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25 March 2009

Ku-Ring-Gai Composer Workshop

From musical thoughts to physical sounds

Charlie Sdraulig, Steve Hillinger, Aristea Mellos, Melody Eötvös and Andrew Schultz Image: Charlie Sdraulig, Steve Hillinger, Aristea Mellos, Melody Eötvös and Andrew Schultz  

On Tuesday, 17 March, a world of new sounds was unveiled in the leafy Sydney suburb of Gordon as the Ku-ring-gai Philharmonic held the first of its three Young Composers’ Workshops for 2009. The three featured composers, Charlie Sdraulig (Melbourne), Melody Eötvös (Brisbane) and me (Aristea Mellos - Sydney), sat in the front row of the Ravenswood Centenary Auditorium expectantly watching the orchestra tune and assemble itself for the evening’s rehearsal. The workshop was guided by Steven Hillinger whose careful score preparation and rapport with the orchestral members created an atmosphere of geniality, allowing for fluid dialogue between the composers, their mentor, Andrew Schultz, and the orchestra.

The three new works could not have been more different in compositional style, providing great variety for the orchestral workshop. The first work of the evening was Sdraulig’s Vertical, which he described as an exploration in harmony, in particular 'the intervals of a 2nd and a 4th'. The work featured prominent solos from the concert master and principal cellist of the orchestra who acted as two opposing voices against a tide of stacked orchestral tones, rising and falling in musical swells.

The second piece workshopped was my own composition, In the Soul, the Night Time Echoes. When I wrote this work, I was interested in exploring the multitude of nocturnal sounds that can be heard on a Greek island after sunset. In realising this diverse soundscape, I used the different instrumental sections of the orchestra and changing metres to represent individual sound worlds, from the natural, to folkloric and the spiritual.

The last piece rehearsed during the intense evening of music making was Solifugae by Melody Eötvös. Melody’s work was based on Herodotus’ account of Persian history, and in particular, his discovery of a mystical gold-digging ant creature, now believed to be a spider. The work’s dramatic use of orchestration featured sudden bursts of colours and textures as well as a striking wide vibrato technique used in the winds and strings which gave the piece a sense of movement and wonder.

The opportunity for composition students to work with an orchestra and witness the translation of their musical thoughts into physical sound is unfortunately very rare. Nothing can describe the feeling you get as a composer the minute you hear your own music hit the air and become a part of this world. Thanks to many community and professional orchestras around Australia, young composers are receiving this vital contact which enables them to engage with their music in the fresh, far removed from the world of midi-playback where performance considerations can be swept aside too easily.

The KPO workshops do not function simply as an opportunity to hear your own work, but rather, to hear it critically and experiment with the orchestral body, furthering your understanding of the orchestra and, indeed, your own compositional development.

The final Ku-Ring-Gai Philharmonic workshop takes place this Sunday (29 March) at 2pm at the Ravenswood Centenary Auditorium, Henry St. Gordon.

Event details

Further links

Aristea Mellos is a fourth-year honours composition student, currently studying under Colin Bright at the Conservatorium of Music, Sydney. She is an active member of the Sydney Eclectic Composers' Society and has a background in piano performance.


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