First Class Magazine’s Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan sits down with 2MBS Fine Music Sydney’s Jill Hickson to talk all things music and travel

It starts with a knock. There’s the sound of the buzzer. I push open the door and enter a courtyard fragrant with early jasmine. Jill Hickson, as she is known in music circles, otherwise Jill Wran, wife of the former Premier of NSW, Neville Wran, glides on to the terrace dressed in elegant black. There is summer in her smile as she invites me into her life of dandelion tea and travels afar.

We sit in her office filled with books and cupboard doors behind which everything is catalogued. “My first job was in Fisher library,” she tells me. And I can see why; she was perfect for it. During our interview I’m treated to lots of memorabilia including a pretty little dress Joan Sutherland brought back from Switzerland for a three-year-old Harriet and documents and newspaper clippings from Jill’s early days at 2MBS Fine Music FM.

Schwarzenberg in Austria

Austria is Jill’s favourite travel destination. It’s where she feels at one with the world whether sipping a hot chocolate in a Viennese café, exploring charming villages or “wandering in the mountains around Schwarzenberg where you actually do come upon children singing like they do in The Sound of Music”.

The very mention of the village of Schwarzenberg moistens her eyes and warms her voice like a low fire in the quiet evening hours. She talks readily about the soft faces of milking cows and the sound of their bells away in the fields during interval at the concerts of Schubertiade, held every June/July in the Western district of Bregenz. It’s a special place and she has a very special souvenir like no other from Schwarzenberg.  “They are my ‘Schubert specs’ she says, fine gold rimmed reading glasses found in a village antique shop.

Some of the happiest times in her life were spent singing, first in school plays, choirs and Eisteddfords and later, after she sold her publishing business, with the Jacobean Singers then based at All Saints Woollahra.  She will go a long way to hear an English Cathedral or College choir. “Vienna, of course, has one of the best choirs, The Vienna Boys Choir.  I took my children to hear them sing in the Hofburg Chapel when we were there in January one year”.

Salzburg’s Mozart Week

In Salzburg, Jill raves about Mozart Week in January and the big Festival there in the spring. The Christmas markets are like no other and for dinner before a concert she loves the Goldener Hirsch but has more often stayed at the Blau Goose. “It’s so uplifting to walk along the River, climb up to the castle, and come upon a Mozart mass in the Cathedral.”

Back home in Australia, Jill loves Adelaide for the festival. She hasn’t missed a festival in many years and especially remembers the premiere of “Voss” with Marilyn Richardson,  Geoffrey Chard, “and that unbelievably moving libretto by David Malouf.  And I certainly never expect to see a better Ring Cycle than the one directed by Elke Neidhardt in 2004”.  Usually she stays at the Intercontinental “because it’s right there in the middle of the theatrical enclave and the choice of quite a few of the visiting artists. Delicious pre-theatre tapas can be had at 2KW up on the top floor of the old bank building on North Terrace, or there is Fishbank downstairs at street level, and numerous interesting restaurants around Peel Street for a good hearty meal,” she says.

Skillogalee Estate in the Clare Valley

With time away from the Festival Jill goes out to the Clare Valley, where lunch in the garden of Skillogalee Estate’s 1851 cottage overlooking the vines is ‘very heaven’. The menu invites a long relaxed meal and chef Diana Palmer’s creations highlight local produce, matched with estate wines.

Jill also is looking forward to ‘bird music’ in the Megalong Valley. ‘Bird music’ refers to the Lyrebird Festival this November with its concerts, nature walks, talks and of course food and wine. She will also be attending Opera Australia’s Ring Cycle this December in Brisbane.