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6 December 2007

A Life of Luxury, Extravagance and Sudoku Puzzles

Composer Development Program

Adam Starr Image: Adam Starr  

With Symphony Australia’s 2007 Composer Development Program starting last week, resonate caught up with Adam Starr, one of this year’s participants, to find out why he applied for the program and what experience he’s had with writing orchestral music in the past. With the program requiring participants to write a short orchestral work for Orchestra Victoria (under the guidance of Richard Mills), we were also curious to hear about any inspiration or ideas Adam might have for his piece at this stage of the program.

At such early stages of the program, I’m still getting to know the character of Orchestra Victoria and Richard Mills (who I have only just met). So the question I’m currently asking myself is: what sort of piece should I write? Ultimately, I want it to be a hit – particularly with the kids. I hope to live comfortably off its royalties without ever needing to do anything else other than Sudoku puzzles. To assist my chances, I want to shift the performance from the Iwaki Auditorium to the Metro Nightclub – there is more dancing room there…

The truth is: I am agonising over that very fine line between artistic integrity and the practicality of performance. To the right, we see 'music that will incense the players and/or incur physical retribution', while to the left, we find 'music that is neither fresh nor interesting'. So perhaps I’ll choose to aim for a middle ground where I’ll try to write something that allows the orchestra to feel comfortable, happy and possibly even inspired, while at the same time staying true to my musical personality.

To date, I’ve already written three orchestral pieces. One was for three different subsets of the orchestra, and would probably work best with three conductors, each of whom is connected to a click-track. Thus far, it is unread, unperformed, and perhaps destined to remain that way unless I either win the lottery or become a celebrity.

I had more luck with my second orchestral piece: it was workshopped by the Royal College of Music Orchestra. It’s a little piece I wrote while traveling in Spain and consequently has a salsa flavour (with a little guacamole, for balance). This was the first time I had ever heard any of my music played by an orchestra – it was an intoxicating experience. With the knowledge that the score would be read by live musicians, I threw in all the tricks – just as any inexperienced person would do – so I could hear them play a variety of sounds I’d only ever dreamed about.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra played and recorded my third orchestral work as part of another workshop. Although it was an exciting experience, I did write it knowing that the rehearsal time was going to be very short. Brett Kelly and the gang did a fine job, and they are all obviously fabulous players, but it would have been good to have had the opportunity for further rehearsal…and then to have taken it on a one year tour of Italy with myself and my family as roadies, eating four-course meals thrice daily…It becomes immediately apparent that for me: it is all about the music.

I’ve written a lot of film music and I find that writing music to be played in the concert hall is completely different. With music for the screen, there is obviously the need to support the imagery. This could happen in any number of ways (eg. a barely changing string pad). And while it might please some audience members in a concert situation, I for one would be booing. There is also the issue of the director, the producer, and the producer's son: these people may all ultimately shape what you write. So when writing music for the concert hall, I try and imagine a congregation of people sitting there, entranced, uplifted, excited – but what the hell are they listening to?

The reason for applying to participate in the Composer Development Program is a no-brainer. It will no doubt be an awesome learning experience with a very sympathetic orchestra, and the opportunity for a performance with some reasonable rehearsal time.

The orchestra will be subjected to some of my orchestrations in a few days, so I guess I will see how sympathetic they really are. Actually, for anyone considering applying for this program in the future, beware: you will be given heaps of homework! They don’t tell you that until you get there and you only have one week to do it. So if, like me, you have other deadlines, you need to find a few extra hours in the day. For me, this has meant pretending that I am commuting from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere and back again when it suits. Sleep has become a vague memory of the past. I just noticed that the parts I have prepared for one of the assignments are completely blank. Oh well, I figure the players should know what I had in mind… As I continue the therapy of confession, it suddenly dawns on me that I really should get back to doing my homework…

Further Links

Composer Adam Starr is a participant in Symphony Australia's 2007/2008 Composer Development Program.


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