To say it has been the most unexpectedly delightful of years would be a massive understatement. In order to take stock of where I’ve come from, where I am at, and where I think I’d like to go from here, I wanted to write down exactly what I’ve been spending my time on these past 12 months. This is the first year where I’ve really felt that being a composer is my ‘job’ (rather than a side hustle I squeeze into the spaces between teaching), so for anyone wondering what that might look like, here’s an outline.
I feel I must mention that I’m very aware that while 2021 has been very good for me overall, I realise that not all echo my sentiments, especially those in the arts, music, and entertainment industries. For once I can be thankful that I’m a composer- I do not need to travel to write music, I work mostly by myself, and I’m not used to earning a living through my work. The biggest change for me in 2021 (and upon reflection, this really did start in mid-2020) is that I found myself with time to write lots of music, and I decided to invest myself in this, and other related, pursuits. It was a choice I am privileged to have been able to make, and I have the support and encouragement of my husband Andrew to thank for a lot of it.
So here goes- here is my summary of what being a composer looked like for me in 2021.
Dance Vignettes: Meditation and Hymn; Fancy and Flight; Scamper and Scoot – for solo marimba
Technically, at least 1 and a half of these pieces were composed very late 2020, but there was enough tweaking done this year to count them in this list. Initially, this project was simply piggy-backing on Claire Edwardes’ very timely and important Rhythms of Change project, taking advantage of her invitation to write a few pieces if I had the time and inclination. I ended up getting a small APRA Creative Recovery Grant to fund the commission, which was then gratefully matched by a private donor. Rhythms of Change aims to increase awareness amongst composers on how to write well for the marimba, and at the same time adds works by Australian female composers to the repertoire pool appropriate for late high school/early tertiary performers. These little pieces (which my son says sound like ring tones 😊) have had a few live outings in Sydney and on ABC Classic, and are now recorded on Claire’s latest album.
Grounded – for Cello and Guitar
Courtesy of a Momentum III commission received late 2019 (supported by Sue & Richard Willgoss and the Australian Music Centre) I had the opportunity to compose this work for Sharon and Slava Grigoryan. It was a delightful challenge to write again for guitar- something I find very difficult but highly rewarding. Sharon and Slava have performed the work many times since it’s ‘release’ in April, and a recording of it will open my debut album ‘Advice To A Girl’, available in early 2022.
Love Is Born – for wind orchestra
My friend David John Lang asked me early in the year if I’d consider arranging this movement of my Requiem (originally for vocal quartet and organ) for wind orchestra. I really had enough on my plate at the time, but when I re-listened to it, imagining the potential that he could hear, I quickly recognised that it was something I really wanted to do. Being an arrangement, I thought it would be fairly easy and quick. Because I loved doing it so much, I spent much more time on it than I intended. The result is rather lovely (if I do say so myself,) and I was blessed with two performances, one in April by the Adelaide Wind Orchestra with David conducting, and the other in May by the Sydney Conservatorium Wind Ensemble, led by Steven Hillinger.
A Gathering – for unaccompanied Chamber Choir
Carl Crossin approached me late last year to ask if I was interested and able to write a new work for the Adelaide Chamber Singers for their 2021 season. As I was privy to the insider knowledge that this would mark Carl’s final year as Artistic Director of ACS, it was incredible humbling to be asked to do this. To be honest, at the time I wasn’t sure where I was going to fit it in, knowing already I had a concerto and another vocal work to compose before the end of April. But there was no way I was saying no to this- I would find a way to make it happen.
As is often the case for me with vocal works, finding the right text was half the battle. After much searching, I decided upon the poem ‘Gathering’ by Canberra-based writer Paul Hetherington, and from there the notes flowed. This was my fifth commission for ACS, making me their most commissioned composer in their 35-year history. I don’t state this honour lightly: it is an incredible privilege to be asked, again and again, to write for these singers. They have completely and utterly spoiled me when it comes to writing for choir.
The Rest Is Silence – Concerto for Cor Anglais and Orchestra
This was a big one. I found out about the commission from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra around September 2019, and from memory didn’t start putting notes on paper until late Feb/early March. It was due late April…! It’s one of those projects where I can honestly say that the time spent marinating in the ideas and thoughts behind the work really, really helped. Man, it’s scary to not write when you have a writing deadline looming for a work that you really want to do well with. But sometimes (often…?) it’s just what’s needed. This kind of process also reminds me why it is so gosh-darn hard to say how long something is going to take as a composer. The note-writing bit for this one was far quicker than usual (and I will continue to say to students, DO NOT leave orchestral pieces to the last minute!)- but I know the work was coming together in the back of my mind, somehow, for months before I actually put pencil to paper.
In any case, I’m really very proud of this work and how it turned out. Trouble is, I’m yet to hear it live… the premiere went ahead in Melbourne without me and without an audience. This performance is currently available to subscribers through MSO Live. Thankfully, the MSO have been gracious enough to re-program it for September next year, so fingers-and-everything crossed that I, along with many others, can get to hear it properly then. I’m also really looking forward to meeting my soloist, Michael Pisani, who was such a delight to collaborate with and who did such an outstanding job interpreting my notes even though I wasn’t present.
First Last-Light – duet for Soprano, Tenor and Piano
So this was a new experience for me- one day, I get an email from a choir in Paris asking me if I’d be interested in representing Oceania in their international commissioning project, helping to put together a concert of new works for voice and piano which recognise the 40th anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in France. Um…. Sure, why not! With such a specific theme, text selection was a challenge. So too was (a) not knowing who I was writing for, and (b) a super-short deadline. With many thanks to Peter Goldsworthy (who helped out on the text front), I wrote this somber and affective duet which puts to music a conversation between a man on death row and his mother. Jointly funded by the Choeur Philharmonique International and the Australian National Commission for UNESCO, this work was quite a step outside of my usual and more comfortable musical themes, but a great challenge nonetheless. The work will receive its third performance in Paris in early February 2022, and the Australian Premiere will be given at the Coriole Music Festival in May, with Lorina Gore and Kim Worely as soloists.
Ruby – for solo clarinet
Early in the year I was delighted to find I had been selected as one of the 67 composers to take part in ‘The ANAM Set’ – a mass commissioning initiative that saw every instrumental student at the Australian National Academy of Music in Melbourne paired with an Australian composer who would write them a work for their end of year recital. There was just so much I loved about this project- the advocacy of connection between performer and composer, the demonstration to up and coming performers of how and why they should consider commissioning new music, and the inclusion of fresh, new Australian music in each and every recital- just to name a few!
I was paired with clarinettist Clare Fox, who is originally from the Blue Mountains in NSW. Due to distance and Covid, our communication was all via email, phone and zoom, but together we created an in memorium work for Clare’s beautiful friend Ruby. I say we created it because, while I was the one writing the notes, the idea for the work was all Clare. I felt guided by her memories of Ruby as I gradually sought out the essence of the piece, and much of the spirit of the work is thanks to her interpretation and guidance. This was a really special project to be a part of, and all being well, I look forward to hearing the work live (along with the ‘full set’ of works composed for the project) at the ANAM Set festival in May next year.
Prayer to the Spirit of the New Year – for Soprano and Piano
The stunning poem which I used for this song is by the late Australian poet and activist Roberta (Bobbi) Sykes. I came across it when searching – in desperation- for a text for the Paris UNESCO commission. A problem in gaining appropriate permissions to use the text led me to go down another path for the duet. When the problem was solved a month or so later, I remained interested in using the text but needed a different project. That project turned out to be a commission from Adelaide New Music stalwarts The Firm for a song for Karina Bailey and Yundi Yuan. Karina gave a beautiful premiere of the work in Elder Hall in September. When time allows, I’d love to add more settings of Bobbi’s words to create a song cycle that celebrates and explores her unique voice.
Ruddy Turnstone – for solo violin; Sanctuary – for violin and cello
I’ve grouped these two works together as they were both commissioned by Simone and Anthony of the Bowerbird Collective for their current migratory bird project. We started early in the year when I accompanied Simone to the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary and mangroves at St Kilda, north of Adelaide. It was so fascinating to watch these totally ordinary-looking and seemingly unremarkable little birds, knowing that they were preparing for a bi-annual journey across the globe. There was something very humbling and poignant about learning about this place and its significance environmentally; my prior knowledge didn’t extend past the playground, and remembering primary-school excursions to the mangroves (which were considered boring at the time.)
Ruddy Turnstone is rhythmic and inquisitive and mostly go go go- just like the little, non-descript shorebird whose call is manipulated throughout the work. Sanctuary slows down, takes a deep breath, and reflects how a sacred natural space evolves from one of rest, through to movement/feeding, and then eventually flight. Both these works are in Simone and Anthony’s safe hands now, and I look forward with anticipation to see what they do with them. (If anyone is familiar with their previous project Where Song Began, you’ll understand what I mean by ‘doing something’ with them! The notes here are only the beginning…)
90 Years of Life – for violin, viola, cello and double bass
There’s nothing like a deadline to get things happening- this commission from my dear friend Diané was begun, completed and recorded in the space of about 3 weeks! Diané wanted to surprise her favourite uncle with something he would never expect to receive for his 90th birthday- a piece of music. I composed a joyful and uplifting little piece (well, maybe not so little, as it ended up being about 6 minutes long, I had too much fun, clearly!) which was then recorded and videoed by students at Immanuel College, and then unveiled at the birthday party in Sydney the following week. I’m intending to make some arrangements (string quartet, solo string with piano, string orchestra etc.) of the work next year, as I think it has something to say and could be quite valuable – and hopefully fun!- for intermediate ensembles. Given most of my commissions are for professionals, this one was quite the eye-opener, both in terms of how to best approach pedagogical writing, and how much fun it can be to play with simple. catchy ideas in relatively simple ways.
all that is beautiful – for viola and double bass
I was approached by Rob Nairn about writing something for him and his wife Heidi right at the start of the year. With things turning the way they did (busy), and an open-ended deadline on the project, this turned out to be the last piece I wrote this year. And in full disclosure, it’s not quite finished yet… let’s just say it’s marinating over the Christmas break 😊. This work will form a small part of the Seidler Oratorio, an immense project that seeks to create musical interpretations or settings of renowned architect Harry Seidler’s war diaries. The section I’ve chosen to represent musically is about loss and displacement, and I’m having fun (and learning loads!) playing with some interesting techniques on the double bass.
The following were released this year- all are available on streaming services; Afterword, Dance Vignettes and ‘Lied’ (the 2nd movement of Songs Without Words) are on actually CD’s!
AWARDS & RECOGNITION
OTHER BITS AND PIECES
If you’ve read this far, gee, you mustn’t have much else to do!! In all seriousness though, thank you for your interest and support- it really does mean a great deal to know that people out there care and are interested in what I do. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2022, full of unexpected adventures and joyful music making.
Occasional thoughts, musings and program notes.