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28 February 2011

First Stones - a new composer development initiative by Halcyon

Jenny Duck-Chong Image: Jenny Duck-Chong  

Since its inception in 1998, Halcyon has made a very significant contribution to the body of new work for voice created by established Australian composers. This year, the ensemble invites emerging composers from around Australia to take part in FIRST STONES, a new initiative to encourage the development of vocal writing skills. Successful applicants will take part in seminars and workshops in Sydney, with mentorship by Halcyon and composer Elliott Gyger. The project will culminate in November with a performance of the new works by Halcyon, as part of the New Music Network's 2011 concert series. Deadline for FIRST STONES applications is 14 March.

For some years now, young composers have been approaching Halcyon, looking for the chance to either write something for us, or have us perform something they've already written which they would love to hear live. While we do love to champion emerging composers and see what vocal work they are producing, there are limited opportunities in every performing year to showcase them, and the fine balance in our programming choices means that far fewer works are heard than actually pass across our desks.

We have also had the chance to work alongside composers in workshop and seminar situations over the years, and we love the conversations and the knowledge that can be shared when composers and performers get this sort of chance to interact and learn from each other. But while it is great to be able to engage with people who are still learning their craft and to give them practical insights, it has generally only been for one or two-day periods. The idea of a project where we could spend more intensive time, working alongside people over a period of months in the creation of new works and giving practical insights into contemporary vocal writing, has been in our minds for some time.

People often see singers as somehow different to other musicians. We like to challenge that premise. One of the reasons we began Halcyon more than a decade ago was because we shared a love for this rich but rarely heard repertoire and we wanted to showcase works where the human voice works in conjunction with instruments, not simply as soloist and accompaniment, but on a more equal footing. Small-scale chamber music demands particular ensemble skills, exploring the sonorities of every instrument, including the voice. For us, there is a real and joyous commitment to communal music making. There is nothing more satisfying than listening and adapting your voice to the instrumental colours that you hear around you.

The challenge to respond to this ever-changing tapestry is another reason we love what we do. Add to that a well-crafted marriage of text and music to communicate, in whatever form that 'text' may take (and there are many!), and you begin to understand our passion.

FIRST STONES 2011 was created to inspire others with this passion. We love to bring new works to our audiences at each performance, but it is an even greater joy to have the opportunity to create them alongside the composers. We're looking forward to seeing how these FIRST STONES develop this year.

The applications for the First Stones 2011 are to be sent by Monday, March 14, 2011. (postmark deadline). Successful applicants will participate in seminars on vocal writing with both Halcyon and composer-mentor Elliott Gyger before writing and workshopping a 3-4 minute work for 1-2 voices and instruments. Full details are available on the Halcyon website. First Stones is presented in association with the Australian Music Centre and with the assistance of the Australia Council.

Further links

First Stones 2011 (Halcyon website)

Subjects discussed by this article:

Jenny Duck-Chong is a freelance mezzo soprano based in Sydney and the co-artistic director, with soprano Alison Morgan, of the acclaimed contemporary art music ensemble Halcyon, Australia’s leading exponents of new vocal chamber music.


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