Honorary life member, Leonard Porter passed away on the 18th of February aged 93. Len was the first administrator of the Australian Youth Orchestra (formerly known as the National Music Camp Association) and oversaw the establishment of AYO’s international touring program in the 1970s. AYO’s CEO, Colin Cornish paid tribute to Len Porter at his funeral, the eulogy can be read below.
For many people the AYO brings back very special memories of moments in time when they and other young people display the most inspirational achievements. Len Porter is a person that the AYO remembers as an invaluable, intelligent and thoughtful leader and he retains a very special place in the AYO family. As you will be aware the AYO, or National Music camp Association as it was known until the 1990s, was founded by Jenny’s father and Len’s father-in-law, John Bishop who together with music teacher Ruth Alexander led the development of this important institution until Len Porter became the first full-time professional administrator in 1974.
Today the AYO is a major arts training organisation presenting courses almost monthly for more than 500 of the finest young musicians annually. From children in primary school who do not receive formal music education to postgraduate virtuoso musicians on the verge of a professional career, AYO provides an opportunity to them to connect to great teachers and to be inspired by likeminded individuals.
I am very aware and remind my staff often that AYO would not be able to do what we do without the efforts of all who worked here before us, many whom did so voluntarily or with very little resources in terms of funding and sponsorship. When Len commenced work as the first administrator it was in a modest office in a cottage at St Peter’s College initially without any support staff.
I had the opportunity last week to discuss Len’s time as AYO administrator with Patrick Brislan and Len Amadio, both of whom continue to work in our office in Sydney on a weekly and monthly basis. They reminded me that it was fortuitous that Len was based in Adelaide not in Melbourne where the NMCA office had been prior to 1974 as this led to the establishment of some very important partnerships with the University of Adelaide and Adelaide Festival, to name two, that continue today. In fact, National Music Camp will be held at the University of Adelaide again in January 2017.
Len and Patrick recall Len Porter as a calm, efficient and diplomatic manager whose careful and strategic negotiation with non-arts oriented government officials was very important to the success of the NMCA.
The AYO is Australia’s most toured symphony orchestra and with tours you end up with some great dinner party stories. In fact, during my visits to Len at his home a few years ago it was almost always the touring stories that we ended up talking about. Len Amadio shared with me his memory of the 1975 Asian tour which Len Porter took over management of at short notice. It was going to be a difficult tour – going from tropical humidity in the Philippines to a freezing winter in Japan and South Korea. They encountered a typhoon in Cebu and the threat of cancellation of the South Korean leg when the then dictatorship insisted that all the tour party’s visas had to be reaccredited on the day of the first concert in Seoul. Len Amadio recalled how Len Porter was absolutely calm, unflappable and a tower of strength and reassurance in the face of this crisis. With the assistance of a savvy Ambassador the relevant Ministry office opened on a Sunday and the passports were re-endorsed in the nick of time allowing the concert to go ahead. Len Porter’s time as the first professional administrator of the organisation from 1974 to 1980 laid the vital groundwork for the AYO under the management of Michael Elwood to plan and embark on its first European tour in 1984.
On behalf of the AYO family we thank and acknowledge Len Porter for his contribution to the development of the organisation and importantly the development of young people. I would also like to acknowledge the tireless support Jenny has provided to Len and to thank the family for their generous gesture in inviting donations to the AYO in lieu of flowers.
Each year three orchestras perform at National Music Camp – the Bishop and Alexander Orchestras named after our founders, and third acknowledges a person who has made a significant contribution to Australian musical life. Today I can inform you that when National Music Camp returns to Adelaide in January 2017 the Bishop and Alexander orchestras will share the stage with the Porter Chamber Orchestra. The inspirational sounds of young people on the National Music Camp stage is the best tribute we can pay to Len, Jenny and their family.