(Rehearsal Magazine)

Rehearsal Magazine: The Archive

(Articles & Program Notes)
Published – 18.12.2023
(Writing)

For several years while at university, and while beginning my career in arts administration, I ran an online magazine called Rehearsal. Here is a (rather long) selection of work, for posterity. Most of these interviews were conducted by me, but some were commissioned. I learned so much running this platform and am incredibly proud of the work that myself and my collaborators made for Australian music students and industry members.

In Conversation: Lotte Betts-Dean

I caught up with Lotte Betts-Dean really early in the morning at the start of the week, following her whirlwind tour of Tasmania. I’ve known Lotte for a number of years now, and whenever we speak I’m super compelled by her sense of fun and her innate musicality. It’s in everything she does – on and off stage. Here, over flat whites, we talk about programming, hustling overseas and the people that make this crazy freelance music life possible. This chat started with a very lengthy analysis of dietary requirements (we have none) and where I got my very-uncool-but-very-cool music related pencils which say “don’t take that tone with me” – a must for all teachers/parents/generally grumpy people. We’ve spared you that chat, and saved you all the good bits. Enjoy!

MS: Let’s talk about your recital!

LBD: Yes, the recital! It’s being presented by the Lieder Society of Victoria, who I’ve been working with for years now. I’ve done so many different projects with them, and they’ve been incredibly supportive. The venue, which is the Camberwell Uniting Church, is the space they’re affiliated with at the moment. We’ve called the recital “Fantaisies françaises” - it’s a celebration of French song, including music by Poulenc, Messiaen, Honegger, Debussy, Satie and Ravel. I knew I wanted to do a recital with Konrad Olszewski while I was here, because we have been working together for so long. Before I moved to London, we played really frequently together, he was my go-to guy! And he’s a close friend as well; someone that I see every time I come back to Australia, but since I left, we haven’t had a chance to collaborate musically. So, part of the reason we’re doing this is because I wanted to find a way to collaborate with him again! We’re going to hang out and play some beautiful music and it’ll be like it was in undergrad. Hang on, I’m going to just pause and have a little more coffee.

MS: Is coffee something you miss when you’re travelling heaps? Like, good Melbourne café coffee? Or is London just as good now?

LBD: Actually, a bunch of London cafes are owned by Australians, which is hilarious, because maybe we do actually make coffee better? There’s something very reliable about a Melbourne brew; everywhere else in the world it’s a bit up in the air, could be great, could be terrible. It’s always nice walking into a London coffee shop and hearing an Australian accent though.

MS: You worked in a coffee shop in London, right? When you first got there?

LBD: I did! I pulled pints in a pub for a bit, then I worked part-time in a cute coffee shop in Wapping for a few years. I wasn’t the world’s best barista or anything, I couldn’t do latte art, but the coffee was super good. That’s how I paid the rent while I was doing my Masters at the Royal Academy of Music - working these kinds of jobs. I think you have to do a few random odd jobs to find your feet when you get to a new place. You land and kind of think, okay, I need to pay rent and get my shit together, and you hustle a bit.

MS: So you moved there to study, and that was all sorted, but everything else still needed to fall into place?

LBD: Exactly – I was going to music college and that was sorted, and I had somewhere to stay, which was awesome, but there are lots of other things that you take for granted a bit when you’re home. As I said, I worked at a pub and that was fun for a few months until I realised I definitely needed to be in bed earlier so I could get up and go to school! The coffee shop gig suited me better while I was studying and not able to sing for work due to student visa requirements. I also had a little stint working at the Museum at the Royal Academy, which was interesting.

MS: Was it full of musical paraphernalia?

LBD: Yes, and all these amazing old pianos! It was my job to wrap them up in their blankets and send them off to sleep at the end of the day. It was pretty cute!

MS: I didn’t know that job existed!

LBD: It was a pretty great one, actually. A lot of international students at the Academy end up working there as a side gig, the school prioritises them getting jobs because of the visa limitations on performance work.

MS: But, while you weren’t performing for money, I imagine it was still pretty crazy, with classes and performance projects at school?

LBD: It was SO busy. There wouldn’t actually have been time to think about my career outside of all that, honestly. But all of these projects helped establish my London network. I think I knew that as soon as my Masters ended I had to be able to hustle and develop my career. I’m a born hustler, I’ve always been like this! I had worked really hard at my freelance career in Australia before moving over to the UK, so I knew what had to be done, and I was prepared for the ups and downs that get thrown at you. It wasn’t easy, and I suppose in some ways it’s still not easy, you just get used to it. I still occasionally do non-musical work and honestly, many musicians do. For the past two summers, I’ve worked at Opera Holland Park in London, working for the administrative/event side of things and it’s really fun. It’s nice to get to know an arts organisation away from the stage.

MS: Do you think it helps with your on-stage work, understanding what goes on behind-the-scenes?

LBD: Absolutely, it’s important to see that side of operations and communicate with the audience and supporters that make these shows possible. It also allows me to observe and enjoy a summer opera festival while still being able to hang onto my concert commitments. For concert singers, which is what I’m focussing my time on at the moment, you can’t really commit to losing your entire season working in an opera, so working in an administrative way allows me to engage in both the opera and concert worlds. I think it’s about where I’m at in my career, where my interests lie and what kinds of music I want to be performing - for me, concert work is the priority at the moment.

MS: I’d love to know about the concert work priority, and why you love performing in this way so much.

LBD: I’m obsessed with it – the opportunity to work on lots of different kinds of music all the time. Working on a bunch of different repertoire is the best; I think variety is the most important thing for me as an artist right now. It allows my voice to adapt and change, and I love the challenge that comes along with that. I’m getting a real kick out of working on things that challenge and extend me and my instrument. I’m also really into lots of different styles - early music, new music, art song, opera, 20th Century, Jazz, Bossa nova... being a concert singer allows me to engage in all of these styles, all the time. The repertoire turnover is extremely high but I love it!

MS: So, when you’re into new work and old work and stuff that extends you and you’ve got an hour to fill with literally anything, where do you even start?

LBD: There are a few ways I go about programming a concert. You can pick a thematic link, or program based on a common thread like a particular language or country. A recent recital I gave was based around the idea of death, and the celebration that the event could be. It included Purcell, Bach, Kurtág, David Lang, Radiohead and Death Cab for Cutie - it was a real mixed bag, but it made total sense. The audience got to experience that one heavy concept in several ways, which deepened the experience, but also made it more relatable. I really like to include different styles within one program - for example, right now I’m working on a program that combines the music of John Dowland and Nick Drake. Another programme I have coming up in the UK is connected by the texts- it’s all about the fairytales and poems of Hans Christian Andersen. For this recital in Camberwell, Konrad and I have built the programme around French song. There will be some rarely performed cycles and some beloved cycles as well. Because there’s no a thematic link, we’ve worked on building an emotional journey for the audience to follow. There’s enough space for the people listening to come up with their own narrative too, which I think is important. We’ll pop the poetry in the program, and then based on those words, everyone can come up with their own conclusions.

MS: Why is chamber music so important? Is the chamber music emotional journey more potent, do you think?

LBD: Ah, I think my answer to this question will change a million times throughout my life. A constant factor is the immediacy of it all – the treatment of poetry and music, the intimacy between the instrumentalists and then with their audience. It hits you straight away. I saw the Doric String Quartet the other day and watching them communicate between each other and then to us - it just totally bowled me over, it was so moving. There’s something stripped back about chamber music: it has the core of what you’ll get in an orchestral setting, but without the excess. It feels to me like the most potent form of music. Maybe that’ll change, but right now, it’s the peak for me. It’s all the best bits of everything distilled, and communication between every ensemble member, the poet, the composer, the musicians and the audience, is so important.

MS: It’s about relationships.

LBD: Yes, there are so many relationships active in chamber music. There’s the relationship of the text to the music, of the composer to the poet, the composer to the musicians - and then that gets delivered to the audience and it has come full circle. I’m going to cry! Also, kind of non-philosophically, it just has an incredible, varied repertoire. There are so many treasures, many of which are not heard nearly enough.

MS: So, speaking of relationships, tell me about working with different associate artists.

LBD: That’s the most important connection. Sometimes you’re in a situation where you’re performing this amazing, intimate music with someone you’ve known for literally five minutes, right? And that’s cool and it brings its own kind of magic and energy. But when you’re working with someone you know and someone who knows you, something really special happens. It’s such a blessing to be able to work with the same people often, and keep coming back again and again to repertoire you know, but also to new repertoire, because you have this innate understanding of that person’s musicality. You know what they’ll do with certain phrasing, articulation. You’re also able to be way more efficient with your rehearsals this way.

MS: So, Konrad?

LBD: Yes! He’s a great mate, we’ve been friends for a long time. I think working on this recital will be like going back to the beginning, when we were undergrads discovering music for the first time together. We were obsessed with just getting through new repertoire - I would spend HOURS at the Melbourne Uni music library hunting for things we could tackle together. I’m pretty sure there’s a photo of us at a party reading through Rachmaninoff from that time – we just wanted to learn and learn. It’ll be exciting to revisit that feeling!

MS: On the topic of mates and relationships, and making music work, I’d like to ask who makes this wacky freelance life in the arts possible for you?

LBD: I think I have to start with my friends, in the UK and Australia, who have turned into my colleagues. I think the musicians with whom you work (that want to keep working with you), are the ones that make things happen and believe in you and make you hustle. They keep you hungry. The musicians in my life, my friends and colleagues from around the world, they’re the ones that make it possible for me. They give me energy and drive, and we fire each other up, we get each other gigs. My family too, they’ve been such a driving force. I really look up to my parents. I bounce my ideas off them all the time, they have a lot of artistic input. I think artistic support is so important, like, an understanding of what I’m trying to do and the path I’m on. I’m really lucky to have that in my family. And my boyfriend is an enormous support. He used to be a cellist and works in orchestral management, so he really just gets what being a musician is all about. I think watching the relationship my parents have has really made me understand how important it is to have support from a partner. They are super encouraging of each other – they support and challenge one another, and egg each other on and they believe in each other. I really feel that at home, from my boyfriend, and I’m so grateful. Does that answer the question? I’m really lucky, I think, to have all this emotional support.

My Rehearsal Room: Alex Raineri

It takes a village to raise a music festival, so what happens when you put one musician in charge of everything? Well, first of all, you need to find a pretty exceptional leader. Alex Raineri is that person: he’s a pianist based in Brisbane but known all over Australia and internationally for his virtuosity and musicality. As a pianist, he says, it’s part of your job to become a curator. Your start early, figuring out “how to fill a solo program, whether that means three pieces or a half an hour set”. So perhaps his newest venture, the Brisbane Music Festival, was meant to be for this pianist. We caught up with Alex to grab five of the most important things he has learnt about mounting a new festival.

You can start with the repertoire first.

The Brisbane Music Festival is an idea I’ve been chipping away at for a few years and it has become a collection of concerts with a multipurpose aim. The most powerful rationale to begin with though, was to program pieces that have been on my bucket list forever! It sounds cheesy but my list of big chamber works that I’ve never had an opportunity to perform is enormous and eclectic, and building concerts around these works seemed like the perfect opportunity to play them in public! It’s similar for the musicians that I’m working with during the festival - Macarthur Clough, Lachlan O’Donnell and Katherine Philp - they have the same feelings about the repertoire. As working freelance musicians, you often get told what’s on the program, so it’s really exciting to have complete freedom over what we get to play. There’s no specific thread throughout the overall festival; each concert is an individual offering of works that I am incredibly passionate about. The whole festival has been about looking for possibilities and creating opportunities to play interesting works together.

It’s not easy, but you can be in charge of organisation and also perform.

I keep doing this to myself! Building these enormous programs and then going through the stages of grief to get them ready. This time though, I think I’ve played roughly half of the repertoire before, which doesn’t make it easy, but does make it easier. It’s mentally and emotionally tiring to try difficult things in a highly pressurised environment like, say, a brand new festival, but I thrive on living on the edge of chaos, I think! I also think there is some truth in the saying that when there is too much to do, you don’t leave any time to get stressed. It’s not the most practical way of working, but that’s part of it too - there is innate risk in curation because you’re placing passion above practicality. That for me is where the joy is.

Having a strategy for pulling audiences is pretty damn important.

I try, when I’m programming new works, to make sure that there’s an appropriately marketable slant to the overall concert. When you’re working on putting together a concert, it’s important to remember how entrenched you are in the new music world, particularly compared to the audience who is buying your tickets. Finding a balance that respects the music for what it is but also allows for it to be heard the new music sphere is what I’m working towards. I’ve tried to pair familiar sounding pieces with those that stretch your ear a little. I think there’s something to be said for complimenting by dissonance! Everyone knows what they already like to listen to, and I’m all about broadening that in a positive way.

People are sometimes still confronted by Boulez on a program because it’s not what their ears were expecting. In saying that, though, if a performance is given with gusto and skill, it’s rare for an audience to have a bad experience. Getting audiences to turn up to the event in the first place though, that’s the hardest thing! That’s why I’m leaning towards juxtaposing the old and the new, the known and the unknown.

“Think big until you’re restricted by practicality”

A part of my driving ethos as a musician is to contribute to the musical community that I exist in; that’s where my drive to work with composers and commission new music comes from. For me personally, there is a deeper, more meaningful factor when you feel as though you’re part of the process, making a positive impact. That’s an essential part of being a musician and being a piano player. There are so many good pianists and I’ve never been driven by being competitive. I don’t need to be the world’s greatest piano player, but I do want to keep creating and pushing my own boundaries.

I’m passionate about all the work I do. It’s a tricky business to be in and the act of making music and staying in top form requires dedication. It comes with emotional sweeps up and down the spectrum, but curating makes you stand back from that and feels more holistic. It requires you to believe in yourself and your vision, which isn’t always easy as a performer.

Finding like-minded supporters and communities is crucial.

I’ve been grateful for all the support I’ve had along the way from funding and philanthropy. I think I’ve been fortunate so far in my curation experience to have never been truly stuck, and as a result, I’ve never had a bad experience. There have been difficult parts of the process, but it has been a journey and every new step in the process has gone towards refining my overall skills. I’m practicing curating right now like I practice the piano - you have to do it to know you can.

In Conversation: Kay Zhang

As well as being an accomplished saxophonist and wearing many curatorial hats, you're an interdisciplinary collaborator, with an interest in visual communications. How did this particular strain of your artistic DNA come to the forefront?

It’s an interesting question; I think it all started when I began organizing my own concerts in Melbourne and then taking that idea overseas. Away from Australia, I found it extremely difficult to explore the idea of how performance can be more than just something static that you watch happen on stage. I think it was also a lot of trial and error, trying things and being able to embrace mistakes, failures and transitions. I think I am also extremely lucky to have built up my network and to be able to work with open and diverse people. To be able to collaborate with different people from many art disciplines allows one to really explore and open another dimension to your practice.

You've performed in theatres and festivals all over the world, in a variety of contexts. How does travel and language impact your practice and your understanding of collaboration?

Travel is the best form of learning and developing your own practice. You are able to unleash things you have wanted to do for a long time and receive a clean slate. This is purity! You are able to gain perspective and reflect on yourself and the way you interact with other people, cultures and, of course, language. Learning how to speak, present and focus on a new language has been a huge process. It’s the essence of how to express yourself, but also how you interact with one another. Of course, what you say is important, but how you say it sometimes holds even more weight.

You're currently working on Des astres (medusas) at the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste; an interactive piece that sits between role-playing, installation and music theatre. Where did the concept come from and why does this mode of storytelling work best in this instance?

Des astres developed from an existing project that my ensemble Kollektiv International Totem (KIT) developed in 2017 for the Amsterdam Fringe Festival. KIT consists of Leo Collin, Nuria Khasenova, Mariana Viera Gruenig, Dalius Singer, Leandro Gianni and myself. We are also working with dramaturgist and director Sabrina Tannen. We work together to create new music theatre productions, in this case, a crime story about a fictional character Percy (known as Perseus from the Greek myth, Medusa) who is on a mission to solve a murder case. However, this production of Des astres it is set sometime in the past in a city called XXXX, and explores place through a fictional lawsuit against Melissa Gordon, the famous hacker who leaked documents regarding the Stolen Data Day. We invite the audience to try out our prototype of the video game Des Astres based on this story. If the audience doesn’t feel like playing the game we also offer a tour of the game's location. We take elements of contemporary music, multimedia (electronics, videos, video games), scenography, displacement of rooms, but also object instruments, for example, a shaver becoming a microphone, and recyclable material as musical instruments, made by Kaspar Konig with technical realization by Eric Larrieux. Medusa is a complicated story; it’s a myth that sees the main characters' destinies determined before they're born, and then follows the consequences of their destinies playing out. We decided to put as many elements of ourselves and our disciplines into the mix to co-create a story. KIT’s motto is always to try and consider what the audience will want to experience and what challenges we can create using sound through theatre. The combination of role-playing, installation and music theatre allows us to input different themes based on our remake version of the Greek mythology: video gaming, jellyfish (check the google translation), data and surveillance and biodiversity; which leaves our work open to multiple impressions.

Let's talk about interactive theatre - how does it work and what does the audience need to bring to the table? Are there risks involved in leaving the piece in the hands of an unknown third party (i.e. a different audience every night)?

In Des Astres, we feature different paths that the audience will be lead through via headphones. We want to highlight the space and take the audience on a sonic experience together with a written text. The audience needs to bring curiosity and an open mind. Our productions are always varied and so the expectations are always different. Yes, of course, there are risks, especially when we are dealing with the conscious mind and how the actions of the audience impact the story, but leaving the work in the hands of a third party is very interesting. It forces us to constantly update and consolidate our show and allows us to enhance the experience based on the feedback and observations of the audience. It also opens up a dialogue, breaking the cycle of equilibrium authorisation and hierarchy between artists and audience.

Why is theatre a "place of utopias", and how, as artists and audience members, can we use this belief to progress the form and also our understanding of the world beyond the stage?

As a musician, we think that the theatre is a utopia place - it is a platform where you can engage and intertwine different elements of storytelling, costume, scenography, music and staging. I think it really depends what concept and situation you want to contribute for the audience. To provide an experience for the audience which can include elements of everyday life or past experiences is important. Moreover, integrating what we deal with in the contexts of today’s society to be more approachable and create a platform to open up conversations is distinctly possible on stage, and should be explored.

My Rehearsal Room: Cameron Jamieson

It seems strange to begin in the middle of events but, as a tutti musician, this is where my contribution begins. The musicians arriving at Santa Sabina College in Sydney is a turning point. This is where the hours of behind-the-scenes organising (and the inevitable agonising) are transmuted from logistical plans to visible, audible existence.

The life of a musician is rarely one that begins at five a.m. but after a concert the night before, my partner, Natalia Harvey, and I have flown directly to rehearsal. When the taxi–airport–taxi dance is complete, we immediately forget any tiredness seeing the warm smiles of one of the friendliest orchestras I've had the privilege of working in, the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra. This project is called “Poetical Melodies” and is all about the strings. Around the room there are several people in various stages of jet lag having flown back from different European engagements, some suitcases in one corner and a few cups of tea already on the go. We are greeted by a colleague with typical endearing grace and youthful energy. One violinist is busily getting a string change in early (just in case a well-used piece of gut snaps in a crucial moment) and another player is laughing about some antics from a previous gig (probably involving a great pair of shoes). There's a general buzz of excitement, spearheaded by the joyous return of Rachael Beesley (now exchanging her administrative hat to take her place as our concertmaster and director ready to unify a room rich with experience).

As the works on the program come from the Romantic Period, we tune to four-forty (higher than our last orchestral project at four-thirty). The first challenge has already started as our gut strings rebel, dropping pitch quickly, rising unexpectedly or snapping abruptly (I received a mild lashing on my second day). If music is defined as any kind of sound, then music is constant throughout the day as players try to pluck strings and twiddle pegs surreptitiously when their gut strings misbehave.

When Nicole van Bruggen, principal clarinetist & general manager steps up to welcome the musicians in her administrative role, her excitement is electric. Her passion for the music is obvious as she addresses a room of friends and like-minded champions of this Art.

There is also a quietly acknowledged absence, the father of this team – Richard Gill AO. Thoughts and hope for him hang in everyone's minds. Memories of his charisma, hilarious antics and deep commitment to giving music to every person gives further gravitas to the task at hand. We are proud to bring life to something he cares deeply about just as we care much about him.

Throughout the week, we dissect passages of the music in detail and investigate stylistic performance choices. We refer to treatises of the period, performance traditions past and present as well as our own analysis of the composer's markings. Then, the technical execution to bring these choices into performance is discussed with particular attention to articulation, dynamic and tone control.

One example of a discussion focused on the marking of the word “crescendo”, building from a prior piano to a forte marked later, yet – in the middle of this volume increase – there appears the notation modernly used for a diminuendo – the “>” symbol. A contemporary approach may be confusing given the simultaneously opposing markings. However, in this case, we believe the marking refers to the type of sound. Following this, the technical choices to execute the passage in this way are confirmed. For this phrase, the increasing speed of bow and vibrato as well as narrower vibrato width. These discussions unify the interpretation of the writing and the consequential technical choices made by the musicians to create a consistent sound with scholarly support. All of this under the direction of Rachael's vast knowledge – as it is ultimately her responsibility to make the artistic decisions when there are variations in thought.

Personally, performing with the earthy unique character of gut strings and with the freedom from compulsory modern equipment is a wonderful feeling. Exploring the sounds of the period gives the deepest layer of expression and a sense of authenticity to what the composer was articulating. I can sense how we all believe in the style.

The music is approached with a shared conscience and respect for the composer's writing and the context and traditions of the period. Led from the front, the players share their knowledge in a positive, friendly atmosphere. Surely this is music as it was meant to be made.

Musical Partners: Kieran Welch and Allison Wright

Firstly, how did you meet and what was your first collaborative experience?

Allison Wright: I met Kieran at Bang on a Can's Summer Festival in 2016, where we were both performing fellows. Though we didn't collaborate at that festival, I was keenly aware of Kieran's work once I heard him ask a question in a seminar about funding his concert series. How he described his artistic vision for Dots+Loops sounded extremely similar to my vision for the concert series I had been running for a few years; Kammervolk. Naturally, it didn't take long for us to get talking about what would happen if we were to team up. Our first official collaboration was for Dots+Loops' Synthesis project in March this year. It saw Kieran commission me to compose a new work and I had the opportunity to perform in two other pieces on the program, which was a huge honour and a lot of fun.

Kieran Welch: Despite living in the same country, Allison and I only met for the first time in North Adams, Massachusetts, at the 2016 Bang on a Can Summer Festival. But after two short years of knowing and working with each other, it feels like I've known her my whole life. From artistic goals and dreams to obscure memes, we just seem to be on the same wavelength, and even better, I think our differences compliment each other too. Things that I wish I could do just seem to come naturally to Allison, and I feel so lucky to have come across such a great collaborator. Technically our first collaborative experience was at Bang on a Can, working through the most difficult chamber orchestra piece either of us had ever played—It was touch and go for a while, but we both emerged triumphant at the other end. However, our first properly collaborative project was the Dots+Loops Companions festival last year. I had Allison up to Brisbane to talk about her career and artistic output in a fantastic workshop about career development for young musicians, but she quickly and easily slid into the role of co-producer of the festival. I've always found it so hard to even explain to anyone else how to help me run a Dots+Loops show, but Allison just got it and was getting things done before I even had a chance to ask.

Tell me about the Liminality Festival - what it's all about and where your role comes in.

Allison Wright: For me, the meaning behind the Liminality Festival is twofold. Firstly, it's a celebration of the new artistic partnership between Kieran and I, and secondly, an opportunity to present music and live art that explores the magic feeling of things in transition. The works being presented all have a particular link to this feeling, but achieve it through very different means. I've stepped into the role of co-artistic director at Dots+Loops, which sees me curating one full day of the festival. This is a really exciting opportunity for me, and the artists I've gathered are phenomenal. In addition to my role as curator, I'll also be co-composing an audio/visual work with Elliott Hughes & Tilman Robinson which features the three of us as performers, in conversation with the work of an exceptional team of visual & digital artists including Robert Jarvis, Sean Healy & Ellen Sorensen. So my creative role is diverse, but on Kieran's line-up, I'll be running around as a stagehand and most likely pouring you a glass of wine.

Dots+Loops is all about creating immersive experiences based around post-genre music and collaboration. What does post-genre mean here, and how do you connect with audiences through the performance experience?

Allison Wright: This is a phrase that Kieran introduced me to; it baffled me at first but now I adore it. The ethos behind it links back to our shared passion for inclusivity, whilst also including our passion for innovation. We want to produce gigs that anyone and everyone can attend, regardless of education & socio-economic position. There is a financial barrier for a lot of people to attend traditional programming in traditional concert spaces, which is caused by a multitude of reasons, some unavoidable and some not. Then there's also the socialised associations and stigmas around performances in those spaces, which is a whole other can of worms. The idea of our programming being 'post-genre' means we don't belong to an entrenched aesthetic, which we find better reflects the diversity of our artistic community. It also allows us to combine elements from all over the place in order to best suit the creative expression, without being tied to the expectations of a genre. This means we get to make art for art's sake.

Kieran Welch: Post-genre means the freedom to create music and art without borders. With Dots+Loops, that means non-hierarchically taking aspects from different musical and artistic worlds, and combining them in a way to create something exciting and new. Everyone who comes will find something familiar and welcoming, but also something exciting and different. It's a place where audience, performers and creators are all valued as equally important parts of the artistic process—and can all have a great time too!

What interests you about cross-city collaborations, and what is the value of working across both Queensland and Melbourne, from an artistic perspective?

Kieran Welch: More and more I've started to find that it's weirdly easier in Australia to find opportunities and funding to perform and create art overseas than it is to do so interstate. I realised last year that the major Australian cities all have a very distinct sound as far as art music goes, and while having a unique sound and tradition is something each city can be proud of, it also seems to me that the scenes are weirdly isolated from each other, and that at times the unique approach and sound of each city I mentioned is simply due to a lack of opportunity to collaborate with Australians from other states. I strongly believe that Brisbane has one of the most exciting and unique post-genre scenes in the world, but all the amazing work we're creating often ends up staying close to home. Likewise, every time I go to Melbourne, I'm blown away by the creativity and vision of the arts practitioners there, in particular, the uniquely multidisciplinary approach they have in so many things they do. There are few people I've come across who tackle this multidisciplinary approach in a more exciting way than Allison, and I can't wait to share the stuff she's curated with our amazing artistic communities here in Brisbane. And likewise, I'm so excited for the opportunity to bring a touch of Brisbane's own unique artistic vibes down to Victoria.

As a co-artistic director, what do you hope to achieve through your programming at the Liminality Festival?

Allison Wright: My style of curatorship has always been a focus on bringing exceptionally talented people together, putting them in a room with each other and seeing what happens. It never fails to surprise me, as collaborations in this way always produce something completely new. Doing things this way also fosters a sense of community by linking other artists to each other and to our audiences.

Kieran Welch: This is the thirteenth Dots+Loops show I've curated, and throughout this process I've realised that my programming can be about much more than sharing bangin' tunes with lovely people. I've realised that in my own small way, it can also assist in creating the kind of world I want to live in — that is, I can reflect my social values through what I do, and I'm actually in quite an amazing position to do so. I'd never program a concert without music by a female or non-binary composer, and always aim for at least equity in this respect. I can support and champion amazing local and young talent. I can encourage inclusivity, and supportive, active artistic communities through the way I enact the whole concert. But at the same time, the reason I started Dots+Loops was to create a chilled out, fun and social way to enjoy bangin' adventurous tunes—something that I'd actively want to go to on a Friday night with my mates—and the series will always be equally about that. And most luckily, in Allison I've found a collaborator who gets all of the above and then some.

How has your past experience as a curator and performer influenced your approach to this project? What learnings will you be bringing to the festival?

Allison Wright: I'll be bringing my experience as artistic director of Kammervolk Collective into this project in the form of multi-disciplinary performance, which is always something I've been passionate about. Liminality features the same team of mixed media artists we worked with on Kammervolk's 'The North Voice' in September last year, who were added into that project quite late into the production period (literally the day of the performance!!). We had such a fantastic time working together that we vowed to find an appropriate time to stage such a collaboration again and with much more production and development this time around. Calling themselves 'comp.artmental', the group is led by Robert Jarvis (video artist) and features Sean Healy (video synthesis) and Ellen Sorensen (papercraft, puppetry), and their work will be featured in the collaboration with myself, Elliott Hughes & Tilman Robinson.

In Conversation: Joby Talbot

Path of Miracles, originally written for Tenebrae, is a work that seeks to spread peace and light throughout an increasingly challenging world. Can you tell me about the process of writing this emotional work - where the concept came from and what the message is that you were hoping to share with the listener?

The original idea for the piece came from Nigel Short, the founder and conductor of Tenebrae, and singer Gabriel Crouch who I had met when I wrote the madrigal The Wishing Tree for The Kings' Singers. Gabriel called me and asked whether I'd like to be one of four composers to work with Tenebrae on a new project about the Camino de Santiago. The original idea was to have the choir walk the pilgrimage, performing the new pieces singly, then sing all four together for the first time in Santiago itself. I imagined this incredible choir singing my music in such an extraordinary context and immediately asked (rather presumptuously) whether I could, in fact, write all four movements! I then travelled to northern Spain and visited the four locations after which the movements of the piece are named. The very different feelings I experienced in each place gave me the idea of for the overall structure of the work. Roncesvalles would be a energetic prelude - a coming together of people filled with excitement at the journey ahead of them; Burgos a kind of a Dies Irae; Leon a Lux Aeterna; and Santiago a joyous finale with a contemplative postlude inspired by the cliffs of Finisterra - the 'end of the world' on the Galician coast.

The text is made up of numerous multilingual historical and sacred documents, combined with the poems of English writer Robert Dickinson. How did you choose and combine the writings that you used and what was it about Dickinson's style that worked so well alongside the other texts?

I'd come across Robert Dickinson when I read his poem Proofs which is about medieval French saints. It was published in The Independent newspaper and I was so struck by the tone of the poem - which, in a few short verses, offers a devastating critique of organised religion, while celebrating the beauty of simple faith - that I cut it out and kept it in my wallet for years. On some level, I must have known that the Tenebrae commission was going to come along one day! With the help of The Poetry Foundation, I contacted Robert and asked him if he'd be interested in working with me on the project. Meanwhile, Gabriel Crouch put me in touch with the historian, Professor Jack Sage, who is an expert on medieval Spain based at Kings' College, London. Jack gave me a pile of ancient texts associated with the Camino, and Robert set to work setting them in the context of his own verse with my four-movement structure in mind. The idea of incorporating a wide variety of languages refers to the extraordinary mixing of cultures that the medieval Camino enabled, something that is still a striking feature of the modern-day pilgrimage.

Across four movements, Path of Miracles follows the pilgrim trail, Camino de Santiago; offering to the audience an understanding of the difficulties and privileges of travel. Has traveling been an important part of your life and work? How does travel complement or inspire your creative practice?

Travel has always been important to me and an inspiring part of my creative life. I think that deep down in all of us is the urge to keep moving, and journeying through space enhances and celebrates life's journey through time. Path of Miracles is a piece about journeying in the widest sense of the term and I intend the experience of listening to & performing the work to feel like a journey in itself.

What are the challenges and highlights of writing music for choir?

Like most musicians growing up in Britain, I sung in a lot of choirs as a kid but always thought of myself as an orchestral player and composer first and foremost. Path of Miracles was the first substantial choral piece I'd written and I guess I brought a kind of useful naivety to the process of writing for Tenebrae. Nigel Short had given me the range of each individual singer before I started and I think I basically wrote for them as though they were instruments. I really had no idea whether it was going to work but I kept in mind that a similar approach had served me well with The Wishing Tree and fortunately it all turned out well.

You've said that the ultimate message of the work, but also all music, is to share hope for humanity. For you as a composer, why is music such a powerful medium for sharing love and empathy?

I think that, at heart, all my music (or at least all my good music) is about that. Music is a communicative art form that transcends language and can express the widest possible palette of emotions. When people come together to perform and listen to a piece like Path of Miracles it's a very lovely thing - a beautiful act of faith that I hope will have a lasting and positive impact on everyone involved. It sounds trite to say that music brings people together, but it does, and in an increasingly unstable and fragmented world this is important.

For young musicians hoping to get into composition, do you have any advice for choosing and setting texts?

Choose texts that speak to you and respect them in the setting. You can do all kinds of things with the words when setting them to music but they should never lose their integrity. I also feel that it's important to pick words that seem to want to be put to music, otherwise what's the point? So much poetry, for instance, is most beautiful when spoken, so I would avoid setting that. Likewise, I would avoid setting anything too prosaic. Most importantly make sure you can sing your vocal lines. I'm not a great singer so I know that if I can manage the pitches and rhythms a proper singer will have a great time performing it.

In Conversation: Zubin Kanga

Backstage Music will present Sound-Light Geometries this Saturday - an exploration of music, light, architecture and movement. Tell me about these elements; what interests you about them and why music works as a way of interpreting their relationship?

Musical performance is not just a sonic art – it is (and always has been) a multimedia art, drawing together the sonic and the visual. A lot of composers have played with these different elements in different ways by drawing together different art forms – Xenakis created analogous music and architecture using the same mathematical processes, and Kagel integrated surreal theatrical elements into his music.

In recent years, there's been a renewed interest in exploring these different connections between the arts, but now with the frame of the internet and modern digital culture. This new approach (which in Europe is called various names including The New Discipline and Music in the Extended Field) has gone from being a fringe genre to now becoming one of the dominant features of the contemporary music scene in Europe. In London (where I live) most of the exciting new work by younger composers and performers is interdisciplinary and exploring these connections of music, film, video art, theatre, comedy and internet culture. A lot of my recent solo work has been in this field, and so it's great to put on a performance of this type with local Sydney musicians who have their own very unique take on combining sound and visuals.

You are a performer as a well as a composer in this concert; how does each practice inform the other for you? Is your compositional work influenced by the ways you perform and is your compositional style informed by your intimate knowledge of performance practice and collaboration?

Yes, these practices are symbiotic. I started out wanting to be a composer, but my confidence in my work waned just as my performing career was taking off. So it's really great to come back to it with the knowledge I've gained by being a performer and commissioner. As a performer working with composers, I play many roles: a coach, a sounding board, a project manager, an expert consultant, a puppet and a lab rat – I've learned a lot from every composer I've worked with and try to share my knowledge of the instrument with them too.

I actually think all composers should be able to perform and all performers should be able to compose – they're complementary skills and specialisation into one or the other is quite a modern invention.

As a pianist - a role that is often associated with solo repertoire and practice - what do you enjoy about working in collaboration with so many different artists, including those working outside music in sound design, electronics, etc.?

Being a pianist is a very lonely profession – only composers are bigger loners than us! A lot of it is hard work behind closed doors, so I always enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with other musicians or artists of any type. And I fundamentally believe that true creativity is always a social act and being part of a living, growing creative ecosystem is the primary purpose of being an artist.

Your work looks at expanding the piano by incorporating interactive multimedia. What are the synergies between the keyboard and multimedia platforms, and how did you come across this combination initially?

I don't think there are obvious synergies. A piano is a machine of sorts, and keyboards are very useful for controlling other media. But I really started integrating these elements because I found there was so much more that could happen in a concert, and that the integration of music with the other arts is the way forward for contemporary music. And I also just have a great passion for all these other art forms, and it's been very enjoyable bringing together my musical practice with my love of film, comedy, theatre and internet culture (Alexander Schubert's WIKI-PIANO.NET*, which is co-composed by the internet community and changes with every performance is one of my favourite recent commissions). There's also something really interesting about having all these different digital components interacting with a live musician on stage – it's just far more compelling than if you had all these same technologies but without a live performer.

*Wiki Piano: A piece for piano and the internet community. It is composed by everyone. At every time. The composition is notated as an editable Wiki internet page and is subject to constant change and fluctuation.

How does your current research practice impact your performance and composition? Has commencing this type of work changed your approach in any way?

Research for me has always been connected to my practice, and an avenue to do some deeper thinking about the big questions that emerge from our work as musicians. My current post-doc at Royal Holloway, University of London is looking at soloists (mainly in the UK, but with a number of international participants) who are using new technologies to extend their bodies and instruments in different ways. I really want to look at these questions of music, technology and the growth of interdisciplinary work from the perspective of performers, rather than composers. This has an obvious impact on my own work, as it facilitates a lot of auto-ethnographic reflection on my practice, and also allows me to learn from amazing colleagues around the world by observing and discussing their practices in a lot of detail. And as with composing and performing, I think all musicians should be researchers to some extent – thinking deeply about the bigger questions of our art and practice should be central to being an artist.

In Conversation: Alexander Yau

Alexander, an enormous congratulations on your recent win at the Sydney Eisteddfod! Can you tell us a little about how you got competition-ready: how you prepared for your performances and what the differences are when getting ready for an eisteddfod compared to a regular recital?

I have done this John Allison Piano scholarship multiple times already and was admitted into the finals a total of three times, so I felt comfortable with this competition process and environment. Preparing for an eisteddfod competition is very different to a regular recital, because in a recital I play for 45 mins or more with a long program, whereas in an eisteddfod, I only prepare one or two works. Therefore choosing the ‘right’ works for an eisteddfod is a crucial element to ensure success - the ‘right’ works have to be something you feel you can play better than anyone else.

You performed Liszt's Sonata in B minor - what does the work mean to you and how did you first come across it?

Liszt’s Sonata in B minor means a lot to me. It was one of the first of Liszt’s works that I ever listened to and I was immediately awestruck by its grandeur. I have been playing it since I was 10 and felt ready to perform it on stage at the age of 21. I visited Weimar earlier this year, where Liszt wrote this work and many others; the place not only represented the spirit of Liszt and 19th-century literature but also was the place that Liszt really began his career as a composer whilst being a virtuoso pianist. Having been to this place made me feel more connected to Liszt and his Sonata, so I am very fortunate to have been able to share my feelings and ideas about it in the finals.

Piano lessons began for you at age 6; what are some of your early memories with the instrument, and do you remember the moment you decided that performing was the thing you wanted to do professionally?

My early memories with the piano were simply being too ambitious and not practising much but learning and playing pieces that I hear. That moment only came where I realised that playing the piano was something I had to do each day, equivalent to having dinner. The true moment that I wanted to do piano seriously and professionally was only after my success at the 2015 Lev Vlassenko Piano Competition.

This prize will allow you to pursue further study internationally on the piano - how important is it for emerging artists to continue their studies overseas and where do you hope this scholarship will take you?

I think it is only important for emerging artists to continue their studies overseas if they have a clear goal of what they want to achieve and how they would go about achieving it. It may be to seek after a particular teacher to improve certain aspects of piano playing or composers’ works or musical style, or to gain a wider reputation, or to seek experience and absorbing the traditions of a certain city in Europe to help gain insightful interpretations.

I will be using this scholarship as part of my funds for studying at the Juilliard School in New York with Matti Raekallio, which commences in September this year. I plan to explore and perform works, which I have not played much of before, which are works by Russian composers in 20th century and music after 1950 as well as exotic works from various national schools.

If you could give a piece of advice to pianists taking part in the Sydney Eisteddfod next year, what would you like them to know?

In general, eisteddfods are great platforms for young pianists to build up performance experience and confidence. The competition results are not the most important and they must not let that affect the mentality of the young pianists. Treat the eisteddfod as a performance opportunity and always remind ourselves that we will never stop learning, no what matter at what stage we are in.

Finally, why do you play the piano? What do you hope audiences get out of your performances?

I was not born to play the piano, I merely started it as a hobby and gradually became attached to it. It is, in a way an extension of myself; a way to express ideas and emotions.When I perform, I hope to create a sensation or an experience for the audience, to make them feel something. The whole performance is meant to be an emotional journey, where the audiences’ state of mind or mood is changed and inspired after the end of a piece or a recital.

In Conversation: Elliott Hughes

First things first, what is an augmented trumpet and where did the idea come from?

The Augmented Trumpet is a just regular trumpet with a sensor attached to the valves, used to perform electroacoustic music. The sensor follows the movement of each valve up to down, and that data is sent to the computer. Then, with the software I'm using, I program the electronic effects to be controlled and synchronised with the normal movements of playing the trumpet.

The idea was inspired by Japanese/American violinist Mari Kimura's Augmented Violin project. She developed a glove that the performer wears on their bowing hand, which can pick up whether the performer is playing a downbow or upbow, which string is being bowed, and how long each bow stroke is. When I first saw it I was captivated by how it transformed the way you could perform electroacoustic music, and immediately thought about how I could apply that idea to the trumpet.

You've commissioned a number of local composers to write for this exciting new brass instrument - what were some of the challenges when commissioning for a completely new sound, and how did you work around them?

The first challenge is that very few people in Australia have seen any 'Augmented' instruments, so just explaining & demonstrating what it does and why that's useful was an important place to start. It really surprises people how precise the electronics can follow along with the live sound, and also just how many different sound options you have! I think every composer came back to me asking 'can it do this?' and 99 times out of 100 my answer was yes!

Also, to help the composers I wrote a little guidebook (available here for free!) that explains how the instrument works and gives some examples of what I've attempted so far.

I think one of the other challenges was that it really adds another layer of thinking for the composer when they're writing. You're already thinking about normal compositional things like structure, pacing, colour, as well as what sounds you to create through the electronics; but then on top of that, you've got to think about what interaction is going on between the sensor and electronics. It's a lot to get your head around!

How collaborative have each of the commissions been? What is the process for you in creating a new work with a composer, from beginning to end?

So, after I invited each composer to be part of the project, I sent around some recordings of what I've already done to try to show the breadth of sounds you could create. We each met one-on-one as well so they could ask questions and talk through their ideas. After that, each composer just started writing their piece and sent me a score when it was ready! Once I'd read through the works, I started programming the electronics for each piece and then we met up again, this time to get really into the shape of the piece together, because the electronics I'm building need to fit closely with how the composer imagined it would sound. We also went through the normal stuff when you're playing a new piece - how's this tempo, how's this phrasing, dynamics, articulation etc. This was actually quite a new experience for me because usually I'm on the other side as the composer presenting a new work, rather than performer learning the new work!

You have already performed improvisations on the augmented trumpet but never notated work. Moving forward, do you see possibilities for other instrumentalists to perform your commissions and play on the new instrument?

Yes absolutely! I'd love to see this idea spread and these works be performed by other performers. This year I've actually been developing a 3D printed model of my sensor that will fit onto any trumpet (the original sensor is made out of PVC pipe, velcro and gaffer tape...). So ideally, anyone with a trumpet, the sensor, a microphone and a computer could perform these works. That's a little way off yet, but we'll get there!

Each piece will be accompanied by live visuals: can you tell us about these projections and why offering a multisensory audience experience is important to you?

I've always loved live visuals at electroacoustic music concerts - I see it as a challenge to find the relationship between one and the other. Electroacoustic music performance can also be quite difficult to watch as an audience member if the performer is really focussing on a computer while they're playing - it can almost become a barrier, and you can just can't see what's happening on the screen so maybe you feel left out a little? Whatever the reason, I feel having live visuals can make the performance more engaging for the audience.

The other reason I'm creating the visuals for this gig was more of a personal challenge. The software I used to do the Augmented Trumpet sound, Max MSP, has a whole other side of it that creates visuals. I've used this software for six or seven years now and never really looked into it, and so I just thought, why not?!

Finally, why is it crucial that we keep pushing the boundaries of what our traditional orchestral instruments can do in a performance setting?

I think it's always been happening; instruments have always been changing and developing alongside the music of the day. I mean, trumpets and horns wouldn't have any valves if someone hadn't thought it'd be pretty cool if those instruments could play a chromatic scale! Perhaps now this is just trying to incorporate today's technology with our centuries-old instruments in meaningful ways. I really believe that using electronics with instruments broadens our range of expression, and just lets us create so many more colours! And also, it's probably my composer brain, but I'm constantly looking for another cool new sound. And then another, and another, and another...

My Rehearsal Room: Lachlan R. Dale

I can trace my interest in record labels back to my late teens, when I begun to work with a friend on his independent label. It didn’t quite align with my tastes (it focused on extreme metal; my new label focuses on world music - so a slight difference) but I got invaluable experience in press engagement, digital marketing and event production.

Eventually I decided to start a label of my own, Art As Catharsis, which celebrates Australian music that is progressive, psychedelic or thoughtful. I was particularly interested in looking at local music with an experimental edge. We have released a wide range of styles in an attempt to represent the ingenuity of local artists. After seven years of running Art As Catharsis (and gathering a small but loyal following), my personal musical tastes began to shift away from heavy, progressive sounds and more towards the classical, instrumental music of the Afghanistan, Turkey and Iran. Worlds Within Worlds, my new label, is a response to that interest - one that continues to expand the more I hear and explore.

The catalyst might have been a trip I took through the Pamir Mountains in Central Asia last year. With so many hours spent rumbling along in a Jeep with a few friends, I was exposed to a diverse range of music. We also attended a three day music festival in Khorog, on the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Those conversations really inspired me, and I suppose they helped light a flame. The classical music of Persia grabbed me straight away. It seemed to share elements that already interested me in other forms and genres - playing with a sense of time; odd metres; and an instrumental musical tradition that takes listeners on an emotional journey. Persian classical music has some similarities with Western classical music, but it has more freedom because of the focus on improvisation. There are interesting juxtapositions which are intriguing as a listener - the melodies are ornate but free; there are interesting uses of microtones and complex composition, and yet the music can be dramatic and tragic. I always prefer to listen to albums from beginning to end in one sitting, which is how I would recommend anyone listen to music on my label. The individual tracks are placed together to create a singular work, more often than not, so it is nice to sit down with an album and experience it as a whole.

Digital media and streaming has shifted this focus of the industry - which is fantastic in some ways and challenging in others. The internet has really shaken up the power of distribution; promotion and marketing has changed as a result, but so has the actual process of recording and production. When I started Art As Catharsis, we used Bandcamp, because of the platform’s focus on paying artists reasonably, while offering flexibility and discoverability. Finding out about Bandcamp shifted my approach as both a consumer and a promoter - now my listening habits include a significant amount of streaming services. When I was growing up I spent so much of my income on CDs and records, but things are changing!

There are challenges to running a record label that produces music that is not traditionally considered “commercial”, but then again, my aims are not commercial. I’m hoping to build communities and break barriers with fantastic, sometimes challenging music. I’ve seen how the internet can help unite diverse people from around the world, and allow listeners from all walks of life to discover and explore music that they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to access. The most important thing about my job is to maintain relationships - with artists and musicians, with media contacts, and with our supporters. It’s crucial, regardless of where you sit in the industry, to learn about and try to understand the people around you. I wish I’d known that sooner!

I’ve found it important to recognise the power of the internet, and using that to your advantage rather than railing against it. You can target audiences and find people that are interested in your specific niche; the opportunities are boundless. I’ve been blown away by the number people I’ve met - both in real life and over the internet - who appreciate the label. I’m touched every time someone reaches out to tell me about their personal experience with my records. It’s pretty cool to have made something that encourages people to sit down and listen to challenging music. It’s even better when they love it!

In Conversation: Wang Zheng-Ting

Congratulations on your recent performances of Kites of Tianjin! In this work, you perform on the sheng, a traditional Chinese instrument. What was your first experience of the sheng, and when did you start playing the instrument?

I grew up in a big family as an amateur music lover. My younger brother played multiple instruments, so when I was little I heard him playing violin, Chinese violin, harmonica and Chinese flute. Sometimes, I would try out his instruments when he was not home! Finally, when I was in primary school, I started to play Chinese flute, harmonica and violin properly. When I was in middle school, I was fascinated by the sound of the Chinese mouth organ, so I started practicing very hard and seriously. I can remember spending most of my free time practicing my instrument, because my aim was to be a professional musician, and during that period, becoming one was a very hard and competitive path.

You traveled to Tianjin with Adam Simmons for this project - can you tell me a bit about that experience and how the creative development process was aided by the trip?

I think the trip was very important for the project's development. When we were in Tianjin, we tried to meet as many musicians and artists as possible; visiting the Conservatory, the Song Dancing Company, and attending the Tianjin Conservatory of Music final examinations. We also tried to eat the local street food and to talk to the locals as if we were local Tianjin people. I believe all these activities assisted Adam in the composition of the piece.

The work is based on the "Wei Kites", which were made by Wei Yuantai for the Emporer. What is the story of these kites?

When we visit Wei Guoqiu's workshop, we found there were so many different kinds of kites; in the shapes of birds, fish, dragonflies, butterflies. I am not sure what kind of kites were made for the Emperor by Wei Yuantai, though we were told by Wei Guoqiu (the fourth generation maker of Wei Kites), that there are outdoor and indoor kites. Usually, the kites are for entertaining and for children to play with; they can be flown incredibly high. Ten years ago I brought Wei Guoqiu to Melbourne to celebrate the Chinese New Year and during the event, he flew a kite so high that the pilot in a helicopter was suspicious about what it was, and he got told to bring it down. When we saw each other in April this year, we spoke about the incident, and he told me that the kite he had flown that day was a very good one, and after he pulled it down a young man had asked him to sell it.

As well as performing on the sheng, you have a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology. How have your academic studies assisted your performance practice?

I think my studies in ethnomusicology help me to think more about the things behind music making. They also help me to communicate well with my fellow musicians and ethnomusicologists through international conferences and publications.

Do you have any advice for students interested in finding out more about ethnomusicology?

If you really love music and are interested in ethnomusicology please do so, though remember that there is not a huge demand for ethnomusicologists in the job market. I do it because I love the music and I am interested in the subject, and I think that's a good enough reason to focus on research.

Finally, where can we hear you perform for the rest of 2018?

In September, I will assist the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Symphony Orchestra on their tour to Singapore and Shanghai, and in December, will then perform again with Adam Simmons in Tianjin and Shanghai.

In Conversation: Stuart Skelton

A huge congratulations on the new record, Stuart! This disc in part traces Wagner's development as a composer across the span of his career, beginning with Rienzi and ending with the Wesendonck Lieder. Can you tell me about your relationship with the composer; when you first heard and performed his work, and how it has influenced you as a performer?

Ah, I was first exposed to Wagner at Graduate School in the US, when I was completing my vocal studies there. It’s important to remember that I had no idea at the time that Wagner would figure so heavily in my future. My first Wagner performances were in 1999 in Strasbourg as Erik in The Flying Dutchman, closely followed by Lohengrin in 2000. I don’t honestly know if it has influenced me as a performer because I tend to approach all my performances the same way: to let the composer’s reaction to the libretto and the SCORE guide me and move me in a way that allows me to then move an audience in the same way.

You have performed Wagner's operatic roles in houses across the world, some of which feature on this record. Did your preparation have to shift at all to get ready to sing the featured arias for recording in comparison with how you would approach performing them on stage?

Not really, no. Certainly, with a recording there are many more opportunities to go back and make very fine adjustments to one’s performance, which you can’t do live! But otherwise, I think the total investment that this repertoire requires, both vocally and histrionically, is the same across any platform.

Speaking of the recording experience, what was the process of working on the repertoire with Asher Fisch and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra? Do you have much time for rehearsal before the microphones get turned on, or does everyone have to go into the recording space completely prepared?

The process was truly revelatory; Asher and I have been friends and colleagues since 2003 and he is a consummate and passionate Wagnerian, so we have a certain innate understanding of each other and what each of us love about this music. WASO are a truly wonderful orchestra and their relationship with Asher is a joy to watch - the way they respond to each other is really quite remarkable.

In terms of preparation, obviously the repertoire for this recording has been under my and Asher’s skin for some time, separately, and you go into a recording of this nature like you would a concert performance. It’s all on the line every time. There was opportunity to rehearse each piece before we started recording, but I think the mics were ALWAYS on, and it’s the axiom, I think: “Always assume a mic is live.”

The Three Poems of Fiona Macleod by Charles Griffes and Samuel Barber's Sure On This Shining Night also feature on Shining Knight - can you tell me about how you came to choose these works and why they fit so well musically alongside the Wagner?

Certainly, the Griffes works have held a place in my heart since grad school and when the opportunity came to make additions to the Wagnerian repertoire that we’d already decided, it was a great way to bring these relatively unknown works into some spotlight. Griffes was born the year after Wagner died, but Wagner’s musical legacy was broad and deep and it certainly plays out in Griffes settings of these songs, which are at the same time quite perfumed in a very French, impressionistic way and yet still thrumming with post-Wagnerian German romanticism, like Korngold and Zemlinsky.

The Barber piece was actually suggested by Toby Chadd, at that time the head of ABC Classics, and although the piece is unapologetically American in its harmonic language, it does provide, I think, a genuinely lovely coda to the significant Sturm und Drang of the rest of the album. It also ended up, serendipitously, the inspiration for the title of the CD.

In August, you will be performing Tristan and Isolde in its entirety with WASO. From a musical perspective, how do you get prepared for a role as big as this one? Does your process differ depending on the score, or do you stick with one method regardless of the work?

My “method” never changes, although in this case, having done Tristan a number of times before in the last 2 years, the method was a bit shorter. You prepare for Tristan like you would prepare for anything: by getting it under your skin in a way that makes you wake up with the music in your head at annoyingly inappropriate times.

The Wesendonck Lieder will feature in your upcoming solo recital at the Melbourne Recital Centre, alongside other little-known or rarely performed art song and lieder gems. What interests you about art song and giving performances of works that aren't frequently heard on the concert stage?

If I’m honest, some of the joy of a recital lies in the fact that so often people are SURPRISED that I sing recitals at all, the assumption apparently being that with the repertoire I sing, scaling my voice back to more intimate repertoire and venues being a stretch too far! But largely, it’s the opportunity to sing repertoire that genuinely moves me, not only Wesendonck, which is an obvious touchstone, but also utter perfection of the Korngold cycle, Lieder eines Abschieds (Songs of Farewell), which is rarely performed and, I think, almost never by a male singer. Certainly the Grainger songs are totally fabulous and a little zany, not unlike Percy himself, and the 4 poems of Victor Hugo in this revised setting by Liszt are truly incredible songs, with both soaring melody, delicacy and very cheeky humour. And the Poema en forma de Canciones are full-blooded, Iberian joy and include a stunning, bravura solo for my brilliant collaborator, Richard Peirson.

For developing singers working on their own art song repertoire, how do you approach curating a program of works? Do you take one piece as a springboard for building the program, or does a central theme help you decide what to perform?

It will be different for each singer. In this case, it was the Korngold Lieder that I wanted to give a platform to and then build around them, from similar periods from different parts of the musical globe. It is sort of an essay on the transition from romanticism to modernism, in a way. Ha, I should have titled the recital “The Modern Romantic”. Opportunity missed there, I’d say.

Finally, do you have a piece of advice for young musicians approaching lieder or art song for the first time?

Yes, indeed I do. The text is EVERYTHING, right up to the point when it’s not. The text came FIRST, and the music is the composer’s reaction to that text. Trust your composer. After all, some of the great poets trusted them with their words! We should show them the same courtesy.

In Conversation: Elizabeth Sellars

The 2018 Chamber Music Festival at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music celebrates local artists through a series of masterclasses and performances. Can you talk us through some of the highlights for you personally?

I am incredibly excited to be playing with two amazing musicians - cellist Svetlana Bogoslavjevic and pianist Ian Munro in a performance of a work called Space Jump by Turkish composer Fazil Say. Space Jump illustrates skydiver Felix Baumgartner’s spectacular jump from the stratosphere to earth and is a wonderful voyage for the listener. Other highlights include Resphigi's Violin and Piano Sonata, the Galina Ustvolskaya trio, a Beethoven Quartet and Roger Heagney Songs just to name a few!

Master classes are an important part of the development and learning process for students of all levels and the upcoming festival features a broad range of these opportunities. When you give master classes, as you will do for string students, what do you like to discuss and work on considering the short amount of time participants are given?

Masterclasses can be great opportunities to explore musical characterisation and interpretive ideas. Sometimes I comment on ways of approaching postural and technical issues if I think it may be of use. I have a special interest in using the body well and efficiently!

For students interested in participating in these classes as performers, how do you recommend they best prepare?

Treat the masterclasses as a performance, tell your story, and always remain open to new information even if it is different to what you have already been told. One of the joys of learning a musical instrument is the understanding that there are multiple approaches to sound, phrasing and interpretation.

On the other side of the master class equation, what is the value of attending as an auditor? Can you get just as much out of the process as an audience member as you can as a performer?

Watching masterclasses is a time-honoured way of learning for all musicians and audiences! I love watching other teachers as each musician is unique and brings their own language, perspective and imagination to musical problem-solving.

Learning about chamber music in such an immersive environment is a really exciting opportunity for your students. What are the most important things that you need to know about creating collaborative musical relationships?

This one is a big topic but some of the key elements in collaborative musical partnerships include:

* commitment to a shared musical vision
* trusting your fellow collaborators
* communicate effectively - give and accept feedback graciously
* listen openly and with respect. Understand that we all have different strengths that we bring to a performance.
* responsiveness to new ideas
* sublimating your own ego to the great musical goal

In Conversation: Lisa-Maree Amos

Tell me about your earliest experiences with the flute – do you remember why you chose it and what your first lessons were like?

I started playing the fife in school and then graduated quickly to the flute after being offered free lessons and an instrument.

What sort of music interested you while you were growing up? Were you always invested in classical music or were other genres more in favour during your studies?

I always listened to many different types and styles of music but had a huge classical and flute record and tape collection!

When did you decide that you wanted to pursue flute performance as a career?

I just always wanted to play for my living, and that was before I even really knew what that would be like. After joining Queensland and Australian youth orchestras, it became clear that orchestral playing was my passion.

Can you tell me about what that decision meant for your personal practice and what your journey was like moving from student to professional?

I love to practice and when I first started out I would do enormous hours of practice, often really late at night even after a concert. I’m not sure how efficient I was, but I just really enjoyed the process.

You and Peter Sheridan regularly perform on a variety of flutes that aren’t frequently heard on the concert stage! What interests you about the sounds you can create on these instruments?

Peter is a real master on the Low Flutes, and they make beautiful rich deep sounds, unlike anything else.

Are there any practical differences when practicing and performing on different types (and sizes!) of flutes?

You need more air, and they can be heavy and the hand stretch is wider with the largest ones.

Your upcoming performance, Dark Star, at the Melbourne Recital Centre, will see you and Peter showcase a range of works either recorded or commissioned over the recent decades. Commissioning and supporting composers are clearly priorities for you both – can you tell me a little about why you think it is important to support the development of new art?

When promoting these instruments Peter discovered that the limited repertoire needed to be expanded so he has inspired many composers to write for him so that the potential of these sounds can be discovered. The relationship between artist and composer can sometimes be almost a joint journey in creativity when using such specialised instruments. Peter not only commissions many works, but is dedicated to performing these pieces multiple times (not just a 1st premiere performance), and always helps to secure publishing and recording with his connections at Wirrapang, Theodore Presser and Move Records. Peter is also a regular feature artist at international flute festivals and takes these new works around the world.

Do you have any advice for young flautists looking to pursue a career in the orchestral world, either locally or overseas?

Try to take in as much knowledge as you can, explore other genres and check out classes with other instruments as well as your own. So much of our work is based on connections, so wherever possible try not to isolate but collaborate because you never know when you might come across people again - music is a small world.

Finally, can you share an audition tip with our audience of developing musicians?

Practice being able to play well in imperfect situations. Learn how to go with the flow under stress. Be adaptable.

In Conversation: Carolyn Morris

In their upcoming concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre, Lisa-Maree Amos and Peter Sheridan will be performing your piece, Forest Over Sea, a work in four parts inspired, I imagine, by the natural world. Can you tell me about the work’s origin and your interest in nature and landscape?

The natural world - the bush, ocean, trees, birdlife, fresh air - is so uplifting to the human spirit and is strongly related to my purpose for composing. I’m motivated to create sounds and music that reflect the magic of nature and remind us that we’re part of something bigger. I was fortunate to have spent many summers at Anglesea on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. That whole area is really a “Forest Over Sea”.

When Peter Sheridan asked me to compose a piece for bass flute, alto flute & piano it seemed a natural source of inspiration for those instruments.

The trio in this piece – made up of alto flute, bass flute and piano – is quite unusual! Can you recall what your compositional process looked like for this work and if there were any challenges or highlights in writing for this combination?

I’d never written for low flutes before Peter commissioned me to compose this piece. It was exciting to explore the warm deep sounds of the bass flute and the rich full tone of the alto flute which I then underscored with rippling, atmospheric piano accompaniment. The two flutes intertwining with their lyrical melodies are evocative of the wind over the ocean, or birds at play in the forest. I suppose the main challenge was making sure all voices could be heard and keeping the piano part in a register that complemented the range and tone colours of the low flutes (although they both play fairly high in some sections). I was also aware that more breath is required on the larger flutes, so making sure the phrases were playable with enough breathing opportunities was important.

You recorded this work with Lisa-Maree and Peter in 2014. What was the rehearsal and recording experience like as both the composer and the pianist?

It was very satisfying to record my own composition with two such expressive and accomplished musicians. It was really a fantastic experience to play together, largely because we were all committed to creating a communication through the music that would uplift the audience and express the intention of the piece. I think this comes across on the recording. It certainly helps to have a common purpose when performing and recording chamber music.

I’d love to hear about your earliest forays into composition. Were you engaged in composing throughout your early musical studies at school or university, or did the interest come later?

As far as I remember, I started composing at the piano almost as soon as I began learning the instrument. My father was an enthusiastic audience and recorded a lot of my early pieces on cassette tape, which I still have!

Going through high school at VCASS in Melbourne I concentrated more on learning the oboe and continuing my piano playing. We had excellent music theory teachers; Jan Stockigt & June Ralfe.

I haven’t studied composition formally but having an excellent grounding in theory alongside my all-round music education at VCASS & VCA have helped in my ability to compose.

You write a lot for wind players, which must stem in part from your work as an oboist, and oboe accompanist. How did you begin playing the oboe, and has your personal practice shaped the way you now approach composition?

I began playing the oboe in year 7 when I started at VCASS. I already played piano but adding an orchestral instrument to my repertoire has proved to be invaluable. The experience I’ve had in chamber groups & orchestras combined with piano accompanying has given me great insight into composing for a variety of instruments. Understanding breathing has obviously helped when composing for wind players.

As well as being a busy freelance composer, you also teach privately and in schools. How do you make time to write music in amongst your other commitments?

I try to keep a day or two free for composing, but it is a bit of a juggling act when fitting in teaching and performing as well. I really enjoy the variety of doing all three. Creating music for young people is something I love so teaching and accompanying complements my composing. It’s great to get instant feedback from a student if I compose them a piece (usually it’s positive!) It also means some late nights and making use of the extra time during school holidays to compose.

Your compositions, in your own words, seek to communicate the essence of the human spirit and uplift the audience. How has your involvement in Kenja Communication Training changed or shaped the way you approach composition?

I was fortunate to come across Kenja training, developed in Sydney by Ken Dyers and Jan Dyers, in my early twenties after I’d graduated from the VCA. To me, it was the perfect next step in my training as it involves human communication and understanding that it’s the energy that we use in our interactions that affects the response we get from other people in the environment. This is so true in music performance and composition.

An integral part of Kenja training is a form of meditation called energy conversion. The increased level of stillness and focus I gain from this has enabled me to tap into a level of creativity that was difficult to achieve previously.

The ability to not be an effect of negative unconscious thoughts and emotions (eg “I can’t compose”, “this sounds terrible”, “I can’t think of anything new” etc) gives me much more freedom to create.

Music is energy. A note has a wavelength. Everything in the physical universe is energy. My ability now to perceive and understand this is essential to my composing. This area of subtle energies profoundly affects our aesthetic in life and communication. It is probably the basis for creation musically. By taking the “stuck significance” of communication through music, for example- restrictions that peers and oneself places on different “types” of music, I feel I can begin to truly originate a creation rather than unconsciously regurgitate old learned patterns.

It’s even become very real to me that the working environment for composers, musicians, students etc, can influence their ability to perform and create. For example – a competitive and non-human environment where students and performers unconsciously engage in communication to establish themselves at the expense of others, will affect the final outcome. The truly great artists always seem to use love consciousness, which brings out our human caring and elevates us always to something higher.

I’ll often start composing a piece by deciding what energy or aesthetic I want to communicate, or even what effect I’d like to create on the audience. I’ll then get a picture that complements that. e.g a bird flying over the ocean, a sunrise or galloping horses. The notes flow from that. It also helps to know what the intention or purpose of a piece is before I start writing it. I find that if my intention is to communicate something that’s of benefit to other people, then that magical flow of ideas and notes will come more easily. This I feel has come from an enhanced sensitivity from this training.

For developing composers who are interested in pursuing a career, do you have any advice on how to get your work into the world and heard by an audience?

Firstly look to your immediate environment and people you know that could benefit from your music. To start with you might give some pieces you’ve written to local community or school choirs, chamber groups or orchestras to include in their programs. Do you have friends in chamber groups or performing recitals? Offer to compose something for them to perform.

Getting your music published is also a great way of getting it out into the environment. Wirripang publishers run by Anne & Brennan Keats are great supporters of Australian composers and will accept new music for consideration.

As far as earning an income from composing, commissions are a great avenue for income. You might need to get your music played, published or recorded first and then before long you will establish a demand for your pieces and can charge a commission fee. I have had several performances of my works which have led to further commissions from people in the audience who enjoyed it & wanted a new work for their choir or chamber group. Creating a website and including recordings of your music is a great reference for people to look you up and hear more of your works.

In Conversation: Rachael Beesley

RM: When we talk about historically informed performance, the research and educational aspects of the music seem to have a great importance to those performing the works, which gives audiences a way to dig their teeth into what you are doing on stage. Do you find this unique to the art form?

RB: I love engaging with the audience in that way - breaking down barriers and allowing performers to speak about the music and their own personal experiences of exploring the repertoire. The research aspect of performance is a conscious choice as it enables me to really get inside the music - I feel closest to the composer’s intention when I’ve explored every possibility. Knowing the background to the compositions, the effects of the music and knowing which movements have been influenced by which dances or texts whilst exploring the aesthetic and the cultural background of the time - discovering all these things is a huge part of my preparation before I even touch the instrument and begin studying the notes. And then, you also must consider the modern concert hall and the affects it has on the way you play and prepare. I like to think that we are able to create a new opening for this repertoire to be heard, without the years of changing technique layered on top of the original music.

RM: Can you explain the idea of how time, and the changing methods of performance practice, create layers on top of the original score or idea?

RB: In explaining this idea, I usually draw parallels to painting: take a famous work like the Mona Lisa, for example. If you see it now you expect it to be of the time; as in, it looks as it was when da Vinci first created it. It has been refreshed, of course, and some work has been done to restore it, but really you’re still seeing the original. You’re not looking at a piece of artwork that has had the subsequent 500 years of artists paint on top of it over and over again. That could be a valid work of art in itself but it wouldn’t be the original, it would be a completely new piece. That’s what I think has happened over time in the world of music - we tend to layer different approaches on top of one another. So what we’re trying to do here is refresh our eyes and ears; looking at what has been added and what was there originally and then as performers can make informed choices. Musical choices are not always made from this research base but perhaps by looking deeply at what was happening at the time of composition and why certain aesthetics and affects appeared this brings you closer to what the composer intended the audience to feel.

RM: What does playing on a historically accurate instrument mean for you as a performer? Does it change the way you are able to naturally interpret the music?

RB: I personally feel a deep connection with the gut strings whilst using a period bow. The articulation allows us to speak the music and show the rhetorical gestures much more clearly, and actually, it’s a bit easier! Modern instruments are all about evenness and showing a silky-smooth exterior, while the historic instruments are grittier and allow for a little more nuance and texture. It results in a different play or balance between the instruments and this creates a very special quality on stage. I love that exploration.

RM: The idea that you’re presenting a modern audience with an experience that is as close as possible to that which a 17th, 18th or 19th century audience would be receiving is completely fascinating to me. I wonder, from your experience of performing the works on a modern instrument compared to a period instrument, what are the differences in how you experience that as an audience member?

RB: Audiences are often a little shocked by the experience! They’re forced to be more active as listeners, as they’re made to be aware of different sounds, unusual sounds perhaps. A piece that they may know quite well will not sound as they expect it and that shock creates a different energy in the concert hall. The audience then becomes a living part of the performance. Performing on historic instruments does require a different kind of engagement and this positive response we receive from the audience, highlights how their experience is enhanced by this knowledge and insight.

RM: Because we listen to music differently now due to changing technologies and the modern concert hall set-up, we’ve changed the way we allow audiences to experience the work of the performer. Do you find this to be true?

RB: There is perhaps more physical distance now, between the performer and the audience and many people now only listen to recorded music on devices, so are often not used to sitting and listening to music performed live. But music also has a different meaning for society - if you were playing for the king, you would have played in a way that wasn’t the same as performing in church for a congregation. So as a modern performer, you have to understand what your role is and how to communicate the composer’s intention in a 21st century setting by bringing people on a musical journey.

RM: Do you have words of advice for young musicians interested in a performance career, whether historically informed or otherwise?

RB: Stay curious! Keep asking questions and never stop learning. Explore and improvise with many different styles and approaches to music and find ways that work for you.

In Conversation: Kram and Paul Grabowsky

Paul Grabowsky and Kram, who will be performing alongside James Morrison as 'The Others' at the 2018 Melbourne International Jazz Festival, took some time out of their busy press schedule to sit down with us at the Langham in Melbourne. The conversation twists and turns, mirroring one of their improvisations. Don't miss this trio of stars while they're in town.

Kram: I think the cold weather might help with songwriting. When you're at the beach, you kind of just want to spend time there, not thinking about anything else but when it's cold, it's easier to get to work! I was saying today that not a lot of masterpieces were created in paradise, so maybe that has something to do with it?

Rehearsal: This is such an exciting collaboration; can I ask where the idea came from?

Kram: It was my idea, I'm responsible! I did an improvisation at the Town Hall many years ago with a bunch of musicians and I got really inspired to start playing jazz again. I ran into Paul at that gig and asked if he was keen to get together for a jam. I had already run into James - we were on a Shaun Micallef show together I think - and I remember asking him if he wanted to play something with me. I was feeling like I needed to shake things up and so was he, so eventually all three of us had a session in Melbourne. We literally just started playing and we knew that it was going to work. One of the first things we played together has become the press work that we're sending around; at the end of it you can hear Paul laughing because we were having such a good time! We finally played our first show last year at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival thanks to Adam Simmons, and the response was so overwhelming. This will be our second ever show. It's been a long road to get here, but we're thrilled to have arrived.

Rehearsal: You both have performed and written for genres outside of jazz, but I imagine working in this intimate set up is a little like coming home.

Kram: I was a country kid but I had an amazing teacher, who wanted to escape the city so came to work with students in the area I lived. We connected and she encouraged me to play jazz, which you can hear in the early Spiderbait stuff - it was definitely a really important influence for me. After uni though, when the band started to take off I definitely left jazz behind a bit, so returning to it in this set up is like returning to something that I'd forgotten about but means a lot to me. I really enjoy the dynamic nature of playing jazz; it can be sentimental but also completely wild.

Rehearsal: Paul, you began by playing classical piano - where did jazz begin to form part of your musical journey?

Grabowsky: I began playing piano when I was really small, maybe 4 or 5, and my training was completely classical until the end of high school. I started to get into jazz before I finished school though - I went to Wesley when the jazz program was just getting started, so I was in one of the very first iterations of the Wesley College Big Band, and that would have been my introduction to playing jazz music. Looking at a piece of music that didn't have everything written out on it and knowing how to interpret it - that was the first challenge! It was a steep learning curve, but the more I got into it, the more I realised that this was actually the music I wanted to be playing. I could play the piano well, but I really wanted to be able to play the piano and make it work for me, rather than having to work for it. I was kind of in a servile relationship with the instrument!

Kram: Because of the music you were playing?

Grabowsky: I think so - though, not every classical musician would say that; for many, the interpretation is exactly the point. Many musicians want to serve the instrument and serve the composers, and that's what training does in many cases. Jazz for me, as a pianist, was a way to bring my ability to play the piano and put it into a creative world. You had to be able to convert the playing into the making. That marriage of intellect and passion, which is at the heart of jazz, is the most exciting thing.

Kram: Piano embodies rhythm as well, doesn't it? It's just there waiting for you. I always thought as a percussionist, that the piano was so much about rhythm and body.

Grabowsky: Nothing else can do what a piano does. An electronic instrument might have the best samples in the world, but it's still so limited. As a piano player, you have to use your entire body to make the piano sing. There's no other way of doing it.

Kram: No amount of technology can replace those acoustic instruments, just like no experience can replace live music. It's ancient - we need it, as humans.

Grabowsky: Because live performance is so much about energy transfer. This is very much getting back what The Others is about. Because we improvise music, we have no idea what it's going to sound like and we're still in the process of discovering our own sound. The relationship between the band and the audience which we experienced for the first time last year in Wangaratta, was a huge factor in shaping what we do as an ensemble.

Kram: It's changed us completely; we're different because of it. If we were to do this interview before that first performance, I think we would be talking about our music and our performance as an ensemble completely differently.

Grabowsky: There's such an important dynamic between an audience and a band; it's almost like a tribe. Your audience needs to relate to you, but also trust you as a performer. Jazz doesn't always have as immediate a relationship with an audience as other genres, so there is a slightly different way of connecting.

Kram: I've definitely noticed that since we started playing. I've noticed how reluctant jazz musicians are to get really crazy in front of their audience because that's something I really love to do! When you get into a groove, it's so freeing to just let go and enjoy yourself and the space and the response. When you look back at older jazz musicians, like Coltrane for example, he really allowed himself to be free and playful with the audience, but things are a bit more chill now. The music is still great but there's less wildness. We try not to let that get to us though - we want to get the crowd going and not be too self-conscious about our presence. These guys make me feel really comfortable as well, and that makes a big difference, I think.

Grabowsky: I suppose the idea is that jazz is serious in lots of ways, but that shouldn't mean that you can't have fun. There is a seriousness about having fun and you can have a lot of fun being serious!

Rehearsal: Does the fact that you're improvising have any influence on that?

Grabowsky: I think so - there's an element of game play about improvising. Everybody kind of knows what the rules are, but they're kind of making them up as they go. When I speak to people who don't know much about jazz, I often say there are three ways of thinking about improvisation: the ability to be able to play your instrument well, the ability to listen and the ability to trust. If you analyse a lot of the world's problems, you see the root is an inability to listen, so while it might seem simple, actually allowing yourself to stop talking makes a real impact: you have to shut up and listen! If people would shut up and listen to one another they might get to a point of thinking "okay, right - that's what you mean". In music, that's the bottom line; it's all about mindfulness, to use a modern buzzword. You have to listen and you have to trust. You are there for the people you are playing with and they are there for you.

Kram: You also have to trust the audience. I used to get really stressed out about performing until I started allowing myself to enjoy performing for the people who were coming to see me play. You can actually change your whole mindset about that, which adjusts the way you play. Whenever I play now, I try and remember that this might be the last gig I ever play, so I treat the moment as if it's really special and that allows me to let go.

Grabowsky: I totally agree with that; it's the heart of the matter.

Rehearsal: Speaking of trust and the ability to bounce off each other and allow yourselves to improvise, I wonder how immediate that feeling was between the three of you? Did it happen straight away, or has it developed over your rehearsal time?

Kram: It happened straight away. We recorded the first jam we ever had and that has been really wonderful, because we look back at that and can reflect on how immediate the feeling was. Because we trusted each other almost immediately, we've been able to build on that - Wangaratta was freer and I think the MRC will be bigger again. Every gig is our first gig, every time we play together it's new.

Grabowsky: I think if we ever got to a point where we felt like we were repeating ourselves, someone would shake it up.

Rehearsal: How has improvisation impacted your songwriting? Does your composition come from a place of improv or is there some more significant structure to your approach?

Grabowsky: The creative process is such a mysterious thing - I've thought about this question a lot! I think there's a major link between the creative moment and memory because I don't think anything is completely new; everything is related to everything. All my ideas have a lineage - all chords have been used before I use them, you know? The real geniuses of music have been able to rearrange information in surprising or original ways. Is it improvisation, though? Sometimes, yes. When you're improvising, you're throwing yourself into the stream of time. In songwriting, you're normally compartmentalising your decision-making process into a set form - looking at the end product and trying to arrive there. The idea of determinism and destination is important in songwriting. What we make is a giving over of all of our knowledge and memories into whatever happens in that 90-minute stream, and there is a lot of compositional thought that goes into that but it is slightly different from songwriting.

Kram: The end product is the goal in songwriting, as you say Paul, but I think it's also the goal in improvising - it just takes slightly longer to get over the hill and see the end. You can kind of feel when the piece is winding down. I do believe you take the songwriting ideology into the improvisation realm, and you start to play and write at the same time. It's the speediest kind of songwriting; good improvisation is knowing when to stop!

Grabowsky: There's a funny story about John Coltrane when he was playing with Miles Davis. It was one of his last tours in Europe and he was working through a whole lot of ideas, which meant his improvised solos were very long; you couldn't play three or four choruses, you had to play twenty, so he could get all his thoughts out. Coltrane went to Davis and said that he was sorry for playing such long solos, but he had all these ideas and he wasn't sure how to bring them to a conclusion. Davis apparently said, "try taking the horn out of your mouth."

Kram: Really? There are two different personalities right there! I saw Miles play once.

Grabowsky: I opened for him in Europe in '84. I didn't meet him - I was playing with Art Farmer, but I was too scared to go up to Miles! There was a vibe around him; he used to wear these clothes made out of parachutes and dark glasses, he was so good. It was quite enough to be near him, he was a superstar!

Kram: We're in a space now where it'd be great to see some more risk taking in jazz, like Coltrane was doing, like Davis was doing. I want young people to know that if you don't take a risk, you don't get the reward, so it's worth crashing and burning to find out what you can do.

Rehearsal: Speaking of risk-taking, what are your thoughts on building a career now as a young jazz musician, particularly when the idea of "jazz" is so broad?

Kram: Two things: firstly, you have to get as good as you can get. There are so many things that you have control over when you're working in this industry, but you do have control over your own ability. You have to practice and work and love it. The second thing is finding your own individual sound. People will respond to your individuality, and you'll feel freer to create the things you need to create. It took me a while to get there and years later it all twigged at once - I just had to be myself.

Grabowsky: You're completely right, it's completely critical. There is a point in time in which you have to unburden yourself from the anxiety of influence. And you can never stop learning.

In Conversation: Liam Wooding

How has the concept of “home” influenced your playing?

Of course, home comes to me in fleeting thoughts, but more broadly, it is also a consistent part of my manifesto. I grew up in a small town in New Zealand and I began playing the piano at school and at home, before performing the local music society concerts. When I look back at that experience, I realise how influential it has been for me as a person and a performer. Being surrounded by such strong community values and people who prioritised music in such a significant way was, without me realising it at the time, completely affecting. Two other people I grew up with went on to post-graduate piano study at home and overseas, which is unheard of now, and I think the understanding that you could take your skills and do anything allowed us to consider music a real possibility.

The performers you grew up with have all dispersed around the world now - you’re here in Melbourne; do you still feel strong ties to that community experience?

I think that experience gave me a strong set of musical and philosophical values. It’s about playing, in both senses of the word, and community. Less about repertoire or ego, performance is a collaboration between audience and soloist – which is something I learned and put into practice at home as a young pianist.

As a solo pianist, how do you create a community when you spend so much time practising alone?

ANAM is a really special place when it comes to collaboration - being there reminds you that you're part of something bigger. It’s a bit like work, I suppose; you turn up to your workspace and then you do your practice in an office. You can pop out to the corridor and have a chat when you need to and work in teams on chamber performance, too. In the industry it’s harder to recreate that, so I’m trying not to limit my possibilities as a performer, because I might not end up where I initially expect to! Right now, I want to be a pianist in the broadest sense of the word - a musician whose main tool of expression is the piano. I’m interested in finding opportunities that are exciting and interesting and collaborative.

Do you prefer to play collaboratively?

So far, collaborative performance has been my life, but playing solo has never been the strongest part of my practice and while I’m in training and I have the resources, I think it’s important to learn how to become the strongest soloist I can be. In saying that, I’m doing a bit of collaborative work in this upcoming recital with my teacher, Timothy Young.

Can you tell me about the programming decisions you’ve made for your ANAM recital?

Jack Body, the composer whose work I have referenced in the title of the overall concert, was born in New Zealand, but spent time in Indonesia developing his compositional style. He spent a lot of time working between the two places and his music references both sound worlds. Debussy, similarly, was looking away from his home of France towards Asia for inspiration. So, two composers looking away from the Western canon and away from their home to create themselves a new sense of place. There was a strong connection between Chopin and Debussy as well, so this performance is all about family and growing up, moving on and developing.

I get that sense that each of the composers that you are performing have their own understanding of their individual country’s “style”. We talk about what makes a uniquely Australian sound all the time and I wonder if you could speak on the New Zealand sound world?

I think New Zealand is so much more than landscape representation. I know that’s a distinctive part of the country, but colonisation has disrupted or confused our sense of “New Zealandness”. As generations grow and change, who we are is so greatly influenced by our art making. Whether visual or performative, art helps us tell our stories because it shows who we are and what is important to our community at any given time in history. Every New Zealand composer writes works that contribute to the culture and to the artistic understanding of our country's stories.

Why is it important for you to champion the creation of New Zealand art and composition?

So those works are magnified; not in the sense of making something small big, but to allow us to see them more clearly. Mozart and Chopin are amazing and should be performed frequently, as they are, but not at the expense of new works, I believe.

When you were growing up, did you play works by New Zealand composers?

The first chamber work I played was by a local composer, and one of my piano teachers’ really encouraged me to get involved and invested in New Zealand composition. Her passion made me care for it and see the importance in finding things out and developing new ideas. It’s important to me that the work I do is more than just finding a nice sounding piece and rehearsing it for a performance. I want to show what is important about the works that I play and offer them up to the audience so it’s theirs to take something away from. In all music – historic and new – we as performers excavate the notes on the page and find ways of delivering them in the most exciting or moving way, and always for the benefit of the audience.

Speaking of audiences taking something away from each performance, what are your thoughts on engaging with those people who are coming to see your concert – perhaps not only while you’re playing, but before and after?

Audience engagement is far bigger than what that group of people sees when they are sitting in your recital. It starts when you begin sharing information online and carries through to when people buy your CD after the concert. I think of audience engagement like community building: how can my music inspire or provoke thought from those hearing it, and will they continue to be invested in my performances? How can I serve them? I think artists have to take ownership of their work and find the best ways to grow their individual audiences, and it can’t be ego-based – you can’t always just program the things you love the best and expect people to show up. There’s so much more to it and I’ve found that self-reflection around why I’m doing things encourages me to be innovative with how I’m doing them.

What does innovation mean to you more broadly in a classical sense, particularly considering that much of the music we perform is hundreds of years old?

Classical music allows us to learn new things faster – it is an art form that totally speaks to now. There are a few considerations when playing historic music: the first is faithfulness to the score but the other side of that coin is the idea of throwing the score out the window a little bit! Instead, we can try and distil the priorities of the composers when they were living – political movements, embracing new technologies, etc. – and use those in a modern context. Perhaps performers should act more like translators than historians, allowing the music to grow and change.

In Conversation: Catherine Carby

You’re currently performing with the English Touring Opera in Rossini: Fireworks! Can you tell me about your first experience with Rossini - how it came about and how your relationship with the composer has grown since your career began?

My very first experience with Rossini was singing Rosina in a touring production for OzOpera (the touring arm of Opera Australia) in 1998. On alternate nights I sang the chorus and played percussion onstage in the overture!

I think I’ve always been quite wary of Rossini. I’ve done a lot of bel canto (like Donizetti and Bellini) but felt that Rossini was a bit too specialist for me - too hard, too many runs, too light and high. Returning to it now after spending the first part of this year singing Monteverdi, it feels about right. I’d never say it’s easy and this particular concert program is a big sing for me (some long arias and a big chunk of Elisabetta for the finale), but it feels more “doable” than it used to.

How do you prepare your repertoire for a concert performance like this one? Does it differ from when you get ready to play a staged role?

I guess the trick with preparing a concert is how to “sell” a piece when you won’t have the luxury of costumes and sets and lighting. Also, the biggest hurdle for me is literally singing the pieces. In an opera, you might have four weeks of rehearsals in which to work out any technical problems and learn how to get around the “corners” of a piece. Hopefully, by opening night you’ve sung the tricky bits so often - under lots of different circumstances - that you can’t help but get it right. Concerts are not like that; chances are you might have a week (if you’re lucky) of music calls with the conductor and a pianist and then later with the orchestra. It’s a fast, short learning curve. The only way you can be really well prepared is to in fact be really well prepared!

For developing artists, how important is learning concert work alongside full roles? Do the skills you need for both translate easily to one another, or must you practice in the different styles of working?

Concert work still forms a very valuable (and lucrative!) backbone to my opera work. Learn all the “standards” (Messiah, Elijah, Verdi Requiem), as they will crop up again and again throughout your performing life. I’ve paid many a school bill or mortgage payment with Easter Bach Passion fees!

Stylistically, opera and oratorio aren’t necessarily a million miles apart. They both desire to tell a story and make the listener think and feel something. As all good music does.

Your studies began in Canberra at the School of Music, before you moved to the United Kingdom to pursue further training at the Royal College of Music. Can you tell me about that move and what it meant to you as a young singer?

Moving to the UK early on was a massive step for me. It enabled me to be seen in London regularly, and after I joined the roster of a big UK agency (IMG), I basically studied and worked solidly for 4 years, before I came back home to work for Opera Australia. It was great to be exposed to so much music at such a high level; we regularly got coaching from the best people in the industry even before we got to work for them, so there was a level of familiarity that I wouldn’t have had if I’d stayed in Sydney or Canberra. I remember the first concert I ever went to in London was Anne Sofie von Otter singing Alceste at the Barbican - it really doesn’t get better than that!

Pursuing a career overseas is currently a goal for many young singers, but of course, a major move comes with both opportunities and difficulties. Do you have any advice to developing performers who wish to pursue further study outside of Australia?

Develop self-love! Seriously, this doesn’t mean having a big ego and thinking that you are awesome, but genuinely being kind to yourself and realising that you are human. It’s a very tough industry and there are a lot of knockbacks along the way. Even now I’m asked to audition for things and I may or may not get them. You have to learn to be happy in your own skin despite constant rejection. I’ve become a lot more philosophical about rejection as I’ve gotten older and learned that it’s not necessarily about me as a person or as a performer. Not everyone will love what you do and that’s ok.

You have performed roles all over the world, in houses from the Royal Opera House to Teatro Sao Carlos in Lisbon, and back home with Opera Australia. How do you look after yourself when you’re on the road and away from home for long periods? Do you have a moveable routine or do things change depending on your work and where you are?

When I’m away from home I try to maintain some semblance of normality. I take posh candles, pictures in frames and usually at least one baking tray with me! I walk a lot no matter where I am, so being in a new place just gives me new places to walk. I also do yoga either on my own or in a class, so this is often a way of meeting some “locals”.

Staying calm and focussed before performances and during preparation periods is much discussed for all musicians. Do you have ways of managing stress or “busy-ness” when things get hectic?

Definitely yoga and the meditative side that that involves. I’m a much calmer, happier, nicer person when I’m regularly going to a class.

I also need to be well prepared. I don’t like “winging it”, so I avoid ever having to live too dangerously in terms of the music. Preparation means less stress and less stuff that can go wrong. (That being said, I have done jump-ins and lived to tell the tale. Last year I was rung at very late notice to jump in for an ill colleague for the CBSO. Could I learn Juno and Ino from Semele in 3 days? Well, I did. But it did take several years off my life!)

Finally, if you could go back to the start of your career and give yourself a piece of advice about the industry you were about to join, what would it be?

My best advice would be to just go for it! Ask that person for a coaching, thrust your business card into that person’s hand. You only have one life and one shot at a career, so do it!

In Conversation: Syzygy Ensemble

There’s a beautiful sentence on your website about how Syzygy is empathetic towards music that is being written today, which really struck a chord with me. I wonder if you can talk about that word empathy within the context of your work in championing living composers?

It’s always been part of our ensemble personality to be excited about sharing new music with people in a non “ivory-tower” method. We’ve been to concerts where we’ve felt like outsiders perhaps despite our high level of music education, so when we started Syzygy, we wanted to offer audiences a way into the world by providing context for new pieces in a really accessible way. This is part of the reason we play older pieces alongside premieres – just because we play contemporary works doesn’t mean we’ve rejected or forgotten more traditional or “canon” pieces. We’re interested in making connections as listeners and lovers of classical and chamber music. There must be something in the language of any sort of music that expresses things that are happening in our contemporary lives.

Does that go to how you make decisions around commissioning from an aesthetic point of view?

It informs our decision making a little bit; people are attracted to working with us because of our musical style, but that is not to say that we shy away from unfamiliar syntaxes or unusual ways of working. We love doing things that are a bit out of the box, while being influenced significantly by expressionist composers. Additionally, there are great ways of presenting music that is a bit more elite or niche in accessible and contextual settings. Often when curating our seasons, we look for a major piece to base an entire program around, which may be new or old, and then we build up from there. Other times we look at a broader theme and pull compositions in towards that idea.

With the understanding that you’re bringing your audience in via an idea that they already have some connection with and then expanding that into musical languages and aesthetics that are new?

Exactly, we have this philosophy that we, as an ensemble, should be “ear stretching not face slapping”! It’s not about being likeable or non-confrontational, but instead allowing people to take just one step further out of their comfort zone.

You each also work with ensembles that perform works which sit within the classical canon, so is the method that you work with at Syzygy also ear stretching for you as the performers?

It certainly gives us new ways of listening and understanding contemporary music. We have limited time to prepare for each performance, so learning how to rehearse together in a way that is efficient and empathetic has been really important. We have presented pieces that do not stick to a traditional method of performance and those works really make us consider and shift how we best work together. As an ensemble, we really try to never be conducted, even if scores have a recommendation as such, so our rehearsal time has to take into account the fact we are working towards a performance where we are all leaders, while watching and listening in a traditionally chamber way, even if the piece is a lot more complex than other works in the repertoire.

For your upcoming performance at the Melbourne Recital Centre, Pagan Dances, which focusses on different reasons for and different ways of dancing, has your rehearsal method changed because of how integral movement is to the program?

We are going to stand for the whole concert so we’re free from the restrictions of being seated and consequently, feeling tied down. The pieces, because they’re based on movement, need to feel alive, and working away from chairs will allow us to be more connected with our own bodies, and therefore, each other’s movements as well. That’s what the energy of this program requires. The only piece that will have us sitting is the new work by Emile Frankel, whose piece was inspired by intimate spaces, and requires a different type of dynamic within the group. If you’re in the audience, you’ll hear that difference! Compared to the rest of the program, there is a lot of space and suspension, and as a listener, time stands still and seems to hover a little.

What has it been like to rehearse Emile’s work, particularly amongst the other high-octane pieces on the program?

It was tricky to begin with! His piece sees us coaxing the sounds out of our instruments, trying to achieve a real purity of tone and feel. As the work develops, distortion enters the sound world and Emile plays around a lot with microtonal ideas and subtle additional actions that add to the texture. It kind of sounds like a record player rolling in the next room; subtle melodic ideas grab your ear and offer the audience something to latch onto. There is still this tiny element of dance in the work, it’s just slightly more internalised.

There are so many wonderful links and connections that Syzygy plays with between programming and philosophy; is this planned or happy coincidence?

We are inspired by symbiosis – Syzygy is really five soloists who work together closely in a co-dependent relationship to produce something that is larger than the sum of its parts. Our friendship is really important, because as soon as we walk into the rehearsal room we are able to be really tough on each other. What we do is complex and we work on short lead times, but because of our friendships we can be efficient and direct. We’ve found that we have to take off our socialising hats the minute we walk into the rehearsal space because time is so precious. It’s a very special thing though, being able to do this with people who are so much fun. Everything about making new music is hard – there’s not much money, it takes a lot of energy, there’s so much administrative work to do – but we’re in it together and we love doing what we do as an ensemble. We rely on each other so heavily and knowing that there’s always someone that has your back on stage; that makes it worth it.

In Conversation: Angus Davison and SPIRAL

Your new piece, Odd Logic, is being premiered tonight by SPIRAL at 107 Redfern in Sydney. Could you tell me a little about it?

Odd Logic was commissioned by SPIRAL for the first concert of their 2018 season. In one continuous movement, Odd Logic runs approximately 20 minutes. The music is full of contrast and vitality. The wide registral and dynamic range of the ensemble is put to use, and there are moments to shine for the ensemble in the slowly shifting tremolo textures, tuneful interludes, and passages of spirited ostinati.

SPIRAL's primary focus is music from, and influenced by, the minimalist canon. I also have an affinity for this music, and minimalist textures and processes are plain to hear at a number of points in the work. What may be less obvious are the devices operating under the surface of the music: the piece is divided into halves by a general pause, thirds by metric/rhythmic changes, and into still smaller portions by pitch centre, harmonic language, instrumentation and texture.

SPIRAL is unusual in that it does not have an entirely typical instrumentation. How does writing for SPIRAL differ from your other compositions; is it more challenging, or is it easier?

SPIRAL’s instrumentation immediately appealed to me. Omitting guitar, I split the ensemble into two trios of flute, keyboard, and bass which are slightly separated on stage. At times the trios work together, at others they move autonomously. I find this sort of arrangement great fun to work with.

You have written many pieces across a diverse range of styles throughout your career so far. What kind of instrumental (or vocal) ensembles have you written for before?

I’ve been privileged to work with many excellent ensembles and soloists such as the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Huon String Quartet, Note-Aurius, Xyris and Beraga Saxophone Quartets, Ady Ensemble, Hobart Wind Symphony and pianist Jack Barnes among others. I’ve composed film scores, incidental music for theatre, and pedagocial works for young musicians. Currently, I’m writing for one of Australia’s finest young baritones, Michael Lampard, setting a quirky text called La Journée du musicien. This text, which you can find on my website, details French composer Eric Satie’s (alleged) daily schedule and if a quarter of it is true then he was quite a character!

When and where have you studied?

I commenced my tertiary studies at the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music in 2012, graduating with a BMus. In 2016 I moved to Sydney and completed First Class Honours at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where I studied with Michael Smetanin.

It can be tough for a composer to "make it", or indeed to even find motivation to continue writing; do you have any pearls of wisdom for other budding young composers out there?

Think very carefully before deciding to study composition at university. More students than ever are pursuing tertiary studies in composition and the vast majority of them will not become established composers. Unless you are compelled to compose at some deep level, it may not be a good decision to invest three years and $20000 into a composition degree.

If you do decide to pursue composing (and the following are as much notes to myself as to others!):
1) Work very hard. If you don’t then you definitely won’t get anywhere.
2) Strive to maintain balance in your life. The Composer’s experience involves joy but also regular disappointment. On those days where you are struggling to write or your grant application gets rejected, you need other aspects of your life to be strong so you can stay healthy and happy.

In Conversation: Anne Lanzilotti

Kieran Welch: Hi Anne! I’m so excited to have you joining us at Dots+Loops on Friday. Is this your first trip to Australia?

Anne Lanzilotti: It will be my first trip, and I'm so excited to be here!

KW: Can we kick things off by talking a bit about The Yes &? How did the band begin?

AL: The band is just Gahlord Dewald and myself - he’s on modular synth and I'm on viola, which is an interesting combination of instruments. It started originally because of a common interest in combining the two sound worlds in order to do creative workshops and the idea of working with students and professionals about how creativity is related to problem-solving. We ended up doing a lot more performing than expected though, and have had a lot of fun playing around with sounds and ideas. My specialisation is matching electronics and acoustics; sourcing sounds and manipulating them. That’s one of the special things about The Yes & sound - sometimes I'm working from the viola to create an electronic sound and Gahlord is using his modular synthesizer to create an acoustic sound.

KW: My whole life has been trying to combine the electronic music I love listening to with the classical viola tradition I’ve been brought up on, and as both a listener and a performer, the combination is fascinating! Trying to explore electronic timbres and extended techniques on an acoustic instrument is an exciting concept, I think.

AL: A lot of what we think of as electronic sounds on an acoustic instrument comes down to how the timbre is being messed with. We're lucky as string players to have such a wide range of timbres that you don’t get on other instruments. There are subtle things you can do that sound beautiful on say, a clarinet, but you can really play around with your overtones on a string instrument.

KW: You mentioned that your specialisation was based in sound exploration; how would you describe yourself as a musician more broadly?

AL: I teach at a university and am in a position of being a classical violist, but with the viola in general, you are able to do so much more because you can fit into a broad array of different genres. Before being a freelancer in New York, for me that meant recording on pop albums, playing in bands and doing everything from playing really traditional classical music to doing back up strings with contemporary artists. I’m still an orchestral violist, but that’s just purely because of my type of training, which has actually allowed me to do so much more than it might initially suggest.

KW: As a curator and performer, I'm interested in exploring the idea of being "post-genre" and it's exciting to hear that you think in a similar way. The terminology around this sound world can be rather problematic though; "contemporary classical" as a genre meaning so many things to so many people. There is such a broad range of answers and ideas, but what does "contemporary classical" mean for you?

AL: For me, it’s anything that is being written now; contemporary music is 21st-century music! I would define it as a reference to time rather than a genre, really, because I think in the traditional classical world, considering it as a genre can become confusing to a pre-existing audience who are interested in Western Art Music specifically. When audiences turn up to a concert hall, they’re still expecting something that fits within their understanding of classical music; if you’ve got an overture by Strauss that is familiar, followed by an atonal piece that isn't, your audience may be confused because it doesn't match with their expectations. I'm interested in finding different ways of presenting contemporary classical music, so audiences can hear it with open ears in a comfortable context.

KW: Context is so important, as is space, I think. If you use a non-traditional space, you're offering your audience a clean slate, because they don’t come expecting anything specific. When you’re in a concert hall, you’re experiencing the music within a pre-existing context, with historic significance.

AL: Allowing your audience to feel comfortable in their own bodies within a space is so important. If you haven’t been to a concert hall before, it's easy to feel out of place because there are funny rules about when you clap, and the chairs feel strange, and you shouldn't cough during the middle of a work and so on. It’s great to get out of those confines because you become a better listener instinctively when you're not worried about little things like that. Also, a lot of older traditional music was written in a sonata-allegro form; it’s about themes and reaffirming that you’ll get back to the place you were as a listener, whereas in contemporary music, that strictly set-out form has been replaced with a more rotational form, moving through sounds and processes more fluidly. As a listener, being able to take an approach to contemporary works that allows for a journey is very affirming. Conversely, I think that’s hard as an audience member if you’re not ready for it. As a community of contemporary music makers, it's a puzzle that we have to solve.

KW: Musical problem-solving is an important point on a number of levels; on a small-scale, I often talk to my students about what they feel when they are struggling with a piece of repertoire and encourage them to think about it as a crossword rather than a simple "correct" or "incorrect" equation.

AL: That was a big part of our thinking when we started The Yes &. I’ve learned so much from working in this way and focussing on improvisation, particularly as a classically trained musician. In other kinds of music, something that might be considered a mistake is, in this context, just a different way of making live decisions. That’s the problem-solving aspect - there’s not one right way of doing something. We have a lot of skills and have developed our crafts to a certain point so that in real time we can develop and progress a piece organically.

KW: I was always so scared of making mistakes in my undergraduate degree and every time I did make one it felt totally crippling. Moving into a more post-genre way of thinking, I’m scared so much less. It is freeing to change the focus from being a perfect performer, to being an actual musician who can react and experiment on stage.

AL: When it becomes about craft and not about executing things perfectly, that feels great. The differences and "mistakes" are usually the bits that create really special moments.

In Conversation: Renée Anne Louprette

Your upcoming performance at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola will celebrate one of two new solo recordings you have recently completed: Une voix française | A French voice. Can you tell me about the 20th-century French masterworks that you chose for this recording and what speaks to you about the repertoire?

I have been attracted to 20th-century French organ music for many years now, and I had the good fortune to pursue that interest by studying and living in France, in the southern region of Toulouse where many historic, well-preserved organs remain to this day. I have been drawn especially to the music of Louis Vierne, the blind organist who served at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. This album features a suite of six Fantasy Pieces by Vierne (concluding with his famous Toccata). There are also featured works by two female French organist-composers: Jeanne Demessieux and Nadia Boulanger. The program is rounded out by some fascinating pieces by Jacques Ibert, Jehan Alain, and André Isoir – an important proponent of the French organ tradition who taught a number of my own teachers. Isoir passed away in 2016, shortly before this recording was made.

When preparing a record like Une voix française, what kind of timeline are you on? For example, how much time goes into the programming of the album and then how long do you allow yourself for working on the repertoire before you begin recording?

This is a program that developed over a period of, I would say, about six or seven years. I really wanted to feature repertoire close to my heart that would also closely match the style of the Mander instrument, music that I had performed for a number of years, so that the interpretations would feel organic, well paced, and expressive in an individual way – reflective of the years I spent with French instruments. I am really pleased with the arc of the program and the ebb and flow of pieces throughout the album. I hope listeners will also enjoy and appreciate the program as a cohesive whole.

In terms of preparation, what are the similarities and differences in readying yourself to record rather than perform a recital? Does your process need to change significantly for the former?

In one sense, I suppose, recording presents less risk, because one always has the option of editing, especially when working with an excellent producer and engineer. But on the other hand, one can take risks in a public recital performance knowing that those risks will not be set in stone. I have found it essential to perform repertoire many times in public recitals, ideally over a period of a few years, before endeavoring to record those works. In reality, the pressure is indeed much higher when recording. Key decisions need to be made about the interpretations that will be put forth. And the recording process itself requires a much higher level of concentration and stamina than even the most demanding public recital.

The N.P. Mander Pipe Organ that resides at St Ignatius Loyola is an incredibly special instrument, situated in a world-renowned acoustical space. What is your relationship with the organ, particularly having lived with it through your time as Associate Director of Music? And why was it your first choice when planning to record your albums released this year?

Although the instrument was built by the British firm Mander Organs, the concept of the instrument is French. The tonal colors and voicing of the instrument are especially suited to symphonic and 20th-century French music. A critical element in the sound of French organ music is the acoustic. In particular, the works by Louis Vierne, conceived in the vast space of Notre Dame in Paris, demand a resonant acoustic for the pieces to truly make sense. The Church of St. Ignatius Loyola building is indeed a splendid acoustical space, and working in that space for six years helped me build upon what I learned from performing in vast acoustics while in France. One has to play the building, to listen to the decay of sound after a release of a chord before starting the next phrase. Clarity of gesture can be achieved in a vast acoustic if one is sensitive to the way the sound travels in the building.

Going to the beginning of your time as an organist, how did you initially get involved with the instrument? What attracted you to the sound?

I began studying the organ when I was 20 years old, as an undergraduate piano performance major. A new course was being offered for pianists to learn the organ, and a friend roped me into taking the class. Fortunately for me, the instructor, Larry Allen, was a demanding and inspiring teacher as well as a brilliant performer. After two semesters I was hooked and immediately began to work as an organist in churches. I grew up attending a Catholic church weekly with my family in upstate New York, and there was a rather fine organist who played for Mass there as well as a real pipe organ in the church. Once I began studies of the instrument in college, memories of hearing an organ played well during my childhood came back, and I was surprised to discover a deep, personal connection to the sound.

Was there a particular moment that you recall as being pivotal in deciding that you wished to pursue a career in the classical music world?

I started studying the piano at the age of four, and from that point music was always a central focus of my life. I would say there were a number of critical moments as well as critical mentors for me throughout my development that assured me that I would have some role to fill in the musical profession. I am fortunate to have experienced many interesting career opportunities from which I learned a great deal, sometimes under tremendous pressure, but never enough to have discouraged me from continuing on and exploring new musical adventures.

As well as being a recitalist and accompanist, you are a teacher currently working as University Organist and Coordinator of the Organ Department at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. As a teacher, what is your philosophy around preparing instrumentalists for a sound career within the industry? Are there skills aside from technique and musicality that are of utmost importance to develop while studying?

It is a tremendous joy for me to work with young musicians, especially students who are brand new to the pipe organ, and to see them develop into artists with individual voices. I especially relish the opportunity to work with beginning organ students and to set them on the right technical path from the start. Working as an organist or choral director in churches – a promising career path for keyboardists – demands a multitude of skills as well as professional maturity. In the organ class at Rutgers, we all strive – both students and faculty – to set an example to others by being supportive team players and embracing a wide variety of career opportunities by thinking outside of the box. It is essential for classical musicians nowadays to use their creativity and explore new territory within the profession. It is especially important for organists to always welcome newcomers to the instrument.

For young students across the world currently preparing for examination and readying themselves to begin their careers, do you have any words of advice for performing at your best under a highly pressured situation?

I would encourage young artists to make the very most of the preparatory experience by never taking for granted any step of the learning process. A musician’s full depth of musical expression must be invested in every step of the practice process. Only then can the final result be anticipated and fully prepared for. Then one can feel liberated to deliver the communicative power of music in live performance. Focusing entirely on the expressive potency of the music can turn even the most pressurized performance situation into an intimate and meaningful experience for both the audience and performer.

In Conversation: The King's Singers (Jonathan Howard)

Firstly, congratulations on the album! The tour that you are about to embark on is extremely exciting your fans across the world and will be, I imagine, a great way to share the works you prepared for the recording. Can you tell me about the differences between spending time on pieces in the studio and taking them on tour for live audiences?

There are three key differences between rehearsing in private and making a recording, and performing live in a concert. The first is that - as we’re an unamplified group and therefore have to rely on the acoustics our venues have to carry any sounds we make - we need to adapt to any concert space we’re in. In drier acoustics, what you sing might be crystal clear at any speed, although there’ll be little or no reverberance, whereas in a boomier space, the sound might sound fuller but there’s a chance any more intricate, faster passages can get lost in the echo. That balance needs to be juggled really carefully. The second is that we need to think about whole performances of pieces. We tend not to sing a whole piece through every time we want to work on a small point within it in a rehearsal, and when we record, we’ll record in bitesize chunks, to allow us to focus on particular passages. But concerts obviously involve performing pieces in their entirety, so we really need to think about the shape of every piece as a whole. The final - and undoubtedly most important - thing is that concerts have a live audience who respond to what and how you’re singing. When you’re rehearsing or recording you’re usually performing for yourself. In concert, you need to think about all the things that an help you communicate in the most meaningful way with your audience. We’re talking about body language, facial expressions, holding the silence after a piece is finished, that sort of thing. After all, what’s the point of coming to a concert rather than listening to a recording at home if you’re not going to get something extra?

When you hit the road for a major tour, do you have any tried and tested tips for looking after yourselves and each other, both physically and mentally? How do you ensure you’re performing at your peak everywhere you go?

Our touring schedule is so intense that things do occasionally go wrong. People get a bit sick or miss home. But the most important things we can do is make sure we’re looking out for each other. Are we giving each other enough time to sleep? Are we thinking about everyone else’s needs? We’re such great friends, but we’re also six quite different people. Some of the guys love to chill out in their hotel rooms in order to decompress. I, on the other hand, always want to get outside and find a coffee shop to sit in and watch the world go by. We’re all happiest when we allow each other to do the things that make us individually happy, rather than the whole group being forced to do everything in the same way.

With every new release, The King’s Singers reimagine a capella for new audiences while honouring the great tradition of the form. How important is striking a balance between the old and the new in your programming?

Balancing old and new is everything in our programming. There's an amazing history of choral music all over the world, but we’re determined to show that it doesn’t get consigned to museums, as it’s still so vibrant and dynamic in the present day. But incorporating old and new doesn’t always have to refer to just old music and new music in the same concert. Sometimes presenting something ancient in an unexpected, progressive way can feel really modern, too. The whole point with innovation is not to keep innovating in the same way. Then it’s just repetition - and that’s dull.

What was the process like in choosing the songs you performed on Gold? I imagine that was a mammoth task, before you had even began learning and rehearsing the repertoire!

Gold was such a fun project because it deliberately wanted to reflect the past and present, as well as giving a flavour of what’s to come in the future. There’s music from the last 500 years, and King’s Singers arrangements and commissions from all the way across the last 50. With so much music to choose between, we wanted to create three CDs that were each beautiful, musical journeys in their own right, rather than just a compilation of music that’s been flung together. As a consequence, there’s likely to be music that even our most loyal fans won’t have known in there - which is absolutely what we wanted!

Education is an important part of The King’s Singers work, both in performance and through specialized programs like your Summer School and Foundation. Why does music education strike such a chord with you as an ensemble and how does it influence the way you program your concerts?

Singing is such a powerful way to bring people together, and because nothing’s stopping anyone from singing - there are no barriers to entry like having to be able to afford to buy an instrument - the possibilities for coming together to sing different kinds of music are endless. We’ll do anything we can to unite people through something they love doing, at a time in our world when it can feel like people are trying to push us apart.

Having been established in 1968, each current member of The King’s Singers joined a pre-existing group. Considering this, what are the group’s thoughts on joining an already established ensemble and ensuring you blend without getting lost, not only as a musician but more broadly in terms of your individual creative voices?

That’s a really good question. Because there are only six of us, and because our membership changes so slowly, we like to think that we can celebrate the individual without Brand King’s Singers becoming muddied. I think it would be harder if there were more of us, or if we each stayed in the group for less time, as our fans would get confused. But we want to showcase everyone’s personalities, as that hopefully shows that we’re real people with real loves and interests, rather than a group of performing robots. In terms of our individual creative voices, one thing that’s lovely about us is that we’re all equal partners in the group. There’s no one musical director, no group leader. From the moment anyone joins this group, they have one sixth of a say in group decisions. And that’s fundamental for making everyone feel like they have ownership over the direction of the group - and therefore their own lives too!

How fundamental has each member’s prior classical training been to finding a holistic ensemble voice? Has that knowledge helped in working on music that crosses ‘genre boundaries’, like that which is featured on Gold?

What’s great is that everyone has their own strengths, and although there are similarities in how we’ve learned to sing and the sort of groups we’ve sung in, there are also key differences. We speak different languages, listen to different kinds of music in our spare time, read different books, wear different clothes and eat different foods. I do think we’re really good at looking to each other to lead in the areas where we each have particular knowledge or expertise. Because we're a group where we revel in musical and creative diversity, allowing each of these perspectives to be heard is critical for us to make sure we don’t get stuck in a rut, doing things that are predictable or repetitive. In my head, The King’s Singers would die if we only ever did things as we’ve always done them.

Finally, when you’re not rehearsing or working on other important tasks, where can we find The King’s Singers during your downtime?

Ha! I think you’d get six very different answers if you asked everyone. Some of the guys want to spend as much time at home as possible. They have their families waiting for them back in England when they return from tour, and they want to sit in front of the fire with a lovely home-cooked meal and be in each other’s company. For me, I’m very rarely still. Being in The King’s Singers has given me an extraordinary travel bug, so I’m away as often as I am home during our downtime - and this year I’ve managed to set aside some time in New York, LA, Sydney, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Paris, my parents’ place in Oxfordshire and our family home in the south of France, as well as being in my own home in East London (to give you a sense of my restlessness). When I am in London, though, I worry that I've turned into a bit of an awful millennial cliche: I try to keep fit with daily spin classes, spend a lot of time working from coffee shops, and I go see as many shows, films, concerts and talks as I can. But real treat is sitting in my favourite local restaurant for hours on end, invariably eating too many of the delicious things on their menu and doing a cryptic crossword. I know all the staff and it feels like I’m spending time with family. That’s heaven to me.

In Conversation: Chris Howlett

The 3MBS Marathon is an absolutely epic event that pulls together some of Australia's finest local musicians over one day while celebrating the work of a singular composer - this year, the incomparable Johann Sebastian Bach. Can you tell me about the process of picking a composer and what drew you to Bach's output for the 2018 Marathon?

It is true, it is a huge event and a real statement for what can be achieved by a small number of dedicated staff, many volunteers and a very generous collection of Australian musicians. Bringing together the marathon this year, I wanted to connect in the concept of legacy. 3MBS has an amazing legacy supporting the community and sharing our passion for Melbourne classical music to those that are listening now, as well as those who will be listening in the future; a topic we discuss regularly at Board Meetings. Over 200 years, the Bach family had 50 professional artists including composers, performers and painters. There are very few families that have created such a profound legacy as the Bach's.

How did you first get involved in 3MBS, where you are now the Chair of the Board, and why is independent radio so important to you?

The first connection was during high school when I came to 3MBS in year 10 for work experience. It was the middle of Radiothon and I spent the week stuffing envelopes! My next contact was during the years at University when Yarra Trio/Melbourne Piano Trio began to perform on the radio; working on 3MBS was such an important element and a huge learning curve. It was vital for us to have this support so that we could build up our subscription series and start our career. The way 3MBS supports musicians is the reason I donate my time to the organisation, and is an enormous part of its value and position in the Melbourne musical landscape.

Any kind of cultural event is a sum of its (many!) moving parts and takes an absolute village to put together. As the artistic director of this exciting event, what is your role in the Marathon and how far in advance do you have to start working before the big day finally rolls around?

We start in March of each year with my proposal to the board regarding the next composer and the confirmation of dates and venues. I then try to have the program set by July with all the program notes and biographies completed, which enables the marketing team to begin their planning. This year, I have been quite hands on as we have been without a General Manager for the last 4 months, and my position of Chairman meant I needed to step up in that sense. We have a fantastic team at 3MBS and we have all worked closely together to put together what will be out biggest marathon yet.

Once you've put your wishlist of artists and repertoire together, how do you piece together the day, from both a musical and operational perspective?

Bringing the program and repertoire together is a very fluid event and often takessome UN-esque diplomacy as there are always favourite works that many artists want to play!

Does your approach to programming stay consistent across the many festivals and performances you put together, or does it change depending on the structure of the event? Thinking generally, what makes a good program for you?

I try and make sure that each of the three festivals that I program have a very different feel - they also have individual comprehensive briefs which enables this. The one element that stays consistent however is the need to have a strong and intriguing mixture of well known works and hidden gems. It is this balance that I think makes for great programming.

Can you tell me what drew you to artistic direction and whether your performance career has impacted on the way you approach the craft?

It is an honour and responsibility to bring together artists and works for an event. My personal interest stemmed from starting the trio and learning how to balance a concert and subscription series. It has since grown to include the Sanguine Estate Music Festival which I work on with Howard Penny, Music in the Round at Abbotsford Convent and, of course, the 3MBS Marathon.

For young musicians starting to put their own concerts together, do you have any words of advice about structuring a program?

There are two main elements, I believe:

Firstly, find the balance between the well-known and the interesting - this enables you to capture a bigger market. Some patrons will want to hear classics like Mendelssohn Piano Trio in D minor and you'll be able to delight a new audience with some lesser known gems like Novák Piano Trio No 1.

Secondly, find your own style and build your program/brand around this - there are a lot of concerts in Melbourne and you need to find your own voice.

In Conversation: Sarah Ampil

For the newly formed Apollo Opera Collective, you will be performing the role of Ginevra in Handel's Ariodante. Can you tell me a little about the role and what your preparation has looked like so far?

Ginevra is the princess of Scotland and love interest of the protagonist, Ariodante. She and Ariodante have been given the King’s blessing to be wed however, Ginevra is also pursued by Polinesso, the Duke of Albany, who devises a scheme to sabotage the impending nuptials and take Ginevra - and the throne - for himself. Preparing the role has been a welcome challenge - I get a little sick of the “damsel in distress” trope that permeates many operatic works, so it’s been refreshing to explore how Ginevra shows strength, conviction and grace in the face of her condemnation. It’s also been fascinating to explore the opera through a 21st century lens, and to delve into how these characters and their circumstances might still resonate with modern audiences. It’s been a joy collaborating with this group of passionate artists who are looking to increase the visibility of opera in Sydney. After almost two months of dedicated music and staging calls (and countless hours of individual coaching and private practice) we’re looking forward to sharing our work with audiences when we open on 9 February.

When getting a new role ready, how do you balance learning the part musically while preparing the character? Do these two things work hand in hand or does one need to happen before the other can begin?

Ideally, I believe that musical and dramatic preparation should be inextricable as one ought to inform the other. As a young singer still consolidating various aspects of my technique, I will usually start with a read-through of the score to determine which sections might need extra attention from a technical perspective. Often I will phonate through the notes on the page without words to make sure the line is secure before adding dramatic context, pacing and inflexion. I refer to the libretto like a script and draw out as much information on the character and their circumstances as possible, before exploring other resources to fully flesh out the role. Acting never came naturally to me so I try to be armed with as much context and information as possible before stepping into a staging call. As I add roles to my portfolio, I find the process shifting a little bit, as experience will dictate where I might need to dedicate more focus. While preparing Ginevra, I've also benefitted greatly from the guidance of various historically informed specialists, from consulting with our conductor and AOC Artistic Director Keiren Brandt-Sawdy, to cast workshops on declamatory Italian recitative. There’s something very raw about the emotions in Handel’s music that really come to life when properly executed in the baroque style.

In preparing your character for the stage, what work do you need to do outside of your musical studies to feel ready to portray the often complex operatic roles?

Language and stagecraft have to be two of the most important weapons in an opera singer’s arsenal. I’ve always loved learning languages, and understanding the shape and pacing of a recitative or aria is essential to feel connected to the character’s motivations. Some of our cast members undertook stage combat training to ensure their characters read convincingly on stage in a particularly physical scene. Apart from these, I’m beginning to really appreciate the importance of time and resource management. Rehearsal schedules can be gruelling, particularly during production week, and rehearsals involve much more repetition than performances. While preparing for this role, I’ve started figuring out how to better pace myself through the rehearsal period to ensure that I don’t peak too early and can give it my all in front of a live audience. Everyone operates a little differently, so it’s important to offer developing artists these opportunities to figure out what works best for them in a safe environment before branching out into professional work.

I often speak with singers about the difference between performing in the context of an opera and on stage in recital - how does your preparation differ between the two and do you find that your operatic experience has influenced the way you perform in a concert setting?

I certainly wish I’d started exploring the role-learning process much earlier, if only to sooner understand the importance of context in building a scene, especially on the recital platform. A seasoned recitalist, lieder duo or chamber ensemble can create the same detail or evoke similar emotions in the miniature by applying the same dedicated research process to an excerpt of an opera or song cycle. I love the collaborative aspect of putting together a fully-staged role, and have certainly tried to implement parts of this process in my preparation of recitals and concerts. If I am presenting a concert of assorted repertoire underscored by a certain theme, I may take some liberties with the drama or music to highlight particular elements that might not be as prominent in the source material - again, context is key. Some major differences for me are energy and focus in the space; it’s fairly common to find yourself immersed in an operatic role when you’ve got costumes and a little adrenaline in your system, but it’s so rewarding to be able to transport an audience out of the recital hall or parlour setting and into your mind’s eye without the mise-en-scène. The onus falls on the audience to participate more actively in the music, and often the shared experience is all the richer for it.

You have won a number of prestigious awards for your singing; how do you prepare to compete? Do you have a pre-stage process that you stick by, or does it change depending on the performance?

For my own peace of mind, I try to treat competitions as the means to an end as opposed to the goal itself. Performing for a competition panel is a great simulation audition - a skill that all singers will need to polish and review throughout their careers. I try to treat these panels like any other job interview: I evaluate if the opportunities offered are appropriate for me at that point in my development, just as the panel try to determine if each singer is suitable for the available prizes. Eisteddfods and competitions offering cash prizes can be unpredictable beasts, because pitting singers against one another directly opposes the collaborative nature of the art form. They’re a great opportunity to try out new repertoire and practice managing performance anxiety, but any wins or prizes are just a bonus. I haven’t attempted an eisteddfod or public competition since my last major role debut, so I will have to wait and see if that experience has affected my preparation process. I can only imagine that the more immersed you become in the process (as with learning a role), the easier it is to conquer the self-talk and self-criticism that can burden developing artists. That said, I certainly think there is a place for competitions in the industry, because they also promote the profile of classical performance by showcasing some incredible feats of athleticism by young performers - I think it’s important that we redefine these processes as an opportunity to promote the art form, not just individual artists.

For developing singers hoping to pursue a freelance career, what non-musical skills do you think are imperative to develop early on?

I think it’s very important to develop a healthy attitude to constructive criticism early on. While coaching sessions and rehearsals should be safe environments in which to try out new things, these are still vulnerable spaces for young performers and it can be difficult not to take things personally. This also means listening with a discerning ear and sticking to your convictions - many people will offer unwelcome opinions or ill-informed technical advice, and young singers need to know how to deal with these moments with grace under fire.

Finally, the Apollo Opera Collective is an exciting newcomer to the Baroque music scene. Why is it so important to support organisations like AOC and other small companies, as a singer but also as an audience member?

Around the world, opera houses are faced with the challenges of creating vibrant and innovative productions to appeal to increasingly discerning audiences. Larger opera companies are often tentative to take risks with repertoire, especially with high production costs at stake. Grass-roots companies such as the Apollo Opera Collective cater to this gap in the Australian musical landscape by offering exciting, rarely-performed operas at a fraction of the cost to the audience member. These productions also showcase the work of young up-and-coming singers, conductors, directors and other creatives - the next generation of the industry. Well-established performing arts companies rely on organisations like the AOC for their longevity. Similarly, as a singer, opportunities with companies like AOC assist with promoting and preserving the art form, and help to dispel the notion of opera as inaccessible and irrelevant.

In Conversation: Fung Lam

You juggle two huge jobs – being a composer while also working as the Director of Artistic Planning for the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

The job of Director of Artistic Planning has been something I’ve been actively interested in for over fifteen years! I’m really passionate about orchestral music and including contemporary programming in a traditional setting, so working in artistic planning seemed like a good fit. Hong Kong is my hometown as well, so it is very special to work with the Philharmonic. When I was completing my masters, I was planning on working in artistic administration; I wasn’t going to be a performer or an instrumentalist, and it is very difficult to make a full-time career out of composition, particularly straight out of study. I started to gather work experience at festivals and arts centers, while continuing to pursue composing. I spent a few years working with Boosey and Hawkes, looking after commissions, which was an interesting insight into the industry. It gave me a very solid base of knowledge and a lay of the land, I suppose. I was concurrently trying to get my music out into the world, studying for my PhD while working full time, and I had no plans when I suddenly got a phone call from the BBC commissioning me for a 20-minute orchestral work to be performed at the Proms. Honestly, I would have been blown away with a 5-minute solo piano commission, so that was exciting. I had worked with them a few years before, through a young composer opportunity and it was great to work with them again for the Proms.

So, they already knew your aesthetic?

They did, and I think that commission really kickstarted my career. A year before the commission occurred, I did a magazine interview where they asked what my dream commission would be, and in three seconds flat, I’d said BBC Proms. It’s always been a special concert for me – I remember being 11 or 12 when I went for the first time and it left such a huge impression. The performance was from the European Union Youth and the theatre was completely packed, and there I was in my restricted view seat! So, it was really exciting to be included as a composer all those years later. By the time the Proms opportunity came around, I had been living in the UK for 17 years, so it felt like time for a change. I ended up moving back to Hong Kong and became composer in residence for the Philharmonic and took up a position as part time lecturer. So really, before I started in Artistic Planning, I had basically just been composing for a decade.

How did you decide which commissions to take during those years?

I tried to find bigger commissions, therefore working on fewer larger pieces every year. Quality was my number one priority - I wanted to write pieces that I would be proud of 20 years on. I wanted to spend more time on less compositions, I suppose. Of course, I did some other things during that time – teaching and arranging – but composing was still my main job until this one came along!

Which was the job you wanted!

Exactly. Somehow, I got it. I think it was partly because I already had a great relationship with the orchestra and Jaap van Zweden, the Philharmonic’s artistic director. Our relationship was purely professional, we never chatted about anything but music, but he was fantastic to work with. He is very supportive and expects and wants me to continue composing.

How do you balance both?

Honestly, I don’t know! For a few months when I first took the job, I only wrote three notes! The beginning is the trickiest time; everything is time consuming because you’re just settling in. Now I know my way around better, and understand how things work, so it’s about time management.

I imagine the work you did at Boosey and Hawkes while you were studying brought up similar challenges?

Yes, absolutely – there was always so much happening. In artistic planning, I think it is similar – there are so many things taking place at the same time. It’s all about coordination – of people, of opinions – and making sure everything works for everyone!

Does having such an intimate knowledge of the personnel help when you’re working on compositions for the orchestra?

It helps a lot. I think I can be a little more experimental, and workshop things relatively comfortably, because of my relationship with the ensemble. I think it’s also great looking at it the other way – because the players knew me when I started working in artistic planning. When you’re a composer that has been commissioned by a large ensemble, you don’t have the luxury of time, and you usually work with the players for a week, attend the performance, take your bow and then disappear. It’s really nice to have a pre-existing relationship in place. I suppose now I just can’t program my own music! Of course, this is something that we spoke about at the beginning and if the board or management wanted to commission one of my works they would do so directly, so I wouldn’t have to negotiate with myself.

I’m sure you would be a very harsh negotiator with yourself.

Of course, I would try to bring the price down! But in all seriousness, I’m incredibly lucky to work with such talented and supportive people.

We’ve spoken a lot about how difficult it is to make a living from composition, and I wonder what other skills young composers should be trying to develop while they’re at university to help prepare themselves?

Firstly, I think when you are at university you have a great opportunity to experiment and there should not be any pressure to write in any particular style. You should always write what you honestly want to write, but many people feel that they should write in a certain style that either pleases the teacher or the examiner. I rarely entered any composition competitions because of that. Experiment with creative ideas, then try and create opportunities with your friends. I think it is okay to write things for your colleagues to play, particularly as you’re building your portfolio, but make sure those pieces stay true to your central musical identity. I think that’s really important.

You also spent time concentrating on developing your artistic administration skills – has that helped your career as a composer, overall?

I absolutely think arts administration is something that all composers or musicians should have basic knowledge of, because until you get the job you’re after, you’re going to have to look after yourself. It’s always very useful to know a bit about how agreements work so you can negotiate your own contracts and commissions – it helps you protect yourself. Any kind of industry knowledge will help along the way, that’s for certain. Even if you don’t really want to work in an administrative environment, at least get to know how the industry works. It makes you more realistic about what kind of path your career might take. You learn how important self-promotion is, and how to do that tactfully, because if you don’t write to people and introduce yourself, who is going to come and find you? I think it’s really easy to forget that no one is actually going to come and knock on your door if they don’t know where you live.

And learning from your mistakes will help, right?

You can learn from all things, but I think you learn the most from bad compositions – yours and others. I think you should always be listening, and not just to music by composers you’re a mega fan of. Try and identify what you like and dislike about things you hear and why. I think it’s also crucial that you listen to music that sits outside of the classical world. I listen to all sorts of rock and post-rock bands. I love Radiohead! I am interested in music that is innovative. I also try and remind people that nationalism shouldn’t block your view of the composition world. My music does not specifically represent my Chinese heritage. I think it’s great to explore that, but I don’t think you should feel any pressure to sound like other composers from your country. Music is more about music than it is about nationality. And when you think like that, you invite everyone to listen.

In Conversation: Anthony Marwood

Let’s jump straight in and talk a little about career development. When you’re a young artist in training, where many of your hours are spent refining your technique and doing exercises and working on precision, how do you begin to create your own musical personality; your own creative conscious?

I wouldn’t separate out the question of technique and precision from the creative and musical because, in my opinion, the two do have to work in a good relationship. If you do spend all of your time focussing on precision and technique though, for me at least, I find that that leads ultimately to some kind of dead end where the preoccupation is in the technical and you kind of lose sight of what it is you actually want and need to be doing… the joyful interpretation, living, and embodying of music. I mean, of course, there are certain things that need to be analysed and focused upon but at a certain point, I think it is necessary to let go of all that and trust that the precision will work. It is like The Inner Game of Tennis. As soon as one is focused on the right thing, it is amazing what can happen - both artistically and technically.

So how do you strike a balance while you’re developing?

For young musicians working through tertiary studies, the whole purpose, I would imagine, is this sort of glorious possibility of immersing yourself wholeheartedly in the practice. In a way, the greatest challenge always arrives once the formal training comes to an end - it is the question of how you make the transition away from an institution. I remember that period being very uncomfortable for me, and I think it is for a lot of people. Naturally, one has to start looking at what the options are and be aware of how the time you have goes by very quickly and then suddenly you’re out in the big world and the answer is that there are no concrete answers! I’m a great believer in being open to whatever opportunities come, and as part of that philosophy, I don’t think one can force things to happen that aren’t ready to happen. One does have to have a certain faith in the process and if your work has integrity, you have to believe that will lead you where you need to be, however serendipitous. That was certainly my experience - certain things came to me that I wasn’t necessarily looking for just because I was in a certain place doing what I was doing. I think one can waste a lot of energy worrying, not just at that point but honestly, at all points along the way. There are a number of times when I find myself worrying about a particular situation and a month later I realise what a complete waste of energy that was. It’s funny sometimes that when you have a certain fixed idea about what it is you are after and then it doesn’t work out, something else that you hadn’t thought of comes to you and you have to be open enough to read those signals. I think this is a good way of living generally, actually. You just read the signs and remain in an open-hearted place from which you can see, be and receive.

Did having an awareness and an openness to unexpected possibilities help you get through some of that discomfort moving from a tertiary institution into the “real world”?

Yes, I think it did. I think I was lucky, but then, of course, you could say that luck comes to you when you’re most ready to receive it. For me, the journey started off very gently by meeting certain people and by sitting next to certain players I was completely in awe of. I was always wanting to improve; I was less skillful at playing the game of career building, so I just worked on being a better player. The opportunities that I missed out on when I was in my early twenties I possibly was not ready for, but when I did start to receive things later I was in a much better place to accept them. I think it’s really a game of trial and error and one makes mistakes but the great thing is to be able to learn from every situation. To expect everything to work out perfectly… you have to just discard that because life doesn’t work out that way. It’s a process of learning and at a certain point once things are underway you can embrace certain teachings and discard others, but being able to take something away from all situations good and bad is a great gift to develop.

And I suppose the more that you try things and they don’t work out the better you get at climbing back on the horse. Has that had a major impact on what you’re doing now?

I absolutely think so, because every success or failure adds to a picture that builds gradually. This whole soloist/director part of my career is case in point - it began quite coincidentally about twelve years ago, through invitations from The Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. I had to figure things out relatively quickly! If you throw yourself into the opportunities though, your experiences start to fill in and your confidence grows. Working with the students at ANAM has been part of that development for me because working there has given me space and time to discover things and explore ideas. I mean, not many violinists have been able to direct four Beethoven symphonies and a violin concerto! It’s not just the students who are presented with great opportunities there, it is me too!

How much of your chamber music experience has been translated into the way you lead ensembles?

This is a very good question. I would say a considerable amount. I think chamber musicians have to develop a way of interacting and being able to encourage and give criticism to each other in a way that is not hostile but constructive. This involves a certain generosity and sensitivity, as well as a certain command of language; skills that you don’t necessarily learn in other musical situations. I suppose it gets a little more amplified when you have a lot of people in front of you, but nevertheless, the chamber music skills of listening and communicating are completely key. I think its one of the reasons I enjoy it so much because it combines different sets of skills; being the soloist, being the conductor, and being the colleague.

How do you prepare for that kind of role?

It is all about going to the score and trying the music with refreshed eyes and ears. It is amazing how you think you know a score, but then you go back to it and see many things that you missed. When we are talking about a musical masterpiece … well, that is rather exhilarating because you’re never “done” with the score.

And when you’re working with people who might be experiencing these masterpieces for the first time bring a new energy?

It certainly can. One of the requirements of being a good leader I think is having your own very clear interpretations but also leaving room for the surprising things that might come your way during the rehearsal process. Performing with other people is a two-way street that requires a very open dialogue. Of course, you can’t take on every single idea but you should always be open to incorporating or modifying if the opportunity arises.

You’ve mentioned quite a few of the skills, particularly those pertaining to communication, that are not always taught at school, and I wonder what you would like to see being developed in more young artists?

I have a great love of going back to the score like an actor would, to delve deeply into the “text”, if you will. So I would like to see a little more enthusiasm to do that kind of work, I suppose. It is very easy to be the kind of instrumentalist who gets a certain immediate gratification by picking up the instrument and reassuring oneself that it is all working fine and that’s enough, but I think that it is the people who are also fascinated by the material that bring the most to performance. Also, knowing how to speak to people is so important, both inside and out of the rehearsal room. I’ve seen conductors speak to orchestras in a way that is entirely inappropriate and they don’t get the result. One of the conductors that I have certainly very much admired is Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who was just completely stunning in the way he used imagery to ignite the imagination of the players in front of him. So rather than him saying “this needs to be louder”, he would invoke some sort of fantastic imagery which would inspire the players to use their own imagination to produce the result. I don’t know if that’s something you can be taught, but I do think it’s incredibly important.

When you are out the front of the orchestra, performing as a soloist, do you bring those chamber skills to the way you communicate both forward to the audience and back to the orchestra?

We work on this so much - the mental switch between watching and listening. All of a sudden the players don’t have that visual impulse, so it is important to find other ways of using your body language to communicate backward. It is one of the many reasons I like the entire ensemble to stand - the signals are much more powerful that way. And that is a large part of our work; sharpening the chamber music reactions. My friend Steven Isserlis always says everything is chamber music and I couldn’t agree more. Whether it's a concerto, a symphony, a string quartet - it’s all about listening, its all about reacting, it’s all about connection, and that is the most profound truth.

In Conversation: Belinda Davies

Your winning performance for BBC ONE’s Even Better than the Real Thing was incredible. What made you decide to audition for The Greatest Love of All? What can you tell us about the show?

A friend submitted me to the producer last minute. I’ve sung professionally since I was 14 but at the time I was in a lull as far as singing went and then this popped up and I can’t help thinking it was just meant to be. I knew how much I wanted it by how terribly nervous I was, even as a professional singer who has sung – and been compared to - Whitney my whole life!

How do you get ready for the show? In your preparation, what is the difference between performing Whitney Houston's songs and actually performing as Whitney Houston? Do you have to approach your preparation differently?

I worked day and night and absorbed EVERYTHING Whitney when I first prepared for this role. I had to learn every little natural hand gesture and head movement that was Whitney-esque, on top of emulating her voice and vocal traits. Now it is the act of putting on the makeup and wig and costuming that takes me to that place, it’s like a trigger or cue that puts me in Whitney mode.

What influence did Whitney Houston have in your musical life and aspirations, and what do you think her music and story can offer young performers, in particular?

Here was a woman who broke ground and was inspirational in becoming as pervasive and popular and successful as she was, particularly for women of colour. And this is on top of her actual god given talent as a singer. She can inspire in so many ways, but the biggest thing is that she is proof that anything is possible.

How has your perspective on music and music-making changed after being involved so intensely in The Greatest Love of All for the past four years?

For a show like this it is all about the team. There are so many people around me that make this show what it is and allow me to focus on putting out my best performances. And also if you sing what you love it’s a true joy, a blessing to be able to work in this industry.

Many of our readers are young musicians on the cusp of their careers. What advice can you offer them as they forge their own musical paths?

It’s clichéd but just don’t give up. There will be struggle – I guarantee it! – but you need to focus and forge through. No one who’s successful will ever turn around and say ‘oh it was a breeze’, they say ‘I ate beans for a year and I lived out of my car and never got any sleep and everyone doubted me’ because it’s true, but IT DIDN’T STOP THEM!

In Conversation: Molly Collier-O'Boyle

Next week you’ll be giving your first viola recital for a Sound Bite concert at ANAM. Can you tell us a little about the journey that has led you here?

This has been my first year studying viola as my major instrument and I am indeed very excited to be putting on my first viola recital at ANAM this week. Up until this point, I had predominantly been a violinist (bar some dabbling with the electric jazz bass in high school) and during my Bachelor of Music in 2013, I picked up a viola to learn for chamber and orchestral situations. Over the next few years, whilst finishing my Bachelor and then going on to do my Graduate Diploma in performance on violin, I kept auditioning for projects on both violin and viola. It turned out that I was getting better results on viola in most cases and I was enjoying exploring the instrument, so this year I thought I would give it a shot as my main focus. I was lucky enough to be taken in by ANAM to do a part-time year studying viola, while being able to freelance around the country, participate in a wide variety of AYO programs and keep up playing the violin when I can.

What were your programmatic priorities in putting this recital together and how did you go about researching and choosing the pieces you'll be performing?

My good friend and fellow ANAM colleague Liam Wooding was kind enough to agree to be my recital partner for this Sound Bite. He really loves the Brahms clarinet sonatas so, of course, I had to program one in! My mentor Caroline Henbest then invited me to give the premiere of Stuart Greenbaum's Viola & Piano Sonata, and to top that off, I thought I would like to incorporate some chamber music, so I chucked the Kodaly Intermezzo for String Trio into the mix. I think all three pieces have fantastic folk elements to them, which is a genre I am particularly passionate about!

You've performed as both associate and principal viola for Australian Youth Orchestra; leadership roles that require more than just technical aptitude. What have your experiences in AYO taught you about musical leadership?

My experiences with AYO this year have been absolutely life-changing. I really owe it to organisations like AYO and ANAM for guiding me onto the path of the beautiful bratsche this year - without these opportunities I don't think I would have pursued this wonderfully underestimated instrument. Having done many AYO programs previously as tutti violin and viola, it was a very different experience being put into the position of a leading a section. These projects allowed me to work on my skills as a principal player at a high level surrounded by many of my lovely classical musician friends, which was both daunting and very special.

As well as studying and performing as a soloist and orchestral musician, you also work in several chamber ensembles. Can you tell me about your current projects and how your work in small ensembles has influenced your overall musical values?

Over the last few years, I have been in a variety of chamber music ensembles, from student-led groups to more professional chamber organisations such as Queensland's Chamber Orchestra - Camerata. Over this year, I have had the opportunity to play chamber music with a fantastic quartet at the AYO Chamber Player's program, performed as part of the Play On Collective at the Collingwood Arts Precinct and most recently, worked in a wide variety of groups at ANAM for recitals and competitions. Currently, I am in the process of brainstorming chamber music ideas for next year; I've recently started a duo with Madi Chwasta (percussion star and journalist extraordinaire) called MC2, as well as beginning conversations with other colleagues about starting an ensemble where we the performers are writing and performing our own music. Stay tuned!

Whilst living and studying in Brisbane, you curated and organized the arts event series 'Paint it Red'. What did this process teach you about event organization and programming?

Curating Paint it Red gave me so much invaluable knowledge about how to actually run music events; from finances and advertising to administration and people skills and additionally, the ability to solve problems as quickly as possible! I met so many fantastic visual artists and chamber musicians through running this series and learnt how to run a successful Pozible campaign so I could pay everyone involved (how neat is that?!). It taught me so much about programming and how to fit ensembles playing different genres into one evening of carefully curated music. I hope to do more event organisation in Melbourne next year.

Finally, when you're not listening to the pieces you're preparing to perform, what's on your playlist?

I must confess, I am the absolute worst listener of classical music at the best of times. My playlist includes all time favourites from D'Angelo, J Dilla, Nujaves, Earth Wind and Fire, The East Pointers, Sex on Toast, the Danish String Quartet, Daft Punk, Breakout, Andrew Bird, Esperanza Spalding, Nickel Creek and The Punch Brothers, to name a few. Perhaps I should have stuck with the bass guitar after all!

In Conversation: Deborah Cheetham AO

Alongside Plexus, you will be performing an arrangement of Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs - a moving cycle written just a year before the composer's death. Can you tell me about your relationship with the work and the intimate nature of Cassomenos' rendition for chamber ensemble and soprano?

Strauss had a great love of the soprano voice; his wife and lifelong companion Pauline inspired and premiered many of his compositions. Sadly, Strauss did not live to hear these songs performed. For me, The Four Last songs represent the pinnacle of art song. Stefan Cassomenos has captured the essence of Strauss' glistening score and distilled it to an intensely intimate chamber performance for six musicians, voice included. It takes a great deal of musicianship to deliver the rhythmic and harmonic fluidity Strauss intended and I like to think we perform this arrangement as a true ensemble rather than a work for soloist with quintet accompaniment.

The songs, which deal with universal and timeless concepts, carry as much poignancy today as they did at their premiere in 1950. Is the secret to opera and lied's longevity found in the fact that much of the subject matter the genre deals with has not changed over time?

The poetry is certainly timeless. Even if in the 21st century few of us have the space in our lives to contemplate the world in the way Hermann Hesse and Joseph von Eichendorff managed in Früling, September, Beim Schlafengehen and Im Abendrot.

Why do you think opera matters today, particularly in our current political and social climate?

Opera will always matter as long as it remains true to its raison d'être - storytelling, amplified and intensified through music. Opera thrives when it is performed, directed and produced by those who have dedicated themselves to the study of the art form. Of course, opera is expensive to produce. So are postal surveys. We are not the only generation to experience political upheaval, revolutions in the way we conduct our lives and a sense of the pulse of life quickening. We must support our artists and leaders in the world of opera to be courageous and not quite so risk-averse.

As a singer and a composer, why do you think it is important that new operas continue to be written and championed? Do you have words of advice for developing composers interested in exploring the world of classical song?

It is vital that new operas continue to be written, otherwise, what is our legacy to be? We cannot leave behind the legacy of 18th and 19th century and even 20th-century composers. We have a wonderful opportunity as well as serious obligation to tell our own stories and opera is the ideal medium. As opera represents the culmination of all the arts, it presents composers with a wonderful opportunity for collaboration in a profession which can be a rather solitary pursuit at times.

For young singers looking to forge a career on the operatic stage, what words of advice would you offer in regard to making a mark in what is often a highly competitive playing field?

Immerse yourself in every aspect of the art form. Travel abroad and extend your knowledge in every way you can. Form a partnership with an experienced and capable accompanist.

If you had the opportunity to go back to the beginning of your career and give yourself a piece of advice about working in the classical music industry, what would you say?

I am happy and content with the path I have chosen. It has been richly rewarding in so many ways. If I met my younger self I would give a knowing wink and a smile and say toi toi.

In Conversation: Andrew Blanch

You recently returned to the Melbourne International Guitar Festival as a past winner of the major competition. Can you tell us about your competition experiences as a classical guitarist and the value of performing in this environment?

On the whole, my experience with competitions has been really positive – and that includes all the ones where I walked without any ‘prize’ per say. It sounds cliché, but I think competitions are what you make of them. The best piece of advice I received about competitions was to enter to win. The implication being that you will turn up on the day with many, many months of consistent and intelligent preparation. When you give it your all in this way it becomes more about how much you can get out of yourself and how much you can improve rather than the external measurement of what any jury happens to think of your playing.

The only caveat I would add - for classical guitarists in particular – is not to get tunnel vision. Bela Bartok famously said competitions are for horses, not artists… I’m not sure they’re for horses either, but setting that to one side I couldn’t agree with the sentiment more. For some inexplicable reason, competitions have become ubiquitous in the classical guitar world, and for this reason, they seem to occupy an undue amount of space in the ambitions of young guitarists. I think if your main musical aspirations are to win competitions you’re going to have a bad time. Commonsense stuff really, excluding certain exceptional circumstances, if you’re going to do them, they should really be one smallish part of your overall musical activities. They’re no substitute for a good teacher, a Bachelor or Masters degree, playing chamber music with others, reading and learning as much as you can about music and so on.

As well as performing, you also give masterclasses for young guitarists, offering them your insights into performance, collaboration and touring. In your experience, what makes a great master class?

It’s really hard to put it into only a few words. I think at the heart of a great master class is a great teacher, and I think we all recognize a great teacher when we see one in action. Psychologically a masterclass is a bit of a dangerous situation for the student, and the teacher really needs to approach that situation with respect. I’ve seen ‘maestros’ tear down nervous young musicians doing their best in masterclasses and I find that absolutely appalling.

One small general observation is, I think students, and teachers perhaps as well, frequently attribute errors in fluency and so on to this thing we call ‘technique’. I find errors in fluency are more often than we realize just symptoms of an underlying lack of musical clarity and understanding around things such as rhythm, style, melody, harmony, the role of different voices in a texture and so on. Often the best masterclasses I see, are when a student realizes how much more they’re capable of once they understand some important fundamental aspect of the piece they’re working on.

Your debut CD, Spanish Guitar Music, has been incredibly popular amongst listeners and critics. Could you tell me about programming the disc and what the recording process looked like?

The general purpose behind my programming choice was to provide a mixture of old favourites with some lesser-known gems, packaged in a way that would have broad appeal. We have a bit of a joke in my family that often gets told - I sent around a group email asking everyone for a CD title. Everyone sent back a mixture of lovely suggestions such as: Portraits of Spain, Impressions of Spain, A Spanish Journey, Reflections of Spain, Evocation – all in some way at least a little creative and imaginative. Several months later I reply to everyone thanking them for their suggestions before saying I’ve decided to title the CD ‘Spanish Guitar Music’. Fast-forward a little while, and among the very first reviews comes back from David Hurwitz in New York for Classics Today giving the CD 9/10 and specifically noting how much he appreciated the plain title:

“The disc promises “Spanish Guitar Music,” and that is just what we get: guitar music by Spanish composers or inspired by Spanish subjects. No stupid titles (“Moonlight Over Seville,” “My Spanish Soul,” “Impresiones Místicas”), no pretension, no pseudo-profundity or foolishness: just good music.”

Thank goodness I didn’t go with any of those stupid titles suggested by dear family members!

As far as the recording process went, we recorded it in three nights from 11pm to about 3am, finishing in the wee hours of Christmas Eve! Far from ideal, but we had the studio for free, on the condition we wait until the building shut down and could turn the noisy air conditioner off… There were a few times we had to stop for about half an hour or so for the midnight cicadas to quieten down. We also ran short of time; the CD was supposed to be three tracks longer with a few preludes by Francisco Tarrega. Extremely grateful to have had Timothy Kain so kindly sit in on the sessions, coaching me through it, particularly at Christmas time – peak family time no less!

Having performed in performances both around Australia and overseas in Europe, America and the United Kingdom, what have you learnt about creating a balanced freelance performance career, particularly when you spend so much time on the road?

I don’t think I’m the person to answer this question, balance is not really a word in my vocabulary! It’s incredible what some people manage to achieve in their time considering we all have the same amount of hours in the day. There’s a book called Daily Rituals by Mason Currey that looks at the time management of many ‘greats’ of different fields: artists, writers, scientists, politicians etc. Recommended reading if you’re interested in this sort of stuff! Some writers have been mind-bogglingly productive with only a few hours dedicated to writing each day.

That’s got to be one of the great challenges of this career, you want space and peace around you to think and reflect and make meaningful music. But at the same time, there’s this constant humdrum of chores to do and emails to answer. I’m slowly learning some little tricks that work for me. When I have a monster of emails piled up, I’ll go to a café to work and order a nice big coffee as motivation. I also practice outside quite a lot. I find it easier to have a clear head when I’m practising outside. Sometimes if I’m inside all day, when I pick up the guitar I can’t stop thinking about other things I have to do, and then I’m not thinking about the practice I’m doing.

For young guitarists getting started in the classical music industry, what advice do you have about forging a freelance creative career? Is there anything about your work now that you wish you’d known when you were getting started?

There’s nothing at this stage I wish I knew that I didn’t already know. I was fortunate that some older musicians gave me plenty of forewarning that you need to do a lot more than just play well to succeed. I was recommended a couple books in my undergraduate that were as good a starting point as any, Beyond Talent by Angela Beeching and the Savvy Musican by David Cutler.

We’ve heard you have some exciting projects coming up for the rest of 2017 – can you tell us where else can we hear you live for the rest of the year?

Well at this point not much left for 2017, a few concerts here and there – including on Kangaroo Island! The most exciting thing still to come this year must be my recital at the Sydney Opera House in the Utzon Room on Friday 17th November. Tickets are sold out I’m afraid, although if you’re really keen you can try booking on the actual day – there may be a handful of tickets that become available. Other than that, plenty of playing on the books for next year, mostly chamber stuff. Sydney-siders can catch me in March next year in a concert at the Independent Theatre in North Sydney, with Ariel Nurhadi and Jose Carbo, performing our own arrangements for two guitars and voice of traditional classical vocal repertoire. In that month as well the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra are doing Nigel Westlake’s Antarctica Suite for guitar and orchestra, and I’m really fortunate to be playing the guitar part with Nigel at the conductor’s helm. Not quite this year I’m afraid, but that’s the best I could do!

In Conversation: Bernadette Harvey

Your newest work, The Sonata Project, looks at your love for the solo piano recital and your passion for Australian composers. How did the concept come to you and what are you hoping to achieve through its performance?

My love of the sonata is both an ongoing a research project and a collaboration. By offering contemporary composers my skills as an interpreter and partner in the creation of new, substantial solo works for piano, I feel really immersed in the rebirth and continued evolution of the form!

My is it important that all instrumentalists champion local composers? When did this become part of your practice and what have some of your commissioning highlights been so far in the development of The Sonata Project?

I’m passionate on this point! My role is to choose composers who I think would be prepared to take on the challenge, those early on in their careers who have the ambition and can use it as a springboard of sorts, especially women composers who are under-represented. I really feel that for Australian artists playing on the world stage, engaging with and enriching our own musical life is both an obligation and a privilege.

How important are the non-musical aspects of your performances: the space, the clothes you wear, the lighting, etc.? Where in the process do you begin to think about these things: is it from the beginning, or once the music has already been planned?

The ‘multi-sensory’ aspect has been integral to the project’s concept from the beginning! In endeavouring to forge new ways to engage 21st century classical music audiences, the Sonata Project’s staging has incorporated fashion, art and interior design to recreate the frisson and opulence that once surrounded the performances of legendary Romantic musicians inside 19th century salons. Celebrating a departure from the more rigid style of traditional performances of recent decades, I’ll be dressed in whimsical designs by cult Australian fashion label, Romance Was Born, with a sensory utopia interior designed by Lynne Bradley (a former fellow student at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music). Her decadent stage décor is very deliberately calculated to provoke emotive responses that evolve with each of the sonatas. Uniquely crafted furniture and innovative props, compelling floral arrangements and immersive abstract paintings by Lara Merrett will also adorn the stage. Franz Liszt: eat your heart out!

Performing new works and collaborating with exciting composers and designers seems to be a priority of yours - can you tell me about where this interest came from and what about working with other artists sparks your imagination?

The project is built on the triangulation of form, composer and performer. The form offers to the project the gravitas of its identity, its history and longevity, its restrictions and its freedoms. Its narrative nature is built on conflict and resolution, contrast and unity. But the Romantics went much further in their salons: it wasn’t just about passive audience members in the dark. There was much to thrill the senses. To truly create an immersive experience involves collaboration across art-forms: to absorb and reflect many layers of sensory and aesthetic stimuli. I’m very excited about the result!

Tell me about your rehearsal style - what does an average day look like for you in the lead up to a new project opening? How do you find the motivation to keep practising when you’re busy with all the other tasks that are required to put on a performance?

Having a support team upon whom you can rely for emotional and practical support is the most important element in pulling off a successful performance. I couldn't stage a performance like this, with four new contemporary works in the one program, without this help. I have a routine of exercise, diet and practice which I follow pretty much all year, but it becomes even more tightly regulated a couple of weeks out from the concert. I try to shed all other commitments as much as I can and talk less. I like quiet, and I can come across to some as a little aloof. I do a lot of slow and thoughtful work at the keyboard and a lot of inner listening away from it.

What do you wish you’d known about practising when you were starting out as a piano student?

Developing a practice routine is a very personal thing. It's a long and continuing process of self-awareness. There is an over-supply of advice on the issue in my opinion. There's nothing I wish I'd known or wish I'd been told at any particular point in my life about practising and I'm still discovering for myself new ways of doing things. I've been blessed with remarkable teachers and surrounded by the most gifted of performers, all of whom have taught me something but really, the buck stops with me!

It is coming up to examination time around Australia and students are now busily preparing for recitals, concertos and technical exams. Do you have any words of advice for young musicians getting ready for this often nerve-wracking time?

Slow practice! Have a firm idea of what you want to achieve musically, and don't listen too much to the advice of friends. Stay focused.

Creating a career in the music industry is no easy task and often takes a lot of skills outside of performance and technique. What have been some of the most important tools you’ve picked up that have been valuable in developing, staging and performing this project?

Staging my own performance is very difficult and not something I do often. It requires enormous amounts of time, money and energy which the artistic goal must transcend. For me, there has to be a strong reason why. If this is firmly in my mind, then other things fall into place relatively easily.

In Conversation: Cecelia Bruggemeyer

We are so excited that the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is coming on tour to Australia. What repertoire are you looking forward to in this tour program?

We’re so excited to be coming to Australia - it’s been too long since our last visit! I’m looking forward to everything that we'll be playing, and particularly to working with the fabulous Rachel Podger again. We have collaborated with her many times before and she has an infectious energy in her playing that draws you in and keeps you dancing. If I had to pick one piece it would be Mozart's A Major Violin Concerto.

What inspired you to pursue period performance?

As a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London, I auditioned for the Baroque orchestras hoping to get some inspiration of what to do with all the repetitive quavers in basslines. I found plenty of answers and discovered that I loved the attitude I found amongst the directors and colleagues: the questioning about why we were choosing to play the way we were, and the approach to phrasing, which I think probably chimed strongly with me because of my years singing Latin mass in our amateur church choir as a child. I find it a particular joy to find a continuo section sound with cello and keyboard colleagues in baroque repertoire. And I fell in love with the sound of the old instruments and the way they blend and complement each other in a totally different balance to modern orchestras.

What advice can you give to musicians who are interested in learning more about HIP and perhaps pursuing it themselves?

If you want to learn more about HIP a great place to start is a book ‘Baroque String Playing for Ingenious Learners’ by Judy Tarling. She introduces a wide range of topics with a CD of examples and ideas of further reading. If you’re more of a listener than a reader, find CDs of period orchestras and immerse yourself in their sound. Go and see them in concert when you can and look them up on YouTube!

My main advice is 'keep questioning’! That’s where the HIP movement started - by players questioning and rebelling against the norm. See what evidence you can find and what conclusions it leads you to. Challenge those of us that have been part of the 'establishment' for a while. Bring us new thoughts on what you've discovered. That will keep HIP alive. That said, if you are wanting employment and some income, then you also need to be aware of the discoveries and choices that have been made so far, so that you can fit in with the ensembles who might have work to offer.

So: read, listen, go and grab experiences, and experiment.

Tell us about the three and a half basses you own! Which one is coming along to Australia, and what is special about it?

Well, it's now FOUR and a half!! Luckily I have a patient husband who is a percussionist with many more instruments than I will ever own!

What I call 'the half' is my G violone - a fretted instrument with 6 strings. It's much smaller than my double basses and plays at cello 8ft pitch rather than double bass 16ft pitch. Its range is from the G below the bass clef stave (the G below the cello bottom string) so there is the facility to play quite a lot down the octave if a 16ft texture is desired. I used it recently for Bach’s Brandenburg 6 for which it felt perfect.

The latest addition is a modern copy of a Thier which I have had converted to an 18th Century Viennese set up: a fretted instrument with 5 strings tuned basically to a D major chord including a D major triad on the top 3 strings. This is the sort of instrument Haydn's solos in Le Matin, Midi, and Soir symphonies were written for, and it makes so much more sense of the Viennese concertos by the likes of Dittersdorf and Vanhal, which exploit the triad so much of the time

I still have my first bass bought when I was 17. It's a German 19th Century flatback which I hardly ever play anymore, but haven't quite brought myself to part with yet.

The bass I'll be playing on this tour is an 18th Century English bass thought to be a Hill. It has a very distinctive shape with narrow shoulders and a relatively wide bottom and a beautiful golden colour. I tend to use it for classical repertoire and later.

And last but not least is my oldest instrument - a 17th Century Italian bass (Brescia). It looks like it's from the ark and has seen many repairs over the years, but retains a great sound that is full of warmth and character. I have it strung with 4 plain uncovered strings and tend to keep it at baroque pitch for the earlier rep we play.

How do you prepare yourself (and your instruments) for a tour, and what do you do to keep yourself in optimum playing condition over the course of a long tour?

Preparing my bass for this tour has been quite time-consuming as the airlines have imposed a really strict weight limit on us, which is about 10kg less than my bass’s usual touring weight. So how do you put a bass on a diet?!

Various avenues of research put me in touch with an Australian bass shop that sells extra light flight cases, and I'm incredibly grateful to an Australian colleague, Jacqui Dosser, who brought mine back to the UK for me. It took some extra work to then find and cut bits of lightweight foam to pack around the gaps left by the fact that my bass isn't a standard shape - that narrow top and wide bottom again! Then there was the business of trying to label the case to make it totally and unequivocally clear to baggage handlers which way up to stand it.

And then to me. My physique means I tend to be susceptible to back problems so I have been particularly careful to make sure I have been to either an Alexander Technique lesson or a Pilates class at least once a week for the last 6 weeks, especially before a tour that starts with the longest of long-haul flights. I have a range of exercises that I can do on my own to keep me balanced and flexible throughout the tour, and I’ll sometimes be seen doing a quick march around a car park or an airport to get myself moving if I’ve had to sit too long. I also find some mindfulness and breathing techniques really helpful in managing not just the physical, but the mental strains of being on tour too. It’s great fun touring but the lack of autonomy and the disruption to normal life can take some adjusting to.

Finally, many of our readers are young musicians with burgeoning careers. What advice do you have for getting a career started in music?

I’d say seize all the opportunities that come your way. You never know who you might find yourself working with and how one thing might lead to another.

Respond quickly to messages and requests, preferably with a definite answer, but if you can’t it’s better to say something like ‘Thank you for your message. I can’t answer now but may I get back to you by…?’ than to not reply for ages.

Be reliable. Turn up when you said you would, and be on time.

Be prepared. Look at the music in advance. Find out what you can about the group or situation.

Be nice! Appreciate other people’s hard work and effort.

Be flexible. Yes, go for the dream, but be prepared to move the goal posts, or to notice the totally new playing field you hadn’t previously known existed. It’s what has led to me being on my way to Australia this week!

In Conversation: Slava Grigoryan

Today we celebrate the launch of your brand new Bach album, which appears following widespread critical acclaim of its earlier counterpart. Can you tell me about the recording sessions for this second volume - did they feel different to working on the first?

It was a very similar process to recording Volume 1. I was lucky to be working with the same engineer and producer (Alex Stinson and Shaun Rigney), so it really felt like we’d just had a short break and were back in the same room with the same equipment. Volume 1 was actually the first recording session that took place in UKARIA so there were a few surprises to deal with. This time around we were totally prepared!

What is it about Bach’s writing that captures you and inspired the recording project? When did you first think to play his works on your own instrument and further to that, why does his writing speak so well on the guitar?

To me, Bach’s writing is absolutely full of mysteries, excitement and incredibly sensitive beauty. As a guitarist, I grew up playing the existing repertoire that we have to draw upon - the lute suites, some of the violin partitas etc. It was only when I first held a baritone guitar in my hands that I thought of arranging the cello suites in the original keys, something that wouldn’t be possible on regular classical guitar due to it’s range. The baritone is much larger and has a very long sustain with a deeper, more resonant sound. It’s a much better instrument for delving into cello repertoire. Though I honestly think that Bach’s music works brilliantly on any instrument that can play it!

You recorded in the stunning UKARIA Cultural Centre in the Adelaide Hills this September. What inspired you about the location and how did you prepare for the four intensive days of playing?

I was very fortunate to have performed at the UKARIA Cultural Centre a number of times before the first recording. The acoustics are astounding and to be amongst such breathtaking scenery when you’re there really makes this one of the jewels amongst concert venues anywhere in the world. Everything about it is inspiring! The preparation for this recording was very drawn out because this music had to be arranged first. Luckily for me, my wife Sharon is a wonderful cellist who knows this repertoire backwards. She helped tremendously with editing and advice.

Having won many awards throughout your career (including this year’s ARIA Award for Best Classical Album - huge congratulations from the Rehearsal team!), what are your thoughts on the influence competitions have on a musicians career, if indeed they have any? Do you think participating in competitions is an integral part of development for young musicians?

I’ve been very fortunate to have won some awards over the years but in actual fact I was never successful in competitions. I think they’re wonderful in terms of motivation and focus for young players - the stress of preparing, dealing with nerves and being surrounded by better players can be a great inspiration. They can help a career of course but there have been countless examples of where they haven't! Being one’s own best judge is ultimately what it’s all about. Musicians shouldn’t let unsuccessful competitions prevent them from going forward just as much as they shouldn’t get complacent after receiving any kind of honours.

You often work as a duo with your brother Leonard Grigoryan - can you tell me about the beginnings of your musical partnership and what you’ve learned about ensemble work from playing together?

Lenny and I have played together since he was four years old. Professionally, we’ve been giving concerts as a duo for almost 20 years. We’ve spent so much time together, communicating through music and without it. It’s very hard for me to imagine a better musical partner. We don’t plan on slowing down together so I hope that the process of learning about each other and the music we share will continue teaching us about ensemble playing well into the future.

For young guitarists hoping to build solo careers, what advice do you have for standing out from the crowd? Is there anything you wish you’d known when you were getting started?

The best advice I could give a young guitarist is to listen and absorb as much ‘non guitar’ music as possible. Listen to great pianists and string quartets, the great orchestras playing the great repertoire the great singers etc etc. As guitarists, we’re terribly unfortunate in that the truly great composers, (aside from Bach) didn’t write for our instrument. We don’t have Beethoven sonatas or Mozart concertos or Brahms symphonies (the list goes on and on) to sink our teeth into. And yet, so much of our understanding of western classical music comes from the legacy left behind by such great minds. Our understanding of phrasing, voice leading, use of colour, comes from this font of knowledge but sadly this incredible resource is usually not high on the list of priorities for young guitarists.

In Conversation: Rohan Disley

You are currently a guitar student at the University of Western Australia, which boasts one of Australia’s most active guitar programs. Where are you up to in your studies and how did you get involved in the ensemble?

I'm in my fourth year of music studies and I'm just about to complete my honours. As soon as I entered UWA, I've been part of the ensemble as chamber music has been my largest passion since starting my formal studies.

The UWA guitar ensemble’s tour to Melbourne will see you perform a variety of works, from Baroque to contemporary. Can you tell me about the importance of performing a broad array of music and how this particular program reflects the scope of works the group is interested in?

I think guitarists today have the greatest opportunity to perform whatever they want. We now have a huge range of repertoire to perform; from baroque transcriptions to classical and Romantic works, compositions from the Spanish sound world as well as modernist and postmodernist pieces. I think if we didn't perform a wide variety of music, we would be letting down historical performers and composers who utilised this music to elevate the guitar to a notable status in the classical sphere.

Why the guitar? What initially interested you in the instrument, and what inspired you to make it your career?

I initially was a big fan of the Wiggles as a kid and my middle name is Murray, so ever since I was a little tacker I wanted to play tguitar. I come from the Margret River Wine region, so there weren't many opportunities to study classical music in a rural tourist town, so I played contemporary guitar for ages. I met my first classical guitar teacher in a recording studio when I wrote a song for the Australian Children's Music Foundation at 13 years old. I decided to learn classical initially to push my technical ability and ended up stuck with it! I've always wanted to be a musician for my career as I just never could imagine myself in an office job or doing a trade; music is the thing that manages to capture my full attention, so it was only natural that I turned to that for my career.

We’re coming up to exam time now - how do you keep a good balance between working on all the different music you have to prepare and perform?

Practice journals are your best friend! I recommend everybody gets into the habit of keeping a practice journal as you can mark your progress a lot easier and see how you are dividing your time so much more clearly. Also, create your own performance opportunities and make sure you're always performing different repertoire. Performance is the greatest motivation to make sure your pieces are 100% ready!

For young guitar students hoping to pursue their craft at a Conservatorium next year, what advice do you have for making the most of your study time?

Have fun and participate in everything. Make your own opportunities. There are people desperate to make music they're career and they haven't been given the opportunity, so work hard to keep that opportunity present because it may not last forever. Also, make as many friends as you can for your general happiness and play for as many people as you can. You never know who might be able to provide a favour for you down the track.

In Conversation: Emma Pearson

You will be performing the title role in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor for West Australian Opera later in the month - a role you have already performed to acclaim in Wiesbaden. Lucia goes through so much in the space of just three hours and the opera is famous for the character’s incredible “mad scene” which is complex both musically and dramatically. Can you tell me about how you prepared for the role both in terms of character development and musical note learning?

The first time I performed a very modern interpretation of the opera, which was great in a way to strip back conventional performance practices and discover as much as I could about “Lucy Ashton”. I think it’s helpful to look up information on the life of the composer and the first woman to sing the role. For me, the question has always been how realistic her mental problems are: if I could show someone shifting from manic behaviour to deep depression, or if we should stick to the gothic, 18th century fear of the unknown, really seeing ghosts and dying from lunacy. I started watching “A Handmaid’s Tale” recently and there was the first example of a character who was traumatised so often she descended into madness as a survival mechanism. “Janine” has been my inspiration this time. I also found Sir Walter Scott’s novel, "The Bride of Lammermoor", incredibly enlightening.

This opera is a masterpiece in that every note Donizetti has written is chosen to tweak emotional responses from the audiences, pushing the drama in a similar way to later composers, Verdi and Wagner. Often his harmonies and runs take a long time to learn with their unpredictable twists! In the months leading up to stage rehearsals in 2012, I started working with a bel canto specialist at ROH Covent Garden and more recently, have worked with the Italian repetiteur at Opernhaus Zuerich, as well as American tenor William Johns, Opera Australia’s Italian opera specialist, Nicole Dorigo, and my singing coach, David Harper.

How did you work on and choose your cadenzas for the renowned “mad scene”? Can you explain the tradition of sopranos “adding” to this aria and who inspired you in your own personal decisions?

The cadenza was first added for our Nellie Melba, I believe. Her singing teacher Mathilde Marchesi wanted to showcase her incredible vocal ability with an extended cadenza in the 1880s. The great Ricordi publication of the score doesn’t come with a cadenza, you have to research and create something that suits your voice and the instrument performing with you (either glass harmonica or flute.) I love the eerie sound that the glass harmonica makes, but a flute can move a lot faster and make a very exciting addition to the scene. The first time I performed the aria, my singing teacher David Harper wrote a cadenza that suited me; a mixture of Luigi Ricci’s “Variations, Cadenzas and Traditions”, “The Art of Joan Sutherland” and “Variantes et Points d’Orgue pour les Principaux Airs Du Repertoire par Mathilde Marchesi”.

Performing a role like this takes incredible stamina physically and vocally. When you are gearing up to sing this kind of opera, do you change anything about your day to day practice routine?

Bel canto technique is the safest style of singing for the voice but it does take an enormous amount of bracing and strength in the body to support the sound and the vocal acrobatics. My main focus in the lead up to the beginning of staging rehearsals is to strip away bad habits which tire out the voice; to sing without ego and without too much emotion in the voice. I find it really hard to go through Lucia’s journey and often I find it hard to snap out of her daze or sadness between breaks. The way she is betrayed by the people she loves is horrific.

Alongside your opera commitments, you frequently perform in concert around Australia and internationally. How do you manage your time and ensure that you’re striking a balance between work and family whilst still learning all the music?

It was difficult for me at first because I find it hard to hyperfocus on hard tasks unless the due date is looming! Being a parent for the first time is a steep learning curve. I’m learning now how to enjoy sticking to a slow learning programme to be ready ahead of schedule. My husband Wade and I make sure we both have ample time to study every day. We have wonderful support from our parents with babysitting while we’re on tour.

You were a principal artist at the Hessisches Staatstheater in Wiesbaden, Germany for nine years, performing many title roles. How did working in Europe for this time influence how you approached the industry and learning music, and do you think performing overseas is an integral part of the development process for young Australian musicians?

There are many benefits to singing major roles in smaller European houses. Major houses will not accept you for main roles until you have proven you can sing the role consistently with a good orchestra. You become so used to the pressure of singing, using your stagecraft and working with orchestras that you reach a higher level of professionalism than you can when freelancing. I’m not sure if performing overseas is integral for Australians, but certainly working with coaches and role preparation in Europe and the USA is critical for Australian singers of all ages. Styles and tastes change every decade and we must keep up with them.

When you have some downtime to listen to any music you like, which recordings do you find yourself coming back to again and again - classical or otherwise?

I like most kinds of music! At the moment though, I love listening to bel canto arias sung by Ileana Cotrubas and Mariella Devia. Rufus Wainwright’s “Zebulon” is probably the most played song in my music library.

For young singers at the start of their operatic journeys, what advice do you have for building a successful career? Is there anything you wish you’d known at the beginning of your own?

Firstly, I wish I had studied German in high school or university. I studied Italian and French, but I should’ve added German! It is so important to learn grammar while your mind is still spongey. You can try to learn on your own, but nothing beats a proper course, followed by full language immersion. Secondly, please do not spend a lot of money on a European audition tour before you have worked with European opera coaches. And lastly, the best way to start an international career is by getting into the semi-finals or finals of international singing competitions before you turn 30, or young artist programs in opera houses and summer festivals. Toi toi toi!!

In Conversation: Anna Pokorny

For the first performance of Ensemble Sacamano, you’ll be performing two greats of chamber repertoire: Mozart’s String Quintet in G minor and Brahms’ String Sextet in B Flat Major. Can you tell me about the programming of this particular performance - how you chose these two pieces and what you think they say about the ensemble's overall ethos?

Firstly, it’s just an absolute pleasure for us to be able to rehearse and perform these pieces. We’ve also chosen the repertoire to appeal to a broad audience. The beauty of joining the concert and the charity together means that hopefully some music lovers will come and learn about a great local initiative, and some interested locals might discover, or rediscover, a love of chamber music.

All donations you receive on the night will go towards the Carlton Family Learning Project. What drew you to this organisation?

One of the first details we like to sort out is which charity or cause we'll be raising money for, so we decided to ask our gorgeous venue The Church of All Nations (CAN) whether they worked closely with any charities. The Family Learning Project was suggested as a great community initiative that could always do with more "love and support". The program gives children (often from non-English speaking families) a chance to get their homework done with volunteer tutors and teachers. There are over 90 students registered from twelve different schools and the program runs three days a week.

Starting an ensemble takes a lot more than planning repertoire and rehearsing the music - there is a myriad of smaller tasks that go on behind the scenes! What have been some of the biggest challenges of launching Ensemble Sacamano and organising your first performance?

Our first concert together as a sextet was in April this year, so we had our first taste of what it takes to put on a concert then. I think once we decided to move to a group with a name, things became a little more complex. People start throwing around words like ‘target audience’ and ‘brand’ and ‘marketing strategy’. It’s all necessary – and it’s actually good to look at your industry from that perspective. The most time-consuming thing for me has been getting my head around creating websites, social media and blogs. There are a lot of great free resources out there, so it’s just a case of trial and error for finding the platform that works best for you.

Everyone in Ensemble Sacamano performs regularly in orchestras as well as chamber groups. How does your orchestral experience influence the way you work together?

I think everyone that works in an orchestra values efficiency. For this chamber music project, that probably translates into a well-prepared part and clear language in rehearsal.

Do you have any words of advice for young musicians looking to start their own chamber initiatives?

I would say just go for it, surround yourself with musicians you respect and don’t take yourself too seriously.

In Conversation: Kane Alexander

Were you classically trained as a singer before you studied at the Victorian College of the Arts? What made you decide to venture into musical theatre and drama?

I started training classically when I was 11. My teacher expected a boy soprano but I was actually a baritone at 11 years of age. Around that time, I got involved in theatre and developed a passion for acting and storytelling through song. So, opera and music theatre were inevitable genres to explore.

How do you juggle performing in a range of different musical styles?

I’ve always had varying musical tastes, especially jazz, opera and pop. I love using my voice in different ways to produce different sounds. I believe that musical style is every bit as important as musical technique, and each style has different demands.

How do you manage your time when you have various performances on the go?

I’m big on preparation, which takes up a lot more time than the performance itself. Learning the repertoire, singing it into the voice, exploring dramatic context in the writing - all this is important to be able to tell the story effectively.

You have also appeared as an actor on a number of different television programs! What skills that you have from music performance have helped you in your acting career, and vice versa? Why do you think musicians should (or shouldn't!) get involved in other performing arts?

I think as artists we should be involved in as many creative endeavours as we can, as long as we have something to express. For me, having a background in acting allows me to connect to the words more effectively as a singer. So, one creative discipline informs the other.

What similarities and differences do you see between opera, pop, and musical theatre, and what benefit do you think there is to marrying these three genres? How do you approach interdisciplinary work?

Traditionally, all three genres are very different. However, they are becoming closer stylistically in recent times. As a performer, I think it’s important to be able to be as stylistically diverse as possible, in order to obtain the most regular and exciting performance opportunities.

Many of our readers are young musicians at the beginning of their careers. What advice can you give to them for managing life as a busy performer in many different styles and around the world?!

Firstly, this is not an easy industry to work in. You need to love it - REALLY love it - in order to make it your life. Secondly, you need to be willing to work on your craft throughout your entire career. Lots of rehearsal, preparation and hard work. Thirdly, be yourself. Show people what it is about you that is unique. What’s your “thing”? Don’t copy other artists versions of songs - make them your own. Use your own unique instrument and soul to express the music and/or words in your own way. This is where the magic lies.

In Conversation: Hoang Pham

For the Melbourne Warehouse Music Festival, you'll be performing a program of Beethoven and Chopin - two of the great piano composers. Can you tell me about your relationship with the pair: how you discovered their music and what keeps you going back?

I absolutely adore the piano music of Beethoven and Chopin. With the former, I also enjoy much of his chamber music and the symphonic works. I say "much of" because it's ok to admit that one has not gotten around to everything! It takes time and fortunately during my days at college, I was able to study and experience many of the symphonies, string quartets and performed a decent segment of Beethoven's chamber music involving piano. But I think I can speak for many pianists in saying that my love for Beethoven derived at first from learning a dozen of the sonatas and performing them throughout my life. As for Chopin, his output for piano far outweighed his output in most other genres. It is impossible to develop a love of piano playing without a long-term relationship with the music of Chopin.

Getting back to Beethoven, what really attracts me to his music is the scope of his expression and compositional methods. Much of this is exemplified in the span of the 32 sonatas but specifically, the two quite revolutionary works that I'm performing at this festival (the "Pathetique" and "Moonlight"), both of these sonatas have individual qualities that are particularly special. I think I really enjoy Beethoven and Chopin because I can trace their influences back to earlier composers - there is a special lineage in the way their works develop a style that is unique to both of them but also, extremely traditional. Another composer that comes to mind is Stravinsky in this regard.

In the Pathetique Sonata, Beethoven writes a first movement that bursts the seams of classical structure, more for its dynamic piano writing and dramatic introduction than its actual structural departures. This is what I love about Beethoven. In the second movement, he looks forward to Schubert in a simple "song without words" moment. In the famous Moonlight Sonata, the impressionistic first movement textures (with a bit of a nod to Bach's Prelude in C Major in its rippling figures) both looks back to the great German masters but looks forward to Chopin and Liszt in its pianistic gestures. It is this mingling of past, present and future that I enjoy most about Beethoven - he is intellectual but extremely wild and emotional. The same things can be said about Chopin's music and in the fabulous Fantaisie-Impromptu, the wonderful coda makes it a masterpiece! Tradition and a high degree of craft fused with an unstoppable inner emotional pulse - these are the things that keep me going back to Beethoven and Chopin!

I have read that your first experiences of the piano came from your father - a pianist himself - teaching you works by Beethoven and Chopin at an electric piano. How has the music you played and listened to as a child influenced the way you work and perform today?

My father always had a big library of classical CDs and I was constantly adding to this. I remember going to shops to buy sheet music and recordings with my father frequently. These were important years of curiosity and I now encourage all my students to have this experience. In terms of listening influences, these were contained more during my time studying in the US where I heard many great performances (including lots of piano recitals) at Carnegie Hall. I was inspired by those who had the courage to work hard and to speak their heart and soul on stage. It seems obvious but the special preparation, devotion and time required to achieve this is something I value very much these days. Of course, my teachers played a big role and for this, Rita Reichman was my greatest early influence. She was like a mother figure to me and instilled in me a sense of love for music and also the profession. I'm my own musician these days but I owe a lot of my inner core, commitment and grit to her encouragement and nurturing qualities as a teacher. Another major influence was Marc Silverman, my teacher at Manhattan School of Music. From Marc, I learned the craft of playing the piano to an exceptionally high level. Marc understood piano playing to the smallest detail and I knew that the path to a greater artistic expression was the mastering of craft.

Following study at the Australian National Academy of Music, you completed a Bachelor Degree and Master of Music Degree at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. What was the experience of studying abroad like? Would you recommend the experience to other young artists?

I very much enjoyed my time studying abroad. I spent six years at Manhattan School of Music and enjoyed my lessons with Marc Silverman, with whom I learned an incredible amount. I also spent a year at the Royal College of Music with Dmitri Alexeev who was a very inspirational teacher at a time when I was already playing quite a lot of concerts, travelling all over the place. Dmitri understood my needs exceptionally well and always respected my musical ideas. In terms of the overall experience, I think it was a very good one. I got to experience a lot of wonderful concerts and my travels brought me to many different places within the US and in parts of Europe. When you're young, you should travel and see as much of the world as possible. I- can't quantify exactly what was "good" or "bad" but the total experience of studying overseas is an exceptionally good one. Even just living away from home, being independent; that is already one good thing!

When touring and travelling a lot, how do you look after yourself physically and mentally? Do you have ways of ensuring that you’re feeling performance-ready consistently?

I try to eat healthy these days and to ensure that I'm always feeling fit. I enjoy going for walks and thinking about the music I'm preparing. Fresh air and thinking is perhaps the greatest way to spend your downtime. There is no greater time for creativity than the moments when you are bored. Why not spend it walking around and enjoying the natural world! I tend to have a bit of a nap on days where I perform in the evening. I find that this provides me with a major energy boost. I don't know if others do it but I have spoken to many musicians and the ones who have heavy performing schedules tend to favour this method.

How do you find balance when busy between performances, rehearsals and learning new notes? What are your favourite ways to unwind?

I unwind by not travelling. I know many others enjoy getting away but a holiday for me is a chance to stay still, get a bit bored and hence, start formulating ideas and being creative. I'm different in this sense but it's how I cope with the avalanche of work that is sure to come very soon after the break! I find beauty in things that have similar qualities to music and this is why I enjoy sports and I love anything to do with statistics. I present my own concerts and doing my own marketing and advertising, I find that a love of numbers is essential. I remember spending my free time as a child writing my own cricket/football scorecards. I found great beauty and mystery in being able to see how a game had unfolded, and imagining it in my mind, just by seeing a scorecard. This is very similar to how we imagine music from a score!

You’re no stranger to the competition circuit, having won several major prizes including the Young Performers Award in 2013. How has your competition experience influenced your career path?

I think it has had some influence but it is not the be all and end all. Many of my colleagues have won the same amount of awards, if not more, and for some, so many more than I have ever contemplated. But while winning competitions can make a short-term difference, developing a career where you become independent and have your own audience is another. To have the latter, you have to show that you really love what you're doing and you need to sustain your work ethic for not just a short period of time, but for years and decades. A career, especially in our modern times, is not easy, especially at the beginning and you need grit and determination in order to simply survive and take the next steps. I don't know if there is any rulebook for doing it one way or the other, but it's more about self-discovery and finding out what you really want to do. Sounds a bit philosophical but it's true! When I turned 30, I suddenly woke up one morning and asked myself, "what am I doing? Do I want to play solo recitals? Do I love it enough to be bothered to practice hard and prepare myself for each concert? What sacrifices am I willing to make and how will I go about achieving the things I want to achieve?" The hard part is doing it and that's where grit and determination come into play!

Speaking of competitions, does your method of preparation differ when rehearsing for a competition compared to say, a solo recital that you’re presenting yourself? How do you get mentally fit for being in such a stressful environment?

Being able to cope with stress is a skill that is essential, I imagine, in many industries. And I guess music performance it is yet another industry where it is crucial to find a way of dealing with it! I personally don't prepare any differently for competitions vs non-competition performances; if I have an incentive to play my best, then I will play my best.

For our young readers hoping to create careers as freelance solo artists, what advice do you have for getting started in the industry? Is there anything you wish you’d known at the beginning?

If I were to be really honest about something I'd do differently, the only thing I'd say to my younger self is to be more independent earlier. I would have presented my own concerts with more vehemency from a younger age. I would've quit university a few years earlier! I would've worked that second or third job in order to pay for the venue hire more efficiently and to invest in my own future the way I wanted to. It depends on what you want, really. Of course, my early success brought me professional management and I have certain luxuries that some others don't have. But the things I'm most proud of remain the things I did myself.

In Conversation: Sam Beagley

As the principal trumpet of the Melbourne Youth Orchestra, and having spent the last four years rising through the MYO ranks, you’ve been exposed to the orchestral canon from a young age which is so important for any classical musician. Can you tell me about your experience getting started in the orchestra and being thrown into the world of symphonic repertoire?

My first experience with MYO was playing Star Wars and that had been one of my musical dreams, so I really started on a high! I was not expecting to get in that year, so when I found out that not only did I get in but I got to start the season by playing one of my all-time favourite pieces of music, I was so overwhelmed. It was such a fun year and we had so many great things to play. There was also some standard repertoire on that program which of course helps when I play it again now, four years on. I remember that we also got to play some Hindson with two orchestras side by side and a drum kit in the middle and that was my first real experience with contemporary classical music. That was pretty cool!

Do you think those opportunities set young players up for further study and orchestral work?

Absolutely! In 2016, we were really lucky to play a full year’s worth of symphonic repertoire from the canon - Brahms, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky - all huge pieces that come up all the time in professional orchestral programming. The opportunity to sit in the orchestra and get to know the work and rehearse it for an extended period of time is invaluable, particularly when you have to play the piece a second time or part of it appears on an excerpt list. Even if you end up playing a different part, having the opportunity to sit in the orchestra and soak it all up really makes a huge difference.

Because those big standards always become your audition pieces!

All the pieces we played last year have standard excerpts in them for all instrumentalists, and while it’s fine and useful to work on excerpts in isolation in the practice room, going into an audition knowing the context of the entire orchestration is really important.

How do you learn your excerpts?

I like to listen a lot! For trumpeters, style and sound is really important, so the more you dive into the character of the works the more you can get out of the excerpt. That’s what panels are looking for, too - how well you can characterise your playing.

Can you practice style or is that something you develop over time?

I think it’s a development thing: it’s not just something you can pick up overnight. It’s definitely something you learn by listening to other people. Being surrounded by musicians helps - you can listen to everyone around you and think about how to incorporate ideas into your own playing. For me that’s been super invaluable: just listening and watching.

From this beginning stage of your career, what have some of the biggest learnings been that have influenced the way you play in an orchestra?

I guess for me the thing I’ve learnt most is how to really listen. There’s so much more to playing in a large ensemble than having a great sound. Also, the ability to follow is really important! Not just the conductor, either; something I’ve picked up recently is learning to follow the concertmaster, because you get this immediacy of sound and you can respond really quickly if you tune into that. There’s so many little things to do with contributing to that ensemble, whether it’s listening, following or knowing when to lead as a point of interest. You can’t pick that up from playing excerpts because you’re always the most interesting voice! There’s so much to be said for supporting: that role in an orchestra is completely crucial. You can hear the best orchestras have a great idea of what’s going on around them, and which instruments have a leading voice at any given moment, while also being attuned to all the different nuances and personalities within the symphony. That level of communication is how you pick an outstanding orchestra.

Having been in MYO for 4 years and getting to know everyone that you’re playing with - has that had an effect on how the ensemble performs?

It makes a difference and it’s a good way to begin the orchestra journey. When you’re with people you’re familiar with you can almost anticipate what they’re going to do or how they’re going to breathe, so it gives you an extra millisecond of time back, I suppose, because you know what might come next. It’s been special though, growing up with the MYO family.

For young people getting started and possibly thinking about MYO as a possible next step in their orchestral journey, what would you say the real benefits are of playing in an orchestra?

There are so many benefits. For me, playing in an orchestra is more than just a musical experience, it’s also social and I have made so many amazing friends through MYO. There are also ensembles for everyone to play in regardless of where you’re at technically, which means you can work your way up as you improve as well. In a musical sense though, if music is something you’re considering as your career, getting orchestral experience is crucial. Being at MYO will help you figure out where you want to put your priorities too - you might figure out that you’d prefer to be in a concert band or a big band - and any genre you decide, it gives you a grounding. I have figured out that being in an orchestra is what I want to do with my life and MYO has been a huge part of figuring that out.

If you want to be a soloist, getting strong ensembles experience still has to be hugely important, right?

Completely, and in MYO we do get the opportunity to work with amazing soloists frequently! Their Virtuosity program that I was part of this year allows you the opportunity to play in front of the orchestra, which is completely amazing. It’s a really special opportunity to stand out the front of the orchestra, but I do I think that you can learn heaps from visiting artists about style and confidence when you’re playing as part of the orchestra.

Has the experience of performing major orchestral works with MYO influenced the way you approach smaller chamber repertoire in any way?

I really think that the skills you learn in an orchestra are really easily transferable when it comes to preparing and performing chamber repertoire. Playing solo pieces out the front is pretty different in lots of ways, but playing in a chamber group is just like playing in a smaller orchestra! You just have to focus everything down. Listening is still the most important thing - you’re part of a team - a really tight-knit chamber group - and it is such good fun when you’re listening and bouncing off each other. In big orchestral works, communication can get muddled sometimes which is why you work with a conductor, but in a chamber group it’s just you and you get to focus in.

In terms of career development, where would you ideally like to be in say, ten years?

I would really like to be playing in an orchestra! Maybe overseas, maybe here; I’m open to anything. I want to accept as many opportunities as possible and just see what happens. Honestly, I don’t mind where I am as long as I get to keep playing music.

In Conversation: Lü Siqing

You will be joining the China National Symphony Orchestra in Sydney to perform the violin concerto, The Butterfly Lovers, later this month. Can you tell me about your relationship with the piece, having recorded the work and performed it extensively?

The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto is without a doubt the most well known and most performed Chinese violin piece. I have performed it many times in China and in nearly 20 other countries around the world and have made five recordings of the concerto over the years. So, it gives me great pleasure to perform it for the first time in Australia! The concerto has a lot of grace and romance, but also comedy, drama and tragedy; I suppose it is something of a Chinese Romeo & Juliet story. Listeners should pay particular attention to the “flavours” of the Yue Opera from Shanghai, as well as the Chinese folk tales in the melodies. Since the concerto incorporates many techniques from different Chinese instruments you can also expect to hear a lot of different slides and bow strokes.

When you’re preparing to perform a work in front of an orchestra, how do you structure your personal practice sessions? Are there any aspects of performance that you like to rehearse alone before you begin working with the symphony?

Well, practice makes perfect! You have to practice a lot, not only for the technical aspect but more importantly to try to understand the feeling and emotions the composer wants to express in their work, before trying to convey those feelings to the audience through your own interpretation. In the end, it is what you express in your music that will connect with and touch the audience. Also, you need to have a good understanding of what the orchestra is playing so normally I will not only practice my solo part but also study the orchestral score. I feel only then that I will be able to make music with the orchestra and the other musicians together as a whole.

Having won several major international competitions, including the prestigious Paganini Competition, do you have any tried and tested methods for preparing to compete?

Preparing for a competition is quite a hard work. You have to master a lot of pieces - which takes hours and hours of practice - while paying careful attention to the technical aspect of your playing, as it is very easy for the jurors to spot little mistakes. But it is the musicality that you express that will win you the competition and help you to become a great musician in the long run - that has to be your priority.

Additionally, do you feel like competitions are an important and necessary part of a musician’s studies and career progression?

Competitions are a good way to test and reward your progress and to learn from other competitors and the panel jurors. It can also jump-start your career, but winning a competition is only the beginning and you must continue to work very hard and set high standards for yourself. For me, music is higher than anyone and anything, so I try and remember to always stay humble and to remain focused and dedicated to my craft, regardless of any successes.

As well as working as a concert soloist, you have recorded a number of CDs featuring both Western art music and works by Chinese composers. Why is championing local composers so important to your work?

Classical music in China has really flourished recently, especially in the last 10 years. We have many children learning instruments and many modern concert halls presenting first-class concerts, operas and many other kinds of performances from artists all over the world. We have also been able to produce world-class musicians that have had, and are continuing to have, great success on the world’s classical music stage. So I do think it is very important that we promote our own musicians and composers both locally and internationally. I have worked with many Chinese composers over the years including Oscar winner Tan Dun, with whom I give the world premiere of the “Hero” Violin Concerto in Poland in 2011 and the “Hero” Violin Sonata in Germany in 2016.

For our young readers, what words of advice would you share with those musicians hoping to forge a solo performance career in regard to managing within the industry and creating varied and exciting opportunities?

Love what you do and be persistent and focused. Opportunities will be afforded to those who work hard and are always ready to step up.

In Conversation: Greta Gertler Gold

Greta Gertler Gold is a Sydney-born, Brooklyn-based composer, lyricist, performer, and producer. Her latest project sees her return to Australia for a brand new musical, The Red Tree, based on Shaun Tan’s book of the same name. For this production, Greta is teaming up with playwright Hilary Bell, director Neil Gooding, actor-singer Nicola Bowman, and musicians Ben Fink and Bonnie Stewart. We were lucky enough to speak to Greta, just after her arrival in Australia, about finding your own musical voice, seeking out collaborators, and what to do when characters start emerging from your songs of their own accord …

Rehearsal Magazine: How did you start composing? Were you first classically trained, and how did you decide to move to pop and rock music, rather than classical music?

Greta Gertler Gold: I was classically trained, in piano, from the age of 6, and then studied music at Sydney Uni. I really wanted to be a classical contemporary composer in my later years of high school, then when I got to university I just started going out to hear a lot of bands around Sydney. I found that I just wanted to focus on songwriting, and that just captured my interest. So, I basically found that I wasn’t ready, at that age, to just be in a room writing music on my own. I was more social, I wanted to get out and play with other musicians.

RM: It was too solitary, to sit in a room and compose by yourself.

GGG: Yeah, at that point it hadn’t occurred to me that you could form your own classical group! I couldn’t have imagined that, at that age, and I also could barely imagine playing in a band at that age. I was pretty much the classical geek when I was in high school and then got out of high school and my world just exploded, with going to see bands and singer-songwriters, and something less formal than I’d been exposed to. But I really still treasured my formal training, it was just that I was trying to find a way to bring that into the songs that I wanted to write.

RM: I suppose it must have given you quite a good grounding to find your own style.

GGG: Yeah! I think it really did, in terms of all the practice that I did on piano, even though I wasn’t encouraged to try any improvisation or jazz or anything. I think my muscle memory of playing a lot of Bach, Beethoven, and Schubert definitely came into what I was trying to write when I was at the piano, just writing songs. But I didn’t know anything about arranging for a rock band, or how electric instruments would work with acoustic instruments, and I was really fascinated by that side of things.

RM: So what did you do then, to get those skills? When you decided that you wanted to branch out and find this new style to work in, how did you go about doing that?

GGG: Well, I just found musicians who had a similar experience with coming from a classical music background, like string players who were playing rock music, for example. I went to hear a lot of people play, and then approached the sidemen or singer-songwriters who seemed to play that sort of music. I also played in a wedding band and got experience playing keyboards in a band with drums and bass and electric guitar, and, unexpectedly, I learnt a lot from playing all these covers. I guess just getting out and playing, and listening to all different styles of music. These days, Spotify or something similar would be a good way to follow some strand of your interest and discover recordings. I was always interested in recording, as well as performing. I was probably more interested in recording because I always had stage fright and nervousness around being the leader. But when I was recording, I could try whatever, I could create sounds on my own or bring other musicians in. Putting a home recording studio together, I think, is just a great tool to have. Using whatever technology you can get for free, and then just meet other musicians and play with people. I think booking a gig and trying things out on a gig is the best impetus to learning!

RM: Because you just do it and then, whatever happens, you go “Oh well, that worked or that didn’t work…”

GGG: Yeah, I think you should work with musicians who are supportive of what you want, and who can step back from their own musical agenda and be willing to try what you want to try. You should find musicians who you really admire, who want to play with you. You might as well try things - even if you think the musicians might be too busy to play with you, it’s always going to be possible to work with musicians of all different styles and calibres. I feel like musicians are the best people in the world and the most supportive of each other, so if you haven’t been out of the institution that you’re in, finding musicians of all disciplines is going to be exciting. I was in Sydney for several years just doing all these different things, and I was pushed to try different things by other people - some people said “why don’t you try adding some beats to your music” and “maybe you should work with a dance producer”. So I did some stuff that was not in my comfort zone but I thought I might as well try it. That kind of things can really help you to figure out what you want to do. The other thing is reciprocating; it can be really rewarding to offer to play with other people and contribute to their musical vision, and it can lead to unexpected collaborations.

RM: That’s really great advice. When you started working on The Red Tree, what was the process like of creating a musical from a book that wasn’t originally written to become a show?

GGG: It was really interesting to know the visual aesthetic of the book and to work with that in mind. I’d never done that before, and that was really exciting. Shaun Tan’s work is so intricate and emotional, and I felt like he was a kind of unknowing, silent collaborator. It was nice to know we had his permission and support as we were going along, too; he listened to some of the demos and gave approval as we were working, which was very helpful. I think the strength of his artistic voice and identity forced us to be strong too, to match it. Working with Hilary [Bell] has been amazing. She’s such a fantastic writer and collaborator and was really encouraging. We’ve been working in a very intuitive way, and it’s been quite easy to find this musical version of the show, and I’m really excited about it.

RM: And has it been a long process?

GGG: We’ve been working on it since February, so about 6 months.

RM: It sounds like it’s been a really rewarding experience.

GGG: Yeah, it has been. There have been many different stages of the development. We’ve had two workshops with the actress, Nicola Bowman, and some of the musicians who are in the band. Nicola is incredible. She’s just such an amazing actor, singer, and performer, and she just embodies the character, which has made the process really effortless, in a way! Writing with her voice in mind has been liberating, and I feel like I can try anything and she’ll be able to nail it.

RM: Finally, how has your experience coming from Sydney, and now being Brooklyn-based, impacted on your sense of musical identity and place?

GGG: I’ve been in New York for a long time, and the experiences I’ve had there - particularly in music and theatre, but also just life events - has really influenced my ideas of what is possible musically. Being in New York actually led me to musical theatre, a few years ago. Before that, I was always dubious of musical theatre and its cheesiness and over the top-ness, but I realised that I had always heard musical theatre, even if I wasn’t aware of it. Musical theatre songs had definitely entered pop culture as well, even in Australia, but I hadn’t had the same access to them before as I’ve had in New York. So I started getting more interested in musical theatre when I was writing songs, and there were characters emerging from these songs and I didn’t know who they were or what to do with them, but I had an urge to write something with a narrative structure, so I knew I needed to start writing musicals!

The Red Tree is the furthest I’ve gone into the world of musical theatre, which is really exciting. I’m thrilled to be doing it in Australia with everyone here. I feel like, because I was pretty old when I moved to New York, that I’ve never really lost my Australian musical identity - you can’t lose that. My sense of place has definitely expanded, through music. Music has given me a sense of home and place, even when I’m far away from home so that wherever I am I can create a space I feel happiest in. I think without that, I wouldn’t be able to live far away. Music also gives me a way to navigate the world and connect with family, friends and community. It isn’t always the most stable work - I remember when I first started, I was doing shift work during the day and writing music at night - but I’m so grateful for it.

In Conversation: Alex Turley

You’ve written a new work for Argo's final 2017 concert based on an incredible piece of art currently residing in the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane. Can you tell me about the process of writing the piece and how you were inspired by the space and the art itself?

I feel incredibly lucky to have become involved with Argo this year. The concerts that Connor and his team put together are always visually stunning, immersive and engaging to be a part of, no matter your musical background. For this particular gig they asked me to write a piece for two pianos, to be situated on opposite sides of an indoor lake. The lake is currently occupied by Narcissus Garden, an installation work by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama involving dozens of floating reflective spheres. Due to the site-specific nature of this commission, the piece basically wrote itself, as I decided to explore Kusama’s ideas in a musical context, playing with the reflection and distortion of ideas between the two pianos. The spheres actually make noise as they gently bump into one another and I’m excited for that to blend with the sound of the piece.

More broadly, how do visual arts and other creative disciplines influence and inspire your compositional practice?

I always try and associate my work with visual or ‘extramusical’ ideas, like specific images, patterns or words. I’ve found that this is the best way to communicate meaningfully with an audience, as it can give people something to hang on to as they listen, if they want it. I’m quite careful about not giving too much away though, as that can start limiting people’s experience. This particular gig is great as it involves projected visuals as well as Kusama’s artwork itself, so theres a huge opportunity for a lovely marriage between sound and visuals.

Does your creative method change at all when you’re writing a piece for a commission rather than working on your own project?

Commissions usually provide limitations, and limitations always end up being helpful for the creative process. It’s a bit daunting to stare at a blank piece of paper and be completely unrestricted with regards to what you can write. In many ways it’s much easier when someone just says ‘This is the kind of piece I want from you. Can you do it?’. And then you just do it.

How do you find a good sense of balance when you’re juggling multiple projects at the one time? Do you have any favourite ways to switch off or recharge in busy times?

Balance? I’m not familiar with that word. For the last few months I’ve been absolutely slammed with music to write and recordings to complete and repertoire to sing and songs to orchestrate, and life isn’t showing signs of slowing down any time soon. But I like working in this way; by putting heaps of pressure on myself I’m able to produce a lot of good work. Coffee helps, too.

What do you wish you’d known about the industry and the life of a practising composer when you were getting started?

That nobody will know or care how good you are until you get out into the actual world and start meeting people. And also that being friendly and forming genuine relationships with people is a lot more useful than just forcibly schmoozing with people in the industry. And also that there is no way that you will please every member of an audience at once; there will always be people that think your work is too weird and there will always be people that think your work is not weird enough. You just have to be as authentic and as true to yourself as you can.

Finally, what have you been listening to recently? Which albums have been playing on high-rotation?

Just checked my Spotify and these are the last 5 things I listened to:

Haas - String Quartets 1&2

Julius Eastman - Unjust Malaise

Saariaho - L’Amour de loin

Rautavaara - Symphonies

Takemitsu - Quotation of Dream

In Conversation: Brechtje

The Rosa Guitar Trio will be giving the world premiere of your brand-new work Zirve at the upcoming Dots+Loops Festival. Can you tell me about the process of writing this piece from inspiration through to the rehearsal period?

When Kieran asked me to compose for three guitars, I was already wrestling with a musical motive for a while. This rhythmical phrase that was so fierce that I had no idea what to do with it. I like it best when you can see musical material unfold itself; a little seed turning green and then branching out into a big complex organic tree. When listening to Rosa's repertoire, Ravel's string quartet in F and the cd with Paco de Lucia, Al di Meola and John McLaughlin, my starting phrase started to grow.

Does your overall approach change when you’re working on a specific commission compared to working on your own projects?

In order to become meaningful, to have 'that spark' of truthfulness, every work needs to become a project of my own. Whereas my own projects originate from an idea that resonated in me from the start, commissions often bring along ideas that need to grow on me first. Once I've found out why indeed that idea so exciting to explore, the project will be one of my own.

You refer to yourself as a “musical omnivore”, seeking inspiration in a broad range of world musics and genres. Do you actively seek out new music to listen to or have you always enjoyed a diverse mix of artists and performers?

This will sound very vague, but: I love music that reaches me deeply in a physical way. Also, when music invites and challenges me at the same time, it grabs my full attention. And all of this doesn't relate to a specific genre or culture. I don't realize the boundaries of these musical worlds so much and therefore will experience the same excitement when listening to prog-rock as to Stravinsky's work as to old Persian songs.

When you’re at the beginning of a new work, how do you get in the zone to write and be creative? Do you have a tried-and-true method or does it change from project to project?

Getting ideas is not the difficult part. Mainly, I need to work hard to channel my enthusiasm. Because I am so thrilled to see an idea come to life, I often forget then to think it through, to search for the most effective way to develop it into whatever form (3 hour long piece, installation, pop song, ballet, poetry, cake etc.) it needs. Saying that, next to enthusiasm, I also always try to keep on reflecting if I'm being led by expectation, laziness or assumptions. All of that should leave the creative hub ASAP, for the core idea to have the space to lead.

I know that if I just sit down, creation will happen. And that's not a gift, that's simply sitting down and giving it a try.

Your work has been performed all over the world in festivals and programs from Europe to the United States and now in Australia. Do your travels inspire the music you write in any way?

When traveling, I get loads of chances to retune my perspective on the world and myself and to expand my set of creative tools to develop ideas. The more you know of and understand, the more choices you can make. And the more choices you can make, the more sincere the work will become. Because those choices will be made anyways, either by the actually often not so interesting subconcience or by your quirky, unique mind.

For young composers getting started on their journey, do you have any advice about creating a career in the industry?

Take away everything any person in your professional surroundings could possibly complain about concerning your work, in advance.

When you have a wild idea, come up with a strategy to make it happen. When that strategy asks for bluffing, be honest to yourself. Being honest doesn't mean talking yourself down, it means reflecting if you are physically capable to do that. If so, do it.

In Conversation: Chris Perren

You’ve written a new work for the Rosa Guitar Trio to be premiered at the upcoming Dots+Loops Festival. Can you tell me about the piece and what the rehearsal process has looked like?

Well, it's called "ouendan" and it's an audiovisual piece - which basically means I have edited the video and composed the music together, and they synchronise and complement each other. It's named after a form of Japanese cheerleading which is very old and traditional, and has very sharp movements. I've used some footage of ouendan performers, and cut it up and looped it and messed with it to create the video.

Synchronising live music with a video is always kind of tricky, because they need to play along to a click, but the click has to be kind of secret, so there's headphones and such involved in keeping everyone in time. But Rosa are real pros, so we've really had no issues pulling it together. They've really helped me to develop the work, and have been extremely open minded and generous with their time and skills. The only unfortunate part is that they don't really get to watch the video while they play!

How did the piece unfold before you met with the performers? What does your writing process look like?

Writing audiovisual pieces is something I've been doing for about 5 years now, usually the two main things I'm trying to explore are: 1) what rhythmic information can be contained in the motion of a short clip of video, and 2) what complexities can arise from looping and layering short sections, and allowing them to drift out of alignment.

So the process generally starts with me trawling the internet, rummaging through my collection of odd VHS tapes, or capturing new footage to try and find something that has the kind of motion I'm looking for. Once that is found, I mess around with different combinations and see what starts to pop out for me, and that's usually what I'll develop further. Most of what I make in the early stages goes in the bin! I'm really interested in the idea of emergence - what unexpected surprises get thrown up by the process itself.

The most tedious part is something called rotoscoping, which involves editing the footage frame-by-frame to isolate a single element. It takes forever, but it's often necessary for the kind of techniques I like to use. So it's kind of handy that I only ever use very short cuts of footage!

If it's for live musicians I'll usually spend a fair bit of time varying and refining the parts to make sure they're fun and interesting to play. I like to try and make sure that it would stand up as a piece with or without the video.

What are your go-to writing tools when you start off work on a new commission? Do you prefer pen and manuscript or notation software, or does it differ from work to work?

I am a big believer in the fact that different tools bring out different musical ideas, so I make a conscious effort to use everything - notation or diagrams on paper, instruments, recording and sequencing software, notation software, drum machines, loop pedals, tape machines... And I move around between them a fair bit. For example, if I create an idea in Logic or Sibelius, I'll try and learn to play it on guitar or piano, and see what different ideas jump out from operating in a different mode.

For the audiovisual pieces though, I usually have Apple Motion or Final Cut and Logic Pro open simulataneously, and am usually bouncing back and forth between the two. And in writing for Rosa trio, I had the guitar out quite a lot - it's my main instrument so it's nice to be able to try things out on it.

You’re an artist, a music-maker and an organiser, and your day-to-day covers a whole heap of different activities, from composition and teaching to creating music events and pop music. How do you find time for all of your creative pursuits and does each practice help feed and inspire the others?

Managing my time is definitely the biggest challenge I face! I have a two year-old, so since becoming a parent, juggling multiple projects has become a lot harder. I've definitely had to trim down my activities. I try to be aware of not becoming a perpetually busy person with little to talk about except how busy I am... so for the sake of my health and my family and friends, I try to always keep a bit of downtime and not take it all too seriously. It helps that composing is a pretty relaxing state for me, so that also feels like downtime sometimes.

They all do tend to feed into each other, I'm really enriched and inspired by being with my family, and I'm lucky to have a job at UQ where I can be part of a musical/academic community where interesting things are always going on.

You also play in a math-rock band, Mr. Maps. What’s math-rock all about?!

Nominally I am, though we haven't played a show in nearly 2 years. Math-rock is a very interesting genre which I was obsessed with for most of my 20s. It's sprung from post-rock, but has a bit of a focus on rhythmic intricacy. The bands TTNG (formerly This Town Needs Guns) and Toe are good starting places for the uninitiated. I heard it described once as "prog rock with unpaid student loans" - which feels right to me. We had a lot of fun in Mr. Maps, and I feel like I learnt a lot about music from playing with those people. I think the kind of music that comes out of 5 people playing in a room together with no notation of any kind is just so different from what comes out of one composer pinning down a bunch of notes for someone else to play.

Any words of advice for young composers hoping to work in the new music/contemporary classical sphere?

Follow what fascinates you and don't be ashamed of your obsessions, no matter how unhip they are.

Don't lose sight of the people aspect - make friendships, not just networks, and remember to write parts for musicians, not for instruments.

Don't take yourself too seriously.

In Conversation: David Kram

Voice student Ben Glover caught up with composer and musical director, David Kram to speak about his new project, PEACE.

What are the origins of PEACE? How did it all start?

The origins of PEACE lie in the Rotary Club of Melbourne which I am a member of. Soon after I became a member I was invited to join the 0808 committee, which stands for the 8th August and it commemorates the Battle of Amiens in 1918, when John Monash led the Australian troops to a very great victory which sealed the end of the war. Kevin O’Flaherty founded the 0808 committee in John Monash’s honour, because he felt that his name and reputation ought to be better known in Australia, rather than just naming a freeway and a university after him. Kevin came up to me and said, I think I’d like to see an opera written about John Monash. I asked him what audience he wanted, and Kevin said any which would make his name better known. So I thought I was best to compose for choir. We looked around for a librettist unsuccessfully, so I said to Kevin look, you’ve written this poem 1918, it’s got really good material, put that together with some of Monash’s own writings and you’ve got a libretto. And that’s how it started in 2011.

How would you describe the cantata’s musical style? Were you influenced by any composers?

I’m always influenced by all the composers I’ve dealt with, from Monteverdi and Palestrina, through to world premieres that I’ve conducted. 1960s pop music from my teenage years too, and a bit of music theatre. But I consciously tried to say, what kind of music would Monash have played and enjoyed? He lived from 1865 to 1931, so the music that you’ll hear has resonances from music written about that time. At its most romantic it evokes Dvořák, Middle Europe (Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, where Monash’s parents came from), and at its most modern somebody has said it sounds like Richard Meale. A little bit of Janáček as well; I find Janáček’s writing is modern and yet it’s rooted in the nineteenth century. A bit of Percy Grainger too, who was around about the same time as John Monash. And then there’s also your sacred four-part church music.

What was it like collaborating with poet Kevin O’Flaherty?

Well Kevin and I are good buddies. He never set out to be the librettist, and in a way he was quite surprised because he doesn’t consider himself to be a professional poet. And despite my best urgings he’s not yet published his poem. He did agree to add footnotes, because his style is modelled off some of the more cryptic poets like Dorothy Parker, people who write poetry and miss out half the words so it’s almost a sort of telegraph language. He alludes to people, places and events that you wouldn’t know anything about unless you actually knew the background. And this has been one of the challenges of the work.

As we went on, especially after 2015, Kevin felt that the music sort of swamped the words. And I said Kevin, you know, this is always the case. That’s why country and western music have the simplest of chord patterns and the simplest of tunes, so that the words come through. So I said let’s cut down the number of words, and let’s repeat some of them. “Let there be peace, let there be peace,” and by the fifth time of “let there be peace” people will say oh, “let there be peace.” I think that helped a lot, and Kevin understood that. But there was always this tension between wanting to convey the information about Monash and the music. It’s in every collaboration, there’s always that tension – Mozart had it.

What were some of the challenges you faced during the work’s composition?

Even though we’re not being paid for the composition we still had expenses. We kept on applying for grants, especially the Australia Council and Arts Victoria grants, but we weren’t successful. So I went to my company More Than Opera, and they believed in the composition and were willing to take the risk. So we were relying on our donor base before we applied for a grant with the Robert Salzer Foundation, and finally we were successful. It was such a long drawn out process because we had no interest from the major arts funding organisations. But I speak as one of many in saying that most people don’t get funding, especially if it’s anything to do with classical music. You’ve got to be more experimental.

The second challenge was that Kevin moved to Queensland, and although we did a lot by phone and by email our most productive work was when we sat together and nutted things out. So that dragged out the process.

What did you learn from composing PEACE?

I learnt that – I hate to say this – I’ve got more compositional techniques and inspiration for melodies and rhythms in me than I ever thought I had. I’m not saying it’s inexhaustible, but give me a task and I know I can compose. Rossini used to be able to compose a shopping list. I seem to compose from a lot of different sources. And some of the music actually does sound a lot more sophisticated when I rehearse it than even when I was composing it.

What would your advice be to any young composers?

They have to follow their instincts. Every composer has their own individual voice, their own individual message that they have in their hearts. They have to follow those. Some composers want their music to be liked, and heard and repeated. Some composers say, I don’t care what anybody thinks, I’m just going to compose what I believe in, it may be acceptable now or it may be acceptable in the future. That’s really up to the composer.

But I will say this, try to be simple and direct, especially if it’s for vocal music. If you’re writing an opera don’t just write reels and reels of prose that just go on and on. Otherwise you might as well just say the words over background music (and in fact, some parts of the cantata I’ve done precisely that). I’m also a great believer in structural forms. Verse forms, strophe, ternary, variation form, passacaglias. Because people do relate to that, they need a structure.

In Conversation: Jayson Gilham

Your newly released third album features the rarely-heard Medtner Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Minor. How did you discover the work and what was the process for programming the remainder of the record?

I was asked to learn Medtner’s first concerto for a feature documentary about the Australian pianist Geoffrey Tozer. Along the way I asked ABC Classics General Manager Toby Chadd whether it was something they would like to record and he liked the idea very much. At the time I was also working on the Rachmaninoff No. 2 with MSO for one of their free concerts at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. It seemed like a great pairing, as the two men were contemporaries and friends. Toby Chadd suggested I add a couple of short solo works, and together we chose the beautiful Medtner ‘Angel’ and I chose the Rachmaninoff D major Prelude.

Performing for a live audience is, I imagine, a different beast to playing for a recording. Does the way you prepare the pieces going into the studio differ from the way you prepare for a live performance?

I always like to prepare everything as if it is for a live performance, however the process of studio recording is different. It could be compared to recording for film as opposed to live theatre. Sometimes you have to start at Act Two Scene Three and be immediately in character and aware of where this scene fits within the overall structure of the work. It can be mentally tiring because you need to maintain this intensity over a number of days.

Since relocating to London for study in 2007, you have performed across the globe with some of the world's best orchestras and conductors. Can you tell me about that initial trip to the United Kingdom, what it was like to move away from Australia, and now how you look after yourself on the road when you're away for so much of the year?

This is a great question. I can’t believe it’s already ten years since I left sunny Queensland. It’s a very difficult thing on reflection, to move so far away from home, and to be a country boy at heart who’s grown to form a love-hate relationship with city life. At the beginning, when I first moved to London, I was so caught up in the excitement of study at the Royal Academy of Music and new friends at my student halls that I didn’t realise what an upheaval it was. But after my first trip back to Australia I became very homesick. Over time things have settled to a point where I’m left with bittersweet feelings of being partly at home and partly out of place wherever I go.

I’m getting better at packing for trips. I don’t like quick trips where I have to take only hand luggage and be corralled through large clunky European airports. Those trips are very draining because what should be only a one or two hour flight ends up taking almost a full day by the time you factor in the train/bus journeys at either end and the 2-3hrs you need to be at the airport before the flight. European airports tend to serve a number of different cities and are not close to any of them. Australian domestic air travel is an altogether painless experience after flying in Europe.

I try to eat healthily and for me that means 95% of what I eat is whole plant foods. It’s a very nutritious diet that gives me a lot of energy and I tend to bounce back from the travel better now eating this way. For exercise, while I’m travelling it can be difficult. I really like Feldenkrais, which is popular amongst musicians but less well known than Alexander Technique. It teaches you a really fine awareness of your body through very gentle and pleasant movements. I can get away without massages most of the time now if I keep up with a regular Feldenkrais practice. It helps me to address an imbalance between the left and right sides of my body and a tightness in my mid back which can build up over time if I’m not careful and start to cause me problems. I have added this to my repertoire of strength and physio/pilates based exercises that I can take on the road with me anywhere. But I highly recommend to anyone, especially performing artists, to delve into Feldenkrais. There are endless resources online and a good place to start is www.feldenkrais.co.uk.

Being a professional pianist takes a lot more than just great technique and musicianship: in fact, you have to be fantastic at lots of non-musical things! Outside of the practice room, what have been the most important skills you've needed to develop?

For all musicians and especially those focused on mostly solo work and spending a lot of time alone, it is crucial to develop social skills and an ability to communicate with your audience. These days everyone wants to have a more personal connection with the artist and I always try to see the audience after the concert and say hello. For solo recitals in a more intimate or less formal setting I will introduce each piece, talking about its historical context, its context in the life of the composer, and often my personal connection or experience with that piece.

Another critical skill is an ability to network and promote yourself and your work, with self-respect and discretion of course. At the end of the day no one is going to be as committed to helping you out as yourself, so it is very important to keep contacting promoters, agents, critics, etc, and finding other musicians you like and want to work with. The right tone and balance has to be struck, of course, because friendly reminders and updates can quickly turn into spam emails and unwanted calls.

With recitals and examinations fast approaching for students, getting performance-ready is the task at the front of the mind. Do you have any advice for musicians on dealing with feelings of performance anxiety and stage fright? How do you keep nerves in check before a performance?

I am perhaps not the best person to ask about performance anxiety because I know that it can range from nerves to something rather serious and debilitating, which fortunately I have not experienced. I think it would be wise for anyone with a crippling kind of anxiety to seek professional help in the form of therapy. There are many people who are very experienced in this and I have had friends who have benefited from therapy regarding performance anxiety.

I’ve been very lucky in that my nerves are mostly positive ones that help to make my performance more exciting and narrow my focus on stage. The only times I’ve had the bad kind of nerves is when I’ve felt underprepared, and so I would caution everyone, especially if they have to memorise their works, to know their music well enough that they can pick it up at a number of different points throughout the piece. Practising in a way that really reinforces forms of memory other than muscle memory is very important. Try practising a piece starting at a different point each time, and really get to know where you are structurally in the piece, such as what key you are in and where it modulates to next. Get to know your fingerings and inner voicings, and for pianists, practise the hands separately to the point of being able to completely memorise just the left hand, or try playing only the inner notes of chordal passages to strengthen your deep knowing of the piece. For a contrapuntal work, try singing one part whilst playing all the others. All of these tricks really help to secure a performance to the point where nerves are not going to cause debilitating worry on stage.

I think the more I’ve performed the more I’ve realised that the audience are there to enjoy the music, and they are not there to criticise me at every turn. There might be a couple of people in your average audience who go to concerts wanting to pick everything apart, but the vast majority are appreciative and understanding. People really want the performance to go well for you. And those listening who are performers/teachers/examiners, they have all been on stage themselves and know only too well the pressure of performing. They will also be hoping and wishing that it goes well for you.

Finally, if you could go back to the start of your performance career and give yourself one piece of advice about the industry, what would you say?

Repertoire! Learn lots of repertoire and learn it thoroughly, because later on you will have less time to learn new things. Look after your body. Learn languages (do as I say and not as I do when it comes to this one!).

In Conversation: Michael Kieran Harvey

Let's talk Zappa: what about his music inspires you? How did you first discover his records?

His music was always a mixture of improvisation and notation. It was highly heterodox and bewilderingly eclectic. It mocked hypocrisy in whatever form, musical, social, political, religious, fashion, sexual, you name it. He trained the best players in the US. I discovered his records Trawling through Blue Light import records off Pitt St Sydney at age 12. 1973.

For Cage and Zappa at the Australian National Academy of Music, you'll be collaborating with percussionist Peter Neville and pianist Timothy Young. How did the collaboration come about and what has your rehearsal and preparation process looked like in the lead up to the performance?

I have known these guys for decades, and we have been talking of a three-way collaboration almost as long. The collaboration is a result of a lot of hard work and good will by Tim and Peter. Peter has done some incredible arrangements of Zappa and my own pieces, and Tim has been researching Cage and putting together a truly forensic performance of these visionary works. I'm just lucky to be asked really! A lot of the show will come together in the week I'm resident there at ANAM, including some pretty surprising works by Zappa's Italian Baroque namesake, Francesco Zappa.

You've spoken about how risk and failure should be part of our culture because it stimulates innovation. Why is failure a useful part of creative process? How do you deal with (or nurture) failure in your personal practice as a composer and pianist?

I was wrong when I said it should be part of our culture - of course our culture is a culture of failure already. We are surrounded by failure masquerading as success, as efficiency, as growth, as competition etc. I relish true failure. It is the essence of being human.

You have played a great variety of music in your career - from the great romantics to newly composed synth parts. What advice do you have for young musicians who would like to try a genre of music that feels initially out of their comfort zone?

My advice? Don't move out of your comfort zone, it's scary and you might find it difficult to conform to society. You might start questioning. That way madness lies.

With school and university back in full swing for semester two, recitals and examinations are now just around the corner. When an important performance is coming up for you, how do you deal with any feelings of anxiety that crop up?

Every performance is important, but only to me - I couldn't care less what others think. Those that do care should stick to exams and assessments, and define themselves by what others think of them.

Do you have some tried-and-tested techniques for dealing with stage fright?

Run like hell. Laugh.

In Conversation: Sam Weller

In conversation with Will Hansen on conducting, collaborations and classical saxophone.

You've organised several concerts already, boasting a wide range of repertoire presented by the diverse line-up of your ensemble. Would you say that this is one of Ensemble Apex's foundational principals?

Absolutely! The aim of the ensemble is to play both well-known chamber repertoire, as well as what are perhaps the more obscure works within the chamber music canon. In the upcoming concert's program, we have two concertos by Martinu and Prokofiev, written for relatively large orchestras, so we are using the word "chamber orchestra" loosely here! The true chamber works that will be played on the night are Wagner's Sigfried Idyll for 13 musicians, and Copland's Appalachian Spring for 15 musicians. These two pieces are cornerstones of the Chamber Orchestra literature, in comparison to the Martinu Oboe Concerto, which, while being a staple of oboe repertoire is not particularly well known amongst other musicians. The Prokofiev Cello Concertino is very rarely performed- the composer actually died before it was completed! It was finished by the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. This concerto uses themes from the earlier Sinfonia Concertante, although it is for a much smaller orchestra, and has a much more intimate feel to it. So yes, we have presented varied performances, in order to cover the wide range of repertoire that's out there. I guess we want to do something that’s intriguing for people to come and watch.

You have a number of Special Guests joining you for the upcoming concert- who are they and how did you get them on board?

We are very lucky to have Toby Thatcher, assistant conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra , as well as Umberto Clerici, principal cellist, and Shefali Pryor, who is associate principal oboist. Toby has been something of a mentor figure to me, and he has helped me to develop my own conducting style; I approached him at the end of last year asking if he'd like to work with the group, and we furthered that plan this year when we decided to put on the two concertos. He got in contact with some people from the Sydney Symphony, and both Umberto and Shefali were very happy to do it, which we are VERY thankful for! They are such stunning musicians. It's also a great opportunity for me as a developing conductor to have 3 people that know exactly what they're doing up the front to provide, I suppose, an educational aspect to this concert, rather than having me flap my arms around learning things as I go. But in all seriousness, we are extremely lucky to have 3 outstanding and amazing musicians who will take the performance to the next level.

In addition to being a conductor, you're also a classical saxophonist by trade… what are your experiences in these fields, and how did they lead to the foundation of the ensemble?

I suppose that as a classical saxophone player, you get to learn very quickly that your job prospects are slim. There are no permanent positions in orchestras anywhere, unless you want to go into the wind band world. If not, you have to make your own work! In year 10, I was introduced to conducting by my music teacher at Newtown Performing Arts High School. Ever since then I suppose that I've always loved orchestral music, and I realised that conducting was the only way to get involved with it! I've never actually performed with an orchestra on the saxophone, so my experience with the orchestra has only been through conducting. It was the only way to get involved with the orchestra, so thought to myself "It's what I've gotta do!" I love saxophone, but I think conducting is what I'm focused on- it's my passion.

So, you plan to take it further?

Definitely. I would like to travel overseas or do my masters… not sure quite yet! Conducting is definitely the long-term goal.

How do you, as Artistic Director and conductor, view your role within the context of the ensemble?

We want to put on the most intriguing concerts possible. In the future, that means that we will mix with other art forms such as speech, dance, singing (which with and orchestra is slightly less common these days!). One of my focuses when I program music is to attract a diverse crowd; that also is amplified by our sponsorship with Young Henry's, who have very generously donated to us for our upcoming concert! Craft beer plus Newtown Hipsters… hopefully their eyes will be open a bit, and hopefully we've attracted people who don't normally come to classical music concerts (with free beer no less!). All in all, we are trying to present music to people who love classical music, as well as people who may be interested in hearing it, but don't get a chance to.

You've sold out your upcoming concert, so we'll wait and see who comes!

Hopefully they all turn up!

What are your goals for the future of the ensemble?

It's very much "as it comes" at the moment, seeing what opportunities arise… For example, I have a good friend who dances with the Sydney Dance Company who is going to collaborate on a project with me- if all goes to plan, we will try to tackle Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin, complete with contemporary dancers. Additionally, the Australian composer, Dr. Nicholas Vines, has generously decided to compose a piece for the Chamber Orchestra, which will be premiered next year; It will be paired in concert with a well-known piece of early classical repertoire. Vine's piece will be a new take on the music of CPE Bach, in the form of Three Sinfoniettas, which we look forward to performing and hearing… it's very exciting for us as an Ensemble to play completely new music. It's unfortunately something that we haven't been doing as much, so I promise we'll pick up the game with that one next year! There are a few more varied projects which we are looking to do in the future- for example, in the past we've collaborated with a number of artists in order to try and diversify classical music. We have presented a concert as part of the VIVID SYDNEY Festival which included orchestrated versions of Dance anthems from the 90's, complete with live DJ, band, and pyrotechnics, so hopefully we'll have a chance to get amongst it again next year. We also had the opportunity to work with the pop star Lorde earlier this year, and finally, we are hoping to record some music at both the end of this year and onwards. Should be exciting!

In Conversation: Taryn Fiebig

The 50th anniversary of West Australian Opera was recently celebrated with a brand-new production of The Merry Widow, in which you performed the role of Hanna Glavari - the rich and exuberant title character. Can you tell me about the role and what the production period looked like?

Firstly, what an honour to be involved in such an auspicious year with the company, celebrating 50 years. I'm thrilled to have played the extraordinary character, Hanna. She's gorgeous, a down to earth farm girl come elegant and sophisticated socialite who chances upon the love of her life, Danilo. What followed was two very proud people coming to grips with the past and daring each other to commit to the future. I adored them both.

You initially completed your musical training as a cellist before moving your focus to opera singing: what was that transition like and has your string playing influenced the way you approach the learning of vocal music?

It was extremely beneficial studying to be an instrumentalist first, it gives you grounding and a better understanding of operatic scores and greater insight to your conductors and orchestras. For me, it was the right way around as far as my operatic study was concerned.

Travelling across Australia is a large part of your work as a freelance opera singer, as are long hours in and out of the rehearsal room. How do you find a good balance between work and down time? Do you have any tried and true methods for looking after yourself on the road?

Down time, what's that?! My work is my work and my down time. My greatest joy is creating and playing around in amongst beautiful music, great colleagues, with wondrous directors, choreographers, costume designers. I adore my job, it's my everything.

Travel tips, tried and true? I always have a little bag full of pills and potions. Vitamins, a steamer and Friar's Balsam - a tincture I use to steam with, excellent stuff!

You’re also no stranger to the musical theatre stage, having performed as Eliza Doolittle many times in My Fair Lady for Opera Australia. Has your work in the musical theatre world had an impact on the way your approach character development in operatic work and how do you make sure you’re always putting your best voice forward, regardless of genre?

Certainly doing My Fair Lady taught me stamina, discipline and gave me focus for an 8 show a week mentality. However, I approach all my characters the same way, regardless of genre. I am very text driven, so it is always the text I start with.

I ask myself what am I saying to describe myself, but more importantly, what are others saying about me, this gives greater insight to who I am as a character.

For young singers about to embark on a young artist program journey, do you have any suggestions for making them most of your time in this semi-professional, semi-educational environment?

NEVER stop working, practising, reading. Take that ballet class you were putting off, go to that acting class and in your holidays go to Europe and learn Italian. If you want to be a singer you must never stop learning.

If you could go back to the start of your time as a freelance opera singer, what wisdom would you share with yourself about the profession?

It's taken me a while to answer this question, because on one level everything I've done, all the failures and successes have added up to what I've achieved thus far in my career. I have a pretty thick skin from the profession, which I think is important, I suppose I would reassure my younger self that you'll be criticized, criticized to make you a better performer and not to take it personally.

I probably would have started earlier too, so I could have entered competitions that potentially could have given me greater access to over seas opportunities. But to be honest, I am where I need to be and that's a nice place to be.

In Conversation: Kenny Keppel

Hey Kenny! You’ve been accepted into the Norwegian Academy of Music – congratulations! How did you pick that you wanted to go and study in Oslo?

In my first year at the Australian National Academy of Music, I spent a summer in Europe doing some masterclasses – one in Italy and one in Norway. We spent four days in this big conference centre and among other woodwinds, there were about fifteen clarinettists. We had the opportunity to work with two teachers, Andreas Sundén from the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Björn Nyman from the Norwegian Radio SO, which was a great opportunity and I really enjoyed working with both musicians. I went back to Oslo in February, and as the Academy holds their auditions early in the year I thought that I’d better audition! I had a lesson following the audition with Björn and that really confirmed for me that it’d be a good idea to study in Norway. There’s so much I can learn there.

What are you hoping to get out of your time in Norway?

I think my main goal for the Master’s degree is to figure out what is necessary to become a super reliable and exciting performer. I also kind of just want to learn how to sound great all the time, too! So many players from that part of the world seem to be able to do it, so being surrounded by amazing players will help. I’m also hoping that during the time I’ll be able to meet a lot of new people and be introduced to new kinds of music. Exploring new compositions and new music interests me equally to working towards an orchestral position. I’m super into interesting performance experiences and I think being somewhere new will open a lot of possibilities.

Is having a portfolio career a goal of yours? It sounds like performing lots of different things in many different formats is a priority!

I absolutely love performing with an orchestra and if I could get a position doing that I’d be really happy, but I do want the flexibility to push boundaries in other musical ways – through solo work, commissioning and working with new compositions, playing chamber repertoire. A lot of people who sit in orchestras now seem to be prioritising that: Plexus, for example, do a series of concerts that include almost all new repertoire! I would love to be performing that kind of work and not be purely tied to an orchestral schedule. Having room to explore is important. Being at the Australian National Academy of Music really gave me a taste for that, as their program is particularly experimental and flexible. Now, having spent the first half of this year freelancing, I’ve learnt about creating my own work schedule and finding time to make my own projects happen, which has been quite an experience. I have been working on The Up-Bow Down-Low as well – a podcast created for ANAM – and that has been a great outlet in a different way. I’m not sure if anyone listens, but it’s been great to use the platform to explore different ideas! I’d love to be able to do an array of projects in the future: creating new types of experiences for audiences. You can’t wait for other people to make things happen, you have to jump in and do it yourself!

Do you think all your different projects influence each other? Does the busy-ness actually help?

Having your mind in lots of different places kind of forces you to figure out how you’re going to fit everything together and it certainly gives you a wider perspective on the arts. I’ve been trying to get experience in this way for a while: when I was in Auckland Youth Orchestra I was on the committee and was a player representative. I was also part of the marketing team for a while. There were no real guidelines, which meant we had to be creative and learn those necessary skills as we went. I think learning how to promote your own concerts definitely heightens your involvement and understanding of the whole scene, which is what my work with AYO and now the podcast work has done. It also makes you feel like you’re really contributing something worthwhile.

When you were just starting out in promoting your own projects and performances, what do you wish you’d known? Do you have any advice for your younger self?

I wish I’d known that you’ve really got to think of everything! There are so many things that go into a concert that you might not realise. Once you’ve printed flyers, how do they actually get to people? Where should you put up your posters? How much will everything cost? A potential patron must see an advertisement for an event three times before they’ll action it, so you have to make sure you’re getting your marketing in the right places. I think being proactive has been the biggest learning curve.

It’s almost time for you to make the big move overseas: why do you think it’s important to travel with your music? What will you and others get out of leaving Australia for a time to study?

You get a different perspective on how people think about music in different parts of the world. The way music is treated in different societies is really varied and travel allows you to be introduced to new concepts both on your instrument and in a broader way, which can only be a good thing. I think when you get super comfortable in one place it’s easy to get complacent and take the accelerator off, so spending some time in a new place reminds you to push harder. Meeting new people and teachers and experiencing a different environment can be really good for your musicality because it keeps your viewpoint wide. Moving to a different country can also really challenge you in ways you never would imagine – you discover things about yourself and how you react to social situations. If you can put yourself in a new situation and observe your own actions and reactions you can learn a lot about yourself. I think a big international move can open up a process of self-discovery. Once you figure out all the initial stuff and the dust settles a bit, you can find you’re a little more confident and self-aware. Maybe a little humbler! It’s really good for figuring out who you are.

In Conversation: Jakub Jankowski

You’ve recently been commissioned by Musica Viva to write two new works, including your octet for the Music Viva Festival, performed by the Goldner and Elias string quartets. How did this relationship come about and what has the experience been like working with the musicians you've been commissioned to write for?

My relationship with Musica Viva began as something of a surprise. Carl Vine discovered some of my music and upon finding out that I was a cellist, contacted me with the invitation to write two new works: a string octet for Musica Viva's 2017 Festival and a cello sonata for the 2017 International Concert Season.

I feel very honoured as a young composer to be able to write for and work with some of the leading musicians of the international chamber music scene at such an early stage of my career.

It was a complete joy to work with the Goldner String Quartet and the Elias String Quartet as they brought my string octet to life at this year's Musica Viva Festival. The total dedication of all the players to my music and their sympathy with my musical intentions was incredibly inspiring. Their professionalism in rehearsal was very impressive and I was amazed at how well these two quartets - who had never played together before - were able to immediately synchronise so well as an octet.

What does your writing process look like when you're working to a commission? Is it different from your approach when you're working on your own projects?

I feel as though every piece I work on has a unique writing process, regardless of whether it's a commissioned work or part of a collaborative project. There's always a different musical focus in every new piece, and my interests are always leading me into new musical territory. For instance, my last two commissioned works were conceived very differently and required me to find very different solutions in writing them. I generally suspect that if what I'm doing feels too familiar, I'm probably not on the right track.

How does your background as a cellist inform your works and compositional process?

The compositional process for me is a somewhat mysterious one and I'm not altogether sure to what degree my background as a cellist informs how and what I write. However, I'm sure that a composer's musical fingerprint is greatly shaped by their main instrument - for instance, Olivier Messiaen's music would be completely different if he wasn't an organist.

It seems to me that my approaches to ensemble writing are very much informed by my background in performing as a cellist in chamber groups and orchestras. From a practical perspective, I often use the cello as a compositional tool to test out and generate musical material, especially when I'm writing for cello/strings.

Do you have a fondness for writing for any particular type of ensemble? Why?

I can't say for sure because there are so many types of ensembles I haven't had the chance to write for yet.

As a cellist, I suppose I'm most comfortable in writing for strings, as I'm very familiar with the strengths, limitations and all the subtle tone colours available. However, I equally like writing for mixed ensembles, traditional chamber groups and large ensembles. Every instrumental configuration comes with its own joys and challenges, and each presents unique compositional obstacles to overcome.

What do you think about the current state of new music in Australia? Do you think the future is looking bright for young composers and performers?

I think there are a lot of fantastic new music ensembles and organisations in Australia which are constantly reaching out to their respective audiences and which offer great opportunities for young composers and performers. It's very inspiring to see plenty of young composers and performers start up their own new music ensembles and curate their own concerts. The future is always uncertain, but I believe there will always be an audience for composers and performers of new music who are deeply immersed in - and tirelessly committed to - what they're doing.

Finally, what advice do you have for fellow young composers who are taking the first steps in getting their work out there?

My advice would be to keep writing, and to take any chance you can to get your music out and into the hands of performers. I think working regularly with players, and hearing and seeing how your music works live in concert is the most effective way of learning and improving compositional 'craft'. But one must not forget that the music will not be performed if it isn't written. So get writing.

In Conversation: Blair Harris

Your upcoming concert with Andrea Katz sees you perform some of the masterpieces of the cello and piano repertoire, including works by Beethoven, Brahms and Debussy. Can you tell me about the programming process for this concert and why you chose the pieces that made the cut?

We both felt we wanted to join forces to explore these powerhouses of the romantic repertoire. Over years I have dedicated myself largely to contemporary music, but this program is a great opportunity to explore something different. Ultimately we chose these three works because they resonate with the both of us. We can share our ideas and past experience with the vision of finding a new collaborative voice for these great masters.

When working on duo repertoire, as you are doing with Andrea in the lead up to Rhapsodic Cello, what does an ideal rehearsal schedule look like? How do you stay efficient when you have limited time and how important is it to take time just to have fun and relax with your colleagues?

Andrea and I have been working together everyday and will continue to do so up until the performance. It is so important to come up with an interpretation that is highly personal to both of us to create a unique and exciting performance. The rehearsal process is often the most interesting aspect of being a performer, we have both allowed space in our schedules to put this concert foremost in our minds. We will relax after the concert!

Your portfolio career sees you working on a huge array of music from romantic gems and crowd-pleasing musicals to 20th-century works and brand new commissions. How do you manage all of your different projects and do you have any advice for instrumentalists hoping to pursue a career as a freelance performer?

I just adore all music! Whatever I am working with at the time often becomes my love affair. I try to divide my time evenly between all the projects but am also careful to create space in the final lead up to a major recital or especially demanding program of chamber music, so it can be my only focus. My advice to successful freelancing is to always stay true to your artistic goals. It is so easy to get overworked as a freelancer because we feel like we always need to be ‘busy’ to been seen as successful. It is really important to keep up your personal practice regime and to feel like, no matter what the gig is, you are in control of your instrument and proud to contribute. Our self-esteem as musicians is intrinsically linked to how we perceive ourselves on our instrument. If we let that side of ourselves down, things can take a turn for the worse and we lose confidence.

In your own personal practice, do you have a tried-and-true schedule that works every time or does your approach change based on your current projects?

I have a rule now every day starts with 30 minutes of technique before breakfast. This really sets up my day to feel powerful and connected to the cello. Performing solo works or duo programs is extremely demanding, your interpretation needs to be really embedded well beyond the hands to be able to communicate the work in a spontaneous manner. I spend a lot of time now away from the cello, reading the scores making possible interpretive decisions that I will try in my next physical practice session. I find I am much more creative this way being free from ever getting caught putting technique ahead of musical decisions.

For those students with end of year recitals on their minds, can you share three of your best strategies for getting performance ready?

Start early! Cramming for performances doesn’t work. Your body and mind need time to digest the repertoire both musically and technically. Giving yourself a large lead up also allows you to rest certain pieces for a few days and come back to them with fresh eyes.

Always practice with a purpose. Choose one aspect you would like to improve at a time and achieve it. It’s easy to feel an ‘All or Nothing’ mentality when leading up to performances. But by breaking things down into achievable goals you’ll see quick improvements and build confidence. Mindless repetition is an absolute waste of time!

Perform as much as possible. Whether it be a phrase to your practice neighbour or a run through of one of your pieces. Too often we get caught up in this ‘it has to be perfect’ mentality. This isn’t realistic without allowing yourself to be comfortable performing. Schedule a few informal runs for people you trust and stick with them. At the end of the day, music isn’t about an exam or a grade, it is about communicating something highly emotional and powerful with other human beings. The more you do that, the better off we will all be.

In Conversation: Laura Barton

You'll be conducting Safe and Sound - A Benefit for the Syrian Humanitarian Crisis. Can you tell me about how the project came to be and why you think music has the power to change lives?

This project is the brain child of my wonderful colleagues, Kyla and Tiffany. Through the ANAM community of staff, students, and supporters, they realised that we have the power to truly make a difference if we put our minds to it. This is a great initiative which so many people have already got behind, and it's so far shaping up to be an amazing concert and a powerful evening.

Music is truly a universal language, that transcends all other barriers such as race, religion, and political beliefs. Because of this, it's an important tool in bringing people together who might not otherwise think they have anything in common. It also affects emotions - sad music makes you feel sad, etc. This empathetic sharing of emotion can be incredibly powerful in forming connections with people. Performing and sharing music with others makes me feel closer to them like we have a bond formed through this shared experience. If we use music to feel others' emotions, it's a step towards understanding them, and understanding enables us to better communicate and assist.

The programming of a performance is one of the most important steps in the planning process - how did you choose the repertoire for this project and what meaning does each piece hold in the broader context of the evening's purpose?

The main works I'm involved with in this concert are the Hindemith and the Shostakovich. These are both men who were persecuted because of their political views as well as their compositional style. Hindemith himself was forced to flee Germany after the rise of the Nazi party, and a ban was placed on performances of his works. Although the Kammermusik 1 is mostly a light hearted work, it is Hindemith's personal experiences and wider social and cultural context that has driven us to include him in this performance. Shostakovich's iconic 8th Quartet is an autobiographical work and shows a picture of both his entire life and his situation at the time of writing. The work is dedicated "to the victims of fascism and war", a heading that included himself. This resonates deeply with the Syrian humanitarian crisis.

What initially drew you to the baton and podium? Has your background as a violinist performing both as a soloist and in ensembles influenced your conducting style in any way?

My passion with the violin has always been orchestral playing, and during my university study, I became really interested in the concept of the orchestra as an instrument. As a conductor, you don't just get to play one instrument; you wave your arms and this incredible sound comes out. I definitely feel that having had a lot of experience playing in an orchestra has influenced my conducting and rehearsal techniques. Watching other conductors, you learn what works and what doesn't and can adopt that.

When you're leading an ensemble, how do you make sure you're being as efficient as possible in preparing works for performance, particularly when you have limited time available to rehearse?

I always aim to be as prepared as I possibly can before we get to the first rehearsal. This involves listening to lots of different interpretations, studying the score, chatting to my musicians to learn their thoughts and concerns, and playing through the music myself at the piano. I also have to rely on my colleagues to prepare their own parts so that we don't have to spend rehearsal time learning notes, which is especially important with limited time. It's essential for me to have a clear idea in my head of what I want to achieve in each session before we start. This means that I can focus on passages that are difficult both technically and musically challenging and hopefully navigate them as quickly as possible.

For musicians young and old with an interest in using their talents to help others and raise awareness, do you have any ideas about how to get started in creating an important project like this one?

I feel like a lot of people want to contribute to a worthy cause like this, but don't know how, or don't want to give to an organisation who will take profits for themselves. By talking to friends and colleagues, creating an idea like this one, it only takes a couple of people to get organised and put something together. So many people have jumped at the chance to be involved and help out, and I'm sure that we'll get a great audience. This is an easy conduit for people to give aid, and in a situation where we know where the funds come from and where they'll go.

In Conversation: Hubert Francis

It is almost time for young artist programs to commence, kickstarting the careers of another year of opera singers. Can you tell us about your experience in the Covent Garden Young Artist Program, and at what moment you knew that a career in singing was what you wanted to do?

My experience in the Young Artists Programme at Royal Opera House from 2002 to 2004 was awesome. Receiving premium language, movement and vocal coaching with artists of, in many cases, 40 years experience cannot be matched, which was complimented by the opportunity to take on small roles and cover larger ones in main stage productions. My Covent Garden stage debut was as the Peasant in Verdi's Luisa Miller alongside Frittoli, Alvarez, Furlanetto conducted by Benini. I spoke when spoken to and took everything in seasoned professionals around me did. To answer the second part of your question, I knew a career in singing was what I wanted to do from around 1983, sitting in the audience at a Sydney Opera House performance of Wagner's Die Walkuere with Rita Hunter as Bruennhilde.

Travel is a large part of your life as a professional opera singer. When you're on the road, how do you look after yourself both mentally and physically?

Up to 9 and a half months on the road annually is tough. I read a lot and walk twice daily, getting to know the city am working in. History has always interested me. The Resistance Museum in Amsterdam would be one of the most memorable I've visited and influenced a portrayal of role I was doing with Dutch National Opera in Christof Loy's confronting production of Verdi's Les Vepres Siciliennes. I also do a 20-40 minute physical warm up before a vocal warm up, and meditating also plays a big part in my process - we were introduced to this while studying at Manchester's Royal Northern College of Music.

You're currently in Australia to adjudicate for the Sydney Eisteddfod - one of the most important vocal competitions for young singers in the country. Other than a fine instrument, what do you love to see on stage in competitions?

We are in the business of a combined science and art discipline, however we are also entertainers. To maintain a good vocal technique requires knowledge of the science of how we do what we do, and to do it again and again and again. My experience of artistry and musicality is that these tend to be, for the most part, innate in a performer. When the technique becomes one with the artistry, that's what I love to witness and am heartened to say I saw it frequently these last ten days of adjudication.

To become successful in the opera industry, there are a considerable number of skills to learn outside of the mastery of your instrument. What non-musical skills have been most important to you in your career so far?

When to keep your counsel.
Arrive early so you can start on time.
Your reputation starts yesterday and you're are only as good as your next performance.
Above all, work on developing a balanced inner self-critic.
When faced with a brand new role, what does your process look like? How much time do you spend on learning the music vs developing the role, for example?

Ideally, where possible, I like to do a smaller role in the same opera (e.g. one of the Jews in Salome before taking on Herod) or cover the role before doing it. This makes the work of learning the role easier. Do a word for word translation as it's imperative to know what I'm singing about. I like to 'sing/speak' the text separately from the music, on the breath/support, getting it into the body and muscle memory, noting voiced and unvoiced consonants etc. Taste the text. I then speak it in time before adding pitches. I memorise faster this way. In good composition the rhythm and pitches reveal the character the composer wants/wanted.

If you could go back in time and share something that you wish you'd known about the opera industry with your younger self, what would you say?

Hindsight is wonderful however all industries evolve and likewise, participants evolve or perish. Keep educating yourself about your physiology, voice, art form and surround yourself with teachers and coaches who offer constructive criticism. Never burn a bridge nor be afraid to admit you were in the wrong. Life and work are about being respected not being everyone's best friend. I'm grateful for growing up on a farm witnessing droughts and floods, followed by a decade working in Sydney in Sales, Marketing and PR before heading overseas aged 28 to study at RNCM. I've done many a temp job along the way, am married and have 2 kids which move the goalposts of life. Being a parent is the most difficult job of all. I'm now close to 150 performances on the Covent Garden stage and have shared it and other stages/concert platforms with some of the greatest singers, conductors and directors of our time. Reality in every dream, go live it.

In Conversation: Ken Mackenzie-Forbes AM

You are currently the Artistic Director of The Production Company, but before you came into this role you worked in a variety of artistic leadership positions: as an executive producer, a general manager and a director. Can you tell me about the start of your musical journey and how you came to find your place as an artistic leader?

I trained as a musician and studied music as part of my degree at Queensland University, and I realised at that time that I didn't have enough talent to make it as a professional musician, so I came around to the thought that I would like to be in a situation where I could facilitate or administer the creation of music and opera, at that stage. I was also in the Commonwealth Government, working in the Department of Trade at the time, and in the late 1960's they established the Australia Council, so at the beginning of 1970, they created a position for a Senior Music Officer, which was the first position for a music officer ever created. I was appointed to that position in 1970. From that point on I was working in the music industry, and I had a great time there looking after companies from the Australian Opera through to community-based groups. We had funding for chamber music and Australian music as well as specific funds for the development of the state opera companies: there was a lot going on across a broad spectrum. I was there for four years and enjoyed it enormously, but I decided that after that I wanted to work in the field, so I left the Council to become the administrator for what was then the Elizabethan Trust Orchestra. I was there for a few years before spending a brief time in London. When I got back the Arts Centre Melbourne was being built and the state opera company was being developed alongside it, so I moved to the then Victorian State Opera to run the company for 19 years. Then I did some work at IMG as a producer of events and did some work on my own before Jeanne Pratt told me she wanted to start The Production Company. I helped her do that and it transpired that I came on board full time to work in management as well, and I've been here ever since! That's the trajectory.

What a trajectory! Through all of those different organisations, you must have seen the development of many careers - of course, the careers of performers, but also the pathways of other artistic leaders and administrators. Can you tell me what you think it takes to create a sustainable career offstage in the arts?

Well, I think you have to know an awful lot about financial management. To me, arts administration crosses a bridge between the creative and the practical and your time is spent working out how to make the creative ideas practical. And on top of that, you must be able to make those ideas work within the resources that you've got. So to me, that is the real skill of arts administration. In terms of producing art, you have to be able to make the creative work with the money and resources that are available and often times it's actually the resources that make or break the project.

How do you stay inspired when you have to work within those boundaries?

By always thinking in the future. I spend a lot of time thinking about what's coming rather than what has happened. You can learn a lot from what you've done, but the creativity is about dreaming up what comes next.

So when you're creating a show, what does that timeline look like? How far into the future are we talking?

I'm always listening to music and thinking about it and envisioning how we could stage a musical. I will study the musicals I'm interested in and think "do we have the skills required to get this onto a stage, given the resources that we have?" Sometimes the answer is no and you have to put that aside, but as I said you should always be thinking ahead, and if you feel really strongly about putting on a project, then you're planning how it'll fit together. A lot goes into that initial artistic planning. Timeframe wise, next year's musicals have been on my mind for up to three years already!

The Production Company creates incredible performances on really short rehearsal timeframes - from nothing to everything in a matter of weeks! How does it happen so fast and so effectively?

You know, that is never an obstacle. I credit the artists: you put out the challenge and they can meet it. They're aware of the timeframe, so the artist would never come to that first rehearsal with no idea of what's about to happen: they get sent all their music and parts before they start, and while it's only two weeks in the rehearsal room and one week in the theatre, if you use that time very sensibly, it works. We have, I think, developed a good technique for that timeframe wherein we're not wasting anyone's time and the work gets made quite clearly and efficiently. Some of the works we've created have been really major musicals, which is a testament to all the professionals. Today you have to be very good to make it to the top and the people we're working with are very well-trained and disciplined. It's very tricky to be at the top of the profession - the musicals being written now have a much greater emphasis on dance, for instance. In the 70s and 80s, the big musicals didn't have the dance content that musicals had in the 50s and 60s, and I think we're seeing that it's back again.

I think now there is pressure on all artists - musicians, opera singers, musical theatre performers - to have skills outside the traditional training: why do you think this is and what do young people need to know about the industry?

It's happening because the business is getting more competitive and people are becoming more brilliant! And there is much better training than there has ever been. The most important thing for young people to have is a real commitment to the industry. They really have to love it to make it worthwhile and I think it's also important for young people who want to pursue an artistic career to do so without an expectation of being a superstar or making a fortune: you do it because this is what you want to spend your life doing. Then again, not every first-rate person can make it, so I think it's important to know that there are all sorts of other areas within the industry that you can find a job if you're not on the stage. You've got to be realistic: I think I was very lucky that I figured out I wasn't going to have a career as a professional musician at around the age of 22, no matter how hard I worked, so I was able to readjust my sights and carry on. That's what you've got to do.

For young people who are interested in getting into the production side of the industry, how do you recommend approaching it?

Well as I say so often: knowledge is no burden. The more you know, the better equipped you are. Also, there are all sorts of other areas you can explore - you may have trained as a performer, so you could be great at stage management or you could try production. There are lots of career paths you can follow and try. I think my musical training gave me a very real appreciation of the kinds of commitments artists make and from an administrator's point of view it's very important to understand that so you can best support the artists in what they're doing.

You're about to start the rehearsal period for Jesus Christ Superstar, The Production Company's second show for 2017. What do these initial rehearsals look like?

There are two rehearsal spaces that we're working in and rehearsals go from 10am-6pm, 6 days a week, and each couple of days the schedule is set based on how well the last rehearsals have gone. This means the things that need to be rehearsed get rehearsed and we're not stuck on a weekly schedule that can't be moved. What we try and do is run act one at the end of the first week, then run act two at the end of the second. They're long hours but when you do your musical theatre training, this is what you're training for. It takes stamina, but by the time you make it onto the professional stage, it's in your genes!

In Conversation: Paul Smith

Fancy Me Dead is the kind of dark comedy that audiences scramble to catch on TV – full of twists and turns, complex relationships and fatal consequences. Can you tell me about how the story developed and what about the plot lends itself to the operatic genre?

The story developed from an unusual spot - the middle. While talking with the singers, Jermaine Chau and Taryn Srhoj, about what kind of show I could write for them, I told them about an idea I had where a business meeting is interrupted by two dead legs falling onto the stage, which they loved as it was a bit cabaret and a bit opera. So from there I worked in two directions simultaneously trying to figure out how we get to the legs and where we go after them. Whose legs are they? How did this person die? It was quite satisfying for me because the show has this almost mirror image built into the score in terms of motives and scenes and the idea of a reflection became really important during our rehearsal process when discussing the two main characters. The women are larger than life and they both have delusions of grandeur so an operatic score with operatic singing is the best way for them to express themselves. The intrigue, sinister intent and raw emotions are such operatic tropes. I also had these two amazing singers and had to find moments for them to show off, so there are two classic show stopping arias in the score as well.

The story line of this new opera makes comment on several major facets of contemporary society: money, gender, power and relationships. Moving forward, what do you think opera and classical music’s role can be in speaking on political and social events, and in this light what would you like to see developing composers focusing on?

Opera is unique in that it deals with musically representing many cultures but unfortunately those cultures largely come from the prism of 19th century straight white men. Of course we can work against that view in production but it imposes many limits. Things like yellow-face, and even black-face, are still commonplace at the opera, which horrifies me! Most of our art music culture is wrapped up in a system of private patrons, which I find very problematic. I know it's an impossible situation for the arts, but these systems reward and entertain a specific type of cultural norm. I would encourage developing composers to really consider where they want to sit in this system and to find ways to invite unexpected parties to the table when they can. It is very clear to me which music organisations in Australia value diversity and which do not.

This iteration of your opera, which was first presented at the Festival of Voices, features an expanded score for the Sirius Chamber Ensemble. Can you tell me about the process of re-orchestrating the piece and what it has been like working and rehearsing with the ensemble?

Having worked with Sirius before, I was able to speedily arrange the piano part. I know the players well and know what they like to do with their instruments. They are all such committed musicians too. The core players, Ian Sykes, Mel Coleman and Alison Evans, were present at the show's Sydney premiere in 2015 and Blush Opera is all about being part of a supportive music community. The colours from the ensemble have allowed the plot to thicken! Every line of text now has another element that tells the audience what is a sarcastic joke, what is a biting criticism or what is a deep regret. The singers and I are so amazed at what the ensemble and our conductor, Luke Spicer, are bringing out in the score. The show has a more complicated impact.

When you’re working on a new piece of music what is your writing style and process? Are you an avid user of any particular notation software or do you stick with pencil and manuscript?

I normally start with things that are non-musical, which might sound a bit odd! My academic research is into connections between music and other forms of art so I tend to start somewhere visual or verbal. Many of my pieces come from novels, paintings, films or TV shows and this gives me a range of words or concepts which I then want to put into a piece of music. I have two main methods when writing the music though. Sometimes I sit at the piano and play with gestures like melodic fragments, a chord, or a rhythmic figure and other times I try to be far away from the piano and use software like Sibelius: this helps me change my style so everything doesn't follow my hand patterns. Sometimes I use manuscript paper, but I often don't know how to develop the ideas since it's not my normal mode of practice - the ideas become too isolated for me.

The second university semester is fast approaching, meaning the submission of composition portfolios will be front of mind for many students. Do you have any advice for those working on finalising a body of writing to present?

I teach composition at the University of New England and one thing that we often discuss is how monolithic writing music can seem to be. It can feel like this enormous endeavor for student composers who are constantly being shown the most well known and regaled composers and it starts to feel foreign. Don't stress! Good education is about helping you do what you want to do in a successful and creative way. So try to think about what you want to achieve with your music, or what questions you want to ask with your music, and put that at the front of your portfolio. You may not have all the tools yet to do what you want to do, but you can ask for the right kind of help. Also, be ready for your portfolio to be changed. Music is not fixed and a score is not the final destination for a piece. Take suggestions on board and play with your music.

Finally, writer’s block can sometimes crop up exactly when you don’t have time to deal with it! When you’re working to a deadline, how do you push through any feelings of being “stuck” with a piece?

This is always tricky! I'm an unusually collaborative composer so I'm often working with other artists while I compose and that means the creative process is often very dynamic. I enjoy being in a space with writers, actors or visual artists. But! When I'm having trouble coming up with new musical ideas I often go back to my favourite composers and listen to their music for a while. It tends to get me thinking in largely musical terms and then helps me generate new ideas faster. My current musical crush is Dobrinka Tabakova. Whenever I listen to her music I come away with a bunch of ideas. My aesthetic is different to hers, so the ideas are always filtered through my process in the end. I guess that's just another form of collaboration.

In Conversation: The Letter String Quartet

The Letter String Quartet's next performance sees you collaborate with Richard J Frankland, who is known for his fantastic storytelling as well as his writings and music. Can you tell me about how you first met Richard and how this program came about?

About this time last year, Andrew O’Grady, Richard’s bass player in The Charcoal Club, recommended me as a string player for a concert with The Charcoal Club at The Melbourne Recital Centre. Since then I have played a few shows with Richard and we have started to develop a way of working together. I asked Richard to perform with the quartet because I knew his voice would sound amazing with the texture of the strings and I wanted to hear the stories contained in his songs in a bit of a stripped back way.

TLSQ is known for creating new and exciting works within and around the traditional string quartet soundworld, with each member singing and composing for the group. How did the ensemble come to be and how has it developed since your earliest rehearsals?

The seed of the quartet began after we had done a recording session for James Cecil (Super Melody & Architecture in Helsinki) playing disco strings. At that stage it was a trio with me, Steph and Zoe. Eventually we asked Sue Simpson to join us on violin but sadly she moved up north in 2015 so the next stop was Lizzy Welsh on violin. I suppose we have started to work out how to play with our strengths as individuals in the ensemble and as a whole ensemble. Working with other musicians and composers in the last few years has helped us to refine our sound on a technical level as we have had to work out how to play new sounds rather than follow the mould of how a string quartet should sound.

You began your training as a singer before moving into the viola - how has that influenced the repertoire you listen to and choose to perform?

My listening is very varied although I do listen to a lot of pop music and I always have. My initial experiences performing music were in bands and playing in pubs. The thing I love about playing with the quartet is the opportunity to play more dynamic, subtle and complex music. I am very taken by the idea of a perfect song but I also love really abstract and complex music.

How do you approach programming a season of works, as you are doing for the Melbourne Recital Centre's TLSQ season this year? What makes a great program?

I try and programme shows that I would like to see: I like concerts that have an element of diversity in them - maybe there is a nice tonal piece next to an abstract textured improvisation. Really, the thing that the quartet is drawn to is working with people whose music we like and are inspired by. This is regardless of style, so it often does lead to a concert programme that contains that diversity of genre.

What does a regular rehearsal look like for TLSQ? How do you structure your time, particularly leading up to a performance?

It really depends on what the content of the concert is. All of us do a lot of freelance work so sometimes it is hard to get everyone together as much as we would like. We do like eating and drinking tea and coffee during rehearsals: bonding over a shared love of eating has been very important to our progress and process! When we have enough time it is great spending rehearsals fine tuning things that are going to help us in not only learn the repertoire but, also help in building the cohesion of our ensemble playing – so taking a close look at our tuning and locking in together on rhythmic passages.

For young musicians hoping to play as part of an ensemble and collaborate with other musicians and artists, how do you recommend getting started?

I would recommend playing with lots of people and being proactive about creating your own opportunities. If there are some musicians that you think you might click with, try and create a scenario where you play together. Opportunities for further ensembles and performances often come from your community of music colleagues.

In Conversation: Jonathan Xian

Firstly, congratulations for winning 3MBS' The Talent! Can you tell us a little about the experience of being part of the competition and what it meant to come away as the winner?

Thank you! I found performing on the Talent to be so much fun and the comments I received from the judges were very helpful. Everyone at 3MBS has been super friendly as well. As several of my friends have previously performed on past seasons of the Talent, I decided that this year was my turn to try it. Honestly, the experience of performing was wonderful for me and to be selected as the winner for this season was just icing on the cake!

Performing on the radio is nothing like playing in front of an audience and there are so many things you have to be aware of that wouldn't usually play on your conscious in any other environment. What did you learn about giving your best performance live on air and what were the biggest differences to giving a traditional performance on stage?

It is quite an odd feeling when you're playing in a small, empty studio, and yet you know that your performance is reaching the ears of an indefinite number of listeners, who are tuned in from various locations. Waiting for a cue to start playing immediately at the beginning of each piece was also something foreign to me. Of course, there is the daunting idea that any slips you make will be permanently stored in digital form, which is the same for all recorded performances, but at the same time you're not worried about how you look, or other aspects of traditional performance etiquette. I was also able to invite my family into the studio to watch my performance, which made everything a whole lot more relaxed and enjoyable.

You're keeping pretty busy at the moment, studying not only a Bachelor of Music but also a Bachelor of Law at Monash University! How do you juggle the two and have you found that the way you study one influences how you approach the other?

It hasn't always been easy to juggle the two, especially before exams or important performances or auditions. Sometimes I do wish there were more hours in the day in which to get everything done! But it has taught me to study and practice efficiently, and always with an objective in mind. Having to switch between the analytical side of the brain required to study the law, and the creative and emotional side required to play music is a tricky thing to get used to. Nonetheless, it is always refreshing to be able to focus on things that are completely different, which tends to provide that extra bit of motivation.

When preparing for a competition or recital, what are your steps to feeling performance-ready? Do you have any tried and true methods of preparation?

One thing I always need to do is to have at least one practice run under performance conditions, usually a week or so before the performance. Setting up a video camera alwaysgives me a bit of extra pressure, and allows me to watch myself afterwards in order to pick up anything I may not have otherwise noticed. I've also come to realise the importance of getting enough sleep and its effect on my playing, so I try to set aside a few extra hours in the days leading up to the performance. I still get nervous right before performing, but doing these things and practising well helps with feeling bit more confident.

Between study for your two degrees and working, it must be hard to find the time to wind down! How do you like to spend the precious hours you do get to use for downtime?

On most days, I enjoy just being at home with my family, not necessarily doing anything special, but just relaxing after dinner or watching television. (I'm an avid follower of Masterchef!) We’ve also just come back from a holiday in Europe, which was incredibly scenic. When I have more time to myself, I also like to dance. In high school I was passionate about breakdancing, which I know seems terribly incompatible with the piano, and until last year I used to be quite involved with a student-run dance club called Flare Dance Ensemble. Although I'm not so involved anymore, I still find dancing from time to time to be very therapeutic, as well as a form of exercise which is both fun and involves creativity.

Finally, when you're at the piano keyboard facing a particularly tricky passage or bar, how do you tackle it? Break it down for us!

I find that playing slowly, in small sections and hands separately is usually key in working out the most comfortable hand positions to play with. It is probably also a good idea to memorise the music as early as possible, by identifying patterns in the music and analysing its structure. I find that after I am able play fluently with each hand, it then becomes much easier to reduce the tempo again and put two hands together from memory. Of course, tricky passages come in all sorts of varieties, and there is no single, universal method for tackling all of them. So I think it is important to be flexible and to design your approach based on the music in front of you!

In Conversation: Linda Stuckey

We caught up with Linda at the Arts Centre Melbourne while the Hong Kong Philharmonic were on their Australian tour earlier in 2017.

You've been with the Hong Kong Phil for over 15 years now, having started your career with them after finishing your studies. Now that you're based in Hong Kong permanently, do you get back to Australia very often?

I played here in Melbourne with the Australian World Orchestra and that was a really lovely experience, but this is the first time I've been here with my own orchestra from Hong Kong. I grew up in Sydney and went to the Canberra School of Music before moving to Manchester to do some post-grad study. I actually auditioned for the Hong Kong Phil job in London, and after winning the audition I moved and didn't look back. At the time I thought that it would be a nice first job and a great opportunity, but I’m still there 20 years later!

Were you expecting to stay on in Hong Kong for so long?

No not at all, I was very much expecting to be there for just a couple of years as I sort of made my way home from the United Kingdom. I definitely knew that it was a wonderful opportunity, but as a young music student not knowing anything about Hong Kong or the orchestra I just thought it was a little bit closer to home and it would be a great experience. And then the years just kept going along! I ended up meeting my now-husband here - he’s also in the orchestra. We have three children now and are extremely settled in Hong Kong, but I will always think of Australia as home.

You've had quite a bit of experience travelling away from home for your music - to study and then later for work. Can you tell me about your initial travels?

As a young musician in the days that I was studying, I had the opportunity to do several youth orchestra tours, which were wonderful experiences, but were always more short term kind of adventures. The biggest endeavour in my time as a student was to move to the UK to do some post-grad study, and at that time I was probably quite naive. Manchester at that time could be a bit rough and I was very aware of things like that. At the time I had some really good school friends living in London so I was very much in touch with them and I was very lucky to have family members and my parents came around at Christmas time, which helped a lot. The atmosphere around the Royal Northern College of Music was very warm, with a friendly atmosphere amongst the students and amongst staff. I never felt alone and homesick or worried about anything. I think the bigger challenge for me was feeling safe getting around on my own!

Figuring out how to get around is such a huge learning curve when you're somewhere new!

Actually, getting to my audition for the Hong Kong Phil was a pretty big challenge! I was in Manchester but the auditions were being held in London, so I had to figure out how to get myself there on my shoestring student budget. My audition time was scheduled around 10am, so I turned up at the train station in Manchester to get on the early train, and realised it was sort of the peak hour for people commuting. So it was the high peak fare time, and I couldn’t afford it! I remember standing there thinking that I just couldn’t pay for this train ticket, and I knew the cutoff time for the higher fare was something like 11am, where suddenly the fares dropped to a much lower price and I didn't know what to do because either way, I would miss the audition. I was somehow able to contact the staff members of the Hong Kong Phil to say that I was very sorry, but I wasn't going to be able to get there at my scheduled time and very luckily they said to just get on any train and come a little bit later in the afternoon. So I found my way there eventually! So really being on and managing a budget is something I quickly had to learn about while overseas.

Phew! What a story! Tell me about that audition - did the train situation change how you played?

I think I was very lucky at that time to go into that audition room with a pretty in-check attitude: of course, I wanted to go for it and knew how fabulous it would be to win, but it wasn’t a make or break situation. I didn’t have all my eggs in one basket thinking that my life depended on the outcome. I think that's the best way to go in because you’re just that much more relaxed. I mean, I didn’t have another job waiting for me and I didn’t really know what was about to happen when my studies finished but I guess I wasn’t in a situation where I was really really dependent on having to win that job. Then the venue makes a difference - this audition wasn't in a concert hall, it was in a hired venue. The maestro at the time was there, and some management people, so there was no big panel of orchestra musicians to play in front of. That’s the way the Hong Kong orchestra recruits: they go around to the many cities looking for players, record the auditions, then go back and make their decision. After playing in the orchestra for 20 years, you feel like you can almost do the job with your eyes closed and it’s not an issue, but to go into an audition and prove yourself - that is very much a skill.

So now you've done it for 20 years, what does an average day look like in the Hong Kong Phil?

It involves travelling from home to rehearsal venue, early enough so you can warm up. If you turn up on the dot, you don't have the time to unwind and prepare, so you need to be there a bit ahead of time to get into a nice calm state of mind. In Hong Kong, we would normally have two rehearsals in a day: 10:30-1:00pm, then a one-hour lunch break, then 2-4:30pm. On paper, it doesn’t look like a big day with lots of hours, but there’s a lot of personal preparation that is necessary.

And around those hours you've also got another job: mum! How do you juggle working in the orchestra and being at home with your kids and finding some downtime just for yourself?

It's a real juggle: you have to prioritise family life but still be able to turn up, tune, sit on stage and deliver as if you've got absolutely nothing else going on. You can't ever come in and make an excuse - I don't think you can ever really do that as an orchestral musician. You've really got to nail that consistency and know that you can turn up and sit in that chair and deliver no matter what has been going in the hour before you got there. My husband also plays in the orchestra and that helps - we are both on the same schedule and you get to understand the other person's work and stresses. Then there are difficulties, like us both being away from the family at the same time, but when you think about it, we're extremely lucky to be doing something we love so much! After all these years I've never had a day where I've thought "why do I have to go to work today?" There's always something new and we have wonderful colleagues who have known us for so long! When I saw that little ad saying the Hong Kong Phil auditions were happening in London, a part of me thought well, that's a big undertaking, is it worth it? And I'm so glad I did! So I would say: go for everything. If you don't turn up, you've got no chance whatsoever and you never know - they might have been looking for someone just like you!

In Conversation: Stefan Dohr

While Stefan Dohr was in Melbourne, we sent horn player and arts administrator Tim Hannah to meet him for a chat about all things horn, practicing and how sailing can help your playing.

You've had a long and varied career on the horn. What drew you to the instrument in the first place? What was it that made you want to pick up the horn and play?

In a way, I just picked up the horn and played! That's how it started - with a little hunting horn. A relative had come to visit my family and passed it around for us all to have a try. It turned out that I was the one who got the most notes out of it, so she gave it to me to keep. I had been learning the viola during that time period, and soon after I had been given the hunting horn, I had the opportunity to hear the German horn player Hermann Baumann playing a nice Christmas concert with organ in the town where I lived. I immediately thought, "that sounds better than my viola playing!"

You've also had quite a varied career in terms of the type of music that you play: solo recitals, chamber music and your role with the Berlin Philharmonic. What does a day in the life of Stefan Dohr look like?

There are never two days that look alike! Sitting in the orchestra is the most consistent routine, as it generally doesn't change drastically: there are two rehearsals a day - one from 10am to 12:30pm, then another from 4:15 to 6:45. In a week there are two days like this, then three additional concert days. The orchestra keeps me very busy, but because the Berlin Philharmonic has two principals, I only play half of the 130 concerts a year. Around that orchestral time there is more work to be done, though! I might be rehearsing new pieces with Ensemble Wien-Berlin or the Berlin Philharmonic Octet for upcoming chamber concerts, and then of course there is solo repertoire preparation. Then occasionally there is the work that goes into preparing for a residency like ANAM, which has been great fun.

Something I noticed about the programming for your first ANAM program, Fanfare & Fantasies, was that you included a number of works that were classic brass ensemble works, like the Fanfare for the Common Man, alongside works by more contemporary and living composers. How important is that kind of programming to you? Why did you make those decisions?

I thought that perhaps some of the young brass players I was working with may not yet have had the opportunity to play those classical fanfares and I do think it's quite good to get to know these pieces. Outside of those classics, I think it's important to experience working on music by yourself, like three of the brass players did with the mouthpiece piece by Zuraj (Quiet Please, for three brass mouthpieces) When you play this kind of repertoire you find out just how far you can go, how difficult it can get and ultimately, you get the satisfaction of mastering the challenge. That's what I experienced when I was playing in the Ensemble Modern. There were moments when I thought, "I'm going to die!", because we would rehearse for ten hours a day and it was all new and contemporary stuff, sometimes without traditional notation, just signs. But then to bring it all together, watching individual sounds and noises become a musical piece - that's incredible. It’s something every young music student should have the chance to experience.

Speaking of your education and your early professional years - the education system in Germany is quite different to the Australian system. Can you speak a little bit about your own training and education? Do you have any advice for young Australians that are looking at Germany as the next step in their career post-university?

In Germany you can start studying music and fine arts at a university or Hochschule conservatory when you are sixteen. So I actually never finished high school, instead going directly into studying horn. At nineteen I got my first job and thus, I didn't finish my studies either. When I heard there was a vacancy for the principal horn position at Frankfurt Opera, I went to the audition and got the job. Getting a job this early is not the usual way of things though, I have to admit.

Many things I‘ve learned simply by playing. The repertoire system in German opera houses is thrilling for someone who starts his professional life in the orchestra pit of an opera house, because you have to sight-read many evenings which is not necessarily the easiest thing for a beginner. Actually, what I recommend to students is to not only look at the university route, but to also be focused on self-education by trying out as much music as you can. I mean, you don't just have to play Baroque, Classical and Romantic. You can do contemporary, you can do pop, you can do whatever you want - try it all and play, play, play. While you play, try to identify new problems and react to them and solve them. Or course, a proper music education is essential, but in the end you can only learn how to play the horn by actually playing the horn.

Can you speak a little about the culture of the Berlin Philharmonic, your role in the orchestra and the relationship you have with your colleagues?

Some years ago, I became acting-chairman of the orchestra and it was fascinating, in part because of the demands due to the democratic structures we have in the orchestra. We don't have the usual type of an orchestra management. There is, of course, an artistic office and a general manager, but everything connected to the interests and concerns of the orchestra is managed by the chairman and by the instrumental sections themselves. It has been done this way quite successfully for more than 130 years. As an orchestra chairman, you find out how many rules there are and you realize where the money comes from and why the money comes – when it does and when it doesn't. You decide where you want to go on tour with the orchestra and sometimes have to debate why you want to go there. There are many more decisions to make as the orchestra participates in deciding about which guest conductors and soloists should be invited. Finally, as chairman you also hold responsibility for the Orchestra Academy, for the Society of the Friends of the Philharmonie, for maintaining contact with the sponsors and for the education program. You need to have very open ears and a strong determination. As much as I appreciated the insight and the experience, I decided to step down from the role as chairman after a couple of years, so to have more time for my solo projects again and to give other colleagues of the orchestra the chance to experience the position.

You're speaking there about a lot of skills that are not horn playing. How important is it for young musicians to have some of these skills, like programming and administration?

It depends on what you want to do. If you want to get a job in an orchestra, and simply sit back and play the music on your stand, then okay, maybe you don't need any more than that. But if you want to become a good chamber musician, then you have to put together programs and promote them – then you should learn as much as you can. You have to talk to people to get money for projects that you wish to develop. Even if you are in the orchestra, you can do so many things besides turning up and playing. It's good for you, I think.

It's interesting hearing from someone who has followed a more traditional career path that those entrepreneurial skills are still important.

And getting more and more important. With social media and all of these other things, it is so important that you look into it and find out what is important to you – but also, what's not important. I think the young musicians of the future will have to do that much more than my generation.

Speaking of the young musicians of the future, and the future of this classical music tradition: in Germany there is a long tradition of classical music that is ingrained into the culture, a lot more so than it is in a country like Australia. What are your thoughts on the future of classical music in this digital, fast-paced world?

I don’t see so much difference coming up in the future. I think there are rather similar structures running on slightly different and slightly faster terms. It’s true that while classical music used to be part and parcel of anybody who considered himself "educated“, it has clearly suffered from neglect over the last few decades. So it is not a system that’s running naturally by itself anymore, which is difficult, but then again there are also new opportunities coming up for promoting classical music. Basically, you have to sell something. When offering something to other people you have to generate their interest and get their attention. If you‘re passionate about what you’re doing, people will acknowledge it, appreciate it and listen to you! But if you don’t really like what you do, then it’ll become rather difficult to convince other people to like it. This is one of the very important things: you must be confident in what you do. The big advantage now is that you have all the new technology to assist you. It’s true that, like many other aspects of our lives, the classical music scene has become fast-paced, but it’s also been given many new ways to operate.

In Europe, we can definitely see a growing interest in orchestral concerts again and I would love to see a growing interest in chamber music concerts, too. It’s not happening at the moment, but I think it might in the future. Seeing an audience like recently at ANAM's Mostly Mozart concert was very inspiring. I think the audience loved it and it was great for the players to have the opportunity.

So, you do take time away from the horn to rest?

Yes! I like cooking, I like sailing, I like walking Lucky and I like spending time just with my family. I like that sometimes, especially when I go sailing, there’s no time to think about music or next week’s schedule. My brain needs little breaks in between.

Do you ever find that when you’re sailing, some of those necessary skills transfer to your music?

It does, it does! On these fast Catamarans you have to react quite quickly to gusts. Whatever comes up, you have to react quickly. Otherwise you capsize! It's the same thing for the horn: if you split a note and don’t react fast enough with your skills, you might have little accidents.

Horn is a notoriously difficult. Many players have talked about it as anything from an animal that you tame to just a tool that you use for expression. What are your thoughts on the instrument itself and your relationship with it?

I think there is a difference between the music and the instrument. How you deal with your instrument? That's about your technical ability. But to transform printed notes into the music you want to make you need a clear vision for the melody you want to play in both your head and in your ear. And if some technical problem comes your way, of course you have to solve it. That’s the idea: I’m not playing a solo because I can play it bases of my technical possibilities, I play it how I want to play it and then adjust my technical abilities based on that. I think the point is not to practice, practice, practice just for the obtainment of technical skills. The point is to express yourself by playing music and then practice to make the music sound exactly the way you want it to. Through all of this, the horn is your partner, your comrade, your ally. But unlike a string player's relationship to their instrument, I get a new horn every once in a while, so the relationship to one specific horn is always temporary.

You’ve spoken previously about practicing scales for music, not practicing scales for scales…

Yes - and how to get over changes in the embouchure and things like that. Of course you have to do your daily exercises a bit… or rather, quite a lot! Of course, that’s one point. But then the other point comes: how do I want this phrase to sound and why it isn’t sounding like it should?

You could be said to be at the peak of your career. Do you still have mentors that you go to for advice and honest feedback or do you work in an ongoing collaborative way with your colleagues?

For me, playing chamber music is the perfect exchange, because if I do something weird, someone will instantly tell me! Then, sometimes you make a recording of a concerto and you think, “oh, there are some things I should take care of again”. You listen and hear all the things you hadn’t heard while you played. Sometimes you think you've done it really well and it turns out it’s not very good at all! And orchestral playing, of course, is totally controlled by your colleagues.

We’re coming into July now, which is exam period here in Australia. Do you have any tips, tricks or ideas for how you prepare for a solo recital? What’s your method?

My advice is to play as many different things as possible and to play as many times as possible in front of people and in bigger rooms. You might sound good in a small room and then you'll go into a bigger room and all of a sudden you feel totally lost. That is a problem that can only be solved by facing it head on. In a bigger room you need a completely different control of your breath because it’s more demanding: you have to create more sound! And sound doesn’t come out easily. If you’re not accustomed to performing, it is easy to get frightened and then if you’re frightened it blocks your neck and your muscles get tense. Therefore, you should play as often as you can in front of people – anyone you can find! If it’s your parents, fine. If it’s your grandparents, fine. If it’s your cat and you name it Karajan, that might provide an extra challenge.

Music Business 101: Tax Time

As we approach yet another ‘end of financial year’, I wonder how many of you are excited about the need to get your tax affairs in order? Maybe not?

If excited seems the wrong concept, how does "resigned-to-the-fact-that-at-some-point-not-too-far-off-I'm-going-to-have-to-think-about-this" sound? The questions of how much income you earnt and which expenses you can claim as relevant deductions will surely have crept into your consciousness, at least. And good thing to, because we're at the pointy end of the financial year.

So first off, a question for you: how has your record keeping been in 2016/2017? Have you kept a copy of all your invoices that you sent out and have you summarised them into a spreadsheet or made a list? If not, abandon this article briefly and make that list. Go on.

Then there are the expenses that you can claim as deductions against your income. If you have had a job working for an employer as well as working via your ABN you may need to determine what expenses relate to which income.

Not sure how to figure out which expenses can be claimed as a business related expense? There are a few lists that will help - the ATO have one that is available here, or you can check the list available in Rehearsal Mag's Music Business Basics eBook. Whichever way you go, make sure you're keeping an expenses spreadsheet for convenience when tax time comes around. Forgot about spreadsheets this time round? Get a jump start on 2017/18 and build your income and expense tracker right now! Take a second break. We'll wait for you.

Built that tracker? Excellent. Due to the inconsistent nature of a musician’s income, the ATO has special rules regarding your ABN business. In the early years of setting up your business, your expenses may have exceeded your income, so you will be able to immediately claim the loss made, if you have less than $40,000 of income from an employer via PAYG payment summaries. It is important to keep a track of all your expenses during the course of the financial year so that they can be taken into account when preparing your tax (so thank goodness you just made that tracker, right?)

For anyone that has not lodged for a few years, it is always recommended to catch up sooner rather than later. While it may seem unimportant, not having lodged your tax may cause you problems when you want to borrow money through a bank for a large purchase such as a car or home. Then, you will find yourself in a huge rush to pull all your information together. The feedback from clients who have taken the plunge and gotten everything ‘sorted’ is always that it feels like a great weight off their minds. Some lucky clients have also found they were entitled to quite healthy refunds, which made the whole experience even more worthwhile! While no promises can be made that a refund will always be the outcome, it is always recommended to catch up and keep up to date. So go and dig out that shoe box of receipts and let's start lodging.

If you decide to lodge your own tax return via the ATO website remember that you have until 31 October 2017. After that date, it will be considered late and the ATO may apply both penalties and interest if there is an amount owing to the ATO. If you choose to lodge through a registered tax agent, you may be entitled to extend your lodgement until 15 May 2018, unless you have multiple outstanding tax returns or you lodged your 2016 income tax return late. It's really important that you check this date with your chosen tax agent, so you don't get caught out with dates!

In Conversation: Ross Edwards

Can you tell me about your first commission?

My first commission came from Musica Viva when I was a student! There was a lovely woman running it called Regina Ridge, who called me in and told me they were interested in commissioning me to write a piano trio. And she handled the situation very skilfully when I replied, “I don’t want to write a piano trio, I want to write for nine instruments including a flute and a harp!” She said, very kindly, that composers know best and I could go ahead and do that, which I did though it never got performed. Then I thought I better not be so arrogant after that!

You’ve been working with saxophonist Amy Dickson on a composition that was recently performed at the Musica Viva Festival. Can you tell me about your work with Amy?

This was the third time that I’ve composed for Amy, who is a wonderful saxophonist. On top of that she’s also very clever and entrepreneurial and, because of the limited saxophone repertoire, is creating a lot of new things through transcribing works and getting composers to write new works for her, which is where I come in. This work I did finish some time ago, actually – I had to play it on the piano a little bit before to remind myself how it went! This particular work is written for saxophone and string quartet, and the two before it were large concertos. I love writing for people like Amy, who have a great stage presence and are happy to move and dance on stage. It really brings another dimension, I believe - a part of performance that we lost over 100 years ago. When I’d written those first two pieces for Amy she said, “you haven’t got anything for string quartet and saxophone, have you?” and I said “well, no!” But I had a commission coming up from Kim Williams whom I’ve known for many years, and who is very interested in all the arts, and I thought it would be an interesting idea to do a series of songs and dances for Amy, where she could either play all eight pieces in a bracket or pick and choose between them. It has been a very special process.

When you have the opportunity to work with the musicians in the lead up to a performance, what does that process look like?

It’s a very interesting process, and one I really depend upon. Composers and performers have to get along and ask each other questions during that time. There is a great collaboration process, where we discuss different dynamics and articulations and generally try and understand each other. I think those who play my music seem to like it and they get it right in the end, but they always say, “why do you make it so difficult?” I always sort of apologise, but they get it right. Most Australian musicians are used to my quirks now – I enjoy working with sounds from wildlife and really going back to the origins of music. In the process right now, we are gradually putting it all together, and I’m very pleased with how it all sounds - even in a tiny room with no windows! When we hear it for the first time in the hall I’ll only make changes if they’re drastically needed, but I hope we’ve covered everything.

Those sounds that you’ve become known for – the ones that reference nature and insects and dance – where do those ideas come from?

I wander around sort of singing, actually. All the time! Essentially, the keyboard is the focus for me, and I have a great big board stuck up over it. As I come up with ideas I stick them up on the board, and then I can piece those ideas together to make the piece. Sometimes I move the board to different parts of the room and have a walk around to look at it. I used to wake up in the night with ideas and write them down, but I don’t do that anymore – if the idea is good, it will come back.

You are a full-time freelance composer, but you began your career by teaching composition. Can you tell me about that transition, and your first experiences as a freelancer?

I will tell you how it happened: I was teaching at the conservatorium for a time, but being in an institution wasn’t for me. I thought that I’d love to get out of there and freelance, so I asked my wife and she said okay! Then I consulted an accountant and he said it would probably be possible, so I thought I should and I did. When I announced that I was leaving I had the most wonderful feeling of liberation. Of course I’ve continued teaching here and there, but I haven’t been bound to a particular institution. I’ve learnt a lot, like when you’re looking for work you can’t always write particularly esoteric or academic material and you have to be prepared to write for theatre or film. And that is how it began – I’ve never looked back! It’s a little bit different now though, because when I was studying there were only a handful of other people, but I recently gave a lecture to 60 people studying composition!

So when the odds are stacked against you in that way, being up against so many other composers, how do you make your music stick?

Well, you can use all sorts of gimmicks that don’t last very long. I hope people don’t do that. I’ve heard some students who are very good, but even so, getting people interested in commissioning is tricky. When I first started out, even before I freelanced, there were places you could go to get support. I think then, once people thought you were okay they’d be willing to support you, and I was fortunate to get that kind of support when I was very needy. I’ve also had a lot of support from my family – I remember saying to my wife years ago when the work was not flowing in, “maybe I should go back to university," and she replied, “don’t be bloody stupid.” She is my manager and internet person – anything that’s too hard, I send to her.

That’s a fantastic thing to have – I imagine building a support system quite aside from those people who help you financially is extremely important. And that must help you when you’re dealing with that dreaded thing: deadlines. How do you deal with working to a time budget?

I’ve found that in the past if I’m working on a piece with a deadline in mind and I’ve spent quite an amount of time dealing with a particularly tricky bar, I always think “can I afford to continue working on this?” And you know, it’s often worth it in the long run! I do like to work well ahead of schedule though, because I don’t like to be in a rush. When I was working for Peter Sculthorpe he would work to the eleventh hour, and we would be copying all night until we collapsed. That worked fine for him and works for lots of other composers I know, but it certainly doesn’t work for me – I just go to pieces.

I think that the philosophy of creating something both beautiful and useful to society is incredibly compelling. But how can you measure that?

Well, there is so much diversity. I heard a work by a young woman that was absolutely beautiful, but had it been written 20 years ago it would have been tossed away. The simplicity wasn’t allowed in the 20th century, but we’re starting to accept that again which I think is a step in the right direction. On the other hand, you can write something simple that is absolutely boring, so I suppose you’ve got to have something indefinable… something that will sustain your work and move people.

How do you cope with reviews?

I’ve been both deeply ruined and highly encouraged by reviews, but I think I suddenly realised one day that it was all just nonsense. I think there’s a place for constructive commentary, and if someone has the space to do it and they’re not confined to a small column that is not going to be edited by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, then sure! There’s not much you can do to ensure someone will understand your work though – you can announce the concept and the composer and what they are trying to achieve, but as far as I’m concerned, you should let the people go and make up their own mind about it.

What do young composers really need to know now about creating a career in the industry?

I think it’s not just about learning orchestration, but about learning the business side of writing. I think that’s really a sign of the times – if it’s necessary, it’s necessary. I think it’s part of the industry that’s burgeoning, but it does alarm me to some extent for philosophical reasons. I think it’s important to ask what your art is for – is it to get on, is it for reputation, to improve talent? Our society is really moving into a time where we commodify art, and this is where the philosophy comes into it. Art is an investment. Once, the artist was anonymous, and art was considered a skill rather a commodity. You developed that skill until you could unveil your masterpiece proving that you had mastered your art, and that art was something useful and beautiful that society needed and treasured. That’s something we’ve lost in a way. Perhaps all of the institutionalised art machines will explode and there will be a grassroots beginning again, where teaching will be Socratic and real. I think it’s important to not lose sight of that.

Musical Partners: Alicia Crossley and Joshua Hill

Percussion and recorder is a pretty exciting combination! Can you tell me about how you met and what inspired this album of Australian works for the duo?

We met each other when recording Tristan Coelho's "As the Dust Settles" for Alicia's solo CD "Addicted to Bass" in 2011 and formed Duo Blockstix not long after that. We both have a shared love of new music and particularly like being involved in compositional collaborations so the choice to focus on new Australian compositions for our debut album was an easy decision.

Recording an album comes with a lot of planning attached, with a lot happening before you even get into the studio! Can you tell us about what you had to do in the months leading up to your recording sessions?

We had been planning our debut album for just over 2 years, primarily to give the composers time to write their works and for us to workshops ideas and pieces with all the composers. In the months leading up to the recording, we spent time fine-tuning each composition before conducting final workshops with each composer to iron out any niggling issues. The 3 weeks before our recording (or performance) date are always the most intense as we spend time focusing on our ensembles skills and building our performance stamina (each recording day was over 8 hours so we needed to be prepared to perform for a long time without losing focus).

This particular album features works from an amazing lineup of Australian composers. How did you choose the composers you were going work with and how much interaction did you have with each during the writing process?

With the exception of Daniel Rojas, we had previously worked with each of the composers as individual artists (not as Duo Blockstix) so we were familiar with their compositional style. The amount of interaction we had with each composer largely depended on their writing style/process; some composers had very specific ideas about the piece they wanted to write and only require one or two workshops, while others needed a number of workshops to develop their piece.

What has the rehearsal process looked like for the two of you? When you get into the rehearsal room do you generally have a structured plan or do things happen organically?

We would have to say our rehearsals happen quite organically and we certainly don't have a strict timetable when rehearsing. When we are preparing a program for performance, most of the work is done in our individual practise time, so our rehearsal time is spent focusing on ensemble skills such as matching our articulations, balance, and melodic/phrase direction.

Do you have any advice for young musicians hoping to get into the studio themselves to make a recording?

Making a recording is a very satisfying experience and is a bucket-list project for many performers. If you are planning on heading into the studio, be prepared for the mental and physical stamina required, which is very different to a live performance. Know how long you wish to spend on each piece (it is very easy for time to slip away from you in the studio) and have an idea of how you want the overall recording to sound. This last point may sound obvious but a microphone hears thing differently to our ears, so you should have a clear idea of how you want your recording to sound to give your sound engineer the best chance of capturing the recording you want.

In Conversation: Michael Tortoni

I’d love to hear about your musical career journey from tertiary classical studies and playing with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra to finding your way to jazz. How did this transition happen for you?

I’ve been involved in music all my life in some form or another. As a teenager, I was in a band called Taste – we were signed to Warner and had a few hits. It’s interesting to think of what would have happened if we had kept on going with that and where we’d be now. At that time, everything was by ear: I hadn’t studied music formally in any way and I realised that I should probably start learning about it because music was my whole life. In year 12 I picked up the double bass and practiced like absolute crazy to get into the VCA. I would practice for full days! Luckily I had this very good English teacher who understood how much I wanted to make music work, and she was very supportive of the fact I needed to prioritise practicing. I knew I didn’t want to be in a rock band for the rest of my life, so I auditioned for the College and begun studying and playing classical music. I thought that would be my course – practice and study then audition for the Melbourne Symphony and make a living off that. When I was at the VCA I became exposed to jazz and that was when I really figured out how many great musicians lived in Melbourne.

At this time were you aware that opening a jazz club was something you were interested in doing?

I was aware of the fact that I had to get myself through college! I come from a big Italian family with not much money, so I think I was starting to become aware of the fact that I had to plan for the future, and that feeling coupled with the realisation that there were so many great players in the city really built my desire to build a jazz club. I was working a lot to support myself and I hadn’t found the sort of place that I thought would be satisfying to go after a gig and have a drink and listen to some good music, so I started to think “I’ll do that one day”. It became a bit of a dream. I started to look around at properties sort of vaguely and because of how expensive everything was I thought it’d never happen. Then a serious property crash happened in 1990, where property prices literally halved in one weekend. I went to an auction and nobody was bidding so I said to the agents “is anyone going to bid on this property?” and they told me no one was interested. So, since there was no auction in the end they took me to the bank and asked me to make them an offer, and I made this crazy offer and they said yes! And that was the beginning of Bennett’s Lane.

At this beginning stage of Bennett’s Lane, were you still playing classically at all?

By the time Bennett’s Lane began I had actually moved away from the classical world. I had gotten into the MSO as a casual player, but I had thought I wanted to be a soloist. I did a few concertos with orchestra as a double bass soloist, and I went and studied in Italy to see if I could make it happen, but I realised that it wasn’t really what I wanted to dedicate my life to. When I got back from Italy I decided I wanted to broaden my knowledge and get involved with different genres and play in smaller ensembles. I also wanted to do more improvisation! And then there was Bennett’s Lane. That evolution from rock to classical to jazz and all the people that I met along the way that helped Bennett’s Lane come into existence. I just started calling my friends! When Wynton Marsalis was in town in the early days I remember standing on the side of the stage when he came to perform and saying something like “I suppose you play a lot of these clubs”, and he said, “there aren’t that many clubs like this around the world”. And then goes “just stick to it, you’re on the right track.” We’ve had lots of big internationals since then.

I suppose that’s one of the really special things about a club like Bennett’s lane – you could be anywhere in the world!

I think it was one of those unique clubs. When great things are happening on stage, you could be anywhere in the world – Paris, New York, Chicago. It’s like a jazz capsule. I think Melbourne is a really special place though, it has a great pool of talent and it can really be a world class destination for music. For me it was about being focussed and knowing exactly what I wanted out of the space.

Is programming a skill that you developed by trial and error in those early days of Bennett’s Lane?

Programming is a bit like being a chef in a kitchen! I come from a performance background, and have been playing professionally ever since I was young, so by the time I got through college and established the club, it felt almost like a natural progression. My colleagues were the musicians playing for me, so it didn’t really feel like programming it all! Then I realised sort of by accident that I was the artistic director of the club, and I’ve taken that experience and skill into the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. It’s making a lot of moving parts work together – that’s the skill, I think.

How did all those skills you’d picked up from programming at the club translate into the role you have now at the Festival? You clearly have a natural affinity for the business side of the music industry – has that just been part of the process of growing up a musician?

I’ve been on the board for 16 years, so I’ve seen all of the different sides of the festival, including its evolution. My father was a grocer, and at 10 years old he used to take me to the Victoria Market and so I was watching how those transactions worked and how business was done in a very raw way. I would see how you could get there at 3 in the morning and produce was one price, and at 6am they were a different price. I noticed time decay, and how the value of things changed as time went on. That experience will stay with me forever. I really got to understand his struggles as well, and that sort of propelled me along, giving me the incentive to just go for it.

Your career has seen you make quite a lot of transitions, both in your performance career and then from musician to business owner. I’m really interested to know what it was like to move from classical music to jazz, particularly in relation to improvisation.

I think on some levels I’m still transitioning! I still try to practice daily. I think being in Taste really set me up for life because the other musicians performing with me were seriously talented, and I spent a lot of time watching them solo in an improvised way. Learning about classical music was very different because everything is written and the way you make your mark is more about interpretation than anything else. Unlocking the improvisational aspect of music is like a whole new vocabulary – you can play your own thoughts. Getting to that stage feels like a great achievement: you can play free over a structure and make it your own.

So, for people who are classically trained that would like to move into jazz, are there ways of working towards that in the practice room?

Firstly, I think if you are a classical musician you shouldn’t fear improvisation. You’ve got to really tackle it head on, because once you get it, you’ll have a great sense of freedom and satisfaction. I know many classical musicians who might not even give it a shot because they’re too scared to try, and that’s the biggest problem. If you can play an instrument professionally, you can absolutely improvise, you just need to drop your fear. Practically speaking, the more you develop your ear the better. Learning the jazz vocabulary is really important because the more tools you have at your disposal the easier it will become. Then when you’re playing on stage with a band and someone says take a solo, you’ve got all this information available to you that will help you with your decision making.

In Conversation: Celeste Lazarenko

Victorian Opera's upcoming production of Janáček's Cunning Little Vixen sees you perform the title role in the rarely-heard operatic gem. What was your first experience of this opera, and what has the rehearsal process looked like so far?

The music of Cunning Little Vixen had always been something I’ve been keen to explore, and when VO asked me to be involved I was completely delighted. The opera is so charming and quirky and the role of Vixen is such an immense challenge. Janáček writes for Vixen in small fragments and requires real vocal agility to master the tempi and tuning together. Jack and I have been working musically on the score for months. It's very detailed and intricate.

Cunning Little Vixen is a surreal story about the meeting of two worlds, both the humans and the animals and how their lives intersect. Vixen is on stage most of the show and she is incredibly physical, so for me, it requires as much training as a dancer, and so I try to attend yoga and dance classes as much as I can. She is bright and cheeky and a delight to play.

As part of the preparation I also read the letters from Janáček to Kamilla Stosslova, a married woman who made such an impression on the composer that you can't help but draw parallels between her and the Vixen. His unrequited longing for her is everywhere in the music.

You've performed roles in a great range of operas, from 17th century baroque to the contemporary minimalism of Philip Glass. When you're preparing the music of an upcoming role, what does the process look like for you before you get into the rehearsal room? Does your method differ in any way depending on the style of music?

I've always been drawn to interesting and varied repertoire. Funnily enough I think the most mainstream opera I've performed is Mozart, which is now being considered more specialized! But I like performing things that audiences haven't seen for a while and it allows for new interpretations of works. It can be exciting to reform old assumptions about opera and can let people see things in a new way. It keeps things exciting - even if it's a historical artefact - history may just teach us something new.

The process of preparation is different for each work. It always requires months of learning and I try to start that as early in the process as I can. As I get older I've realised that cramming to get a piece memorised takes so much longer and it's just not worth the stress, and so it just means careful planning to make time to do everything. It often means I'm singing seven days a week, but sometimes that's just what this job requires. That also means listening to my body and my voice to know what the limits are. As much as I like to tell myself I'm robust, I'm not a machine.

I also try to stay physically fit and I think more singers should be serious about this element too as directors become more demanding about physical performance being a requirement. Having a more holistic approach to mind/body/voice, is really important.

Cunning Little Vixen follows the Vixen's journey from youth to adulthood and the learning that happens along the way. In your career journey so far, what have been some of your biggest learnings about the opera industry? Is there anything you wish you had known when you started?

I suppose I wish I had known earlier that so much of what you do and where you end up, is out of your control.

Getting, or not getting, work depends on so many factors, so although you may have great plans for yourself, life can often have other paths and this can be truly heartbreaking sometimes. You have to be honest, this profession is tough and you may not always get what you want.

So, I think you have to learn to be adaptable and accepting of where you end up, and then be incredibly grateful for any opportunities.

And also keep your eyes forward. There are many people in the industry who will tell you where they think you belong. Be realistic with yourself, but don't take everyone's advice. Learn to have your own instinct about these things.

What are some of the biggest challenges of living and working overseas as a professional singer?

One of the biggest challenges for singers is being told that your job is international, but not having a visa to actually fulfil that expectation.

It's an amazing experience to study overseas and I will never forget my time at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London. But it completely broke my heart when after living there for eight years, and calling it my home, I was forced to come back to Sydney.

But going overseas is essential to your training. Being just a small fish in a big pond will make you learn new skills quickly and also give you perspective about where you are in the system of the performing arts. It's where you learn to cut your teeth.

For our readers with auditions for roles and coming petitions coming up, do you have any advice on how to make the most of your time in front of the panel?

This is, I hope, some helpful advice for singers not just in singing competitions, but for their general development.

Don’t reach for repertoire outside of your ability. There are too many people in Australia trying to push bigger and bigger rep on singers that are just not ready. Be smart and do what you do best.
Make good sounds. I know that sounds pretty simplistic, but don't get obsessed about getting it all 'right', try to keep your mind on expressing the text and colour of tone.
Try to be a real person when you're not on stage.
Be multi-skilled. If the singing is not working that week try acting or dancing instead.
Know that you may not win.
Know that being involved is the real prize.
Know that life and age will give you perspective to understand all these things so be patient.
Be realistic. Times are tough for the arts worldwide.
Be generous and help others out (that means on stage too!) It's not a disadvantage. You will probably be working with the same people for a fair chunk of your life, so don't think being selfish will get you ahead. It's naive.
Be nice to your folks - remember they were the ones to pay for all those lessons when you were young and will probably be your most attentive and loyal audience members.
Most of all - develop a good sense of humour. You need it in this job.

In Conversation: Luke Howard

This is, surprisingly, the first time you’ve played at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival with the Luke Howard Trio! Can you tell me about the trio and what you’ve been up to recently?

I have a long history of playing and performing jazz, but I guess because I’ve been away from Melbourne for so long it’s just never happened to work out! The Luke Howard Trio has been around since 2008, and I think we’re more of a bunch of people playing together now - it feels like a band, because we know how each other plays. We actually just made a new record, so there will be some new tunes at our Jazz Festival concert. We had Sing Sing for two days to put down all out tracks, and we kind of learnt them as we went because the deadline crept up on us all. When you’re working to such a strict deadline you can surprise yourself, and it was a really busy two days because when you’re recording tracks you don’t know super well it takes quite a few takes to get them to sound how you want them. When you’re recording a piece from memory it’s often the earlier takes that stick, but in this case we kind of warmed into it.

You’ve written quite a bit of new music recently, for both your trio and your solo work. Do you find that the two different styles influence each other, or do you keep them separate?

They're both pretty different, but I do sometimes recycle tunes between two. I think the deeper solo stuff that I’ve done doesn’t necessarily translate to a trio concert though, because it feels too composed. The music I write for the trio is quite composed as well, but I’m conscious of leaving space for the other chaps. We’ve become quite a bit clearer recently about which composition structures work for us because while the trio is not super jazzy, it does come from that world and it’s hard not to slip into some of those roles. In terms of my composition across the two though, things unconsciously interchange, but sometimes I have to leave one language at the door when I’m thinking about the other.

What is your relationship with the jazz and classical worlds, and how did this neo-classical/contemporary classical vibe that your solo works now sit in fit into your musical experience?

I learnt classical piano as a kid but I was more interested in improvising and making up tunes, so I started jazz at the VCA. I got super into that for a while but then felt like I needed a break, and I didn’t really have any contacts in that world so I started to look into other things to clear my head a bit. I discovered lots of those crossover artists accidentally while overseas. I think I potentially would have discovered that kind of contemporary classical world in Melbourne, but it might have taken me a bit longer to get into it. The trio must been influenced by that, because if you look at the most recent record, our style has become a lot more compositional. The contemporary classical sound world is really resonating at the moment, particularly in Europe, but here in Australia as well.

Regardless of what you’re writing, what is your compositional process? How do you get started?

Improvising at the piano is always the starting point for my compositions. My experience of harmony and counterpoint comes from a voice leading approach to playing jazz standards, which is the product of a teacher I had who also had a classical background but was performing jazz. That’s not a super uncommon transition in the piano world. He taught me about how voice leading can work in jazz harmony rather than just learning how to voice chords in the left hand. A lot of it was based on the things you learn in AMEB theory, like what notes work well together and how to double, but the difference was that I was learning in real time through jazz improvisation. It made me think about how harmony could be much more horizontal. Whether I’m in the genesis phase of a composition and just noodling around some ideas or I’m arranging something where I can break all the rules, knowing this kind of approach is a great starting point. I think if you could learn improvisation without it being tied to jazz, that would be so good for composers and performers. Eventually everyone figures out what kind of music they want to make, and that’s not always tied to a very specific style or aesthetic, so it’s good to have lots of tools that you can pull out when you need them. If I studied composition, I’d probably be better at different things, but I had jazz and that’s my starting point now. I think your technique should be better than your ideas, because then everything’s possible and you keep getting better.

Outside of compositional technique and theoretical know-how, what non-musical skills have helped you build your musical career?

There are so many things that no one teaches you at university! I think we’re sold a dram that if you practice really hard you’ll get really good and you’ll have a great career as a result. I think that dream is important, because it does make you dig deep and work hard, but the business side of the industry is important and I think I’ve embraced it a bit more as I’ve gotten older. I’ve always enjoyed admin things, because while some of it is boring, you can’t be creative all the time and I find it exciting to watch a project unfold. 50% of my non-procrastinating time is spent sending emails and chasing people up. You’re answering emails and organising rehearsals and making sure everything is going to happen when you need it to happen. It’s important to have your head screwed on about the non-musical things: show up on time, get back to people as soon as you can - being a professional is important. I think some people are scared of mixing business and arts and as a result some artists try not to make their music too accessible. I don’t think aiming for accessibility as your principal goal is a great idea, but I’m not ashamed of making music that resonates with lots of non-musicians. I have peers and friends that make music that I sometimes think is more interesting than what I’m doing, but they don’t have the tenacity in the business department. I think things are incrementally going well because I work a bit every day, and I keep showing up on time.

You mentioned not making accessibility your primary goal, but I imagine it’s something that you do have to think about at some point. How do you approach considering your audience?

Honestly, I try not to let it weigh on my mind. I think there is a bit of an expectation once you’ve had a tiny bit of success that you’ll continue making a certain kind of art, so I’m always trying to police that. I make the music I want to make. From the start I’ve been making music that has been fairly consistent and its progression has been fairly linear over the years. It’s taken quite a few years to shake out the jazz attitude that it’s not good to be simple and also to feel comfortable within my technique - a feeling that also relates to classical art music, I think. What is in fashion in academia, with some exceptions, is often not necessarily in vogue for the rest of the world, and it’s important to remember that, particularly if you’re interested in creating something that’s not in line with what you’re being taught. I mean, you just have to ask yourself why very few composers are writing symphonies. If you write something longer, it’s not necessarily going to get performed! I’m curious to see where the world of contemporary classical music goes though. Is it the equivalent of Kenny G to the jazz world or is it more than that? It will be an interesting progression. I try and listen to a lot of different music, which is something I think everyone should do. Listen to music that challenges you, and music that you don’t necessarily like very much. Listening widely is good for you.

Does the fact that you have studied improvisation change your attitude towards composition do you think? Has the focus on improvisation influenced your ability to let go of ideas that aren’t working?

I do try not to get attached to things too much, because I know how easily that can happen. At the beginning of the process I throw out things if I feel like they’re not strong, or if I’ve unconsciously created an idea I’ve already had before, which happens when you’re doing a lot of writing. When it comes to developing compositional ideas, I think one development is hard enough! I work on something for a while, then leave it, then go back to it with a fresh mind - that has become my process for writing and arranging. I think the only way I know I’m done is when I start changing things back to how they were originally - that’s a sign that I’ve started changing things just for the sake of it. When you’re starting out on a new work, I think it’s good to get something down, regardless of how good it is, because once you’ve got something you can work on it. Better something than nothing!

In Conversation: Shefali Pryor

As well as being the Associate Principal Oboe for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, you also wear a number of different hats that see you working as an artistic director and a mentor to young musicians. Can you tell me about the non-musical skills that playing an instrument have allowed you to develop, and how working away from your instrument inform your performance and vice versa?

I think it’s impossible to separate musical and non-musical skills. Of course, the fine motor skills required to play our instruments on a purely technical level are very detailed and specific, but they would be meaningless without the ability to communicate and express ourselves. Listening, communication, problem-solving, teamwork, self-analysis, patience, perseverance, resilience… these are all crucial to being a musician, but also quite universal. I do think that perhaps as classically trained musicians we don’t always recognise how these skills that we develop and hone in rehearsal and the practice room have a much broader application than we might imagine.

What I’ve learnt from the other hats I’ve worn over the years does now colour the kind of musician I want to be. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do what I do and make music for a living, but am also acutely aware that it takes a small army of people to get us on stage every night! So I feel that as musicians we need to engage in the processes that facilitate what we do, and understanding and contributing to all that goes into running a not-for-profit arts company in Australia is terribly important.

Working with young musicians is constantly inspiring. It never hurts to be reminded of how it felt to play Mahler or Beethoven for the first time; to see the dedication and enthusiasm of the students and the remarkable progress they make, and to play a part in bringing it together can’t help but energise my own music making. As does something like our Vanguard program, which introduces new audiences to what we do in the orchestra. To be able to connect with someone who has never previously even thought to come to a concert is incredibly exciting. When we’re putting together the programs it’s a lot of fun to be able to look at everything that an orchestra has to offer and try and see it from the perspective of someone who has zero preconceptions about what they’re going to hear. You can have a program with Berio, Gabrielli and a New Orleans funk arrangement and somehow it works, there’s something in there for everyone. It gives us a lot of freedom to play with!

What does a regular day look like for you as a full-time orchestral musician, and where do you spend the few hours you have away from rehearsal and performance? How do you make sure you're striking a balance between work and life commitments?

Every day is different, but the weeks do have a general plan of rehearsals towards the start of the week and concerts at the end. Rehearsal days run from 10-4 and there’s a general rehearsal in the morning before the first performance. For the rest of the week the time around performances is free for practice, preparation, teaching and any other personal projects like chamber music. It’s really healthy for us to keep an active musical life outside of the orchestra as well, as the energy you get from working with other players, styles and contexts comes back with you into the orchestra.

I’ve learnt (slowly) that I don’t have to say yes every time I’m asked to do something. So these days I try to make a bit more space for time off outside of the rehearsal schedule. And it’s just for the regular things, teaching, family, cooking, walking my pooch, plus I try to get out of Sydney hiking as often as I can. I also do quite a bit of long distance running which serves the double purpose of keeping me fit and helping clear my head and manage my nerves.

It’s a balance that constantly fluctuates, but in the end being a musician is who I am and I’m more than happy to have this mould the way I live my life - it’s a privilege!

You'll be speaking on the upcoming Music Love panel about creating a career in music as a female performer, and the difficulties and hurdles that one must jump to get there. What challenges do young musicians and music students face in the classical industry?

I am very lucky to have had a fairly direct path into an orchestra job, and also to work in an industry where I have never felt limited as a woman. But I know from speaking to older colleagues, or looking at an orchestra like the Vienna Philharmonic, that this is relatively new and it’s certainly not something I take for granted!

The reality is that the nature of our work is constantly changing and so the challenges faced by students will continue to change too. Where previously there was a standard trajectory of moving from university into a orchestral career, those careers are becoming broader and more varied. With a limited number of full time jobs available in the country, students are also needing to develop the skills to manage active freelance careers which very likely span musical genres and also include teaching. From within the orchestra we all wonder what an orchestral job will look like in 30 years and I’m sure this plays on the minds of younger musicians coming up now. But I’m actually constantly inspired by the creativity and flexibility shown by musicians in the pathways they pursue and the opportunities they make for themselves.

Some challenges will always stay the same though. When it comes to being a classical musician there is an investment of time in the practice room and a kind of single-minded focus that just can’t be skipped. But the resources available to students now are quite astounding; there is such an ease of access to recordings, online performances and masterclasses. Inspiration and knowledge are becoming easier and easier to find, and we need to make the most of this no matter what point in our career we’re at.

When you are rehearsing a new piece of orchestral music, what does your process of learning that work look like? Is it different to how you approach a piece of solo repertoire?

The process of preparation for orchestral vs. solo works is a little different, as the technical demands are often quite different. We work through new programs every week in the orchestra, so this repertoire needs to be learnt quickly. It’s generally (though by no means universally) not so technically demanding, but I need to maintain a good technical level to be able to respond quickly. I will start by listening, then work on any tricky bits, and spend some time making reeds (the curse of life as an oboist!!), as well as following a general technical routine to stay in shape. It varies for different instruments though; a first violinist for instance will likely spend more time working on their actual part, whereas I will work on basic maintenance and reed-making. Solo repertoire is a much longer process and works can be worked on over months, if not years. In this it becomes about immersion and refinement, really nutting out what you want to say and developing the technique to do that.

What does creating a sustainable career in the classical music industry mean to you?

Oh gosh, where to start?! A sustainable career for me as a musician is one where I continue to grow and be inspired, hopefully inspiring others and finding fulfilment through connecting with audiences, taking risks, expression and education. But this is only possible by having a sustainable music industry. So we need to engage as much as possible with the people that make it all possible, our supporters and philanthropists, audiences, educational institutions, and the management teams behind every orchestra. I want to be as excited and fulfilled as a musician at 65 as I was at 20, but to do this we also need to ensure our own livelihoods by generating as strong a relationship with the community as possible.

As a student, balancing technical practice while also trying to get out into the world to create a personal brand can be incredibly tricky. Do you have any advice for young musicians about how they can strike a happy medium between career development and putting the hours in so to progress technically?

Those hours put into technique are impossible to disconnect from the investment in a strong musical identity. The technique is developed in order to help us find our voice and share with the audience, not the other way round. It took me a while to realise this, I was always a little afraid to play what I felt in case it was ‘wrong’, but if you’ve done your homework properly then there’s no such thing! Develop a strong sense of the musician you want to be through practising, listening, taking in as much as you can and making the most of every opportunity, and then draw on all of that to try to connect with the people you play with and for. Yes, it absolutely pays to be savvy with regards to online/public presence, but I think you need to start from the point of being the best musician you can be.

This is going to vary though, depending on the kind of career that you’re pursuing. I was very lucky to join the orchestra quite young, and being a ‘member of the SSO’ fortunately has lead to many other opportunities. Orchestral career development is very much about performance on the job, or on the day of the audition, your ‘brand’ doesn’t’ really come into play. In fact I think there can sometimes be a conflict between the cultivation of a strong solo musical identity as we study and the teamwork required in an orchestra, which is why orchestral experience is such an invaluable part of musical training.

However, If you are working towards a career based on solo or chamber music projects then developing a strong public profile and marketing yourself successfully are very important. There are many in the industry who could comment with much more authority than I can on this, but I’ve seen first-hand how smart marketing can make or break small ensembles. The ensembles and players that inspire me are those that are taking risks, looking for new connections, being creative about the way they frame what they do. It’s a hell of a lot of work, but I have to trust that if we always come back to being the best musicians we can be then this is what ultimately reaches our audiences.

In Conversation: Dianne Reeves

You initially trained as a classical singer. Can you tell me about how this has impacted the way you sing jazz?

I studied classical voice when I was at the University of Colorado, and it really was the perfect foundation for my technique. I had very good instructors and teachers who taught me that having a solid technique meant you could use your voice in any way you wanted. No matter how you wish to sing, your technique should allow you to do it. I think that young singers should be able to define and refine their instrument, and while there are a lot of really wonderful teachers now who do everything, it’s important that you remember how crucial it is to have a good technical foundation.

Building a successful career in the music industry can be seriously challenging, and takes more than just a good voice. What else do you have to be good at to make it?

The industry is no longer like it was. It’s a tough game out there for you now. When I was starting out, there were a lot of options for young singers: you could do studio work, you could write songs, you could be a lot of different things. I wrote my own songs and sung other people’s songs, and it felt as if there were a lot of places I could go and do a range of musical activities. It’s not that there aren’t opportunities now, but the environment has changed. Social media has played a really huge role in the way the music industry is now, I believe, which has a lot of positives that young people should take advantage of. The industry is hard, but you can and should create your own opportunities, and be creative in figuring out a way to get yourself out there. I think this new generation of performers have a better idea of how they can promote their music, and who they’re promoting to because social media gives you face to face access with your audience.

You are constantly on the road, performing all over the world. What is it like to be away from home so often?

That’s just how it works out! It’s what you do as a musician. I always tell young people that if you love music and you give your heart to it, it takes you places! Music has taken me all over the world and I’m certainly not complaining. It’s important that every performer knows their own limits when they’re touring, so they can make decisions about when they need to take time off or have a bit of quiet time. The biggest thing for me now when I’m on the road is rest and exercise.

If you could give young musicians a piece of advice about career development in the music industry, what would you tell them?

Well, I would say learn the music and listen to the music. That’s the most important thing. You can go to school to learn about musicianship and singing, but it’s really crucial that you’re listening, and listening carefully. Then it’s about getting out there and singing and pushing yourself. You can and should define your own unique approach and sound. Be yourself!

You’re coming to Melbourne pretty soon to close the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. How do you craft a show?

I never tell people what I’m performing! Every show is unique and I pick songs as I go, which keeps things fresh and exciting for me and the audience. I have a really great band and we are co-creators, constantly changing things up and coming up with new ideas. Jazz is a living art form, I believe, and we change arrangements for different performances and we sometimes create things on stage for the first time. Jazz is and always should be alive!

In Conversation: Natalie Aroyan

Your upcoming recital for Opera Australia will see you perform Armenian and Argentinian songs alongside the acclaimed baritone, José Carbó. What is special about the repertoire that you'll be performing for this concert?

This has to be a career highlight for me, and one I will cherish forever. To be able to sing the songs from my motherland is such an honour and a blessing, and I am proud to be able to present these beautiful Armenian pieces to the Australian public. Through music and poetry, we can glimpse the Armenian people’s struggles but also their strength and triumph in the face of adversity. Performing alongside the great José Carbó is an added bonus. I am blessed to share this concert with someone of his high calibre, who undoubtedly will bring much fire and passion through his Argentinian songs.

Can you tell me about your process for learning music, particularly when working on multiple roles, as well as concert repertoire and other works? What's your trick for committing all the notes to memory?

Firstly I sit with a calendar and make a schedule for myself, and include information on what I need to learn by when, checklists of page numbers learnt and page numbers memorised. Then I take my role to my diction coach to ensure my diction is correct, which will ultimately help everything else. I then study the pieces for my role at home until I present it to my teacher and coach. As a young child, I used to recite Armenian poetry for school events, which has helped me greatly with the skill of memorising notes and words; it’s a matter of repetition and focus.

As a young artist, balancing all the different aspects of your life can be difficult - you're performing, studying music and attending rehearsals while juggling a social life and family time. How do you find time for everything? Do you have any tips for young musicians struggling with those same issues?

Over the years I have had to make significant sacrifices. It has been a difficult journey at times, but having the support of my family and my friends has been an immense help, especially as they understand my commitment to my singing career. However, I know others have it harder than me, those with children or those who live far from their families for long periods of time… It’s difficult in different ways for different people. But if this career is everything you dream about doing and if it truly makes you happy, then sometimes great success requires greater sacrifice.

Before you came to the world of opera, you studied business and IT. How have those skills helped you in your operatic career, and do you think it is important for other young artists to develop an understanding of management and business to help with their own musical development?

For me, it was a blessing in disguise. It relieved me of the pressures of making it in this industry, as I had a couple of degrees to fall back on and I never felt like I didn’t ever have other options. It also prepared me in presenting myself as a package when applying for scholarships, which played a huge part in my development. My early training was filled with competitions and study plans. I was extremely thorough in presenting my case to the adjudicators and my Marketing Degree immensely contributed to this… my programming skills, I am yet to utilise!!

Later this year you'll be performing the title role in Aida for Opera Australia! When you're performing such a role, what does your character development process look like? Do you find yourself doing a significant amount of research, or is it more about getting the character into your body?

It’s both. I will always research every role I am performing to enable me to have the greatest understanding of my character, the characters around me, and the place and period the opera takes place. This all contributes to creating a character that is believable. I then draw on my own life experiences to deliver a very real and raw performance. This is challenging but I find the process more comprehensive and fulfilling. Having studied Ancient Egyptian History and visited all the ancient sites in Egypt, finally performing Aida is a dream come true.

If you could give your past self one piece of advice about navigating the opera industry, what would it be?

I’d need more than one! Be patient but persistent. Work hard. Don’t stress. It’s ok to make mistakes. It’s ok to fail. Believe in yourself. Keep moving forward.

In Conversation: Kate Denborough

Out of Earshot sees you working with a live musician and a profoundly deaf dancer. Can you tell me about how the work came about?

I remember seeing this performer, Myele Manzanza, at the Stonnington Jazz Festival and being incredibly blown away by his performance. It was more than just music: his playing was quite choreographic, and it made me think that music could absolutely be merged with dance on stage, rather than leaving the musicians in the pit or offstage. When I met Anna Seymour, a Melbourne-based dancer who is profoundly deaf, to speak through ideas, she mentioned that she’d always wanted to work with a drummer, as percussion is a fantastic way to access music, as body language is such a huge point of the performance. So it has been fantastic to create this work about sound and silence and non-verbal communication! The focus on how we communicate with one another was intended from the outset, and we’ve really been interested in exploring body talk, touch and intimacy – all the different languages we use to express ourselves. This piece looks at the connection between bodies, sound and music, and the different forms of communication we use. Music is such an important and powerful way to express and influence mood, though you won’t get 'songs' in this piece – you’ll get volume and rhythm and connection.

What does the rehearsal process look like for a work like Out of Earshot?

Every day there is a warm up for an hour, and after that, we begin piecing things together. The first few weeks in the development phase are all about experimentation: there is no right or wrong. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. When things feel good, everyone knows instinctively, and we ask a lot of questions of ourselves and each other. It’s constant trial and error. In those early days, there are no answers, so anything is possible. Risks can be high because there is no fear of failure. We might spend hours and hours on one scene and in the end, we just cut it, and it’s not a waste of time at all. It’s a matter of refining the material we have, and occasionally that’s quite severe. We’ve made so much more material than we can use! Initially, some people can find it hard to let go of something they’ve worked hard on, but it’s something I have really come to love.

This particular work, Out of Earshot, is all about communication – with the audience, with the performers, with the music. Can you tell me about the process of working on this piece in the rehearsal room?

There is an interpreter in the room during rehearsals, so the way we communicate with one another has had to be much clearer than we usually are. It’s been an incredibly positive experience, having to be thoughtful and respectful with one another, ensuring we’re not talking over each other. In each project we hand pick the cast for their personalities and the mix of people and skills, so the cast at the moment are really active in their contribution to the work. Each artist has their own choreographic identity, which elevates the whole process. It’s also been really fantastic having live music in the room! We can try things really quickly, and having Myele in the room has brought a completely different perspective, as he doesn’t have the same short hand as we do. It’s been incredibly interesting and has made us all shift a little bit in the way we think about our process - a lot of which we take for granted. We often demonstrate rather than speak in the rehearsal room, which has changed in this process. Myele’s thoughts have been great, and he has offered lots of suggestions and musical thoughts. Jazz musicians are listening and watching extremely carefully because of improvisation, so he has been great at reading cues from the dancers. He’s completely in tune with the them.

What was your journey from performer to director like? Have you always had a strong interest in artistic direction and choreography?

Absolutely. Even as a child I loved directing and worked on school shows and eisteddfods. I loved devising work and seeing it from an objective point of view. I did love performing, but I just liked the other stuff more. Gerard and I were both performing when we started KAGE, but then we began to change our roles and I started moving my focus to being outside of the works rather than in them. With a family, I found performing could be really challenging and self-focused, and I eventually lost interest in that. I wanted to have more of an impact, and I got that from being outside the work rather than in it. Performers have a very particular language, and as a director, your main role is to be really sensitive and understanding. Making an environment where every person in the room feels comfortable and confident is a huge part of my job now.

What do you wish young dancers knew – particularly those hoping to create their own works, whether contemporary of classical?

I have just recently been working with the third-year dancers at the VCA, and the school has a season where two of the dancers are selected to create their own works. They’re given the resources that are necessary to put on a new production, which is fantastic – I’d love to see more opportunities like that. Gerard and I just went for it – we didn’t wait for anyone else to offer us anything, we just found and made our own opportunities. I think it’s important to have a hunger for it and a real determination to make things happen. If you’re passionate – and this goes for all creative people - you’ve just got to do it. Success was really gradual, but we persisted and got some favours and eventually got some money. The biggest lesson was to ask questions. Ring up the funding bodies, knock on doors and don’t feel shy! If you see someone whose work you love, go say hello and introduce yourself. All artists have to be proactive and find other creatives they love and get mentored. Gerard and I asked so many questions, and people rarely said no. Artists want to help and mentor and guide people at the start of their journey, and having someone in your corner is really important, particularly at the beginning. Get out there and connect!

Being part of a broader festival must give you the opportunity to introduce new things to an audience who might not traditionally know a lot about what you do. What are you hoping the people who see Out of Earshot will experience?

I would like to think audience members will come with an open mind and a willingness to be surprised and experience something new. We’re trying to challenge perceptions of sound, beauty and intimacy, and we’re working with some stunning technology that allows sound to be seen. It’s a very much a multisensory piece. Music festivals are often completely inaccessible for deaf audiences, so we began thinking about how we could challenge that while also providing a really positive and beautiful environment for the audience to experience this performance. We’re not reacting negatively to the inaccessibility, it’s about broadening the experience of silence and dance and movement in a very inclusive way. We want to push against the way people experience entertainment: this piece is more than just sitting in a chair and taking for granted the fact you’ll get all your cues via aural means. It won’t be so far out of the blue for jazz audiences, but we do know it’ll be very different, and that’s a great thing! We want to attract a broad range of audiences and perhaps give them the opportunity to think and experience in a different way. That’s our genuine interest as a company: we want to pursue topics and ideas that are really important to us and that’s why we take our time in the development process. It means more in the end!

Your Questions: Deborah Humble

Embarking on the start of an international career is a challenging endeavour, and not just because of the amount of work. Dealing with homesickness, a new language and accomodation costs are just some of the points to think about before your big move. To help get our heads around what it took to make it as a musician overseas, we turned to our good friend Deborah Humble, who is one of Australia's most successful international artists, and asked her your questions about life overseas.

How do I get an agent in the UK or Europe?

If you are getting roles with companies or at least have some decent roles under your belt after college or university and if you are ready to travel in pursuit of a professional career then it may be time to find an agent. There is no formulaic answer to this often asked question. The most obvious way is to find out who the main agents are in each country (ask colleagues, coaches and teachers or consult the Deutsche Bühnen Jahrbuch which covers German speaking countries) and write to them. Some may send a reply suggesting an audition time in the future or asking you when and where they can hear you in performance, but in my experience most will not. A lot of the higher level agents would prefer to discover you and not the other way around. Nonetheless, it could be that your letter of introduction arrives on someone’s desk at just the moment they need a singer with your particular voice type, or maybe your name will stick in their mind for the future. It's ironic that without an agent it is difficult to find work, but that an agent wants to see you perform before they sign you. Remember the saying “nobody wants you until somebody wants you?” Try not to be discouraged by this sometimes frustrating process. Agents attend competitions, auditions and concerts and these scenarios will most often provide an opportunity to meet a potential agent. When you do find an agent who wishes to represent you make sure it's a good fit for you. Check their artist list and see who else they represent. Remember that some smaller agencies promise the world and then deliver absolutely nothing. It is tempting to say yes to the first offer that comes along but it is always important to ask around in order to make an informed choice. Your agent will end up being one of the most important people in your life. Put your career in reliable and trustworthy hands.

When I write to an agent seeking representation what do I send?

It's a good idea to send a short and precise letter of introduction. Agents in Europe receive many requests and rarely have time to read page upon page of information. Research each agency and personalise your letter by finding out who the exact person is who represents the singers at the same level as you. Include a good quality head shot and a full length or production photo. A sound recording is a good idea (make sure it is recent and well-recorded) and a link to your web site where reviews, recommendations and further information about performance dates and experience can be read. If you have a performance coming up you could ask them if they would be interested in attending by offering complimentary tickets.

Do you have any ideas about how to go about gaining auditions overseas? Many agents reply to email requests to say they already have too many singers on their books, or won't be holding auditions this season. Is it possible to gain house auditions without a German agent?"

You can certainly write direct to opera houses in any country. Again, I recommend the Deutsche Bühnen Jahrbuch (www.buehnengenossenschaft.de) for a list of all German theatres and the names of people who work there. You can buy the book for around €75 or find a copy in all big libraries. You may receive replies from companies relating to general or informative auditions so it is a good idea to write well in advance if you are coming from overseas. There are generally two audition ‘seasons,’ from September to December and then again from January to April, but these days opportunities can become available at any time. The summer break in Europe is usually July and August and little happens in the way of auditions during this time.

When I write to German companies asking for auditions should I write in German or English?

I think that depends on which languages you speak. I have been asked to help singers with audition cover letters in German but I always remind them that if they write a letter in good German it may logically be presumed that you also speak good German. There's not much point sending a German letter written by someone else if you can't communicate in German once you get to Germany.

When you're going overseas to a non-English speaking country to audition, how much of their native language should you already have? Can you learn as you go?"

Of course you can learn as you go, (I did), but it certainly makes life easier to have the basics covered before you arrive. All major companies will be able to conduct an audition or a rehearsal in English if necessary, but the smaller the opera house and the town the less likely this will be and a good standard of German comprehension and communication is a given. Mostly operas are cast with singers, conductors and directors of many different nationalities and a common language will be chosen in which to conduct rehearsals. Therefore the basics of Italian and French are also very useful. I recently worked in France with a Spanish director, French assistant director, Norwegian conductor and singers from China, Belgium, Sweden and Britain. Any professional musician working in Europe has to get used to an international environment and learn to cope with many different languages and cultures. Early on in my career I auditioned in Braunschweig and was asked in English if I ‘spoke’ German. After answering in the affirmative the panel then gave me a series of directions in German; ‘take two steps towards the piano,’ sing your next aria further back,’ etc obviously designed to test me. It's best never to lie about the extent of your language skills.

Which of German, French and Italian is the most important language for me to learn?

This depends on the kind of repertoire you think you will be focussing on and the country in which you are most likely to get work. If you are looking for a contract in Germany then it would be German, most likely followed by Italian and French. If you are an early music singer then maybe French and Italian first. In order to earn a decent living these days, you will probably have to work all over Europe. The advice I give to all young Australian singers is to get all three languages under your belt as soon as possible while you are studying. Once you start working there is often less time to devote to study.

In Germany, what is the difference between a Fest and a Gast contract?

A Fest contract is one where you are attached to a particular house. You receive a contract for a full year with a certain number of required roles and performances. You will live in that city, receive a monthly salary and health insurance and enjoy the many benefits of having full-time employment. If you are sick and cannot perform you will still receive your full monthly pay. Above and beyond your quota of performances you will be paid extra for any additional performances. A Gast contract means you are employed for a particular role in an opera. You will be required to be based in that city while you rehearse and perform for the duration of the contract. Most likely you will not receive any fee for the rehearsal period (which might be up to 6 weeks or more) and you will be responsible for finding and paying up front for your own accommodation. If you are sick and cannot sing you will not receive any compensation for missed performances. Potentially you will earn more money this way, but for many singers, the lifestyle does not suit and the financial risk is too great.

Do I need a regular coach as well as a technical teacher?

Yes. A teacher usually focuses on aspects of vocal technique and health such as breath control, range, vowel production, focus etc which require work and development. A coach is necessary to help you with language, style and interpretation. A coach can also help you prepare roles, help with repertoire choices and prepare you for auditions. A trustworthy ‘second pair of ears’ is vital.

What does the term ‘Fach’ mean exactly and how important is it?

‘Fach’ is a term that has been used in Germany since the end of the 19th century to help categorise voices. It generally means ‘specialty’ or ‘category’ and it is important to understand which particular voice type you are when auditioning and singing in the German opera system. Fest contracts will be described by Fach when you are auditioning. For example, a house will advertise for a ‘lyrischer Sopran/lyric soprano’ or a ‘dramatischer Alt/dramatic contralto’ or a ‘Spieltenor/character tenor.’ It is up to you to know which roles fall under these categories when auditioning. Rudolf Kloiber’s ‘Handbuch der Oper,’ written in German, is a complete manual on voice types, auditioning and roles. There are 25 different voice types described as follows: soubrette, lyric coloratura soprano, dramatic coloratura soprano, lyric soprano, character soprano, spinto/young dramatic soprano, dramatic soprano, coloratura mezzo, lyric mezzo, dramatic mezzo, dramatic alto, low alto, countertenor, lyric tenor, character/acting tenor, lyric baritone, cavalier baritone, character baritone, dramatic baritone, character bass,acting/character bass, heavy character/acting bass, serious bass.

I am sometimes confused by the different input I receive on my voice from teachers, coaches, agents and at masterclasses etc. what can I do about this?

Everyone, and I mean everyone, will have an opinion about your voice during all stages of your career. Everyone will be a critic. Some will know what they are talking about and many will not. It is important to understand your own voice and capabilities as soon as possible and to have a teacher and coach in your life whom you trust implicitly to tell you the truth. I always advise singers to listen carefully to what they are told and then decide what may be useful and to discard what is not helpful. Different suggestions will resonate at different stages of your vocal development. Try to remember that most people have good intentions when making suggestions about your voice. Also remember that a well-intentioned suggestion does not always come from an expert. As a young singer, it is difficult to avoid situations when you must sing for people such as visiting coaches and at masterclasses etc. When you are starting out and still working on your vocal technique it is helpful to find one or two people you feel work well for you and stick to that rather than seeking opinions from too many different sources.

Do you think being Australian means I will be overlooked in favour of Europeans or Americans?

No. I was quite disappointed to read a report recently which suggested that European companies prefer not to employ Australians. It is true to say that Australians may need to work harder at language and understanding foreign culture, customs and systems, but you only have to look at the large numbers of Australian singers and instrumentalists enjoying success abroad to realise an international career is absolutely possible. The teachers and opera coaches I have spoken to in Germany, France and Italy are very positive about the contribution Australian artists have to make in a European environment.

How much will I earn on a Fest contract in Germany?

This depends on the size of the house, where it is and how much funding it receives. German opera houses are categorised as A+, A, B, C and D. An average salary might be around €3000 per month. After taxes and insurances you will often take home little more than half that. Extra money can be earned by guesting, concert work and taking in extra performances above your contracted quota.

How much does an apartment cost per month in Germany?

Again this depends which city you live in. Accommodation in Berlin is very reasonable and €600 Euro per month will get you started. The smaller the city the cheaper it is. Hamburg and Munich are more expensive but a good quality apartment can still be found for under €800/900 per month. Check your contractual ‘Neben Kosten/extra costs’ for heating, water etc which can be high.

How do you deal with being away from home for so much of the year? I'm worried about being homesick when I go overseas to travel. Do you have any tips for dealing with this?"

A freelance career involves constant travel which means staying in different hotels and serviced apartments, living out of a suitcase, not being able to be involved with regular activities, seeing friends and family irregularly and dealing with loneliness. When considering whether this lifestyle is for you you might like to ask yourself some the following questions:

“Do I enjoy spending lots of time alone?”

“Do I enjoy constantly meeting new people and working with new colleagues?”

“Can I eat in a restaurant alone?”

“Will I feel comfortable in an environment where English is not my first language?”

“Can I survive without my friends and family?”

“How will I deal with long,cold winters?”

“Can I deal with financial insecurity?”

“How will my job/travel affect my relationship/children?”

Loneliness and homesickness are part and parcel of the lifestyle of a singer. Learning languages will help you communicate and becoming comfortable with your own company will help you survive in new cities. Get out, explore your surroundings and take an interest in new cultures.

Social media, Skype and free phone calls/messaging are wonderful ways to keep in touch with friends and family and find contacts all over the world.

In Conversation: Simon Tedeschi

What about the story of Enoch Arden initially captured your imagination, and how did you come across the work originally?

I was fascinated by the idea of a work written for narrator and piano - a very unusual pairing indeed. Secondly, Strauss' music has captivated me for my entire life, especially since accompanying the violin sonata, which is perhaps the greatest sonata for violin and piano of all. And lastly, because the story of a lone man seeing meaning and redemption from a cruel world was very resonant with my understanding of the world in 2017.

The work, while popular when it was written, hasn't been performed very often because of the fact that recitation and melodrama have largely fallen out of fashion, I imagine. What do you enjoy about this kind of work and is there a renaissance for narration coming?

It is a very new thing for me as well and as such, initially felt strangely antiquated and even overindulgent - until I understood that that was the whole point. Melodrama is a distillation of things that we feel every day, magnified to gargantuan levels.

Can you tell me a little bit about your rehearsal process in preparing a work like this?

Both John and I aren't overly keen on huge and laborious rehearsals and we are both very seasoned performers, and thus can economise very quickly, concentrating on what is vitally important. We started working together very close to the recording - the main issues of 'ensemble' were working out exactly how the music intersected with the text, as dictated by Strauss' score.

You will be performing this work around the country for a month. When you do so much work on the road, how do you look after yourself and balance all the projects you are juggling at any given time?

That's the eternal question for a performer. In my case, always make sure that you have healthy food on hand and plenty of rest. Right now, I'm jetlagged as hell and I'm not even at my final destination yet!

Has your process of preparation differed from how you would rehearse a work of Lieder, based on the fact you're working with a narrator rather than a singer?

Absolutely. The reading voice works at a different speed, intonation and timbre to the singers voice, and the notion of breath is certainly different. So, I felt like much more of a conductor than a colourist.

This work is extremely musically interesting and became one of Strauss' most popular works when it was premiered. What about Enoch Arden made it so incredibly loved at the time of its writing, and where does it fit in the repertory - being at the crossroads of drama, lied and recitative?

Melodrama fit into the romantic ethos perfectly - it captured the notion of human beings, entirely vulnerable at the hands of nature and dependent on their inner fortitude and relationship with the almighty. In terms of today, I feel that it is a remarkable piece of music, written by a timeless genius, depicting the interchange of romantic poetry and music that whilst seemingly of a different age, is entirely appropriate for the challenges of the world today.

You've said that the themes of the work are still as relevant now as they were when the poem was written in 1864. What about Tennyson's words allow them to stand the test of time in such a pertinent way?

Great poetry is great poetry - and even though the words and dialogue themselves are old fashioned, they have an internal rhythm, metre and depict a landscape that is as beautiful as any Les Murray or TS Eliot.

When you're learning a new work, what does your rehearsal process generally look like? Do you have a practice routine that you stick by, or does it change from one project to the next?

Changes entirely on multiple factors - how much time I have, the challenges of the piece, what else I'm learning at the time, the instrument I am using, and even my mood! But generally, the fastest way to mastery is slow practise - irrespective of the piece.

For young pianists working towards a career in the industry, do you have any advice for balancing projects and putting on your own performances?

Yes - be daring and don't listen to stuff like 'find your niche' - play the great music and play it well and for the rest of your life. And be humble.

In Conversation: Peter Coleman-Wright

Your newest record, Ballads of the Pleasant Life, focusses in on the music of exile, with particular reference to the Weimar Republic period. What attracted you to this period of writing and encouraged you to record some of these lesser-known pieces?

Nexas Quartet asked me to perform with them last year, and I wasn’t sure what repertoire would work with a saxophone quartet, but immediately thought of the cabaret style of the 30’s and 40’s. The more I looked into the music, the more I was surprised to see how much diversity there was, how many composers had been neglected because of the war and how rich and fabulous the writing was.

Can you tell me about curating the program that we hear on the recording? There is a wide selection of composers and aesthetics, and I'm interested in hearing about the research process that went into choosing and shaping the final product!

The more I delved into the Weimar period, which was so rich artistically despite the war, the more composers I found. Franz Schreker, Hans Eisler, Eric Korngold and Alexander Zemlinsky - among many others - had to flee the Anschluß and all were prodigious and brilliant talents. Each had a distinctive musical voice. In selecting the individual pieces, I played through countless songs until I found repertoire that would work well with the soundscape of the saxophone. The music of Kurt Weill and Eisler before they went to America was full of strong sentiment against the bourgeois and the plight of the worker. These worked brilliantly with the sax quartet. I added an early song by Schönberg because he was such a towering figure in music and ended up in America as well.

What does the recording process look like for a record like this? How long does it take in the studio, and is there an extensive rehearsal period prior to heading in to put the tracks down?

Each song was transcribed for the quartet by the players themselves! We worked through each song, and I helped the group understand the text. Many of the songs were in German with important messages. Once in the studio, we sang through each song many times. Our wonderful producer Andre Schrimski listened from the sound booth. After each take, we listened for intention, understanding, musicality, diction, clarity etc. We were fortunate enough to have around 5 days to do this recording, which meant that we could fine-tune and really capture the flavour and style of the music. After singing each song many times, a singer has to be careful to pace oneself so that the voice doesn’t become too tired or lose its bloom.

You've sung leading roles in opera houses all over the world, but you're just as comfortable performing contemporary art music and concert repertoire. Has your experience in preparing dramatic roles influenced your approach to lied and new music in any way?

I always wanted to be an artist without ever having to be put into a box. I wanted to be open to whatever came my way, as long as I felt I could do the work justice. I loved acting, loved text and character, which always made the vocal demands far easier. My roles have been diverse: I sang Don Giovanni over 100 times but was equally thrilled to sing roles like Detlev Glanert’s Caligula or Brett Dean’s Bliss. Great challenges in every way. Lieder and song, I believe, are vitally important for singers to perform. Recitals are all about the singer and pianist being able to take the listener on a journey and being able to convey many emotions and styles in one evening. This requires great attention to text and making sure all the technical demands are met well before performing.

For young opera singers hoping to pursue a career on stage do you have any recommendations for how they can be best equipping themselves for a performance career while studying?

It is paramount that aspiring singers learn very quickly to find their own voice. Too many singers go through the motions, having endless people telling them how to sing everything. I believe that the singers who have the most exciting and interesting careers are the ones that know who they are and what they want to say as an artist. Of course, this gets easier as one grows into roles, but it’s a skill to learn very early on. I would also add that it is crucial to really know one's own voice and abilities and choose repertoire that suits them in every way. I was lucky in that I grew up doing amateur shows and the stage felt home to me. The more one gets to perform the better and easier it will become.

Outside of musical and dramatic expertise, what are the necessary business or management skills that have provided invaluable to you during your career as an opera singer?

Time management. Make sure that there is time to work, rest, study and promote oneself. Being careful to know one's contract and what is required of you. And being financial savvy is also very important. Not wasting money on lessons that are not needed, and being able to save as much as possible for when one has a lucrative moment.

In Conversation: Connor D'Netto

This entire season of work is incredibly exciting - you’ve got Australian premieres and world premieres, and some of the best artists in the country! Can you tell me about how you planned this particular program, and how it fits within the broader season?

Argo definitely has its own style that every performance in the season somewhat works within, but each concert stands alone in terms of audience experience. Each concert sits in a different space and engages with a wide variety of artists of vastly different styles. But, in saying that, I really think if you like one concert, you’ll probably enjoy them all!

The idea for the program of Saturation was born out of a really fantastic piece by a contemporary American composer, which, as the program grew, ended up being cut entirely! I’m not going to tell you what it is because I’m saving it up for something else, but the point is that the ideas and feeling for the whole program was inspired by the feeling that I got from this one piece, even if didn’t make it to the final concert. The feelings were intense, overpowering, saturated. I’ve brought together a program of works which play off that same feeling and those same experiences and ideas. The themes also drew me to two local composers whose styles fit perfectly - Ben Heim and Tom Green - and I consequently commissioned two new works by them. It’s fantastic having both world and Australian premieres in this concert, and the two Argo commissions are particularly exciting: I talked with Ben Heim, who used to work on Argo (and co-founded it with me) and now is based in London, about commissioning a piece for solo piano and electronics, and he’s created this really cool work that takes textures of the live piano and uses live signal-processing to create soundscapes and environments in which the piano plays. The other piece we’ve commissioned for this concert is by Thomas Green, a Brisbane-based composer whose is equally at home with contemporary classical “art” music as he is with producing brilliant electronica/dubstep/Aphex Twin-esque electronic music. The new work he’s written is for flute, piano and electronics, and it’s heavily inspired by dance rhythms, using a heap of samples from the piano and flute and turning them into crazy glitch electronica percussive beats. Between the two works, and the other stuff on the program, there’s a really cool blend of electronics and live performance - they’re sometimes beautiful and evocative, sometimes they’re really heavy and emotive, and sometimes driven and propulsive.

You have a clear interest in combining electronic and live music - how did this come to be a priority, and why do electronic and contemporary classical work so well together?

I genuinely believe that there’s a style or genre of contemporary art music to suit and engage everyone, it’s just not all out there for people to know about yet. There’s so many amazing things going on with composers around the world that work in that grey area between genres, and combine elements of pop, art music, electronic, dance, experimental, etc. There are the big players - Max Richter, Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Nico Muhly - but there are also a lot of lesser known composers doing cool things, including many contemporary Australians. A lot of them also write “actual” pop music as well, if you want to make that kind of hard definition. I think it’s about how people listen - lots of the electronic and pop music being listened to now has elements and influences that you can also hear in contemporary classical music. If you enjoy listening to electronic music and dance music, there is something for you in this space that utilises those elements. And generally, we’ve found that people do really enjoy this kind of music because it’s not a huge stretch from what they already listen to, its just that the context in which they hear it that is different. When you go to hear a gig at a club, you’re not required to partake in all the formality of the concert hall, and its often even the same when you look at the more relaxed vibe of a contemporary theatre, so we’re just trying to provide a space that's comfortable and where the audience feels like they can engage with the music with no barriers. It’s not a strategy, it’s just part of the experience we’re creating. Similarly, the electronics aren’t an add-on to draw in an audience - they work part and parcel with the music you hear. It’s in the DNA. It’s the kind of music I like to listen to, and the kind of experience that I enjoy! Honestly, I don’t spend time listening to classical music when I’m at home or on public transport. Most of my relaxation time is spent listening to electronic music. The combination with contemporary classical is what interests us, and it think its something that other audiences will definitely enjoy too.

The way you’ve approached programming has changed a little over Argo’s lifetime. What have you learnt about the process, and how do you think about crafting a program now?

Things certainly have changed from when Ben and I founded Argo to the way I’m running it now. When Ben and I began Argo, between the two of us we were essentially composing and producing the entire program from scratch. This year, I wanted to take the ideas we had created and the same kind of experience that we were giving our audience, and apply it to a broader cross-section of music. Honestly, programming a concert for me is actually much the same as composing: I start off with the initial concert inspiration and gather ideas around that, then shape them together into an entire concert experience. The whole performance is basically one large piece of music: one seamless musical experience created out of smaller musical parts. Looking at it this way really helps me focus in on the audience experience. You get to think about where the climax of the concert sits, where the contrasts are and how it’s building. These broader elements really help you fit things around that original idea. Looking out for how the audience is experiencing the concert is pretty important to me, and certainly to Argo, as we're trying to create something that’s more than just music. While all of the works are absolutely amazing and could work brilliantly in a more traditional concert setting, I’m trying to re-contextualise them in a way that’s a little more sensory. It’s a different way of experiencing a concert, and I like there being that variety of experiences on offer in the scene!

That interest in creating a multi-sensory and multi-disciplinary concert experience is really evident in your focus on visuals and other artistic elements. Why is creating an experience that is more than just music so important to you?

I’ve always been interested in visual arts, having done a decent bit of photography, film, sculpture, painting and sound art in the past. It’s always interested me to see how those artistic mediums can interact with my composition and music making. There is so much that working across mediums and genres can bring to what you do. Whether it’s simply taking inspiration from a different medium - something that artists have been doing for centuries - or actually collaborating with different types of artists to create something new, there is heaps to be learnt. We’re doing a lot of the latter - sticking all the creatives, composers, performers and other artists in a room and seeing what will happen! That collaborative process can bring about so many great ideas. I think it’s important to recognise that when we're part of an audience experiencing a performance, we take in information with all of our senses. So, as musicians, why not create something that utilises all of them as part of the musical experience? I think that’s also a really interesting point in terms of what we were talking about before - engaging with those who don’t listen actively to classical music. Creating and presenting a concert that has elements of several art forms that the audience has already experienced can be a really great thing.

Your skill in visual arts is really evident in your marketing of this season (and in fact, all of your marketing in Argo’s history!) Why is how you package your concert series so important, and what is the process like for creating things like a season’s print and digital marketing collateral?

I did all the digital and print design myself, and it took WAY too long! Several things happened a long time ago, like making decisions around Argo's fonts, which takes a bit of the pressure off, but the specific season design has kind of ambled along since October. I started out by coming up with a general formatting and style direction, focussing particularly on the formatting of text and logos, then started to work on the artwork itself. I worked on that up until about two days before the deadline for printing, and then basically decided I hated it all, so I threw everything away, and spent a whole night redoing it from scratch. I think if I could give some design-y advice: it's good to have a bit of a system for making small choices to help your work be as cohesive as possible - stuff like working to a grid or having a well considered colour pallet, for example. In regards to our colour palette, it all stemmed out of an actual piece of artwork that I saw in the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (I am working with them towards the end of Argo’s 2017 season). I took a photo of it and selected a bunch of the colours, which became the season colours!

I think right now, when we’re oversaturated with things to see and do, good packaging and design can be the difference between someone stopping to look or continuing to scroll. It’s important to get all your marketing elements looking good. The process really doesn’t need to be intense and time consuming, it just needs to be consistent and well considered. When I was in undergrad, I got given some advice about the basics of design and marketing yourself, which was to design out the following three things items: a letterhead for invoices, letters and proposals, a business card, and a sticker. You should do them all at once, using the same image or fonts and colours, and once you’ve done that, you’ll have something to springboard off for other things. It takes a bit of practice, but you just have to do it. Believe me though, there were a lot of crappy posters on the way to what I'm creating now!

In Conversation: Kathryn Selby

Selby & Friends is one of the most instantly recognisable chamber ensembles in the country, and each season brings an exciting and diverse collection of programs. What is your programming process every year? When does it begin and how do you pick the pieces you are going to perform?

The process begins early with who the guest artists will be. From there we discuss works we are keen to either learn or play again, so it is quite a democratic process.

You are passionate about mentoring developing musicians and are currently working with the wonderful young violinist Grace Clifford. Why is mentoring important for music students hoping to forge a career as a chamber musician or soloist, and what should young musicians look for in a mentor?

Oh it’s an incredibly joyous thing to work with talented young musicians who are dedicated, disciplined and determined like Grace. They bring a great deal to rehearsals, performances and masterclasses. I believe in passing on what I have learned, it’s as simple as that. Mentoring is great for students too in that they learn enormously from those older and more experienced, especially if they get the opportunity to work with the mentor rather than just be mentored. Seeing how someone works often gives so much without having to explain. What to look for in a mentor? Someone willing, kind, experienced and that the student respects.

Initially, Selby & Friends began as a concert series that introduced children to classical music. Can you tell me about your passion for education, and what young people can get from listening and engaging with chamber music?

Chamber music is special in that it allows you to focus on particulars rather than on large forms. It is more difficult as a result as there is less to distract. For young people it is easy to introduce specific instruments and forms through smaller ensembles. Educating young people with classical music is one way to make them feel less intimidated by it as they grow older. Each person will be subject to what their friends like, their parents, the global community, so having an enjoyable experience with classical music from a young age could be a catalyst to returning to it later in life and therefore not only enriching their own lives but also those of us in the profession still out there creating!

For a concert like the upcoming 'By Arrangement', what does the rehearsal process look like for the ensemble?

It's entirely dependent on the availability of the performers – in this case, one quick pre-rehearsal some weeks ago as a read through, and then two solid rehearsals in the days immediately pre-tour.

The process of rehearsing a chamber ensemble can be a tricky one to navigate when you're starting out. Do you have any tips for running a smooth rehearsal period when there are lots of different performers involved?

Try and choose partners with whom you feel a strong affinity, purpose, and common goal. Whilst we all love music and love to play it, some people are just not cut out to be chamber music partners. It is a specialised form and requires a lot of give and take, kindness, humour and commitment. And sharing.

Aside from the artistic and technical side of chamber music making, what are the integral business skills that young performers should focus on cultivating early on?

That is too large a question to answer succinctly! Music schools, for the most part, do not teach the skills required to create and sustain a business in music. As a performer, at the very least read Music Business by Shane Simpson from cover to cover. Most important, surround yourself with people who share your vision and goals, so that you can work together and not be at cross purposes with each other.

In Conversation: Patti Austin

You're incredibly passionate about mentoring young musicians - can you tell me about what it means to be a good mentor and why having a mentor is so important as a young musician?

I think the reason I have such a passion for mentoring is because I started out in the industry as a child, and while I wasn’t really paying particular attention to the people that were mentoring me, I was shown the way by Dinah Washington and Quincy Jones. I was surrounded by this incredible array of innovators. I was really lucky that the people that formed that Great American Songbook and built upon it were the people that showed me the way. Now, it's the only way I know to be: when I’m working with someone younger and I think they’re great I say something. It's so important to say something! If my mentors saw me doing something non-beneficial they would always tell me and I’m trying to do that for the next generation. There are certain people that have an attitude about passing on information, but I don't think that makes the world or the craft get better. It's absolutely crucial to pass on whatever you’ve learnt that works. I've watched how the people that are great at what they do make decisions all my life. I’ve seen people do lots of stupid things that you want to watch and then learn to avoid, and I've also witnessed fabulous people who I've wanted to emulate. People who are successful watch others and learn from them. As the observer, you’ll find things you can’t find on your own, and you'll also figure out ways to do things better than the people you're watching. I keep looking for the smart ones and read everything I can about them - I personally love to read biographies, and I'll think about how they got from one place to the next.

You're on the road a huge amount performing around the world. How do you look after yourself, particularly when you don't have a lot of down-time?

Here’s the most important thing: when the show is over, you've got to go to your room and go to sleep. You've got to learn that! Then there are all the other things like making sure your voice is rested, you're eating right, and you're getting a certain amount of exercise. It's really important to create as much comfort around you as possible when you're travelling. Doing a lot of moving around becomes arduous because you're going through security, and people will pat you down and rifle through your stuff, and you have to sit in airports and hotel rooms and there is so much drama! People say I should write a travel book, actually. Once I get to the place I'm going though, I’m a happy camper. It's the getting there that is hardest. I usually fly alone and for some reason, I always have very bad flying-partner-karma. I'm always next to someone that snores the whole way! Whenever I get on the plane I wipe down everything because it’s a germ-ridden environment, and I make sure I'm keeping my hands clean and I'm eating properly. One of the things I do now when I travel is I try to avoid hotels, or at the very least, find rooms that have a kitchen. I’ve found that preparing my own food, and taking that extra time to look after my eating has been a huge energy booster - I feel more comfortable and I sleep better. If you feel good and comfortable, you'll have a lot more energy for the stage.

Keeping the Great American Songbook is really important to you - can you tell me about the role jazz music plays in your life, and how we can preserve it?

My father was a jazz musician, and my entire childhood was about this music. I was absolutely immersed in it, and that is something I try and tell all young musicians - you must immerse yourself in the stuff. Listen to Sinatra, listen to Ella, listen to everyone who sang this music. Then listen to the instrumentalists who were playing it. It's all about making your voice sound like an instrument - you know that's how Ella learnt to scat? She would sing improvisations back note for note and she could dictate anything she heard. You can and should learn to improvise, and the way to do that is simply to practice practice practice. Jazz is so magnificent because it's infused with elements from every genre possible - it's all in there. I’m fighting so hard for it because it’s such a reflection of all American music, and we tend to take that for granted. I honestly think it’s one of the most wonderful things to come out of America, and I don't think I'm the only one because I’m able to perform it and play anywhere in the world and there is always an audience! I find that audiences in Europe, Asia and Australia study whatever they love, so when I started doing singing overseas I noticed how well they knew what I was singing! The first time I came to Australia I was singing background for Roberta Flack, then later I came alone to sing at festivals, and both times we'd sing the classics like A-Tisket A-Tasket, and there would be kids dancing and whole families would be there singing along. It’s such a wonderful thing to see. It’s an interesting challenge for me because I want to uphold the tradition, but I don’t have to sound exactly the same as the people who made it.

We will be singing along to your favourite songs again next month when you perform with James Morrison and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra! What is it like to perform these amazing songs from Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald?

Honestly, the part that excites me most is working with James! His musicianship is revered all over the world - all of the musicians fall to the floor and bow a lot! He’s all that and a bag of chips, seriously. To do the music of Louis and Ella with James is so profound, and I absolutely cannot wait. He’s Louis-fied and I’m Ella-fied and we're going to put on a show that hopefully Melbourne will come and rock out to!

So you want to put on a concert?

A (seemingly) simple step-by-step by Dots+Loops curator and producer Kieran Welch

1. Have the idea

It might sound like the most simple step, but for me, it’s the part that takes the longest. Everyone has different motivations or ways of coming up with a concert idea. For me, every concert concept starts with a piece I’m super excited about: the kind I just can’t stop listening to. I’ll often have a bunch of these disparate pieces floating around in my head for months or even years before I find that final piece that satisfyingly slots everything else into place like a jigsaw.

Regardless of how you come up with your concert idea, one question I’d recommend asking yourself first is “what does my concert do that other concerts near me are not doing?” If your goal is just to perform a piece you love with friends, and audience numbers aren’t all that important to you, by all means, go ahead regardless! But finding a point of difference, and being able to articulate it is integral to successfully marketing your show. This in turn will vastly help in making your shows financially viable, and it’s also a big thing most grant boards will be looking for.

2. Work out how you’re going to pay for it (or not)

This doesn’t mean you need a lot of money — some of the most engaging and exciting shows I’ve been to have been put on with a shoestring budget. However, you do need to work out how you’re obtaining the things you need to make the show a reality, like performers, instruments and a venue.

You’d be surprised at the number of things you can make happen without much money being involved — ask around and get creative! However, you do need to make sure you’re upfront with everyone about payment, and what form it’ll be in. No-one got paid much money in the first Dots+Loops shows, but I was always very clear about the financial situation. There can be reasons other than money for people to want to be involved in your projects, and I was lucky to have a bunch of great friends who were as excited about my concert ideas as I was.

Nevertheless, if you do ever want to pay your performers more than an honorarium, chances are you’ll need to apply for some grants. Grants applications may seem scary at first, but so long as you have a relatively good idea of what your project is going to look like, all you really need to do is carefully read and follow the grant’s guidelines. It’s also a skill you build up with experience — you may get knocked back a few times, but the more you do, the better you get. And always make sure to give yourself ample lead time to get everything ready, which leads me on to the next point…

3. Make a schedule (and give yourself more time than you think you need)

Figure out the major milestones involved in preparing your concerts, such as rehearsal periods, concert dates, and grant application deadlines (if you’re applying for any). Write them down. Then give yourself fifty percent more time in between everything than you think you need. Trust me: I haven’t yet had enough time to do everything in four years of putting on shows.

4. Find the performers

When booking performers, put yourself in their shoes. Why should they do the show? What will they get out of it? Again, it doesn’t necessarily need to be money (though that definitely helps), but you’ll need to make sure it’s worth their while somehow. Even just an opportunity to play a piece they’re excited about or getting a good quality recording of the performance might be enough. Again, having a significant point of difference between your show and anything else can really help interest people in your production.

Secondly, each performer brings particular skills to the table. It’s important to also consider areas they may not be so strong in, and what you can do to help. Reliability is a huge aspect: you can really assist by being as organised as possible yourself, and double checking everything with everyone involved. No matter how talented someone is, if they have a habit of bailing on things last-minute they may not be worth the stress.

5. Book the venue

Venues can make or break a concert. A fancy venue in a great location might help to entice audiences, but can quickly suck up all your budget and then some. You definitely need to consider accessibility to your audience, but beyond that my first piece of advice is to think outside the box. We’ve ended up with some super cool and cost-effective venues, just by asking around and using unexpected spaces creatively. An unusual space used well can also really contribute to giving your show a point of difference. However, you do need to make sure that the performers have what they need in the space in order to do their job properly — consider aspects such as a green room, acoustics in the performance space (can they hear what they need to?) and lighting (will they be able to see their music?).

When you do find a good venue, work to maintain a good relationship with the people who run the place. Going beyond basic courtesy in terms of communication, making payments on time, keeping the space clean, and ensuring the venue is mentioned and thanked in marketing will give the owners reasons to do well by you, and can easily translate to future discounts or preferential booking.

6. Finalise schedules and equipment (early)

It’s so much easier to find mutually convenient times for rehearsals if you book them with everyone a few months out. Once you’ve done this, put the schedule in multiple places. At Dots+Loops, we will send out our schedules via email, put them up on a Facebook group, and as a file on Dropbox. I’ll also make sure to send confirmation messages a week before the rehearsals start, and text message reminders the day before every rehearsal. Everyone is busy, expect people to forget things. It’s your job to help them remember.

Then, carefully list everything you'll need at the concert (and in rehearsals). I find it helps to visualise myself in the concert, both as an audience member, and as a performer, and take myself through the process of what I’m doing and what I’d expect to be there. Again, you’d be surprised by the amount of things you can obtain just by asking around, but always have a backup plan for sourcing any vital pieces of equipment. Also, if you are going through hire companies, make sure to get a few quotes as they can vary wildly.

7. Promote it!

For years, I was sure that there was a secret to marketing, and that I just needed to work it out to do it well. Sadly, there isn’t one. It just takes a lot of time.

Firstly, it really helps to have eye-catching promotional material and photos. Spending a bit of money to get something nice done up can be really worth it, but you can always just ask your most tech-savvy and stylish friend to help out too. Just make sure to get promotional material in a range of formats: in addition to a poster, get Facebook event banners, an Instagram square, and perhaps even an eye-catching .gif animation or video intro made up.

Social media is your biggest asset to promoting your show. Make a Facebook page and event for your concert, and attach an Instagram account. YouTube, Twitter and Snapchat can be really useful too, but it’s important to keep any platforms you use up-to-date, so don’t sign up to something unless you’ll have time to post regular updates. Keep in mind that you will likely have to spend a bit of money promoting posts on these platforms to get enough reach—we usually end up spending at least $100 on social media advertising for our shows. If you want to go to the next level, a standalone website will really help your event stand out and look professional, and platforms like Squarespace and Weebly can help you have a slick website up quickly and cheaply.

Next, work out what ticketing platform you’re going to use. Your venue might be sorting this out themselves, but if not, create your own online prebooking account. Trybooking and Eventbrite are two popular platforms for this. Though many of your audiences will likely end up buying tickets on the door, having a cheaper prebooking option can really help start to drum up numbers and interest.

Once you have all this done, write a concise and exciting blurb for your show. Describe who’s playing, why people should come, and why you’re excited. Make sure to include when and where it is, and where people can find more information and tickets. Attach photos and the eye-catching material you’ve had made up, and send personalised emails to every influential person, blog, magazine or press outlet you think might be interested. We end up sending almost fifty emails for each show. But if you want more than one in ten replies, you have to make sure to really sell your concert, and what makes it special. Sweetening the deal with free tickets (or tickets to give away) can really help too.

Finally, make use of the people around you! Almost every big magazine or website feature we’ve had has come from a friend or someone who knows someone. Similarly, the single most effective form of marketing is word-of-mouth, so get everyone involved in the concert on board, sharing the event and talking it up!

8. Look after everyone involved

Always be mindful of the time and expertise anyone else involved is giving to make your concert dream a reality, and don’t take it for granted. As the concert organiser, it’s your job to make sure everyone else can do their job as easily (and enjoyably!) as possible—whether it’s performing, running tech support, or just manning the door sales. Make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them and that you’re providing everything they need to do their job. Keep everyone up to date with schedules. Remember to thank everyone. And little touches, like bringing snacks to rehearsals, can go a long way.

Furthermore, people work better when they feel that they’re a valued member of a team, with their own degree of artistic ownership over the project. Let people help. Listen to their advice. It’s beneficial for everyone involved.

9. Be prepared for things to go wrong

No matter how well you prepare, something will go wrong. A performer will pull out a day before the first rehearsal. Your venue will suddenly inform you they’ve double booked your show, and you’ll need to find a new space in two weeks. One of your funding sources will fall through. It may seem stressful at the time, but almost everything can be worked out with a clear head, creativity, and a bit of help from your friends. Take it as a challenge. We’ve had some of the most weirdly unexpected pitfalls leading up to shows, and I’ve weathered a number of sleepless nights because of them. But in four years, we’ve always worked everything out in the end, and sometimes what initially seems like a disaster can end up producing an even better end result.

10. Take a chance!

This should probably be the first step on this list, but almost all these steps could come in any order, and sometimes end up needing to happen all at once. My point is, it’s actually a lot easier and a hell of a lot more rewarding than you’d expect—you just need to take that first step. Start turning your ideas into action, and you’d be surprised at how many things just sort themselves out. Just always keep your goal in mind, and what made you passionate enough to start working towards it. If you take any advice from all this, just give yourself a bit more time to do it all in!

In Conversation: Angela Hewitt

I love what you’ve said about making the piano sing, because you loved to perform songs and dances as a kid! How do you incorporate that philosophy into your practice and performance?

I’m usually singing for 6 hours a day. I never play a musical phrase without imagining it being sung, and I really believe that every music student should learn how to sing and dance, because that’s how all music began. There is absolutely no use playing any instrument like a machine, and it doesn’t matter if your voice is bad, so you have no reason not to sing! It helps you feel and respond to the places you should be breathing, just as dance helps you identify the strong and weak beats in a piece. Movement gives the rhythm some buoyancy which is completely fundamental to music. If you have those things you can perform: singing and dancing have become innate to me now - it’s just how I express music. When I play a Bach minuet I imagine the dance, which is very stately: the upper body is kept very still and your feet do all the movement work, then you can flirt with the eyes at your partner or audience. It's about poise: all those dances need a certain poise and elegance that can be incorporated into your performance.

As a performer, how do you stay inspired and fresh in the practice room, particularly when you’re about to tour a program of works that you’ve played before?

I never feel like any performance is routine, and like to change programs an awful lot. There are some musicians who have one recital program that they perform over and over again wherever they tour, but I’m not that way. I couldn't do it! It's important that I don’t give myself time to get tired of a program, and honestly, there's always something new you can find within a piece. Then when you're performing things are never routine - every piano is different, every hall is different and every audience is different. It's never routine. I never think "oh God not this again!". There are pieces I’ve played hundreds of times, and that in itself can be liberating.

Why Bach? What can piano students learn from studying the works of Bach quite closely?

Every pianist really must do Bach from the beginning, and I think it's fantastic to always have one in your repertoire at any given time. From Bach you learn discipline and good phrasing, articulation and coordination. You develop strength in each finger independently because you’re often playing multiple voices, which helps you learn counterpoint well, and this will help you with Brahms, Chopin, Mozart, etc. It'll help you with every composer! Bach is the best technical exercise, but it's also the best for developing musical intelligence. He didn’t tell you how to play his pieces: there is space for you to make decisions about dynamics and phrasing. People complain because there is not much there but there’s actually so much for you to do! My father was an organist who played all the great organ works, and my mother was a pianist so they encouraged me to always have some Bach on the go, and it became the formation of my technique. I’ve played every piece that he wrote for keyboard, and it’s nice to revisit them and see what new colours you bring 10, 15, 20 years on. You are changing along the way, so you bring more life or greater emotional depth to the pieces as time goes on. They are pieces that will always change as you change. The fact they don’t have markings can give you so much freedom.

You're doing a new piece in this tour - Beethoven's Sonata in F minor, op 2 no 1. How did you go about learning it?

I started the Beethoven a month ago - it’s not the most difficult one! I have my approach pretty well developed now: once I have the piece memorised, I play it for friends at home, so when I get on stage, it's not the first time to have performed it. I study on airplanes and get it into my head as well. When you approach a new piece there are so many things to consider, but something I definitely don’t do is listen to lots of other people play the work I'm learning. It's much more beneficial for me to spend time deciding on fingerings and making decisions on my own about how I'm going to play it. It's also important to note that you should never leave memory to chance - spend time identifying where you could go wrong, and why that is. You have to learn consciously.

What are your thoughts on competitions for young pianists? Do they still launch careers, and how do you deal with not placing, considering it’s more likely statistically that you won’t win?

I think it’s important to do them, but only if you're going in with the right attitude. They're a really fantastic opportunity to learn repertoire that you perhaps wouldn’t play otherwise, and perform at an international level, which is a great thing when you’re young. They also give you the opportunity to see a new country and meet other pianists which is really special. But you have to just get up and try to play your best because it is honestly much harder to play well in a competition than a concert. If you have the nerve for it, do it, but you don't have to. And remember, it’s not the end of the world if you get kicked out in the first round! It strengthens your character, which is good! Juries can range from 3 to 12 people, which means you’re going to have lots of different tastes, and people won’t always vote for you, no matter how good you are, and you cannot control what is going to happen in a jury room. Then if you do win, that’s great, but it only gives you a certain amount. Not everything is going to be handed to you on a silver platter following a big win. I couldn’t just sit on my heels and wait for agents to do stuff - when I got my first concert at Wigmore Hall, I designed the flyers and did all those extra things myself. It took me 15 years to fill the hall! I got my first record contract myself too - it's not enough to just play the notes. Young pianists need to be entrepreneurial and get out and create opportunities for themselves. The world is different now and it’s easier to have visibility through social media and the internet, but you have to be creative. Don’t ever just sit there expecting.

Building a portfolio is really important for creating a sustainable career for many young musicians now - what are your thoughts on becoming a concert pianist in today’s climate, and what other skills do young musicians really need to be working on expanding to have success on the concert circuit?

You have to be good at everything! Young pianists need to be good at not only performing, though you do have to be extremely good at that. When you walk out on stage you have to grab the audiences attention - not extravagantly, but you have to know how to draw them in and make them want to listen. You also need to be able to stand being alone in a foreign city, do your taxes, deal with agents - it’s not all glamorous. I think you have to have great inner strength, because it’s really difficult. It’s not a normal life giving 100 concerts a year, so you have to be willing to give things up. There’s a million ways to make a living though, including chamber music and teaching, so one has to realise that while very few will make it as a touring virtuoso, music should and can always be a part of your life.

Musical Partnership: Andrew Arceci and Elizabeth Hungerford

This record features a stunning selection of duo repertoire from the late renaissance and early baroque periods, with each piece centring in some way on the themes mentioned in its title - love and lust. How did you go about programming the album, and what was your research process for finding repertoire?

AA: Elizabeth and I overlapped at Peabody Conservatory-Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. Mark Cudek, the collegium director, gave us Amarilli mia bella and suggested we "do something interesting with it". Several years later, and having explored much repertoire just the two of us (soprano and viol accompaniment), we decided on early English and Italian repertoire; much later came the title, solidifying the particular tracks, etc.

EH: The basic idea for the disc is already pretty unique in that we had to come up with custom arrangements for soprano and viola da gamba, and wanted the music selections to reflect that uniqueness as well. We had a few pieces we knew we wanted to include such as the incredible “Conzonetta Spirituale sopra alla nanna” by Merula, which is about the Virgin Mary, and pieces such as “Beauty Since You so Much Desire”, in which I fake an orgasm at the end of the song. A theme that could accommodate both of these pieces could really only have been one of “love and lust”!

You have a rather extensive discography that features your work both as a soloist and an ensemble member. What was the recording process like for Love and Lust, and how does making a recording differ from live performance?

AA: Risk makes live performance exciting; anything could happen! For me, the recording process is about capturing a process when together with colleagues, the recording engineer, and/or the producer. I think the album (Love & Lust) captured the performances - the sessions in London - quite well.

EH: The recording process for Love and Lust was pretty exhausting. Andrew flew to London from Boston for the week and we rehearsed as much as we could before the recording started. My house in South London is quite a distance from the church we hired to record in in North London, so at one point we decided to crash at a cheap hotel nearby in order to avoid some of the traveling. The hotel was actually converted horse stables so it was pretty bare bones, but we were just relieved to get a decent night’s rest! (I was also very newly pregnant when we recorded this disc, so between that and the jet lag, we needed the rest!) Andrew and I are both very much perfectionists. We are both happy to do the same take over and over again until it is *just right* where a lot of other people may have moved on. That being said, it was very helpful for us to be working with a producer whose opinion we trusted. If he said we had gotten what we needed, we were usually happy to leave it.

It has received fantastic reviews from a number of publications already! Can you tell me about what the purpose of reviewing is to you as a performer, and how you deal with the reviews you get, whether they be positive or negative?

AA: We've enjoyed a number of reviews from publications in the UK, the US, and Australia. If one "cherishes" the good reviews, then one should accept the bad reviews. However, it's important to remember that any review is one person's opinion. (An institution is never giving you a review, but 1 writer from that institution, and should be quoted/referenced properly.) An artist must move forward, with or without glowing reviews; that said, it's certainly nice to be lauded!

EH: As performers, we often do our best work when we make ourselves vulnerable. Andrew and I are very compatible as performers as we both aren’t afraid to put it all on the line. We’ve made some strong choices in this disc that won’t be for everyone, and we are okay with that. Ultimately, as long as we are happy with the product we produced, that is more important than any review, good or bad.

I have read that you crowdfunded the production of this CD, which is becoming more and more common for musicians and artists across the world. How did your campaign work, and what are the benefits of crowdsourcing projects for musicians?

AA: Yes, we secured the funds within several days! The majority of contributions were $25, $50, and $100 USD. We built a network of patrons through concerts, and enough people were enthusiastic about the repertoire. We've acknowledged the patrons, but would like to thank them again. We could not have recorded the album without their support!

EH: Andrew and I were definitely nervous about the fundraising process as the platform we fundraised on would not release the funds to us unless we hit our (very optimistic) goal. We knew we had a lot of support, but we were definitely overwhelmed by the response: we raised over $10K in less than a week! It was a very humbling experience that made the production of the disc even more special for us. Since we were then able to fund the disc ourselves, we were able to make all of the decisions ourselves. While this could be overwhelming for some people, Andrew and I really appreciated the opportunity to make this disc exactly what we wanted it to be. All decisions - from the repertoire, to the edits, to the cover design - were up to us. While it would be nice to have less work to do on subsequent discs, we really enjoyed the freedom we were allowed for this first disc. I would also like to thank all of the donors. We simply could not have done it without them!

Is there a similarity between your preparatory approach to contemporary music and early music? How do the two complement one another, in your experience?

EH: I never got into singing much contemporary music as my career has been almost entirely in the early music genre. However, I have sung quite a bit of jazz in my day and I find that early music and jazz are quite similar. In my experience, both genres are more about story telling and interpretation than technique. I also really enjoy the approach to both early music and jazz. While you could get in big trouble for changing even one note in an opera aria, if you sing exactly what is on the page in jazz, it is simply wrong. You are meant to make it your own thing. Look at the music, pass it through your humanity, then sing it. The notes on the page are just a guide. I try to bring the same approach to early music.

Both you and Elizabeth are alumni of The Peabody Institute - did you begin playing together during your studies? Can you tell me about your journey as musical partners, and what you've learnt about ensemble work from playing together?

AA: We performed together quite often when we were both in the UK, less the last several years due to the distance, but also familial deaths, births, etc. I was born in Boston, but lived in Cincinnati for several years, Baltimore, New York, Oxford, then between Oxford, London, and Boston; I currently live in Concord, MA. Bethie is from Seattle, but currently lives in London, England.

EH: As Andrew mentioned earlier, the head of Peabody’s Early Music Department, Mark Cudek, assigned us to work together on a piece for a school concert. He essentially put us in a room together and told us to figure it out on our own. Andrew and I had met before that day, but really didn’t know each other vey well at all. As it turns out, Mark knew what he was doing when he put us together as that day was just the beginning of a lot of music making between the two of us! It can be difficult to find collaborators with whom you can freely share ideas and experiment with in a fun, productive way, so when you find someone you can work with in that way, you don’t let them go! (Bonus if you also enjoy their company over a beer or two after rehearsal!)

What is it about early music for the voice that inspires and engages you?

EH: I don’t have a natural vibrato in my voice (really!) which is often a preferred sound for early choral music. It wasn’t until later that I learned to add vibrato (though I mostly use it as an ornament) and was then able to more confidently sing more early solo rep. However, this didn’t happen until I was well into my twenties and so I was a bit late to the game. Had I begun to formally study voice earlier straight out of high school, I would likely have ended up in a more traditional music school that focuses on opera. I am lucky I didn’t because my voice simply isn’t suited for opera! It is, however, well suited for early music. Much of this rep was written for my exact voice type and so I find it very enjoyable and comfortable to sing. I also happen to find it achingly beautiful and endlessly inspiring, so what’s not to love!

In Conversation: Tracy Friedlander

Your podcast, Crushing Classical, is all about promoting career options for performers, and helping break down some of the barriers around talking about what classical musicians can be. Can you tell me about how it started, and what sparked its beginning?

Yes! Crushing Classical started out as a Facebook page called Horn Wise. I talked about stories from my career and things like how much debt I had from music school (something I noticed that people mostly didn’t talk about publicly). As I spent more time looking around online I noticed there were many musicians who were doing some cool things outside of a job in an orchestra. That was when I decided to start the podcast, which led to the movement to talk about broadening what is possible for a career as a classical musician. And that’s when I changed the name to Crushing Classical.

What I aim to do is challenge musicians to think outside the problem they think they have, which is that there are limited jobs and too many competitors for those jobs. Musicians can choose to be the creator of their career vs. making a job in an orchestra the definition of their career. There is so much more potential and also so much more freedom. This is what I’ve been seeing in my own career in both myself and the people around me for the last 15 years as a professional freelance horn player.

What sparked the beginning of Crushing Classical was exactly this. I made playing in an orchestra the end-all-be-all of my own career, and thought that my quest for a job of my own would never end until I got one. In 2005 I left the Chicago freelance scene when I was offered a job - I was the runner-up to an audition and they offered me a per-service job with no contract, but it was full-time orchestra work. I was ready to make a consistent income, so I picked up and moved. I ended up meeting my husband, getting married, and having a daughter. That was when my priorities changed; I liked where I lived, and I didn’t want to keep searching and never knowing where I’d go next. I actually wanted to live my life. But after all the excitement of being newly married and becoming a mother, I really still wanted more in my career, but the answer wasn’t to get back on the audition path again. I wanted to contribute to the musician community. I wanted to bring value. I wanted to talk about the things that I’ve been seeing in the orchestra world for so long and that I didn’t know coming out of college. Every day more and more students graduate from music school expecting to enter a job market that doesn’t have enough jobs for everyone. I’ve seen this problem for a long time and noticed that no one is really talking about it. As I went deeper, I saw that it was only part of the problem. I also knew that so many musicians like me working professionally want more for their own careers and a conversation like this could be valuable to them as well.

As well as running CC, you are a classically-trained professional horn player. When in your career did you begin thinking about career options for musicians, and how did your own personal experiences as a practicing musician influence the work you are doing now?

I honestly didn’t start to think much about career options for other musicians until I started Crushing Classical. I recognised for a long time that young musicians are facing an even tougher job market than they did when I was coming out of school. After starting Crushing Classical, I saw that it really goes deeper than not enough jobs. The problem is that most musicians think a job is their only option. I also saw that the classical world is not changing with the times. Musicians in the orchestra world aren’t taking the bull by the horns to make changes and helping classical music thrive. There are a number of musicians creating new ensembles but the majority of the larger orchestras remain operating in the same antiquated way.

My own personal experiences as a musician influence my work greatly. Despite having a pretty good resume of professional experience, I always felt that because I didn’t reach my ultimate goal of a paid orchestra position of my own, I didn’t have a “real” career. As I reflected on it, I saw some important things about how skewed the musician point of view is about the “almighty job”. As a regular player in the same orchestra for nearly 10 seasons, I learned a lot about the inner workings of orchestras and what a job is really like on a day to day basis: things you don’t think about as you fantasise about how amazing it will be to someday get paid to play your instrument for a living. Simply put, the work isn’t sexy. It was very enlightening to see this and has definitely influenced my point of view about the orchestra world.

Can you explain what a portfolio career means, and what it can look like for a classically trained musician?

It’s common for musicians to create freelance careers that include playing a whole bunch of gigs and teaching - whether they have a full-time position in an orchestra or not. In today’s world, you cannot really be a musician on one salary or income stream. It’s necessary to take it a step further and develop skills outside playing and teaching. Classical musicians tend to make what they do their identity, so they think doing something outside of performing makes them less of a musician. The possibilities are endless. And if you’re lucky enough to create an income stream from something you love, you can say no to gigs you don’t want. For example, if you have a thriving recording business, you’ll have the freedom to turn down gigs you don’t actually want. And the truth is that turning down gigs you don’t want makes room for opportunities you DO want.

What are the skills outside of instrument mastery that are really important for young performers to learn while they’re still studying?

I personally wish I would have learned improvising, arranging and composing. I wish there was talk of learning new genres or even working on creating your own hybrid genres - which goes into the arranging and composing thing. Time spent memorising historical dates in school could be better spent learning a skill you can actually use, such as understanding technology like sound recording or video editing. And the number one skill everyone should have is the ability to enrol people in their ideas - which is what selling yourself is. When you can enrol people in what you’re up to, anything is possible. There’s an art to getting people on board with what you want to do. Think of people who created successful music festivals or programs that relied on funding or donations. Each of those people had to be able to talk to people, engage them and enrol them in what they wanted to do. This feeds directly into the importance of audience building. It’s a noisy world. There are way too many entertainment choices. If you have an idea for a great ensemble or something to present, it’s up to you to build your own audience. Classical musicians go through school not thinking about the audience. What a mistake! Gone are the days where you can only perfect your playing and emerge to an awaiting audience. When you’re in school, everything is ready-made for you. It’s a false sense of reality. Students don’t have to create anything. And then when they finally arrive in the real world, it’s a shock. Bottom line is you have to create your reality, and the first time is when you step out of school. Today’s world requires you to start creating well before you exit your degree program.

Talking about finance and money-making can sometimes be a little challenging for musicians because of the dialogue that surrounds arts practice and being a “starving artist”. How do we change that dialogue, and what do you wish all young musicians would understand about making money through their art?

What I’d like musicians to get is that you don’t have to be a starving artist. It’s not a requirement. The mindset around money is so much deeper than how much cash you have in your bank account at the moment. It reflects what you think you’re worth and what you’re willing to do for money. If you believe there’s a money ceiling and you’re only “allowed” to make a certain amount of money, you’ll create that for yourself. I can attest to having a scarcity mentality for a long time. When I auditioned for jobs with small salaries, I was confident and played well at the audition. For jobs that seemed like a crazy awesome amount of money, I sabotaged my playing.

When I first started CC, I didn’t talk about money with my guests. As Crushing Classical evolved, I brought on my contributing partner, Eileen. She’s a former musician who went into the business world. She asked me directly why I didn’t talk about money on the podcast. My only reason was that it felt awkward. After that conversation, I quickly got over it. I realized the awkwardness IS the reason why no one talks about it.

I’ve personally had enough of musicians justifying going into massive amounts of school debt (I did) with no plan of how they’ll pay it back. I know this problem exists in other careers, and it’s a glaring problem for music majors. Most are coming out of a degree program with maybe ONE idea of how they’ll make money - and six figures worth of debt. It’s a real problem. What I wish all young musicians would understand about making money through their art is there is no rule that you have to starve. That’s ridiculous. Many musicians have proven that notion wrong. Starvation is a choice and it begins with your mindset around money.

What are some of the major challenges facing young arts practitioners today, and how can they be proactive about driving their own careers?

I’d say the main challenges for everyone in the arts is how much entertainment there is available today. The internet has created constant and mostly free or cheap entertainment. Audiences are changing and orchestral audiences are dwindling. Giving people what they want would be a good place to start. Looking in other areas of entertainment (other genres of music, other entertainment industries, etc.) for ideas is another place to start. I’m looking forward to seeing what classical musicians create as the future unfolds.

Musicians can be proactive by building their own audience. Document your journey on social media. It’s a great way to build an audience that’s interested in your story. Include the highs and lows, the successes and failures. No one wants to watch a social media account loaded with next concert notifications. People want to be entertained and they love a good story - happy or sad. Keep learning, get skilled, create multiple streams of income. And of course, listen to Crushing Classical podcast on iTunes and join the conversation for even more ideas on how to be proactive about driving your own career.

In Conversation: Ruth Blythman

Silver Rain is an immersive multi-genre production, featuring projections and opera, with a score written by Ricky Ian Gordon around the words of famous American poets. Can you tell me about how this concept came to be, and what have you learnt through the process of producing the piece?

The creation of SILVER RAIN has very much been a collaborative process between myself, our director, Zac Tyler, projection designer Michael Carmody and our other performer Kirilie Blythman (who yes, also doubles as my very talented sister).

I’ve always really loved poetry and a few years ago I was working on a song cycle by Andre Previn set to Emily Dickinson poems. Kirilie told me to look at Ricky Ian Gordon’s work, some of which she had performed herself and which was also set to poetry. I fell madly in love with his music! Gordon writes beautifully for voice; the relationship he creates between the text and music is so evocative. It was like this glorious creative vortex I found myself falling into. I saw so many stunning images jumping out of the music, which urged me to discuss with Zac the concept of a show pairing Gordon’s pieces with large-scale projection; the idea just grew from there. Around the same time, I saw a show that Michael, our projection designer was working on at Dancehouse. I was really inspired by his work. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when he was able to join the team.

I’m very happy to say that the biggest lesson I l have learnt from producing Silver Rain is the power of working with people who you really connect with. Everyone in the team is not only phenomenal at what they do but are an absolute joy to share the creative process with. We all take what we do seriously and share a lot of respect for one another but can have a laugh in the rehearsal room, too.

Your company, Release Creative, was born out of the combined skills of you and your business partner, Zac Tyler, and your passion for creating new works. How important is it for artists to be making their own opportunities to have their work heard - whether they are composers, visual artists, performers, etc. - and how do you recommend young artists get started?

Zac and I are passionate about this topic and I think it’s tremendously important for young or emerging artists to be creating work and initiating their opportunities.

Advice to get started? Here’s my three-step guide:

1) Go out and see work.

Not just works within your own genre – see comedy, dance, cabaret, straight plays, go to art galleries – you never know where the next light bulb moment might hit you! It gives you a chance to think about what you like and don’t like when you experience live performance and this will ultimately help inform your own creative voice. Plus, you’re supporting the arts! Win-win!

2) Ask questions.

Don’t be scared to admit that you don’t know everything and to ask questions of people who have more experience than you in certain areas. Sometimes the questions can seem limitless and crippling but there’s always someone or something that can shed light on a subject that may not be your area of expertise. Personally, I research a lot. I go to books, blogs and peers to find answers to things I don’t yet feel I have the confidence to tackle on my own. I also have a great professional mentor in Tim Stitz (Creative Director and CEO at Chamber Made Opera). He’s someone I know I can always go to with questions or ask advice and it allows me to go into certain situations with a different kind of posture because I’ve aired out concerns that I’ve had with someone I trust and respect. If there’s someone in the industry that particularly inspires you, tell them, and invite them out for a coffee. More often than not, you’ll find that they will be happy to give you some of their time and share advice with you if you ask them in a humble and respectful manner.

3) Just do it!

Seek out collaborative relationships with peers, take the plunge and book the venue, put the grant application in - whatever it takes to get the project rolling. The rest is trial, error and ultimately experience.

You are not only a producer, but a featured performer in Silver Rain as well. How does your performative background inform your production style, and vice versa?

Zac and I have both worked as performers and that does help inform how we approach the creation of new work and end up producing it through Release Creative. First and foremost, we talk about the essence of the project and what we want it to achieve – what makes it fascinating and thought provoking? We synchronously discuss the concepts from a producing perspective, where we think we could present the works, what kind of audience it would appeal to, if it’s possible from a financial perspective, and who we could partner with to make the project a reality. So I guess you could say the two worlds of performing and producing co-exist whenever we create work through Release Creative.

Having a portfolio career in the performing arts is becoming, if it is not already, one of the most efficient and popular ways to make a living in the industry. Can you tell me about your portfolio career, and what advice you have to young performers looking to diversify their skills?

I have a business degree majoring in marketing so I suppose that has informed how I have approached my creative career on a more practical level. I also spent the last few years working as Company Manager for contemporary dance company, KAGE (tickets to OUT OF EARSHOT on sale now). So having done that, as well as with my own producing and performing projects, means I often have people asking me what I will eventually give up to prioritise one thing in particular – performing, producing or running a company. However, I see all of these things now being inextricably linked to one another. An interdisciplinary career is very much the type of career that interests me. Any given week I could be a performer, producer, company manager, marketer or tour manager and I love that! For a performer with a portfolio career, I think the benefits are two-fold. First, having more than one string to your bow gives you perspective and makes you even more aware of the fact that your identity and worth isn’t defined by your last performance. Secondly, it means you are able to think of your own creative output as a viable business, something you - not the industry - have ultimate control over. It puts the performer behind the wheel and gives them the capacity to diversify income streams without feeling reliant on and wedded to one particular segment of the sector.

How has your background as a dancer informed your professional career as an opera singer?

On stage, I think it’s made me quite aware of my body and the bodies of the people with whom I am sharing the stage. I think it’s also taught me a lot about discipline. For instance, in a ballet class, there’s no talking. When a choreographer is in the room you always have one eye on them just in case they are ready to give you new steps or direction. I think this has very much informed what I am like in the rehearsal room and on stage. I tend to have one eye on the director or musical director and rehearsals are not a time to catch up with friends. It may sound rather cold but there is a job to be done and I do take that very seriously in the same way dancers do when they are taking professional classes or preparing for a production.

Between running your own company and running your own freelance practice, you must have had to develop a whole lot of business skills! What are some of the most important things you’ve learnt about working in the industry that aren’t to do with performance technique or the art of singing?

At the risk of making a really bad marketing joke... let's call it the three P’s: Professionalism, Priorities and Planning.

The value of professionalism is a big one and it definitely is a skill - please acquire it! Be on time, be prepared, treat your colleagues with respect – nothing we don’t all know how to do but it's surprising how many people don't do these little things that do have a very big impact on your overall 'brand'.

From a very practical perspective, I think ascertaining what your priorities are for certain projects is really important. Where does the real value lie? For instance, some projects may make a profit, some may make a loss but the currency doesn’t always have to be financial. For example, if you're performing a work to a community that wouldn’t usually have access to the arts, the currency would be accessibility and outreach. At the end of the day, as long as your financial forecasting is realistic and you end up being able to make a living from what you do, the rest can be worked out on a case-by-case basis.

Finally, the positive impact of effective planning cannot be underestimated! Every few months I sit down and put together a fairly detailed plan of what I want the next 12-18 months to look like for me as a performer and for Release Creative as a company. I then set smaller goals and this allows me to look quite seriously at what is possible from a pragmatic perspective. In saying that, I remember one of my business lecturers saying that arguably the most important thing to do in business is to create a viable business plan. The next most important thing to do? Be prepared to throw it out the window when things change because change is inevitable. Plan for what you can plan for, and embrace opportunity and change as it presents itself.

In Conversation: Oliver Mann

There's always a mixture of excitement and torture to do with the anxiety about whether it’s going to come off, but putting on this concert is a choice that I made: I had other things that I could do, but I have wanted to do these cantatas for about a year and a half. In the end, it was a matter of if not now, then when?

On eclectic programming

I listen eclectically, and while I rarely use it, I love the idea of "shuffle". As consumers of music, we have the choice to hand over our listening decisions to algorithms and listen randomly. I’ve always loved eclectic programming, and the idea that you can, in a sense, listen to things and watch things that contrast, but find a truth or common thread throughout the entire program. Genre, taste, and other associations become irrelevant, and it becomes about the energy of the works. I love the idea of people trying to communicate an idea, then boiling music down to its very core fibre and trying to find a common truth in it that makes it accessible to everyone.

On career development

The voice that I’ve been given physically has lent itself to classical music, and so the original music that I write has gone hand in hand with me developing a living out of singing. I grew up singing in a choir, my career has developed what I sing and where I sing it - and the context in which I sing has come about as a matter of necessity. Through that combination of wanting to sing and needing to make money, I’ve sung a lot in choirs and churches, as well as performing with the Opera Australia Schools tour. Singing a lot for primary school kids has been absolute heaven, and then to be able to write and perform my own stuff in clubs has been a fascinating alternative. The audiences that are the best are the ones where the people there want or need what you’re doing. Kids want to be affected and quite often it’s the same with churches. People want to be moved and elevated, which is why music making can be so joyful on both sides.

On the logistics of concert planning

I sing a lot of Bach cantatas, and I see a lot of these musicians coming through programs like the one at St Johns Southgate. I touch base with the people I see every week, and ask them how they're going and what their news is, and then they tune to 415 and bring out their weird and wonderful instruments, and we get stuck into work. When I decided to get this project going, I just got on the phone with those musicians that I work with frequently and said I’m doing a cantata, and they said great, let’s do it! As far as Mick goes, I used slightly different language: "I’m putting together a bill, would you like to play a set?" Quite often he does a 40 minute set with loop pedals creating big lush soundscapes, but here it'll be a lot more raw. We're not trying to create a fusion between the genres, we’re just contrasting and juxtaposing. We’re also having Alan Brough introduce the music - he’s very funny and lovely and a dear friend, and he’s going to put people in a comfy space. He's not going to talk about the complexities of the music, but instead just chat and make people feel happy and comfortable. It’ll be a lovely evening!

On finding a space

That is certainly another big thing: taking this music out of a sacred context. It is an important thing for me to get out of that environment, and present it in a contemporary secular setting. I love the idea of consuming music in such a modern way. People now have a choice, like we spoke about before: you can subscribe to Spotify premium, and then flick to whatever you want at the drop of a hat. You can listen to music everywhere, it has become completely ubiquitous. People can now come to a concert in a factory in Brunswick - you don’t have to go to a church in the suburbs to hear it. And this music really does deserve the same audience, and it deserves contrast.

On context of sacred works in a modern space

We live in an age where it’s hard to find a space of peace. We are compelled to touch and investigate and Google and check our mobile phones. We’re addicted to updates and news jolts, and as a result, we're getting information all the time. I was lucky in that I was maybe 18 or 19 when I had my first email address, so I haven't had the experience that people in their early 20s have now, where they've never experienced a time without being so connected. It’s conducive to anxiety and stress, but it’s subliminal, and you only realise how peaceful it is when you turn off your phone. These cantatas are about finding a happiness in death, and while that thought has no solace for me, I think it can be reread in finding a happiness in disconnect and in quiet.

On broadening your listening

Listening widely is really important because you get to see what will move you - and sometimes it's not anywhere near what you'd imagine. Some friends and I are part of an album club, where every fortnight we get together and listen to an album that none of us have heard before from start to finish without talking (if you talk you get banished). How can that kind of engagement with new music not inform your performance practice? It not only informs you as a practising musician on a technical level but it also affects your desire to communicate. That’s one of the things that baffles me about tertiary institutionalised music learning - you go through the classical music treadmill and come out at the other end with amazing skills, but you have no idea how creative you are! If you're a piano student, you’re not just good for the Chopin, you’re good for so many other things. If singers with this amazing facility sat down and come up with their own ideas, the industry could be so much wider. I'm always blown away with the facility of musicians who go through the tertiary process, and if they don’t get one of the finite amount of gigs available they lose confidence and move in a different direction. You don't need to!

On making a profit

Emotional support is really important, and financial support is almost even more so. You have to be prepared to diversify and be creative with the way you approach your discipline: expand on it, and push boundaries! It's important to be your own judge. We’re often told by someone else that we’re good enough or not good enough, but that's one person's opinion, and if you are invested, it shouldn't be enough to push you away. It’s about being versatile and saying "okay, I have this skill, I’ve aspired to this thing (for example, being a principal artist with an opera company) since I was 17 years old, but I didn’t get accepted", then figuring out your next step. You don’t need to give up. You have a huge amount of skills, so put together something new. If you don’t find the answers right away you might want to throw your hands up in the air and do something entirely different, and while it’s a matter of persevering and being passionate, it’s also a matter of being creative at how you can best use your skills. Failure can equal skill expansion if you allow yourself to think that way. Keep going.

Musical Partners: Lotte Betts-Dean and Joseph Havlat

Rehearsal Magazine: Can you tell me a little about what Messiaen's Harawi means to you, and why you decided to perform it?

Lotte Betts-Dean: We first performed a section of the work in Feb 2015 as part of a recital at the Royal Academy of Music that also included the Judith Weir we will be performing in Melbourne, Songs from the Exotic, and a beautiful Swedish song cycle by Sigurd Von Koch, Exotiska Sånger. It's a piece I had been wanting to perform, as I've always been a huge fan of Messiaen and have performed some of his songs before from Poemes Pour Mì. When we started working on Harawi we instantly fell in love with the piece and knew we wanted to eventually perform the whole piece.

Joseph Havlat: I've always been a big fan of Messiaen, but my first proper introduction came through my teacher Joanna MacGregor, with whom I worked on his 'Oiseaux Exotiques' back in 2013. I admit I was not very familiar with Harawi until Lotte suggested it - I think I had listened to it maybe once. Looking through it myself though it proved to be just as satisfying to play as his solo and concertante works. I'm basically just a sucker for thick, lush harmonies so it's right up my street. I like working on big, multi-movement pieces like this too, as it allows the span of the emotional journey to be greater and requires a lot of thought into its architecture and pacing.

RM: How did the work initially come to your attention for that 2015 recital?

LBD: It's a piece I had been interested in learning for quite a few years after stumbling upon it while researching repertoire back when I was an undergrad at Melbourne Uni. When we were offered this recital at the Academy I knew it would be a perfect choice. I had just met Joseph and was wildly impressed with his playing - especially of contemporary repertoire - and this is certainly the type of song cycle that requires a very skilled pianist. It's an incredibly virtuosic and challenging part and I had felt I had found someone with whom I would feel confident attempting it with.

RM: Absolutely! A piece like this must require a lot of trust between the pianist and the singer. I read that the work is staggeringly difficult for both performers. Can you tell me about some of the challenges it presents?

LBD: I love singing music that challenges me, both vocally and extra-vocally. This piece certainly pushes both singer and pianist and the prospect of getting it under my belt was really thrilling to me. When I met Joe I knew I had found someone I could trust with this piece- he is supremely gifted and confident, yet also surprisingly relaxed in his playing, which certainly puts the singer at ease when tackling this sort of music. Rhythmically it's extraordinarily challenging and relentless in parts, and as is typical of Messiaen, it certainly isn't a walk in the park melodically either. Some of the material is repeated and recycled in the work which makes our task a little easier, but I would say it is probably the hardest piece I've sung to date.

JH: A piece like this does indeed require a lot of trust. The indivudal rhythmic and melodic intricacies within both the voice and piano mean that a successful performance requires complete understanding of the other's part. There are no time signatures, and each bar is often a different length to the previous, so you've got to make sure that you are both feeling the same pulse, even if that is also changing frequently as well. Messiaen can be somewhat easier to perform than other contemporary music in that it is still mostly based on scales (albeit ones Messiaen has himself developed), so there is still a harmonic system that you can instinctively latch on to when thinking about phrasing, colour or even just pitching notes - it is not completely atonal. Pianistically, there are numerous technical difficulties, mainly stemming from the fact that the music is not written to naturally fit under the fingers. It's often awkward and thick, meaning there's a lot of work to be done to even play the notes in the first place, but then to properly voice each chord etc. Messiaen also likes his imitation as well, and there's frequent birdsong which appears everywhere in his works, but also directions to imitate other instruments - bass clarinet, french horn, bells etc. All this is the same for much contemporary music, but this is part of why I enjoy doing it so much. It's like putting together a difficult jigsaw puzzle.

RM: Can you tell me a bit about the collaborative process of putting this work together? What does a standard rehearsal look like for you at the moment, and how much of the work has been done away from your instruments?

LBD: Often I will do a lot of the "homework" on my own prior to the initial rehearsals, but with this piece it was different. We learnt it together, in a way. Of course there is the initial process of learning the notes- Joe was incredibly helpful (and patient!) while I polished the more difficult phrases and intervals. As we became more familiar with the piece the rehearsal process became surprisingly easy- it is very melodic in parts, and idiosyncratic to Messiaen's style, so it became more about repeating it in chunks to the point where we felt comfortable.

JH: I did a lot of work on my own simply learning notes, it's not the kind of piece you can start at the first rehearsal with no prior preparation. We'd go through song by song, only really working on the parts where we are together (there are lots of sections that are just solo piano). The method of rehearsal would change depending on the song, but usually, we would try and get it all together at once (melody + rhythm + harmony), as that was the best way to find out what didn't work, and from there build up from rhythm, adding melody and then harmony. Once we were confident in the notes themselves, we went back and thought about the structure and phrase, and see if anything needed changing from what we did instinctively. I guess the first couple of rehearsals were mostly spent on the gritty note-bashing stuff until we had that down, and then it became a little more musical and thoughtful. We learnt the first half of the piece first because we only performed that in our original recital, which turned out to be a good thing as it allowed us to internalise the first 6 songs. Coming back to it about a year later we've found it's all still there which is very reassuring.

Did approaching this piece differently by working on it together from the start change the way you were able to approach things like making musical decisions about phrasing and emphasis?

JH: Approaching the piece together is good; I like working that way because nobody feels like they're 'catching up' and it allows us both to still be flexible, which is definitely a requirement in a piece like this. On the first play through, listening to how Lotte sings a phrase, or where she breathes, or the tonal colour she uses is a great second opinion on how a song functions and is structured. The text is so unusual and imaginative that it frequently completely altered much of my view of the piano part once I'd heard them together.

What is your advice for producing and programming concerts for young performers? Is there anything you've learnt having put on your own solo recitals, as well as your performances with Ensemble x.y?

JH: Variety is what you need when programming, especially when you're working with new music. You need to keep the audience and indeed the performers on their toes. I find a theme always works well when thinking of what pieces to put together - it can be as broad or specific as you want - but you still want to have pieces linked together in some way, no matter how different they may be aurally or conceptually. For example, we recently had an x.y concert centred around the Fluxus movement stemming from John Cage, which involved a lot of theatrical music, improvisation and performance art. Before that, we've had a concert centred around chamber music that has 3 clarinets in them (because we had 3 clarinets available). I had a solo concert last year centred around folk music, where I played music by Hungarian and Czech composers that were based on folk melodies or dances, and then ended with a piece I'd written myself based on Hungarian folk melodies. I find it good to write down any programming ideas I get, whether it's thinking of two or more pieces that I think might complement each other or a theme for a programme etc.

In Conversation: Stewart Kelly

What do you see as the role of The Talent, in terms of encouraging and mentoring the upcoming solo performers around Australia?

Any opportunity for young musicians to perform is something to support and encourage. So much is learnt about a piece and your level of understanding of it, not to mention the fact that the way you react under pressure in one ten minute performance can teach you so much more that that which could be gleaned from many hours of practice. Up and coming musicians need the chance to be heard in public as much as possible, and need the chance to receive feedback from more experienced performers. The Talent does this in a special way through the medium of live radio which poses its own challenges and provides a very different but still high-pressure performance environment. The Talent helps give exposure to these promising talents while allowing them to learn and develop their playing.

Finding mentoring and advice on your playing and career is important for the entirety of your life as a musician, but completely integral in the early days: what should young musicians be looking for in terms of mentors or teachers?

I believe the most important thing is working with someone who possesses the skills to build you up both technically and psychologically. This doesn't mean someone who is endlessly positive or overly nice necessarily, but someone who understands the way you tick and understands what is required to execute at the instrument themselves. If you are wanting to be a performer, look for someone who's playing what you love and then see if you click with their manner of passing on their knowledge. Through my own studies, I've found that my best teachers were those who weren't prodigies or unusually gifted themselves. I've had one or two teachers who would fall into that category and they often struggled to explain what they were doing and sometimes even struggled to understand why I was having trouble with a certain passage or concept. Look for someone who has obtained a mastery through hard work and a true understanding of what they are doing and you will find it much easier to extract useful information from them.

Aside from required performance classes and examination recitals, it can be hard to find the opportunity to perform for an audience as a young musician. What are some of the options available to developing performers, and how important is the ability to create your own opportunities to be heard?

It's essential these days to create your own opportunities. And its never been easier! Get your phone and record something and put it online and you are on your way to finding an audience for your work. Park your ego somewhere and be prepared to do anything in your early years. Offer to go and play for nursing homes or small music clubs. Seek out eisteddfods and other competitions which can be a great chance to play in public. Contact a church or other venue and offer to perform if they will offer their space and assist in bringing an audience. The road is hard and relentless but potentially endlessly rewarding if you work hard enough.

What is different about performing on radio compared to a life performance? What should musicians new to performing live on-air be aware of?

Radio performance can be a very sterile experience. You are in this very acoustically dry studio, are given the signal and then have to play without any sense of audience energy or feedback. It can feel like a soulless environment and a rather unforgiving one. That said, it can also be very liberating, feeling like you are alone in this silent space that allows you to surrender entirely to your thoughts. Summoning the adrenaline to perform can sometimes be a little trickier. When Arthur Schnabel became the first person to record the Beethoven sonatas, he apparently insisted the record company pre sell the albums and he then kept a copy of all the names of people who had ordered on the piano during the recording process to feel like he had an audience. I love that story! In terms of a young performer approaching radio performance for the first time: remember that the crew around you are your best friends who only want to help make you sound better on air. Trust the crew that they know what to do to make you sound your best. Never forget you're surrounded by microphones and one small accident could have you unknowingly on air so always be professional and don't say anything around a microphone that you don't want the world to hear.

And the scarier bit - talking after your performance! What advice do you have for people who have never spoken live on air before?

Be yourself! It's amazing how any fakeness about you is immediately perceptible to the audience. You must be natural and just chat like you would with a group of friends. In a setting like this there aren't likely to be any trick questions or things you shouldn't know so there is no need to stress. In the particular context of The Talent, an important thing to remember is that even if you were unhappy with how you performed, it almost certainly came across better to the panel and audience so you must put those thoughts aside and leave any negativity at the door when you enter the studio so you can maintain a bright and friendly demeanour on air.

For the people listening from home, what can you take away from tuning into an episode of The Talent, even if you weren't performing in it yourself?

I think people who love music always find the deconstruction and constructive criticism of it interesting and educational. Certainly students can learn a great deal about their own instrument and repertoire but music lovers can perhaps be opened up to new genres of repertoire and ways of thinking about interpretation. One thing I often find interesting is that well read music lovers who are not trained musicians often have very finely honed ears and can identify very quickly what is really good playing and what doesn't grab them as much but often don't have the language to express why they react in this way. Hearing professionals criticise the performers can often provide revelations as to why they think the way they do about something. Of course there can also be fantastic opportunities for listeners to disagree strongly with what we as panelists thought! Occasionally there will be a great disagreement between the panelists too and that certainly makes interesting radio!

As a performer yourself, what advice do you have for the young musicians starting their performance journey?

Be prepared to fight for what you want and know that to really master what you are doing will take years and many countless hours of blood, sweat and tears. Know that there will be many, many days of disappointment and that they are the most important days in shaping who you finish up as. And know that what you are doing is important, special work that has the ability to transform lives. The world more than ever needs those whose preoccupation is on creating meaning and beautiful things...so get to it!

In Conversation: Shunske Sato

When did you first become interested in historical performance practice and what sparked your interest?

In hindsight, I see that the seeds were sown quite early on. My mother being a pianist and my father a music-lover, we had quite a collection of recordings at home, some of them on period instruments. I remember picking up on distinct and unusual sounds of these recordings, especially since my immediate surroundings at the time - living in Philadelphia and studying at Juilliard in New York - was pretty much completely absent of historically informed performers and performances. That all changed when I moved to Paris at age 19: concerts of first-class baroque musicians were suddenly within reach, luthiers selling baroque instruments a dime a dozen. I went for it full-throttle, and before long I was happily neck-deep in everything baroque. On the other hand, my interest for historical performance practices of later periods (19th century in particular) has its roots, once again, in childhood. Historical, pre-war recordings were part of my listening repertoire from an early age - for instance, for my 12th birthday, my parents gifted me a set of of Jascha Heifetz’s complete recordings, and I remember very well obsessing over his early recordings in particular. My following birthday was met with a similar CD set, but this time of Fritz Kreisler. Rachmaninoff’s recordings of his own concertos were very familiar to me, thanks to my mother. Never too early to start!

The Netherlands Bach Society – of which you are concertmaster – is currently undertaking the formidable project of recording all of Johann Sebastian Bach’s 1080 works. Can you tell us more about the project and what the experience has been like for you so far?

The project was launched in 2013 with the premise that all the video recordings would be done as live concerts, and that these recordings would be made available online, for everyone for absolutely free. Every Friday a new BWV number (an opus number of sorts for Bach) is released on the project’s website AllofBach.com - sometimes a cantata, other times an short invention for harpsichord. For us at the Bach Society it’s been an incredible privilege to do this, to have the sponsors behind us, the audiences around the world, and to dedicate our lives to Johann Sebastian. It is simply beyond me how every single work by him is so different from the next, yet unmistakably his, and always of the highest quality - and that, under extraordinary, constant professional and familial pressure! On a personal level, since these recordings are done live, it has toughened my skin considerably - it has trained my concentration levels to stay high during performances, but also it has taught me to let loose and let go, even under the threatening gaze of microphones and cameras. And listening to one’s own playing so often is the best kick in the pants one can get - it’s embarrassing and painful and informative and motivational like nothing else.

You have a young family. How do you balance your family life with your professional life, and what advice can you give our readers, many of whom are starting their professional careers, on achieving a healthy work/life balance?

In all honesty I am not sure if I have found that balance myself! Family is irreplaceable, work is enriching, and of course I want both; enter the art of prioritising. I try, wherever possible, to only accept work which I truly want to do, whatever the reasons might be. Perhaps it’s because it offers an opportunity to do something I’ve never done before, or the people involved, or even the location of the concert. Whatever it is, It has to fire me up - anything else is not worth it. Time is limited, and financial or career gain is not reason enough to deprive myself of family, a good book, time for self-improvement, or even some leisurely practicing. I see too many colleagues who fill their calendars beyond capacity, who come from and go to projects, uninspired and ghost-like. By removing the less-than-ideal obligations, one creates room for better things. And these better things will come - always.

What advice would you give to young musicians who are interested in historical performance practice but don’t know where to start?

Be obsessed! An obsession for early Italian baroque, or Schumann...whatever it is, it has to haunt you a bit, so that you will listen, read and furiously seek out till you’re satisfied. And one thing will lead to another: a keen interest in Bach will inevitably lead to the music of Buxtehude or Couperin, or what kind of political or aesthetical climate it was written in, even the technology used to make the instruments themselves… It blooms into something that goes far beyond the music itself, and that’s what I find makes it so wonderful and worthwhile. Also very important: keep doubting. Don’t just copy your teachers or role models, but keep revisiting the primary sources and forming your own ideas. Certainly where HIP is concerned, we must not forget that we are working with very good guesses, at best. It should keep us investigating and reinventing. John Cage put it beautifully: “consider everything an experiment.” Inertia in art is fatal.

You recently toured with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra playing Paganini’s fourth violin concerto, a piece that many people have not heard played on gut strings before! Do you think perceptions of historical performance practice are changing to become more inclusive of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century music? What do you see as the future of historical performance practice?

The perceptions of 19th- and 20th-century performance practice has been a slightly slower one, and I think the reasons are both “cultural” and, alas, financial and logistical. Cultural, because for whatever reason the 19th century repertoire is still a touch too familiar, too “close” for many of us to completely revise and revamp, and dare to perform in a drastically different way. Quite paradoxically, there is more direct information available in regards 19th-century performance practice, but less willingness to experiment; the reverse, it appears to me, is true for earlier repertoire. Perhaps there’s a more comfortable time-distance when it comes to pre-Classical era music. The other issue, the financial and logistical one, is much more mundane: 19th-century repertoire often demands larger forces, larger pianos that are costly to transport, instruments that need to be specially built, and understandably many musicians or concert organisers are unable to invest so much. I do feel however in a very palpable way that attitudes, even within the past 5 years or so, have become much more open, and that we are daring to do challenge long-established ways of going about a Schubert or a Brahms. And keeping things in perspective: in 50 years, we too will have become a piece of history in historical performance practice, “in the first quarter of the 21st-century they used to do X, Y and Z…"

Making a Festival: Paul Stuart

How to run a festival, with Musica Viva Director of Sales and Marketing, Paul Stuart.

In the lead up to the Musica Viva Festival, what are your main responsibilities?

I lead a fantastic team of marketing professionals who deliver the marketing and promotional campaign for the festival. Each person has a part to play and I’m the captain at the head of the ship and I guess my main role is to set the destination, ensure we stay on course, and avoid the icebergs!

What was the process for producing the print and online marketing campaign we've seen about the festival? How far in advance did the artwork have to be made and ready?

The marketing campaign for the festival launched last August, at the same time as our International Concert Season (ICS) and Coffee Concerts series but the development of the creative campaign started in February. We use an external design agency who develops the creative in answer to a brief which is jointly prepared by the marketing and artistic teams. As the festival forms part of our Concerts activity, it’s important that the look-and-feel aligns with the ICS and Coffee Concerts creative as we’re in the market at the same time, speaking to many of the same customers.

What are the main priorities of the festival marketing?

Selling tickets really is the main priority as so much of the festival income is drawn from ticket sales and subscriptions. All marketing activity needs to have a pay-off, but that pay-off doesn’t always need to be direct. For instance, PR and media coverage is very important in building awareness of the festival which can have an impact on ticket sales but more broadly raises awareness of Musica Viva as an organisation. And whilst ticket revenue is important, we also need to sell the right tickets to the right people, which is why we offer heavily discounted student and Under30 tickets to encourage younger people to attend, which is important in terms of audience development. Increasingly for us, and many other performing arts organisations I’d say, developing a deeper engagement with our audience is becoming more of a priority so we also invest considerable resources into creating video content to give both current and new customers insights into the featured musicians, composers and repertoire.

How important is social media in getting your messages out to a broader public, and are your priorities different on online platforms compared to traditional media?

Social media is very important and the percentage of our marketing budget spent on paid social media is growing each year. We have quite active social media communities and the main platforms we use are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with Vimeo as our main video channel. For the festival, we use a mix of paid and organic methods in the lead-up and then during the festival we encourage our patrons, staff and artists to engage with us and each other across our social platforms which is a great way of generating buzz and excitement around the festival.

For young performers hoping to draw attention to their upcoming concerts, what advice do you have in regards to content creation and marketing?

Digital content is a great way to promote yourself and your work and it’s so cheap to produce with the advent of smartphone cameras and desktop editing software. It’s also very easy to disseminate through social media. Just make sure the content is original, tailored to the platform and short. As far as other marketing tips for a young concert promoter? Avoid traditional media and mass marketing and focus on building online and offline communities of fellow classical music fans.

Aside from your work on the festival, what does a normal day look like for you as the Director of Sales and Marketing?

I know everyone says this but each day really is different – apart from coffee which is my constant companion. The time of year also dictates where my focus will be. At the moment the big focus is the festival but also the upcoming concert tour of Angela Hewitt, as well as preparations for the launch of our 2018 concert and education seasons, both of which will launch later this year. I have quite a large team so a chunk of my time is spent in one-on-one or small group catch-ups and as part of the senior management team at Musica Viva, I also get involved in bigger organisational matters.

Making a Festival: Carl Vine

The Musica Viva Festival is almost upon us! What has your role been in the process of putting it together as the Artistic Director?

It is my job to choose all the artists and repertoire across the six main festival concerts, which sit at the heart of the four days. The process of picking the artists and the pieces they will be playing has been the result of two years of work - actually, possibly more, considering that we are already planning the 2019 festival! It’s absolutely terrific when it all comes together. I have used the same four pillars of chamber music programming that I use throughout all my Musica Viva concert programs - quality, diversity, challenge, and joy. I devised the strategy about fifteen years ago, with the idea that it would help me show chamber music as a pinnacle of human achievement. People were forgetting about the magic of chamber music, and that is what I wanted to capture.

Tell me about the work you do as Artistic Director outside of the Festival, and how that helps you plan for the four-day celebration of chamber music?

I work on the two main Musica Viva series’ - the International Concert Series and the Coffee Concerts, as well as the two festivals we run: the Huntington Estate Music Festival and the Musica Viva Festival. The distinction of having a touring ensemble like the ones in the International Concert Series is that you have a limited amount of time and repertoire choice, so over the four days I can be a little more experimental: putting together different soloists so to widen the pool of musical possibilities. This festival has a high concentration of musicians over a small period of time, featuring about 40 young artists and 25 established musicians including international performers, so an enormous range of repertoire becomes available. This is helpful because people that go to festivals want to be surprised on every level, so it’s important to make choices of repertoire as diverse as possible. Every work that you’ll hear this week has been chosen with the greatest amount of care.

What are the first steps in programming a festival?

You absolutely have to choose the marquee artists first, because that takes the longest. Every different kind of event you program for has a different timetable, and for festivals, artists usually have to be booked four years in advance - particularly if you’re getting players from overseas. We have some amazing local and international soloists and ensembles, and once I have an indication that the performers are in, I look at putting them together. The Elias Quartet and the Goldner Quartet will be working together, as will Amy Dickson and Elias, etc. It’s about creating experiences - and that is the most extraordinary thing I can do. Every concert has to be a voyage for the audience.

What have you learnt about programming through your work as a composer?

As a composer, I’ve had to consider what makes a good concert experience my entire life. When my pieces were programmed in concerts, they’d be put somewhere specific - perhaps last in the first half, or first in the second, and I’d think about the effect of that choice. The dynamics of concert presentation is really important when you’re curating a festival. It’s completely different programming for the touring International Concert Series because a pre-existing ensemble brings their own dynamic with them, and that’s what you see during the performance: them using that dynamic during the program. With this festival, I get to design the whole audience experience, from start to finish: in terms of the entire four days as well as the individual concerts. I generally approach programming in a similar way to how I approach composition - you need a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s about storytelling and creating a journey for your audience. You want everyone to have a sense of having had a complete experience.

Do you have advice for young performers beginning to curate their own programs?

Of course, rules are meant to be broken, but generally, it is good to start with a smaller work and finish with a larger work, or going the other way - beginning with something grand then following it with something smaller immediately after. It’s about balance. You want a sense of contrast so you keep your audience surprised and engaged. It’s actually hard to make a program fall over, but I do generally like to start off with something reflective and finish it off with something energetic. You have to think about the emotional journey of your audience. That means the shape of each individual work as well as where it fits within the larger program. Ask yourself, what works either side of this work? What is the concert going to make your audience feel? Try and take a long distance view of your program, and consider how you’ll feel at the end of the concert.

Music Business 101: The Media

Seeing your name in the proverbial lights by Sascha Kelly.

Firstly, you are putting on a concert, so you are achieving more than most people.

I find a really straightforward way to start interacting with all media is to identify your motive first. Answer your own questions - why are you putting on this concert? Are you working with people that you admire? Is it the repertoire? Is it a world premiere? Have you arranged something from scratch? Is it something you’ve commissioned?

Whatever these answers are, this is the basis for your ‘elevator pitch’ when talking to media. This is your sales pitch. A common statement I hear is, ‘I’m no good at selling myself’. Well, you're not doing that. You need to sell the same reason you’ve committed to doing the concert.

So, where does this audience come from? Low hanging fruit first. Write a list of everyone who has ever asked you about your career. Your doctor, your barista, your elderly aunt, your friends at your local community radio station, your grandmother’s friends, your dog walker, your piano tuner. You spend your valuable time in the practise room, so you deserve to spend a fraction of your time asking people to listen to you. Write a personalised email to everyone in this list, or print out a handmade flyer with all the details of the concert. Give it to these individuals, and use the same format when approaching press (we’ll talk about it in a moment).

At the end of the day, we are all too comfortable fobbing each other off, but when was the last time someone said to you ‘I really want you to be there.’ I always think about it from the audience's’ perspective. They will be sacrificing at least two hours of their time (driving there, sitting through the concert, driving home... sometimes even getting a babysitter). The least you can do is invest five minutes individualising the ask. Invest in your audience, and you’ll always have one.

It’s the same (if not worse) for press - even community and volunteer positions! So how do you approach them? First, write a list of media outlets who might be interested in covering your concert. Think broadly, and don’t be afraid to stalk to steal ideas! (It’s what social media was invented for).

Here’s my list:

Community Radio: 3MBS Fine Music Melbourne, Triple R, PBS, SYN, Joy FM.

Online Magazines: Rehearsal Magazine, Limelight Magazine, I Care If You Listen, CutCommon.

Print Media (it still exists!): The Leader papers, Warcry Magazine (it’s national, but they could be interested), The Age (they have an arts section - and it needs copy!) The Herald Sun, Time Out.

Free arts noticeboards - they are surprisingly effective... and free.

So you’ve created your hit list. The next step is to go out and get em! As a prior colleague of mine used to say: spray and pray! If you get a 10% success rate of people picking up your story, you’ve done really well.

When contacting companies - pick up the phone. Most people email, and although the phone is an outdated piece of technology, it’s amazing how connected people feel to someone they’ve spoken to. If you pick up the phone, you’ll be ahead of the pack. (A handy hint - I still script my phone calls. They make me anxious, and it’s just what I have to do to get through them.) I always prioritise phone calls over emails, it’s just the way it goes.

Start seeing this as a long-term project, and start a spreadsheet. Keep track of who you’ve contacted. They might not say yes this time, but maybe next concert. As a presenter, I often keep track of people who’ve reached out for an interview, especially if we’ve had to knock them back. You are always curious if you’ve missed the ‘next big thing’.

So you’ve got an interview? Practise, practise, practise. Go back to those initial thoughts of why you’ve put on this concert, and write down the clear reasons for Why, What, Who, When, and How. Buy a friend coffee and ask them to ask you questions, and practise answering them clearly, and concisely. Don’t have any friends? Sorry. Watch Breakfast TV and try to answer the questions they ask the guests. Sadly, most interviewees aren’t Leigh Sales (though we try). Listen to the radio, or if you are especially clever, listen to previous episodes or articles written by your interviewer.

Then the rest is just good behaviour. Be on time. Radio is my performance, and I do get really nervous. A guest turning up late is my equivalent of a performer turning up after the piece starts (even though they only come in at bar 354). Yeah, it still works, but it’s not great and I’m in a bad mood.

Be prepared to be flexible. You might be fascinated by the relationship of the chord structures in bars 35 and 36, but my audience might be wondering why the cello has two holes that look like an f. Stay true to the mantra, there are no stupid questions! I try to think of an audience like that family member who asks me at Christmas how ‘the whole music thing is going’. Well meaning, and occasionally off the mark, but I need to be friendly so that Mum doesn’t give me side-eye over turkey. No matter how off your questions are, you always come off worse. Cara Delevingne got trapped with this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWQDGTTY6W8&t=185s

Oh, and someone asked me - how do you thank your interviewer? The honest answer is support the work they are doing. A social media share to your friends brings the program to new people and helps build our audience. Otherwise, I could count the number of genuine, ‘thanks for having me’ notes on one hand, so if you do that, you are also in good company.

In Conversation: Mary Jo Capps

With the continued talk surrounding changes to the ABC’s programming and recording services sparking controversy and speculation, we sat down with the CEO of Musica Viva Australia, Mary Jo Capps, to chat about what we can be doing to keep the radio station we love alive.

I’d like to get your current thoughts on the budget cuts and where the ABC is right now. ABC Classic FM is a hugely valuable resource for all people - young people, those in regional areas, people who cannot physically make it to a performance.

There are some really necessary changes in the pipeline, and I do believe that media shouldn’t stand still. The fact that the Classic FM model has worked well for the past 20 years doesn’t give it some inalienable right to continue as is for the next 20 years! It needs to change, but the danger with change is always throwing out the baby with the bathwater. So, you must look very carefully at who is responsible for managing the change, what the consultation process is, and who will be responsible for implementing it. If any of those elements are lacking empathy or lacking a full understanding and canvassing of all the views that may be out there, it will be a flawed outcome. That is our main concern at Musica Viva at the moment: we know how vital it is, especially for regional audiences - they shouldn’t be condemned because they don’t live next door to a major concert hall. There are also a lot of people who simply cannot get to a concert hall: maybe they can’t afford the tickets, maybe they can’t afford the time, maybe they’re not well enough to get out. These are people who also have a right to hear what’s going on.

Why is recording live music still relevant in the age of downloads and pre-prepared playlists?

Of course, you can easily just churn out music in a not particularly relevant, local way, and that is certainly a current trend. You can work on algorithms and play through a Spotify- or Pandora-style playlist, but it is not the same at all. The danger is in looking at a cost sheet and making a judgement call about the fact that it does cost a lot to record the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra doing a performance of a Brahms Symphony. The question then becomes do we really need it, or can we just go into the archives of thousands of recordings? Sophie Galaise made a wonderful comment in that regard and said “well, we can just play the Grand Final from four years ago!” It’s the same game and the same rules, so why not? That’s the sort of understanding required to say there is relevance in having a current interpretation by local performers who can be seen the next week - people can go to the hall, or read about them: they are real people. The danger right now, in change, is that it fails to consider all the important elements of being sufficiently inclusive and sufficiently aware of the impact of local content. We have to be vigilant.

As a student, it’s not always easy to see professional productions even when there are fantastic student deals available, and it’s vital for professional development to be listening to productions and performances, and broadening your own vocabulary around music making.

Absolutely, and it’s also more than just being able to hear the local voice, though that is really important. Radio in all its forms - whether it’s Triple J or Classic FM, any station - my overall concern is that people increasingly want to hear what they already know. It’s this risk aversion that I find worrying and perplexing. People discover new music - not as in contemporary music, but different music to their usual choices - through radio. Radio programs should surprise, and having been a radio producer at one stage of my career, I know how much thought you put into your music selection. You choose carefully what piece follows which, how things link, and where your program is going. It’s that idea of discovery which radio does in a way that downloaded algorithmically-driven music doesn’t – that’s so important, and we can’t lose that.

The curation of programs is so important! I have discovered lots of new-to-me favourites from listening to the radio. What about the recording that ABC Classics does - how important is that in the broader landscape?

It’s the way that young performers first get their go! Even if it’s not broadcast at prime time, it gives the young performer a calling card that they can take elsewhere - it’s been recorded professionally, in ideal circumstances, by people who care about what the sound is like. We’re already finding out how tough it is when you have sound recordists who are used to working with a rock band and don’t know how to approach recording classical music. You can’t record a pop group and a piano sonata in the same way. It’s important to have people with those skills, who have the opportunity to continue exercising their muscles. You must practice. And it’s really important that we’re continuing to make work for recording engineers to maintain their expertise - that’s critical.

There’s a huge flow on effect, isn’t there? You take away the drive home classical music program, and you’re not just taking a job from the presenter, but the whole team behind the program. It upsets the ecosystem!

The other part that I think is really important is that people listening need to stand up and say something. There is this perception that the only people actually listening to classical radio are over-70s, and that’s not true! Disrupt the perceptions. I keep saying to every taxi driver I meet who is playing Classic FM to write in and tell them that people are listening! Send them an email! It’s important that people running radio stations understand that people are using that platform in a number of different ways. There is a belief that people can be pigeonholed, and I think we should always resist. There have never been more people studying classical music, so it must have some attraction! And I would hope that it’s a two-way street - that the next generation coming through are talking about ways in which they would like classical music presented on the radio and in concert halls. It can’t just be “this is the way it is, and it will never change”. The more people speak up about what they’d like to hear, the more they’ll realise that lots of people are listening! We need to reflect the love of this music from listeners, whether they are seventeen or ninety-seven.

It goes to how we program our concerts as well. We’re excited by people who are disrupting the status quo: programming concerts in bars, and engaging popular music alongside classical music. We need to push back. Can you tell me about Musica Viva, and the effect this has on your operations?

A third of our work at Musica Viva is in regional areas, and we know how important that is to our audience members there. They don’t get surveyed, but we know how much they’re listening to Classic FM, compared to the inner city where you might have 55 stations to choose from. That sense of national connection with the regional members brings this issue very much home to us. We are particularly adamant that it remains for the time being on the FM network, rather than digital - which will immediately disenfranchise regional listeners, and keeping up local recordings. We have listeners who can no longer make it to performances, so prior to every concert we send them the program notes and tell them the date of the ABC broadcast, so they feel like they’re there, they feel a sense of connection with the performance and the audience. That has been so appreciated. They’re sitting at home imagining they’re in the concert hall with their friends. We know about the links between music, wellbeing, social connection and mental health, and this is a community of people that we want to keep well.

It’s so special that you have that kind of family feeling, as a nation-wide organisation!

I really think it’s crucial that those who can no longer, or cannot yet physically attend a performance, still have a right to engage with music and with community. That’s incredibly important to all of us at Musica Viva.

In Conversation: Caitlin Vincent

Aside from your work as a librettist, you are a professional opera singer. Can you tell me about how you became involved in the opera world, and how your passion for the written word has inspired your love for the genre?

I’ve been performing since a very early age, but I actually started out in dance rather than music. My mother was a professional dancer who started her own school when I was quite young, so I started studying classical ballet with her at the age of four. It wasn’t until I started performing musical theatre in middle school that I really added music to my life and started studying voice privately. Ironically, my first experience with opera was not a particularly good one: my parents took me to see a minimalist production of Carmen when I was nine, and I was definitely not impressed. Luckily, when I was 16, I had the opportunity to attend several rehearsals for a production of The Ring Cycle at Seattle Opera. It was an amazing experience to get a glimpse from behind-the-scenes, and from that point on, I was fully entranced by the world of opera. As an undergraduate at Harvard, I actually majored History & Literature but continued to study both voice and dance on the side. By the time I was in my fourth year, I had sung lead roles in six operas and directed my first production, all in addition to my regular studies. I think it was this combination of performance and literature that really prepared me for a career as an opera librettist, long before it even occurred to me to pursue that path.

When did you first fall in love with story-telling, and how did this translate into your current work as a librettist?

I can’t think of the specific moment when I first fell in love with story-telling, but I know I’ve been doing it in some way or another for as long as I remember, from writing stories as a small child to narrating whodunit mysteries during childhood bike rides. My father is a writer and was particularly influential on this end. . . he gave me my earliest (and perhaps most important!) training on how to craft a narrative and build believable characters. It wasn’t until I was twenty-four that I wrote my first theatrical work, and even then, it was more a matter of necessity than any sort of artistic impetus. I graduated with my master’s degree at a particularly bad time for opera in America – it was right in the middle of the economic recession, and dozens of opera companies had just declared bankruptcy or already closed, including the local opera company in Baltimore. Instead of waiting for the economy to rebound, I decided to start my own grassroots opera troupe with several of my friends from the Peabody Conservatory. My company, The Figaro Project, ultimately ran for five seasons and presented nine fundraising cabarets and seven mainstage productions, including several world premieres. But in its first season, The Figaro Project had a tiny budget, and we were really limited on where and how we could put on our first production. I decided to present The Marriage of Figaro, but I knew that we couldn’t manage a typical period production or even use super-titles. So, out of necessity, I decided to write a version of the opera designed for a concert setting, replacing sung recits with spoken English dialogue and adding a comedic subplot, in which the librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, suffers from writer’s block. After the success of this first attempt, I wrote another original adaptation, again designed for a non-traditional performance space: a comedic whodunit version of Don Giovanni titled ‘Who Killed Don Giovanni?’ featuring English dialogue and an obnoxious private investigator. The next year, I wrote the libretto for my first full-length opera, Camelot Requiem, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In addition to producing the opera under the auspices of The Figaro Project, I also premiered the role of Jackie Kennedy. At first, my libretto writing was a means to an end, but it soon became a way for me to tell the stories that I wanted to see come to life on stage. From that point on, my work as a librettist really snowballed, and before I knew it, I was watching my operas premiered at the Kennedy Center.

What is your writing process, from deciding on a story to getting the words on paper? Is there a particular technique you engage with when writing operatic “dialogue” as opposed to prose?

I typically follow the same process for every piece, no matter the subject. The first step is always researching. Depending on the topic, this could mean a few hours reading articles on the internet or spending several weeks reading books about a specific historical figure. Once I’ve done enough early research, the next – and most important – step is writing out a detailed outline. The specific details of the outline might change over the course of the writing process, but I rely on this framework from the beginning, just to make sure I know where I’m going. My next step is to sketch out a full draft of the piece by hand. I have a particular pen and a particular kind of paper that I always use for this step, and I just sit down on a cushy chair and write, write, write. It’s one of those things where I emerge from a kind of haze several hours later and have somehow acquired dozens of pages of scrawled-out arias, duets, and trios. The next step is the editing stage, where I type up my handwritten sketch and start the long process of revision. I usually revise individual numbers first, finalizing and polishing the narrower emotional arcs of a single aria or duet. Then, I move on to the larger numbers and then the full scene and finally the full act, constantly revising the narrative arc and making sure the pacing feels right. After I’ve done enough revisions that I’m confident with the pacing of the piece, I usually do one or two final read-through/revision. This is the brutal ‘red-pen’ stage, when I cut out all superfluous language, answer any character questions, and so forth. Then, it’s off to both my father and my husband for quick reads and then I send the draft along to the composer for his or her thoughts. Depending on what they say, I might make some additional revisions, or we’ll shake hands, so to speak, on the finalized draft, and he or she will start setting the text.

In terms of writing operatic ‘dialogue’ versus prose, the primary difference for me comes down to simplicity and length of lines. When a sentence is going to be sung, you have to consider the kinds of timing delays that inevitably come with music. Unless you’re writing a patter aria à la Gilbert & Sullivan, you can pretty much guarantee that anything sung will be substantially slower than it would be if spoken. Plus, the composer might choose to take additional time with certain words, certain notes, or even decide to repeat an entire phrase. So, the longer and more complicated a sentence, the more likely it will have issues of clarity and audience comprehension. As Mark Campbell, one of my mentors and a truly brilliant librettist, once told me: “Never use thirty words when you can use five.” So, for every line I write, I try to find the simplest form, deleting superfluous words, revising and reordering. . . anything that I can do to simplify without losing the meaning that I want.

Do particular stories have more operatic potential? How do you gauge this?

Certain stories definitely have more operatic potential. This doesn’t necessarily mean that an opera has to have a major dramatic event. . . an opera can just be about a group of people sitting in a room and still be amazing. I think the key element comes down to emotional weight and the human element behind the story. If you think about the classic components of opera – internal monologues in aria form, unrealistically long death scenes, massive ensemble numbers where everyone is singing in asides – the emphasis is nearly always emotional, focused on how a character is reacting to an external (or internal) situation. So, let’s say you read about a very dramatic event, such as a hostage situation, and you decide that you want to write an opera about it. The situation isn’t enough for a good opera in itself: it’s simply the background scenario. It gives you the ‘how,’ but it doesn’t give you the ‘who,’ the ‘why,’ or the ‘why do we care.’ You need to add interesting characters with unique motivations (the ‘who’), establish a specific conflict to drive the events of the narrative (the ‘why’), and then find a way to relate your story to modern-day audiences (the ‘why do we care’). Once you have these in place, you have a story with operatic potential.

What effect does your work as a singer with knowledge of how an opera comes together have on your writing. Do you find yourself writing for your own voice, or voices you know?

When I’m writing a libretto, I don’t write for any particular singing voice or even think of specific music. Instead, I write for the personality and inflection of the character that I’m inventing. This can translate into the kind of vocabulary he or she would use, the length of his or her sentences, and the kinds of rhythmic inflections he or she would use, and even just overall style (for example, would an overly-romantic character use particularly florid language?). Beyond considering the personalities of my characters, I also take a lot of care with the rhythm and phrasing for each line to make sure that it will be easy for the composer to set. This often means that I’ll sprechstimme a particular line out loud, just to make sure the phrasing is what I want. If the rhythm or phrasing feels jagged or unnatural, then it won’t set well and definitely won’t be sung well.

Because of my background as a singer and director, I do have a good sense of stage logistics and what does and doesn’t work when it comes to staging a scene. I always include specific stage directions in my libretti, just so the composer and the stage director have a sense of what I was intending when I wrote the text. The stage director may end up deviating from these instructions when the piece goes on stage, but it’s important that he or she understands the original context. I also try to consider the practicality of the piece that I’m writing. Opera companies don’t have unlimited budgets, especially these days, and it’s important to design a libretto that can produced with a budget of $5,000 or a budget of $500,000. Obviously, there are certain stories that need a bit more money for sets and costumes, but as a librettist, it’s important to be cognizant of what you’re writing and how you’re writing it. You might want to write the libretto for an opera on Mars, but if it’s too impractical to be produced, then it doesn’t matter how good it is.

How do you deal with writer’s block? What methods do you have to overcome this, particularly around deadline days?

I don’t really experience writer’s block in the traditional sense, or at least, I don’t perceive it in that way. For me, if I get stuck with a certain text, then I attribute it to fatigue or insufficient research. Whatever the cause, the key is not to panic. If it’s an issue of fatigue, my strategy is to close my computer and go do something else, whether for an hour or for a few days . . . however long it takes for me to recharge. I find that when I take this break – and most importantly, give myself permission to take the break without feeling guilty – I’m able to resolve the issue the next time I sit down to write. More often than not, my mind is continuing to work even when I’m not writing and just needs time to find inspiration again. This is why I end up with bits and pieces of all of my operas written as notes on my iPhone…after a day or two on break, I’ll be waiting in the grocery line and suddenly a phrase will pop into my head and inspire a whole new aria.

If the block is more a matter of insufficient research and not knowing what to write, then there’s not much to do except go back and do the necessary studying. Especially when you’re writing a work about a historical event or a historical figure, you really can’t take shortcuts with the research. Otherwise, you’ll just end up returning to that first step anyway and wasting time when you could be writing.

In terms of deadlines, I try not to put myself in a situation where I’m struggling to make a deadline at the last minute. That kind of rushed writing isn’t the most enjoyable experience and also doesn’t necessarily produce very good work. As soon as I get any deadline from an external commissioner or composer, I create my own internal deadline (usually a week or so beforehand) and really try to hold myself to that date.

What advice do you have for young writers interested in learning how to write compelling dialogue?

Writing for song or opera is really a matter of experimentation, trying out different voices and different styles, all while trying to create a genuine ‘character.’ Art songs are a great avenue for this because they’re much more condensed than a full-length opera and provide an opportunity to write a relatively narrow dramatic arc. Another good exercise is to experiment with a certain scenario (for example, a woman at a job interview), and write several different versions of the scene, each time using a slightly different personality or background for the main character (for example, a woman who really wants the job versus a woman who doesn’t want the job; a woman who has been out of work for several years versus a woman who was just fired unfairly from another job, etc.). This really helps in terms of shaping different kinds of characters and exploring various quirks and nuances in any given personality. Once you start hearing the voice of your specific character, you can then tap into his or her motivations and flaws. Once you have created several well-rounded characters, each with their own reasons for reacting in certain ways, you just let them go and hear what they have to say.

If you could give your younger self some advice on the industry, what would you say? What do you wish you'd known at the start of your career?

The biggest issues that I’ve had in this career have been related to the practical concerns that result from the collaborative process, namely communication. Early on, I found myself in situations with the potential for conflict, either with my commissioner or my collaborator, but I didn’t address the issues early enough to resolve them. Part of this was due to a lack of confidence, but also to my uncertainty about my authority as librettist and whether the role of a librettist allowed me to say ‘no’ to the composer or commissioner. The answer to this, of course, is ‘yes.’ But it was difficult to get to the point of comfort with standing my ground, especially when I felt that a collaborator was in the process of damaging or undermining my work. One great resource that I wish I had employed earlier is a collaboration agreement, which clearly outlines the expectations and roles for all parties involved in a work. This ranges from issues of royalties and fees to copyright ownership to more creative concerns, such as whether a composer can revise the libretto without informing the librettist. This way, everything is clarified before the creative process even begins, and both the librettist and composer have recourse in case the collaboration starts going south.

In Conversation: Aura Go

Going back to the beginning, can you tell me about how you met Tomoe Kawabata and your initial experiences of playing four-hand repertoire together?

Tomoe and I met as students at the Australian National Academy of Music in 2007. I clearly remember my first impression of her - she was intensely preparing Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto for a European tour and even through the practice room doors I could tell she was a formidable pianist. We became close friends during our time at ANAM, constantly having discussions about many different aspects of music and playing. We loved trying to discover the essence of great performances, regularly giving each other feedback and experimenting with different approaches to playing. These discussions were incredibly beneficial for both of us and formed a strong basis of our duo today. We began playing four hand repertoire for fun at ANAM, but for some reason didn't get around to launching our duo properly until we were living on different continents!

What is your rehearsal process like for a concert like Resonances? How often do you practice together in the lead-up to the performance, and what shape do those rehearsals take?

Tomoe lives in Melbourne and I am currently living most of the year in Helsinki, so logistically it is impossible to rehearse as often or as much as we would like. But we also find our shorter, more intensive rehearsal periods immensely productive and rewarding and we meet as often as our schedules allow. For Resonances, we had originally given ourselves a three-week rehearsal period, but that became a bit shorter due to our newly-acquired (very old) second piano needing a complete overhaul by a technician before it was playable! The piano duo is one of the most challenging forms of chamber music. The immediacy of the piano's attack requires a high level of precision in order to play together, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, worrying about the precision of attack can easily lead to vertical playing and can restrict musical freedom, which is much worse than having unsynchronized chords! Paradoxically, this kind of boring, vertical playing for the sake of precision actually makes precision more difficult to achieve. The challenge (and also the fun part) is to achieve complete unification of musical ideas and to develop our listening to such an extent that the playing can be spontaneous and free without worrying about being "together". This is what we are striving for in our rehearsals.

Different repertoire and the specific problems we encounter in our playing call for different rehearsal techniques, so we have a very flexible approach to our work process. We like very detailed work, but as the concert approaches it is also very important to play through whole pieces and the whole program to get a sense of the larger shape of the concert. Recording our playing and listening back together is also an important part of our rehearsal process.

You return to the Melbourne Recital Centre in 2017 to perform three completely different programs with Tomoe, kicking off with some incredibly beautiful works from Japan. Can you tell me a bit about your three-concert series for the MRC, and in particular how you came up with these innovative and compelling programs?

We are really excited about the programs we've put together for our MRC series! We wanted to give audiences three completely different, distinct musical experiences through three programs that explore some of our favourite aspects of duo playing. The programs also reflect our broad musical tastes. We both love playing Mozart, so we decided to give ourselves and the audience a treat by ending the series with Mozart's joyous sonata for two pianos. We also love playing contemporary music and works that are seldom performed. Our first concert contains five first Australian performances of Japanese music that we find delightful, challenging and rewarding to play. Our second concert, "Through whirling clouds", is full of evocative sonic landscapes by well-known composers like Debussy and Ravel alongside wonderful pieces by Judith Weir, Germaine Tailleferre and Carlos Guastavino. Programming takes a lot of thoughtful planning and imagination and we find it a thoroughly enjoyable process. In programming for this year's series we discovered a wealth of other repertoire that we were not able to include, so we have a long list of pieces we would love to play in the future.

The music you have programmed for Resonances: Music from Japan is incredibly evocative and full of colour, some of which has been heard on your record, Five Rocks in a Japanese Garden. What was the recording process like for this particular CD, and what are the different challenges in recording music compared with live performance?

Recording Five Rocks was quite demanding! It can be stressful enough recording solo piano pieces, but recording with two pianos on a tight schedule in a studio environment poses many unique difficulties. And then there are the unexpected challenges. I remember the stress of recording the first movement of Ikebe's "A couple of butterflies". Both pianos play rapid repeated notes in unison in the highest octave on the piano. We realized after one take that one of the pianos was falling in pitch. So on top of the tight schedule, we had the pressure of needing to nail it quickly because of our rapidly mounting tuning bill! Having said that, we had a lot of fun putting that recording project together. It's great to have some distance from a project to really be able to appreciate it for what it is - it is a snapshot of how we played those pieces at that particular time. Coming back to the repertoire now, so many things have changed. Recording in a studio is a completely different experience and requires quite a different mindset from performing a live concert. When playing concerts, it's important to be in relationship with the space you are in - the ears must be finely attuned to listen and react instantaneously to the sound as it's being created in that specific acoustic. But in recording, this can be deceiving; what you hear in the space might not be what is being picked up by the microphone. And if one is sensitive to sound in space, recording in a studio with no feedback can change one's perception of timing and musical expression quite considerably. I don't mean to sound negative about studio recording as it can be highly rewarding. But for me, nothing beats the experience of live performance: hearing sound come to life in a shared space, in that moment, never to be repeated. There's magic in that.

For young pianists hoping to start performing four-hand repertoire, how do you recommend they get started? Do you have any recommended repertoire for duos starting out?

I would recommend grabbing a friend and jumping right in! It's a great way of getting to know repertoire, improving sight-reading skills and having fun. Once you start playing four-hand repertoire (as distinct from two-piano repertoire) it will quickly become evident that there's a lot more to it than you might initially think. Each of the four hands has a different role to play (and these roles can change constantly within one piece) and creating a natural and effective balance requires careful listening and practice. The pedaling in four-hand playing can also be a feat of coordination, as one person must pedal in a way that works for both players and their individual musical material. To start off with, I would recommend the Mozart four-hand sonatas, any of Moszkowski's four-hand pieces and some of the lovely French repertoire like Debussy's Petite Suite, Ravel's Mother Goose or Fauré's Dolly Suite. It can also be very good practice to read four-handed arrangements of symphonies. You could set aside some time every week with a friend to read through some four-hand repertoire and also get to know the symphonic repertoire and their composers more deeply through the four-hand arrangements.

Do you have any advice for young pianists starting their tertiary level journey at the moment? Is there anything you wish you’d known when you were beginning your performance career?

I could share two suggestions for young pianists starting tertiary studies. First, expand and develop your imagination! It is very easy to get trapped in a narrow, goal-oriented mindset when it comes to mastering the technical aspects of playing. But what really makes a powerful, moving performance is the richness of the performer's imagination, and the strength of the connection between the imagination and the physical body in order for sound to come vividly and spontaneously to life. Listen to great performances, go to concerts, soak up as much as you can. Observe how and why it can be possible for vastly different interpretations of a piece of music to be successful - what is it that makes them work? It's very important to realise that learning a piece of music, making a sound on your instrument, is a creative act! There is no right or wrong in music, but there are more or less successful or compelling performances. Start observing why this is, and keep your mind and ears open. Secondly, play chamber music! While you are at uni, find like-minded colleagues and form ensembles. I can't stress enough how important it is for pianists to play with string players, singers, wind and brass players; what you will learn is invaluable. Apart from that, you will get to play some glorious repertoire!

I have learnt so much from the (often messy, unpredictable, frustrating) process of learning all the things I think I know now, so I don't wish I could have known anything earlier. I believe that we all come to know things from our own experiences, in our own time. If I ever get to the point when I feel I know everything I need or want to know, it would mean there is no longer any point in being alive!

In Conversation: Aled Jones

Congratulations on your new album! It's such a special concept - combining the original tapes of you singing as a boy with your current voice.

It is a really unique way of me revisiting my past. I made 16 or 17 albums as a boy, and honestly, at the time I didn't go back and listen to them, so this was the first time where I really listened and appreciated the work that had gone into them I suppose, from all the people involved in the process. I actually felt really proud of what I'd done as a kid, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try and build something on top of it. But you don't know if it's going to work until you're in the studio, really. I knew what harmonies I wanted to sing over the original recordings, and I'd worked on the arrangements, but it really takes getting into the studio and hearing both voices - the old and the new - come together to know that it actually makes sense. It was a concept that might not have worked, but it was actually the easiest recording session I've ever had. Somehow everything just dropped into place, and it felt like the first time. 30 years had gone by, but I was still the same person, and all the emotion and phrasing was the same as when I was a kid.

Out of all those albums you'd recorded and songs you'd sung as a child, how were you able to pick the repertoire?

All of the songs I went with were those that meant a lot to me, and they were also the ones that I really genuinely wanted to sing as an adult as well. It's kind of like my life on one CD, and it pulls in all sorts of pieces. When we were going through all of those early albums there were tracks from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, so we tried to include as many as possible, but we did have to cut a few that didn't quite fit. The songs that made it through are really special to me.

How did those original records come about? When did you start singing?

Well, everyone in Wales sings! If you don't sing then you recite or you dance, but most people sing. I have found music in everything from a really early age though, and my parents will tell stories which make me sound like a complete weirdo! When I was 2 or 3 and getting my hair dried, I used to hum along to the noise the dryer was making. I would make up songs as the bath water ran too, while I listened to music programs on the BBC. As a kid, without really thinking about it, singing was just the same as breathing. When my voice changed, and I started school at the Royal Academy, I lost that feeling though, and I think it's only been in the last 10 years that I've felt it again - knowing that my voice was there and feeling comfortable with it. I've really enjoyed singing so much more in the last 5 years, maybe because of feeling a bit more secure. I think that comes with getting older. I absolutely went through that period at school when everyone would hang outside the door to your practice room listening and judging, and it doesn't feel good. Having been through all that though, I finally feel that now I'm happiest when I'm singing again.

I think everyone goes through that period while they're studying in some way or another. It's easy to lose your spark!

Absolutely, and when I was studying I was doing well academically - winning prizes and competitions - but when I was 21 or 22, while I knew how to sing a song my voice wasn't doing what my mind was telling it to do because it was just too young. That's why I left the Academy after three years to go to theatre school, because I knew I had to do something different. I studied straight theatre and musical theatre and got taken apart and rebuilt. I really loved that work ethic and the ethos of the place - you had to get out there and be real.

Working across so many different genres must have given you a lot of tricks for managing performances. Can you tell me about what your process is like before you go out onto stage?

I'm a typical singer, really. A little paranoid! I tend to warm up a bit before soundcheck, and usually sing the same song, a hymn that I know so well it's in my muscle memory. It's a piece that starts gently and builds up to a big moment, which naturally helps me go through all the motions. After the soundcheck, I tend to not sing much until maybe 20 minutes before going onstage. Then in those final moments, I'll sing something similar to the piece I'm opening the show with, so I know that the part of the voice I'm about to use is ready. I think that more than anything it's a mental thing. I'm always apprehensive before I step on stage, but I think that's adrenaline now! I also don't plan what I'm going to say between songs which is what keeps it fresh and exciting for me. I try not to be too precious about my voice now because it's not realistic to have a silent day in my work! I have had to do lots of radio and television on days of performances, and that can be hard when you're tired, but it's real life, and I believe in getting on with it.

It's so interesting that you don't plan anything you're going to say! I imagine your broadcasting career has helped you to develop that ability to talk on the fly?

So much! And also I quite like the idea that there’s an element of danger in it, which then people spark off. I have lots of fans in Britain who will come to every concert, so if I am reeling off the same stories all the time, it’s really boring for them. I really want people to come my concerts and be moved and have a great experience because of the music, but I also want them to laugh and have a good time! Life's too short to be glum.

When you're travelling, do you have a specific way of looking after your voice?

I try to rest as much as I possibly can! Sleep is a pretty good thing. You don't have control over everything though, and so I'm not precious about things. I do try not to go to noisy restaurants if I have to sing, though, because you just spend the whole time shouting. I also don't really drink alcohol unless I don't have a gig for days. I think more than anything though, it's about keeping your mind fresh and not being too bothered by things. Keep it light, in all aspects.

Keeping it light is such fantastic advice, across so many parts of not only this industry but life! What is your advice to people taking auditions, and perhaps not being successful in securing the part?

What’s meant for you won’t pass you by! I really do believe that if one door closes, you have to make sure another one opens. And that doesn’t mean going home and crying into your pillow, even though it can feel like that's all you can do. You move on. I’ve had loads of flops, and loads of albums that haven’t sold anything. And all you can do is go "oh well, there we go" and get on with it. It’s all about keeping it real, keeping it honest, and having that energy and that drive to keep going, keep going, keep going… Because eventually, it will happen. I’m a great believer in the fact that the effort you put in is repaid at the other end. So when people say ‘oh Aled Jones is a crap singer’ I say 'fine!', and I know that I’m not going to please everybody. It’s impossible to. But as long as I am being honest to myself and trying the hardest that I possibly can do, then sod the ones who don’t like it.

It can be a real challenge when you're studying to remember all of those things!

I think it can be really hard for musicians. When I was at the academy we had these practice rooms underground, and there’d be people in these little booths 12 hours a day, practicing and practicing and practicing. But I think the days of going into a conservatorium and just practicing your violin or your voice, your flute or your oboe, and nothing else, thankfully have gone, or at least are going. People are learning all sorts of other skills, and of course, the more strings you’ve got to your bow the more chance you have to succeed. And also the more chance you have to a healthy life. It's important to remember that you're more than just your instrument. Even if you're a singer! And actually, the more strings you have to your bow, the better your music is: it’s the equivalent of the more experience you have, or the more read you are and the more exposures you’ve had in life, the better actor you are. It’s the same as a musician, you know. You might have the greatest technique in the world, and you might have the greatest voice in the world, but if you haven’t got the the brain or the heart or the soul to go with it, then for me, it's not worth doing.

Our Rehearsal Room: Erin Helyard and Jane Davidson

Given that there are many extant musical works which tell of Christ's Passion, what inspired you to tell this story through a musical pastiche?

EH: The story of Christ’s crucifixion has inspired composers for centuries – these settings are responses by Pergolesi and Handel. This pastiched setting is very much in keeping with how Easter celebrations were conducted musically in the eighteenth century.

JD: At a personal level, I’d always been struck by the beauty of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and had thought that it would be fantastic to enact the powerful narrative of Mary’s grief and loss around the Passion of Christ as a movement and vocal project. I first had the opportunity to do that 15 years ago in the UK, at an anniversary event at Sheffield Cathedral. I then re-staged it for theatrical spaces and toured it with an opera company in Portugal. So, the Stabat Mater has had a number of previous imaginings. I also performed it in Winthrop Hall in Perth. But, the opportunity of returning it to a cathedral is just thrilling. The work belongs in the dramatic visual and acoustical space that constitutes a cathedral.

How did you select the works that make up Passion, Lament, Glory?

EH: The Pergolesi was one of the most performed works of the eighteenth century and had a profound influence on the musical development of countless musicians. We counterpoised Handel’s well-known choruses from Messiah with an early masterpiece from his days in Italy: an exquisite Salve Regina.

JD: The detail of this project is in the title: Passion of Christ, Lament of Mary, Glory of the Resurrection. In the Stabat Mater, 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 had always conceived of these 12 women as a close community, like twelve female disciples, supporting Mary and her loss. Essentially, I am drawing out the powerful female narrative – even though that’s not something we immediately think about when we consider Christianity today. Erin and I picked Handel's Salve Regina together. It was a perfect choice, highlighting the powerful and central figure of women in all cultures. ‘Hail Mary, queen of mercy’ also reflects the powerful historical significance of Mary as an icon in Early Modern European Christianity. Handel’s Messiah is probably the most iconic piece of Baroque music. To deal with the Passion of Christ, I’ve taken three choruses to explore the mass emotions of the group and the power of collective emotional experience. The way I have staged this will hopefully have a powerful impact on the audience. It attempts to lessen the distance between emotions spectated, emotions performed and emotions experienced.

Can you tell us about the Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions? How does Passion, Lament, Glory contribute to growing knowledge of emotional behaviours throughout history and the ways in which they change over time?

JD: The History of Emotions is a fascinating field. Looking at the thoughts and feelings that underpinned historical actions really gives a far greater insight into how the people of the past did what they did. Clearly, humans have lived and thought in different ways over time. We do have some ideas about what meanings Baroque musicians ascribed to their works, and attempting to carry some of this meaning to modern day audiences has been the driving impetus of the Early Music Movement. What I am trying to do in this performance is take the historical goal of moving the affections of the audience using the powerful music, but also ask the performers to centralise their emotional intention through clear and strong felt and physical gestures. This performance is juxtaposed with the Centre of the History of Emotions' collaboration with the NGV in a new exhibition entitled ’Love: The Art of Emotions 1400-1800'. In that, you will see this type of potent Early Modern European emotion as depicted in all kinds of images: religious love, motherly love etc. Our project works with this knowledge and multi-faceted representations of love as an emotional state, which of course involves grief as well as joy.

Passion, Lament, Glory features aerial artistry to complement musical storytelling. In your opinion, what impact does combining artistic disciplines have on audience engagement, as well as the experience of a work for both performer and audience?

JD: It is interesting that the past couple of years has seen many enactments of Baroque religious music in theatrical spaces. The Baroque oratorio tradition has been to perform the works unstaged in churches, but the works themselves have such theatrical content. For me, adding staging has the potential to clarify the narrative. I wanted to follow a couple of specific historical lines, firstly, the fact that I initially conceived of the work in the county of Yorkshire which has hosted Medieval Mystery Plays since the 1300s, with York Minster being a key performance site. So, there is a very long tradition of acting in religious sites in Europe. Secondly, and specifically in relation to the aerialist, there was a custom in sixteenth-century Germany where, on the feast of the Ascension, an image of Christ accompanied by angels and the Holy Spirit was drawn up through the tower. So, the aerial spectacle is based on historical precedents.

This piece will be performed by the entire vocal faculty of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. Can you tell me about the joys and challenges of working with such a large cohort?

EH: The vocal department at the MCM is one of the best in the country, with some of the best students I’ve ever worked with. They are diligent, professional, and hard-working. One of the hardest aspects has been timetabling these large rehearsals, but it pays off in the end.

JD: No challenges, just joys of discovery and development. Though the past week has been pretty exhausting!

In Conversation: Antoinette Halloran

You are no stranger to this fiery title role - tell me about your relationship with performing Tosca, and how the character has grown with you since you first performed her.

I have to say, the way Puccini heroines are written is so complex and divine. Every time I come back to them it feels like it is the first time I have met them. Technically it is wonderful to revisit them as part of the terrain has been traversed, but I fall in love with these women anew when I meet them again. For different reasons! This Tosca here in Perth is a woman I haven’t met before. I think she is closer to the woman Puccini would have envisaged (I hope she is!) She is more real and quixotic and loveable than I have played her before.

What is your rehearsal process for preparing a role like this one compared to a role that is brand new to you? What are your priorities when looking at a score that you’ve sung before?

Well, it is important not to etch yourself a groove with the last performance of a role but to allow the new challenge to take on new improvements in technique. And also allow yourself to be open to new ideas from each director and conductor. How dull to just do it the way you did it previously! This production has Stuart Maunder as director and Brad Cohen as conductor, so I would have to have rocks in my head not to want to explore all the artistic ideas they have to offer.

If I have sung the score before, I will know which sections need more time to prepare and what to take to my teacher for help. I would only want to move forward with a role. The moment I feel that I haven’t improved on the last performance I know that will be the time to step away from the artform.

You are well-known to Australian audiences as an accomplished performer of both operatic and musical theatre roles. How do you balance the two, and are there ways you look after your voice when performing one or the other? Do you approach them differently technically?

I have to say, it depends on the role, not the genre. For example, when I sang Johanna in Sweeney Todd for OA I had to be a saint and keep my cords pristine and fine-edged to sing Green Finch and Linnet Bird with the finesse of a soubrette. Yet when I sang Mrs Lovett for VO and NZO, I was possibly the last girl on the dance floor at the bar that didn’t even have a dance floor! Mrs Lovett allowed me to be husky and seedy: it may be the same musical, but the role determined the discipline. That is not to say it didn’t involve discipline to sing Lovett – just a different, less precious kind. I am a huge believer in technique. A good vocal technique can turn a performer into a chameleon and crossing genres is no big deal, really.

How do you look after your body and your voice when you’re travelling so often for work? Do you have some tried and tested methods for keeping well before an interstate or international performance?

I am a yogi. I will seek out a yoga studio and maintain my discipline, which has helped me enormously in this rather erratic and unfair game that is the arts in Australia. It has kept my mind freer of the B.S that can accompany what we do. It has allowed me to feel good about myself in a subjective world. I love what I do, but we all need to have perspective and distance. Yoga gives me this. Namaste!

As a young singer, moving into the professional world can seem daunting - can you tell us about how you approached this transition, and how you dealt with the pressures that come with being a young person in a daunting industry?

It’s that old chestnut I am afraid…. if you can think of something else you would rather do – then do it. If you have something to fall back on, you will fall back. Those of us that persevere are usually the ones with the inability to want to do anything else with our lives. The fire of performing drives us on. I waitressed and pulled beers and wallpapered my bedroom with my rejection letters at the same time. But I took what tidbits came along and persevered. It’s hard. I am glad I stuck with it.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out about life as an opera singer?

That it would rule my life! My first singing teacher told me that art was a very jealous mistress, and she has turned out to be so. Art stripped me of my marriage and has taken me away from my loved ones. At the moment, art is making me jump four meters from a parapet above the stage onto a small foam pit. Art makes me constantly feel inadequate and small, and art is irrational and quixotic. Not unlike Tosca! But I love her and I have pledged allegiance to her. And I adore everyone else I meet who has done the same. I would have it no other way. As Tosca says – I lived for art.

In Conversation: Tim Stitz

Between 8 and 9 has stemmed out of a major international collaboration - can you tell me about how your relationship with Sichuan began?

It actually started way back in 2014. I’d been talking to my colleagues about our desire to do an artist-to-artist exchange in Asia for a number of reasons, but particularly because of the importance for Australia to be looking to our neighbours to have an authentic dialogue. At Chamber Made Opera, we had previously done artist-to-artist exchanges or collaborations before, so it didn’t seem impossible! We began to speak with Wang Zheng-Ting, who is a master of the Sheng - an instrument like a mouth organ, it’s absolutely amazing. Once we’d started our conversation, we received some travel money from the Playking Foundation at Arts Centre Melbourne, whose remit is to look to Asia to develop partnerships and projects. We went for the first time in July of 2015 to begin our collaboration, and selected the four artists (two vocalists and two instrumentalists) that we’re working with now! It was incredibly interesting to experience the Conservatorium in Sichuan, as it is really one of the centres of world musics: teaching both Western and Traditional musics. This project has really emanated out of the Conservatorium and the dialogue we’ve had with them over the past two years. The Sichuan Conservatory is actually the Sister University to the Melbourne Conservatorium, and both institutions have offered a lot of good faith and support to us and this project.

What has it been like - logistically and artistically - working across countries and languages?

I think we always wish we had more time! It takes a lot of money getting the eight people involved into a room, after paying everyone their fee and putting up the travel costs for half of the artists! Of course, it’s not as expensive as it would be to work with artists from the UK or Europe, but it is really important to us that everyone gets paid properly so it takes some serious resources. What we ended up doing was going for a two week trip to share musical and artistic ideas. We were working with four languages really - Sichuanese, English, Mandarin and music. Doing an international collaboration where there is a language barrier means the music becomes the common language in the rehearsal room. We also began to use the language of improvisation. The conservatorium model - not just in Asia but all over the world - prioritises accuracy: you’re good if you get every note right. What we tried to do was break down some of that, and allow all of the musicians to make mistakes and try new things. It takes quite a lot of time to translate and understand concepts in real time, but it means all of the artists are really part of the process. Last year, we managed to scaffold some time together again thanks to the support of the Victorian government, which we really used to create this new work, Between 8 and 9. We’ve built this project to be part of a wider artistic exchange, so in the future, it may be seen in many different iterations.

This particular project, Between 8 and 9, brings together culture, sculpture, electronics and voice. Can you tell me about the experience you’ve built for audience members?

Between 8 and 9 has been inspired by the process of meeting four artists from Australia and four artists from China, in a really physical way. Initially, the meetings were around a table in Sichuan - a place that is known for their tea houses, just like Melbourne is known for its cafes. The process of meeting around a table may seem superficial initially, but it’s actually more about sharing where you come from, what you think about, and what it’s like to live where you live. These meetings around different tables really informed the genesis of this work. When audience members come into the space, they’ll be seated at a table with one of the performers. It’s extremely intimate, and a really special experience. This piece sits at the intersection of theatre, design, and performance, which is something that Chamber Made Opera is really passionate about. We’re really interested in where the voice fits into these sorts of works, because for us, opera means work where multiple art forms come together - which may not be the traditional definition of “opera”, but makes complete sense if you break down how an opera is built. We invite audiences to be present, and participate, in a way. It’s not necessarily active participation, but we do actively try and build a relationship between our audience and performers. It has to be engaging.

Your role as CEO and Creative Director of Chamber Made Opera is really multi-faceted. Can you tell me about how you came into this position?

To be honest I never really planned this! If you specifically want to be a performer or an arts manager, you might have a bit of a path planned out, but this has happened quite organically for me. I studied music at high school, and I really wanted to be an actor, so while I did lots of university theatre, I did the “right thing” and got a commerce degree. I didn’t love it, but in hindsight, it’s been incredibly helpful, especially in running a company. I loved being involved in student theatre, and I’m so glad that I had experiences in making my own work and being part of Australian writing. I was ready for a new challenge, so when I thought “okay, I’ll give this a shot” and tried Chamber Made Opera, I was really lucky to get to work with the previous Chamber Made Opera Artistic Director, David Young. He is such a great artist and producer, and working with him felt like a tutelage and I learnt so much. Working as a producer is amazing, because it’s an opportunity to help artists realise their ideas, and I’m definitely still very much involved in the creative process. I love being in the rehearsal room and am in it perhaps more than other producers. When thinking about your own career, I think it’s great to have an idea of where you want to end up, but I’d definitely recommend being open to the idea that it might play out differently and you’ll get just as much out of it.

Do you have advice for artists looking to have their own work produced?

You have to be good at lots of things, and I think it is really important that all artists - whether you’re a solo musician or a producer - should be able to manage application writing, finance, marketing, etc. A select few artists will have management, but being an independent artist means you need to know how to do everything for your business. When artists approach me about their work at Chamber Made Opera, I want them to have done their homework, and hopefully to have seen what we’re all about. I get so much mail from people who think we’re a traditional company, and it’s just not a good use of your time as an artist! So once the artist knows that we’re the right fit for them, I’m looking for people who are really passionate about their content. It’s also really okay not to have all the answers because that’s what we’re here to help with. Of course, it’s important to be able to sell your project, but it’s also about being able to engage in a discussion and work with artists in a collaborative way. We work with lots of emerging artists, from jobbing musicians to arts managers, and we always get them to help out a bit with admin - grant writing, processes, database work - because even if it’s boring sometimes, it’s so important to your personal artistic development. We’re a small team too, and we get so much done because we're each doing the jobs of six people! Be okay to help out with all the moving parts, from the bump-in to the strategic plan.

In Conversation: Corrina Bonshek

Your work Song to the Earth will be premiered by DeepBlue and Michael Askill at the upcoming Bleach* Festival on the Gold Coast, which will be performed by many local young high-school-aged musicians. How important is it to involve young people in new music?

I made a conscious decision to work with this age group because these kids are the next generation of performers coming up in this area, and I’d like to see a lot more interest in new art music on the Gold Coast. When the kids perform, the parents come along as the audience. So, by involving the young performers, I’m indirectly building a broader community and capacity for new art music in this area. I hope that there could be a thriving new music scene here in the future.

This is actually the first time I’ve worked with high-school-aged musicians. Fortunately, my music collaborators DeepBlue and Michael Askill are very experienced. Under Michael Askill’s guidance, we have the two young percussionists improvising variations on a set of stylised bird-call transcriptions from local birds in the Gold Coast and Northern NSW areas. DeepBlue have the young string players improvising cicada sounds in addition to playing the scored music.

For many of these young performers, the idea that you can compose in relation to the sounds in your backyard is pretty new. I hope it inspires them to stay involved with new music.

This piece explicitly invites audience interaction, by allowing the audience to walk amongst the musicians during the performance. Tell us about the genesis of this composition - what was your inspiration?

I’ve been obsessed with the image of birds flocking for a number of years, and yearning to write a piece for a large ensemble that explored this pattern in sound.

Then last year, I saw John Luther Adams’ Sila: Breath of the World performed as part of Brisbane Festival. Adams has written several works that are site-determined; the musicians are arranged in space according to the performance site and the audience gets to wander amongst them.

I had one of those lightbulb moments where a whole bunch of ideas came together: flocking, the spatial arrangement of musicians, outdoor performance on the Gold Coast, and cicada sounds in a chorus of string ensemble tremolos. These ideas eventually resolved themselves into Song to the Earth, which has 39 musicians arranged in a kind of mandala-like arrangement. The musicians pass notes around the space in a kind of spiralling, swirling chorus.

What's the appeal of premiering this work at Bleach* Festival in particular?

Bleach* Festival is the biggest multi-arts festival on the Gold Coast. The whole city comes out to experience arts and culture, often in outdoor locations. The audiences at this festival are curious and open to new experiences, so this is a great way to expose contemporary classical music to a new audience.

For Song to the Earth, I’m fortunate to be partnering with director Meredith Elton who is premiering this piece as part of her community-engaged, multi-art form show called Inherit the Wind.

There is a phenomenal community spirit amongst artists on the Gold Coast. I’m really enjoying composing for this show and being part of a larger creative team that includes dancer/choreographers, installation artists, sound designers/electroacoustic composers, and lighting designers.

You graduated from Western Sydney University with a PhD in Contemporary Arts in 2007. How has your formal institutional training helped (or hindered!) your compositional process and thoughts?

For me, doing a PhD was like doing an apprenticeship with a master craftsperson. I needed that one-on-one training to get proficient with my tools. I had a very supportive composition supervisor in Dr Bruce Crossman, who encouraged me to develop techniques that really connected with my musical voice.

That said, I had difficulties too. I split my PhD submission equally between a musicological thesis and composition portfolio. I spent the last two years of my PhD finishing my thesis with no composing at all. At the end of it, I had massive composition block. It was like I had forgotten how to compose. It actually took me around two years post-PhD to really get back into writing music, and re-find my compositional voice.

One thing that helped was having mentoring from Dr Chinary Ung. He gave me heaps of quirky, reassuring advice and some new skills for planning large-scale works. One that still makes me laugh is his comment that ‘80% is good enough’, and ‘feeling like a failure is a part of composing’. His irreverent teaching style helped me loosen up, become less of a perfectionist, and take more risks in my music-making.

Song to the Earth, and its upcoming performance, have been funded by the Generate Program: an initiative of the City of Gold Coast through the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF). You've also previously received many other grants and awards including the Australia Council for the Arts - Skills Grant and the Parramatta City Council Heritage Grant. What was the process of securing that funding like? How important is external funding to the arts? Do you have any tips for readers who may be applying for funding?

The big upside to spending years upskilling in musicology was that I learnt how to craft a persuasive argument for grant applications. I also got comfortable with that whole writing/rewriting thing that you have to do when you are zeroing in on what you truly want to say.

My tips for applying for funding are to give yourself plenty of time to write and rewrite, get feedback from supportive friends (they don’t have to be musicians), and to go for grant programs that you have a genuine connection/fit with.

It takes a lot of effort to write an application. But the act of writing one, for a project that you are passionate about, can be galvanising. I recently applied (and was unsuccessful) for a New Work Australian Council for the Arts Grant. But writing the application prompted me to talk with an ensemble that I might not have approached otherwise. This, in turn, led to a commission and festival performance (irrespective of not getting the grant). So it was a worthwhile process even without being awarded funds.

Plus it's important to remember that there are other ways to fund your big dreams like crowd-sourcing and even sponsors. Take the route that is best suited to your skills and abilities.

You're a composer and event producer, you've previously tutored and lectured at university level, worked in online marketing, and co-founded Australian natural health business Better Earthing. How do you manage your work-life balance? How important is it for twenty-first-century musicians to be able to "wear multiple hats"?

I’ve always worn multiple hats, and when I look around at my fellow composers they are all doing this too – either by teaching, performing, or having a day job in another industry like myself.

Frankly, it’s very difficult in Australia to earn a living from art music composing.

Once I accepted that, I decided that my other job needed to be one that was enjoyable, paid me well enough so that I could work part-time hours, and left me in a good headspace for composing. For me, that job was online marketing.

Since starting Better Earthing (with my husband), I’ve done so much more composing. I put it down to having flexible work hours, being my own boss, sourcing great help, and having the ability to juggle workload according to the demands of the moment.

But I don’t have work-life balance at the moment. My life is basically music-work and marketing-work with some sleep, meditation and nice meals thrown in. Interestingly, my composing colleagues seem to be doing this kind of crazy work-life juggle (or the work-work juggle). Personally, I can’t sustain this long-term. So I’m dreaming of a four-hour marketing work-week, with plenty of time left for music projects, friends, and relaxation!

Finally, is there any advice you wish you'd heard when you first started out as a professional musician?

Yes, there’s so much! But one key learning point for me has been to put myself in surroundings that support my music-making. For me as a composer, that’s composing in the morning (ideally before I check emails), in a quiet, distraction-free room with a nature view. I also like to spend time in rainforests, ideally with really big trees, as this frees up my mind. When I relax in this kind of environment, good music ideas pop into my head. My advice is to pay attention to the circumstances in which you do your best work and then create or find a space with these qualities to do your most important thinking in. That could be composing or working out how to pitch an idea to an ensemble, festival, or funding body.

Musical Partners: Andrea Katz and Nick Dinopoulos

Rehearsal Magazine: Hi Nick and Andrea! How are you both going? I’m really excited to start this conversation, and look forward to sharing your story with the Rehearsal Magazine readers! To get started, how did you meet?

Andrea Katz: It was my first day as Acting Head of Voice at Monish University. Merlyn Quaife had invited me to replace her while on long service leave, and on that first day I heard a knock on the door and this cheeky 18 year old comes in and tells me how to manage my schedule! The situation hasn’t changed much since…

Nick Dinopoulos: I wish I could deny the audacity of these claims, but it’s all true! They were some pretty fantastic initial coachings though which laid some very important groundwork.

RM: How soon after those initial coachings did you both realise you'd found a good musical partner?

ND: Ah, that is interesting. Andrea and I didn't really start working together as colleagues until several years later. I'd taken some of her classes at Uni, and always asked her to play for my practical exams, but the relationship was still very much one of teacher and student. It was probably not until we got to The Opera Studio, no?

AK: Yes, by then I had started dreaming about Songmakers and 'collecting' singers. First to say yes was Merlyn Quaife, of course. Then Sally-Anne Russell joined after our Resonate recital in Sydney. I'd been nurturing Nick and checking his progress and by 2011, I thought he was ready. It was a big ask for someone so young but an important part of creating the group was to 'pass the torch’, so to speak.

RM: How did you feel in those first few rehearsals for the newly formed Songmakers, Nick?

ND: Petrified. I was 22 years old, just out of Uni, and rubbing shoulders with some serious industry heavy-hitters. I remember almost barely being able to sing! Luckily I knew the repertoire really well, but it was a little while before I began to really trust myself in rehearsals.

AK: It was a very steep learning curve for Nick, but he always rose to the challenge. It was fascinating to watch him interact with the other singers, avidly drink up the experiences and grow in bouncing leaps right in front of us.

RM: What are some of the things you have learnt from being in Songmakers, particularly aside from technical music learnings?

AK: As Artistic Director, I've had to learn all sorts of skills: programming, planning rehearsals, securing gigs, dealing with last minute illnesses and cancellations...but the biggest learning curve for me has been (and still is) letting go and trusting the fabulous artists I have as colleagues. Humanly and musically they always deliver and I can absolutely trust the outcome will be outstanding.

RM: What about you Nick? I imagine Songmakers was quite pivotal for you as a professional musician - what skills has it helped develop that you now rely on in your everyday life as a singer?

ND: Apart from always having new and interesting music to learn (and needing to schedule practice to be able to keep up with it all!), being a Songmaker has brought me closer to the audience and closer to the composer. It has also deepened my commitment to the art of recital singing itself, and it is continually inspiring to be part of a group of industry leaders in this field. But perhaps most significantly, I simply would not have had a career without Andrea's support. The life of an artist is by no means easy, and she has encouraged and challenged me every step of the way.

RM: Absolutely! Nick could you tell me about how your career has diversified since learning with Andrea originally? You are not only a performer, you are a teacher and an artistic director! How do you manage and balance those different parts of your career?

ND: I've taught since the very beginning, actually. Conducting and programming came a little later, but I started working at the Australian Boys Choir back in 2007, and was invited onto the staff at Monash University in 2014. I've also taught privately, been a chorus master for many different projects, worked in a number of schools, and have been the resident vocal consultant to the National Youth Choir of Australia (and also on the Board) for the past three seasons. In terms of keeping up with it all, the answer is very careful scheduling! Prioritising the most important tasks for the week and keeping a pretty comprehensive to-do list is pretty much the only way I cope, but I absolutely love the variety. There are equally as many gratifying aspects to rehearsing as there are to performing as there are in teaching, and they all inform each other.

RM: Andrea, you are also balancing being both a performer and a teacher. Can you tell me about how you got into teaching initially, and how you manage the two aspects of your career now?

AK: I started as a tutor as part of my scholarship with the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem. Very soon after that began, I was engaged by the New Israeli Opera. Coaching is very much a form of teaching but also encourages you to learn a lot of other elements that are essential when working with students: lots of patience (I can hear you laughing Nick!), 175 different ways of explaining something, how to influence without talking, the list is endless! After so many years of experience the time required to achieve something has distilled itself to a minimum and now I find myself looking for more engagement to keep myself motivated!

RM: Being able to explain things in lots of ways is so important! When you work with young singers, what are the first things you talk about? What are the things you teach that are absolutely necessary for developing artists to know?

AK: To listen to the composer. I can still hear my teacher Alex Tamir in Israel saying to me: 'don't help him, he knows best!’ Everything you need as a musician comes from the score. It is like a code, you have to decipher it and that will fill your development years with hours and hours of research analysis, guessing, pondering...It's wonderful!

RM: Tell me about your preparation - when you're performing a new piece of music, what is your process? Especially those things OTHER than note learning!

AK: I first read the piece and get my own feel for it. Parallel to technical work (repetition, slow practice et al) I like doing research about the composer, historical period and the piece itself, if possible. If working on a newly composed work it is really good if I can have a session with the composer in person or via email. A lot more is discovered during rehearsals of course.

RM: Absolutely. Nick do you have a similar approach?

ND: I certainly do - Katzy's taught me well, after all! But in addition to what Andrea has mentioned, a word of warning: listening to recordings can be wonderful, giving you a lot of information and speeding up the learning process, but it can also be dangerous! I think it's much better to start from scratch each time, developing your own sense of the piece and what you want to say. You have to trust your artistry of course, and while there are often conventions attached to canonical works, at least that way you can offer your audience something refreshingly different.

RM: Across the country, a whole new class of young singers and repetiteurs are starting their tertiary level education. What do you wish you'd known about your careers when you were both starting out? Do you have any words of advice you wish to share?

AK: I didn't get a lot of sound advice about careers and how to manage them when I was a student. I had to go on the quest all by myself and started over 3 times before landing in Australia. I'm still learning and reckon I will keep learning till the end! I don't regret doing it this way, but I do wish somebody had taken me by the hand at least some of the time. My advice to young people is, besides practicing, to go and talk to different people in the industry and look for all the answers you need. Don't be shy!

ND: I never knew that, Andrea! I guess there's no substitute for experience, but it makes sense that you've passed so much of that on-the-job experience on to me and so many other singers. In terms of career advice, the thing about being an artist is that you absolutely have to love it. All of it. The ups and downs. The funny ins-and-outs. Essentially, don't do it unless you have to! The only other thing I want to say applies slightly more generally: never devalue the power of listening. No matter who we are, we can all strive to talk less and process more. When presented with new stimuli or a new piece of information, it's in our interest to go away and really try to get inside that person's head and understand where they might be coming from. Sometimes what others have to say can be confronting, but if we take it away and process it calmly (even if we don't agree with it), we can deepen our knowledge and broaden our experience.

In Conversation: Daniel Hope

Can you tell us a bit about your experience of working with Max Richter on Vivaldi Recomposed?

In Spring 2012, I received an enigmatic call from Max Richter. He said he wanted to “recompose” the Four Seasons for me. I asked him what was wrong with the original. "Nothing", he said, "it’s perfect". And he explained that his problem was not with the music, but how we have treated it. In his opinion, the piece had become part of our turgid musical landscape. We are subjected to it in supermarkets, elevators or when a caller puts you on hold. He told me that Vivaldi’s music is made of regular patterns, and that connects with post-minimalism: one strand of the music he composes. It was time for a new way of hearing it, and that it felt like a natural link. I must confess that I could never get enough of the original, but playing and living with Max’s version made me equally keen to revisit the original masterpiece.

You've mentioned your memories of experiencing Vivaldi as a toddler. How has your relationship with the composer developed and changed over time?

I would say I am still completely fascinated by Vivaldi. Over the years I have been lucky enough to work with historically informed performers, such as Kristian Bezuidenhout and Christopher Hogwood. They both taught me a great deal about the continuo possibilities in Vivaldi, but the biggest change came when I was appointed Music Director of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. I found myself in front of this wonderful orchestra playing the piece I’d first heard them perform four decades ago. And then I realised how these musicians were so energetic and enthusiastic in the way in which they expressed their understanding of Vivaldi. I felt our performances of The Four Seasons were a revelation in terms of the colours we produced, the tempi we took and the details that emerged. After performing the concertos for the third time together, we decided we’d be mad not to record them. Yes, there may be a thousand recordings of The Four Seasons – and legendary recordings among them. But I realised I felt finally ready to add our interpretation to them. It was either now or never!

For Seasons consists of music spanning a tremendous period of time. What was the process of selecting music for the album, and how did you find compatibilities with works that are seemingly worlds apart?

I tried to create a mosaic in music and images of what the seasons mean to me, as well as pieces that match my feelings for the months of the year. There’s a modern message here, which is about the cohesive expression of time and life cycles. Those familiar cycles are being broken left, right and centre at present throughout our world. This is my way of marking time: my time and our times.

There are works directly associated with the calendar, including arrangements of Aphex Twin’s Avril 14th, “June” from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons and Kurt Weill’s September Song, while others convey the atmosphere of a given month. Other connections are more subtle. The Roman month Februarius was named after the Latin term februum, which means purification. I have long been fascinated by Rameau, not just as a composer but as a historical figure. In 1735 he composed Les Indes galantes, based on the 1725 meeting between native American Indian chiefs and King Louis XV of France, the aim of which was to have them pledge allegiance to the crown. I find Rameau’s “Danses des Sauvages” far ahead of its time and yet its poignant message is singularly current. There’s a reason behind every track.

How has your relationship with Yehudi Menuhin contributed to the way you work and perform today? How important is having a mentor for young musicians?

Yehudi Menuhin is the reason I became a violinist. As he used to say, I fell into his lap as a baby of two. We were closely connected until his death, and there is hardly a passage in all of the great works for violin where I don’t stop for a minute and think of Menuhin. Supporting young musicians is vitally important. It’s our responsibility to pass on what we learn to others.

When you play so many concerts in a year, how do you continue to find inspiration and keep an element of spontaneity (for you and the audience) in performance?

Playing the greatest music in the world with some of the greatest musicians and partners. Doesn’t get any better.

Finally, many of our readers are in the very early stages of their careers as instrumentalists. Do you have any advice for young musicians and developing artists about pursuing a performance career?

1) Take all concerts VERY seriously – no matter how small
2) Take advice from your mentors
3) Make time to practice
4) An engagement is important, but the re-engagement defines the career
5) IF you are 100% sure you want to make music your life: NEVER give up.

A Composition Recipe: Sam Colcheedas

Usually in a recipe, the first thing you do is pre-heat the oven. This is not one of those recipes. There is no need to venture to the market to retrieve wild field mushrooms or Mongolian goat cheese. No, no. The only ingredient you’ll need for this recipe is an open mind and the expectation for the unknown. The below recipe depicts my creative process for the composition of a recently finished piano work, titled A wayward zephyr, in March of this year.

Step 1: Preheat the oven t-... - Okay so now that I'm being serious... These steps are ones that I have only walked myself once or twice. Composition for me is quite foreign and the act of putting musical thoughts onto paper is one of the more unorthodox things I’ve done in my musical escapades so far. Any musician is used to reading a note on a score, and then playing that note on their instrument. The task in going from point A to B is relatively straightforward. Intuitively, doing the reverse and going from point B to A should be as simple as playing a note, then writing it down, but I regret to inform you that it is not. Of course, you are able to write down whatever notes you want, but justifying why you have put them down is the part that begins turning the creative cogs and puzzling the most inventive minds.

Step 2: Your skeleton - Whilst it is tempting to go full speed ahead and start writing down ideas, creating the skeleton of your first composition is a key part of the compositional process. This allows you to look at the big picture and plan for what lies ahead. I often get caught up in minuscule and irrelevant musical ideas that don’t relate enough to the skeleton. Having a clear idea of your story and narrative allows your mind to run wild with ideas whilst not getting too sidetracked. I started out with a detailed skeleton for A wayward zephyr and within a few hours was already re-writing my structure and ignoring my well-thought-out narrative. This was an important lesson that leads us to step 3.

Step 3: Abandoning your skeleton - It is a risk to go against all of the previous structure you have established. By all means you may stick to it, but I’ve always believed in intuition and trusting yourself. If you’re forcing ideas to spring to life, or developing a motif against its will, then it’s time to take a step back and approach your work from a different angle. Remember those ‘irrelevant musical ideas that don’t relate enough to the skeleton’ ? You got caught up in these ideas for a reason. You were drawn to them, and since you are no longer constrained to your structure, rejoice! Rejoice in the concept of abandonment and different angles. You make the rules, and you’re most certainly allowed to break them.

Step 4: Developing your ideas - Once you are content with the direction you are going in, it is highly recommended that you write down any ideas that you have, even if they are nonsensical. They may not seem relevant at the moment, but I assure you, they will be viable for future use in your composition or other projects. Thinking in a linear frame of mind restricts your creativity and creates blockages that make it difficult to manoeuvre your narrative’s pathway. Putting too much thought into how you will get to the next step may cause more strife than you bargained for. Allow your mind to wander and allow yourself to explore what doesn’t work well, so you are led towards ideas that do point you in the right direction. I have found that you achieve quite a lot away from the piano. Sleeping, walking, eating: all of these things allow your subconscious to work away in the background while you focus on other tasks. The next time you return to your pencil and paper, seemingly out of thin air you will pluck ideas that fuel you to venture further and deeper into the unexplored possibilities of your composition.

Step 5: The dreaded, yet inevitable, road block - It sometimes comes out of the blue. It creeps up on you when you least expect it. It recognises that you’re in a rhythm, and it wraps itself around you, blocking your vision. The direction you were going in is now questioned and any efforts you make to justify moving forward are futile. This tap on your shoulder that contradicts your next move, sardonically whispering ‘really, that’s what you’re going to write next?’, is a necessary part of the compositional process. It allows you to review what you have already written and logically think about getting past this minor inconvenience. Embrace the awkwardness and the frustration! Ironically, in writing this step, I had major writer’s block. Poetic justice? No. Frustrating? Most certainly.

Step 6: Accepting your indecisiveness - Unsure whether you’re satisfied with the finished product? Are you still thinking about whether bar number 67 fits properly? These are all questions that chime the bells of indecisiveness and perfectionism. Musicians are known for meticulously spending hours upon hours on a single bar of music in amongst a sea of hundreds more. Perfecting your composition is sometimes a lifelong endeavour, but it shows your passion for being an artist of sound. Whatever imperfections lie in your cacophony of notes don’t hinder its quality. These imperfections make up your efforts and your willingness (or reluctancy) to be human. Leading up to the premiere performance of A wayward zephyr in the middle of March this year, I am still making changes and edits. It has gotten to the point where it is becoming an obsession. An obsession for change and an obsession for what is ‘right’ one day and ‘wrong’ the next are tell-tale signs of madness. (Really, I think every true musician is a little mad anyway.) Always leave a window open for change; you never know when you’ll need to climb through.

Step 7: The beginning - So, you now have your final product. A story told from beginning to end; a story that you have conjured up and put into more than just notes on a page. You started with a blank canvas and created a piece that mirrors your inner workings and thoughts as a musician. Being able to communicate through sound takes courage, conviction and determination. Embrace the emptiness of those unwritten bars and forgotten melodies. They will eventually all lead you to bigger and better things that form the beginnings of even the most sumptuous ideas.

In Conversation: SPIRAL

While they were in Melbourne to see the Philip Glass Ensemble perform Koyaanisqatsi, SPIRAL joined Rehearsal Mag for a chat about all things minimalism, collaboration and how playing Glass' early works made them a stronger ensemble.

Joshua Winestock: SPIRAL kind of started out of our obsession with Philip Glass. Will Hansen began getting people together for a Philip Glass ensemble, so there were a whole bunch of us on different instruments starting to play. We were a really oddball ensemble: we had lots of keyboard players and our roster would change from week to week depending on who was available. We tried to rehearse as often as possible, and that was our existence for the first year.

Rehearsal: Were you performing?

JW: We performed twice that year and just Philip Glass' music. Both of our concerts were at the Sydney Con for our colleagues, and preparing for those performances really bound us together as an ensemble; the seemingly simple pieces are actually very specific technical and ensemble exercises. Will, who put us together in the first place, would have to nod his head to indicate the changes, and if one person got out it became chaotic. Those rehearsals really forced us to find out what our musical identity was, and how we were going to progress as an ensemble. It forced us to think more about our sound and how we wanted to deliver our music.

Will Hansen: After that year, we had a discussion and kind of thought, we've run out of early Glass pieces, so why not do something else? Some of the music that we play now is still classic minimalism, but the pieces we're each writing for the ensemble are a little more genre-bending because we want our work to appeal to an audience of young people, like us. At the moment you go see contemporary classical music and it's still a pretty formal process of sitting down and watching the concert. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but I do think minimalism benefits from audience interaction and encouraging the people watching to engage in a relaxed manner.

JW: It can be a really personal experience, listening to this kind of minimal music. We are really an ensemble of seven composers, and like all composers, we're trying to get our pieces played, so as a group it seems like a course of great integrity to play our own works. As well as just being intellectually involved in the process as composers, we want to be involved at all stages, and be responsible for the work we're putting out into the world. Really, we think it's the solution to not having any performance opportunities!

Josephine Macken: We've been slowly discovering the importance of the physicality of producing music, so as much as composers work in solitude coming up with these esoteric ideas, there's a lot of weight and significance behind actually picking up an instrument, creating sounds and blending as an ensemble.

Rory Knott: As a group, we're creating a space where it's very easy to experiment and try things that may not be successful the first time we do them. I don't think that there's necessarily enough interaction between composers and performers, particularly at the early stages of workshopping, which is hard because if you're a composer you have to be figuring everything out yourself. We want all the choices that we make surrounding our music to reflect this too, so our choice of venue for this gig works really well. Previously we've only performed at the university in what is naturally quite a formal setting, so this venue [The Red Rattler], which hosts rock bands and experimental ensembles, is a really great place to reinvent the wheel. It's cool to play for an audience that's interested in hearing new music that's not necessarily related to the contemporary classical genre at all.

JM: We've heard from people who have no connection to the institution, but have picked up on what we're doing because of this venue. It's great to have that kind of outreach and to have our music heard by a diverse range of people with different musical tastes and preferences.

Rehearsal: So how has this particular concert been programmed?

WH: It's a mix of classic minimalist works and new works. We're opening with China Gates by John Adams to establish the mood and get everyone chilled out, and the rest of the program includes works by some of us! We have three new pieces in this performance: a work by Josh for the full ensemble, a work by Rory for the full ensemble, and a work by Sarah who has written a piece for solo double bass.

JW: It is really important to us that we all have an opportunity to write for our own ensemble. When I first brought my piece to the group, they approached it as performers and learnt how to play it, and once they'd learnt the notes we all workshopped it together, and they brought forward ideas and suggestions, and that process was so valuable to me as a composer.

WH: That workshop stage is absolutely crucial to us - both for the performers and the composer - because unlike playing in a symphony orchestra, which is like "here's the music, learn to play it", we get to feel a sense of community and help create the new piece together. The time we spend workshopping each piece has actually really sped up our entire process and made us more efficient as a group.

JW: Because we are doing this collaborative process of workshopping with every piece we play, our identity as a group has begun to influence all of our individual compositions, and we're helping to develop each other's compositional style, which is really gratifying.

WH: Minimalism as a genre has really bound us together as well, and I think that because it has really laid the foundations for a lot of new music today, it's influenced all our styles significantly and brought us together as a stronger group.

JM: We owe a lot to the artistic community as well, because a lot of performance spaces are open to bringing new styles new artists in, who don't necessarily have a heap of experience. It's fantastic to see these spaces thrive on supporting the work of developing artists. We definitely use the space that we're performing in to help dictate how we program. We're really interested in the building a context around the works we play and considering how each piece might come across in say, a concert hall as opposed to a bar.

WH: Absolutely. We still feel that there is a culture of politeness, and a bit of a social stigma around going into a concert hall as an audience member - like, sometimes I want to burst out in applause after every movement of a work, but you just can't. I think because it's our basic desire as humans to express our emotions, it's really important to us that our audience can do that when they feel like it. So working in different venues is really important to us as an ensemble.

Rehearsal: What's your rehearsal process been like for this concert?

WH: Unlike last year, when we had a pretty strict rehearsal schedule, this concert has been a bit less formal. We've been rehearsing a bit at my house, and how we structure it our sessions has been basically just an hour for each piece. The whole process of workshopping the piece and getting it together by talking about it is really beneficial to us. At the moment we're rehearsing together every day.

RK: We've been beefing up our rehearsal schedule as we've gotten closer to the performance. We normally do two rehearsals a week, because we've simply found it super necessary when playing this type of music. It's a bit like playing period music: you have to know the style and work really hard to get it technically correct. Our discipline comes from practicing that early Glass music; we would play each piece for fifteen minutes, stuff it up, and then start again. There was so much persistence. It was like physical exercise - you have to build up your stamina.

JM: We were shockingly bad at the start! We sometimes didn't even last fifteen minutes playing an hour long piece! We were five minutes in and we'd be out of sync or have intonation issues and have to recalibrate and give it another try.

WH: The amount of blending and the amount of ensemble awareness that we've developed has shot us a year or two ahead rehearsal-wise, though, so it's been so worth it. We're able to tackle new pieces now with a much better technical understanding, thanks to playing those Glass pieces for a whole year. Now that we've developed a tighter ensemble, we're keen to start supporting up-and-coming composers by performing their works and workshopping their pieces with them, just like we've done for each other. We're looking at commissioning a couple of works pretty soon and continuing to support the connection between composers and performers. Generally, someone gives you a piece, you play it, and it's done, and we want to help made sure that composers get more out of their work than just that.

Rehearsal: So ensuring that each piece you perform has some kind of longevity and life of its own is important to you as an ensemble?

JM: We want to be able to say more than "we can play this piece in a concert for you". We really want to have this strong set of works written by us and others that we can champion over our time together as an ensemble.

JW: Longevity is a really good word, because if a piece has a potential lifespan of more than one concert, it can take on a life of its own, and that's really what all composers want to see, isn't it?

In Conversation: Yebin Yoo

2016 was a year full of performance accomplishments for you, as a semi-finalist in the Dorcas McClean Travelling Scholarship for Violinists, finalist in the Open Instrumental Australian Concerto and Vocal Competition, as Young Performer of the Year in the Abbotsford Convent's Music in the Round, and, most recently, as the winner of the Gisborne International Music Competition and the 3MBS's The Talent. What was your experience like during The Talent?

Last year’s experience of The Talent is still extremely vivid. The competition helped me to find my own, individual voice – to form an interpretation from personal experiences. The peaceful but also extremely professional atmosphere encouraged me to explore the hidden depths of emotion and seek higher levels of intellect. More emphasis was on the music being created, making the whole event very inspirational and enriching. The jury’s feedback immediately following each performance invited the competitors to explore ideas beyond one’s boundaries – an individual and notable feature of the competition.

I would see The Talent more as a platform for young musicians to grow and share their music than a competition. In its duration, I felt like I could always express my musical ideas and emotions freely; this freedom certainly helped me to shape a performance with spontaneity and imagination. Unlike any other performances I have done, I was able to utilise nerves for creativity and expression. The live broadcast was another special aspect of the competition – the audience was simultaneously at the other end of the radio. This stimulated me to deliver a clearer and stronger musical conviction so that my ideas could reach the distant ears.

My first round performance in particular was the most memorable; occurring on International Women’s Day, I celebrated the music of Australian female composer Margaret Sutherland. I truly admire her works in their unique identity and capacity to mirror the spirit of nature. Seeing women breaking through the musical industry, especially in the domains of composition, is meaningful as I’ve grown up seeing the industry almost male-dominated. The collective musical experience of The Talent will prevail for a long time.

How do you prepare for competitions, such as The Talent and the Gisborne International Music Competition? Does your mindset change from the beginning of a competition to the finals?

As stressful and exhausting preparations for competitions can be, this pressure and challenge is what has helped me to improve significantly. Competitions have a high demand for repertoire and to have every piece assembled into the best condition is an enduring process. I like to think of this preparation period as a marathon - it is a test for endurance, resilience and mental strength.

Every day I strive to take a step further and view the music with ‘fresh eyes’ in hope of finding new discoveries and innovations. As with any performance, I also try to treat the piano or orchestral score like the bible. The understanding of the other parts escalates the learning process.

Throughout competitions, the atmosphere intensifies towards the finals. However, I personally feel the complete opposite, sensing more stress at the beginning of the competition and less as I progress through. The closer to the finals, the more I am able to focus on the music, perhaps as I am more familiar with the environment and have a clearer perception of what to expect. Ultimately, competitions serve as new opportunities and doorways for musicians and should be a place to express one’s soul. I always endeavour to set music as the central focus of any competition and try to contemplate on how my performance will offer the audience an emotional journey and spiritual connection.

You are a full music scholar at Firbank Grammar School, and you also study at the Australian National Academy of Music with Dr Robin Wilson. How do you balance your music and academic study, as well as a social life and down time?

Well, it is certainly very difficult but as I enjoy music, my music study acts as a relief from academic study. It is a special privilege to perform with the Australian National Academy of Music orchestra and to learn from Dr Robin Wilson; I am constantly surrounded by inspiration, making music feel more like an entertainment than a study. Music can also be therapeutic in that I can pour all my emotions into the music and immerse myself in a world away from reality.

In more general terms, I tend to focus more on the effectiveness of present and rather than getting too particular about systematically balancing study and down time as a matter of time. I like to think of my leisure time as having a mutual dependence with study, as appropriate doses of rest can be very beneficial.

You have mentioned that you started playing the violin when you were eight; quite late by some standards! What has helped you to become so successful so quickly?

I am so thankful to have so many incredible people in my life; the immense support of my family, my incredible teacher and mentor Dr Robin Wilson, ongoing inspiration John Curro and many more. However, it has been God who has been my biggest supporter, helping me to advance through my shortfalls and failures and place greater importance on the enjoyment of music. It was from these shortfalls that I learnt the real meaning of music – a special language that can deliver indescribable emotions. I think that trying to express these feelings in an honest, open way to the audience enhances any performance experience. I believe that the ability to express extreme depths of emotion comes from an experience of spiritual connection and faith.

Do you have any tried and true practice tips for other young musicians?

Yes, I think that a very important part of practice is mental analysis. The thinking process of practice should be problem-solving and logical, and it is critical to find the roots of any inaccuracies or mistakes, hypothesising possible causes and experimenting solutions. A high level of concentration is required of such practice and it is something to be continuously worked on.

When there is a high demand for repertoire, I rely on interleaved and non-linear practice, where a passage is polished briefly and is visited numerous times a day (rather than once or twice). This type of practice forces the brain to recall more actively and is far more effective in the long-term. It produces more myelin, an element of the brain that deals with speed and precision – particularly helpful for musicians.

I also cannot stress enough on the importance of performance practice. The execution process during performance practice is in a different dimension to one in the practice room. Even during the early preparation stages, performance practice can be very valuable, it is like a reflection of how well you practiced!

If you could travel back in time and choose a different instrument to play, would you? What would it be?

I have never doubted my choice of instrument - the violin has something truly special about its timbre - something very soul-ringing. At times I feel as though my violin has its own feelings, temper and spirit, and the magic in the music is only created when I connect and become one with it. It is the warmth and vocal qualities of the violin that makes it so special and spiritual!

It is also very interesting how unique each violin can be from one another, where it be more masculine or feminine, each has its own personality. It is because of this individuality that the violin can capture so many different images, sounds and emotions; the sound world is limitless and challenging. In this way, I think that the violin encourages one to keep developing and maturing both as a musician and a human being.

In Conversation: Fiona Menzies
Following the announcement of the Australian Cultural Fund’s Double the Score campaign, we sat down with Creative Partnerships Australia’s CEO Fiona Menzies to talk about funding, relationship management and getting your work out there.

Creative Partnerships Australia administers the Australian Cultural Fund, alongside running workshops and mentoring for musicians. Could you tell me about what CPA does on a broader scale in supporting Australian musicians?

Creative Partnerships Australia has a broad remit that is, at its core, centred around encouraging Australian artists to seek out corporate sponsorship and individual donations, and supporting them in that process. There are some amazing opportunities for young artists and musicians in this country, and our goal is to continue growing the pie of funds that they have to work with. We work across a few areas - speaking with businesses, philanthropists, arts organisations and the artists themselves to help each party be better at finding and maintaining relationships with one another. Many people from both sides of the equation - both the artists and the potential supporters - don’t know how to find each other, or don’t feel comfortable approaching the person they’re interested in supporting or being supported by, seemingly out of the blue! We try to help them understand how the the person they are asking is thinking, and therefore how they can approach them. We work to help artists learn how best to pitch to private donors and then, once the pitch has been made successfully (hopefully!) how they should continue to build their relationship with their sponsor. It can be really little things, like remembering to thank them, or bigger ideas about how to best nurture their relationships. It’s important to me that artists understand that they need to operate like a business. They are no different to doctors or plumbers or shop owners. In lots of different professions, people work individually or in small groups, and artists need to know how to operate as a business. It’s absolutely crucial.

How early in your musical journey or profession should you be thinking about these big business ideas?

From the time you’re studying at university you’re forging ideas about the practice you’re running. For example, you may want to be a soloist as well as, perhaps, in some kind of ensemble like a chamber group or an orchestra. You may also want to work as a freelancer and work with different groups of people throughout your career. When you’re studying you absolutely should be thinking about your ideal practice - whatever it may be - and as part of that you need to be thinking about how it’s going to be funded. Start thinking straight away about the kind of commercial opportunities that are available, and whether you could be working to receive government funding. University is a really great time to start building relationships as well, with other musicians and the community that is supporting the arts. Start developing those relationships as soon as you can, and, if possible, get private donors who are interested. The earlier you do it the better, because as you progress and build your practice you can take them on the journey with you. Good business practice is to always have more than one funding source, and this is something you should start thinking about as early as possible. If, for example, you’re in the business of making ballpoint pens, there’s no point selling to one retailer, because as soon as they go broke you’re out of business. If you’re selling to six businesses and one goes bust you’ll take a knock but most likely you’ll be okay. There are relatively good government funding opportunities in Australia, but it’s in your interest as an artist to have other options!

Can you tell me about the Australian Cultural Fund, and why that was set up?

The Australian Cultural Fund was set up in order to provide a mechanism through which donors can give funds to individual artists with a tax deduction, which usually is only a possibility when you give to an organisation with Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status. Creative Partnerships Australia has DGR status; we’ve created it so the donor gives their donation to us and we make the decision to honour their preference and pass it on to the artist of their choice. The ACF has actually existed for more than decade, but we only digitised in 2015, which has made the whole process a lot easier. The website has been constructed to be as easy as possible for both the artists and the donors, and we’ve seen the number of donations and the value of donations increase dramatically as a result. You have to make it easy for people to give, so all you have to do on the website as a donor is search for the project that you’re interested in, then fill in a small amount of information. We really believe this is a facility that artists should know about and access for their projects, because it does make it simple for their patrons to support them. The other thing about the Australian Cultural Fund that is really important to us is the fact that it is a democratic process of funding that is helping people move away from the notion that only highly wealthy people can be philanthropic. It may sounds cliché, but it really doesn’t matter how much or how little you give because you’re contributing to something that is greater than what you could do with your own funds. Everyone can help, and every contribution counts.

The Art Music Fund, run by APRA AMCOS, is a really great platform for young composers to develop their own projects - what about that particular initiative attracted you at Creative Partnerships Australia?

One of the things I love about the Art Music Fund is that the recipient of the funding has to have two performances lined up, which is absolutely terrific. I think it’s also really important to be supporting the creators of new work - the composers, the writers and the choreographers, rather than putting all of the focus on the performers. This fund works because it allows people to support the makers in a really sustainable way, where you are seeing a project eventuate into a live performance rather than helping fund a work that never gets performed. It’s important to us that we’re supporting the creation of works that get heard by audiences, and not just heard once but heard multiple times. We think it’s a really fantastic program, and APRA has committed to putting that money in, so I think it will be clear to people how good the project is and therefore help increase the amount of funds. The Fund is never limited by the amount of talent needing support - rather, it is limited by the amount of money, so therefore if we can make an extra $8000 we can help the Fund support one extra composer. I think that makes the entire process really compelling to us.

Can you share some tips on applying for grants in general?

Three things -

Read the guidelines thoroughly: What you’re putting in has to meet the criteria, I can’t say that enough. Don’t skim read through the terms. We recognise how hard it is to forge a life as an artist, but people do often throw proposals in for everything without putting in the time it takes to get it right.

Ask questions: If you can, ring the potential funder and ask them your questions. Don’t be scared to ask if your project idea is hitting the mark; it’s absolutely worth your time to have that conversation. People generally like having that conversation, because it makes their job easier in the end. Whether you’re in the government or the private sector, you receive zillions of applications, so it's in your own interest to cut the ones that aren’t relevant. Don’t let this happen to you! Make sure you can’t be cut.

Get people to read it! Before you press submit, get someone completely unrelated to read your application. It’s easy to slip into jargon, or to assume certain bits of knowledge, particularly as a musician, so if you can get a friend or relative outside the industry to check that it makes sense, that’s really good. People are willing to help!

What do young people and artists need to know about the general state of philanthropic and business support for artists in Australia, and how can they best harness the available opportunities for funding?

I would say that business support is quite hard to get, though not impossible. However, it is more focussed on organisations rather than individuals, so finding out about philanthropic support is an easier start. Philanthropy in the arts is absolutely growing, and you’d be silly not to jump on that bandwagon. It does take time and effort, but it’s worth being part of. You do have to put time into cultivating and managing your relationships often over several years, because people aren’t just going to hand you their hard earned cash. In terms of harnessing these type of relationships, you need to start by looking for people who share your passion. It doesn’t matter whether your passion project is creating new work or performing Elgar, you will find someone who shares that love, and that’s where it all begins. When you’re cultivating these relationships it’s important to remember that when someone wants to invest their money, it is of course because they love it, and if they love it they generally know a lot about it. Never assume that your supporters have no knowledge. They want to engage in the art form that they love, so you as an artist need to really respect that. Also, keep them informed!! If you’ve got something coming up - perhaps a performance of a work your funder helped make possible - make sure you let them know. Being fully engaged makes a huge difference.

CPA runs a significant number of events and master classes for artists to get a handle on the business and fundraising side of artistic practice - can you tell me a bit about the mentoring program that you offer?

Absolutely - we offer free mentoring from each of the state managers, which is something you can easily get involved in through the website. They will chat with you and see where you’re at and give you some hints about what you should be thinking about. You can structure it as a one-off chat, or you make more regular appointments. I think as an individual artist it is a really great opportunity to chat with someone and bounce ideas off them. Each of the state managers have a broad understanding of the industry in different ways - some were practicing arts workers while others work for corporates running sponsorship programs. I can’t encourage people enough to ring or email and ask us questions. We always prefer to be asked, and it’s true that there is no such thing as a dumb question. If you’re keen to get involved with the courses run by CPA, the easiest way to find out about what is coming up is through the eNews!

Your Mentors: Tinalley String Quartet

In 2017, Tinalley's programs will centre around the literary works of Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest writers of all time. What is it about his words that have inspired composers for so long?

I think inspiration (for composers and artists alike) is stirred by things that are passionate, evocative and relatable. It strikes me that Tolstoy's novels have all of these qualities; the (often epic) story unfolds amongst very real, 'human' characters as nature takes its course on their lives. I can imagine that narratives such as these would be irresistible to composers - his greatest epics are almost Wagnerian, and the stories always capture the imagination. Tolstoy was also acutely aware of music's power to influence human emotion, and his novel 'The Kreutzer Sonata' tells of a jealous husband driven to murder under the influence of Beethoven's violin sonata. This, in turn, provided inspiration for Leos Janácek, who was so affected by the passion and tragedy of the story that he wrote both a quartet and an unfinished piano trio based on its subject matter. It's a wonderful example of both art forms and their ability to inspire yet more wonderful art!

As a quartet, you have performed the most well-loved works of the genre as well as brand new commissions and collaborations, both of which offer their own unique challenges. This first program sees you focussing on three masterworks of quartet writing - what have you found to be the challenges in presenting pieces that are standards in the repertory compared to working with entirely new writing?

I think there are undoubtedly challenges with both, but there is a certain weight that you carry when performing the masterworks in the quartet repertoire. Not only are they so well known, but there is a history of performance (that all of us inherit as musicians) that can be both a blessing and a curse. New works, on the other hand, present both the fear and the excitement of the unknown. Where we have to sometimes guess the intent of a composer with older repertoire, and with new repertoire we often have the composer as a very present voice in exactly how he or she may wish to have things executed - which can be both wonderful and slightly limiting as a performer! The string quartet is a medium that many renowned composers were incredibly intimidated by, so the craft of the writing in many of these cornerstones of the repertoire is extraordinary. Ultimately, both require the utmost skill and preparation.

Each member of Tinalley juggles ensemble rehearsals alongside a combination of work in major orchestras, teaching, and artistic leadership. What is the process of structuring your rehearsals around your other commitments, and how do the other parts of your career inform your ensemble playing?

We simply wouldn't be able to exist without being incredibly organised. Planning our schedules happens between 12-18 months ahead, with the understanding of our respective workplaces, and a lot of flexibility from us all individually. It means we are all exceptionally busy most of the time, but it's the price you pay to be able to do what we love! There are a lot of emails, balancing repertoire and time that we have, and ensuring we are all incredibly prepared when we meet to rehearse! For all of us, this will mean time away from home at some point, and a decent amount of travel. But the best part is being able to have work that is constantly making us better musicians, and incredibly varied. It means meeting as an ensemble is always a joy, and we value it all the more.

There is a myriad of tasks - both artistic and administrative - that come as part and parcel of playing in an ensemble. How do you delegate the jobs that fall outside of rehearsal and performance? Who does what?

We all have grown into various tasks over the years that we either excel at, or have learned to do over our time. Without management, all of the day to day runnings of the quartet are left to us, and I should say largely to our powerhouse inner voices Lerida and Justin (absolute superstars the pair of them)! Then, other tasks we try and divide accordingly. It is hard, and we are always trying to achieve a better balance!

As a young quartet, you had the opportunity to work with some incredible people who became mentors to you as an ensemble. Why is mentoring important for young performers?

When you start playing chamber music, it is rare that it's with the intent of 'we want to be the next St Lawrence String Quartet'. It's more often that you might play a concert together, then play another concert together....and before you know it - you're preparing for competitions, and study and you've created a life for yourselves. But it's unlikely that you'll know exactly what that life is going to entail, or how difficult it will be! We were so lucky to have incredible mentors who were able to guide us along the way - helping us navigate the harder aspects of being in an ensemble that sometimes have very little to do with playing your instrument! As a result, giving back some of the time and generosity that we received as a young ensemble has become a real passion of mine (and Tinalley's). It's a tough career, but a wonderful one - sometimes you just need a little helping hand to guide you along the way.

To have a successful chamber ensemble, you have to do more than just play the notes really well. Can you tell us about some of the business skills that you've had to learn that have helped make Tinalley the success it is?

I can safely say we had very little idea of the skills we would need to create what we have at the moment. Most of that has been by learning on the fly, the generosity of a few wonderful people, a sometimes insane amount of time not spent on the instrument, and a healthy mix of sheer blind luck and very hard work. Website building, promotional materials, tax, scheduling, writing copy, social media management, donor building, grant writing....you name it - we've had to learn it. This isn't something you are often told when you're at university!!! And in our industry, we are in the same market as organisations that have up to 30 people doing these many jobs. In our case - it's just four. It is hard, but there is a sense of incredible pride to see what we've created after all these years, and I'm so lucky to have colleagues that do this with such incredible professionalism.

For Rehearsal readers who are just getting started on their journey into chamber music, what initial advice do you have about setting up an ensemble?

This will be hard, but it will be one of the best things you ever do as a musician. It will be many hours of work both on and off the instrument, but if you are surrounded by a great group of people (as I have been) then the world is your oyster. Ask for advice wherever you can, be organised, and make a priority of seeing the 'long term view' for your group. The thing I see so often these days is ensembles setting themselves up purely for the benefit of going for competitions (and hopefully being successful). Try it the other way around. Set yourselves up as an ensemble, establish wonderful performances, study lots and then make the competition just another performance. It is just one aspect of a wonderful journey - not the end game. The best reward, however, is knowing that chamber music will enhance your skills as a musician - the best orchestral players I know (and soloists I might add) are all wonderful chamber musicians.

In Conversation: Hang Massive

The handpan or hang (not hang drum) is a convex steel drum played with the hands and tuned with multiple notes in a diatonic scale. After the viral success of their online videos, Hang Massive are some of the worlds best known hang based musicians. They are currently on a global tour.

When did you first start playing the hang? How did you come together as a duo, and how did the hang facilitate that?

Danny: I first started playing the hang in 2006 when the instrument was very new and almost unknown. I had been living in India in the winter for many years and that is where I met Markus. When we first met we started jamming with me playing hang and Markus playing Djembe and when we returned back to Europe that is when we started playing hang together. That was in 2010. We played in the streets for some years and that is where our style and sound came about.

Your music blends acoustic and electronic music in a unique way. From where do you draw inspiration?

Markus: We draw inspiration from all of the different genres of music that we have enjoyed and loved throughout our lives. We bring different elements of this into the way that we play the hang. We also draw deep inspiration from a relaxed way of being and from the spontaneous nature of reality.

Can you tell us more about Balanced View? How does your music reflect its principles and teachings?

Danny: Balanced View is the most incredible of teachings and something that has been a part of Hang Massive since the beginning. Both myself, Markus and Victoria, who will also be performing with us on this tour are very much involved with this lifestyle. Balanced View is an ancient teaching and message that is now brought forward by the founder, Candice O’Denver. Candice is a formal lineage holder of the Nyingma Lineage. The basis of the teaching is deep relaxation in all moments regardless of circumstance. This is something that when practiced can bring about incredible results and it is from this space and vantage that the music that we create comes forth.

Distant Light is your first studio album, following two albums of live recordings. How did the process of recording in the studio change the way in which you envisaged the final product?

Markus: We took this opportunity to bring many new flavours together and to fuse them with the incredible sounds of the hang. The process brought many new possibilities in terms of recording technique and production styles. It was great working with Morgan Davenport who produced the album and the combination of us all together was really fun and we loved the results.

Finally, do you have projects coming up that you are excited about? Can you tell us more about these?

We have so many exciting things happening this year. In the next months, we will release and electronic fusion album with our great friend J Rokka from the UK. The album features a range of incredible styles and massive tracks. We will also start recording a new Hang Massive album in Sweden in the early summer before heading off on a massive tour of the USA and Canada before returning back to Europe for another tour run there in the Autumn. Many exciting things to come so keep an eye on the website and FB page to stay up to date.

In Conversation: Adam Simmons

Your upcoming concert series 'The Usefulness of Art' spans multiple genres and incorporates the sounds of objects as well as instruments. Can you tell me about the conception of this idea, and your inspirations for building a show in this way?

I have always enjoyed playing music from a broad range of genres - on a practical level, it has just been a consequence of trying to cobble together enough work to survive as a musician. But on an artistic level, having experience and understanding of different genres, instruments, mediums, musicians, teachers, cultures, whatever, have all helped influence my music in one form or another. I remember my father gave my sister and I a turntable when we were probably around 5 or 6 years old, plus a bunch of less precious albums that we were allowed to play. These included Howlin' Wolf, West Side Story, Yes, Tom Jones, and something from the Mickey Mouse Club. But once I was allowed to access the real collection, I was listening to the likes of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Art Ensemble of Chicago, World Saxophone Quartet, Elton John, The Beatles, Captain Beefheart, Buddy Guy, Philip Glass, Anthony Braxton, Glenn Gould, Steve Young, and Albert Ayler. Many of these artists are extremely diverse in their approach and their output. For me, this diversity seems to just be part and parcel of developing and exploring one's craft. Only later on did I come to understand that it was maybe the exception rather than the rule.

"The Usefulness of Art" is something that I have conceived to help bring together some of my various threads, whether stylistically or by way of my broad network of colleagues. I have identified several aspects that inform each of the works, though maybe explored in different forms. So, rather than present each one separately, by performing them within a larger series, I hope it will help develop and frame the works as a cohesive collection.

As an artist in our current political climate, the "usefulness" of our work is often called into question. What are your thoughts on the use of art on a broad scale, and how is this depicted in your concert series?

Reading Auguste Rodin's thoughts about "The Usefulness of the Artist" while studying helped give me some reason for becoming a musician, by naming "useful all that gives us happiness". But after many years of performance experience and a mix of formal and informal research, I am now of the firm belief that art is a vital part of our humanity. It is something which helps build community through expression and sharing of our diversities, leading to better understanding. Art helps develop empathy, it helps to communicate beyond verbal language, and it can help to physically form different and new neural pathways. Yet, in the current political climate, I feel the usefulness of art is measured solely in terms of the financial benefits it brings - this is most evident in how we now talk about creative industry and creative economies. This has been exacerbated by cuts to various arts institutions and federal arts funding cuts over recent years.

I might be grumpy about stuff, but I don't know how to change things. I am a musician, and not a very influential one - if I choose not to put my music in Spotify, no one is going to care. So my response has been to work from a positive place and do what I do, which is compose and play music. It may be to a small community, but if I can help an audience understand the value and necessity of art in their own life through an actual art experience, that is within my capacity to achieve.

What I would really like to do is build a community through this series. Not just an audience, but a community. It might not be that everyone comes to the gigs, it might just be through someone reading this article that the community grows. But words only get so far - it is the doing, the experience; that is where things are transmitted, transformed and understood. Each concert will take a willing listener on a journey - even tonight, one of the musicians at rehearsal remarked she was reliving all of the emotions in a physical way from the premiere performance which was nearly a year and a half ago. And in this way the artists themselves will also by necessity become part of the community through their performances. This is not a gig to just clock in and out of - I ask a lot of both audience and performer alike, but it is about going on a shared journey and enjoying the adventures that pop up.

You often use toy pianos and other toy instruments in your work, and you have spent a large portion of your career teaching. Has working with children influenced your performance and composition, or developed your ideas on creativity in any way?

Yes, in some ways, teaching and working with young children have influenced my ideas, yet that's not where the influence for using toys came from. The main thing that I think I have perceived from my various interactions with young children is that they are open to all kinds of music when young, which slowly narrows as they grow. One thing I have seen is my own kids happy to watch Hi-5 on television, but they never asked to listen to it as music - instead, they would ask for the "sleepy music" (Kind of Blue by Miles Davis) or "the pussy music" (Debussy) or the ballet music (more Debussy or anything classical). From this, I take away the belief that if music (or art) is engaging, then it will connect on some level at whatever age - and that it is actually incumbent upon us to expose our youth to quality arts experiences. One thing I have seen in Europe is how the CD collections in people’s homes can be extremely varied, especially in contrast to homes of the general Australian populace. Imagine if our culture encouraged sport and art, instead of forcing a dichotomous wedge between them?

Teaching is something I could talk about for quite a while. But let me just say that while it is not my focus, it has played a vital role in my own development and I have come to understand the great value of transmitting knowledge to others, young and old.

The toys actually came from working in 2001 with Motoko Shimizu, a fellow resident at Music Omi (USA). It was part of her practice, and it was just a natural extension for me from the kinds of explorations into extended techniques that I use on my conventional instruments. They certainly have been useful in expanding my opportunities to share music - in part because it opened up the chance to play for young children, but more because the use of toys helps to open up the minds of adults. Toys bring a sense of play, of fun, of nostalgia, as well as opening up the possibility that the listener might actually be able to do the same thing - and indeed, I have often given toys and party supplies to the audience, allowing them to become partners in creating soundscapes and musical experiences.

Can you tell us about how you came to music, and what made you realise that pursuing a career in the arts was what you wanted to do?

Well, I'm not sure I had much choice - my father is a sax player also, self-taught but with big ears and a whole lot of passion. My mother was not a performer but I do remember long sessions where I think she would improvise loosely around certain pieces she had learnt as a child. Friends of my father would come around and they'd be sharing their latest vinyl acquisitions, getting excited, swearing, drinking wine and pumping it up loud on the AR speakers. As I mentioned earlier, we were given a portable record player to use as we liked. We would watch Countdown together religiously on a Sunday night, but we'd watch Young Talent Time also. Music was just always there.

In terms of actually playing music, I first dabbled in a snippet of piano with my mother's guidance, but I gave up when I had to do two things at the same time. Later in Grade 2, there was the option of beginning recorder, which I did. Choosing to do it helped immensely as in Grade 3 it was introduced to everyone as a compulsory instrument. While everyone was struggling to learn the basics, I was going home and memorising the song for the next day. This set me up for my first "real" instrument, clarinet. I wanted to play sax and had been mucking around on my father's soprano sax, but my teacher, Peter Russell, suggested that clarinet would be a better place to start, should I one day wish to play both. To cut a long story short, I then added saxophone to my repertoire when I began high school and flute towards the end of year 10.

Though, while I enjoyed music, I didn't seriously consider that I would ever be good enough to pursue it as a career. My dad introduced my to Keith Wilson, a saxophonist and teacher (he taught me my first blues scale that got me improvising), to talk to me about being a professional musician. I thought that if I was really lucky that I might be able to become a music teacher, but even that seemed out of my league. I fully expected to go into maths or physics - the theoretical and experimental stuff, mind you - and I could have, but I decided to try music first with a fallback option. As it happened, I just kept on going...

For young performers interested in being involved in multiple different ways of making art, what advice do you have on diversifying and creating your own opportunities?

As Henry Rollins would say, "Do it!" Especially when you're young. There are artists like Eugene Ughetti or Aviva Endean that have quizzed me about these very issues when they were younger, and whether they used my advice or promptly ignored it, they certainly have embraced a wealth of experiences and created strong identities for themselves. NY saxophonist Ellery Eskelin is one who definitely helped influence my thinking in this regard - about the need to develop one's voice, not just try and be someone else for each gig. But don't be in a rush - make sure you do learn along the way - and continue to do so.

I will just add a note of caution though... play appropriate to the gig, don't impose your ego upon the music, but instead explore how the music can draw the best out of yourself. Each different gig simply offers the opportunity to explore different perspectives of your playing. Slowly this can help you maybe understand the core of what inspires you. Finding myself suddenly knee-deep in the visual arts world a few years ago was extremely daunting, but I slowly understood that the accolades my work was getting came because of my decades of musical experience informing my visual work. At this point, in the same way that playing toys made me feel I was a musician, not just a woodwind player, I was now an artist, not just a musician. I have learnt from various collaborations that artists of different artforms are often dealing with the same concepts, so in a way it made sense but it was still a revelation.

On a more practical note, it is a matter of simply making contacts, building networks, being seen. Going to gigs and listening to people is vital - they may be the gigs you end up doing or the people you end up playing with. Become part of your community, and you will build your community at the same time. Do not be afraid to approach your idols - some people can be difficult, but most of the good ones are not and will happily chat with someone who is genuinely interested in their work. We are all but human.

When you were beginning your journey as a musician and an artist, what do you wish you had known about creating an artistic career?

Going back to being a young kid and thinking I couldn't possibly make a profession as a performing musician, I wish I'd known that there are all kinds of options and possibilities. I am not saying it is easy, but with the right attitude and some flexibility, it is actually more achievable than I had ever thought. I am not famous, but I have played in major festivals here and overseas, I've travelled to numerous countries to play music, and I've performed with some astounding musicians, including some that I listened to on records as a teenager. I am not rich in a financial sense, but I have a wealth of life experience that I never thought possible.

And be patient. Just because you have obtained your university qualification with flying colours, do not expect that to mean anything in the real world! There are already a whole lot of fabulous musicians out there that may be struggling as well! Find your feet, learn about the broader musical community and make connections. With a proactive attitude, a willingness to be flexible and a commitment for the long term, you can get there.

In Conversation: Ensemble Three

Your next performance, Aussie Electric, will feature new Australian works commissioned by Three. Do you find collectively there is a difference in performing new works by living composers to those of the old masters?

We are all committed to performing and commissioning new works. It’s exciting to work with composers on new pieces and to help bring them to life. In most cases, we are involved in some workshopping of ideas with the composer, either in person or by sending scores and audio files. In the process we gain a greater understanding of the composer’s methods and aesthetic while at the same time feeding in some ideas of our own.

As far as we are aware our group is the only one of its kind. Trumpet, trombone and guitar is not an ensemble combination we’ve heard anywhere else, and this makes it an exciting prospect. Most composers are fascinated by the combination and how it might work. The pieces we’ve received are very eclectic and use the ensemble in a variety of ways.

How does your approach change when preparing to perform brand new commissions compared to standard repertoire?

We don’t really perform much standard repertoire! We have done concerts of music from Spain and Latin America, including well-known pieces. In these cases, we’re usually making all the arrangements ourselves so this is quite a different process. Taking a new piece from a commission all the way through to first performances is a rewarding process and often very challenging. One challenge we are negotiating in the current Australian Electric program is working with technology. The first piece, by Fay Wang has a pre-recorded soundscape that the audience hears and also a click we hear in our headphones to ensure we coordinate with the backing track. We need to make sure this is working well and that we are in control of the many changes of sound effects and instrumnetal changes throughout the piece. We now play amplified all the time to enable a consistent balance between the instruments. Loop pedals are also used in a couple of the pieces.

What is your rehearsal process like as an ensemble when preparing for a recital like this?

We are able to take advantage of the facilities at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music so we rehearse together at work. We’re all full-time lecturers which means we have to schedule performances so they fit in with our teaching responsibilities. Our upcoming concert at the MRC on Feb 23 is just before classes begin for the year. When we tour overseas, it’s usually in the middle of the year during university break.

You are all active musicians and lecturers. How do you balance the different musical areas of your lives?

Balancing different areas of our lives is always a challenge. The key is to have the energy and enthusiasm for the musical task at hand. We are all academics with a strong commitment to music performance and to creating new and interesting possibilities for us as musicians. In fact, as full-time lecturers who come from a full-time performing background, performing is of the utmost importance to us as it informs the way in which we teach and structure our students’ education.

Do you have any advice for small ensembles starting out?

Join forces with players you respect and enjoy working with. Some of the most innovative ensembles on the scene today began as groups of friends in school or in the community who really wanted to make music together – eighth blackbird and Sō Percussion both began at school, Roomful of Teeth formed at a music festival, International Contemporary Ensemble formed as a group of like-minded friends who wanted to perform together. All of these groups have gone on to do amazing things. Your fledgeling group can approach composers to work with and suddenly you have a unique, intriguing endeavour.

Trumpet, trombone, and guitar seems like an eclectic combination of instruments - can you tell us about how Three formed as an ensemble?

We followed our own advice to the previous question, and are really glad we did!

What is your rehearsal process like as an ensemble when preparing for a recital like this?

We are able to take advantage of the facilities at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music so we rehearse together at work. We’re all full-time lecturers which means we have to schedule performances so they fit in with our teaching responsibilities. Our upcoming concert at the MRC on Feb 23 is just before classes begin for the year. When we tour overseas, it’s usually in the middle of the year during university break.

You are all active musicians and lecturers. How do you balance the different musical areas of your lives?

Balancing different areas of our lives is always a challenge. The key is to have the energy and enthusiasm for the musical task at hand. We are all academics with a strong commitment to music performance and to creating new and interesting possibilities for us as musicians. In fact, as full-time lecturers who come from a full-time performing background, performing is of the utmost importance to us as it informs the way in which we teach and structure our students’ education.

Do you have any advice for small ensembles starting out?

Join forces with players you respect and enjoy working with. Some of the most innovative ensembles on the scene today began as groups of friends in school or in the community who really wanted to make music together – eighth blackbird and Sō Percussion both began at school, Roomful of Teeth formed at a music festival, International Contemporary Ensemble formed as a group of like-minded friends who wanted to perform together. All of these groups have gone on to do amazing things. Your fledgeling group can approach composers to work with and suddenly you have a unique, intriguing endeavour.

Trumpet, trombone, and guitar seems like an eclectic combination of instruments - can you tell us about how Three formed as an ensemble?

We followed our own advice to the previous question, and are really glad we did!

What is your rehearsal process like as an ensemble when preparing for a recital like this?

We are able to take advantage of the facilities at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music so we rehearse together at work. We’re all full-time lecturers which means we have to schedule performances so they fit in with our teaching responsibilities. Our upcoming concert at the MRC on Feb 23 is just before classes begin for the year. When we tour overseas, it’s usually in the middle of the year during university break.

You are all active musicians and lecturers. How do you balance the different musical areas of your lives?

Balancing different areas of our lives is always a challenge. The key is to have the energy and enthusiasm for the musical task at hand. We are all academics with a strong commitment to music performance and to creating new and interesting possibilities for us as musicians. In fact, as full-time lecturers who come from a full-time performing background, performing is of the utmost importance to us as it informs the way in which we teach and structure our students’ education.

Do you have any advice for small ensembles starting out?

Join forces with players you respect and enjoy working with. Some of the most innovative ensembles on the scene today began as groups of friends in school or in the community who really wanted to make music together – eighth blackbird and Sō Percussion both began at school, Roomful of Teeth formed at a music festival, International Contemporary Ensemble formed as a group of like-minded friends who wanted to perform together. All of these groups have gone on to do amazing things. Your fledgeling group can approach composers to work with and suddenly you have a unique, intriguing endeavour.

Trumpet, trombone, and guitar seems like an eclectic combination of instruments - can you tell us about how Three formed as an ensemble?

We followed our own advice to the previous question, and are really glad we did!

In Conversation: Eighth Blackbird

The Blackbird's cellist, Nicholas Photinos on the business of chamber music.

What is it about new music, and the celebration of living composers, that inspires you personally and as a sextet?

So many things, among them: the joy of creating something new; to be unburdened by past interpretation; and to be free to express music of our time, that often incorporates and is informed by so much of today’s vast musical language and expression.

For young people interested in becoming involved in chamber music, how would you recommend they get started?

For me, nothing is as fun as making music with other people. My earliest experiences took the form of group Suzuki lessons, but when I was only a little bit older, maybe 7-8, this meant playing simple pieces with my Mom or other kids my age. I fear this might be unusual, as I know a number of musicians who didn’t play chamber music until high school - I even went to college with a pianist who hadn’t played chamber music until she got there, which blows my mind. So to get started - first of all, don’t be afraid, no matter what level you are there’s someone else at the same level, though if you’re smart you’ll try to play with people that are better than you so you can learn quicker. And then just go at it - start with simple things, listen to recordings to get an idea of how it goes; you can even practice with recordings before you rehearse with people.

When curating programs, what are you looking for in the compositions you perform, or the composers you commission?

We play works in a number of different styles, and we talk a lot in the group about having a “voice.” It’s not even that something has to be completely “new”-sounding or incorporate some novel sound or technique, but rather that they sound authentically like them, and like no one else, in the language that they use. When curating concerts, we think in terms of balance - what’s a beginning piece? What’s an ending piece? Maybe we don’t want these two pieces on the same program because they sound the same or leave you feeling the same.

Is keeping “classical” music relevant something you are interested in, or is that simply a byproduct of the work you do?

Classical music will always be relevant insofar as it’s about the human experience. It’s like Shakespeare, it’s just waiting for you to crack it open. But it’ll still be there in a hundred years, a thousand years. We do enjoy the relevancy of the classical music being written today in that it can take its influence from any music from any time and especially our own, including pop, rock, jazz, rap, whatever, but that was true of other eras as well: look at Turkish marches in Beethoven’s music. But we’re not striving necessarily to keep it relevant.

This year, you will launch The Blackbird Creative Lab for emerging artists, as part of the ensemble’s educational output. What crucial things do you hope to pass on to the young musicians involved, and all developing performers you work with?

A big part of why we wanted to start our own initiative like this is to impart so many of the things that we didn’t learn when we started out. Some of this is performance-based, like involving memorisation, choreography, stage movement, lighting, and set design. And some of this is production-based, like how to manage project development, budgets, fundraising, contracts, and many other administrative tasks that are so crucial to making our art happen. This is what we hope to develop in the Lab, as well as through lectures and workshops through our residencies at schools.

You work on movement and choreography with young ensembles – why is the way performers move on stage so important for their communication?

Besides the fact that much of what an audience hears is through their eyes, whether they realise it or not, is the fact that so much is communicated between musicians through movement. In coachings, we often say that the music begins from the moment you first walk on stage, and especially from the first cue you give, which sets the entire tone of what you are about to say musically. With more specific movement and choreography, we try to give new tools for the musicians to communicate the music better, which can often be achieved through such simple means as two people that have a melody together to stand next to each other, or for someone that doesn’t play for a while to recede to upstage. This visual communication of the music is the basis for most of our music, and is especially important for new music, when the audience is usually hearing something for the first time: that extra visual aid will help them get so much more out of the piece.

Can you tell us a little bit about how the rehearsal process for a new commission works for Eighth Blackbird? What happens between receiving the piece and putting it on a stage?

Before we rehearse, we study and cue our parts extensively, so that we know who to listen for at any given moment, how to come in after a long pause, and how the piece is going to fit together. When we do begin rehearsal, it is usually slow at first, often with metronome so we can figure out how it sounds together correctly, then we gradually remove that crutch. By this point, hopefully we are gaining a better understanding of the structure and pacing of the piece, and begin to fine-tune build-ups, dynamics, balances, and smaller details that help shape the piece. We then almost always do a “pre-premiere” of the piece, sometimes just inviting a few people into our studio to run the piece and get some feedback. This usually involves the composer.

Being part of an ensemble takes more than just musical skill and theoretical knowledge. What have you learned regarding the business side of running a successful chamber group?

Too many individual skills to list here, but one of the biggest takeaways was don’t reinvent the wheel. Almost everything you can think of that needs to be done has been done by someone, somewhere, and can be retrofitted to suit your situation. Contracts, grant writing, budgets, donor letters, marketing pieces - find people that have done these things and borrow, retool, and deploy this administrative work to fit your project, and save the creativity for the artistic product.

During your Australian tour, you will be performing a brand-new composition by Sydney composer Holly Harrison. Can you share a little about the piece?

Holly’s piece, Lobster Tales and Turtle Soup, takes its title from chapters 9 and 10 of Alice in Wonderland. I think the written directions in the piece say it all - frenetic, wild, mischievous, heavy, even sleazy is written at one point of the piece. The piece has a lot of mean funk and groove, yet doesn’t take itself too seriously either.

Can you share something you wish you’d known when you started Eighth Blackbird?

I’m tempted to say that I wish I’d known that it would all work out in the end, but then would we have worked as hard? Would we have earned it? I think any mistakes we made, we made for good reasons, and we learned more from living that mistake than if we had known about them beforehand.

In Conversation: Bianca Gannon

Tell me about Four Reds in Dark and the multi-sensory experience you’ve created.

Four Reds in Dark is an immersive multi-sensory experience combining sound, light, movement and taste. It features myself and Jeremy Dullard on gamelan, Adam Simmons on woodwinds, Bronwyn Pringle's light installation, and dancer Ade Suharto. This synaesthesia-like experience is a chance for the audience to bathe their senses in colour. Alluding to distinguished artist Mark Rothko’s immersive painting Four Darks in Red, this event transports its audience to a new intense yet meditative realm. Through the power of the gong and the other-worldly resonance of the gamelan, my music fuses with the lingering notes of the specially created and site-specific drink Four Pillars in Red Cocktail. Similarly, Adam, Jeremy and Ade gently penetrate the red haze created by lighting technician Bronwyn. These four artists together become the Four Reds, and will enhance one another in new, enlightening ways.

What is it about creating synaesthesia-like experiences that engages and interests you as an artist?

Everything is connected. Realising these links, however tenuous or intense, really engages me. It's somewhat natural for me to think about music in terms of its relationship to other creative forms, such as visual art and food. I love visual art and food almost as much as I love music, so I'm always thinking of ways to marry the three. Creating a multi-sensory experience, rather than a 'traditional' concert, is equal parts self-indulgent and generous; I want to share and create something special and all-encompassing for the audience to immerse themselves in.

Can you tell us about how you discovered gamelan, and what the process of learning it was like?

I first learned about gamelan through ethnomusicology modules at university. Looking back, what we learned was pretty detached from what I've since experienced in Indonesia but nevertheless I was hooked. Since then, I've continued to listen to gamelan, especially Balinese gamelan, as it combines all the things I love in music: syncopated rhythms, persistent repetition, and meditative and other-worldly tunings and qualities.

While studying at Cardiff University I was aware that there were active gamelans in other parts of Britain, but as it was just such a foreign and intangible culture to me, and for many others in that part of Europe, I hadn't considered that this was something I could become a part of.

Fast forward five years and I had just moved to Dublin, where Central Javanese gamelan has just been set up; they were looking for members so I got stuck in. As a lonely solo pianist, I really enjoyed making music communally. I was also really drawn to the resonance of the instruments and the tuning. These aspects made the simplest of tunes magical. In this gamelan, like many Javanese gamelans, we used a simple notation system with numbers representing pitches, and dots for rests.

After about a year with that gamelan I had the opportunity to study in Bandung, West Java on the Indonesian Arts and Culture Scholarship. This is by no means a straight-up gamelan scholarship, which I only learned once I arrived there. At first, I was disappointed and tried to create as many opportunities as I could to learn gamelan in my free time. But these 3.5 months living in Bandung a deeper understanding of cultural context, which is vital to anyone learning another tradition and something I'll continue to learn for a lifetime. I gained so much invaluable insight into all things not strictly gamelan related, from dance, language and martial arts, to pop music, to social cues, to lifestyle. All of these are things which inform how gamelan is practised and performed. It was one of those situations where, with hindsight, I am now so glad that things hadn't worked out at all how I expected.

I then moved to Melbourne 2.5 years ago which very fortunately has a handful of different gamelans. I joined Gamelan DanAnda, a community gamelan, who play various different Balinese music styles and instruments and ensembles, from Gong Kebyar (flashy, syncopated, modern orchestra) to Gender Wayang (to accompany shadow puppets) and Rindik (soft bamboo instruments and flutes). Led by the tireless Jeremy Dullard, a Balinese music specialist, this is a very dedicated group who rehearse together up to three times a week. Eventually, everyone learns all the instruments and all the parts to our repertoire. This is a really nice way to learn as it helps with learning cues and creating smoother interlocking between parts, which is a huge part of Balinese music, and also improves ensemble playing in general.

Most of our learning is done aurally, through a lot of repetition. As in Bali, you grab a mallet and just try to follow along. If we have a gig coming up and someone needs to learn a part last minute, we use Javanese notation for simpler parts and western notation for those who can read it. We are also very lucky that Jeremy has created isolated parts for us which sound really good and are a very effective and pleasant way to learn parts, even while cooking dinner! All of these things help to memorise the music and to internalise not just one part but how all the parts fit together.

While most of what I know about repertoire comes from Jeremy and Gamelan DanAnda, I learned most about technique and cultural context from the source: study trips to Gamelan Cudamani in Ubud. Performing next to some of the world's best musicians as a total novice in important temple ceremonies giving Ngayah (an egoless musical offering to the gods) is the most beautiful thing I've experienced musically. I strongly recommend the Cudamani Summer Institute in July each year to any musician or dancer of any level seeking immersion into another culture. Emiko Susilo and Dewa Berata at Gamelan Cudamani do it really well!

I've also been trying my hand at gamelan from Cirebon, which is its own unique culture in Java. Michael Ewing, a Cirebon language expert, generously leads Gamelan Putri Asmara - possibly the only Cirebonese Gamelan outside of Indonesia. Here we also learn aurally and we also get to frequently rehearse with dancers, which is such a luxury and a treat to watch. While I'm still very much a beginner at Cirebonese Gamelan, so much background music from my time living in a very active arts centre in Bandung was subconsciously internalised and now helps me to learn Cirebonese Gamelan.

The various gamelan activities have led to my experimentations on mixed Balinese gamelan with loop pedal; this feels like the natural next step in processing the information I've absorbed. The repetitive nature of looping lends itself very well to Indonesian concepts of gong cycles, layering and interlocking parts, so it's helping to consolidate previous knowledge as well as give me a platform to create something new. While I haven't received any formal cultural approval for this project, I feel that Balinese music has always pushed boundaries and is constantly evolving in highly innovative and modern ways while still respecting tradition. This is what I am striving for. However, it is a huge learning curve! I'm completely new to using technology in this way.

You are also a composer, pianist and piano teacher. Can you tell me about how you manage your overarching artistic practice, and how each individual activity inspires the other if you find that to be the case?

Like most freelance musicians I'm somewhat used to over-stretching myself - going from rehearsal to teaching, to other rehearsal, to grant application deadline, to starting a composition, to private practice, to performing, to going to other people's gigs, sometimes all in one day (okay maybe a weekend - but still...!). The variety is great, but not always being able to get stuck into one thing and the lack of downtime is not ideal. Some people do it really well but I don't think it's an easy life to balance. As I'm pretty early-career I tend to say yes to everything and never have a proper weekend, but I definitely crave and need better work-life balance.

I earn my living from teaching, and one of the things I enjoy most about it is making music with my students - sometimes that's playing a notated duet together, but what I love most is improvising with my students. This usually happens in an organic way - they'll be telling me something interesting they did at the weekend or how they've had a bad day at school, and I'll say "what does that sound like" or "let's make some music about that" and we'll start to improvise. The students often have great ideas and I'll give some guidelines to draw on and usually set up an accompaniment on the fly, and together beautiful and interesting and heartfelt music is created. Even if that particular musical material doesn't find its way directly into my compositions or improvisations, I feel that these very creative and expressive moments created together are truly enriching as a musician and as a composer.

In your work as a composer and a pianist, you often focus on free improvisation - can you tell us about improvisation and its importance in being creative in art music?

Improvisation is a relatively new thing for me. For me, it's the biggest release that music brings me but unfortunately it hasn't quite found its way into my compositions yet. My compositions tend to be somewhat rigidly structured and lack the energy of freedom and spontaneity that improvisation tends to embody. It's something I'm working on - making more open compositions and more structured improvisations. So much of making music is about putting in countless hours before getting any tangible results; while the same can be applied to improvisation, there is an aspect of instant gratification with free improvisation and I think that's great. That's why in my students' first piano lesson I always get them to improvise. It's very powerful to create music without over-thinking it - it forces you to be really present and engage with your environment in real time, and helps you to process any musical and non-musical material you've come across both consciously and unconsciously. I also notice that after my students improvise they then automatically interpret their set repertoire with much more passion and expression.

What have you learned from developing and executing your own shows?

I've learned so much from being mentored by Adam Simmons, as part of New Music Network: LAB. He has so generously taught me many things about promotion, balancing budgets, booking venues, musicians, touring etc. etc. that I wish I'd been taught at University but am only just learning now. From the beginning, he has always looked at the bigger picture asking "where do you want to be in ten years" and "so how will you get there". He's encouraged me to have my fingers in many pies - and each one has been rewarding in its own right and had a knock-on effect for this show. Everything is connected.

Adam has shared so many nuggets of wisdom with me always at just the right time. This week's mantra is "focus on what it is and can be, and not what isn't and can't be".

I've also learned that you really can't start early enough. There are endless tasks in curating and producing an experience, and unfortunately that eats into time spent on the music, so the sooner you start the better.

Finally, it's been really beautiful to learn what a supportive community the Melbourne arts scene is. People have really blown me away with their encouragement and help with Four Reds in Dark, so I've learnt that reaching out leads to stronger partnerships and new and vital perspectives.

In Conversation: Vikingur Olafsson

Your debut album with Deutsche Grammophon is in honour of Philip Glass' 80th birthday on January 31st. You've recorded before on your own label Dirrindi Music. Based on these experiences, were there any notable differences in the recording process?

There is something very indy about where I come from, Iceland, and so it was quite natural for me to start my own record label when fresh out of college. I learnt a lot from having full control over everything - and that also means having to do so much work on top of the piano playing. So I very much enjoyed working with Deutsche Grammophon on the release, and probably appreciated their excellent work more as I know that SO many things can go wrong in the process of making an album.

The artistic side of my first DG record - the choice of music, the planning of where to record, on what instrument, with what sound engineer (what kind of sound we were looking for), what repertoire - all of this was mostly in my hands but also in close dialogue with the brilliant Christian Badzura from the A&R at DG. We are very much on the same wavelength and he brought some great insights and ideas.

A year ago, you performed Glass' Etudes with the composer himself, alongside three other pianists. What's it like playing for the composer of the works you're performing? How did you manage the pressure of that performance?

Actually, it's not as difficult as one might think. I guess it varies from composer to composer but my experience from working with living composers has been very good - they are all very open to experimentation and finding new ways to listen to and play the music, and Glass is certainly no exception. In some ways, it can be very freeing for a performer to work with a brilliant living composer, compared to reading a 200-year-old masterpiece of Beethoven's from the printed page. It's easy to get the feeling that the classical scores are a bit set in stone, so to say, that a mezzo forte in Beethoven cannot be altered into a forte for example. However, there is no doubt in my mind that an openness to re-think the music, to be free in it and to always seek new ways of playing it, has been the case with the great composers throughout history. After all, composers like Beethoven, Bach and Mozart were all the leading improvisers of their time.

Your performance programs in the past have included Bach's Das Wohltemperierte Klavier and Chopin's 24 preludes; your Birdsong program featuring Rameau, Ravel, and Messiaen; and your Fleeting Images program which "dances on the borders of the tangible and the intangible, somewhere between seeing and hearing." How do you respond to the idea that minimalism is starkly different from these works - do you approach minimalist pieces differently to other genres, or are there more similarities than at first glance?

When I started to learn the piano etudes of Glass, I saw a lot of repetition on the printed page, and I didn't quite know what to make of them at first. So I began repeating them over and over to memorise them - or internalise them, so to say. And by repeating them I soon realised that there is no such thing as repetition in music, not as long as time continues to move in a forward direction. One cannot step twice into the same river, and we never hear the same music twice, even though the chords look to be the same on the page. And that is, to me, the key when it comes to interpreting and listening to minimalism. We are not treading the same path, but rather travelling in a spiral, always finding new perspectives to look at the same object. I approach this style pianistically much like I would approach Bach or Chopin, aiming for absolute transparency of texture, layered sound and rhythmic vitality, so in that respect it's not that different from the old masters.

You're Artistic Director of Sweden's Vinterfest and the Reykjavik Midsummer Music (which you yourself founded). You've also been involved with many other eclectic projects, such as working with Björk, the classical music television series Útúrdúr (Out-of-tune), and in 2014 playing Scriabin’s Vers la flamme on a floating stage in the middle of Lake Vertigo, with an interruption by a helicopter! How do you balance your time between these projects and practising?

It's a constant battle, but it's a fun battle to fight. I am always trying to tell myself that now I will do fewer things, have more time for myself, etc. Maybe one day I will actually manage to do that, but in the meantime, I consider myself lucky to have so many interesting things happening.

Finally, many of our readers are pianists thinking about their future careers. Do you have any advice for them that you wish you'd had when you were starting out?

Alfred Brendel told me a few years back (when I was worrying that nothing much was happening in my career) that I should be patient as "it takes 15 years to become famous overnight". It had been that way for him. That was very good advice. I think that if one is open and sows good seeds, the time will come when they will all start to bloom simultaneously.

St Georges' Series: Chris Nankervis

I’ve been so fortunate as a pianist to have had some wonderful teachers, mentors and experiences. I’m simply bursting to share some nuggets of advice with you, as well as reinforcing them for myself! I much prefer the number eleven to ten, so here are “11 Invaluable Musical Lessons”.

A better rhythmic acuity will make you a much better musician.

It is surprising to discover how much of a piece of music just falls into place when you can really feel the pulse with every part of your being. Of course being able to feel this consistent pulse takes practise, so work on it daily!

A musical line is played legato by the ear, not the fingers.

At the piano, it is possible to play a legato line WITHOUT using legato fingering! Use the pedal, focus on shaping the musical phrase, and the result can be better than a literal finger legato. I understand if you don’t believe me. But I dare you to try it with octaves!

Never stop searching for the sound you want.

I can recall countless depressing times I felt I was so far from emulating the glowing, resonant sound of my teacher. There are so many complex little combinations of movements that go into producing a particular sound that, naturally, it takes A LOT of experimentation over a period of time. Once I was told to go and put on 15 kilograms to improve my sound at the piano – this is rubbish. Disabilities aside, there is nothing about your body that is hindering you from producing a pleasing sound. It takes perseverance, curiosity and a keen ear. There will be breakthroughs, I promise.

A good interpretation should make complete sense to you.

If a passage seems forced or unnatural because you are trying to do as the score, your teacher, or stylistic convention tells you, there is more interpretative work to do.

There are always better technical solutions.

We know that a good technique requires relaxation of the muscles that are not necessary, but sometimes it takes a psychological “trick” to reveal exactly how few muscles are necessary. Problem solving can help very difficult technical passages become much more manageable. Often something so simple as grouping the phrase in a different way helps dramatically. Sometimes the most counter-intuitive methods are the best. For example, pianists: if two hands are leaping, try letting the hand that has less distance to cover go first!

Injury due to playing your instrument can be totally avoided.

Injury among musicians is very common. However, if playing your instrument is causing injury, you need to change something about the way you are playing in order to avoid it! There is a healthy way to play and, for the sake of your body and longevity of your career, I urge you to seek this out.

If performance nerves are attacking you, go further into the music.

The issue of memory in performance, in particular, is a source of anxiety for performers. If a moment of insecurity catches you during a performance, immerse yourself deeper in the music. If a memory lapse occurs, or a wrong note, move forward like a ship.

Play plenty of chamber music.

Some of my best lessons have been learnt rehearsing and performing chamber music. Provided you don’t hate the other member(s) of your ensemble, it can be endless fun. And relax – memorisation isn’t required.

Play works by living composers.

Playing contemporary works by living composers can be so rewarding for performers, composers and audiences. Less familiar works can be particularly thrilling. These are exciting times; there is a staggering amount of wonderful music that is begging to be heard. And relax – memorisation isn’t required.

Love criticism.

I need to remind myself of this constantly – it’s got to be about the music rather than your ego, so learn to celebrate criticism that isn’t malicious.

It gets better.

The life of a musician is not easy to navigate. You have to be resilient yet vulnerable, systematic yet flexible, confronting yet conforming. As a young musician, of course I deal with feelings of insecurity from time to time. During those particularly challenging times, I make it my mantra: it gets better. We must remain optimistic – so much depends on it.

Backstage Pass: Recording Siegfried by Deborah Humble

There is nothing quite like the excitement and anticipation that an opening night generates.

Backstage is a veritable flurry of activity. Hundreds of instrumentalists warm up their instruments, singers vocalise in dressing rooms and corridors, administrative staff check that everything is ready to run smoothly. Agents and management staff are in town, sponsors and supporters come to give their well wishes and partners and spouses turn up from around the globe to share the evening with their loved ones. It is a unique atmosphere; one that is entirely different from the rehearsal period and one that is integral to the performance process.

So what do you do if your on-stage entrance is three and a half hours after the first notes have been played? Ever since I’ve been singing the role of Erda in Siegfried that question has posed something of a dilemma. Do you come prior to the performance to soak up the excitement and get into the mood of the evening? If you choose to do that how do you spend the next three hours? Waiting around for that length of time can be difficult. In that case, do you skip all the preliminaries and turn up ready at your designated call time? The trouble with that is that it can feel like you have missed an important part of the evening. Here in Hong Kong we are being accommodated very close to the concert hall. I decide to arrive before the concert starts to say hello and ‘toi, toi, toi’ to colleagues and to listen to the opening bars from side stage. Then I go back to the hotel to dress and prepare myself before returning again three hours later.

When I arrive during the second interval everyone has settled into the evening. Orchestral players are receiving professional shoulder massages before they launch into the final act. Boxes of apples, bananas and sandwiches have been laid out should anyone feel like an energy boost, and tea, coffee and bottled water are in abundant supply. A performance of this opera takes over five hours and everyone needs to stay energised and hydrated. The atmosphere is more relaxed now. The performance is going well and the audience seem to be enjoying the presentation.

We repeat the same scenario for a second concert three days later; the break in between performances has given everyone a chance to recover physically and vocally. There is generous applause at the end of both concerts, as well as a sense of understanding of what focus and stamina is required for a presentation of this nature.

Following the final performance there is a celebratory dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel for singers and management and their guests. It is a chance to talk and relax together, eat and drink, and get an idea of what the next days will bring. The live performances are over but now the patching sessions for the recording begin. The recording engineer for Naxos, Philip Rowlands, puts together a schedule that will begin the following afternoon. We will all return to the concert hall over the next few days to sing our parts again, giving the engineers at least a few options for putting together the best possible CD.

When recording and re-recording Philip says he is looking out for 'the same things which might concern a conductor: timing, pacing of the vocal line relative to the orchestra, and then, to a degree, interpretive aspects.’ Pitch is a main concern, and is often, according to Philip, ‘related to the quality of the sound. It is probably of less importance to a conductor whose main concern will be ensemble. As a producer, however, I take more notice of pitch for the simple reason that the recording lasts forever, whereas a concert performance is transitory.’ The recording process is an intricate and complicated one. Singing and playing excerpts from a score, sometimes out of context, can be very difficult. So too can trying to recreate the same tempi, the same conditions and the excitement present in a performance. ‘It is important,’ says Philip, ‘to understand an individual singer’s psychology in order to be effective in getting the results desired. My personal approach is to allow an artist to have their own vision and interpretation and to tread carefully when I feel there may be an aspect of the musical intention which hasn’t been delivered fully of effectively in the performance. Another major vocal concern is fatigue. There’s a physical limit to how much and for how long a singer can give, unlike with instrumentalists. Although, there are limits there too!

'I try to take on board the political and practical circumstances of the situation at any given time. Will I get away with asking for this? Is this the right time to tackle the issue of tempo or will it push the tension, which I sense starting to build, too far? Is it better to now address some technical orchestral issue now in order to give the singer a chance to cogitate and rest? Should I say this section is now covered even though it could be better? Shall I answer that question in such a way that an element of doubt lingers in the hope the singer will want to try it again? Language and diplomacy are important. Last year during the patching sessions for Die Walküre I was asked by the conductor Jaap van Zweden “You mean it’s out of tune?” My response was, “I wouldn’t say it’s out of tune but it’s not quite in tune.” This caused giggles from the orchestra, but that can be a help sometimes.’

At the end of several days of patching Philip has several takes of most of the music to choose from. He will now go away and edit the recording before the Hong Kong Philharmonic Ring operas come out in about ten months. This is quite a herculean feat for such a project and is, as Philip puts it, ‘the direct result of my own eagerness to edit the material and Naxos’ desire to release as soon as possible. Roughly speaking it takes me a day to edit ten minutes of music, maybe less. I expect Siegfried to take around twenty-four days and following that there will be further rounds of editing once the artists have had a chance to listen.’

From the perspective of the artist, it is gratifying to know that something you have created will have longevity. Many sources comment that the recording industry is dying as more and more people choose to download their music and move to digital technology. There is certainly no financial benefit for the artists. Naxos, a dominant player and market leader at the budget end of the recording market pays no fees to the singers and instrumentalists. Thus it is the recording itself that becomes the reward, a small legacy of sorts.

Suddenly, our job here is done. It’s time to pack the suitcases once more. It is always strange to think that in just a few hours this group of artists who have come together to create music from all corners of the globe will be going their separate ways. It’s an odd feeling, the feeling of real melancholy that accompanies the end of a job like this one, but one that I have gotten used to over the years. It helps to know that it’s a feeling that lasts only a few days. The creative cycle of highs and lows, the camaraderie of being part of a great, family-like team one day and of the sometimes crippling loneliness that follows, the travel and the excitement of new places and destinations and the routine of in-between are all parts of being an artist. But if we could have our time again I know of very few artists who would change anything. I wouldn’t, that’s for certain.

Spotlight: APRA AMCOS Art Music Fund

We spoke with composer and APRA AMCOS' Art Music Specialist Cameron Lam about the commissioning grant, writing a great application and being inspired by different artistic disciplines.

What is the APRA AMCOS Art Music Fund? How did it start and what is its purpose?

The Art Music Fund is a commissioning grant drawing from a pool of $100,000 to support Australian and New Zealand composers creating a new work that has a plan in place to secure multiple performances, recordings and/or broadcasts.

The Art Music Fund launched in 2016 and it has been my absolute pleasure to administer it from its inception. I believe in addition to providing important financial support to our composers in a time where funding sources are highly competed over, the fund also moves focus into long-term planning in a genre that often only gets a premiere of a work before it is shelved.

How far along in your composition career do you have to be to apply for this grant and be successful?

I spoke at the Sydney Conservatorium, Melbourne Conservatorium and Monash University last year about APRA AMCOS and the Art Music Fund, and no matter how early students were into their composition career, my advice was always the same:

You. Should. Apply.

There are a few things you’ll need for your Art Music Fund application:

A plan – What do you want to write? What are you going to do with it? How are you going to do that?
Presentation partners – Who have you built relationships with that will help you create and present your work? This could be performers, broadcasters, festival organisers, record labels, publishing companies, artistic directors of ensembles and venues.
Recordings of previous work – We want to hear what you’ve done and understand how you work. If you’ve organised performances and recordings before, tell us about it.
If you don’t have these ready yet, set them as goals for future projects and funding applications.

As a young composer, what are the benefits of receiving support from APRA AMCOS?

The stability of a commission fee cannot be underestimated - having the time to just focus on creation is gold in our industry.

Recognition is another major benefit. We keep an archive of our Art Music Fund recipients and the commissioned work on our website and feature them in articles and promotional materials regarding the Fund. The Australian Music Centre (AMC) also promotes the recipients.

As a bonus, you’ll also have me as a contact point, checking in at regular intervals to see how your work and your planned presentations are progressing.

Beyond the Art Music Fund, APRA AMCOS supports composers in a multitude of ways. As well as collecting royalties on your behalf, we help you build networks and develop skills through events, panels and in conversation sessions.

Our Professional Development Awards (PDAs) are also something young composers should be across. We run these every two years, with cash and prizes up for grabs. Classical composers who have been successful in the past include 2016 Art Music Fund recipient Alexander Garsden (2013), Peter McNamara (2015), Alex Pozniak (2011) and Melody Eötvös (2009). We’ll be calling for PDA applications in March, so keep an eye out!

The Art Music Awards, which we present with the AMC, are usually held in August each year and are another way we recognise outstanding work across the composition, performance, education and presentation of Australian art music. Nominations are open now if you want to put something forward!

If you’re not already a member of APRA AMCOS member but are keen to learn more, visit our website or drop me a line.

Can you tell us about the breadth of the projects funded in 2016?

The 12 composers commissioned in 2016 cover a good amount of art music’s amazing diversity and are a mix of emerging and established talent. The full list of composers and compositions can be found here but some examples include:

Dan Thorpe’s [false cognate] for bass flute and electric guitar/viola to be performed both locally and internationally.
Sandy Evans’ Bridge of Dreams which fuses her jazz-based compositional language with the Indian musical structures of her co-writers to create a large-scale work for solo sax, big band, and Hindustani quartet.
Cat Hope’s new Electric Concerto for theremin and the Decibel ensemble.
Samuel Holloway’s new piano trio to be written for extended presentation by the NZTrio.
Liza Lim’s new large-scale work for Klangforum Wien to be premiered this year in Germany.
If you are lucky enough to be successful in securing funding, what is the process from there?

Lots of emails from me.

Honestly though, there’s a bit of paperwork up front to get the money out to you, then it’s a matter of moving onwards with your proposed plan – writing your work, locking in your proposed performance dates and ticking things off.

I’ll be in contact pretty regularly to make sure everything’s in order. You have up to five years to acquit (depending on your proposed activities), and I’ll be on hand to walk the recipients through that process as well.

As a composer yourself, do you have any tips for young composers hoping to apply this year?

Be brave. Make those phone calls you’re nervous about, ask the questions you need. Talk to the ensembles you love and people you admire, make plans and lock everything in – everyone’s been a young artist before too!
Start now. This is a big application. It requires lots of thought, planning and most importantly other people’s confirmations. Don’t leave this to the last minute.
Read the guidelines. Make sure you’re ticking all the boxes, print off a copy and write all over it - make sure you understand everything!
Secure other funding. As a commissioning grant, the Art Music Fund only covers the costs associated with composing the work. Ensure the other costs in your plan are covered by other grants or funding sources.
Maximise your return. The crux of the Art Music Fund is getting as much as you can out of creating a new musical work. Are you recording your piece? What more can you do with that recording? Who else could play this work?
Proof your work. Make sure you haven’t missed sections. Spell check and get someone else to read it. Are your dates correct? Does your budget add up?
Email me. Confused about something? Shoot me a line at clam@apra.com.au. That’s what I’m here for!
In your personal practice, you often collaborate with artists outside the musical form. What have you learnt about art music from collaborating with different mediums?

There are a million ways to approach any problem. When you boil it right down, a visual artist, choreographer, a filmmaker and a composer have same job: Make something new.

It is incredibly inspiring to see how an individual artist tackles a problem within their field and the innate biases of their particular medium – especially when you can empathise with how difficult the creative process is.

I’d like to think this gives me a greater appreciation for the depth and diversity of art music and its composers/sound artists. Much like differing mediums, seeing people draw from classical, jazz or electronic art practices creates incredibly unique and powerful music - which we’re very proud to be supporting.

When you were starting out on your composition journey, what do you wish you’d known about funding and money-making from your art?

Make the most of what you get, and what you make: Utilise what you have (performances, recording, capital and time) to try and push yourself forward. Build a body of work to showcase and present yourself.
Meet people and have interesting conversations: At gigs you love, projects you work on or run, or industry events – the people you ‘click’ with will be your network, the people who support you and can help you.
Most of all, keep trying: Funding is highly competitive and victories in that field are hard-won and to be celebrated. But not getting funding isn’t the end, and doesn’t mean your project isn’t good – use the conversations you’ve had to build your relationships, revise and critique your application to improve, and re-apply.

In Conversation: Lotte Betts-Dean

You’re currently working with Rubiks, who are well-known and well-loved for their innovative and engaging programming. You have experience performing a diverse range of music, from early music and oratorio to opera and non-classical. What draws you in particular to contemporary art music?

Contemporary art music has always been a big part of my life - growing up with a composer father meant it was part of my upbringing, and I have always felt comfortable with that kind of music, and those sort of sounds. I was also part of the Gondwana Choirs as a kid, who often commissioned Australian composers, so I guess I came to it at a really young age, and have felt at home there ever since. It is one of my absolute favourite areas of perfomance now! I think people often feel put off by "new music" because it feels foreign compared to the other things you hear in concert halls - classical, romantic music. As a listener, it might be a totally different sound world, but by approaching contemporary classical music as a performer I can see all the parallels between it and all other forms of music. Like improvisation, which is a huge part of new music - there are clear ties with Baroque performance practice, so it isn't actually as far removed from "classical" music as we might initially think. There's just not a huge distinction for me. There's also something really refreshing about performing a new commission, because there's nothing to compare yourself to, no performer to try and emulate. When you're working on something that hasn't been heard before you have the opportunity to leave your mark on something brand new, and all the artistic choices about interpretation and characterisation are up to you. You get to be at the forefront and make the piece what it is.

What is the process of putting together a new work like? Are there differences between how you would prepare for a commissioned work and, for example, a role in an opera?

It's actually really similar, perhaps more so than one might think, especially in a program like this one. Rubiks' program for tomorrow's concert Second Self is incredibly dramatic and theatrical, playing on ideas of identity and understanding oneself. Because of these thematic ideas, the music is really dramatic, almost operatic, and I can approach it artistically in that way. Obviously it's a concert setting, so rather than portraying the character operatically and dramatizing it on stage, it's more intimate and there is space to explore things more in-depth musically. We'll be performing a work by Jacob TV, which involves large sections of interviews with Marilyn Monroe, where I lipsync along with her. It's a lot like being an actor in a play! In terms of process, it's different for each new piece I might come across. It's always helpful to discuss it with the composer and librettist, and of course with the other performers, to see how each musician is wanting to approach it. Then, vocally, it's a matter of experimenting with the material to see what techniques might be most appropriate for the work in question.

You perform around the world, but reside predominantly in London now, where you perform often. Can you tell me a little about being a performing internationally, and about the differences you've noticed in contemporary music between London and Melbourne?

I'm based in London, so a lot of my performances happen there, but it's so fantastic to come back to Melbourne and be able to do my own thing, and put on a recital of music that I'm interested in. In terms of contemporary classical music, London has a bigger scene, but it's a bigger city with a larger population. I don't think there's much of a difference in appetite for new music in London than in Melbourne. Having moved away from Melbourne, it's become clear how incredibly vibrant and exciting the culture is here, and how much is happening and developing. I think there are fantastic things occuring in Melbourne, especially to do with repertoire choices and programming across the board - there's lots of things bordering on being non-classical, which absolutely opens up the accessibility of not only contemporary art music specifically, but classical music overall. This repertoire includes so many sounds from other genres, from electronic to rock and pop, and it's bridging the gap between two soundworlds. I hope this brings in more young people and introduces new audiences to diverse composers, both new and old. In London, I sing with Ensemble x.y, who I approached to join after hearing a fantastic concert, where they performed David Bird's 'Series imposture', which Rubik's will actually be playing tomorrow as an Australian premiere.

As a vocalist, what does performing in several different genres mean for your voice? Do you have to approach works differently depending on techniques?

There are slight differences in technique between the different genres, and I get a real kick out of that challenge, to flip between styles. I've really been able to explore the limits of the voice, and that's something you can't play with as much if you are only singing in only one way. I personally enjoy exploring different styles as part of my performative experience, not only because I think it stretches me a performer, but also helps grow the voice. Sometimes people don't realize how flexible and versatile the voice can be if you are singing with good technique. Of course, things can go wrong, and you need to know your instrument and its limits well- but good singing is good singing across all genres. There is a common misconception that one can mistreat your voice in order to perform contemporary music, but that's not the case at all - if you are singing well, keeping things in check, and warming up and down properly, there is a lot of freedom in what you can do with the voice. I really believe that performing in different styles helps keep the voice alive and fresh and flexible, and for me, it's part of maintaining a vibrant and varied practice.

From your experience so far, what skills outside of technical proficiency and stage presence do young singers need to develop to succeed?

Language is really important for singers, and it's imperative to be as proficient as possible in as many languages as you can. French and German and Italian are crucial for singers, and you absolutely need the basics at the minimum as a foundation. Even if you can't hold a conversation, if you get an ear for listening to other languages and mimicking the sounds, you'll be less afraid of trying a song in Swedish, because you can make good estimations of how things will sound. People will notice a willingness to throw yourself into the unknown as well. I'd also like to stress musicianship. It's often overlooked, which is surprising because it's so necessary. It's really left up to the singer, so you have to take it upon yourself to learn to sight read and understand complex rhythms. Once you're across this, nothing is not an option. I think you have to equip yourself with the skills that mean everything becomes a possibility. Also I think right now you have to become proficient in marketing and social media. That is a product of the time we live in, but I can't see it changing anytime soon. If you want to sell tickets to your concerts, you need to be able to market yourself in an attractive way to get people interested. That's crucial for all young musicians. You also have to employ a lot of courage to break boundaries and step outside of your comfort zone. In this day and age versatility is really crucial, so you have to have the guts to give things a go, and keep trying.

You are often putting on performances of your own volition - can you tell us a little about how this works, and if you have any advice for young musicians hoping to do the same?

People take for granted the connections that are forged when you perform with other people. It really is the easiest way to make things happen. If you take the time and chat with people as you go, it's amazing the things you might find you have in common that you didn't know before. You might find someone with the exact same recital idea, which will turn into an amazing concert. Nourish those connections and that network, because it will be fundamental for developing your own platform. Personally, I am still performing with people that I met in my first year at university! I competed in the National Liederfest in my first two years of undergraduate study, and got to know Ian Lowe who runs the program who has helped me set up several recitals in Melbourne since. It's also really important to be open about what you would like to achieve, and what your ideas are, because nothing is impossible and if you are upfront with people, they will be more willing to help see through your idea. There is a lot of support out there, but it's up to you to seek it out.

In Conversation: Erica Bramham

You're embarking on something you term The Song-Chain Project, where you compose, record, and share a new piece of music every day for a whole year. Tell us about the genesis of the project - how did you form the idea?

The original idea came from a New York-based musician, Emily Hope Price. She’s a cellist, vocalist and composer, and completed her own song-a-day project called the 365 Project, which I found really inspiring. I had been thinking about the issues I was facing in my own creative practice, and this paragraph in her preamble to the project did a pretty good job of selling the idea to me:

“I’m incredibly excited with what the project has already done for me: a realization that I can create anything. With so many days and opportunities to create something new, how can I possibly hesitate or over-edit? And I suppose that’s what I want to teach myself: there are no limits and sometimes you just have to let things be what they’re going to be.”

The other side to the idea was giving people a reason to engage with my music, which is an awkward hybrid of jazz, folk and experimental music. I released an album last year, and that really opened my eyes to the challenges of trying to market music that doesn’t fit nicely into one box. So instead of trying again with a second album, this project seemed to fit better with the way we are engaging with music and content in our current social-media-dominated environment.

How is this project different from, or similar to, what you normally do as a professional musician?

I am a freelancer, so my career as a musician is made up of a few different arms. The bulk of my income comes from teaching and performing at weddings and other corporate and private functions, but because I don’t really derive an income from writing and performing my own music it can often take a back seat. This project is a way of forcing me to find time for my own music, and the skills I’m gaining by stretching myself with each composition will feed back into my teaching and professional performance work.

A key feature of The Song-Chain Project is that each song follows on from the next, by beginning with an element of the previous song (maybe a theme, texture, rhythm, lyrical idea...). How has this helped you address those issues all musicians face in their own creative practice, like creative blocks, motivation, and self-criticism?

One thing I have always found difficult in my own practice is getting started. I can procrastinate for hours, days or even months before finally sitting down to work, but whenever I do sit down I enjoy myself and wish I’d started sooner. The periods of procrastination are usually made worse by feelings of guilt for not working, and are often brought on by not knowing where to start or being overwhelmed with possibilities.

This guideline I’ve set myself for the Song-Chain Project addresses getting started, although once I do start working creative blocks and excessive self-criticism are still an issue. I’ve found the longer I can keep my personal judgement out of the process the better, and using composition or lyric-writing exercises to work with the starting material really helps. It’s much easier when you are approaching the work from a problem-solving perspective, as your mind is focused on how you can use the available materials, rather than whether what you're making is any good.

You're a composer and performer, and this project is obviously going to take up a lot of your time for the next 12 months! In terms of time management, how do you balance the needs of your professional musician life while still maintaining a good work-life balance?

Life as a freelancer is one of peaks and lulls in terms of workload, which is something I’m still getting used to. I’m just coming out of a quiet period, thanks to the summer school holidays, and that has left me plenty of time for this project. I have no idea yet how I’m going to cope once I’m back to my full teaching load, and I’m honestly quite nervous. The time I have each day to devote to this project is going to fluctuate, and so far the best way I’ve found of managing it is just to work with whatever time I have available, and give myself permission to create something small, simple or half-finished on the days when I only have an hour or two to spare.

In terms of work-life balance, I am doing my best to keep this project on the “life” side of that equation. I first thought that if I could get each song done in the morning it would leave me free and unburdened for the rest of the day, but that mindset was making me treat the songs like an unpleasant chore to get out of the way as quickly as possible. I felt guilty on the days that I didn’t get it done first thing, and those feelings made me more reluctant to sit down and get started later in the day. I honestly enjoy the composition process, so I’m trying actively create a mindset where I can sit down to work whenever I feel like working and for as long as I feel like working, and whatever comes out in that time is enough for the day.

You've been doing this project for almost a month. What have you learnt so far - about the project, and about you yourself?

I have been pleasantly surprised by the response to the project from people who have told me it is inspiring them in their own work, or helping them think about the issues they face in their own creative practice. One friend suggested that I had created a little community around the project that he could plug into when he wanted, and I thought that was a really nice way of thinking about it. There is a tendency for artists to hide the dirty or difficult side of our work, and I’d love to open up more discussions about that side of our practice though this project.

So far I’ve discovered that the most difficult aspect of this project is not the composition, but the recording and sharing aspects. The time it takes to record, edit and upload each video, and then share it across my social media platforms is often just as long as, or longer than, the time taken to compose the piece of music. I am also having to be quite careful about how much of myself I invest in social media. Sharing each day’s work on social media keeps me accountable to an audience, but I have started turning off my phone for a few hours after I post each new song so that I don’t get caught up in what kind of reaction it gets.

You studied at the Victorian College of the Arts. How did your studies help you (or hinder you!) in getting to where you are now?

I came to music study relatively late in life; I was 28 when I started my undergraduate degree. Before that I had been writing and performing mostly solo, but I had a lot of frustrating holes in my music theory and technical knowledge, and was terrified of performing with other musicians. I went into the VCA hoping for a solid block of time to devote to practice, and to gain experience playing with other musicians. My original intention was to return to my previous career as a web developer once I’d finished study, but I quickly discovered that I enjoyed music much more than web development. Being an older student I was particularly aware of the need for an income once I graduated, and so as well as studying I spent the three years of my degree laying the groundwork for a career as a freelance musician.

The biggest thing I took away from the VCA was a huge shift in my creative mindset, which I am really grateful for. I went in with a very narrow idea about the kind of music I liked, and the kind of music I wanted to create, and came out far more open. There is quite a strong focus on free improvisation in the jazz course at the VCA, and I discovered this was something I really loved and it has become a large part of my practice.

Finally, many of our readers are starting out on their professional music careers, or thinking about what those careers are going to entail. What advice do you wish you'd been given when you were younger - or what would you give to your younger self if you had the chance?

I am probably not much farther along in my own career than many of your readers, so I am still wrestling with many of the same questions. One piece of advice I wish I’d been given when I started studying was that I was already good enough, that I already had something unique and interesting to offer, and that study was a chance to build upon those foundations. It’s so easy to fall into self-destructive behaviours, comparing yourself unfavourably to your peers and musical idols, or to the picture of success presented by your institution or industry. I think a lot of musicians (myself included) spend too much time trying to become the kind of musician we think others want us to be, rather than figuring out the kind of musician we want to be and working towards that goal instead. I know now that I’m not going to be the next world-class improvising jazz vocalist, but I’m OK with that because I’ve worked out what is important to me about the music I make and that list of features has led me down another path.

2017: A Landmark Anniversary for West Australian Opera

Thoughts on the fiftieth anniversary of WAO from Artistic Director, Brad Cohen.

In 2017 West Australian Opera celebrates our fiftieth anniversary year. We are the only opera company in Australia who continue to perform under the same name, in the same theatre, with the same mission, since our founding. And that mission is to serve the people of Western Australia with opera of the highest standard.

In our history, these are the elements which have persisted. But around and within us, a lot has changed. What opera even means is being questioned in a way which would have seemed incomprehensible to management and audiences in 1967. Our first company production was Carmen, which in many ways is the ultimate “operah". Or is it? Might it not be a great forerunner of the musical? Every single number is a hit, there is dancing and influences from “low” musical genres like the Habanera, there is speaking between musical numbers - so it sounds to me much more like a musical than an opera.

What “opera” means is constantly up for re-definition. Since Monteverdi, opera has been an ongoing experiment, in seeing how many foreign bodies and styles it is capable of assimilating. And it seems that there is no upper limit to just how much it can absorb. The idea of opera is like a virus - it changes shape and definition with each passing generation. One irony in the current perception of opera is that it is often lambasted for being hidebound, “high” art, irrelevant. In some ways it has been taken hostage by established values of status, consumption and extravagance. But throughout its history - expressed in manifestos and operas by Gluck, Wagner, Berlioz, Britten, and other composers - it’s been the subject of intense cultural conflict, the site of its own culture wars. One of the challenges of my job as an Artistic Director is to balance two roles - that of custodian and that of reformer, honouring this long tradition of renewal from within. Opera is in a state of constantly shifting balance, and in the current environment, where the National Opera Review has been published, it’s a great time to look afresh at what opera offers our Australian culture.

I advocate three strands for this offering. I believe that we should nurture Australian artists, whether singers, directors or conductors, in a long-term sustainable perspective on their careers. We can do this through promoting Australian productions (as in Tosca and our new Opera Conference Merry Widow this year); casting Australian and local artists (in 2017 at WAO we have not one international imported artist); and most fundamentally, telling stories about who we are as Australians through new work. Last year we revived Ian Grandage’s The Riders, and although 2017 is a year for celebrating our custodianship of the core repertoire, we have new pieces in the works for 2018 and beyond.

I cut my teeth as a performer with new opera, at the Almeida opera festival in London in the early 1990s, where I conducted the premiere of Powder her Face, as well as new operas from China, America, and South Africa. And this involvement in new music continues to inform my work on the ‘standard’ repertoire, which I love equally. But let’s not forget - all repertoire was once new! And this is the lesson I learned working with new music - there is no hard and fast distinction between traditional and new music. Tradition should sometimes be exploded with new perspectives, newness can have its influences drawn out through interpretation. Each connects with the other in a ceaseless dialogue. And it’s this dialogue I want to celebrate in 2017 with West Australian Opera, in our anniversary year. We celebrate opera as an artform which starts from the simplest proposition - the human voice singing stories - and which proliferates into some of the wildest, most intense corners of human emotion. As opera practitioners we’re part of a dynamic tradition, not just in a museum. My mission is to carry on the experiment, to refract our contemporary sensibility and Australian-ness through the rich store of operas both new and old.

2Backstage Pass: Performing Siegfried by Deborah Humble

There are more surtitles used in Act 1 of Siegfried than in an entire performance of Tosca.

This statement, delivered during one of the Wagner symposiums here in Hong Kong, makes it absolutely clear to us performers as well as the potential audience, just how much music there is to get through during the few days allocated to orchestral rehearsals. It is an amazing statement when you stop and think about it. Nonetheless, there is no sense of panic regarding the task ahead, only a sense of what must be achieved and the realisation that the next few days will be long ones. Thankfully it is a team effort and there are particular structures in place to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Maestro van Zweden leads the way. He is supported by two assistant conductors who continually provide feedback to the singers regarding rhythmic details, language corrections, tuning and balance. They give the conductor suggestions regarding the orchestra’s playing: the motive in the horn could be louder in that bar, the woodwinds need to come down in this bar, have you considered a different string sound for that section? Together with the recording engineers from Naxos who are also making copious notes in huge photocopied scores, they listen very carefully to the overall balance from different areas in the auditorium. Microphones are placed correctly for the singers at the front of the stage and music stands are strategically positioned.

Volker Krafft, language coach and assistant conductor, says the most interesting part of the project is “working with an orchestra which has never played the Ring Cycle before. It’s a big challenge for me to help Jaap van Zweden create the specific Wagnerian sound language he requires from the players, and to make a concert and symphonic orchestra turn into an opera orchestra.” The Maestro himself concurs and tells us that no matter what the orchestra perform and play in the 12 months between the Wagner operas, they must recreate the same sound world as they did previously. It’s no easy feat when there are so many guest instrumentalists (mostly from Europe) augmenting the orchestra’s regular numbers.

The Wagnerian orchestra, normally housed in a theatre pit, is positioned on stage for these performances. No matter how many times I am involved with Wagner’s music, there is always a moment of complete astonishment when I see the massive instrumental forces together in one space. The stage is completely utilised. “No room for a big frock in this show,” quips one string player as I walk between them to take my place next to the conductor. And he’s right. There is barely space between the instruments to enter and exit the stage. I am sure I am not the only singer who has wondered how, when set against such amassed power, the human voice could possibly prevail. And yet it does. The orchestral music is composed in such a way that is both soloist and accompanist. One of the great misconceptions I have encountered in developing singers is that one must always sing Wagner ‘forte.’ There are passages of great tenderness and beauty in Wagner and, whilst a singer must have a certain kind of voice to tackle his music, one must learn where to conserve energy and vocal strength when taking on the big roles.

Performances of opera in concert almost always lead to some kind of debate about whether it is a successful and engaging experience or not. Some operas seem to lend themselves to this format better than others, and the sheer length of Siegfried and the fact that we are performing with scores and without any specific direction or interaction with other characters makes me slightly nervous. Will we be able to hold the audience’s attention for over five hours? Here in Hong Kong the local audience will never have seen or heard this music live. To help them follow the story a synopsis will be projected alongside the surtitles in both Cantonese and English. Over the course of the orchestral rehearsals I can see the concert ‘communication’ between the singers develop instinctively; a look here, a gesture there. Each character lends itself more or less to ‘acting.’

Regarding the delivery of ‘Erda’ I decide that that the drama is present in the stillness of the score, that ‘doing’ less is best. When Wotan first wakens the Earth Mother, Wagner instils the musical moment with great weight and ponderousness, showing the character’s reluctance and confusion with sustained and heavy chords. With Wagner the ‘direction’ is often inherent in the score; there is drama in the tempo, drama in the language, drama in the orchestration. As a singer, it has taken me some time to understand and be comfortable with the power of stillness in the delivery of this role.

No matter the extent to which a singer decides to ‘act’ his character, there is a different feeling when you perform with an orchestra right there with you on the stage. You have the feeling of being surrounded and supported by sound and of very much being part of the musical whole. Without costumes, lighting and dramatic restrictions it is possible to notice things in the musical texture that you might not notice in an on-stage production. The singer can focus completely on the act of ‘singing’ and putting relevant emotion into the delivery and poetry of the text. As I am rehearsing the beginning of Act Three I am reminded just how powerful this music is. The orchestra in full force and the brass section playing at capacity literally make the stage vibrate beneath my feet. It’s very exciting and I can’t help but turn around in order to take in all that is going on behind me. The conductor smiles in my direction and I know we are thinking the same thing; it’s a lovely moment of musical connection and there is a great feeling of musical empathy and synchronisation when the person leading the proceedings is just centimetres away.

At the end of each day of orchestral rehearsal, the musical staff have a meeting and prepare the next day’s schedule which is sent to each singer by e-mail. It’s a slightly disjointed process; we are not rehearsing the opera in sequence and, because of the amount of music to get through, there is no formal Sitzprobe (orchestral run through) before the first performance. Soprano Heidi Melton arrives from her previous engagement with only one day to rehearse the scene between Brunnhilde and Siegfried, sung by New Zealand tenor Simon O’Neill. At the top of the profession, performance commitments and travel logistics very often dictate rehearsal programming. Raff Wilson, Director of Artistic Planning, says “it’s been a privilege working on casting these parts. The big roles like Wotan, Siegfried and Brunnhilde are titanic. There are only a handful of people in the world who can sing them. These are roles that singers tend to ‘grow into,’ and which they often also ration out in their singing schedule. So getting the right singer at the right time is a matter of both skill and luck. The challenge of bringing the right forces together at the right time mean that our whole organisation has been working on these performances for years.”

The planning seems to have paid off in this instance. The cast of international singers is a particularly fine one. With the last notes of Act Three dying away on the final day of orchestral rehearsals, there is a moment of tangible silence before the maestro puts down his baton. It is a moment of tacit acknowledgement of everything that has been achieved and a moment of anticipation of the performances to come. The ground work has been done.

Singers and musicians now have a day off before the opening night. Each artist will have a different routine; some will do nothing but rest, avoiding speaking and socialising, others will carry on as normal. However one chooses to spend the time, it is imperative to stay vocally and physically healthy. Hong Kong is often clouded in smog, and, if we can believe what we read in the papers while we are here, the amount of pollution blowing down from China over the city makes it one of the most hazardous and toxic periods for years. The many people wearing masks in the street to avoid inhaling the pollution and stop the spread of disease is sometimes an unnerving sight. Warning signs in the concert hall dressing rooms alert artists to Avian Bird Flu and other illnesses and how best to avoid them. The buttons in the elevators backstage are disinfected every hour. A further challenge is living in a hotel room for over three weeks where the windows can’t be opened. It is a completely air-conditioned environment, totally devoid of fresh air, which can be very dehydrating.

These challenges aside, everyone arrives fit and healthy for the first performance. There’s an air of expectation and excitement about. The preparation is about to pay off.

In Conversation: Fiona Campbell

Having studied in Perth, and performed with the West Australian Opera a number of times during your career, what does being part of their 50th-anniversary gala concert mean to you?

WAO has always been a part of my performing life. Even when I didn't live in Perth, they would fly me back from London. I was a young artist with the company over 20 years ago and my first professional gig was at Opera in the Park in front of twenty thousand people. So it seems like the perfect fit, we've really had an enduring relationship over the years and I am thrilled to be a part of it and help them celebrate this impressive milestone.

This performance is a celebration of opera favourites and the life span of the WAO up to this point. What is a favourite memory of working with the company?

So many great memories with this company! But one of my favourite roles for them would have to be playing Cherubino in Neil Armfield’s production of Marriage of Figaro (photo above from this production). It was the perfect combination of a well-balanced cast both vocally, dramatically and musically which made magic on stage and has continued to be an endearing winner in the eyes of the audience.

You have experience not only as an esteemed recitalist and performer but also as a radio presenter. What initially drew you to the radio?

It is such an excellent medium to connect with people authentically and intimately. Most people are listening on their own, not in a group, so it really becomes a one to one connection over the airwaves. People get to know me off stage and it is a powerful way of drawing the public into this world of music and performance, uncovering some of the mystery and making them feel comfortable with the art form, not intimidated by it.

You are passionate about music education - tell us about the improvements you would like to see made to the way music is taught and spoken about in the media, particularly in relation to opera.

We are all musical beings, we are all born with a voice and singing it is the most natural thing in the world. Music is a fundamental part of being human. Therefore yes, I believe and know from experience and through the work I am doing in disadvantaged schools, that music should be a core subject. The science comprehensively supports what musicians already know; music is good for you, it makes you feel good, it improves cognitive ability. Opera is a magnificent extension of something completely natural and is something to be thrilled and delighted by. Similarly, kicking a ball around the oval as a kid, can over time, develop into being a professional soccer player. Not everyone is capable of being a professional, but we can all admire and aspire to the brilliance that is displayed during a performance, on stage or on the field. My blue sky vision for Australia would be that every child sings a song every day, a new one every week. In this way, over time, opera would be seen and celebrated in the media for the marvel that it is.

What is your process for learning music when preparing for an opera, especially when you spend so much time on the road performing across the country?

Time management is the key! I look at my diary across the year and work out when I have to start preparing and practicing for any given performance. I can have half a dozen projects on the go at any one time. If it is repertoire that I know and have performed often, the muscle memory allows me to revise and polish up to performance standard reasonably quickly. If it’s a new work, then it will take much longer, both learning the dots and preparing properly.

For young singers hoping to get started in the opera industry, what skills outside of technical proficiency do you recommend cultivating?

Being professional, personable and innovative in your approach to the industry at all times.

What recordings couldn’t you live without (classical or otherwise)?

Ella Fitzgerald sings the Cole Porter songbook and Bach’s St Matthew Passion directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt plus Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro with Sir Simon Rattle, oh! and the Bach Cello Suites, Beethoven late string quartets and his Violin Concerto…and Ravel string quartet No.1… Sade, Madeleine Peyroux, Renee Flemming and, and and….

When you’re not on stage or preparing music, what do you love to do?

I love spending time with family and friends, eating fabulous food, watching movies, bush walking, reading, boogie boarding and surfing, although I don’t seem to do that often enough these days! Enjoying life basically and appreciating every moment.

In Conversation: MSO's Cybec Composers

On the day before the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Cybec 21st Century Australian Composers Concert, Megan Steller sat down with this year’s featured composers Ade, Cassie, Connor, and Stephen at Blondie in Melbourne’s Southbank for a coffee and a chat. Over an hour, they talked commissioning, getting started as a composer, making your own opportunities and working with the MSO. Find out how to hear the rest of the conversation at the bottom of the page.

Megan Steller: So you have just two rehearsals in this process? Is that stressful, or is that part of what it’s like?

Ade Vincent: It’s a bit stressful but we knew that was the case.

MS: All these little issues like typesetting, I guess you just need to be all over before you go in.

AV: That’s it, we have half an hour each, per piece, and it’ll be the same tomorrow, so you don’t want to be spending any of your rehearsal time on little things like that.

Connor d’Netto: But I guess in terms of typesetting and things like that, we had a good proofreading from Alastair McKean, the librarian for MSO - we sent him drafts months ago and he tore them apart, and there were pages and pages of things to fix up, so that was useful.

AV: That was very useful - how many pages did you get?

Cassie To: He was like ‘there’s not many!’ and the document had like, four pages.

CdN: It’s okay! I think we all got that!

CT: I had just finished all the parts, and the next day he sends me “good job!” and I had all these changes.

CdN: I was doing the parts the day I got back from London.

MS: When did this process start - when did you get accepted and then have to submit your work?

CT: Around April or May?

MS: So the pieces that you have written, are they works that you began prior to being accepted into this program, or were they written quite specifically?

CdN: They were written pretty specifically. My piece is called Singular Movement and it’s exploring setting each of the parts of the orchestra in its own musical trajectory and evolution It’s not extra-musical in any way, it’s more like one part is going from the foreground to the background, and one other part is going from long sustained drones to smaller and smaller rhythmic values across the section of the piece. One goes from structured to textured and ephemeral and then having all these different layers across each other which slowly progress throughout the piece. There are no big sudden changes, but throughout the way the musical ideas develop across the piece, there’s a lot of variation in musical language.

MS: How did you get to the piece you have now? Did the idea come to you suddenly, or was it more of a process?

CdN: It kind of just worked out that way! I didn’t go into the piece with any specific aims, the only kind of aim I had, which didn’t end up happening at all, was that I wanted to write a piece that was a bit more dark and broody. My recent writing has been a bit more meditative and minimal, so it was a challenge, and that didn’t happen. I came up with a structure of a piece that I liked, and it so happened to be this and I stuck with it and that’s it.

AV: Mine’s called The Secret Motion of Things which I took the title from the Francis Bacon novel, New Atlantis, and it’s exploring my fascination with artificial intelligence. It’s heavily programmatic: we stand on the edge of building AI, and we don’t know what will happen. It’s such a great unknown and the consequences are so potentially vast - that whole area fascinates me. So, I tried to write something that starts with an air of mystery and then develops a sense of urgency and relentless momentum. I tried to make it stylistically a little bit more avant-garde, maybe not avant-garde - a lot of the music I write is pop and electronic music, so in a totally different sphere to this kind of things. I thought right, this is only my second orchestral piece, so for the context, I would write something that was quite different to what I usually do. I pushed it a bit more towards an orchestral new music kind of sound, and it hasn’t really ended up over there, it ended up sounding like my music with a little bit of that kind of flavour.

CT: My piece is called The Reef, and basically it’s about the demise of the Great Barrier Reef. So something I’m quite interested in is environmental issues and conservation, so I’ve been trying to put that into my music. This is the second time I’ve done it, so basically, the idea is the piece starts with how the reef was - colourful and vibrant, and as the piece progresses it goes to where the reef is now - dark, it’s dying, it’s eerie when you’re underwater, things are dead. And then it ends with an urgency to do something about it!

Stephen de Fillipo: My piece is called Static Anxiety, and it sort of came about through interacting with my mentor - we get given a mentor through this process, so it came through extensive discussion with him about the kind of music I enjoy writing, and focusses on a lot of sporadic intensity, before falling back into smoother more languid lines. So it’s about this interaction before moving into something more delicate. Not necessarily in a pretty way.

MS: When you’re composing a work like this, it seems like you often start with an idea that ends up being deviated away from as the writing process happens. As composers, how do you manage your expectations in that sense? Does it feel okay to move away from the initial idea?

AV: I think it really depends on what the end goal is. Here, you have the luxury of being able to follow your nose stylistically, and we all started with a preconceived idea of what the piece would look like. I know Cassie and I write to briefs a lot of the time doing commercial writing , so you don’t have much room to move there - you have to hit the brief - but with something like this we’re writing to a brief that’s self-imposed, so you have freedom to change that brief, and I’m sure that happened to all of us. Mine’s changed quite significantly throughout the writing process, but we have the luxury of being able to do that. Is that what you found?

SdF: I do a lot of performance as well and have close collaboration with the people I’m singing with or writing for, but with this, it's completely the opposite because I’m in a different state and I can’t physically communicate with the people who are going to play my piece. So, in that sense, it’s a process of writing that doesn’t really have a face. Which is a bit hard at first, but it’s coming from a totally different idea. Instead of writing a piece that represents the relationship I have with the individual musician, my piece focusses more on the relationship I have with the person I’m working with, so it’s a solidification of the ideas I was talking to him about rather than the actual musicians. So now I’m in a process where I’ve had one listen to the piece run through and some things work and some things didn’t. Now I’m cutting back and working out what the players are comfortable with, and then working from there.

CdN: I guess for me it really depends on what you’re writing the piece for. As you said, there’s a difference between writing art music and commercial music. For me, I approached this as a straight commission with an open brief and I had the ensemble, the time limit and that’s about it. I had the freedom to change as much as I liked, and in a way, I planned the piece and its structure, and basically stayed within it, but the kind of idea of the piece evolved. In a lot of other projects I do, if I’m writing for a specific context, like maybe the program or the way it’s going to be performed - which happens in the concerts I organise (Connor runs the Brisbane- based concert series, Argo) where there is a specific place in a program my piece needs to fill - then even though there is freedom, there is not as much flexibility. I don’t necessarily find that straining, it’s almost more of a challenge to do something creative and come up with something within the context. That’s something else to explore.

CT: All I knew at the start was that I wanted to do something about the Great Barrier Reef, so the story of my piece kind of evolved as the piece evolved. As I was writing it the ideas came about. I guess it depends on the type of idea like if you have a technique that you want to explore or something, that’s a lot more limiting than a story. I had quite a lot of freedom to shape things - whether I wanted to have emotional impact or I wanted to look at developing a soundscape.

CdN: It’s funny you say that - a story being much less limiting than a technique - because I find the exact opposite! I don’t often write programmatic works, and I find even though having a structure is by definition limiting, I don’t find that limiting because if it doesn’t work, no one knows you’ve deviated from that structure but you. On the other hand, when you write a program, you kind of need to aim for the experience to be what the program says.

CT: I’ve definitely had it not work, for sure. And then it’s really like ‘this is not what I wanted’.

CdN: Yeah. And I use extra-musical imagery as influence or inspiration, but I don’t usually put it down on paper for everyone to read because that’s mine. For me, it’s almost as interesting to see if I write ‘String Quartet Number 1” on the piece and then someone in the audiences listens and says “I really felt this”, any of their nuanced experiences of the piece is just as valid as the way I may have written it.

MS: Moving away from the Cybec program, I’d like to know your feelings about being an Australian composer right now - what that means to you, and more broadly in the context of what being a professional composer means, and balancing writing with study or teaching or other work.

CT: I finished my undergraduate degree at the Sydney Con in 2015, so I’ve had a full year of figuring it out. There’s a lot to academia but I don’t think it was entirely for me, so I’ve gotten into a lot of commercial music - television, advertising, podcasts - and personally I like doing that because it’s a challenge! You have to fill someone’s brief, and it can be really hard because you never know what you’re going to get. I just did one where they wanted funk rhythms, something jazzy. So that’s how I’m trying to make money, doing the commercial stuff. For me, the art music stuff is food for my soul. It’s funny, I do that to be an artist. Realistically though, it’s extremely difficult to be a composer. Lots of people supplement with teaching or commercial work. In Australia, there are opportunities but you have to find them. The good ones are really competitive, and I guess that’s the same anyway. I recently did a workshop in Alaska, and we had some composers from New York over there and they were describing how vibrant the contemporary classical scene was. It did seem like they had a lot more going on. It’s challenging - you have to really want to do it. I don’t think you wouldn’t willingly put yourself through the stress if you weren’t passionate about it.

MS: When you talk about there being more opportunities in New York, is it more about funding and government or cultural support, or places to be part of and see the new music?

CT: Definitely live performances. The way they were talking about it, it seems like there were more performers keen to be involved, and it can be hard to find people here. I think in Australia there might still be a bad reputation for new music. Or maybe just music in general. People ask you what you do and you say “I write classical music” and they’re like “Mozart?” or something generic. I think it’s changing and getting better, but it’s tough. I think we can all agree on that.

CdN: In America, there’s a really great culture for new music and contemporary music. Self-organised or performer driven. There are lots of things happening, and there are lots of opportunities to do stuff. There’s some amazing groups - Eighth Blackbird, Bang on a Can, Kronos Quartet - those groups whose sole thing is doing new work. There aren’t as many in Australia. There are some amazing ones, though - you have Plexus, Ensemble Offspring, Kupka’s Piano, and Argo is doing that too - but there’s not a huge amount. I haven’t done much commercial music but I’ve been doing almost completely art music, and I do supplement myself with some teaching, but not heaps anymore. You just have to get yourself out there, and that’s the most difficult thing. Whether that’s meeting people in the foyer after concerts and shaking hands, becoming friends then sending them your music, or entering competitions. Or cold-emailing people! You might not get an email back, but until people know your name nothing is going to happen. The big thing for me is, though there are not a heap of opportunities waiting for you - Cybec is an absolutely amazing program, though - the best thing you can do as a young composer, especially while you’re still at university is create your own opportunities. I organised a concert for myself and three other composers in my second year of undergrad at university, a concert of our own music. You start there - you’ve had music performed and maybe some people know your name and things may happen, or you might get a recording of that which can be useful. I loved it, and I’ve kept doing it. Creating opportunities for yourself is really important.

MS: You’re also creating opportunities for performers, who will hopefully catch the new music bug and keep doing it!

CdN: Absolutely. I’m really happy this year that rather working on just my music, I’m commissioning a bunch of new works by other Queensland-based composers. But it’s absolutely about getting yourself out there. When more people know your name you can start building different things and seeing which opportunities come your way.

SdF: A lot of institutionalised learning doesn’t prepare you for being a freelance composer. It’s amazing to get your pieces performed, but you need more than just one-off performances. Doing this kind of programs has helped me meet people, which has helped bring in some work, but a lot of my income is derived from teaching and performing, not the writing. I feel like perhaps there should be more new music in regular programming, maybe on a chamber music level.

CdN: Most of my orchestral works have only been performed once. It’s really difficult.

MS: What do you think should be taught to composers at a tertiary or post-tertiary level about functioning as a freelance composer? Stuff like networking and commissioning?

SdF: I think grant writing - teaching composers how to make their projects happen. Institutions are theoretically focussed, so you get lots of lessons on research writing instead, which isn’t necessarily interchangeable. I feel like there’s a lot of fending for yourself you have to learn! There could be more focus on the opportunities that will help you get out there on your own.

CT: At uni, there are people visiting, and you can write something and have it workshopped, but when you leave those opportunities aren’t so accessible.

MS: And the musicians aren’t at your fingertips anymore?

CT: I guess you have to work on building those relationships while you’re there. But the performers are also in the same position - they’re not yet established, and they’re making their own opportunities. You can give each other a platform.

AV: It’s extremely difficult to make a living as a composer unless you do commercial and or performance and or teaching as well. I don’t know that I know anyone who is doing that except for people who are at the top of the game. I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing, because from a personal point of view - I do a bit of teaching at uni, some commercial stuff, some art music stuff and some songwriting - they all inform the other. Teaching at uni makes me a better composer. The stuff I get from my students! It’s a two-way street and I think that’s extremely valuable. The commercial composing makes me a better art music composer and vice versa. The danger is that you become a jack of all trades and a master of none, and I understand that that’s not for everyone. But my experience has been that it is extremely hard, but if you’re in the privileged position of piecing together a living from doing all those different things, which it seems like we all are, that’s a wonderful thing. It’s no mean feat to make that a reality - there’s lots of musicians who work full time and it becomes more and more of a hobby, so if diversifying like that means being a composer is still your main thing, it’s great.

MS: Absolutely. I’d like to touch on commissioning and how you think we can encourage more young people into commissioning and performing new works.

CdN: Make friends with composers!

AV: That’s so true because most of the work that you do is repeat work like it’s the same people.

CdN: Or it’s your network. If you ask your friend if you can write them a piece and they’ll perform it, doesn’t matter if they’re not paying you that first time round. Your other friends will hear it, and maybe they’ll get you to write them a piece. Or you pitch to a friend that you’ll write them a piece if they’ll help you write a grant application. Then you both write the application, and if you get it then you get paid, and if you don’t get it you still get a performance which is also good. You have to start somewhere.

Baroque And Roll: Sydney Baroque Music Festival by Hannah Spracklan-Holl

For many young musicians, camps and workshops are a highlight of our pre-professional development; everyone knows about post-camp blues! Rarely, however, is there a workshop that is entirely devised, planned, and run by students. The Sydney Baroque Music Festival is one such workshop, in which I recently participated for the second time. To combat the post-camp blues, I spoke with festival founder, director and participant Meg Cohen about taking the plunge into historically informed performance, the challenges of creating your own festival, and the future of period performance in Australia.

What is the Sydney Baroque Music Festival?

The Sydney Baroque Music Festival is an entirely student-driven initiative bringing together young musicians from all over Australia who share a passion for early music. The concept for this festival was to bring together the next generation of period performers from around the country. In creating the festival, I envisioned a dynamic environment in which these musicians could share their passion and craft with audiences.

The annual event sees musicians rehearsing a diverse program for one week, in preparation for a public concert.

This is the fourth SBMF, and has grown from a small group of Sydney musicians to this year’s 18 musicians from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, and Canberra. The festival has been mentored by players from Australia’s leading baroque ensembles, including the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Ironwood and Pinchgut Opera. This year, the festival orchestra was mentored by the Muffat Collective.

How did you become interested in period performance?

Completely by accident! As a first year undergraduate music student, I was shoved into the anonymous crowd of the choir, and, seeking any opportunity to avoid this inevitable boredom, I landed myself a place in the Early Music Ensemble (the only group which would reply to my desperate emails). I found myself in a supportive environment full of intelligent, interested students and teachers, and my love for this performance style quickly grew.

The aspects of period performance that particularly appealed to me were the challenges of spontaneous problem solving and the freedom from a set interpretation of the music. I really enjoyed the collaboration that took place in rehearsals, in which everyone had the opportunity to contribute to the process of interpreting and performing the music.

What distinguishes SBMF from other period performance development workshops in Australia?

It’s free! I think it is so important to keep this festival accessible to any musician who wishes to take part. SBMF prides itself on its collaborative approach to learning – everyone has a voice here – which is also quite different to other programs available. To my knowledge, it is one of only a few baroque orchestral workshop operating in Australia.

I like to think of period performance as 'scholarly performance'. Do you think this is true and how does the rehearsal process for SBMF reflect this?

I would definitely agree, that while a period performer does not necessarily have to have read all available treatises by Leopold Mozart, Geminiani, Tartini and so on, there is a required level of understanding of the concepts and principles of these major works. Once all performers understand these principles, the performance of the music can make sense to all who are involved with performing it (much like a group of dancers, who, once knowing the steps, can move seamlessly together).

Over the course of SBMF, we first worked on collectively agreeing on all these principles, and then applied them directly to our repertoire. The Muffat Collective were vital here – their knowledge and expertise guided us through this process. In the first days of rehearsal, we spent a lot of time talking through the music, trying to understand the structure, style, and expressive elements. Once this was established, it directly influenced our approach to specific dance movements, and the instrumental techniques we used. A valuable lesson learnt was how to apply the principles thoughtfully and appropriately, so that what was happening in the music justified our choices – a dotted figure in a dance movement is so different to one in an overture.

How do you see the future of period performance in Australia, and how is SBMF contributing to this?

Baroque music is a burgeoning field of study for young musicians in Australia. It is exciting to be a part of such a fast-growing entity, and to see high-level ensembles forming all over the country. There has been a distinct trend of Australia’s brightest period performers seeking education elsewhere, and the knowledge that they bring back home to share with musicians of my generation is, I believe, the perfect foundation on which to build on that and form a strong baroque movement in Australia.

Australia is pretty good at meeting the performance education needs of its young musicians, but unfortunately for period performers, there are only a small selection of programs on offer. And most of these cost a pretty penny. This is where the Sydney Baroque Music Festival comes in – here is an opportunity for young baroque musicians to work with some of Australia’s best, on important repertoire, in fantastic Sydney venues, and all for free. I like to see the future of SBMF as an important stepping-stone for these young musicians into professional performance careers, perhaps the same way that the Australian Youth Orchestra provides for young ‘modern’ instrumentalists.

Postcard from Malaysia by Daniel Carison

Recently I returned from a three-week long engagement in Kuala Lumpur, where I was working with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra in their production of Die Zauberflöte. The experience was most enlightening.

As a Melbournian, you could be forgiven for thinking that you live in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. But as I discovered, Kuala Lumpur is a rapidly developing city with the food, culture and history to rival any great city in the world. One thing that any visitor will notice in KL is that shopping and shopping malls are prolific throughout the city; they are a hub of activity, full of shopping tourists and people trying to escape KL's oppressive heat and humidity. Like most countries, western cuisine is everywhere. But it is the local cuisine and dishes that are the real winners in KL. For no more than a few Australian dollars one can enjoy a plate of food from the markets overflowing with Nasi Lemak, Char Kway Teow and many other local delicacies. While KL is fairly tropical, it is clear that the influence of the overlapping Malaysian, Chinese and Indian districts and their distinct culture and architecture has shaped this city. Even the Melbourne coffee snob is well catered for in KL as Melbourne-inspired coffee houses pop up more and more frequently.

For a city that is primarily made of up Malay, Chinese and Indians, the practices and traditions of Western art and culture have certainly permeated their way throughout KL. I’ve been known to groan about the state of classical music, particularly within Melbourne. But when one travels to a non-western country you come to realise how fortunate we are to have the vibrant scene that exists in Melbourne. While classical music still remains a fairly niche market, it is undeniable that there is an immensely passionate group of artists, creatives and concert-goers within KL. The Malaysian Philharmonic was formed in 1998 and has been working tirelessly since its inception to develop an audience and culture around classical music within Malaysia. What immediately struck me about the Malaysian Philharmonic was the quality of both the orchestra and concert hall. Comprised mainly of international soloists (many of whom are Australian), the MPO form one of the most outstanding orchestras I’ve had the pleasure of working with and listening to. The Dewan Filharmonic Petronas centre is a state of the art concert hall that is equipped with one of the best acoustics for classical music you will find. From the outset, it was clear to me that the MPO is devoted to producing art of the highest quality and creating an experience with every concert they produce.

For an orchestra that primarily focuses on concert repertoire, Die Zauberflöte was a very different kind of project for the Malaysian Philharmonic. With music by Mozart and a libretto by Schikaneder, Die Zauberflöte has been a successful opera since its conception and remains one of the most popular operatic works in the world. However, this production surprisingly marked the first performance of Die Zauberflöte ever in Malaysia. It is a classic tale of light conquering darkness, the search for meaning and of course, love. The work features a full range of characters, voice types, arias and folksong, dialogue, elements of magic and magic realism, audience interaction, and singers and actors playing instruments on stage; the list goes on. Simply put, there is something in this opera for everyone. In a country where little opera is performed, Die Zauberflöte forms the perfect gateway for anyone to experience an opera for the first time and leave the theatre feeling compelled to return. After each performance audience members seemed inspired and elated, and many also commented on how they would now attend more opera after experiencing Die Zauberflöte.

The process of putting the show together was rapid and intense. The cast, director, conductor, musicians, technicians and creatives had only one week to put an entire opera together. Because of the time constraints, it was very important that my preparation prior to arriving in Kuala Lumpur had been thorough. It is almost as though one must be ready to adapt and perform the work from day one of rehearsals. You have to know your stuff and have made the necessary discoveries about the work before you get on the floor. The inherent challenge with this is that sometimes you will be performing the role for the first time, as I did in Die Zauberflöte. As a first timer, I discovered new things each time I sang the role but also had to convince my audience and colleagues that performing the role was as natural as drawing breath.

Working with colleagues is a big part of Die Zauberflöte, primarily because it is an ensemble work and all the characters interact with each other at least once in the opera. Because Die Zauberflöte is such a standard piece in the operatic repertoire, it’s likely that the singer playing Tamino in one production will have a completely different set of ideas and choices than the Tamino you work with next time. Thus, the entire cast were faced with the challenge of getting to know each other’s working style in a very short time in order to create chemistry and compelling drama on stage. Fortunately, this cast of Die Zauberflöte was filled with incredibly experienced singers, some of whom had sung their respective roles over 200 times. As a young singer surrounded by seasoned professionals, I was mesmerised and inspired by the poise, finesse and dedication of these performers.

As this work was semi-staged it meant that certain stagecraft elements would not be employed in the production. But, given the significance of this production, the MPO created as large a scale production as they could manage. The concept of semi-staged is ambiguous. While it doesn’t suggest a completely staged production involving all the moving parts you would see in a theatre, it also doesn’t suggest a concert-style performance. Thus, the first few rows of seating were removed and the orchestra were placed on the ground to make way for the action taking place on stage. I was nervous when I heard the orchestra would be on the floor, but because of the fantastic acoustic of the concert hall and wonderful direction of Guillaume Tourniaire, both singer and orchestra were able to blend seamlessly. In this production, we were very fortunate to collaborate with the fantastic singers of the Kuala Lumpur City Opera chorus. The group was formed in 2012 and comprises local Malaysian singers as well as some Australians living in Kuala Lumpur. To complement their relatively static musical role, the chorus in Die Zauberflöte were dressed in blacks, which was very visually effective on stage as it contrasted greatly with the full costumes of the principal cast.

I played the role of Papageno in this production. Given the nature of the role, I had some idea before I left that playing Papageno would mean being prepared for both the physical and vocal demands of the role. Papageno provides comic relief in the show and contrasts with the larger cast of noble characters. In this production, I made many of my entrances through the audience. Consequently, I found myself running onto the stage and then immediately singing. This proved to be a great test of both my fitness and vocal technique. It became clear to me from the outset that my rest during this busy period was going to be critical, and I was dependent on sleep which was, unfortunately, often hard to come by. Rehearsals would take place in the afternoon and evening and often didn't end until after 10pm.

Papageno was originally performed by the librettist himself, Schikaneder, and is the folk singer of Die Zauberflöte. Unlike the other characters, Papageno simply cannot get away with just singing beautifully, and must have a vast library of vocal colours. This was vocally taxing, particularly in the dialogue where I was required to yell, grumble, whisper and manipulate my voice and then immediately sing. I faced a number of other challenges during the show which put my ability to the test. Two such examples both involved the use of my mouth. The first challenge was learning how to play the pipes, a trademark of every good Papageno. In theory, it’s quite simple and in practice, it’s not incredibly difficult. However, while I was pushing to have the pipes from day one of rehearsals, they didn’t arrive until halfway through the final dress rehearsal. This meant on opening night I hadn’t had a chance to play the pipes with the orchestra, nor had I had the time to get to know my way around the instrument and practice singing and playing together. The second challenge came in act one when Papageno is punished by the three ladies for telling lies and has a padlock placed over his mouth which inhibits his ability to speak. The lock used in the show had a pacifier attached to one end which I would bite down on to hold into place. Again, this seemed simple in theory and practice. However, in this production I had to keep the padlock in my mouth for roughly ten minutes while I sat on the edge of the stage during Tamino and the Queen’s arias. By the time I had to sing again, my mouth and throat were dry. This was something I was able to overcome only slightly by ensuring that I actively produced saliva while I sat and waited on the edge of the stage.

I think one of the greatest things I learnt about playing a new role is that you only truly know what the role requires of you when you finally experience the pressure, anxiety and intensity that comes with performing in front of an audience. It is possible to rehearse things to death, but rarely possible to simulate the experience of performing the role in that high-pressure environment, especially when it is a role debut like it was for me. With every production and performance of any role, you learn exactly what is required of you and how to do it better and better each time.

Although I was only a visitor in Kuala Lumpur for a short time, I felt a sense of sadness when it came time to leave what is a truly fantastic city. While it may have a smaller output of classical music and opera than what we can expect in Melbourne, Malaysia is rich in outstanding music makers and passionate advocates who are working tirelessly to establish a strong musical culture. I was inspired by the singers of the Kuala Lumpur City Opera chorus whose vibrant energy was palpable on stage and contributed to creating such a successful show. The Malaysian Philharmonic is undoubtedly one of the best orchestras in the world and Malaysia can be very proud to have such a world class group. All I can say is if you’re every visiting or find yourself in KL, don’t pass up the opportunity to hear this wonderful orchestra. I’ll certainly be looking for an excuse to head back.

Backstage Pass: Rehearsing Siegfried by Deborah Humble

Every once in a while a contract will come along which makes you glad you decided to become an opera singer. You’ve stuck it out: the training, the language learning, the endless auditions, the money spent on coaching and lessons, the travel, the hotels, the nerves, the critics, the competitions, the closet-like dressing rooms.

I arrive in Hong Kong on a Saturday afternoon in January to begin such a contract. One of the highlights of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2016/2017 season are concert performances of Siegfried, the third opera in Richard Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle. Siegfried was composed between 1851 and 1871 and had its premiere in Bayreuth along with Das Rheingold, Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung in 1876. Under the direction of Chief Conductor and Music Director Jaap van Zweden, the Hong Kong Philharmonic, recognised as Asia’s leading symphony orchestra, is undertaking the entire Ring Cycle over a period of four years.

It is a first for Hong Kong, and, right from the beginning of this project, there has been the sense that this is a very special undertaking. Raff Wilson, Director of Artistic Planning, explains that these performances form the centrepiece of the Maestro’s Hong Kong tenure. “The Ring is a massive project by any measure,” he says. “The challenge of bringing together all the forces required at the right time mean that our whole organisation has been working on these performances, in some cases, for years.”

The project has an even greater significance as all four operas are being recorded by the Naxos label for commercial CD release. This increases the orchestra’s reputation and reach, not only within Asia but worldwide. “For many people around the world this will be the first thing they hear the Hong Kong Philharmonic perform,” says Mr Wilson. The Philharmonic's performances of Das Rheingold, in which I sang Erda in 2015, and Die Walküre, recently included in The Guardian’s ‘Best Classical CD’s of 2016' list, are already on the shelves and have received critical acclaim.

For the next three weeks I’ll be performing and recording with an international cast which includes several colleagues I know well and have worked with before. The Wagner ‘family’ is a fairly small one, and one of the nicest things about being involved with this particular repertoire is that the same faces pop up in all corners of the globe.

The job begins when a driver collects me from the airport. I am shortly dropped off at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kowloon, which has an amazing, panoramic view of Hong Kong Harbour and is just a few steps from the concert hall at the Cultural Centre. Presentation of a Ring Cycle, even in concert format, is a huge financial undertaking for any opera house or orchestra and often requires support from a number of patrons. Since 2006, the Hong Kong Philharmonic's principal patron has been Swire, a company who have provided the largest sponsorship in the orchestra’s history. Swire, along with the Philharmonic, are committed to promoting artistic excellence in Hong Kong and to enhancing the city’s reputation as one of the great cultural centres of the world. In addition, the Ring Cycle project has received financial support from the Hong Kong government, and is thus well funded.

As I am unpacking two large suitcases full of everything that an opera singer requires for almost a month’s stay in a hotel room (pot noodles, long life skim milk, tea bags, instant coffee, duty free red wine, portable speakers, CD player, humidifier, sound reduction headphones, the list goes on), I receive a ‘welcome to Hong Kong’ message from the orchestra administration. This message includes the news that the arrival Matthias Goerne, alongside whom I sing at the beginning of Act Three, has been delayed by a day; I am thus not required for rehearsal tomorrow as planned and am given a reprieve. I plan to spend the day resting, recuperating, and trying to beat the jet-lag.

I spend the evening doing what many travellers do when they arrive at a new destination: exploring. First I wander the hotel, its restaurants and cafes, its pool, spa and business centre, before walking around the neighbourhood. I remember the area quite well from my previous visits here; I find the local supermarket, coffee shop and train station, as well as buy an Octopus travel card, with relative ease. On the way back to the hotel I stop by the concert hall to admire the laser light show which occurs nightly around the harbour. The Cultural Centre here may not be as architecturally impressive as the Sydney Opera House, but the view across to Hong Kong Island and its vertical skyline is as impressive as anywhere in the world.

I fail miserably in my attempt to stay awake until a ‘reasonable’ hour and fall asleep at 7.30pm. As a result I am sitting up watching House of Cards on my computer at 3.30am and am at breakfast before the buffet is even open. I’m not the only one. This is how colleagues meet for the first time; bleary eyed, before the sun has come up, comparing jet-lag stories – very glamorous! Twenty-four hours later, regardless of how anyone is feeling, rehearsals begin.

Putting on an opera in concert requires a different rehearsal schedule to a fully- staged production. Time that would normally be given to the drama becomes extra time to devote purely to musical detail. The Philharmonic have already been rehearsing without the singers for some time prior to our arrival, so things are well underway. Maestro Jaap van Zweden works with orchestra and singers separately in the beginning, with the singers also joined by a pianist, assistant conductor and language coach as we work through the opera act-by-act and scene-by-scene. It’s a long opera and there’s a lot of music to get through so the process takes nearly an entire week.

This is the 'discussion' stage. There is a lot of stopping and starting in order to discuss everything from tempi, phrasing, pronunciation, language, dynamics and orchestration to the importance of harmonic progression, chromaticism and the understanding of various leitmotifs. Maestro van Zweden welcomes input from the singers and tells us his personal ideas regarding the score. At this stage it is an inclusive process. Single phrases are sometimes repeated several times until a result is found that works for everyone. Every singer is either German or very experienced performing in the German language; however, everyone is aware that this opera is being recorded, so there are small intricacies that need extra careful attention.

This is where the important job of the language coach comes into play. Volker Krafft, a répétiteur and language coach at the Staatsoper Hamburg in Germany, is fulfilling these same roles for the complete cycle in Hong Kong as well as being one of two Assistant Conductors. “The function of a language coach,” he states, “is to listen to the singers in the piano and orchestral rehearsals and give them notes regarding their pronunciation of the German language. That’s why the person who fulfils this role should be a native speaker who also knows something about singing. In individual sessions at the piano I try to make sure the singers manage to combine the correct pronunciation with their individual way of singing. The language coach/répétiteur is also there to make sure all rhythms and notes are correctly sung and to ensure the dramatic intent of each word comes across.”

Ultimately it is the unity of words and music in Wagner’s works that make for successful understanding of the whole. Every element of language is expressive, as well as being connected with every instrumental colour and every modulation in the work.

“Languages are so important in the international world of opera,” says Volker. “Not only the phonetics, which can, to a certain extent, be learnt and taught by good coaches, but also the ability to communicate in different languages is crucial.” He also believes that immersion into the cultural background of the music is very important. It is indeed hard to imagine singing Wagner successfully without at least some understanding of the historical and political background surrounding the composer and his music. This education is an ever evolving one for a singer and Wagnerian roles are always a work in progress. Some colleagues here are singing these long Wagner roles for the first time, and are learning to adapt to the many details that will change throughout the rehearsal process.

To end the first week of rehearsals there is an Education Programme and open day. The public are invited into the auditorium to witness the rehearsal process and I am delighted to see a number of very young people taking part. This involvement is part of a wonderful initiative by the orchestra entitled the Young Audience Scheme. This particular open day includes an introduction to the story of Siegfried through a demonstration by musicians of some of the more unusual Wagner instruments such as the Wager tuba. Late last year local children were encouraged to participate in the Siegfried Creative Art Competition by presenting their unique vision of the story of the opera in the form of visual artwork. The entries are being displayed as part of an exhibition in the foyer of the concert hall and in a dedicated published booklet. It is so important to encourage the next generation of opera goers and I very much admire the staff who invest time in these kinds of outreach programmes in order to make opera which is perceived as heavy and difficult so much more accessible and understandable.

There is a great deal of spare time when one rehearses a Ring. No matter which character you sing, there are many rehearsals for which you are not required. It’s important to be independent during these long weeks away from home; with few cast members, the challenge is how to spend long hours alone. Of course, there is always sightseeing to do in a foreign place; however, it is important to balance activity with rest. If you are lucky enough to have continuous work then you also need to schedule time to learn your next role. This can be difficult when you are living in a hotel away from access to your regular teachers and coaches.

Publicity also takes time. It is an important element of careers in the current cultural landscape and the centrality and development of social media and the internet means that singers can maintain high profiles if they so wish. Most major companies have their own publicists who may ask singers to be involved with various press opportunities during their contractual engagement and some singers have their own private publicist. While publicity is important, it is also a large commitment. In my first week in Hong Kong I spend no less than six hours on publicity commitments including local radio interviews, answering questions for online publications and interviewing both over the phone and face-to-face.

One thing I like to do on my days off is to go into the hall and spend some time listening to the music being rehearsed and, in particular, to watch the conductor. As a guest singer it's rare to have had a lot of experience working with one conductor, and one way of becoming familiar with their gestures and communication is to watch from the audience. It’s also a good way to get to know the acoustics of an unfamiliar venue. Perhaps one of the biggest advantages to doing this is to begin to identify with the opera as a whole. If you have one of the smaller roles and are only present at rehearsals when you are involved, it can feel like a very disconnected experience. It is always possible to pick up a few tips too. In the Wagner world there will always be a colleague around with more experience who is happy to pass on the benefit of their expertise.

At the end of the first week of rehearsals everyone seems relaxed and happy. Things are progressing nicely and going according to plan. We are told to enjoy our Sunday rest day and return refreshed for the orchestral rehearsals which will add another exciting dimension to the proceedings. So far, so good.

All About New Music: Tilde Festival 2017 by Jessica Lindsay Smith

Somehow all of the city heat gathered itself at Testing Grounds on Saturday. In between keeping cool by drinking chilled beers and shielding under umbrellas that belonged to an art installation at the venue, festival-goers were enjoying the massive amount of music at the Tilde New Music and Sound Art Festival. There were 12 hours of music to be exact, in three performance spaces, alongside installations and the constant chatter of audiences. You read that right. 12. Hours.

The space abounded with music. An eight channel fixed media installation accompanied the entirety of the festival, including music written by Alice Bennett and Vincent Giles, the power couple behind Tilde.

After six days of hard core composition workshops and classes at the Tilde New Music and Sound Art Academy, half of me was excited for the festival and half of me was feeling overloaded. I was keen to just sit and let the sounds wash over me, a luxury which I got to enjoy a little bit. But as the festival photographer in the afternoon, not a lot of my time was spent relaxing.

I had a lot of fun doing the festival photography. It gave me a great excuse to talk to people and I was lucky to hear little snapshots of every performance. With its pink and steel grey colour scheme and industrial performance spaces, Testing Grounds was a perfect frame for the wild array of improvised, notated, electronic, and acoustic music and sound art that the festival contained. Dare I say, there aren’t many places you can hear gamelan with loop pedal and microtonal acoustic guitar in the same festival.

At 7pm, I caught some of Phoebe Green’s performance in the White Box performance space. It was a virtuosic journey that took on the seemingly impossible task of performing Iti Ke Me by Pierluigi Billone, an intricate piece which calls for an alternately tuned viola and which only a handful of people in the world know how to play. In addition, Pheobe's love of commissioning new works was celebrated through her performance of Lisa Ilea’s CRANES. What was most striking about Phoebe was the honesty and rawness in her playing and her captivating persona on stage; she demanded the audience's attention and held it for the entirety of her performance.

The flow of the day was intriguing. I particularly loved the casual nature of the outdoor spaces in which audiences came and went, chatted freely about what they enjoyed, and, in the classic festival fashion, drank boutique beer and ate gourmet hot dogs.

My favourite performance of the day (although there was so much I loved) was Thea Rossen’s performance of Aphasia by Mark Applebaum, a highly choreographed piece for hand gestures synchronised to prerecorded sound. Aphasia explores what the experience might be like for someone suffering from aphasia, a neurological condition caused by damage to language centres of the brain. The tape part was a collage of transformed vocal sounds, often overlapping and weaving amongst one another. The visual aspect of the performance was extremely striking and really got under my skin; I don’t remember breathing at all during the performance. As the piece came to an end me and my fellow audience members let out our breaths and applauded Thea’s skills and theatrics.

I got home at midnight worn out, with tired ears, a lovely sandal tan and a camera full of photos. Needless to say, I am taking a break from new music for the next few days. I want to process what I’ve heard.

In Conversation: Shania Choir

It's their prerogative to have a little fun: the Shania Choir on singing, community and the Queen herself.

What is it about Shania Twain's discography that made you honour her with an a cappella choir?

She is queen! Shania's music was such a strong voice for a lot of us when we were growing up; we have fond memories of singing along to her in the living room and sassing anyone that walked past with her tunes. There's rarely an artist that has been as successful as her (she just got awarded the Billboard Icon award last year!) and we think she's worth all the honour.

How did the choir actually start - what was the aha! moment?

Shania Choir started as the brain child of Amateur Hours creator, Laura Imbruglia. For AH's launch last year, she had the brilliant thought to pull together a bunch of friends for a once off, hilarious a cappella choir in wigs and four-part harmony. Peopled seemed to love it as much as we did, so we thought, hey, why not, let's do it more!

It's not an easy task to set up a choir from scratch - what did you learn during the process?

So much. The brunt of the responsibility has landed on the shoulders of Alex Morris, who is one of Australia's top choir masters, conductors and arrangers. He skilfully turned Shania into a choral dream and we couldn't be luckier. One of our favourite things we've learnt is how to position choir members next to each other so that each voice blends as perfectly as it can into the next. We've also learnt how much people love Shania - it's ridiculous. It's like we've just validated everyone's 90s renaissance and we're more than happy to do it!

What can the audience expect from this concert experience?

Think drag, leopard print, harmonies, sass, and occasional awkward dancing. One thing they might not be expecting is to come away having learnt a bit more about Shania's life. We've weaved some short monologues in between each song to highlight her incredible journey to fame.

Shania Choir is proof that choral singing does not have to revolve around obscure works. For young singers interested in getting involved in group singing, how do you recommend they get started?

The first bit is easy - ask. Post on Facebook, or ask your friends who else might be interested and go from there. I think it all starts with an idea and a goal - once you've got that, it's easy for people to get behind. I'm sure that at least half of Shania Choir's success (if any) will be because of the name.

Can you share your favourite Shania songs?

That's hard! They're all so loved, but perhaps I'd pick 'Don't be Stupid' and 'I'm Gonna Getcha Good'.

Music Business 101: Grant Writing by Naomi Johnson

1. Check the Criteria

Starting off with the big picture, and even before you start thinking about your wonderful project, check the grant criteria. You want to make sure it's the right grant for you and your project, but also that you fit what the funding body is looking for. It would be a shame to start writing, then realise that you're over the age limit of 25, or that the grant is actually only open to current students. Do you fit the bill? Does your project sound like what they're looking for?

2. Read Everything

Many grants will have a document or web page that lists the eligibility criteria, the questions you'll have to answer in the application process and any supporting documentation you're going to need all in the one place. With others, you might have to search a little further. Either way, it's best to start by reading everything and making sure you've got your head round both the process and the amount of time it's going to take you. Some funding bodies will also publish lists of previous grant recipients and their projects, so why not check out past success stories while you're at it.

3. Write With Passion, and Clarity

Funding bodies want to support projects that are going to succeed, and one of the best ways to show that is to be really passionate about that success in your writing. It's great to get excited about your project – that's one of the things that will really make your application shine. Make sure, though, that you balance this with a strong fundamental plan. Is your project explained consistently? Would someone who might not have a background in music understand it as well? How about your mum/sister/uncle? Sometimes the grant assessors won't know what a Pierrot Ensemble is, so write in a way that clarifies specialist terms and ideas.

4. Word Limits are there for a Reason

This might sound like a bit of a silly one, but it's true: if the question asks for a specific number of works, that's a good indication of the level of detail the funding body wants. If you've answered a 400-word question on how you're going to give back to the community with only 50 words, then you probably need to re-think whether your project is going to meet the eligibility criteria. Because one of them is probably to do with community engagement! Within 10% of the word limit is probably a good strong answer. Remember, you want to use all the space you've got to sell your awesome idea.

5. Make the Budget Balance

Some grants will ask for a proposed budget for your project, and its imperative that budget balances. Some funding bodies won't even consider your application unless it does. Making it balance means that your total income including the grant will exactly equal your total expenditure on the project. This doesn't mean you have to know exactly how much you're going to spend on printing programs or anything, just that you've done your research about how much it is all likely to cost. You need to list everything, including performance fees, travel costs, and then smaller things like sheet music purchases if you plan to spend your grant money on that as well. On the other side of the sheet, you should also list all the assumed sources of income, things like ticket sales, donations, other grant funding. Remember that 'personal contribution' is a valid income source if it makes the budget balance!

6. Ask for Advice and Feedback

And ask for as much as possible. It's important to make sure your application says what you think it's saying, all the way from the big ideas to individual sentences and the best way to check that is with someone else's eyes. There are lots of ways to get feedback: have a coffee with a friend just to chat about your project, seek out someone who has previously got the grant and pick their brains, and finally ask someone to proofread your application. If you've got a friend who's applying for the same grant, all the better; proofreading each other's applications will probably help you see weaknesses in your own. Some funding bodies might offer feedback themselves before the application is due. If so, it's definitely asking ahead of time what they think.

7. Practice

Many say that grant writing is an art, and in some ways it's true. You need to be good at expressing your ideas clearly and passionately, showing that your brilliant project will be successful no matter what. The first time you write a grant application it will probably feel like pulling teeth, but like any skill it improves with practice. For every application you write, whether it's successful or not, you're honing your skills for the next one. With practice, you'll become increasingly good at articulating your ideas, knowing what the funding body is looking for, and hopefully getting your fantastic projects up and running.

In Conversation: Kanen Breen

On setbacks, cabaret and telling stories with opera.

You’ve been called an ‘accidental opera star’. Before you joined the Victorian State Opera Chorus, did you ever envisage yourself as an opera singer?

Never in my wildest dreams! First and foremost, I consider myself an entertainer, and I am very comfortable being labelled thus - certainly, I am perhaps best known for my association with the operatic stage, but I have always regarded my capacity to sing opera as a 'special effect', that is, an ASPECT of my skill-set rather than my raison d'ètre.

It thrills and delights me to be surrounded by and immersed in the talents of others, whatever it may be that they excel at. I learn (steal) from my colleagues all the time, whether they be an international operatic superstar, an unknown comedian or a cabaret chanteuse on the skids. Humans fascinate me, those who are drawn to the theatre especially. I am an introvert (really, I am) and my greatest pleasure in life is watching how other introverted performers variously overcome their natures and transform themselves into showbiz spectacles.

You star alongside Meow Meow in Victorian Opera’s upcoming work ’Tis Pity: An Operatic Fantasia on Selling the Skin and Teeth. How would you describe the work?

It's a mash-up, dream-like, a fantasia; part song-cycle, part vaudeville, part circus, part opera. In examining the human body as a site for pleasure, for punishment and for profit, we are freely crossing genres, musical forms and influences. Meow, Cameron Menzies (director) and Richard Mills (composer) have created a twisted history of sorts, which moves through times libidinous and straight-laced, debauched and despotic. Working girls and boys have been both reviled and celebrated across history; there's an obvious correlation between the flesh business and 'the show business' which ’Tis Pity toys with through an extravagant marriage of music, dance, and theatrical spectacle.

How does the creative process differ between ’Tis Pity, where you are one of a cast of only two, and a work with a much larger cast?

There's a lot more space in the rehearsal room for a start! Meow and I are joined onstage by three knockout dancers who perform many different story-telling functions across the breadth of the show. So there are five of us onstage plus a 35 piece orchestra and conductor, all breathing life into the stories being told. The pleasures of rehearsing a brand new piece are innumerable; no rules, nothing is a mistake yet, everyone is pulling in the same direction. A small cast like this one, full of mad-cap energy and inventiveness generates an exciting momentum and there's time for everyone to have a voice. Cameron is great at harnessing the ideas being tossed about, giving them reason and form, or telling us when they're shithouse!

’Tis Pity appears, on first glance, to be quite unusual in the current Australian opera landscape; an operatic cabaret of sorts. Do you see opera and cabaret as synergetic art forms, and how is this reflected in ’Tis Pity?

Absolutely yes! I adore cross-pollination! With myself, Meow and an orchestra onstage, we have the capacity to shift from an epic symphonic sound-world into intimate, hushed introspection and everywhere in between. Meow's got great vocal chops so she can ride victoriously over the top of a thumping band one minute, and break your heart (or your balls) the next, with a whisper and a smile. Opera and cabaret alike are sensational means by which to explore the personal within the political.

You’ve been part of opera in Australia since you joined the Victorian State Opera Schools Company. How has opera in Australia changed since then, and how do you see the future of Australian opera?

Opera is alive and well but is its audience? Shows like ’Tis Pity, which combine classical and contemporary sound worlds are an excellent means by which to reinvigorate the ears of an existing operatic audience whilst also enticing newer and younger bums (and ears) onto seats. If I knew how to secure, or even predict the future of opera in Australia, I'd be a VERY wealthy man! Opera itself hasn't changed since my first days, but the world has. We live in an age of instant gratification, more so than ever before, so opera is now competing with iPads and Netflix and cheap thrills at the touch of a button. Adapt or die, I suppose. There will ALWAYS be a place for the spine-tingling virtuosity of the human voice in full flight, but the form in which it is presented requires constant re-examination. Victorian Opera has prioritised this type of exploration since its inception, which is an enormously satisfying journey to be a part of.

Rehearsal Magazine is for young artists and music students – what do you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a performer?

NOTHING is permanent! Good times come to an end, bad times will pass. Managements come and go, you will fall out of favour inexplicably and opportunity will come knocking when you least expect it. You have to be prepared to ride out some storms if you want to dance on the rainbows. See change as opportunity - a chance to evolve and re-invent.

The older I get, the more I realise that mental and physical health are interdependent- treasure your physical health. Don't burn up your capital, don't take yourself for granted and hopefully your emotional well-being will fall into line.

How can young singers and artists get started in making their own performance opportunities?

Persistence, daring and a willingness to fail spectacularly and often. These are three ingredients which served me well as I set out on a career in the entertainment industry. Failure is a short-cut to self-understanding and nothing teaches you what you're made of and what you really have to offer like having to rebuild from the ground up. If your talent is resilient, you will learn through knock-backs and disappointment that there really is no such thing as a backwards step, only detours, re-routes and hopefully some scenic tours on the road to wherever you’re supposed to be.

Learning to Sing: The Boite Singers' Festival

As a non-singer who has spent a considerable amount of time working with and listening to professional vocalists, I am (perhaps surprisingly) uncomfortable with my own voice. So while I love to attend choir concerts, I'm not so quick to put my hand up to participate. When I found out about the Boite Singers' Festival, a three-day event full of workshops and performance I was thrilled by the line-up, but not so excited about the participation aspect. While I am an active soloist in my own living room, my confidence stops after belting out "It's Raining Men" to absolutely nobody in my pyjamas. I was once an excited choir girl, but my days in the Australian Girls' Choir are long over. So, this weekend presented me with a challenge - turn up and chicken out of actually singing, or give it a shot and learn something about my voice (and myself) in the process. Here are five things I figured out:

You look sillier if you DON'T sing.

Being in a choir is a lot like being part of a sporting team. I'm imagining this, as I haven't ever been part of a team sport, and believe if I had I would have been put down as the seat warmer from day one, but I digress. Playing a sport and being part of a choir is all about the team that you're in - how you support them, and how much heart you give it. Luckily for me, this first introduction to choral singing as an adult was not a competition, and there was nothing for me to do but abandon my fears and sing like I meant it. I learnt from experience pretty quickly that being shy and humming through pursed lips was not going to get me far in the Melbourne Georgian Choir, after hanging back in the first song to "'observe". Don't go to choir practise to "observe". It's like going to McDonald's to have a salad. Ain't no good. You'll look like you don't know what you're doing (which you might not, but don't let this stop you), or you're not enjoying yourself, which is pretty much impossible when you're singing, I've realised.

It's more fun singing with other people than singing alone.

Though I'm not averse to singing along with the radio when I'm alone, or with people I'm very comfortable with, singing with a group of strangers is not something I would generally be up for. Not willingly anyway. It's up there with public speaking; death would be preferable, or at least more comfortable. But there's nothing like singing slightly out of pitch next to someone you've never met before to make a new friend. (Apologies to all the "new friends" I made.) Genuinely though, singing in Andrew Legg's gospel choir was one of the most uniting experiences I've ever had. I got to not only speak but sing with people I would otherwise never even meet. And when I say sing, I mean really sing. And clap. Joy happens when you sing with other people, and it's not quiet. It's funny how careful we get about self-expression, and showing how we feel, when really, there's nothing better or more freeing than singing as loudly as we can.

It doesn't matter how good you are.

"We riff on life" said Ray Charles, and riff on life is exactly what we do. Life is messy and complicated, but there's no need to overcomplicate your singing. You don't have to be destined to become an opera singer or the next Mariah Carey to explore, use and develop your voice. In fact, it's the only instrument we all share. Not everyone has the time and patience to conquer the French Horn, but everyone has the capacity to sing a tune. It matters that you put all of your heart into it, and throw away your insecurities. Your nerves about whether or not you sound good can wait for another day. Sing with your truest voice, and you will be greeted with a whole lot of other true voices. There is little time for pretence when you're singing with people you don't know - they don't know anything about you except for how much you're putting into your singing.

Passion over pitch.

It's not about how good you sound, or how well you can read the music, which is a tough pill to swallow when you've spent your whole life learning about the "correct" way to make music. It turns out, enough voices singing the same thing sound pretty good, even without formal training. There is a special quality about singing in a group of other people who aren't there because they were paid to be there - a kind of unity that only comes from being in the exact same mindset as the person next to you. No one is ever going to pay me to sing, and the people either side of me aren't going to be hired for the next big Broadway show either, but we're all there because we have something we want to express, which makes us sound pretty good regardless of our untrained voices. Not only is our technique based purely on making the happiest sound we can possibly make, we're also trying as hard as we can to make up for the fact that we're not award-winning. And the more you sing, the better you get.

Gospel music values the voice you bring to it.

Studying music at university teaches you about right and wrong, and that there is such a thing as a perfect performance and you are not there yet. Well, you may be there. I certainly was not. Singing in a choir with a large group of people from different ethnicities, with different life experiences and different ideas of what is good and what is not, taught me that there is no such thing as a perfect sound in this world. There is a good sound, and it's your sound.

I left the Boite Singers' Festival with a bunch of music, some inspiring conversations spinning around my mind and a huge grin plastered on my face. I'm still not a confident vocalist, and won't be hitting a stage near you anytime soon, but I'm itching to give singing another try. I'm excited about how easy it was to participate when I finally let myself enjoy it, and I'm ready to sign up for a choir (as long as it's unauditioned...). How's that for a new years resolution? Sing more, worry less. Will you join me?

St Georges' Series: Lachlan Dent

Not long after finishing university, I realised I was ‘out of the jurisdiction’ of all of my teachers and finally free to explore ways of approaching cello technique that were previously unavailable. After trawling through many treatises on string playing and investigating the teaching philosophies of some well-regarded performance coaches, I decided to prioritise the physical sensation of playing over the sound produced. In practising, I changed my primary goal from ‘sounding good’ or ‘getting it right’ to making everything about the experience ‘feel nice’. I kept myself honest through this process by knowing that, if I cheated (and allowed small amounts of unnecessary tension to creep in during difficult passages or moments in practice), then this effect would probably result in greater tension and therefore errors in performance.

For about two or three days, I felt that I sounded significantly worse than I had for many years prior. However, the most major issues were around moments that had been the most likely to fail in performance. I therefore stopped considering these issues to be ‘slips’ and instead began to realise that the processes or concepts behind their execution were faulty. Thus began a long process of trial and error, examining the functioning of the human body and the cello.

This process was emotionally painful at first, until I realised that the cello and my body were both giving me the clearest feedback I could possibly ask for; it was simply a matter of learning how to listen to and interpret that feedback. Essentially, what I had discovered was that, by remaining free in my body-use and not trying to interfere with the outcomes of my understanding of cello playing, I’d found that my best teachers could be the instrument and my body.

Many breakthroughs and realisations followed in the subsequent weeks and months, often on close to a daily basis. Before much longer, I genuinely enjoyed being wrong. A mistake of any kind meant that a window into my next major discovery had likely just presented itself. Further, a substandard result no longer occurred because ‘I hadn’t worked hard enough’ or ‘I wasn’t good enough’, it was simply the outcome of my understanding of the cello (which I became always willing to improve or refine). Likewise, on the rare occasions that I would take a day or two off practice, errors upon resuming weren’t really from ‘being rusty’, so much as my muscle memory no longer compensating for a faulty concept. Changing ‘bad habits’ had become much less of an issue too; when I accurately understood the causal relationship between a certain process and its outcome, I found myself preferring the version that worked well. During this process of exploration and discovery, I found that knowing what doesn’t work can be just as valuable as knowing what does work.

As I continued to practice and explore in this way over several months, I developed a greater awareness of my body and an increased sensitivity to the ways in which it ‘wanted’ to move. This increased my physical efficiency substantially and other people’s feedback (both musicians and non-musicians alike) started to change dramatically; suddenly I was a ‘natural’.

In hindsight, this has been a process of transformation and exactly the right thing for me to do. When I first started down this path, however, it felt like a major leap of faith; the gravity of the platitudes from my time as an ‘educationally institutionalised’ cellist was strongly present. Ultimately, I realised that I had to take responsibility for my own playing and that I would need to question everything I’d been taught. It is my hope that more musicians can start to feel the benefits of working in this way. I’ve found it to be far more rewarding than my previous ways of practicing, and my standard is much higher as a result. Similarly, pain issues I’d had in the past have no longer been a problem. My ultimate technical goal, by the way, has always been to reach a level of proficiency where the technical considerations of any given piece of music are a non-issue, so that the music and its performance can be at the forefront of my mind.

A final note I should add is that by the time I’d started working in the ways described above, I’d had a background of Alexander Technique lessons for several years. Other systems, such as Feldenkrais, may be equally good, but I’ve had no experience with these. Alexander Technique lessons helped immensely with my body use and awareness and could be useful to musicians finding themselves interested in, or having difficulty, employing the processes I’ve described here.

In Conversation: Eva-Marie Middleton

Your upcoming performance for Fringe World Perth sees you and a small chamber ensemble performing lieder by Mahler and Wagner. Tell us how the idea for this production came about.

Whenever I finish a show I like to take some time to experiment with what my voice has become capable of during the production (the voice is constantly growing and changing and surprising me). I finished the OperaBox production of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos in September 2016, in which I played The Composer, and did my usual experimenting, during which I came across the Mahler Kindertotenlieder. Not only was I surprised by how my voice could now handle the music, the subject matter struck me. While it is literally about the death of a child, I found myself reading into it a lot about losing childhood in general. This is particularly pertinent in a world where we constantly see pictures of children in war zones on TV and refugee children on boats; even just seeing how fast children I know grow up in contemporary Western Society. This idea of lost childhood spoke to me a lot.

I then started thinking of another piece with which to pair it. I had learnt the Wagner Wesendonck Lieder years before, and been ready to perform them a couple of times with various orchestras around Perth. However, other programming demands had forced a change: One of these turned into a performance of Strauss's Four Last Songs, so not a change for the worse, but I still hadn’t had a chance to perform the Wagner. While the Wagner isn’t about a literal death as with the Mahler, there is a certain philosophical nature to the songs, a coming to terms with life in all its aspects, which I thought worked alongside the Mahler. Again, my voice now felt so much more at ease with the music that the pairing just made sense.

I approached a couple of friends about this idea, and I think the most important part in my decision-making process was that no one said the idea was stupid, so I went ahead! I had already found an arrangement of the Mahler by an American arranger for piano, oboe and French horn (and voice of course), so I decided to make my own arrangement of the Wagner to match. I always had in my head the idea that I wanted to do something more akin to a one-person opera than a traditional lieder recital, so I brought a director on board. They have helped a lot in shaping the show, particularly with finding that line between an explicit narrative while also leaving enough space for audiences to insert their own interpretation.

What drew you to this repertoire?

I love late romantic repertoire above all for the musical form itself. Listening to Mozart is lovely, but every line is tied in a nice little bow of dominant-tonic cadences which feels very different to my experience of life. There aren’t neat episodes in life, but instead one event falls into the next and into the next and you might not find any resolution for a long time. The extended harmonies and long drawn out phrases of this romantic repertoire just speak to me so much more of real life experience. What’s more, singing this repertoire feels like slipping on an old glove that fits perfectly, whereas it tends to feel like a squeeze to fit my voice into earlier repertoire. Certain voices fit in certain places, and the long expansive lines of the Mahler feel natural to me. It was a very strange feeling the first time I ever sang any of this music, a sort of homecoming to a home I didn’t know I had, but which felt right.

Dream of Childhood's End looks at the loss of childhood in contemporary society. What are your thoughts on music as an opportunity for people to play in a world where our focus is on 'busyness' rather than taking the time to enjoy things?

Music gives us permission to do things that we don’t get to do in real life. Everything is deeper, the stakes are higher, the emotions all consuming, the palate is richer. It’s a place where any thought pushed aside by everyday life can come to fore, that we might wallow in it and explore its every facet. As life gets busier it is important to have these safe opportunities, to give ourselves permission to explore the deeper questions. I think that’s true of all art forms, but music has a way a moving beyond the limitations of language and expressing the inexpressible. Even though I’m singing words, the pitch, the dynamic, the accompaniment, all the musical elements add a greater meaning to it than the simple literal translation.

Fringe festivals tend to offer comedy, cabaret, and other music genre performances more frequently than classical music. What is it about this particular production, focusing on classical music, that makes it so suited to Fringe?

My favourite fringe festival experience was from a few years ago where I went to a dance performance. It took place in a tiny room which seated no more than 10 people. The two dancers were within a hands-width of my face. They danced on a sort of scaffold, a couple’s dance exploring different stages in a relationship. It was amazing, confronting, touching, and everyone left knowing they’d shared something intimate and unrepeatable. That is my perfect fringe experience. Yes, fringe often has comedy and cabaret elements, but that’s because those genres are very good at creating that intimate, edgy fringe feel. At its heart, I feel fringe is about something that breaks the mould, that’s a bit on the edge. That is certainly what we are doing in this production. It’s in no way a traditional lieder performance. There’s lots of moving and singing in amongst the audience. There’s talking to the audience. It has that in-your-face feel which is so vastly different to mainstream classical music, with its clear divide between audience and performer. The subject matter is also so contemporary, as a commentary on life in the early 21st century, that it is entirely fringe appropriate.

How would you recommend getting started with chamber music outside of university?

There is often a real feeling of division between singers and instrumentalists. At university, you might not see them much as you’re taking different electives. In opera, you do most of the rehearsal process without the orchestra. They might quickly introduce the singers at the Sitzprobe, but they won’t introduce all the orchestra members, and it’s at a point where your mind is 100% on the performance, so you never feel like you’ve bonded with orchestra members. OperaBox has been really trying over the last couple of shows to break down that divide, to have more social events with singers and orchestra together but it is hard.

With that in mind, I have to say that one of the best moments in producing this show was the day I had to call the instrumentalists. I had a spiel I’d come up with to explain who I was and how I knew them through whatever show we’d done together. Yet, as soon as I got them on the phone, I never needed to say it. They all knew exactly who I was, and were all eager to be involved. For me it was a bit of an epiphany that there shouldn't be a divide between instrumentalists and singers; we’re all musicians in it together and all wanting to find opportunities to challenge ourselves as artists. Once you have that mentality, then chamber music becomes no harder to organize than a small vocal ensemble. In terms of tips: Get to know the instrumentalists in any show you’re doing, as much as you can, and just ask them if they’re interested. You’ll be surprised!

This production is a clear example of musicians coming together, making their own opportunities in forging their musical careers. Do you have any tips for our readers who might be interested in doing this as well - any advice you wish you had before you started?

1. There’s no right or wrong time to do things. I used to feel bad that I wasn’t doing solo things when other people were, but it just wasn’t the right time for me personally. There’s no advantage to running before you can walk, and you can’t miss the boat so to speak, so just be ok with when you feel you’re ready.
2. Always take note of how other events are organised. Making your own musical opportunities is a combination of musical skill and organisational skill, and we’re often very good at having musical role models but not organisational ones. Join committees, notice the leadership behind different choirs and orchestras, ask questions of people, soak up all that experience as well so that when you come to do it yourself you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel.
3. Just ask people. The worst thing that can happen is someone says no, but then again they might say yes.
Treat people as you want to be treated. In the arts money is tight, and yet sometimes it is fellow artists who are lax on paying people. When you can, pay promptly, pay early, show other artists that you value them. That respect goes a long way.
What can audiences expect from this performance?

This show is an immersive experience. Come expecting beautiful music, but also expect that music to be all around you, right up close and powerful. Expect deep emotions. The show has moments for the audience to reflect on their own childhood, on their own loss, on how we all have that common suffering of leaving childhood behind, never to return. Expect to be taken on that emotional journal. Above all, expect to leave feeling that we have all shared this intimate experience together, never to be repeated.

In Conversation: Vincent Giles & Alice Bennett

What made you start the Tilde Music Festival, and what is the philosophy behind it?

At first it was a desire to offer something akin to, and loosely based on, the European festival/academy/summer courses (Darmstadt Ferienkurse für neue Musik being the most well-known), because such things were unavailable in Australia despite quite a healthy interest in new music amongst performers. But the culture is definitely different, and so is the art, so we grew to accommodate and represent the diversity of practice here in Australia, and so now we try to present a snapshot of active interest/practice within Australia (and a little beyond).

There are a few personal philosophies: the first is that the program is not 'curated', per se, rather it is aesthetically restricted and we accept applications from anybody. These applications are then peer-reviewed by a panel of between three and four people and ranked based on aesthetic suitability, logistics, and a few other things. This has a couple of implications: the first is that it's about as fair a system as we can create, because it removes potential programming and personal biases, which in turn tends toward reasonable gender equality to date (it has fluctuated in this regard, but sometimes this can't be helped). The other thing that this process allows is for new ideas to be tested out; they do not necessarily need to be complete at the time of application, and this can be very freeing for artists and very exciting for us. The second is that the festival, as we see it, exists for the scene/culture of art music in Australia, and is driven by those who are involved in that world in some form, making it very grass-roots and community-driven. The third thing is attempting to lower some of the perceived barriers to art music, and to bring it well out of the concert hall. We hope to change perceptions of how these works can be presented.

The Academy is a more recent addition to Tilde: why is it important to encourage young musicians to collaborate, and what are the highlights of the week this year?

The academy this year is now looking at being focussed on composition at a fairly high level. The academy was in fact one of the primary original motivations for starting Tilde in the first place, and is crucial to our long-term vision. The highlights this year are, for me at least, having composers Liza Lim and Chris Dench tutoring composition, with Liza doing one-on-one lessons and requesting that we donate her pay to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, which is absolutely wonderful. If your readers do not know either of these composers, then they should certainly investigate. I'm not a biographer of Chris, and have only known him a little while (though known of him for a number of years), but he is one of the first generation of British composers associated with what became known as "new complexity", though like any music of any kind, mass-categorisations like that do no justice to the work itself, which I find absolutely wonderful. Liza's music is equally wonderful, and utterly different, though I would (hesitantly) say that she draws upon a similar lineage -- at least in part -- in her work. Her work is rich and complex and dramatic, and I still quite strongly remember the two performances of her works by ELISION Ensemble at BIFEM, and more recently a solo KOTO performance of another of her works at the RMIT Gallery -- a more varied set of three works you could not ask for. It is wonderful to have such accomplished composers in one place over a week, offering whatever they can to our composition students.

The question of collaboration is an interesting and complex one. I'll have to speak as a composer rather than as an organiser, and please forgive the potentially rambling nature of my reply. The kind of trite and obvious answer is that collaboration is inescapable in a very literal way -- even if you play in a rock/pop/jazz/whatever band, and you feel as if you're not contributing to the song/music writing process, collaboration is necessary to actually make music in the first place, and the same is true with ensemble performance in art music. But collaboration as a composer and as an instrumentalist, I think, can take on some subtly different meanings, or perhaps implications. In my own work, and looking back in recent history, a lot of my favourite pieces have been composed for specific people and their idiosyncrasies with their instrument(s), and my least-favoured of my own works are kind of "generic" for certain instruments. This requires collaboration, because as a composer, I must come to know and understand a performer -- their tastes, their style, their musical ideas and interests, and their personal values -- in order to really understand how to write compelling music for them to play. This process often involves testing ideas out, to which the performer(s) might respond with suggestions, and so forth, which refines ideas. So while the ultimate shape and content of the piece is still the composer's, developing it is a collaborative effort. History would point to Berio's Sequenzas as a great example of exactly this. However, more thoroughly collaborative efforts are important, where composition may be more loose (structured/free improvisation, for example), and requires active participation by all performers/composers, and in such a situation, the role of performer/composer becomes irrelevant.

So, with that as an introduction: why is it important? To my mind, some of the best works in modern repertoire have been made with some degree of collaboration between composers and performers, and certainly more open approaches to group music-making is entirely a collaborative effort. While the Tilde Academy has some of this kind of collaborative work built in, this year a lack of performance enrolments has meant that we have had to make other arrangements. Nonetheless, collaborations between people foster a type of creativity that is not elsewhere available, and facilitating a space and time in which people from various disciplines can come and meet and discuss ideas and plan future collaborations or collaborate in the present or whatever, that is immensely valuable and will lead to, I dare say, much more great art being made.

2017 will see the fourth Tilde Festival - what have been some of the major learnings for you over the past years?

Relying on public funding is not the way forward for sustainable artistic practices. It's great if you can get it, but it is far too unstable, particularly amplified with the instability of our politics over the last six-to-ten years. The other, less cynical thing that has been of great learning for me (and Alice too, I would say) is solidifying personal philosophies that have wound their way throughout the festival. This is something that reflecting on the processes and what we value and how to make it happen and so on has allowed. Also trying to do everything gives you high blood pressure, but relinquishing control is sometimes impossible.

You do not specifically curate submissions for the Tilde Music Festival, so what is your process for putting together the program?

We use a peer review process. After review the applications are ranked, programmed, and revised down the list as applicants confirm/reject their involvement until the program is filled with confirmations. I should say too that applicants are required to submit various information about their proposed project/program, along with a CV, tech requirements, and so forth, prior to the review process.

What (and who!) can we expect to see in the upcoming festival?

Lots! I mentioned Laura Chislett earlier, she will be performing an hour-long recital of flute music from various composers, most of which is pretty gnarly and difficult stuff. Local violist Phoebe Green will be doing a long recital of equally difficult solo viola repertoire. There are a couple of installations/installation-like performances using computers and technology. There'll be a food truck. There's some electroacoustic work, some free improvisation, some less-free improvisation, all kinds of things. The program is huge -- I think from memory there will be about 24 performances over 12 hours. There are people coming from Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, possibly New York. One of the things that has always excited me since we started doing it was the Tilde-specific collaborations, which is a separate call to the projects call, where we put together interested parties to make some work at short notice and present it. There'll be three or four of those on the day too, which all kinds of people! The website has the full lineup and all that kinda jazz. But there's no jazz...

For young musicians and composers interested in submitting a project for 2018, how do you recommend they get started putting together their ideas and planning their piece or installation?

2018 is under-wraps at the moment, so I'll answer in a specific sense and then in a more general sense. Regarding Tilde, the best thing to do is hop on our mailing list (at the bottom of our website), through which calls get announced. That and Facebook.

With regard to getting ideas together, planning a piece, and so on: If people are thinking of doing something for the festival it never hurts to get in touch with us directly outside of the calls to discuss things well ahead of schedule, particularly if not so confident with technical setup or the space or aesthetics. It has certainly been the case where we have rejected people not because of bad work (which thankfully is a very rare occurrence) but because it's very good work with completely the wrong aesthetic focus. So if in doubt, like with most things, just ask! And ask with plenty of time. The rest is really just about the idea though, we are open to proposals for unfinished ideas, especially because once accepted, there would be time to finish it, and personally I like things rough around the edges -- there's character there. The more information an artist has about a performance/space/etc. then the better-equipped they are to deal with it; for example, someone proposing a 48-channel immersive sound installation with 6 subwoofers in a completely dark space at midday in the middle of Australian January right next to City Rd in an open space? Not quite the right fit, and likely to have the council swoop down and kick Testing Grounds out due to Southbank being a residential area! Whenever an artist is dealing with an installation on-site, it's worth asking about site limitations.

But really, just do things! Ask for feedback if necessary, and then put in the proposal when the calls are up. I would like to mention that it is important to seem professional, so even if the idea is not fleshed out -- say that the idea is not fleshed out, but detail how you imagine it would work, what it's aesthetic and conceptual ideas are, that kind of thing. Be sure to have a suitable CV (something Alice and I really want to run a workshop on...), and try to remember that Tilde is a community organisation and not Rod Laver Arena with bajillions of dollars in funding (we have none).

In Conversation: Geoffrey Williams

What about songwriting as a method of storytelling interests you? What can song do that the written word cannot?

It's music that interests me. And that's an understatement! I seem to have an affinity with music. Music without words speaks to me, conveys emotion. It's the interplay of melody, harmony, the timbre of instruments that just does it for me. I remember as a kid, the songs I heard on the radio (yes, I'm that old!) created colours within me that words on their own didn't. The words then seemed incidental, a vehicle for the melody and harmony. But now I write, I realise that all elements of the song need to tell the same story - melody, harmony, and words. Having the extra element of words in the soup makes for a better flavour!

Do you find songwriting helps you express the things you can’t say, and how do you approach writing about personal experiences?

Not only songwriting but singing other people's songs helps me express things I can't say. Writing songs based on personal experience, which is the bulk of what I write, is an interesting and tricky process. Trying to be objective is very hard and I'm lucky that my partner is a musician and songwriter. She acts as a creative springboard, an extra pair of eyes and ears. I try to capture the feeling of what I want to express and add details that are true.

What is your songwriting process? How do you get started, and what comes first - music or lyrics?

There isn't enough space on your magazine to have the full answer to this question! Lol! It's so varied. I have created a 'Tap your Creativity - Lyric writing' course soon to be available on Udemy, which helps people to generate their own lyrics using tools and techniques that I have gathered through trial and error in my years in the music industry! So what comes first, music or lyrics for me? Either can come first, it depends what sets me off. Because I feel a natural affinity for creating melody I tend to spend more time crafting lyrics. I use a looper to work up ideas, improvising from an initial stimulus into a fuller arrangement and testing ideas on the fly. I love it!!

You’ve written about your understanding of failure for Roland – why is it important that artists fail, and how do you harness this experience in a positive way?

Trial and error is one of the most important factors that dictate any kind of growth or progression in our world. It's impossible to learn something without first making a hash of it, that's where you get an idea of the parameters and find what adjustments you need to make. Risk is one of the mothers of innovation. Seeing life and creativity as long sequences of experiments leaves you open for some wonderful 'mistakes' to happen!

In your recent performance with Boite - Windrush – a huge amount of people joined together to sing traditional and contemporary songs, and share in your story. What is it about singing that brings people together and helps build communities?

There's something special about singing together; finding where your voice fits in the communal harmony is very powerful. It's proven to be good for you. It's also lots of fun. The choirs that I run are 60% filled with laughter. Find and try out a local choir that has a similar age group, that sings material you like!

Can you bust a myth for us - do you have to be a “good” singer to join a choir? And if you’re not a confident singer, what else do you get out of joining a choir, and singing in a group?

Being a good singer is very useful for being in a choir. It often depends on what sort of choir you join. I run 2 community choirs and there are strong singers and not so strong singers. I've found that after a while of singing in a choir, the voices start to meld together. It's a great place for the not so confident singer to build more confidence. It can also broaden your social network.

You’re sharing your expertise in songwriting classes in the upcoming Boite Singers Festival. How do you encourage new songwriters to start their writing journey?

Well, as I see it, the only difference between me and a songwriter starting their writing journey is time. I've just been doing it longer. Persistence is important. Trial and error is important. Enjoyment is important. And if you want to write great songs, listen to great songs and let your yourself travel away to some distant land where your imagination can create.

In Conversation: Rhodri Clarke

Who, or what, has been a great musical influence in your life?

Two years after starting piano lessons, at the age of 10, I was invited to be a chorister in my local village church choir in (old) South Wales. In the same year, the choirmaster, knowing I was a piano student, offered me the opportunity to take organ lessons with the church organist, a lady called Dorothea Packwood. On our first meeting, she was 89 years of age. Despite her considerable and understandable frailty, she gave me a solid foundation in organ technique and was particularly rigorous about legato playing and articulation on the organ. A couple of years into our lessons, she sadly passed away; the previous year, the Queen awarded her an MBE – she had been organist of the church for 70 years that year. Following her death, I was asked by the church to be the joint organist of the church which meant playing every Sunday evening or morning most Sundays of the year. As I used to play hymns, anthems and psalms accompanying the choir, as well as solo organ music before, during and after the service, it gave me wonderful experience in choral accompaniment, following a conductor and playing in front of an audience. The year after, I began playing for weddings and funerals at the church, which at the time I found incredibly nerve-wracking but gave me enormous confidence as I increasingly found I could control the nerves. I don’t think I ever ruined anyone’s special day.

What composers or musical situations do you most enjoy? Do you prefer to play alone, or with people?

I love all forms of piano ensemble work, whether it be an instrumental duo, trio, lieder, opera accompaniment, so I suppose I have a preference for this work over solo playing. There wasn’t really a point at which I decided this but I have always been passionate about the collaborative forms of piano playing. The question I have never been able to answer is whether I prefer or would specialise in working with singers over instrumentalists or vice versa. For me, I love getting to know new repertoire and also working on multiple styles/genres simultaneously. Being able to rehearse a Beethoven cello sonata, Ibert Flute Concerto, some Schumann lieder, teach my student a Bartok piano piece then dash across town to perform Brahms' violin concerto is a great day. I don’t think I’d want to lose any element of that.

What were your first experiences of accompanying?

As I mentioned above, around the age of 11 or 12, playing for church services, weddings and funerals as a church organist was my first experience accompanying. While the repertoire was not always the most demanding, playing the organ really does put one’s multitasking skills to the test, with feet pedals, changing pistons, pulling out stops, often with one hand crossing the other on an upper/lower keyboard. All this before you think about playing in time, watching the conductor, leading the singers... I suppose it also gave me the first understanding that leading is just as important as following when it comes to accompanying. As a later organ teacher said to me, referring to the congregation when playing hymns, “listen to them and you’re stuffed!”

On piano, my first experiences were in high school where I did a huge amount of accompanying. As well as regularly playing for the Junior and Senior choirs, from the first year of high school, I was invited, and always accepted, to play for the school drama productions, performing the role (I later realised) of repetiteur. Around the age of 15, somehow my school arranged for me to shadow the repetiteur at Welsh National Opera for their Madame Butterfly production. They even let me play for a rehearsal although I felt overwhelmingly out of my depth.

Are there differences in the ways you approach a score, depending on whether you are playing alone or in an ensemble?

As I spend so much of my time accompanying and playing chamber music, it’s probably fair to say that this influences the way I look at any score, whether it’s a solo piece, an instrumental duo, concerto with orchestral accompaniment or lieder. Even when I’m learning/performing solo repertoire, I tend to still view the work as an ensemble; there just happens to be one person guiding the music, rather than two or more. This opens many possibilities for shaping the musical narrative, creating interesting tone colours and textures. So, I don’t think there are necessarily differences in my approach because a work happens to be a solo work. It’s more that each work will bring particular challenges which each need to be approached in a particular way. An example that springs to mind is the accompaniment of Schubert’s Erlkönig which needs something like an Olympic training regime to build up the stamina for the undulating right-hand octaves. But, going back to the question, the one big difference between solo and ensemble repertoire would be the practice process. For solo repertoire, the practice time is also your rehearsal time and you can make creative decisions in a unilateral way. For ensemble repertoire, as well as your personal practice time, you have the rehearsal process itself, which requires you as a performer to have great flexibility in your approach to tempo, dynamics, phrasing, musical interpretation etc. as well as being as prepared as you can be for the rehearsal. Something that worked well in your practice may need tweaking, altering or throwing out altogether once you’ve rehearsed with the other players. I believe it’s a vital part of collaboration to have the ability to constantly reevaluate your musical ideas and interpretation. Even if you believe very strongly in a particular idea or interpretation, you owe it to your fellow musician to try out their ideas and experiment.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in getting started accompanying?

Do lots of listening to recordings. Always follow the score as you listen. This will help you to get to know the piece as a whole both in terms of the harmony, solo/instrumental part and structurally. Listen to the accompaniment part and notice how the vocal/instrumental line is being supported.

Sight reading - In the beginning, choose repertoire which is manageable (classical sonatas and concertos for example).

Simplify writing for orchestral reductions. You don’t need to play all the double octaves. Use a recording to understand the sounds/colours you are trying to recreate from the orchestral part. Very often it’s appropriate to leave out whole lines, or simplify patterns to make them less technically awkward etc. Sometimes playing all the notes, even if you can, will sound way too cluttered for the orchestral sound the composer had in mind.

Sing (yes, sing) the vocal/instrumental line at the same time as playing your part. Choral singing can be very helpful with this. At first, singing while playing is challenging but absolutely worth the effort. Develop the technique of “living through” the solo/instrumental part so that you have the sense it is playing constantly in your head as you play the accompaniment. A good way to start this process is to play that part with your right together with the harmonies or bass line in the LH. Knowing the solo part as well as possible is vital for effective accompanying.

Balance and shading – notice how the timbre/projection of the instrument/voice changes in high/middle/low registers. These things may influence your dynamic range, which parts you leave out, phrase shapes etc. The age old question “Am I too loud” should be ever present, but I prefer to think in terms of support i.e. am I giving the right support at any particular moment, whether it be a stronger bass, softer treble, clear phrasing to support the vocal phrasing etc. Think of your accompaniment as an ever-changing organism, continually adapting to the contour of the music.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals, or does it change depending on the circumstances of the performance?

I hate to be so conventional but it’s usually bananas. At least two (especially for longer performances).

One of my unwanted rituals is to roam the concert hall searching for a chair of lowest possible height. I know it sounds ridiculous but I sit as low as it’s possible to sit at the piano and a normal piano stool rarely winds low enough. I’m sure people think I’m crazy but at least I’m in the category of Glenn Gould, if only in that one respect.

I do two things which usually help. Firstly, lying flat on my back doing stretches and then lying still for a while.

Also, if there’s a piano in the warm up room I have a strange habit of picking a song (usually a very cheesy pop song) which has nothing to do with the music I’m about to perform and busking my way through that. “I will survive” is the one that springs to mind but it really could be anything. Most likely this wouldn’t work for everyone and may even be totally catastrophic if you try it, but I find it puts me in a relaxed frame of mind and clears my mind of anything negative.

What is the hardest thing about being an associate artist, and how do you deal with that?

Undoubtedly for me, it’s the constant balancing act of time management. Although there are many challenges (musical, artistic, administrative), I find I have to be constantly vigilant with planning my schedule to ensure there is sufficient time to learn/practise repertoire, especially getting to know the work as a whole rather than just the accompaniment. Also, planning time to fit in practice and rehearsals when there are multiple projects coinciding can be very challenging. The most important thing for me is never to compromise the level of preparation for any one project so that I can always offer the best possible musical experience to the particular musician I’m working with. Getting this balance right has been a long learning curve right back from my school/student days. Learning to say no is vital.

What have been some career highlights for you, as a collaborative artist or vocal coach?

During my final years of study at RCM in London, I was incredibly fortunate to be invited to join a group of Venezuelan musicians through an English cellist friend of mine who also played in the group. The chamber ensemble was called Bolivar Soloists and specialised in original arrangements of Latin-American music from Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina. Over the course of six years, as well as becoming close friends we performed together in the UK, France, Germany, Austria and Spain. As well as being highly trained classical musicians, they were also amazing improvisers and taught me an incredible amount about the folk traditions of Latin-American music and the complexity of the diverse, exotic rhythms from that part of the world. The highlight came in 2010 when we were invited by the Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon, to record a disk of Mexican folk songs for Deutsche Grammophon, and to undertake a promotional tour of Mexico; a huge honour and wonderful experience.

In 2007, as part of a tour with a Welsh male voice choir, I performed at Carnegie Hall. In that concert, I accompanied the great bass-baritone Bryn Terfel. It was very special to meet and perform with him, particularly in such a prestigious venue.

Through Bolivar Soloists, I was introduced to the double bassist Edicson Ruiz, who has to be the most gifted musician I ever met. Edicson became a member of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of 17, a fact which still astounds me. Another career highlight is a recital I gave with Edicson at the Berlin Philharmonie which included a piece composed by Efrain Oscher, the leader of Bolivar Soloists, double bass concerti and piano solos by Ginastera and Liszt.

How important is it to connect with the person you are performing with, off stage?

Honestly, I find it much easier to perform with musicians I like and can connect well with outside the rehearsal/concert situation. This is especially true for me in chamber music where having a rapport with your fellow musicians is so beneficial for being able to create a sense of fun, spontaneity and symbiosis. When you don’t have that, of course you have to always be professional. You cannot possibly click with everyone you meet, but in my view, there’s no substitute for a natural respect and spirit of friendship. It’s easy for the audience to see when this is happening.

You play for both instrumentalists and singers of extraordinarily high calibre. Is there a marked difference between how you work with singers, from how you work with instrumentalists?

In the case of how I work with musicians in general, the keyword is adaptability. It’s possible that there are differences in the approach with singers and instrumentalists but as there are so many other variables from situation to situation, for me the lines are usually quite blurred. It usually comes down to how much the spirit of collaboration is there and your approach varies depending on that.

While at university, piano students must practice technical work, and a heavy repertoire for examination. How would you recommend working in accompanying practice amongst that?

Firstly it’s about organisation. For any skill in life, it will usually only improve if you devote regular time to it. Even if it’s a small fraction of the time you spend on solo repertoire, it has to always part of your regular practice schedule if you want it to improve. Also be realistic about the repertoire you choose if time is an issue.

Know that accompaniment is an important part of your piano training. Many of the techniques you practise when accompanying inform and support your solo playing. For example, developing the ability to think harmonically through the piece, sight reading, absolute rhythmical integrity and understanding breathing to help with phrasing, breathing at the start etc.

University is filled with opportunities to accompany: informal recitals, your friends who play other instruments, choral groups. Arrange informal get-togethers with your friends and play through repertoire. Sheet music is so easy to get hold of. Many instrumentalists and singers love having the opportunity to try things with piano and you’ll learn a lot very quickly. Hands on experience as often as possible will help not only with your piano accompanying but your overall musicianship and listening skills. In terms of fluency, it’s good to prioritise clear rhythm and not stopping i.e. leave out notes if necessary.

As I mentioned above, listening to recordings/concerts and paying attention to how others accompany is a great way to learn. You can tie in with your own solo concerto repertoire by learning the accompaniment for your concerto, recording it, then play along with yourself.

What repertoire is on your bucket list at the moment? What would you love the opportunity to play?

Solo repertoire-wise, in a more popular vein, it would be Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto. This year, I’m performing it (as the orchestra) in the 2 piano version with David Helfgott in several European cities and would love the opportunity to perform the solo part with an orchestra.

Also, I’ve always been drawn to the music of Messiaen, initially through his organ music, but have always wanted to learn the gigantic Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus. It’s a fascinating set of 20 scenes which represent a massive achievement in 20th Century piano writing.

Chamber music-wise, it would be all the Beethoven piano trios I haven’t performed, which is embarrassingly too many of them.

Vocally, I would love to work on Oedipus Rex, an incredible work from Stravinsky’s neoclassical period.

In Conversation: Jakab Kaufmann

Jakab Kaufmann is a successful bassoonist from Sydney now based in Europe. He trained as an orchestral musician and a conductor in Sydney before moving to Basel where he studied early music at the renowned Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. Now living in Bern, he has established himself as a freelance musician working with ensembles and orchestras in Switzerland, Germany and the UK, playing on both modern and historical instruments. One of his upcoming ventures is a new, innovative production of Rameau’s Pygmalion with his colleagues in the London-based Ensemble Molière. James Hancock from the Tait Memorial Trust asked him about his work and this exciting new project.

How does an orchestral musician make the leap to specialising in early music, particularly after studying to be a conductor?

While I was studying conducting at the Sydney Conservatorium, I was asked to play baroque bassoon for the early music ensemble’s performance of Gluck’s “The Pilgrims to Mecca.” I’d never played this instrument before and I thought it sounded horrible, but once I braved the potential embarrassment of playing in front of other people I discovered the incredible resonance within an ensemble. I started playing more and more and learned to love the difficulties of playing such a different instrument. There seemed to be so much to learn and enjoy from playing music on an instrument so distantly related to the one I’d previously dedicated my life to.

Like so many Australian musicians you decided to move overseas. I am interested to know why you chose Switzerland? Was it your first choice?

I decided a long time ago that I wanted to move to the German-speaking world and in 2011, I attended a summer school at the Humboldt University in Berlin. I spent a month there improving my German and I still have a soft spot for that city. My path changed however and while I still entertain the idea of returning to conducting someday, my goal quickly refocused on being a well-rounded musician in whatever form it took. I flew to Europe in 2013 and travelled around, doing masterclasses on both modern and baroque bassoons, and visiting different teachers until I decided Basel and its famous Schola were perfect for me. It’s a very international school with a great balance of academic research and performance-based projects. The community is very positive and creative, which lead to some great friendships and fantastic opportunities.

The UK can be quite a distant world to the continent without the right connections. How did you begin to work here?

I attended the Dartington International Summer School’s Baroque Orchestra Programme with a scholarship in 2013. The environment there is so open and relaxed that it’s conducive to amazing opportunities. I made friends with many different musicians there, including established professional musicians who have been able to organise projects with me. In addition to various audition processes, I’ve also reconnected with a lot of friends from Sydney who have moved to the UK. The life of a freelance musician is very much dependent on who you know, and luckily, some lovely people have helped me get my name out there.

As a founding member of the young early music group Ensemble Molière, could you tell me about your work and the repertoire you play?

We first played together in this combination in 2014 at the Dartington International Summer School, and the first piece we played was the “Deuxième récréation de musique” by Jean-Marie Leclair. That experience made us realise that we worked well as an ensemble and that we all wanted to play more French music. Since then we’ve gone on to perform concerts in Brighton, Graz, Bruges and Utrecht, as well as more regular concerts in London. We were lucky enough to participate in the Brighton Early Music Festival’s Early Music Live! Scheme in 2015 and we were invited to return for our own concert in the 2016 Festival. We’ve expanded our repertoire and recorded our music, and we’re always looking for opportunities to push the boundaries of the modern-concert programme.

French music retains an element of mystery today, and I was curious as to why you think we don’t see enough of it on today’s concert programmes?

When you study music in English and German-speaking schools, French music before Debussy rarely gets a look in. The truth is, Paris has played a more important role in music than Vienna or London at various points throughout history. For example, in the Middle Ages, the French-speaking world was essentially the musical centre of Europe. That changed with the printing press, the migration of Netherlandish musicians to Italy, and of course, the reformation. However, the French court at Versailles was an incredible force for artistic support and the “French Baroque” led to some of the most unique music this world has ever known. Because of the rivalry with the Italians and the influence of kings like Louis XIV, French musicians played very different instruments in a very different way. The wind instruments were built in another way, the string players used different bows, and the keyboard instruments had their own designs. The performers would also use very individual ornaments, which some composers like Couperin took the time to write down with full explanations. The music itself is sometimes harmonically dissimilar to the German high-baroque masters that people tend to think of and it can also feel more static than the repetitive patterns of the Venetians like Vivaldi. I think this is why performers have, in the past, neglected the nuanced and delicate sounds of France. The good news is that French music is constantly being rediscovered!

Your upcoming project at festivals in London and Brighton will see a new take on French Opera. Could you tell me a bit about the project’s background?

As our first large-scale project, we wanted to explore a genre that is not commonly addressed by chamber groups but is incredibly important to the French Baroque: Opera. Rameau’s greatest contributions to music include his solo keyboard works, his theoretical writings and his many operas. The forces required to perform them are so large that most opera companies don’t stage his works too often. As a result, his music doesn’t get heard often enough. We thought we would bring one of his shorter operas, at 45 minutes, to the people through a more accessible medium with a smaller ensemble on stage. Rameau’s Pygmalion is based on the original Greek legend of a sculptor who falls in love with his own creation. Most people today would be more familiar with the George Bernard Shaw version which came much later, and led to the even-more-popular “My Fair Lady.” We’ve teamed up with artist Kate Anderson and director Karolina Sofulak to present a live performance of the opera with animation and simplified surtitles, so as to make it accessible and enjoyable for everyone.

I would be interested to know about what stage the project is in? What are your plans for such an ambitious undertaking, how are they progressing and how can audiences help?

We’re still at the funding stage which is looking very promising. We will be applying to the Arts Council for a grant to make the project happen once we’ve secured enough funding from other sources. We’ve started a crowdfunding campaign to collect an initial investment of £3000 by 9th January. This would show the Arts Council that we have support from both the artistic and wider community for this project. We’ve been offering rewards ranging from Thank-You tweets right up to private concerts in peoples’ homes. If you’d like to contribute, the crowdfunding site with a video explaining the project can be found here: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/ensemble-moliere. Any help is always appreciated as we’re very passionate about getting this project off the ground and onto the stage.

Sydney Chamber Opera's Renaissance Polymath

The tormented life of famed Renaissance mathematician, physician and astrologer Girolamo Cardano is the subject of Sydney Chamber Opera’s newest opera Biographica, with the concept and music by acclaimed Australian composer Mary Finsterer and libretto by Tom Wright. Cardano, who is known for his book Ars magna (The Great Art; or, The Rules of Algebra) which is an integral text in the history of mathematics, has an equally fascinating personal life away from his medical prowess - including jail time for a heresy accusation, the loss of his teaching position and the execution of his son. Jack Symonds, SCO’s artistic director and the conductor of Biographica, explains that the “the fundamental question for all productions is ‘why is this an opera, rather than another form of story telling?’, and the answer for this particular work is that the story of this brilliant Renaissance man would not be the same without music”. Specifically, without Mary’s music - which combines technique and palette from the Renaissance period with modern extended technique and instrumentation, telling the story of a unique genius in a way befitting to his character: of his era, but timeless. The larger thematic devices found in the libretto, ideas of immortality, fate and wealth, are operatic from the first, and Mary’s music helps portray Cardano as more than just a historical figure, which is what this story could be like without the music, according to Symonds: “This is not a history lesson, it’s an understanding of the period as Cardano saw his own life.” An imaginative and vibrant score is fitting for the complex life lived by this exceptional figure. Symonds “cannot think of illustrating a historical figure” without this type of care towards the music of their era. Opera offers something to bold and eccentric stories that other platforms cannot: the music suspends your belief, and lets you imagine how life was in the eyes of the protagonist played out on the stage in front of you.

This particular story has been playing on composer Mary Finsterer’s mind for longer than SCO have been around. “I knew she was writing the piece”, says Symonds, “and so we started discussions on the finer details - how many singers and instrumentalists we’d use. This piece could be remade for any scale, it’d work as a grand opera and it’d work as a one man show. We’ve hit somewhere in the middle, with five singers, an actor and eleven instrumentalists.” The players in question include some of Australia’s finest vocal talents as well as new music champions, Ensemble Offspring. “The sound world of Biographica could only be contemporary, and Mary has taken full advantage of the extensive skill set of the Ensemble. She’s included specific extended technique, but also given the instrumentalists the space to live within a comfortable tonal world”, explains Symonds. “There is unique balance in this work between gestures and harmonic ideas from the Renaissance period in which the story is set, and a feeling of pushing musical boundaries”.

Despite the small cast, this story involves “lots of characters”, which makes the whole work feel “quite epic”! When putting together a brand new opera, from Symonds’ experience, the process can go one of two ways: “The first is where every little detail is on the page, or alternatively when the composer presents a bit more of a blank canvas - where there is scope and room for singers to become the characters, and create their stories”. The latter is how the process for Biographica has presented itself, and across the five-week rehearsal and production period, each creative was given the opportunity to grow and become the parts they embody. “One of the most exciting parts of this kind of compositional approach is that you get the opportunity to see the singers become the people they are playing, using their instinct and intuition. Mary has also been extremely encouraging of the singers to add their own ornamentation and explore the breadth of their individual characters, musically”. The singers themselves - Jane Sheldon, Simon Lobelson, Andrew Goodwin, Anna Fraser and Jessica O’Donoghue - “come from different musical backgrounds, but each have the fascination with and the ability to perform new music without being specifically locked into the contemporary repertoire.” They are each “exceptional actors, as well, and have become the Renaissance characters wholeheartedly”. Mary’s writing involves tightly-woven quintets for the singers, so “much of the learning process is them not only becoming the people they’re portraying, but becoming a unit - something that requires flexibility, and an understanding of several genres.” Leading Australian actor Mitchell Butel portrays Cardano in a speaking role - a new challenge for the Sydney Chamber Opera, taken on by theatre director Janice Muller in her first opera production. “She has developed so many new works, so she absolutely understands what it means to bring things to life for the first time, and knows the reality that things need to be thrown out and reworked multiple times”, says Symonds. “Producing a new opera has a lot of elements and it can be unruly work. Things change daily, and Janice has an amazing way of dealing with the seemingly ever-changing terrain of a new work. It’s been incredibly insightful.”

The priority of Sydney Chamber Opera since its debut production of Symonds’ Notes From The Underground in 2011, is to “balance new Australian composition and production with an interesting selection of international opera to showcase the place that contemporary opera production has in the world”. The company has quickly developed a name for innovative and industrious programming, attracting a fresh audience to the world of opera. Now residents at Carriageworks, who are known for championing a diverse range of contemporary works, SCO’s voice is encouraging the growth of Australian opera. The mission of the company is to give a good breadth and representation of where chamber opera is in the world, highlighted by the fact that their 2017 season involves this epic world premiere by Finsterer alongside a work that epitomises 20th century chamber opera - Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia. They are also developing several new works to be premiered in 2018.

Appearing as part of the Sydney Festival, Biographica promises to thrust its audience into the mind of an exceptional man, accompanied by music that speaks from him directly - “music reflecting the piercing beauty of the Renaissance much like maniera painting: rich, florid, bold.”

From The Organ Loft: On 2016 by Edwin Kwong

The year of 2016 is rapidly drawing to a close, and I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on some of the things I’ve learnt throughout this year and offer some (hopefully good) advice from my experiences.

January

For much of January, I was travelling overseas and got to play a number of different pipe organs in that time. Each encounter was enriching in its own way, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity for those experiences. However, much of that would not have happened had I not reached out to a number of different organists, some of whom I’ve never met before, and asked to have some playing time on their instruments.

Takeaway of the month: If you want to make something happen, just give it a shot! The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t pan out – which is the same outcome as if you didn’t try at all. In the infamous words of Shia LaBeouf, just do it…

July

I performed in Wellington, New Zealand at the end of July, in the Cathedral of St Paul. The cathedral possesses a wonderful and historical instrument, having existed in various forms since the late 19th Century. Coupled with the cavernous acoustic of the building meant that making music there was an absolute delight. Sadly, that instrument there was greatly damaged in the recent earthquakes in New Zealand, and the exact instrument that I played will unfortunately never be heard again, at least in the same context.

Takeaway of the month: Value every chance you get to play music, publically or privately – whilst my example is on the extreme end of things, you never know what life might throw at you next.

August

I was asked to perform at the Melbourne Town Hall for a solo concert in mid-August and had to think long and hard in planning my concert programme. Striking a balance between performing works that you enjoy, showing off your skills/your instrument, maintaining musical integrity, as well as entertaining your audience is not easy by any means! But I believe all of those are important factors when planning any recital, and must be considered carefully.

Takeaway of the month: To varying degrees, musicians are always entertainers in some form – keep that in mind when you perform, and your audience will probably like you!

October

During this month, I somehow ended up playing for five funerals and two weddings in three weeks. It would be unheard of for anyone planning such important events to not include music within them – the reason of course is that music provides comfort and joy to people at all stages of life. Whilst events such as funerals and weddings are obvious examples, perhaps even a recording of you performing a piece of music online might provide these feelings to someone who might have stumbled upon it by accident one day.

Takeaway of the month: Do really make every note and every phrase count when you play – it might not always matter to everyone, but it could to someone, and that enough is reason to give it your best effort!

December

As a church organist, the period from the end of November until late December is, inevitably, incredibly busy due to the Advent and Christmas rush. From the beginning of Advent until Christmas Day, I organised and played for 11 different services, and it was without a doubt exhausting! But in the midst of that hectic period, when it would have been easy to go into auto-pilot mode and just get it over and done with, one particular moment really stood out and reminded me that what I’m doing really is an incredible privilege.

In the arrangement by Sir David Willcocks of the final verse of the famous hymn “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”, there’s a particularly spicy diminished chord at the beginning of the phrase “Word of the father” – despite having played the hymn for the umpteenth time by Christmas Day, that particular chord without fail, gave me tingles down the spine every single time!

Takeaway of the month: It’s simple - find something that gives you tingles down the spine too, and do that thing!

Of course, it’s easy to theorise about these things, but none of it can happen without all the background hard work that we all need to do, no matter how young or old we are. So, consider that my message for all the other months I didn’t write about: put your head down, and work, but have fun whilst you’re at it!

In conclusion, thank you all so much for reading my various musings in From the Organ Loft in the past year. I hope it has been informative, or perhaps thought provoking, or maybe even funny (as you chuckle at my geeky obsession with the wonderful instrument that is the pipe organ). Have a wonderful 2017, and I hope to see you at an organ recital at some point next year!

In Conversation: Carl Vine

Do you think that your compositional background influences the way you approach your roles as Artistic Director at Musica Viva and the Huntington Estate Music Festival?

I definitely think of every concert as a composition that needs to take the audience on a journey, but that approach is available to everyone - not just composers. Programs for Viva’s International Concert Season necessarily require a good deal of input from the performers, and my job for these programs is more to ensure consistency of content than to “design” programs from the foundation up. However when I devise programs for the Musica Viva Festival, or the Huntington Festival, I really get a chance to create cohesive concert experiences, and my compositional training is definitely useful.

Musica Viva recently launched the Hildegard Project - what is special about this initiative, and why is it so necessary in our current artistic climate?

In 2016, male composers represented by the Australian Music Centre outnumbered female composers by three to one. There is no reasonable explanation for this disparity except an arbitrary gender stereotyping of the profession. The Hildegard Project aims to attack the stereotype by enhancing commissioning and performance opportunities for female composers.

You are one of Australia's most celebrated composers, with an incredible output. What keeps you inspired?

I am inspired by the music of others, and by the way that audiences derive sustenance from music they haven’t heard before. The whole process of making music verges on the mystical, and if a composer can’t be inspired by that then they should find another job!

How has the composition scene changed in Australia during your career, and how can young composers harness the system to make it work for them?

When I started out 40 years ago the support from the Federal Government for all of the arts, including composition, was many times greater than it is today, and there was a horde of opportunities that simply don’t exist any more. Society in general is now infinitely more focused on commercial activity, at the expense of interest in “fine” art, and young composers must carefully consider the clear division between creating original music and having a sustainable career. It seems that the chance of uniting the two is increasingly unlikely.

What are your thoughts on composition competitions and their necessity in promoting developing composers?

I’ve never done well at composition competitions, so they haven’t been much use to me. But if the competition is a good one, with a well-respected jury and some concrete professional performance opportunities at the other end, then this can only be good for your career.

What advice do you wish you'd received about creating a career out of composition when you were starting out?

Occasionally I regret not having spent more time studying overseas and establishing stronger links with musical environments in different parts of the world. But if I’d done that then I would have missed many of the most formative periods of my life, and would not be the composer I now am. My advice to others is to write music that you are passionate about, and work out how to survive afterwards.

Double Depresso Excerpt: Susan de Weger by Ben Turner

I am chatting with Susan De Weger, a horn player originally from Queensland. You studied horn at the Queensland Con, and the reason why I thought you would be a great guest is you've done a variety of different things in your career so far, and you're a big advocate for things like innovation and entrepreneurship and you've worked all around the world with a variety of different projects. What are some of the projects you've done overseas before you came back to Australia?

Well, the reason that I'm interested in helping musicians find new pathways and new ways to lead flourishing lives is because I was a musician who had to leave music at the end of my undergraduate degree. I was completely locked down into thinking the conservatory was the end point and something magical would happen when I graduated, and like for most of us this was not the case, so I ended up moving out of music altogether and having a business career because I was never going to win a job in an orchestra. I'm a competent player, but the commitment and talent and sole focus it takes to be at that level was not who I was, and not who I am today. So I couldn't see any other pathways for me - the only thing that the music school presented as a success or an outcome out of my training was a job in an orchestra, and that wasn't going to happen for me. So I ended up walking away from music because I couldn't see any way forward. I began working in a big Tool Event Management company here in Australia, which was still a very creative job that pulled on the things that I'm good at like communicating with people and organising. Then I moved to the UK with my husband - he's in IT and had a very successful consulting business here in Australia. We moved to England for me to do my Tool Management job, but we could see that there was a bit of gap in the market for the sort of business he had here in Australia. So I jumped across and helped him grow that business. I was general manager of the business, which looks after all the back-end of the business, and he managed the front-end. He had all the credentials on the software that the clients wanted to see and then I ran the back-end of the business, and we grew that to a pretty successful enterprise over a couple of years. All that time I hid the fact that I was a musician.

What was that experience like?

It was really challenging! It was a period of 16 years where I was really conflicted about what my musical identity was, because my story was that I'd failed because I didn't get the job in the orchestra, so there were very few people I spoke to at that time when I wasn't being involved in music who I was open to about the fact that I was a degree-qualified musician. That was a really tough time actually, just keeping that locked down - the self-belief and identity that I am a musician. It's who I am but it's not what I'm doing right now. That was a really challenging period of about a decade and a half. And then we sold the business in England and came back to Australia with our young family, and at that point I really needed to work out who I was and what had happened to me because I just couldn't continue to live a life where my musical story was that I was a failure. I just couldn't live with that anymore! Because I had had success in other areas of my life, and I thought, I know how to apply some of the skills I've got to do different things, so what happened with music? Am I really just a rubbish horn player?

It's interesting, those thoughts, because they're something that's prevalent in music education. The dialogue around having those thoughts and talking about the reality of pursuing a career in the performing arts field - what should I think about this? What are the thoughts that I should be having if I want to move away into another field?

Is it okay for me to think about not being a performer? There are two thoughts out of that, one that musicians aren't just performers - all musicians do many things, though we only see the performance part. And that it's okay to train as a musician and derive your income doing something else and still call yourself a musician! We don't see that story being put in front of us very often. But there's lots and lots of very high-level musicians with day jobs as doctors and engineers and they are very fulfilled as musicians, and they are in control of their creative output and their involvement. Those who are struggling to try and carve out a full-time performance career are often not connected to the joy of their music - they're taking gigs that are not that satisfying because they "need the money", and so I see a real disconnect between those who are deriving their creative success out of high level music making and those who are really struggling to find a sense of balance between great creative output and internal satisfaction about the 'who am I and what am I doing', and control over what they're doing too! In a full-time freelance professional life there's often little control in having to take everything...

Exactly - you have to pay the rent and the bills are coming in...

Right, and instead of building that ownership of your creative output you're forced into taking everything. I have a rule of thumb for gigs: it's got to be great people, great charts or great money and if it does two of those three things it means I'm really happy, and very occasionally it's three of those three things! If it was all about the money, as in being paid to play equals success then I'd be taking a load of gigs that aren't very satisfying and wouldn't make me feel good. Having come back as a mature student and doing a graduate performance degree in my 40s, I've been able to work through this and think well what does being a professional musician look like for me? Am I going to be able to build income streams to support myself and my family? How am I going to be creatively satisfied? How am I going to have a good impact on the people around me and be a positive musician who is really happy and excited every time they pick up their instrument?

You mentioned that you came back to study the horn in your forties in Melbourne at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, and alongside that I noticed you have a sentence on your website that says you're "healing your musical identity". What did you mean by that in relation to studying again?

When I came back to Australia, like I said, I needed to work out and unravel what had happened. When I finished my undergraduate studies I kind of slammed a door on Susan as a musician and I needed to work out who I was. Am I a musician and what's that going to mean? I had let two people's verdict on my playing on one day be my internal story about who I was. I let them telling me I was no good be the truth and I couldn't live with that anymore - I needed to own it again and be able to say success for me is this and I control it, rather than let success for me be something uncontrollable like winning a job, because there are too many variables in that. So it was a long process over that eighteen months of working out all the inner work. What does success mean for me? How am I going to balance high-level creative output with deriving an income? Because it's difficult to live indoors and eat food from playing your instrument. We're a small country, we only have eight full-time orchestras, it's pretty hard going! So I'm not going to be able to connect my sense of fulfilment as a musician or my success to other people booking me a gig.

In Conversation: Peter Knight, Australian Art Orchestra

Nicole Lizée is known for bringing pop and music video cultures into the concert halls often reserved for Western “Art Music”, and audiences of many genres are drawn to her work. What is it about her art that keeps her from being pinned into one genre, and makes it so engaging for all audiences?

Nicky always seems to be working into the spaces where genres and disciplines meet, and so am I, which is probably why this is a fruitful partnership. Her work is influenced by so many things but the result always sounds like a personal mode of expression – a synthesis of influences rather than a ‘mash-up’. I think that’s one of the things that really distinguishes her as an artist.

This concert is a response to the screen culture of the 80s and 90s – what captivates you about the videos of this period? How do they translate today?

Well, I grew up in the 80s and 90s, it doesn’t feel like that long ago to me. Some of these videos (particularly the pop ones from Karappo Okesutura) feel like old long lost friends, and others really make me cringe! But apart from those kind of historical associations, I think what’s interesting about Nicole’s treatment of these materials is that she asks us to notice things we probably wouldn’t otherwise see (or hear). There’s something quite tender and intimate in her responses and she mediates our experience of them. It’s very different from just watching an old episode of Twin Peaks for example.

Why do you think audiences are drawn to concerts that play on nostalgia for periods like the 80s and 90s? Do you see genuine engagement, tongue-in-cheek appreciation of “kitsch”, or something else entirely?

I think another of Nicole’s extraordinary abilities is that she is able to be kind of light but also very serious. And I don’t really think she is being tongue-in-cheek or just ironic much at all. There is nostalgia there I guess but more than that I think she really finds the beauty, interest and structure in these songs, videos and movies. I think she is driven by a genuine interest in them, she finds things in them that really fascinate her and then she communicates that through her music.

Sex, Lynch and Video Games sees you collaborate with exciting Canadian pianist Eve Egoyan. How do you choose who you collaborate with, and what comes first – the program, or the artist?

In the case of Eve, we wanted to program David Lynch Etudes and Eve was the commissioner. Someone suggested we include her in the program and it was a case of wonderful happenstance.

Egoyan is called “an artist whose medium is the piano”. This description seems like an appropriate way to describe the entire Australian Art Orchestra, as artists whose mediums are their instruments. What are your priorities in regards to bringing new art to audiences?

Well, that’s a really nice observation because it does align with what I’m trying to achieve with the AAO, so it’s great that it comes across like that. And we have pulled together an absolutely amazing group of musicians who are flexible and creative, and who are also able to play whatever is put in front of them, it really is a great privilege to play with these people. As far as bringing new art to audiences: I like to try to make work that draws people into an experience of something new. First and foremost, we want to make great work, work that has a ‘reason for being’, but beyond that I want to develop new audiences for the kind of work we are wanting to make. As I mentioned earlier, I’m interested in meeting points: between cultures, genres, disciplines, technologies, improvisation and composition, and so on. This seems to have resonance in terms of contemporary Australia and feels important in the sense of where we are socio-politically. So it’s important to me that we are communicating with people; that we are drawing people into the fold.

You’ve been the Artistic Director since 2013, and the ensemble continues to break down exciting genre barriers. When you’ve got so much scope, how do you decide what you program?

I guess I’m really looking for things that align with the ideas I’ve already mentioned. And it’s good, I think, when we can make things happen as an organisation that you couldn’t do without the structural support we have at our disposal. Commissioning Nicole Lizée is a good example of a project that is ambitious and that expresses something distinctive about the here and now.

Practically speaking, I tend to have a few balls in the air at once and everything is dependent on schedules, availability, interest from presenters, and funding. When these things align around a potential project or idea then things can happen.

We’ve spoken to several young composers recently about how they use improvisation in their composition practice. Why is it important that young classical musicians learn to improvise and collaborate?

Improvisation is a great vehicle for collaboration and most of the musicians in the AAO come from improvising backgrounds. This is one of our strengths and one of the things that sets us apart from other ensembles. Improvisation is key to the success of the incredible cross-cultural collaborations the AAO has become well known for such as Crossing Roper Bar, with traditional songmen from Arnhem Land, Into the Fire with Carnatic master, Karaikkudi R Mani, and Water Pushes Sand, with musicians from Sichuan. Paul Grabowsky (the AAO’s founding AD) realised way before most that collaboration with musicians from neighboring Asian cultures and indigenous Australia is key to our collective development. He also realised that improvisation was key to the formation of meaningful collaborative cross-cultural partnerships. This was a hugely important vision, I think, and one I really try to keep in focus in how I think about the AAO. It’s also one that I try to spread and encourage: I reckon all musicians should improvise and that we should also try to break down the barriers between classical and ‘other’ musicians: we’re all musicians! These old silos of genre and style, and the fact that we are separated into them for the purposes of education is kind of ridiculous and anachronistic. I try to do my little bit with our Creative Music Intensive residency program (held in Tasmania each September) where we invite musicians from all styles and from different cultures and we certainly encourage musicians from classical backgrounds who are open to new ideas.

For our readers who haven’t been involved in creating music in this way before (through improvisation, collaboration, etc.), can you offer any tips on how to get started?

Start with a cup of tea!

Seriously, conversation and connection are vital. Beyond that, it’s a case of finding your own process. Mine is a combination of improvisation, recording, reflecting, composing, workshopping, re-recording, refining, editing, throwing out…

And it’s important to trick yourself out of your habits. Try to find a way of picking your instrument up like it’s something you’re unfamiliar with, if you can do that it will also change the way you listen. Listening is important!

5 Questions for Seong-Jin Cho

If you could give your younger self any advice about practising and performing, what would you say?

I'd tell myself to take more risks. I'd be a little more adventurous with my musical ideas, and maybe try to be a bit more spontaneous and unpredictable.

You've just recorded your first Deutsche Grammophon album, with works you describe as your "dream repertoire": Chopin's Four Ballades and his first Piano Concerto in E minor. In 2015 you won the International Chopin Piano Competition. Would you say Chopin is your favourite composer to play? What is it about these works, and Chopin generally, that you find so compelling?

Chopin is definitely one of my favourite composers, if not my absolute favourite. Chopin's music is very special - it speaks in a language that is very easy for the human soul to comprehend, and that's why I like it so much. It's always heart-warming to listen and to play his music.

When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career as a concert pianist, and what inspired you to stick with it?

I've wanted to become a concert pianist since when I was a child - I've loved playing the piano ever since I was young. It was my source of joy and relief, and I've always loved the sound of the piano, so that's why I chose to stick with it.

You travel a lot to perform, and seem to have to learn a lot of repertoire in a small amount of time! How do you keep up a good balance of work and life pursuit, especially when being a pianist means working alone a lot of the time? What are you favourite non-musical activities?

I have to try to not think about how stressful it can be sometimes, but it's definitely an enjoyable process. I just kind of go with the flow - do what I need to do in the moment, and see what happens. I love to swim. It's a very relaxing activity, and it's probably one of the few sports that a pianist can do. I also love visiting museums, going to concerts as they're often a great source of artistic inspiration.

A lot of piano students read Rehearsal Magazine, many who are studying for recital examinations. Do you have any go-to practise tips for young musicians?

Practice with a "just never give up" mindset. There are always going to be obstacles, but as long as you continue to believe in yourself and work hard for it, things will eventually come your way.

Demystifying Music Technology: Media Ventures by Christopher Steller

How times (and technologies) change

It seems appropriate this month to talk about scoring for video, with the announcement of an upcoming tour from film scoring giant, Hans Zimmer. Over the last few weeks Zimmer has announced his Scoring Masterclass training sessions, which will begin in 2017, (https://www.masterclass.com/hz) and a tour, including Australia, also in 2017 (the Facebook announcement video has had 59,000 views as of this moment). If you haven't heard of him, check the 'music by.....’credits of the next movie you watch....or possibly the last half dozen or so.

Oh, I can't tell you the secret to his success, but maybe some comments about his technology use and methods.

Zimmer adopted computer music composition in its early stages, relying on sampled instruments for creating his musical ideas.

His early composition work utilised large numbers of hardware samplers - mostly the Roland S-760 rack-mount unit - in those earlier days the samplers were connected via SCSI to relatively small hard drives for storage, and the S-760 was quite unique with its attached monitor for editing instrument samples (the market at the time was fixed on Akai and their ubiquitous S-Series rack units.)

Zimmer was a huge fan of the early ‘PC-based’ NemeSys Gigasampler, one of the first disk-streaming sampler packages (samples don't load into RAM, they are read straight from the hard disk). Gigasampler went through quite a few years of development and ownership, ending its days with TASCAM as GigaStudio3. Zimmer had commissioned the development of a software shell that could have multiple versions of the Giga software playing simultaneously, allowing him the ability to play his orchestra parts with several computers - one with Steinberg's Cubase providing the note information to the others streaming orchestral samples with Gigasampler.

And what do you do when your work load needs more orchestral variations? The LSO sessions: preparing parts and getting the symphony orchestra to play exactly what he wanted to record and develop in his own customised sample library. Simple!

Zimmer's current system revolves around a Cubase setup and orchestral samples manipulated by a custom touch-screen controller. If you look at the image of his setup, you'll notice the layout with a weighted keyboard controller, touch-screen, and displays for DAW software (arrangement page & mixer page). If you search for more images via Google, you see more screens for video monitoring, so the process of scoring synchronises smoothly with the images. A good example of a comfortable and ergonomic working environment.

This isn't about replacing the orchestra (as I've pointed out in previous articles), it's about creating a convenient and comfortable working environment for composition in this medium when you are serious about your craft.

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Well, it's been an interesting and exciting year for music making, with some sad points along the way with the loss of many of our musical heroes, but as we welcome the Christmas season, it's time to plan for 2017. I hope you've enjoyed sharing my research and endeavors, and I hope you have a good break. Stay creative, and keep in touch.

In Conversation: Duo Amythis

You have been performing together since 2009, while pursuing solo careers at the same time. How do you balance your solo and duo careers?

We tend to have periods when we play more solo, and periods when we play more duo. Lately we've been performing almost only duo concerts, because the program we recorded has been met with a lot of success. Previously it varied. In 2013 we both played almost only solos, then in 2014 it was more or less balanced, as we repeated our old solo programs and learnt a new duo program. Since mid-to-late 2014 we've been playing almost exclusively duo concerts. Perhaps next year we'll play more individually, perhaps not. It depends mainly on what professional demands we receive: if we get requests for duo concerts then that's what we'll play. We both maintain a solo program though, so any demand for solo recitals can be met. Of course, other chamber music is always present, such as the concert Harold performed in Melbourne with flautist Lina Andonovska in 2014.

What have you learnt about working together as a duo that you wish you’d known when you started?

Just how much work it is! During tertiary studies, chamber music is considered a sort of support subject to the more important business of being a great musician. The result is that rehearsals are often kept to a minimum, and the standard is accepted as long as it is good enough. Everyone learns their parts, they play a few times together, make sure any cues have been decided upon, and head out onto the concert stage.

We've learnt that in order to meet professional standards as a duo, you have to rehearse just as much as a soloist practices...and it's exhausting work, far more so than normal practice, because there's a whole other person there, a whole complex mess of variables over which you have no direct control!

Communication becomes absolutely central. You have to understand each other's aesthetic goals perfectly, otherwise the result will be two soloists playing together, rather than a duo expressing the music as one. Having said that, contrast and dialogue are also important. Contradictory attitudes have to be nurtured. A duo that is too homogeneous doesn't necessarily stay interesting for the length of an evening recital (all depending on their choice of repertoire and program order of course). It's a nightmare! ... But very rewarding!

Together you have performed around the world. It can be tricky getting off a plane and jumping straight into performance mode - how do you manage this?

To be honest, if as a musician you can't jump into performance mode for a concert, then you've got to work on your planning. We used to over-book our travels; I remember once recording with a septet all day in Sydney before travelling to Canberra for an evening recital. Last year we drove all day one day for a concert the following morning. Of course the concerts tended to be fine, but was it worth the risk? What if the guitar was damaged in the flight? Air travel always involves heavy lifting, which really should be avoided the day of a concert.

We always allow time to get over jet lag on long flights, we avoid travelling any great distances the day of a concert, we don't teach or sit in juries on concert days. We see this as part-and-parcel of being professional. Of course you could over-book yourself and probably be all right, but it's not worth the risk of a concert with which you are not happy, or worse yet, with which the audience is not satisfied.

When did you each first hear the repertoire for guitar duo, and what continues to draw you to the genre?

Harold's first duo experience was Tim Kain and John Williams live on stage in Canberra. Véronique's was the Caputo-Pompillo duo in St-Truiden (Belgium). For us, a guitar duo has all of the colours and beauty of a solo guitar, but with far more possibilities. Some repertoire is practically unplayable on one guitar, and works brilliantly split across two. Great compositions for guitar duo always make the best of both instruments at once, and could not possibly be adapted to solo guitar. Other non-guitar repertoire that sounds wonderful on one guitar can be even more beautiful, or at least different, on two. More notes can be included to create fuller resonance, melodies can be sung in different positions, for different colours, unshackled by accompaniments that can only be played with a barré in a single position, for example. The extended possibilities are the real draw-card of a guitar duo, and the wider range of colours.

When preparing new duo repertoire, do you initially work on your parts alone, or do you start that process by playing together?

We tend to play mainly together, even at the beginning when things have to go slowly. This is an advantage when changes need to be made, as creative decisions like this should be made together.

For our readers interested in pursuing chamber music, how do you recommend they get started?

Find people you like, because you'll be spending a lot of time together! Don't compromise on your own artistic vision, but remain open to that of others. Communicate! And when someone else is trying to express their ideas, listen, try it, be open, try to express their vision in your way, learn from each other and create an interpretation together. And then play a lot, book as many concerts as you can. Just like as a soloist, you'll learn more from one performance than from a whole month of practice. Just play! If there are competitions, do them, because whether or not you win, the preparation will improve you. Get lessons, from guitarists as well as non-guitarists. Outside input is vital to questions of balance and colour in particular. Aim for perfection. If a cue isn't perfectly together, repeat it 20 times until it is, and then another 40 until you're sure it will be every time.

Who inspires you, as a duo?

Other duos we like are the Duo Melis, the Assads, and of course the Williams duos with Kain and Bream. The Bream album is fascinating, because the personalities of the two players are so different and so audible, yet the duo works. The Melis duo are the pinnacle of togetherness, a phenomenal example of what can be achieved. The Williams-Kain duo and the Assads are both inspiring not-only for their playing, but the way they build the repertoire. We'd love to build up a repertoire of new pieces like that. Some of the earlier performances of the Katona Twins have inspired us as well, just so, fun, exciting and exuberant!

How do you go about choosing repertoire, and is the commissioning and performance of new compositions (as you did on your debut album The Journey) part of your general practice as a duo?

Strangely, the harder we look for new repertoire, the less we find, but not looking we often stumble across great music. We've done countless arrangements that we've never played, and own huge quantities of scores that we'll probably never perform. And then after a concert by Möller, we spontaneously bought one of his pieces and were performing it four months later to great acclaim. We are no more interested in playing only new pieces than we are in repeating old ones, we believe in balance. We want both, and always include both in our programs. The program as a whole is the important thing: an unbalanced program of great music reduces that music's quality. It's a slow, continuous process that can't be forced.

What can your audience expect at your concert for the Melbourne Guitar Foundation on December 17?

A mix of music, some of which some audience members have heard at our last show, and some of which is new. One piece is brand new, the world première of a piece Harold wrote last year! The other pieces that are new to Melbourne are not new to music, with masterpieces by Vivaldi and Bach, that just never get old. We decided to include the Möller, as it's a feature of the album and still only rarely performed. And of course some Spanish classics, because what's a guitar recital without a little stop-off in Iberia!?

From The Organ Loft: In Conversation with Simon Mavin by Edwin Kwong

I recently had the chance to have a chat with Simon Mavin (Hiatus Kaiyote, The PutBacks, Swooping Duck) over breakfast at a café in Brunswick. Simon performed on the Melbourne Town Hall Grand Organ with the kora player Amadou Suso, and the bansuri player Vinod Prasanna, as a part of the closing event of the Melbourne Festival on October 23rd. I had the opportunity to introduce Simon to that particular organ, so we talked about his impression of it, as well as his thoughts on all things music.

Asides from your main projects, Hiatus Kaiyote, The PutBacks, and Swooping Duck, are there any other projects you are involved with at the moment?

There’s a bunch of little projects, but nothing that’s sort of a main thing yet! At the moment, I’m just based in the Melbourne music scene, making as much music as possible really.

The readers of Rehearsal Magazine are usually students at both high school and university, so could you tell us briefly about your educational background?

I did my Bachelor of Music at Monash University, and finished in 2005, but I was actually there for four years! In high school I did Year 11 music in Year 10, and Year 12 music in Year 11 – so that pretty much covered the performance side of first year university. I got into uni first year doing classical at the time, but once I got there I didn’t want to play classical anymore, and got into jazz instead. So I had to complete first year performance subjects again – it was really bizarre! It ended up extending my course an extra year, but to be honest, it was actually pretty good, because all I had to do in my final year was performance. I just played all year, which was great, and I got the highest marks of my class because I just had so much time to work on my performance! I really think it should be more common.

For sure, performance opportunities can be pretty scarce sometimes with a lot of university music students, which can be a bit discouraging.

Yeah, I mean I only know a handful of dudes in my course – literally three or four people who are still playing regularly, maybe less. The rest are probably teaching, or have gotten a real job(!).

People often joke about musicians not having a “real job” – but I mean for musicians, music is literally their full-time job, plus their life!

You’re running a small business by yourself – no one told you that at uni! That really should be curriculum in university degrees. I just don’t understand. They’ve got this idea of creating virtuosic musicians, and creating musicians with no place in the world. It’s insane! You walk out of the door, and you’ve got no idea how to get a gig, how to sell yourself, how to make any money…

That leads on quite nicely to my next question actually – did you struggle between finishing your degree and establishing yourself as a musician?

Well, I just wanted to be a performer from the get go! I just wanted to play gigs. I didn’t care, I wanted to do any gig! I actually did two weeks of a teaching degree – you know, your family wants you to be stable – so I went and did this course, and after two weeks I quit.

I made that decision to be a performer when I quit that teaching course. I had a part-time job, quit that, and decided that I was only going to make money off performing. I went on youth allowance for about a year, whilst I was trying to scrape together gigs and get myself going. Then after probably about 12 to 18 months, I got to the point where I was playing enough regular shows and somehow weaselled my way into the Melbourne music scene. And before I knew it, I was playing in 10 to 15 bands, doing 4 or 5 shows a week – everything: jazz, blues, rock, reggae, funk, pop, Latin music, whatever! People would throw me gigs, and I’d just say yes.

I suppose that was probably an incredible education in itself?

Oh absolutely! In my head, that was the concept of a musician. I didn’t see it as being a classical musician, or a jazz musician, or a pop musician. I just wanted to be a musician, who just appreciates and loves all music. Completely open. It’s always been my approach.

In a way, Hiatus Kaiyote is kind of the epitome of that concept – we can sort of go anywhere, and do anything. That was something that everyone in the band is very aware of: that the project can be pushed in any direction.

So if you were to talk to musicians coming out of uni – what would be your advice on what they should do, or shouldn't do?

Just do whatever you’re feeling! I don’t think you can be told what you want to do – you can be shown certain things, but you have to aspire to do what you want to do. The things that people are best at are the things that they can already hear in their head. Just do whatever the hell you want! It’s a simple concept. The greatest musicians do it.

Sometimes it seems like institutional education can box you in a little bit – that you have to be either a classical musician, or a jazz musician, or whatever.

Yeah exactly! For me, it was the whole concept of being a motherf*cker. That was the word, and probably still is the word going around. Like “oh my god that dude is such a motherf*cker, he can play so good!”, and then you’re like I want to be a motherf*cker too! What does that even mean? It totally distorted my reality on what I wanted to become, as a musician. It’s still buried in the back of my head – that I still want to be a motherf*cker, but I’m never going to reach it, because it’s an endless pursuit of this future me. It’s never going to happen!

Definitely, you can’t just play a certain way or like how some famous musician played a particular piece. You have to interpret it yourself too.

If all the composers came back to life, they’d probably be like “What the hell are you doing man? Play it however you want to play it!”

Like, if Herbie came to a gig, and saw me play one of his pieces, and I played it exactly the same as him – he’d probably slap me in the face. Make it yours.

Speaking of jazz – how did you find the transition between classical and jazz?

Well, I wasn’t the most amazing classical player, I didn’t really treat it that seriously. I had a fantastic teacher for about 12 years though! He really taught me how to play the music, but didn’t really teach me theory. So whilst it was great on one hand, it really set me back because I didn’t know anything about chordal harmony, chord-scale relationships, voicings of chords in general! My whole concept of theory was quite bad really. So I practically had to start from square one again. It was tough. The first year that I started