the NSW government as the orchestra’s contribution to the redeveloped Walsh Bay arts precinct. The overall project cost $371 million for nine new or refurbished homes for major performing arts companies.
Apart from maintenance, Mr Myer hoped a dedicated endowment might allow the ACO to expand its outreach education program, which currently consists of lending instruments and providing tuition to students at a single school: St Marys North Public School in Sydney’s west.
“That school has been transformed in terms of student attendance and engagement,” said Mr Myer, adding that he would use his new position to try and convince the federal government to help fund children’s music education.
“It’s seen as a cost, but really it’s an investment with a massive return for the nation’s kids. It’s no secret that most of the students at the Australian National Academy Of Music are from Queensland because the Queensland government funds more and better music education than any other state.”
Mr Belgiorno-Nettis will remain an ACO director for “a little longer”, he said, mainly to help managing director Richard Evans “tidy up” some aspects of the orchestra’s lease on Pier 2-3 with the NSW government.
Few people know as much about that lease and the long fight to get it as Mr Belgiorno-Nettis, whose campaign to house the ACO on the long-disused wharf began in the early 2000s. Transfield, whose property development arm was then building apartments on some of Walsh Bay’s other wharves, rid Pier 2-3 of termites and repaired its pylons as part of its deal with the NSW government, which had already earmarked the site as an arts precinct.
The 65-year-old Mr Belgiorno-Nettis, whose interest in the ACO was sparked by a childhood learning classical guitar, said he hoped his seat would be assumed by a younger director in time.
“There’s a new generation coming through. If I can help mentor them, that’s great, but it’s appropriate they start taking over and transforming the arts to what they want it to be,” he said.
With his ACO responsibilities having often equated to a full-time job as he helped secure its permanent home, Mr Belgiorno-Nettis said he would now devote more attention to the investments of his family office, Angophora Capital.
A keen sailor with a 57-foot yacht based in Australia, he is also restoring an “old boat” he recently bought in Europe.
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