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Program note: Martin Wesley Smith 50th Birthday Concert

  • Martin Wesley-Smith
  • Source: Program 10 June 1995 Introductory Note

Introductory Remarks by Martin Wesley-Smith
So it's come to this: that old mortal coil remains, yet to be shuffled off, on the day my
twin brother turns 50!. So soon! I remember Ross Edwards and I, as students, trying in vain
to imagine hitting the age - 35 - at which Mozart scribbled his last crotchet. No wonder he
left with forty or so symphonies under his belt: he'd had so much time! Looking back I see that
I've still to write my first (my only consolation here is that Mozart didn't have computers
to slow him down). At least Ross has composed one  - but then he's even older than I am.

In fact I'm quite happy not composing symphonies. The pieces on this concert are far more my bag:
songs, chamber pieces, and things for tape (with instruments and/or graphics).  Everything at a
human scale, with immediate feedback (ah, instant gratification: can't beat it!).  Besides I've
had some unfortunate experiences with orchestras, and far prefer working with individual musicians -
especially the musicians we have in Sydney: such talent, and such generosity of spirit! I
was so disappointed that I couldn't ¡nvite all my favourite local performers to play tonight
that I told Belinda that she would have to put on another concert - perhaps even a third -
so we could fit them all in. But she refused. Just like that. My apologíes, therefore, to absent
friends, but it wasn't my fault!

Most of the music on tonight's program was inspired by particular performers. A Visit from the
, for example, is very much Craeme Leak's piece, something that tries to exploit part of his
unique collection of skills. The music theatre piece Quito was written for The Song Company, a
group with which l've enjoyed a long association, and many children's songs have Song Co
arrangements. Wattamolla Red was put together in tribute to all the people (dancers, photographers,
pyrotechies, divers, water sculptors, and so on) who worked on the Wattamolla performance events
of the late 70s-early 8Os. And as a piece for watt, that idiosyncratic group of electro-freaks who
continually remind us that thirty days hath November - except for Grandma. She rides a bike.
Talking of transport, there,s Flederman....ah, Flederman! A transport of delight. What a pity
they're not still together (perhaps after tonight's reunion they might be persuaded to keep going!
Clap a lot so as to swell their egos - that might do the trick). While others have done Snark-Hunting,
it would never have been written that way for any other group.

An astute observer will recognise in A visit from the Queen a special tribute to Graeme Leak:
a quote from For Marimba & Tape, a piece that wasn't originally written for him but which he
premiered then made his own. lt was originally going to be a piece for American clarinettist
F Cerard Errante. l'd had the basic idea for Who Killed Cock Robin? years before I wrote it,
but had never had enough time to devote myself to it. Finally I sought a commission so that
I could afford to take enough Leave from my job to write it properly. I rang a choral conductor
friend of mine to remind him that Australia Council commission applications had to
be in next week and had he thought of commissioning someone?

"Yes, thanks for the reminder", he said, "l've been meaning to ask Kim Williams." Somewhat
taken a back, I rang Nicholas Routley (conductor of The Sydney University Chamber Choir, as it
was then), this time being a little less subtle - and the deal was stitched. When composing the
piece, the pafticular qualities of that choir, and of some of its members, rang through my mind,
influencing the piece in all sorts of ways. I hadn't thought that The "How Can a Barrister Lose?"
from Boojum!, was inspired by Tony Backhouse - but as soon as I heard him sing it I knew that
it must have been. He doesn't look like Errol the Barrister from Hong Kong - come to think of it
he doesn't sound like him either - but if you shut your eyes and block your ears it's hard to imagine
anyone more Errol-like. Beta-Globin DNA, finally, is the only piece that wasn't inspired by
particular performers - but by all performers, in recognition of the blood (as well as the sweat and
the tears) that they shed on behalf of new music and its composers. Without them, and without their
sacrifice and encouragement, so much new music wouldn't exist - including what's on the Program tonight.
Theirs is usually a thankless task - but not now: thanks, performers! Not only for the support in the
past, and for tonight, but for playing - lots- the pieces I haven't written Yet ...

Many factors determine the music one composes, including one's immediate environment,
climate etc. lf I lived in Melbourne, say, where it's cold, and it rains all the time, l'm sure I
would write music that somehow had qualities of coldness and rainyness. But I don't. I live
in glitzy sunny Sydney, most of the time, and I fear that much of what I do is sunny and glitzy.
I would rather be deep, like Melbourne composers are - but I would have to go live there. And I
couldn't do that: it's cold, and it rains all the time. When l'm in Hong Kong, where l've been
living for a while recently, I hardly compose at all. There doesn't seem much point, really: people
are too busy listening to the music of cash registers to have time for sonic
experiences that symbolise, and seek to interpret, Personkind teetering at the edge of the Cosmic
Abyss, trying to make sense of the senseless. Or is cash register music a collaborative composition
that perfectly fuses form, function and meaning?

A lot of my work has involved collaboration, especially with artists from other fields (lyricists,
photographers, performers,of various kinds, and so ons). With other composers, too. There's
always the chance that the whole will be more than the sum of the parts! lt usually isn't... but
no matter. Try again. Keep seeking ways to understand, and to accommodate, even integrate, diverse
ideas. Diverse aesthetics, even. I'm not interested in composing masterpieces. l'm merely seeking
sonic Snarks. Perhaps l'll find a real one. But, with my luck, it'll probably turn out to be ...
a Boojum.