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14 September 2010

ASQ National Composers' Forum: composer blog - Ross Carey

Ross Carey Image: Ross Carey  

It seemed somehow appropriate that my composition, Toccatina (Elegy), dedicated to the late Ruby Hunter, had its first public performance in Adelaide at the first Australian String Quartet National Composers' Forum (although a group of musicians from the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra had played my piece in a semi-public event, at a Friends of the APO event in June) given that Ruby grew up in her ancestral lands in South Australia and met her husband-to-be and musical collaborator Archie Roach on the streets of Adelaide. The timing of the ASQ event at the end of August, too, meant that it was a smooth process for my piece from conception to its realisation by the ASQ. I composed the work in the few days after Ruby's passing in February, heard about the call for scores for the forum a few days after that, and duly put the completed piece in for consideration to be included by the end of April. Although I don't want to sound too sure of myself, for some reason I actually felt that this particular piece would certainly be chosen for inclusion in this event, so it was no surprise when I heard that indeed it was; maybe it was the subject matter after all that demanded this. Archie Roach also gave his blessing for the piece to be performed.

It was nice to visit Adelaide again - I had visited it once before, and enjoyed it. As the Soundstream Contemporary Music Festival was held at the same time as the forum, I made sure that I attended a couple of concerts. One was on the night before the forum started; the highlight for me was a lovely meditation on the music of Chopin for four pianos. The warmth of Chopin's music was magnified four-fold as it passed from pianist to pianist in a beautifully expressive display (the ever-present shadows of the master's music were also brought to the fore by Russian composer Shchedrin).

The next day brought the chance to meet the members of the quartet, and the other composers participating, before the forum's first open rehearsal. My piece was first up and it was a small shock to hear it brought to life in such an immediate way (I'd say that they'd done some practice!). A number of issues were brought up, one being the delineation of principal and secondary lines, which the players and composer-in-residence Carl Vine thought was not at times clear. The piece does have a quite busy texture, and while at times the various musical lines converge, creating a heightened musical expression, at others this foreground-background issue is important. I took it that I needed to include more gradations of dynamics and perhaps allow the texture of the piece to vary a little more, although this would have changed the work's feeling somewhat. Another issue which certainly the APO players found to be taxing was the hocketing rhythm passed between (usually) viola and cello. Instead of the even versus odd semiquaver division, it was suggested that I let one player perform semiquavers 1 and 2 while the other played 3 and 4. This would certainly aid less capable players than the ASQ in acheiving the desired quick toccatina-like tempo!

Other events on during the weekend were Carl Vine talking about Musica Viva, and conducting an open rehearsal with the quartet of his String Quartet no 3. John Davis discussed the Australian Music Centre and ideas on how composers can maximise their place in the 'value chain' (I think that was the term) - this was thought-provoking, while his mentioning of the problems of isolation of the composer also struck home, although I suspect there are as many ways to combat that as there are composers. Actually I'm not quite sure about commercial models for creative disciplines, and maybe that isn't quite what he was talking about, but I certainly appreciated having John around and having the opportunity to hear about his youthful escapades in my native New Zealand (although the Lower Hutt fire station is but a shadow of its former self, having been updated to a newer model, and Christchurch will look a little different now, too, having had a good shake-up with its recent earthquake).

asq forum group photoOne of the most rewarding aspects of the weekend was hearing about the music from the quartet's perspective. I appreciated the players openness in sharing their experiences - it seems that there are endless technicalities and practicalities that a budding string quartet composer might learn in developing their craft. It was great, too, to meet the other composers participating. Despite our differing backgrounds and forms of musical expression, we all shared a willingness and indeed eagerness to have our music dissected and performed. I could see that there were certain challenges for some of the composers unused to working with professional musicians, but this is what a weekend such as this is about - bringing composers and performers together and developing skills and the confidence to articulate one's vision. I trust that this platform for 'emerging' composers can develop and prosper in the years to come, and I thank both the ASQ and the AMC (and ABC for recording the final day's concert) for having the foresight to nurture this important addition to the national composition scene.

Image: Forum participants (from left): Julian Day, Melody Eötvös, Alison Beare (ASQ GM), Rachel Johnston (cello), Mark Holdsworth, Anne Horton (violin II), Ross Carey (NZ), Adam Starr, Sophie Rowell (violin I), Carl Vine, Thomas Green, Sally Boud (viola)

Further links

Ross Carey - SOUNZ profile
Thomas Green - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 1
Thomas Green - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 2
Melody Eötvös - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 1
Melody Eötvös - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 2
Adam Starr - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog part 2
Adam Starr - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 1
Mark Holdsworth - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 1

Subjects discussed by this article:

Ross Carey is a composer and pianist, currently teaching at the Universiti Teknologi MARA (Malaysia).


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