Recording The Owl and the Pussycat

Help tune in little ears to quality music 👧🎼👦

I’m thrilled to be embarking on the journey of recording The Owl and the Pussycat, so that children across the world can listen to new Australian art music, opera and literature. 

In 2018 I was given the incredible opportunity to bring my brand new 45 minute, one-act opera for children, The Owl and the Pussycat to life. Setting a completely original text from gifted Brisbane based playwright Kathryn Marquet, the work was commissioned by Little Match Productions with support from the APRA AMCOS Art Music Fund. Nominated for 4 Matilda Awards including Best Composition, our beautiful show premiered at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, then travelled to north Queensland before re-mounting in its first (amazing) black box theatre space for Brisbane Festival.

As I watched children sit engaged for an entire 45 minutes, to hear their squeals of laughter, their big wide eyes as they drunk in the beautiful messages of love and acceptance and the slightly offbeat, colourful and at times experimental musical sound worlds I was overwhelmed with contentment. My heart was filled with so much joy to serve our little people in this way. This is why I believe so strongly that it’s time to record the work!

A quality recording is an integral part of assisting this beautiful piece of Australian art music, writing, theatre and opera to live on in the ears and eyes of young people for many years to come. We’re so fortunate to have the opportunity to make this recording with the original cast members Sarah Murr (Owl), Irena Lysiuk (Pussycat) and Jackson McGovern (Narrator/multiple colourful characters). They will be joined by three of Brisbane’s finest musicians, Daniel Byrne (clarinets), Cameron Kennedy (percussion) and David Freisberg (cello). I will be personally contributing to recording costs, as will Little Match Productions, but the reality of paying our incredible ensemble, engineer and venue staff mean that this recording will not happen without your support!

Can you help fund the original cast recording? Check out the Pozible page to make a difference. Every dollar counts 🙏 Every donor will receive a free digital music download 💚 There are also some fantastic rewards, including tickets to La Triviata – LIVE Music Trivia Night – Little Match Productions’ annual ultimate FOMO event! 😲

 

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TSO Songbook

It’s exciting to see an Australian orchestra investing in quality resources for children and teachers (and employing Australian composers to create it)! I’ve had a wonderful time working with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra on the TSO Songbook over the past few years. Resources such as full scores, recordings and education kits are now available for free from the TSO website below and will continue to roll out across new platforms.

As you peruse the imaginative arrangments you might catch my take on the traditional Spanish melody ‘Tingalayo’ and the Russian melody ‘Along the Peterskaya’ (also below). My work on the project culminated in an original composition titled ‘Echoes and Threads’, which incorporated an arrangement of ‘Along the Peterskaya’. Take a listen below and head over to the TSO Songbook here to read along with a score as you listen. Better yet, if you’re a music teacher, why not download the resource packs to use in your classroom! My thanks to the TSO, Jenny Compton, the education resource writers and a big well done to my composer colleagues Tim Shawcross, Ian Whitney and Mark Holdsworth.

Original Work

Echoes and Threads

Download the score from Part 2 of the TSO Songbook site here.

Arrangements

Tingalayo

Download the scores, recordings and teaching resources from Part 1 of the TSO Songbook site here.

Along the Peterskaya

Download the scores, recordings and teaching resources from Part 2 of the TSO Songbook site here.

The Owl and the Pussycat

I’m delighted to share an article I recently wrote for the Australian Music Centre on the recent premiere of my first opera for young audiences, The Owl and the Pussycat.  We had a wonderful time over our opening season across the Gold Coast and Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. It’s very exciting to report that our pea-green boat now sets sails to destinations throughout Queensland for the remainder of 2018! Keep your eyes peeled and check out the performances page for the latest information on future performances as soon as they can be announced. A big, warm thank you to the thousands of families who came to see the show!

I’ve snuck in a big bunch of photos below that couldn’t be included in the original AMC article. They all bring me so much joy and I hope they capture a little of the essence and magic of the show for you too. Next stop, let’s get it recorded with our incredible cast! Undoubtedly, this takes a considerable amount of money and resources. If you’re interested in helping us record the work, inviting the work to your location or want to learn more about some of the exciting things planned for The Owl and the Pussycat in the future, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me or Little Match Productions.


In a pea-green boat, Edward Lear’s famous explorers, the Owl and the Pussycat, sail across the seas for a year and a day to the land of the Bong Tree. This time we are in a new Australian opera for children, composed by Lisa Cheney and written by Kathryn Marquet. The Owl and the Pussycat was premiered during the Commonwealth Games in April, followed by a sold-out season in Brisbane. Further performances will take place in Glen Eden on 22-24 May.

Irena Lysiuk (Pussycat), and Sarah Murr (Owl). Image by Nick Morrissey.

The beginning

Sometimes, dearest cat, we have to face our fears.
Sometimes, for things to change, we must have courage
.

(Excerpt from The Owl and the Pussycat: 7. ‘An Adventure’ by Kathryn Marquet)

There is something special about a challenge; the thrill of the unknown, the limitless room to grow, the reward of success and the risk of failure. In 2016 I was approached by Alicia Cush and Penny Challen of Little Match Productions with the idea of writing an opera for children. I was enticed, intrigued and apprehensive. An opera? For children? I was worried about the heavy operatic voices and our young audience’s ability to understand the sung text. But I was intrigued by the prospect of successfully engaging and challenging children. How could I, as a contemporary composer, best incorporate my contemporary musical voice without alienating a young audience?

Although these are all valid questions, I came to understand that many of my fears were founded in ignorance. I soon learned that there were many excellent existing musical works for young audiences, some of which include Knussen’s Where the Wild Things Are, Abbott’s The Peasant Prince, JanĂĄcek’s The Cunning Little Vixen, Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel, Ayres’s Peter Pan, Dove’s Pinocchio, Heidke’s The Rabbits and, most recently, Beyond the Wall by Western Australian composer, Emma Jayakumar.

It was clear that Little Match Productions, an independent company, were asking similar questions, focused on creating an ambitious, high-quality children’s work. The more I considered the challenge, the more excited I became at the prospect of reframing ‘opera’ as an art form not only for children but also for myself. In 2017, after many months of discussions and brainstorming over Skype, I was fortunate to secure a grant from the APRA AMCOS Art Music Fund to support my commission fee. After an initial creative team meeting in May, work on my first large-scale dramatic work began.

About the work

The Owl and the Pussycat is an original forty-five-minute opera for young audiences aged 4-10 years, inspired by the beloved 1871 nonsense poem by Edward Lear. Our original text and libretto were created by the Brisbane-based playwright, Kathryn Marquet. The children’s opera was commissioned by Little Match Productions in partnership with Festival 2018 and Flowstate. The Owl and the Pussycat premiered during the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, on the beach at Surfers Paradise Esplanade. I was incredibly proud and honoured to be part of such a special event! It was equally thrilling to follow this premiere with a sold-out season at Flowstate in Brisbane from 5 April. What an incredible premiere season!

Full of joy and laughter, The Owl and the Pussycat embraces a blend of operatic styles, musical theatre, interactive theatre, acousmatic soundscapes, and small sections of acting without incidental music. The work is scored for an ensemble of six musicians, three singers, three instrumentalists, and a fixed electroacoustic track.

The cast is comprised of three singers; a light operatic soprano (Pussycat), a classically trained musical theatre mezzo-soprano (Owl) capable of blending between styles, and a music theatre baritone (who plays the roles of Moon, Sir Kitty/Sea Bear/Mice/Piggy Wig and Turkey). The instrumental ensemble is made up of clarinet/bass clarinet, cello and percussion – the performers are incorporated into the special world dressed as Puffins. They sit on stage visible to the children and even get to flex their dramatic muscles with a few lines.

The work builds on the existing repertoire of the 2012 Royal Opera House version of Lear’s poem from Monty Python’s Terry Jones and composer Anne Dudley. However, we embraced a new direction with original libretto, new characters, and an intimate, interactive and contemporary approach to its presentation and score. Many composers have set Lear’s poem to music, even Stravinsky (no pressure!), but I was careful to avoid these recordings during my research.

In collaboration with an amazing all-female creative team, we focused on creating a show that could add to the existing body of children’s work, that would be highly artistic, complex and appealing to an Australian audience. The creatives included myself, writer Kathryn Marquet (La Boite, QT), director Bridget Boyle (QT, debase productions), designer Penny Challen (Royal Shakespeare Company, Opera Q), and creative producer Alicia Cush (Opera Q, Circa). We were conscious not to speak down to our young audience by diluting narrative themes or using a dumbed-down written or musical language. I also fought against the removal of some less ‘exciting’ songs or musical transitions with the knowledge that it was ok to aim higher, to capture the older kids whilst inviting the younger ones to learn how to sit and listen.

Themes and ‘hiding the veggies’

People close their eyes, they won’t look beneath the feathers or the fur.
People close their ears, they won’t hear beyond the hooting or the call.
People close their minds, they don’t know how alone we are
.

(Excerpt from The Owl and the Pussycat: 6. ‘How Alone We Are’ by Kathryn Marquet)

As a team, we started thinking about incorporating learning moments for our young audience into the show as ‘hiding (the artistic) veggies’. These learning moments emerged in subtle, fun and colourful ways, exposing children to multiple new art forms in accessible ways. Audiences were exposed to a blend of operatic and musical-theatre singing, varied musical languages, quality writing, design, acting. They were able to witness live and unique instruments performing up close (e.g. bowed vibraphone, flexatones, vibraslap, multiphonics played by a bass clarinet). Simultaneously, thought was given to encouraging imaginative thought and tactile learning. In one scene, for example, the Owl and the Pussycat ask the audience to stand up and to help them ‘weigh the anchor’, ‘bear a hand’ and – my favourite – to ‘hoist the sail’ (by bending their knees and grasping an imaginary rope in the air until a real sail magically unfolds over their heads).

The Owl and the Pussycat embraces contemporary themes of adventure, love, and, most importantly, acceptance. One example of this could be found in casting two female leads as love interests. Another example is the song ‘Colour Me In’, in which the Owl and the Pussycat are asked not to judge a tattooed Piggy Wig who is in love with art and colouring himself in with body art.

From a musical perspective, our young audience was exposed to a wide aural palette embracing both familiar and foreign sound worlds. The harmonic language was largely diatonic, sometimes tonal, but often modal or bi-tonal. The score moves fluidly between popular character songs like ‘Honey’ (sung by a honey-drunk Sea Bear), to emotive, warm arias with bowed and glissandi vibraphone (‘How Alone We Are’). Children hear extended instrumental techniques in dark, tension-filled moments (‘Monsters’, sung by a terrified Cat on the boat). In others, they are carried away by a soaring ‘the-rabbits-esque’ duet (‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’). Finally, as the Owl and Pussycat overcome their final obstacle, the ‘Bong Tree Forest’, the audience was exposed to free improvisation with instrumentalists doubling on bowed flexatones and auxiliary percussion against an eerie, experimental fixed soundscape created with vocal samples taken from the cast in an early creative development.

The mode and timeframe

In the original design for black box theatre spaces, children were invited aboard a giant, green, pea boat to set sail with our characters, played by our original cast of six talented singers and musicians: Irena Lysiuk (Pussycat), Sarah Murr (Owl) and Jackson McGovern (multiple), Daniel Byrne (clarinets), Andrew Chamberlain (cello) and Rebecca Lloyd-Jones (percussion). As the show evolved, so too did the staging plans. Thus our black box plan morphed into an outdoor stretch tent, designed to look and feel like a boat. This created an intimate setting, allowing our young audience to be integrated into the action – for example, by assisting our three characters to find their way through the dark using the stars (twinkling fingers), or to point out objects the Owl and Pussycat needed to collect before their long boat journey.

Most operas spend several years in development before they make it to the stage. At the start of our development process, I had an estimated just over a year to compose and orchestrate the music. But, as any composer knows, the ebb and flow of such large-scale projects is constant. When the opportunity arose to receive support from Festival 2018 to premiere at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, it was an incredible coup for the project. Unfortunately for me, it also moved forward my deadline by eight months. Hello, challenge!

The creative process

With the new deadline, things began to move at twice the speed. Throughout the process, I was fortunate to have the support of my PhD supervisors Elliott Gyger and Katy Abbott to lean on for guidance and mentorship.

At the start of the process, our core team met for an initial creative development period in May 2017 where the story, structure, and key decisions were finalised (for example, it was decided that the work would not be completely sung through like a traditional opera). Following on from this initial meeting, Kathryn Marquet expertly turned a three-verse nonsense poem into a three-act, 45-minute text, mostly all in verse. Yes, in true Lear style, most of the text rhymed!

The team met back in July for a reading of the script, revisions, and cast auditions, and I began the process of planning almost an hour of music. Work on the composition began in late August at my home studio in Melbourne with some back and forth emailing and voice recordings between our ensemble.

We met again in early December for the final creative development with our musical director, Luke Volker, and the new cast.

A defining moment in this process was presenting the work-in-progress to a full room of children,adults, and industry professionals. It was terrifying, exhilarating, and invaluable for shaping the flow and timing of the work moving forward.

I’ve never worked harder than the period between our creative development in December and our rehearsal period at the start of March. These were the two months where the reality of the shortened timeline really hit hard. It was one thing to write a 45-minute opera in six months, but it was complete madness to also orchestrate it and prepare a piano rehearsal score. Thankfully I had the invaluable support of Luke Volker and a few close friends during this process, and I arrived at rehearsals with most of the music complete. The remaining few works evolved over the rehearsal process, in collaboration with our amazing ensemble.

Rehearsals were a joy and I’ll never forget the feeling of turning up to ‘work’ each day, witnessing Penny’s beautiful designs come to life, smiling over Bridget’s comical stage directions, being grateful for Luke’s constructive guidance, and crying tears of laughter or joy at the good humour and talent of our cast. It was an incredible, creative and open environment.

The premiere

Although I continually challenged my expectations for what our young audience of four to ten-year-olds could handle, I was overwhelmed at the level of their engagement from the first show to the last. During its premiere season, the show was performed to over a thousand children and their parents over 18 performances. Remarkably, in some shows, children as young as two and three were transfixed for the entire 45 minutes! Many parents remarked, in wonder, that their child couldn’t sit through the Wiggles, and now sat through an entire opera. To my delight, during our shows on the beach at the Gold Coast, I witnessed one beautiful young lady around seven or eight years old come back to see the show three days in a row.

We had our share of challenges too! Our sound engineer Andrew Snook did an amazing job at embracing the unique environment of an open tent on the beach, with the loud roar of the waves and the occasional overhead helicopter (thankfully the ensemble were amplified). We crossed our fingers as the tent withstood low-grade cyclonic winds, and even found an amazing replacement when, sadly, and our lovely cellist was rushed to the emergency department and had to pull out of the show one day before the premiere. If all this taught me anything, it’s to laugh when you want to cry and immediately get working on a solution. Thankfully, it all came together so much better than we could have expected.

The composer with the cast of The Owl and the Pussycat in Surfers Paradise. Image by Ryan Cheney.

Reflections

We were all challenged in different ways, and being an independent production meant that traditional roles were often blurred within the team. Little Match producers Alicia and Penny took a risk in bringing together a team of creatives with little or no experience working in the field of opera – A factor that has now developed into a point of difference for our work. I loved being closely involved in the creative process from the very beginning and really came to life collaborating with so many other creatives and art forms. I firmly believe that this production’s significance lies in its ability to present complex ideas in ways that appeal to children and adults alike.

I could go on and on about what I’ve learned during this process and continue the self-reflection now that the mad rush is over. Given how receptive the children were to the music and story, could I have been more adventurous? Did I strike the perfect balance? Did I extract enough colour and variety from the trio of instruments? Could I have done more? For a perfectionist like myself, the answer is always yes, but I’m incredibly proud of the beautiful and successful work our team created in such a short amount of time. It has been a joyous collaboration.

My PhD supervisor, Elliott Gyger recently said something along the lines of ‘Most composers come out of the process of writing an opera feeling one of two ways. You’re either all in and addicted to the art form for life, or you realise it wasn’t for you. There’s rarely a middle ground.’ I’m fortunate to report that I’m all in, and looking forward to sinking my teeth into more large-scale dramatic works in the future, for children and adults alike.

The Owl and the Pussycat will next appear at the Big Little Day Out/Under 8s week in Gladstone, 22-24 May. Keep an eye out for potential performances in Queensland (Maryborough, Cairns, Sunshine Coast, Brisbane and Bundaberg) throughout the remainder of 2018.

Credits:

Lisa Cheney, Composer
Kathryn Marquet, Writer/Librettist
Luke Volker, Musical Director
Alicia Cush, Producer
Penny Challen, Design
Jane Bodie, Dramaturg
Geoff Squires, Lighting designer
Kylie Mitchell, Production manager
Andrew Snook, Sound Engineer
Megan Hamilton, Production Assistant
Freya Hillier, Production Assistant

[Photos featured in this article were taken by Nick Morrisey, Ryan Cheney, the composer and cast. Please do not reproduce this article or featured images in any form without the appropriate written consent.]

Reflections on 2017

Happy (belated) New Year!

With a few weeks break over the festive season now under my belt, I reflect with awe at the intensity of 2017 and the speed in which it seemingly slipped away. I’m grateful to take this moment to pause and acknowledge that it was an overwhelmingly joyous year, filled with more rollercoaster highs than lows.

With a pinch of good humour, I can say that the themes of my 2017 centred around love, hard work and overcommitment.  Commencing with a birthday milestone (30) and ending with a celebration of love (an engagement!), this lightning-fast year was shaped by the list below. I’ve listed them here, not for any kind of recognition, but more for myself to process and archive as a new year is ushered in, for time passes too quickly.

2017 saw…

  • Wonderful performances of old and new works in Australia and overseas by talented musicians and friends, to whom I’m so honoured and grateful. Here’s Christophe Mathias of Ensemble Interface giving the European premiere of ‘When We Speak’ for solo cello and electroacoustic track at the Valencia International Performance Academy and Festival, Spain in July.

I offer my heartfelt thanks to all my collaborators, champions, friends and family old and new that made 2017 such a special year. It was undoubtedly chaotic and overly ambitious, though I do enter the new year knowing more about myself, values and the enjoyment I gain from such a diverse work life. Working closely with my collaborators/musicians on commissions and building in extra workshop time is more important to my practice than ever. As is, building more lead/perspective time into new creative endeavours!

The next big creative milestone is fast approaching. I look forward to touching base again soon with updates about The Owl & the Pussycat and where you can see it in 2018!

Thanks for stopping by to show your support. Just a reminder that my current list of works can be viewed here, with many works available to purchase via the Australian Music Centre or by getting in touch with me directly. There is also lots of music and podcasts to listen to and watch at your leisure on my website. I’m currently taking expressions of interest and proposals for commissions in 2019, so if you have an idea or an instinct that we should make something out of nothing together, let’s chat!

Wishing you a love filled, bright and Happy New (music) Year!

Featured image credit: Luke Volker, during creative development for The Owl & the Pussycat.

Flute Concerto

Back in July 2017, I answered some questions for Limelight Magazine about composing my first concerto. I’ve shared these responses below, not all of which were published at the time. I recommend reading the full Limelight interview as it includes some wonderful comments by my collaborator and soloist Jonathan Henderson. Jonathan also wrote a beautiful piece that reminisces all the way back to our first year of university as composition students together, titled, I wish to keep my curiosity for music alive. Head over to Cut Common Magazine to check it out, highly worth a read.

LISA CHENEY: FLUTE CONCERTO (2017)

Work commissioned by the Brisbane Philharmonic Orchestra. Premiered by Jonathan Henderson and the BPO, and conducted by Michael Keen July 23rd, 2017 at the Old Museum in Brisbane, Australia. Featured image courtesy of Adam Finch.

For solo flute and reduced orchestra [0, ca, 1+1, 1+1, – 0, 2, 2, 0, timp, perc, hp, cel, str]

What are some of the ideas you explore in this piece?

When conceptualising this concerto for Jonathan Henderson and the Brisbane Philharmonic Orchestra, I found myself being drawn towards musical elements concerning pitch, texture, time and atmosphere over others things such as form and rhythm. These choices deeply influenced the character of the work and helped me to craft a unique sound-world in which the flute could live, explore and challenge.

There is no programmatic narrative to the Flute Concerto; its concerns are purely musical, creating an interesting relationship between soloist and orchestra. I believe that at the heart of the work is a sense of questioning and transformation. The musical landscape is still, but never stagnant as it slowly expands in energy, textural shapes, momentum and transforming beauty. The harmonic language is an organic and colourful blend, blurring sonorities, chromatic flute lines and shifting perspectives of light and dark that seek out a strange kind of harmonic beauty.

How did the work evolve?

This is my first concerto. Throughout the process, I was equally exhilarated to be writing for my very talented old friend Jonathan Henderson and apprehensive to be adding my voice to an already excellent and expansive existing canon of musical works for the flute. With the exception of a beautiful cadenza that Jonathan and I shaped together towards the end of the composition process, I made the decision to step away from some of the more traditional images and concepts of a concerto. Written for reduced woodwind and brass, the Flute Concerto is a one-movement organic and slow-growing cell that is constantly looking and reaching forward.

The work evolved almost entirely from writing the flute line first. There were many sessions where I drafted harmonic and textural material, but the more I drafted, the more I realised it was the flute that was going to lead, follow and shape all the surrounding musical material in the orchestra. Over numerous international Skype calls and emails, Jonathan and I shaped the flute line together. It was pure joy and inspiration to work with him in this way. It was truly my favourite part of the composition process.

How did elements of the flute’s sound or technical capabilities influence your compositional decisions?

In almost every way! From arranging musical material structurally to explore the amazing timbral changes in extreme registers to moments specifically highlighting pitch bends, colouristic techniques, overblowing, articulation, stamina and more. Jonathan was an incredible ally in this process; never saying no to any crazy proposal without having an alternative in place. I am extremely grateful for his input and as such, I believe his approach to music making is deeply embedded within the fabric of the work.

How do soloist and ensemble interact in this concerto?

The relationship between soloist and ensemble is an interesting consideration in this work. The work begins with closely related intervals often led by high strings and auxiliary percussion filling the space as the flute slowly emerges from the atmospheric world, blurring the traditional concerto roles of orchestra and soloist as the material blends in the space or rises to the foreground. Framed and influenced by a virtuosic cadenza, the work appears changed as the flute leads the orchestra towards new ground.

Throughout the composition process, I asked myself the questions: Is the musical world at its chore dark, beautiful, haunting, serene, at peace, unstable and can a landscape be all of these things at once? Where does the flute exist in the space: vertical, horizontal, in time, in the foreground, middle ground and background? How does it progress and transform? Does the orchestra influence the development of the soloist line or does the flute influence the direction of the orchestra? I have my own answers to these questions, but I would rather leave them unanswered for listeners to ponder in person.

Is there anything you would recommend audiences particularly listen out for in this work?

Listeners are encouraged to journey with the flute soloist as they navigate a unique, atmospheric orchestral sound-world that is at any given time both: dark, beautiful, haunting, serene, at peace, unstable and in flux. I recommend listening for the role of and sound quality of the flute line, the shifting colours and isolation of timbres in the reduced instrumentation, with saturating divided strings, condensed woodwind and brass and very few tutti passages.

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I offer my warmest (overdue) public shoutout to the BPO for commissioning this work. Thank you for championing the creation of new Australian music, you’re an outstanding role model to community orchestras around the country! And to Jono, you’re an absolute outstanding legend! Thank you for making this a reality and for expanding my horizons by being an excellent and patient teacher and collaborator. I can’t wait to work with you again very soon.

For those musically minded foks who are interested in the score, I have a few edits and orchestration touch-ups to make before it is publically released. However, if you’re interested in performing this work please feel free to get in touch, I’m always happy to chat and give a sneak peak.

News, new music and travels

June already!? It’s been some time since my last update. I usually like to delay any posts with a “you can do it once you’ve met this deadline” mentality, but as I’m sure you know…there is always another deadline! 🙂

In the last month, I’ve received some wonderful and unexpected good news that I’m really grateful to share with you. To me this post seems unusually chock full of good stuff (but don’t worry fellow composers, there’s always plenty of not-so-fun news that doesn’t get acknowledged too), so please excuse me as I indulge a little on recent events .

I’ve spent the last wonderful month working, travelling and catching up with old friends in Shanghai, presenting at the Classical:NEXT Conference in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Brussels and Freiburg. I’m currently based in Paris [eating my weight in pastries, yay!] and am hard at work on a flute concerto for Jonathan Henderson and the Brisbane Philharmonic Orchestra.

Following this it will be quick turn around on a new work for Ensemble Interface to be premiered at the VIPA Festival and Academy in Valencia, Spain. Speaking of which, I picked up some very nostalgic sounding music boxes whilst taking a stroll today and I’m thinking they’ll have to find their way in to the piece now! It is my hope that all of this music form will form part of my PhD folio – but time and perspective will be the ultimate judge.

There has been plenty of travel time to catch up on all of the amazing conversations released weekly from Making Waves team for the Making Conversation: Australian Composers’ Podcast. I hope you will join me in subscribing, listening to this wonderful series. I’m so proud of the work our interview team have produced.

But there’s even more…

art music fund

I’m humbled and elated to be one of nine Australian and New Zealand composer-recipients of the 2017 APRA AMCOS Art Music Fund.  I look forward to start work on my first opera for young audiences titled The Owl and the Pussycat, based on the poem by Edward Lear. I flew to Brisbane early May to work with initial development with our all-female-powerhouse team: Penny Challen (Opera Q Project Puccini), Alicia Cush (Opera Q, Circa), Kathryn Marquet (La Boite, QTC, Pale Blue Dot), Bridget Boyle (Debase Productions). We’ll soon be launching a crowdfunding campaign to help us #buildthepeagreenboat. If you’d like to stay in touch with the project, follow @hootandmeow on Instagram, The Owl & the Pussycat on Facebook or visit Little Match Productions.

 

 

VICTORIAN YOUNG ACHIEVERS AWARD

On May 26th I was blown away to be named the Victorian Young Achiever for the Arts! The nomination came as complete surprise, and to watch it reach this outcome was quite overwhelming. Thank you to the special soul who made the nomination and to my amazing partner James (see pictures below) and to my Dad for accepting this award on my behalf whilst I was overseas. I loved living this event through their photos and videos! A big thank you also goes to the sponsor of this award, John Lazarou and The Coffee Club. Also a big thanks to Channel 7, PRIME7, NOVA 100, Bank of Melbourne and Bartercard.

 

MAKING CONVERSATION: AUSTRALIAN COMPOSERS’ PODCAST

I’m honoured to be co-directing this special Making Waves podcast project with Peggy Polias. It’s been enlightening and fun conducting a few of these interviews myself, with composers Lisa Young, Joseph Twist and Samantha Wolf. As at 2 June, we’ve released 7 shows from this 30-episode crowdfunded series, conversations between talented emerging music journalists and composers Anne Cawrse (SA), Michael Sollis (ACT), Annie Hsieh (USA), May Lyon (VIC), Alex Turley (WA) & Jenna Cave (NSW) and most recently Lisa Young (VIC).  If you’re already a subscriber, we thank you for joining us over at iTunes, via RSS or other podcast apps at this link, or via Making Waves e-bulletins.  If you’re not, do join us at your preferred platform so that you don’t miss a thing!

CLASSICAL:NEXT CONFERENCE

It was great fun to join forces with Leah Blankendaal of 3MBS to present a networking meeting on supporting new music through independent broadcasting at the Classical:NEXT Conference in Rotterdam on 19/05/2017. This session explored the shared responsibilities to new music held by old and new community and grassroots mediums. Using the Australian MBS model and website/podcast Making Waves as starting points,  we examined best practice in new music broadcasting and explain we chose to come together to support new music communities. It was fantastic to meet so many people from the industry and even more rewarding to get to know more of the amazing Australian delegation. The overall buzz surrounding our work at Making Waves was uplifting!

Upcoming performances

JUNE 4th, 11am, Web concert (streaming), worldwide. The Pool and the Star – Symphony Orchestra.

Here’s a concert not to be missed!  I’m thrilled that the Australian Discovery Orchestra will be performing my orchestral work The Pool and the Star. The best part is that anyone, anywhere in the world can tune in for the next two weeks as it’s all live-streamed the event. The work was commissioned and performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra as part of the 2013 Cybec 21st Century Australian Composers Program and has been re-orchestrated for ADO.For more details and to buy a ticket to watch the stream click here.

JUNE 28 – JULY 8th TBC, VIPA Valencia International Performance Academy & Festival, Spain. New Work (world premiere), Ensemble Interface.

JULY 23rd, 3pm, Old Museum Concert Hall, Bowen Hills, QLD, AUS. Flute Concerto (world premiere), Jonathan Henderson & Brisbane Philharmonic Orchestra.

AUGUST 10-12, Presenting a paper at the ANU Women in Creative Arts Conference in the ACT.

SEPTEMBER 9th, 2pm, Melbourne VIC, AUS. When We Speak, Solo Cello and Electronics – Gemma Tomlinson.

As a reward for making it this far, here is some super flattering evidence of me eating my weight in baked goods in Paris. 😉 Thanks for all of your support! 

‘Everything is Illuminated’

It’s been a little while since I have had the chance to update the events and adventures of the last few months.  Firstly, my sincere thanks to all of the wonderful supporters of the Making Waves crowdfunding campaign for the Making Conversation: Australian Composers’ Project. I’m so grateful to report that we exceeded our target and the project is currently underway! Peggy & myself, alongside our A-Team of interviewers are currently recording conversations with Australian composers throughout the country. Stay tuned for more information as we get closer to our podcast release day in April, 2017.

WHAT’S BEEN HAPPENING?

Over the past few months I have been thrilled to attend and hear about many performances of my music. My sincere thanks goes out to:

        • Faye Dumont, the Melbourne Chamber Choir and conductor Alan Cook for premiering ‘God Bless This Tiny Little Boat’ at the Choral@Montsalvat Festival in May.
        • The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra for touring my children’s arrangement of ‘Tinga Layo’ throughout the month of May. I’ve heard the kids are having lots of fun dancing and singing along in concerts and in the classroom!
        • Kevin Cameron and the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Wind Symphony for premiering my new arrangement of ‘Turbulence’ at the Melbourne Recital Centre in May.
        • Kupka’s Piano for giving the Australian premiere of ‘Quiver’ for Bass Clarinet, Flute and Marimba in July.
        • Dawn Bennet and Diana Blom for championing my work ‘Fragile’ for viola and piano again August.
        • Syzygy Ensemble for the outstanding premiere of my most recent work ‘Hold Me Not Back’ for Flute/Alto Flute, Cello and Piano on September 18th. This work was commissioned by Macedon Music for the Glen Johnston Composition Award.

YALE NORFOLK NEW MUSIC WORKSHOP

Back in June-July I had the privilege of attending the Yale Norfolk New Music Workshop as a Composition Fellow. The festival took place on the beautiful Ellen Battell Stoeckel Estate in Norfolk, Connecticut, USA.  It was an absolute thrill to work with Martin Bresnick and Lisa Moore, in addition to an outstanding ensemble of musicians and composer colleagues consisting of Sam Bobinski (D.Bass), Matthew Recio (Composer), Anne Wybenda (Cello), Lili Sarayrah (Violin), Joe Rebman (Harp), Alfonso Noriega (Viola), Chris Salvito (Perc.), Zara Ali (Composer), Corey Dundee (Composer) and Julian Pellicano (Conductor).

My thanks to Martin & Lisa for the wonderful and enriching time, the community of Norfolk for welcoming us in to your homes and to the University of Melbourne, MCM for supporting my trip.

I’m really pleased to be able to share the live recording of my work premiered at the festival titled ‘Everything is Illuminated’. An unusual ensemble that inspired a very clear sound-world for me!

Program Note:
Everything is Illuminated is work deeply rooted in the composer’s preoccupation with colour and timbre. In this work bright, metallic, plucked or struck sounds often dominate the foreground in a consistent quintuplet figure. Throughout the piece the musician’s voices are also utilized as a largely percussive technique – stage whispering works and syllables of the title. Many of the metre choices and revolving sense of pulse can also be traced back to the syllables within the work title.

Note: ‘Everything is Illuminated’ is not related to the work of author, Jonathan Safran Foer, this is just a happy coincidence!

Enjoy!

Help ‘Making Waves’ create a podcast series

MAKING CONVERSATION: aUSTRALIAN COMPOSERS’ PROJECT

Final hours – act fast!

Dear Friends,

I hope by now that you have heard of a very special crowdfunding campaign I have been running over the last five weeks with Making Waves partner, Peggy Polias. We’re raising funds to produce a podcast and video series of interviews with composers around Australia. While Making Waves will continue to showcase Australian music, this special project will enable listeners to get to know composers through their own words about music and creativity. With your help we can create an accessible and engaging archive for composers, their colleagues, listeners, musicians, researchers, music educators and students to enjoy and share.

Thanks to an incredible show of support by the arts sector and our personal networks, the Making Conversation: Australian Composers’ Project is 110% funded with a handful of hours to go before our campaign comes to an end! We’re ecstatic that our project will be going ahead and look forward to taking the next step on our journey to create a unique and insightful podcast and vodcast series centred on Australian composers.

Would you like to support this exciting project? It’s not too late to donate! The Pozible campaign link will close Tuesday May 10, 2016 at noon AEST.

Donate here! https://pozible.com/project/204746

As promised, all funds raised in excess of our initial $4000 goal will distributed between important project elements, such as: reimbursing our volunteer interviewers, releasing bonus podcasts and content and even a project launch event. We’re grateful for any amount of support you can provide!

The Making Conversation: Australian Composers’ Project is supported by Creative Partnerships Australia through MATCH. Thanks to Creative Partnerships Australia’s MATCH program, every dollar you give to this campaign will be matched dollar for dollar.

We have some news since launching the project: we’re delighted to welcome the newest members our talented Interview Team!  We’ll be sharing a little about each later this week.  Joining  our foundation team, budding music journalist of Peggy (NSW), Lisa (VIC/QLD), Matthew (VIC), Chris (NSW/USA), Sascha (VIC) and Leah (VIC/SA) are:

Angus Baxter (VIC), David John Lang (SA), Stephanie Eslake (TAS), Rebecca Erin Smith (WA), Antonia Zappia (NSW)

If you’re a composer who might like to be interviewed as part of this project, please visit our project page for details on how to register your expression of interest.

With a truly national team, we so look forward to the next stage of making this project a reality. To stay tuned for more news and project updates please consider signing up to a Making Waves E-bulletin. Thank you so much for your support!

Kind regards,

Lisa

‘When We Speak’ + Words on gender

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before” – Leonard Bernstein

A few months ago I had the pleasure of accepting a commission from my wonderful friend, the talented composer Samantha Wolf. Sam was putting together a concert of new music from Australian female composers for International Women’s Day 2016, titled, This Will Be Our Reply. I thought it might be nice to jot down a few notes about the process and my considerations from start to finish – perhaps a helpful read for those just starting out or as something to browse as you listen. To watch the video of the performance, please scroll down a little further.

The brief was that the composition could be acoustic or electroacoustic, and could utilise any combination of the Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano. The work should also relate or respond in some way to a theme or issue related to International Women’s Day.  All funds raised from the concert were donated to the Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre.

I’m going to take a little detour here. Undoubtably a wonderful opportunity and occasion, I was both excited and conflicted about partaking in an all female-composer-lineup concert. Conflicted? This might surprise a few people, for those that know me well are probably well aware that I’m deeply passionate and outspoken about the career experiences of women in composition in general.

[A little context of why those who know me might be surprised: I did my Masters research on the career experiences of early career female composers in Australia, mediate social media groups dedicated to women in composition and seem to get asked about this topic fairly often in interviews].

As a ‘female composer’ with an interest in feminist scholarship, the idea of participating in an all-female composers’ concert shouldn’t bother me, right? Well, to tell you the truth, it does and it doesn’t – and here’s why. Without question, every composer wishes to be judged on her/his merit alone. No onecomposer wants anything but their music to be the drawcard to a concert. But to achieve this, we must first seek gender parity for women (and other minority) composers, rather than assume we’re all working within an even playing field to begin.

In my fairly young career I’ve spoken with female composers who choose to embrace their ‘other’ status by working with the gendered label of ‘female composer’. Many composers, such myself, consciously embrace the label as a term of empowerment that celebrates a unique status and elevates the discussion and promotion of women’s music. I’ve also met those who choose to ignore the label all together in the hope that refusing to entertain discussion surrounding gender will make their ‘other’ status eventually disappear. Each path is valid and necessary. However, no matter which way you turn, there are positive and negative ramifications to consider and as such, I often find myself existing in a unique, conflicted space.

The generation before my own fought hard to pave the way for so many opportunities and norms that I often take for granted. Interestingly, I’ve spoken to many emerging/established women in the field and have felt a general sense of uneasiness about bringing ‘gender’ in to conversations about our composition careers. We’re damned if we do and damned if don’t – so frankly, I’m opting for ‘damned if I do’ and I know that I’m in fabulous company. However, there are few things I feel you should know about those who choose to embrace a label that many in the field/society already want to pin on you.

Just because I’m cool with talking about my experiences as a female composer does not mean I like it. The truth is that I detest the existence of this label. However, I never want to let its associated feelings of isolation negatively impact any young composer as it did on me in my early years. I refer quite frequently to my ‘light bulb’ moment in the second year of my composition study at the Queensland Conservatorium. This was the moment (that I’ll never forget) when I realised I couldn’t name one single living female composer outside of my composition class colleagues (many of whom seemed to be slowly transferring to other education majors. And just for the record, I could list you 50 amazing composers just off the top of my head now, but that’s after a long period of actively seeking them out!). Horrific, right?!

As you might expect, I began to question everything. Who was I? In what context was I working? Why didn’t I have any female role models? Was this some sort of proof that women couldn’t compose? If that was true, what the hell was I going to do with my life? Was this why I’d felt so self-conscious in composition class? Was this why I felt I had so much to prove to my colleagues, teachers and myself? And was this why, at 19, I had so much self-doubt and creative anxiety?

These were amazing questions to start me on journey of self-discovery and feminist scholarship. To skip to the point: this is why concerts of exclusively women’s music are still needed and are still valid (as much as I wish they weren’t). There’s an overwhelming body of music that deserves to brought to the forefront and championed, and these types of concerts are a way of doing that. But can they bring about permanent change?

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At the age of 29, each day I hold, examine and navigate the unification of myself (human, Lisa), my compositional voice (musical language) and this third realm/label of ‘female composer’ that seems to saunter along beside me; haunting biographical introductions and descriptions of my music. I recently received an email from a young female composer asking questions for a high school assignment. The first question was: “Do you think there is sexual bias in the composing industry? As in, do males have more chance in being successful purely because of their sex?”. It broke my heart. I answered her as honestly as I could, attempted to explain some of the complexities behind answering her question and sent her a big list of names of composers/articles I thought she should explore of the past and present of women in composition. Sometimes, it becomes too easy to dismiss how uncertain and lonely it can be to navigate these spaces, especially as you get older and more experienced. But I believe young woman emerging in to a male-dominated field (and even some more established women) continue to need strong access to roles models, exposure to music of other women, access to research and support. Not all women will need to use these things, but they should exist regardless.

It is my belief that we need to continue contributing to discussion on all areas of diversity in music. In particular, composers of all genders/identities should be speaking out about the ways in which patriarchal structures are often deeply ingrained into the ways important opportunities are distributed, works are programmed/broadcast/researched, and how composers are promoted, championed and supported by various parties. In addition to this, we need work for gender parity and diversity in our concert programs – we can do better than 25 per cent of all works in a concert, or training programs by women. We must continue to combine both of these techniques to raise discussion and to eventually bring about a new norm. A norm that is one of equality in performance and opportunity, and in turn provides an abundance of kick-ass role models to inspire and support.

To those who choose to reject the validity of identifying as a ‘female composer’ – that’s cool, it’s totally your choice. There are pros and there are cons – but I plead with you not to shy away from this discussion for fear of being labelled. I implore you not to let subtle discrimination or sexist comments go unchallenged. I like to think that I proudly wear the label of ‘female composer’ to advance the role and place of this discussion. However, it’s good to remember that sometimes I too want to shout from the rooftops: “I never ever wanted to have anything to do with labels in the first place!”.

Back to the music! I decided that I would write a work for solo cello and electroacoustic track – both instruments that I had been itching to get stuck in to for quite a while. I’d recently been listening a lot of music by one of my favourite musical influences, Kaija Saariaho. With the whole loaded conversation about women in music forefront in my mind, I committed myself to compose a 12 minute electroacoustic track entirely out of Saariaho’s own voice and her solo cello composition Sept Papillons (one of my favourites) carving space for the live cello to interact, emerge and solo. I thoroughly enjoyed weaving Saariaho’s literal and musical voice in to the fabric of the work. The audio came from an interview on a Meet the Composer podcast and the recording of Sept Papillon from the amazing Gemma Tomlinson herself.

As I began a lightning fast period of collaboration and consultation with my most talented and driven cellist, Gemma Tomlinson, it became clear that the concept of female voices was integral to the work’s core. The pitch language was informed by Saariaho’s own voice (beautiful cello range!) and the sound world of Sept Papillon. When We Speak navigates intimate relationships between the following key elements and structures:

  1. The live cellist.
  2. The pre-recorded electroacoustic track made in Logic, featuring:  A. Sampled/manipulated speech from Kaija Saariaho’s interview. B. A sampled/manipulated recording of Gemma Tomlinson performing Saariaho’s Sept Papillons for solo cello.
  3. The cellist’s singing voice.
  4. My own musical language/compositional voice.

This most challenging and rewarding part of the composition process was the exploration of the relationships between all these conflicting elements. The score was a mix of detailed notation, graphic notation and semi-improvised passages. The performer uses her iPhone to sync her cues with time points. The workshop process was highly collaborative as Gemma and I weaved our way through Saariaho’s post-spectral language/sound world to find gestures and timbres that both complemented and contrasted the electroacoustic track. One of the highlights was in our second workshop when Gemma told me she had always wanted to sing and play at the same time. Although it was a little late in the process to utilise this technique to the full, I absolutely adore the two moments (ca. 5’20 & 10’40)  where Gemma’s voice emerges from the soundscape textures  – rotating vowel positions to create harmonic effects/drones.

I considered how audible and foregrounded I wanted the spoken Saariaho interview to be; carefully, mixing and overlaying her messages of advice for young composers with separate messages of inequality for women in general. I held on to the symmetry of her words fighting for unity in message- a metaphor for my own practise as Lisa the woman, Lisa the composer and Lisa the ‘female composer’. I decided that this was the most wonderful and safe environment to deliver a piece that demanded the listeners attention both musically and socially. Would I have been brave enough to write a piece calling out inequality in an average concert, outside the all women lineup? I like to think I would…But the fact that I even had to ask myself that question is quite interesting to me, indeed.

Matthew Lorenzon from Partial Durations had this to say in his review:

“…Lisa Cheney brought us the voice of a woman, indeed, one of the greatest living woman composers. Cheney’s When We Speak combines live and prerecorded cello with a manipulated recording of an interview with Kaija Saariaho. While Saariaho’s voice is usually manipulated for its sonic value, moments of Saariaho’s reflections on gender politics in the music industry are clear. Cheney’s resonant electronics part is an atmosphere of unfathomable spaciousness. Clouds of voice fragments swirl around the space along with clouds of her solo cello composition Sept Papillons. In the middle of this environment the cellist Gemma Tomlinson struggles to be heard, playing strings of extended techniques with her characteristic commitment and control. At times the live cello becomes one with the prerecorded track or has a fleeting solo moment. This piece could be heard as a solo woman struggling to be heard in the male-dominated music scene, except all of the samples are of women and the piece is composed by a woman. It could also be heard as a woman engaging or even struggling with the history of women composers and the weight of Saariaho’s legacy. The piece ends with one solution, in Saariaho’s voice: “Create something personal because that’s the only thing that counts.”

This was an outstanding concert (I know that sounds biased).  I walked out of the venue feeling energised and in awe of the works written by my amazing female colleagues Jessica Wells, Alice Humphries, May Lyon and Samantha Wolf. Everyone responded to the brief in diverse and impacting ways and I felt so proud to have been involved in: raising money for domestic violence, proud of the amazing music being made by women, proud of my collaboration with Gemma and and the successful integration of my voice in to a work centred around giving voice. My thanks to Sam Wolf for having me on board and to Gemma Tomlinson for her fearless commitment to the music – barely dry on the page at the time of premiere. Lastly, here’s a the program note to wrap up my ramblings much more neatly!

Program Note:

When We Speak for solo cello and electroacoustic track seeks to comment on broader issues surrounding gender inequality and these considerations on my compositional practice. Throughout the work the interweaving of many ‘voices’ is present in: my own musical language, the music and speech of respected Finnish composer, Kaija Saariaho, the expression of the live cellist and her own literal voice. This, at times semi-improvised cello part, weaves its way through an atmospheric soundscape derived from a recent interview with Saariaho. The accompanying recorded musical sounds are extracted from Saariaho’s own compositions, with special weight placed upon manipulated excerpts from Gemma Tomlinson’s own performance of Sept Papillons.

 

Update 09/05/16 – CutCommon Magazine published an excerpt of this blog on their website on 07/04/16, in an article titled ‘Living the label of a ‘female’ composer’.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Dear Friends,

This is a quick note to wish you a very happy International Women’s Day and to draw your attention to three wonderful events you might like to explore further. Enjoy!

1. This Will Be Our Reply

Many of you may have heard of a special event that took place last night at Melba Hall in the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. I was honoured to have my new work When We Speak for solo cello and electroacoustic track premiered by the unstoppable cellist, Gemma Tomlinson. The concert was titled ‘This Will Be Our Reply’ and also featured the world premiere of five works by talented Australian composers, including: Samantha Wolf, Alice Humphries, May Lyon and Jessica Wells. The event was run by Samantha Wolf and held in celebration of International Women’s Day 2016 and raised $500 dollars at the door for the Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre. It’s not too late to do something so tangibly helpful this #IWD, you can still make a donation to our separate Safe Steps online fundraising link here.

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I look forward to sharing the recording of When We Speak  with you very soon! It incorporates the words and music of one of my musical influences, Finnish composer, Kaija Saariaho. As you might imagine, there is a little mixing of the electroacoustic track and live cello to be done first! In the meantime, here’s a little snap of Gemma playing so beautifully. For more upcoming performances, please see my website.

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2. Female Australian Composers on 3MBS Fine Music Melbourne

Today 3MBS broadcasts a very special program celebrating female Australian composers! I was lucky enough to be interviewed for the project, along with some incredibly talented and established composers! The documentary airs on 103.5FM on 8/3/16 between 8 – 10pm, and can be heard any time streamed online here. I can’t recommend listening to this highly enough – it’s inspiring and a wonderful resource!

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Laila Engle and I after our 3MBS interview in December, 2015.

To read more about how 3MBS are celebrating International Women’s Day, I encourage you to check out these articles from the Australian Music Centre and 3MBS.

3. Making Waves

Lastly, Peggy Polias and I have released a special bonus edition playlist featuring over 5 hours of music by amazing Australian female composers. I hope you will take a look, listen and share, to support Making Waves‘ goal of helping a wider audience discover Australian music!

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