Geoff Hughes, of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, is one of Australia’s leading improvising guitarists and music educators. With his fellow musicians in the Michelle Nicolle Quartet, he won the Best Australian Jazz Vocal Album at the Bells Australian Jazz Awards on 16 May. Here, he discusses the win, its significance, and his current and future projects.
Interview by Paul Dalgarno
The album features some well-known and not-so-well-known compositions by legendary composer/bandleader Duke Ellington and his hugely talented co-composer Billy Strayhorn.
It was recorded back in 2015 by the ABC at Southbank, Melbourne, for ABC Jazz but wasn’t released until last year on ABC records.
The quartet comprises Michelle Nicolle on vocals, myself on guitar, Tom Lee on bass, and Ronny Ferella on drums. Michelle, Ronny and Tom are all sessional teachers in the MCM Jazz & Improvisation department.
What does it mean to win an award of this kind? Beyond the immediate kudos, what do you hope the award might lead to?
Awards in music can be difficult territory, although the Bells themselves are ostensibly chosen by a wide community of jazz and improvising musicians and industry people before reaching the final stages. We were nominated in 2013 for the previous album, too. That’s important affirmation for this band and what we are doing.
In the present day it is incredibly difficult to secure gigs in festivals in Australia, and even more so in Asia, and Europe. The US is practically out of reach. Australian acts are competing with a huge number of overseas artists; they usually have to travel further, and the support mechanisms for that are few. This award contributes to a track record of recognition, which, along with concert reviews and other recordings, will help us to that end.
Awards are like the icing on the cake, or a boost to the band's CV when one is looking for an edge. There is also money involved – which helps to alleviate the expenses from previous projects!
Can you tell us a little about the dynamic in the quartet: what you bring to the party, what the others bring? How does it work in theory and how it all comes together in practice?
Michelle is the band leader, as the vocalist, but she, her partner Ronny Ferella and I, have been working in this format now for nearly 20 years. Tom Lee joined us in 2005 – not long out of University – and launched straight into a new album and tour with us in Singapore, Indonesia and Holland (at the Northsea Jazz festival ). He did a great job then and has been with us ever since.
The dynamic of this group is ostensibly a vocal-led interactive ensemble as opposed to a singer with backing musicians. That's a really important part of the sound of this band, which treats even standard repertoire in an eclectic way.
The pressure on Michelle to become SINGER writ large is constant. But the quartet has sustained an interactive approach to every project nonetheless.
Some of the tunes on this album are around 80 years old, but we endeavour to create a sensibility more contingent with the things that have influenced us all as musicians in the 21st century – as well as expressing what we really love about classical jazz music (which is misunderstood by most people).
Michelle is the main driver as far as material and arrangements go – although a lot of work happens in rehearsal where ideas are tested, added or withdrawn. It's also fair to say that, after 20 years of playing, much of our music has developed in performance. These days, our rehearsals are examples of economy in terms of time and frequency.
I have always loved the way that I am accepted as a texturalist in this band, rather than just an accompanist or soloist. It's interesting to me to use the guitar as a way of arranging interesting textures and ambiences.
Do you get more pleasure out of playing alone or in ensembles? What are the pros and cons of each?
I do enjoy both, but playing solo is nerve-wracking. I’m currently working on a recording in my home studio – a solo project from which I hope to generate some live solo playing. I enjoy that in ensembles one has more material to work with straight away by virtue of the other players, as opposed to the sonic "tabula rasa" of solo playing.
The hardest thing about playing solo is dealing with your own silence. My view, though, is that investigating both solo and group playing to a deeper level can really benefit both. It's really all about balancing constructive listening and musical independence.
What projects are you currently excited about? And what’s next for the quartet?
I have been lucky to have been part of two regularly working and touring groups over the last 15 or so years, and countless other freelance and one-off things. Those two groups are the Michelle Nicolle Quartet and also the late Allan Browne’s Quintet, which actually won theBells' Best Small Australian Jazz Group last year for its recording Ithaca Bound.
I'm looking forward to the next step with the remaining four members of Allan Browne’s Quintet. I'm also looking forward to getting my solo project finished – it's been going for a while.The Michelle Nicolle Quartet has been around the world and recorded seven albums together – but we still enjoy touring and the process of getting new album material together.
In 2014 we performed a whole concert of adaptations of music by Bach at Elder Hall in Adelaide, which was a fusion of a whole lot of interesting elements, including free improvisational and groove-based elements along with some more Bach-like contrapuntal conventions. I’m hoping we can get that project into the studio soon.
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Image: From left to right, Ronny Ferella, Tom Lee, Michelle and Geoff Hughes at "Live at the Village" Springfield in the Blue Mountains.
Acclaimed Australian composer and recipient of the 2014 Albert Maggs Award Tim Dargaville will be featured in a portrait concert Speaking in Tongues at the Melbourne Recital Centre on 28 April. The programme includes the world premiere of the Maggs Award composition “Between Breath and Word”, and also a major new solo piano cycle “Kolam”, amongst other works from the past decade of his longstanding career.
Interview by Sarah Hall.
How did the event Speaking in Tongues come to be?
This concert was initially conceived as a result of the 2014 Albert H. Maggs award. This significant award provides resources for the commissioning and performance of a new work, and has done so for many Australian composers over the past 50 years. So for me the planning of the performance event influenced the writing of the new work, and the writing of the work influenced the nature of the program for the concert.
In a sense, this award created the opportunity to bring separate strands of my creative life into a celebration, to frame the new commission as part of a retrospective programme, and also invite significant collaborators to perform in the event. It’s been an exciting 18 months, connecting these aspects of the award together.
Can you tell us about the work that will feature in the concert, including Kolam?
Some of the music in this concert brings together my long term interest and research in the south Indian vocal percussion tradition of Konnakol and the mandala ritual art practice Kolam with my traditional Western classical training.
The Kolam project, which I’ve been working on for more than ten years now, is inspired by the beautiful ritual of daily mandala-making that occurs in Southern Indian Tamil villages, and explores rendering this in a sonic form.
Ten years ago, my partner Rosalie Hastwell and I were Asialink artists in residence, working with Adishakti Theatre in Pondicherry in Southern India. As part of a daily routine we’d see these beautiful rice flower mandala designs on front doorsteps every morning. Our then 12-year-old daughter Ruby was fascinated by these patterns and learned how to make kolam from two Tamil village women who worked for the company.
Ruby’s engagement in this activity also got me interested! As I result, I developed the idea of making kolams in sound by tapping into the Carnatic rhythmic practice of Konnakol that I’d been learning at the Karnataka College of Percussion in Bangalore previously. Since that time I’ve created a body of work for different groups, including for percussion, a saxophone quartet, and orchestra. They’ve all been called Kolam as they are interconnected through using similar musical patterns, and the project is expanding in scale – a bit like the mandala getting bigger and bigger as it draws geometrically outward.
One of the world-premiere works in the Speaking in Tongues program is the 25-minute solo piano cycle Kolam for renowned Sydney pianist Bernadette Harvey. It is comprised of five movements, and is the largest one I’ve done. Bernadette and I have been working on this particular composition together for the past three years. It was a Kolam work that won me the 2014 Albert Maggs Prize initially, so there’s also a nice connection there.
Could you tell us a bit about the world premiere of Albert Maggs Commission work Between Breath and Word?
This new work references some of the other works on the programme in subtle ways, and in that sense is designed to be a summation to the whole concert. I hope the audience experiences a sense of connection to the earlier music on the programme, and also a fresh and surprising reframing, which includes a diverse array of individual sound colours, mixed in surprising and unexpected ways.
I like the idea that a piece of music can take someone’s breath away. In some respects, to me, music is about what we can’t say in words. The title Between Breath and Word reflects that space in which music can make us speechless. That’s the kind of music I strive to make.
Which other musicians who will perform with you for Speaking in Tongues?
Pianist Bernadette Harvey and harpist Marshall McGuire are well known nationally and internationally for being dazzling performers of contemporary Australian music. Both these musicians have regularly commissioned works from many Australian composers including myself, so its wonderful to me that they are both involved in this event.
Also, excitingly, a number of work on the programme will be performed by musicians from the New Music studio at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, conducted by composer Elliott Gyger.
Why the name Speaking in Tongues?
To me composing is actually about making sense of the world that you’re in and the experiences that you have. The experiences I’ve had in South India have been very powerful and in some respects life-changing, and the education that I’ve had in the western classical music world has been equally influential. I’m interested in making music for people that draws on the authenticity of life experience, and is true to who I am. I think that a creative practice in general, and the Speaking in Tongues concept in particular, is about reconciling these very different experiences.
Speaking in Tongues is at the Melbourne Recital Centre on 28 April. Visit the VCA & MCM What’s On page for more information.
The MCM brought 13 cello students and 2 piano students to Hong Kong for 'Academy Cello Week', from 20-24 February 2017 under the sponsorship of the New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant, awarded by the Australian Government.
Hosted by the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (APA), the students participated in masterclasses, workshops and orchestras. They also presented two evening concerts, jointly with the APA students.
The trip ended with a final concert of cello extravaganza, featuring cello ensembles and orchestras made up of students and professionals from Melbourne and Hong Kong.
Watch the video below.
The University of Melbourne has been ranked as number one in Australia for Performing Arts in the recently-released QS World University Rankings.
From a placement in the unspecified 51-100 range in last year’s rankings, the University’s Performing Arts has climbed to number 26 globally.
The QS rankings, produced annually by Quacquarelli Symonds, are designed to offer prospective students effective comparisons of leading universities.
The rankings boost comes as the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music – as the main home of performing arts at the University of Melbourne – continues with an ambitious development program to better serve its students and staff.
Capital development approaching $200 million is currently underway at the Faculty’s Southbank campus, including construction of the new Ian Potter Southbank Centre, a world-class conservatorium due for completion in 2018, the refurbishment of the former Police Stables complex on Dodds Street as a new visual arts wing, also due for completion in 2018, and the Buxton Contemporary gallery, which will open in late 2017.
A number of high-profile national and international staff have recently joined the Faculty, which has also seen a growth in international student numbers, particularly from the Asia-Pacific region.
Greater arts industry links have been forged through initiatives such as the recently-announced, two-year Master of Music (Orchestral Performance) in collaboration with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, which will offer the first qualification of its kind in the Asia-Pacific region.
Dean of the Faculty of VCA & MCM Professor Barry Conyngham said the results were testament to the high levels of commitment, ambition and focus at the Faculty.
“Naturally, as the primary home to the performing arts at the University of Melbourne, we’re delighted with the new QS figures. For some time now, we have been driven by a collective effort to build upon what was already a world-class offering across a wide range of performing arts to students and staff. That effort continues, and will lead, we hope, to ever greater recognition for the quality of programs we offer and a richer performing arts landscape in Australia and overseas.”
Artistic director and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Professor Jane Davidson is gearing up for a powerful Baroque music enactment of the Passion of Christ, at Melbourne’s iconic St Paul’s Cathedral.
By Sarah Hall
Passion, Lament, Glory, a staging originally devised 15 years ago by Professor Jane Davidson of the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, will be brought to life for the first time in Victoria at one of Melbourne’s most iconic cathedrals for two performances at the end of March and start of April.
The work, an enactment of the Passion of Christ that includes aerial artistry, is the second full-scale project to be staged by staff and students of the MCM’s Voice and Early Music Departments, following last year’s hugely successful performance of Marc-Antoine Carpentier’s opera La descente d'Orphée aux enfers (1686).
Now, as then, the artistic team features Professor Davidson as artistic director, and the MCM’s Dr Erin Helyard and Stephen Grant as musical director and choral director respectively. Designer and Victorian College of the Arts alumnus Matthew Adey brings a suitably spectacular dose of visual flair to the proceedings.
The musical centerpiece of the performance will be Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater – an 18th-century meditation on Mary’s suffering during Christ’s crucifixion.
The work’s soprano and alto roles are split between 12 talented female performers – a number that, of course, has a certain Biblical resonance.
“I imagine these twelve women as a close community, like twelve female disciples, supporting Mary and her loss,” says Professor Davidson. “And that’s not accidental. Essentially, I’m trying to attention to the fact that the whole story of Christianity has a very powerful female narrative – even though that’s not something we immediately think about today.”
The project’s themes – love, endurance, suffering, community, and particularly how humans share in grief and sorrow – are universal rather than exclusively religious, says Davidson. “I wanted the work to have that kind of resonance for everyone, whatever their culture or religion.”
Celebrated soprano Jacqueline Porter, an MCM graduate in Music (Performance), will be accompanied by an ensemble of top class Baroque music specialists in Handel’s Salve Regina; while 100 MCM singers will perform excerpts from Handel’s Messiah. It’s probably safe to say the 126-year-old St Paul’s will provide a fitting backdrop for an enactment of this scale.
“Obviously, there’s the historical significance of St Paul’s as a place of worship,” says Professor Davidson. “I think it’s going to be very powerful for everyone in the audience – and for the performers too.”
The performance includes a lot of movement, so not a traditional oratorio-style presentation, says Professor Davidson – an ambition made easier by the fact many of the singers are also trained dancers.
But the most unusual movement spectacle in the piece will be performed by an aerial artist who, thanks to some vigorous rigging now being erected, will take to the gods in the Cathedral towards the end of the work. Award-winning artist Tim Rutty will draw the evening to an appropriate musical and visual high point.
A strong female narrative, breathtaking aerial artistry, beautiful music and massed choral voices reverberating through a spectacular cathedral in the heart of Melbourne – if that seems worthy of your faith, be sure to come along.
Passion, Lament, Glory will be performed at St Paul’s Cathedral, corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Street, Melbourne, on 31 March and 1 April at 7.30pm. Admission: $30 Full / $15 Concession, bookings essential. Please book tickets via EventBrite.
Banner image: Sarah Walker
A two-year Master of Music (Orchestral Performance) will launch today at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (MCM) when University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis and Chair of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) Board Michael Ullmer sign an official Memorandum of Understanding.
The very first qualification of its kind in the Asia Pacific region, the two-year degree has been developed to provide future generations of performing musicians greater employment opportunities both nationally and internationally.
Director of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Professor Gary McPherson, said the program is expected to attract the finest Australian and international musicians, providing them with the vital skills required to develop their careers.
“In addition to developing elite-level performance skills, we want young musicians to be able to manage their professional lives and understand what it takes physically and mentally to sustain a career across decades of performing music.”
“During the course they’ll learn how to identify, manage and prevent the types of health risks associated with performing music and have practical experiences working alongside MSO staff in a host of areas, such as artistic program development, philanthropy, the music library, education outreach programs, and marketing and advertising.”
MSO Managing Director, Sophie Galaise said students will have the opportunity to perform alongside MSO musicians and be mentored by them as they progress through a course that is unique on the world stage.
“We are delighted to be part of such a unique program nurturing young musicians, facilitating collaborations and giving them the opportunity to work with the MSO in state of the art rehearsal facilities and a major international performance venue.
“The graduates of the Orchestral Performance master’s degree will be fully prepared to use their skills, knowledge and understandings within any world-class orchestra, anywhere in the world.”
The course will run out of MCM’s new Ian Potter Southbank Centre next door to the Melbourne Recital Centre and MSO’s Iwaki auditorium and management facilities.
The Master of Music (Orchestral Performance) program will commence in 2018 with enrolments set to open in April this year.
Banner image: The University of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Hamer Hall in 2017. Photo: Sav Schulman
In recognition of the remarkable generosity of The Ian Potter Foundation, the University of Melbourne today announced it will name the new Melbourne Conservatorium of Music building, The Ian Potter Southbank Centre.
This comes as the Foundation announces a donation of $4M to support the building of a new home for MCM students and staff on the University’s Southbank campus. The gift joins a series of donations from the Foundation totalling $14 million towards the revitalisation of the University’s Southbank campus, including their support for the current redevelopment of the former Police Stables in Dodds Street.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis said this latest philanthropic contribution will ensure world-class facilities for students at the MCM into the future and help showcase the talent of Australia’s next generation of artists and performers at the VCA and MCM.
“The importance of philanthropy in supporting the arts cannot be overstated. This is why we are delighted to name the new conservatorium building The Ian Potter Southbank Centre.”
“It is a mark of the Foundation’s vital role in revitalising our Southbank campus, so the work of future artists and musicians, ground breaking art collections and extraordinary architecture can be shared with the people of Melbourne,” Professor Davis said.
Chairman of The Ian Potter Foundation, Mr Charles Goode AC said the Foundation was pleased to support the relocation of the renowned Melbourne Conservatorium of Music to the University’s Art Campus at Southbank.
“It is a significant project in the heart of Melbourne’s Art Precinct and will allow the University to provide expanded music education of the highest quality for future generations,” Mr Goode said.
The Ian Potter Southbank Centre is expected to open its doors in late 2018 for the 2019 academic year.
The gift forms part of Believe - the Campaign for the University of Melbourne, the University’s largest philanthropic undertaking. Aiming to change the lives of future generations, Melbourne is seeking to raise $1 billion in philanthropic funding by 2021, along with engaging 100,000 alumni in the life of the University.
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Banner image: Architect's render of the Ian Potter Southbank Centre. Courtesy of John Wardle Architects.
Originally published on the University of Melbourne Newsroom. Read the original article.
By Will Temple
Watch a group of musicians perform — whether a chamber quartet or stadium rockers — and you can see a key part of playing together successfully is the subtle interaction and communication involved.
For Dr Grace Thompson, a music therapist, lecturer and researcher at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, it is these interactions that drive her work with children newly diagnosed with autism who find it difficult to connect.
“The child might happily play for hours in their own kind of play but if someone tries to join them they are not so interested in that,” Dr Thompson says.
“This is where, for me, music becomes a really powerful tool, because the children are actually motivated by the music and, almost before they realise it, they are interacting with someone at the same time.”
Dr Thompson, a multi-instrumentalist who has been active musically since childhood, first heard about music therapy after getting into the Melbourne Conservatorium as a singer.
She is now the president of the Australian Music Therapy Association and has spent two decades working in the field in special education and early intervention — usually with children aged between three and four.
The weekly sessions typically involve making music in collaboration with the child and their family in whatever style, and using whatever instruments — from guitar to percussion — they respond to best.
“It’s a really tough time for families and for children,” she says.
“Their children are often quite challenging to engage at that early time after diagnosis so the music is important on a whole range of levels. Some parents will say that music is the only thing that calms their child down.
“Some will say their child interacts more, and some will say that it’s the only thing they can do together with their child and enjoy it and so it’s valuable on that level.
“We know a lot of our earliest interactions as human beings are musical — we don’t come into the world talking, but yet we seek to have connections with people. The ways we do that are often through these non-verbal musical interactions.”
Dr Thompson says the way music works to foster these connections is not fully understood but some of the theories being explored are based on early non-verbal musical communication, where “to be musical is deeply human”.
Others revolve around neuroscience, with music working as a particularly active stimulus to our brains, as shown through MRI experiments.
The types of music we enjoy may also be ones we are exposed to early on — even inside the womb. We also associate different pieces with emotional memories, such as a wedding song that a dementia patient may recognise and respond to at a time when they may not even know their spouse anymore.
Dr Thompson says she returned to research at the University of Melbourne because she found herself committed to providing evidence for what music therapists do. She is currently the Australian site manager for the largest psychosocial trial for autism intervention of any kind.
The global trial involves making music with more than 300 children with autism and their families in nine countries across US, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
“It’s a truly multicultural perspective we are getting in this study and we are super-excited to see what the results show,” she says. “What we hope to find is what we feel as music therapists — that there is an impact on the social interaction with the children afterwards.
“We don’t expect to cure autism, that’s not our intention, but we are wanting to make a difference in their skills and their development so they can participate in their communities better.
“If they don’t want to interact with you then it is incredibly difficult to do anything else in terms of development and teaching.”
Furthering this “collision of ideas” from the arts and sciences is something Dr Thompson is deeply committed to in her practice.
She has just had a proposal collaborating with the Melbourne Neuroscience Institute’s researchers approved which aims to look into ways to improve a child’s visual attention using music over other kinds of play.
“We have the ‘Music, Minds and Wellbeing’ initiative which is a partnership between the Conservatorium and Neuroscience,” she says. “That connection between art and science is something that is trying to be fostered.
That’s the agenda — to keep working collaboratively.
As an artist and a therapist I have a certain perspective and I need my colleagues in science to be able to pull those theories together.
“For me, the early childhood time is where I focus my research. I want to have the opportunity to make a difference in the trajectory of development. That’s what really inspires me in my work — the potential for that to have a long-ranging impact on the person.”
The planets have aligned for one of Australia’s best-known composers, but time and tide stop for no-one.
By Paul Dalgarno
Stuart Greenbaum, one of Australia’s most widely-performed composers and Head of Composition at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, is 50. Or, he will be soon. He’s not there yet, despite the imminent Stuart Greenbaum at 50 concert at Melba Hall.
“It was my colleague Dr Elliott Gyger’s idea,” he says. “I’ll be 49 when it happens, but I turn 50 on the 25th of December so, by dint of that technicality, yes, it’s my 50th-birthday year.”
800 Million Heartbeats. Stuart Greenbaum.
When we meet the rehearsals are yet to begin, and Professor Greenbaum is uncertain when, and to what degree, he’ll be involved. “Composers can be overbearingly present when people just need a bit of room,” he says. “Quite possibly I won’t turn up to the first rehearsal. Elliott knows my music and has a good handle on where it’s coming from.”
He views his works, more than 190 for the concert stage, as “living, breathing objects” – which has its pros and cons.
“Regrettably, I’m a revisionist, so every time I listen to my music I’m asking if it’s still what I want. That helps you grow as an artist, but it also means you’re far less likely to be a satisfied human being. Having so many works is like having a beautiful tree in your garden. It gets bigger and more beautiful every year, but sheds more and more leaves that have to be cleared up.”
90 Minutes Circling the Earth. Stuart Greenbaum.
His mother, Betty Scarlett, studied piano at the MCM in the 1950s. His father, Geoffrey, though not a musician, had an influence too. “I have a distinct memory as a seven-year-old of wandering into his study to play him a few bars on the guitar and saying it was my own piece,” he says. “He gave me five cents and said, ‘Can you come up with another one?’”
Professor Greenbaum’s wife, Marianne Rothschild, is a violinist. Their children – Aksel, 12, and Hanna, eight – play the guitar, and cello and piano, respectively. “They’re a handful,” he says. “They’re amazing.”
As a young man, Professor Greenbaum played electric guitars – and rock and pop still inform his compositions. Ross Baglin, his bandmate at 18, remains one of his closest collaborators. Together, with Baglin as librettist, they have created two successful operas (Nelson, 2005, and The Parrot Factory, 2010), 11 choral works, numerous art songs.
“We don’t rubbish each other’s work but we also don’t tiptoe around issues,” says Professor Greenbaum. “There’s a lot of humour and goodwill between us.”
Symphony No.2 “Double Planet”. Stuart Greenbaum.
Following his Masters degree in the early 90s, he found work as a composer with Melbourne’s Playbox Theatre, writing music for scenes that may, or may not, make the cut. “It drove me to distraction,” he says. “But in retrospect I’m so immensely grateful to all those people because they radically influenced how I think about time and drama in music.”
In the years since, his music has become more sophisticated and complex but its DNA remains the same. “I’ve always written music that’s harmonically and rhythmically overt and direct. My musical language now is not radically different from when I was 25, half a lifetime ago.”
On the most basic level, it is steered by what sounds good. “But more deeply it’s actually about existentialism. You get to a point in your career where there’s no point in writing another piece unless there’s something new in it.”
Fragments of Gratification. Stuart Greenbaum.
Up to 90% of his composition process now takes place at a screen. “But if I sit down and try to write a melody straight into the computer, it’s doomed,” he says. “A certain amount of musical impetus needs to be coming from your inner ear or a real musical instrument.”
It can come when he’s out walking, riding his bike, doing the groceries. “I could be lying in bed at four in the morning thinking I don’t want to get up, but if I don’t I might not remember what’s buzzing around in my head. Once something feels alive and is in the basket, I can do all manner of things with it.”
One need only look at titles such as 800 Million Heartbeat, Double Planet, and 90 Minutes Circling the Earth, for clues to Professor Greenbaum’s thematic concerns: the universe, and our place within it, looms large. “I love that metaphor for what it says about individuals, what our lives mean, our connectivity, our borders, our wars ...”
In space, of course, no-one can hear you clap – and that’s fine. “I think most artists seek an audience,” he says. “But applause, I’m not so sure. Compositionally, what I secretly desire is lots of silence either side of my work. I’d feel guilty for the performers but if I had my way no-one would clap at the end – the audience would just walk out.”
The Flinders Quartet play Stuart Greenbaum String Quartet No.6 The Lonely Planet.
He is currently ten pieces into a suite of 20 for his Sonata Project, which will involve a major recital work for all the major orchestral instruments, and a couple of others besides. “Most of them are accompanied by piano, so they’re really duos,” he says. “It means they’re very achievable in performance terms.” The portability of that model, its replicability compared to an orchestra piece, appeals.
“Contemporary music’s single biggest problem is too many one-night stands,” he says. “It’s like saying to a rock group, ‘Change your personnel every three weeks’ – you probably won’t end up sounding like the Rolling Stones that way.”
controlling the roller-coaster
Not surprisingly, combining a full-time senior academic position and two young children with writing music presents its challenges – a big one being time. “I’ve asked myself whether I’d be happier if I just stopped writing completely,” he says. “My music is one of the most exciting things in my life, but it’s also one of the most depressing, and I’m not in full control of that roller-coaster.
“But I think I’m probably hard-wired to be wandering around wondering about this stuff. I just have to try and do as best I can and try not to torture the people around me.”
Professor Stuart Greenbaum ... at 49. Photo: Sarah Fisher.
Time is playing on his mind in other ways , as the big 5-0 approaches. “I’ve read articles that say 51, 52 and 53 can be fabulous,” he says. “But I’m an atheist. I think the time we have on the planet is all we get. The thought of mortality sits uncomfortably with me and I think a lot of my music ultimately is about that. Some of my pieces are melancholic and sad but I deeply hope they also have an element of consolation about them.”
Isn’t that what music does, I wonder. Isn’t that the whole point?
“There’s a quote by the late American author Kurt Vonnegut that says, ‘We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is’. I think that pretty much sums up how I feel.”
New Music Studio: Stuart Greenbaum at 50, takes place on 12 December 2016, 6.00pm–7.00pm at Melba Hall, Parkville, Melbourne. Full details here.
Banner image: Stuart Greenbaum. Photo: Sarah Fisher
This article was first published on Pursuit. Read the original article.
Composer Peter Knight has been awarded the 2016 Albert H Maggs Composition Award for his work Diomira.
Administered annually by the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, the Albert H Maggs Composition Award provides an Australian composer funding to create a new musical work of a substantial nature.
The judging panel for 2016 included Professor Stuart Greenbaum, Dr Katy Abbott Kvasnica and Dr Miriama Young (University of Melbourne), and Professor Matthew Hindson (University of Sydney). Speaking about the winning entry, the panel noted:
"Peter Knight's work is inherently emotive and sonically arresting. It creates a rich and intricate post-minimalist sound world, gradually slowing in tempo, to reveal a soundscape of electronic glitches, vocalisations and real-world sounds. The effect over time is compelling and thought-provoking. We look forward to hearing the new work that the Award commissions.”
Peter Knight is an award-winning composer and multi-instrumentalist, and is the Artistic Director of the Australian Art Orchestra. He holds a doctorate from Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University.
The Albert H Maggs Composition Award offers a $7,000 commission to write a new work with a performance subsidy of $3,000 and is open to all Australian composers. Visit the scholarship page for information about how to apply.
Banner image: Composer Peter Maggs. Photo: peterknightmusic.com
Shauntai Batzke, gospel and opera singer and songwriter, is a Wiradjuri woman who grew up in Sydney.
By Gabrielle Murphy
The daughter of one of Australia’s best, but unheralded boxing champions Wally Carr, Ms Batzke is one of the first Indigenous Australians to gain a Bachelor’s degree majoring in classical voice at the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
So like her mentors, renowned Yorta Yorta soprano Deborah Cheetham AO and bass baritone and Yorta Yorta man Tiriki Onus, Ms Batzke is a trailblazer following in the footsteps of the very first Australian Indigenous opera singer Harold Blair.
“I was just seven when I first saw Whitney Houston on TV,” says Ms Batzke. “It was at that moment I realised there was a possibility of hope. To be what I feel I was born to be. To sing.”
In August, Ms Batzke travelled to New York City to attend summer school at the Belle Arti Center for the Arts as part of the Canto de las Americas – a workshop for aspiring artists in their vocal arts program.
The world is now her stage and this is her story.
By Katherine Smith
Here’s a challenge: take a book with very little dialogue, a book that has birds and war as its two dominant themes, that begins in Queensland and ends on the Western Front, and is much beloved by readers. Then turn it into a one-hour opera.
Composer and University of Melbourne academic Elliott Gyger has done just that with Fly Away Peter, an adaptation of David Malouf’s classic Australian novella of the same name.
The opera was completed earlier this year and after a successful May run in Sydney, will be on stage in the Fairfax Studio as part of the 2015 Melbourne Festival.
Dr Gyger, who teaches in the Composition section at the Melbourne Conservatorium, says he’s not sure exactly why, but in opera, there are rarely any “new” stories.
“For some reason contemporary operas, and in fact even the really well known older operas, are almost all adaptations. There are very few operas that are a completely original script.”
He says libretti (the words that accompany the music in opera and convey the narrative) are strange beasts.
“The text tells a story with characters but it’s certainly not a play script. And it has to have poetry in it, but it can’t be self-contained poetry. It has to leave space for music.
“Malouf’s writing is very musical, very poetic. He’s interested in opera himself, and has even written libretti, although this is the first opera based on one of his own books. And he’s a patron of Sydney Chamber Opera, who debuted this piece, so there were some nice synergies there.”
Dr Gyger says audiences for new operas are small, as they are for new (classical) music in general, but that people respond very directly to it.
“Opera is a very immediate medium, or it can be.”
Fly Away Peter is Dr Gyger’s first opera, although he explains he grew up getting to know all the classic operas, influenced by his parents who were great opera buffs.
“At some point I found the historical nature of opera off-putting, even absurd. It just doesn’t make sense to people: people don’t sing to each other.”
“But what opera’s really great at is voicing internal states of mind and emotion. What brings traditional operas to life is not so much the dramatic exchange of what is actually happening, it’s the arias where the characters are pouring out their souls that are the real heart of opera.
“Musicals make this even clearer than opera, where most of the dialogue takes place with the spoken word, and is quasi realistic, and then suddenly the character launches into song, and you’re taken to another space: it’s their imagination, or the inside of their head and they’re conveying emotions which are too impassioned for mere words.”
The biggest challenge the Fly Away Peter story presented to the creative team was putting World War 1 on stage, something Dr Gyger says was “clearly impossible”.
“We had to find a way to portray the soldiers that Jim, the main character, interacts with. So the tenor needed to play several characters, one by one. It relies on a really good actor, because there’s no time for costume changes and the like, it’s all done with body language and expression.”
For a show like Fly Away Peter, Dr Gyger says voice and acting skills are equally important.
“With such a small cast there’s nowhere to hide. You have none of the spectacle of an opera with a cast of thousands, big expensive sets, and elephants on stage.
“You’ve got three people who have to carry the whole show for over an hour just with the power of their acting and their voices.”
By Hannes Lackman, Bachelor of Fine Arts (Contemporary Music)
On the 28th of April, five students from Contemporary Music embarked on a trip to the musically-marinated land of Cuba. I was lucky enough to be part of this, I could have never of anticipated what I gained from the experience, and for that I am truly grateful to Alex Pertout and the University of Melbourne.
After a plethora of bumps and hiccups – a lost luggage bag, a missed flight, a potential bomb threat, and a number of food-related digestion issues – we had finally arrived in Havana. I walked out of the airport instantly greeted by an overwhelming wet heat. The strangely delightful smell of cigar smoke and fried chips was intoxicating after the sterility of the Boeing 737.
After coming through L.A where the sound of smiley-faced-corporate advertisements, brand new SUV engines, and blockbuster voices dominated the airwaves, I became drunk with aural pleasure as new sounds cascaded into perception. The rumble of a ’50s Chevrolet engine, the thunder of an all-too-close incoming plane, the patter of bare feet on concrete mixed with the clop of wooden soles on old marble floors, and the glorious squabble of the Spanish tongue. Our tourist guide – Eleanor – had a particularly explosive laugh that garnished the sound-cocktail of Havana. That rolling, bouncy language would become our first music lesson.
As we pulled out of the terminal and into the city, Eleanor gave us a rundown of the different municipalities as we went past them. Havana is divided into areas of function, rather than suburbs. For example on our way to the Tourist Area, we passed through the Education Municipal which had a monstrous library and a refurbished 1700s Spanish era building for the high school, then through the Communication Municipal – where a mailing system, and the telephone and internet companies operated.
We arrived at the Hotel Plaza – our home for the next 12 days – late at night. We walked into the foyer and were welcomed by more marble-clopping, more cigar smoke, and Steven Wyld the filmmaker who would document our trip.
The next day, we began our tuition with Cuban-Conga Royalty, Roman Justo ‘Pella Apito’ Hernendez, who would be our Afro-Cuban percussion teacher for the next 10 days. Pella (Pay-Ya) specialises in a particular type of Afro-Cuban percussion, which is considered as ‘folkloric’ due to the geographic and historic aspects of the music. His father founded a highly respected rumba ensemble, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, and is a founding member of Conjunto Folkloric Nacional de Cuba – a large Cuban Folkloric organisation. We spent the first day with him in a function room on the roof top of our hotel in 33 degree heat, with no air conditioning, and no idea what we were doing. After six hours, we were dripping with sweat, our hands were tingling and swollen from the raw hide conga skins and we knew this trip wasn’t going to be a regular tourist holiday.
Our first obstacle was the language barrier. Generally, the Cubans we met could speak a little broken English and generally as a group we sucked at Spanish. However Pella spoke no English, and so in the lessons our only form of communication (when we didn’t have Alex or Steven translating) was through listening – very intensely – to the rhythms he would play, and we would attempt to replicate them.
Our next challenge was letting go of our western learning method. We were used to a musical education that relies on a piece of paper with symbols and notation, a metronomic pulse that dictates a strict and uncompromising time signature and old faithful beat one. This concept was non-existent in Pella’s teaching, or if it was, it seemed to hidden in a maze of syncopation, and he would NEVER begin a rhythm on beat one. Ever.
On the second day, we had another rhythmic boot camp with Pella, and after our lesson, he took us all to our first rumba, held at Patio de la Rumba.
A great lecturer of mine once told me that when we play music, we are simply manipulating energy. The energy generated by the 100+ people at this rumba would be able to power the Melbourne Cricket Gorund (MCG). For five grand finals. When I left the rumba, my perception of rhythm – and the effect it can have on people – had a whole new gravity. The dancers, singers and the drummers have a connection with each other that runs deep in the peoples’ history, and was extraordinary to witness and be a part of.
There is a harsh reality of a communist, third-world country showing some poverty amongst its citizens. Selene and Sean from our group had a pretty sobering experience with a local who was – to put politely – unhappy with the way things were. However it became evident for me that their strength and resilience comes from an unrelenting commitment to each other, to their music and their spirituality; the three elements seem to go hand in hand with food, water and oxygen for them. By the end of our trip we had seen some rumbas, we had danced a disturbing version of salsa, and could string together a sentence in Spanish, but I feel as though we had just scraped the surface of a world of music that we as westerners may never fully understand. As disappointing as that sounds, it only makes me more excited to do my best interpretation of what I experienced and to continue learning from this culture and its music.
Led by Alex Pertout, five contemporary music students were able to experience the music scene in Havana as part of the Faculty’s Global Atelier program. Global Atelier is made possible with the support of the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music at the University of Melbourne by the Victorian Government through Arts Victoria.
This article was first published on VCA & MCM Channel in 2015.