18 June 2015
Expat musicians meet at Australia & NZ Festival of Literature and Arts in London
Pianist Zubin Kanga reports from London's Australia & New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts. Music by seventeen Australian and New Zealand composers were performed as part of the festival program - including works by Brett Dean, Matthew Hindson, Miriam Hyde, Phillip Houghton, Peter Sculthorpe, Carl Vine and David Young. For more details, see the festival website.
For the last century of Australian classical music, going to Europe has been seen as an essential rite of passage for many young musicians, and for some the move develops into a permanent expatriation. It was thus intriguing and stimulating to gather with a panel of composers and performers from Australia and New Zealand, all working in Europe while maintaining close ties and careers at home, to discuss our shared experiences. Myself (as pianist), conductor Kelly Lovelady (Artistic Director of Ruthless Jabiru) and Edinburgh-based New Zealand composer Lyell Cresswell, got together for a chat as part of the Australian/NZ Arts Festival in London at the end of May.
We began by relaying our experiences of working in Europe and the differences between the European and Australian/New Zealand new music scenes. All agreed that the standard of composers, soloists and ensembles in Australia/NZ and Europe is similarly high, and that each scene presents practitioners with different rewards and challenges (with the opportunities in Europe varying markedly between countries).
We then spent the middle half of the session discussing collaboration. Our divergent approaches and working practices were quickly revealed with my own intense and integrative creative partnerships contrasting with Lyell's practice of standing back from the performer's processes, while Kelly described her role as both creative and managerial, acting as a go-between for communication between composers and performers in her orchestra. I discussed my research on collaboration for my PhD and postdoc and discussed the problems of performance practice being maintained among a small group of practitioners. I also performed David Young's Not Music Yet, a particularly intriguing case of collaboration where the score was written as a watercolour painting, which I then realised with musical materials of my own devising but a very precise method of score analysis. Lyell provided a counterpoint to this, discussing his own very different collaboration with the Italian painter, Maurizio Bottarelli, for a series of works.
Finally, we turned to recent changes to arts funding in Australia, with all of us expressing concern for the erosion of funding bodies around the world, and Lyell providing a longer view, pointing to the many funding cuts he's seen in the UK and New Zealand over many decades. Kelly discussed the massive costs of staging an orchestral performance, alongside commissioning and development costs, demonstrating that both public and private sponsorship is necessary if we want to still have contemporary music for larger ensembles.
From my perspective, collaboration is essential for innovation in music (both technical and aesthetic) and this type of work requires much more time than more conventional musical projects. They are less 'efficient', but only if the quality of the output and the magnitude of long-term impact is not considered in the assessment. As with the sciences, the groundbreaking, adventurous and innovative requires the most time and risk, and these projects are the first to be hit when funding comes under pressure.
I would hope that in future years the festival will build on this gathering of expatriate musicians to stage a larger-scale performance event, drawing together many of the extraordinary Australian/NZ composers and performers in the UK. Australians and New Zealanders have a huge impact on British musical life and bringing the music of world-leading expatriates together would demonstrate the extraordinary quality and quantity of Australian/NZ artists on the world stage, as well as highlighting the brain drain that may well increase in coming years, given the changing funding climate.
Kanga - homepage (www.zubinkanga.com)
Australia & New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts 17-31 May 2015 (ausnzfestival.com)
'Inside composer-performer collaboration' - an article by Zubin Kanga on Resonate (15 May 2014)
© Australian Music Centre (2015) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Be the first to share add your thoughts and opinions in response to this article.
You must login to post a comment.