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6 November 2015

Darwin Symphony Orchestra's proudly Australian 2015

Flutist Sally Walker, with DSO and Matthew Wood Image: Flutist Sally Walker, with DSO and Matthew Wood  

Conductor Matthew Wood writes about his work with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra and the many Australian works in their 2015 program. The final DSO concert for 2015, on 5 December, has four world premieres commemorating the 40-year anniversary of Cyclone Tracy.

The Darwin Symphony Orchestra (DSO) is a treasured community icon in Darwin and throughout the Northern Territory. The ensemble's identity as an accessible and essential community resource has resulted in concerts in some of the most remote places imaginable, with diversity in programming that crosses all cultural boundaries. From floating on pontoons on the Katherine River, to performing on a working barge on Darwin Harbour, and becoming the first symphony orchestra to perform at Uluru, the DSO exemplifies the unique 'can do' attitude that is representative of the people of the Northern Territory.

The orchestra takes its responsibilities as an Australian musical voice seriously, which is represented in our commitment to the performance and commissioning of Australian music. There are many composers who have taken great inspiration from the Northern Territory landscape, which is not only Australian but also totally unique, brimming with contradictions of great beauty and great harshness. As an orchestra of and for the people of the Northern Territory, it is our responsibility to perform the music that is representative of our unique position within Australian art and culture.

During 2015, the Darwin Symphony will have performed six world premieres of Australian music, of which, with the support of the Australian Government, it has commissioned four. Most recent was the world premiere, on 24 October, of Elena Kats-Chernin's Flute Concerto with Sally Walker as soloist. I had recently had the great privilege of conducting a concert with Sydney-based new music ensemble Halcyon in which we performed David Lumsdaine's A Tree telling of Orpheus, Nigel Butterley's Orphei Mysteria and the premiere of Elliott Gyger's Giving Voice. It was there that I met the outstanding flautist Sally Walker and learnt that Elena was writing a new concerto for her. By chance we had just finished performing Elena's Wild Swans Suite in Darwin with the DSO, a work that simply enchanted our audience, and I was thinking of another project of Elena's works to perform with the DSO. Quite simply the stars aligned beautifully, and we premiered the flute concerto here in Darwin in our third Master Series concert at the Darwin Convention Centre, with a full standing ovation! Who said new music cannot engage with our audiences? This certainly is not our experience!

At the beginning of our season we gave the world premiere of Cathy Applegate's Piano Concertantrum, a new piano concerto for Michael Kieran Harvey. Cathy is one of the DSO cherished cellists and we were thrilled to be able perform this work - even more so as we celebrate new music written by a member of our orchestra.

For our next and final concert for 2015 we have commissioned four new works by Ross Edwards, Iain Grandage, Lachlan Skipworth and Kat McGuffie. Each has written a movement which will form part of a new work in commemoration of the 40-year anniversary of Cyclone Tracy. This new music will be choreographed for dance by Gary Lang and performed by the NT Dance Company. We had originally thought of using a trio of composers, all with a different voice in both age and style, representing the three stages of Tracy's catastrophic visit to Darwin: music representing the calm before the storm (Edwards), the terrifying power of the storm itself (Grandage) and the aftermath (Skipworth). We then decided to add a fourth movement to represent Darwin today, celebrating the terrific resilience and determination of a community united in catastrophic circumstances, a proud and diverse community that rebuilt the city to make it what it is today (McGuffie, who was raised in Darwin).

We are honoured to be representative musical voices of the people of Darwin and the NT and are extremely excited about this project which will be premiered on 5 December at the Darwin Convention Centre. Music has been telling stories about our lives and culture for a very long time, and it is an abhorrent and incomprehensible thought that a living, breathing symphony orchestra would only be a vessel for yesterday's stories, and not an active participant in the creation of today's. Our future and our relevance balances on being able to provide a platform for our cherished and tested repertoire, while supporting the generation of new music that resonates with our current time and place.

We belong to a land whose art represents the oldest living culture on the planet. We are also one of the most modern and we are growing up fast! Integral to this scenario is an elastic and engaging approach to programming, a fundamental part of which is the performance of new Australian music.

Event details

Darwin Symphony Orchestra: Tracy
New works by Ross Edwards, Iain Grandage, Kat McGuffie and Lachlan Skipworth
5 December at 7:30pm, Darwin Convention Centre - full event details (AMC Calendar)

Further links

Darwin Symphony Orchestra - homepage
Darwin Symphony Orchestra - Tracy (5 December event page)

Matthew Wood is the artistic director and chief conductor of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra.


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