Reflection on the Cybec Experience

My experience in the 2013 MSO Cybec 21st Century Australian Composers Program has been extremely rewarding, exciting and career building. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have taken part and sincerely thank all of the wonderful patrons, the MSO, the musicians, and the support staff for making it such a priceless and enjoyable experience. In particular, I would also like to offer my sincere thanks to Roger Riordan and the Cybec Foundation for their generous support of this wonderful program. The future of the Australian new music scene is brighter thanks to opportunities such as these.

As part of the program, four Australian composers under the age of 30 were chosen to write an eight minute work for chamber orchestra. My three colleagues were Elliott Hughes, Andy Aronowicz and Kym Dillon. I encourage you to click on their names and explore their music! We were each provided with a distinguished mentor with whom we could check in with and receive guidance throughout the process. I was grateful to be given Dr. Philip Bracanin and relished the chance to meet and get to know Philip and Maria (his wife). Prior to our first meeting I had heard quite a bit about Philip’s rich career as a composer and educator in Queensland, through former pupils Joseph Twist and Robert Davidson. After numerous chats huddled close to the computer screen and many turkish coffees (thanks Maria!) I can confirm that these are two of the nicest people you will ever have the pleasure to meet.

Over the better part of 2013 I began to sketch and compose my work for the Cybec Program. With the assistance of Philip, ‘The Pool and the Star’ was shaped into a nine minute work inspired by a poem of the same name by the late Brisbane poet Judith Wright. The work loosely captures the narrative of the poem in which the pool, in love, each night awaits patiently for the rising of a star to bring to life the time and waters from which the pool gathers itself together. Venturing through and between two worlds, the music depicts earth and water on one hand, and on the other, sky and space. Over time the romanticism and vivid imagery of the poem really began to mould my musical language, angling it often towards more tonal languages, but always reaffirming my primary focus on colour/soundworlds.

In September we attended a compulsory session with the MSO Orchestral Librarian in Melbourne and met with a handful of the MSO musicians and also our head mentor, Brenton Broadstock AM. These sessions were very helpful, and I particularly enjoyed the meeting with the Orchestral Librarian who gave wonderfully detailed advice on the professional standards of notation and score layouts expected by a major symphony orchestra. Information like this is invaluable for a young composer such as myself, never having written for an orchestra of this calibre before. I’ve learned so much more about Sibelius’s scoring abilities, largely through trial and error – and consequently, a handful of new grey hairs (or nature’s highlights).

After this meeting I flew back home to Queensland to begin to really bring the work together. It was an intensive and time-consuming process that taught me much about time management, but also just how much I still want to learn and grow as a composer. At times I found myself being daunted by the enormous task at hand, and the pressure I was placing on myself to write an amazing work for truly remarkable musicians (somewhat of a once in a lifetime opportunity). Other times I struggled with ways in which to really bring the piece together and to make it seamlessly flow from one idea to the next. However, with Philip’s guidance I was able to push through these blocks and get to crux of what I really wanted to create – interesting sound worlds indicative of the lush imagery present in Wright’s poem.

After a many months typesetting the score and parts, the final music was delivered to the MSO in December, 2013. I was then flown down in January for the dress rehearsal two days prior to the premiere at the Cybec Finals Concert. It was here where I met our conductor Brett Kelly, and with the other composers talked through our scores and how the concert would run. I was incredibly nervous for all that week had to offer, and it was lovely to be able to share my excitement and nerves with the other composers and mentors. The rehearsal and performance taught me a great deal about my orchestration (I hope to be more consciously restrained in my orchestration in the future – always learning!), balance, and also about levels of professionalism and how these processes work for a professional orchestra. I’m pleased to say that the work was well received on the evening and I was over the moon for having had the opportunity for such a wonderful premiere. Here’s a little peak into what that looked like.

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Finally, a few weeks later when all of the adrenaline and nerves had subsided I was given the unexpected and wonderful honour of my work to be chosen to be performed again on April 9th, 2014 as part of the Metropolis New Music Festival under maestro Olli Mustonen. The second work chosen was ‘Strange Alchemy’ by Andy Aronowicz, a piece that I consistently find myself admiring for Andy’s use of colour, gesture and restraint. I was equally impressed by both Elliott Hughes, and Kym Dillon‘s new compositions and was truly saddened to believe that only two out of the four works would be chosen for a further performance at the Metropolis New Music Festival. I sincerely look forward to hearing all of these works again in the near future, as they more than deserve to keep on living and delighting! If you haven’t sidetracked and listened to some of their music yet, this is your final reminder. These are names to watch!

If I had one wish for the future of the program, it would be that the opportunity was opened to more than four emerging composers (and without an age limit) a year! There are so many early-career composers that I know would benefit from such a rich experience, but who may already have passed the age limit or have been yet unable to cut through the tough competition. In saying this, it’s also a great reminder that when you are finally given a shot (and you have to believe it will happen in some form or another), you never take a moment or lesson learned for granted!

My thanks once again to the Cybec Foundation, the musicians and administrators of the MSO, Brett Kelly, Brenton Broadstock, Huw Humphreys and Philip Bracanin for helping to make this a reality. I’ll forever be humbled and grateful to have been part of such a wonderful experience so early in my career.



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