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29 August 2008

Trans-Tasman exchange - report from Tasmania

'I simply wrote like never before'

Trans-Tasman exchange - report from Tasmania

Kenneth Young reports on his experiences in Tasmania during his Trans-Tasman composer exchange residency. The program was established in 2003 by the Australian Music Centre in collaboration with SOUNZ, the Centre for New Zealand Music to further develop musical relationships between the two countries.

The opportunity to simply get up in the morning, have breakfast and then devote an entire day to writing with no other duties or distractions is, for me, a rare one. To have a period of eleven continuous days with the same simple timetable is heaven-sent. This was the enviable situation I found myself in at the beginning of April.

Hobart is familiar to me as I have been visiting there to conduct the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra on a regular basis for the past ten years. They are an orchestra I admire greatly, in that they give as much energy and commitment to the performance and recording of contemporary music as they would to their core repertoire from the classical and romantic periods. Consequently, the opportunity to write a purely orchestral work for musicians whose abilities and empathy I was intimately aware of, was one I relished.

The TSO is not a large ensemble like the 90-100 members of an NZSO, SSO or MSO. A basic string section of 10,8,6,4,3 plus double wind and the normal brass layout requires one to reconsider, if tempted to compose in an overtly grand manner with a great Mahlerian sweep! I have recently been rather lush and complex with my textures, and so it occurred to me that here was an opportunity for a spot of ‘palette cleansing’. A bit like having a soloist encore with some Bach following a performance of a Rachmaninov concerto.

So, as I sat down at the piano and desk in the TSO’s soloists room, generously provided for the duration of my visit, I began to work on ideas I’d had for some weeks with regard to clean lines and well-spaced voicings – a far cry from the close, polytonal harmonies of recent works. I have never written so much in such a short period. Apart from eating and sleeping at the comfortable 19th century cottage, generously provided by the Conservatorium of Tasmania and located close to their campus, I simply wrote like never before.

There were, however, two excellent temporary distractions. The first of these was dinner with Simon Rogers, the TSO’s Artistic Planning Manager and visiting English pianist/conductor Howard Shelley, who was in Hobart recording with the orchestra. The second occasion was, again, a dinner; this time hosted by a prominent TSO sponsor for the entire orchestra at a well-known local restaurant. A splendid occasion to catch up with my orchestral friends and colleagues, a number of whom took the opportunity to request no technically difficult passages for their particular instrument in my new work!

I have just returned from a second period with the TSO. This time my composing activities were coupled with conducting and tutoring. Each year, the TSO hosts the Australian Composers School. This is a week-long event where selected emerging Australian composers provide a 5-7-minute orchestral work, which is workshopped and eventually performed and recorded by the TSO. Two set piano pieces are also orchestrated by the young composers and performed with a view to reviewing their individual orchestration techniques.

Richard Mills, Andrew Schultz and Gerard Brophy were all in residence, with Brophy and Schultz presenting lectures, while Richard Mills conducted the TSO through various excerpts in two hugely informative orchestration lectures. The four of us were also given ample opportunity for one-on-one with the participating composers: Melody Eotvos, Mark Viggiani, Paul-Antoni Bonetti, Mark Wolf and Luke Paulding. This truly valuable and enjoyable event is unique in Australasia, and yet again demonstrates the TSO’s continuing commitment to Australian contemporary music.

In December I shall be returning to Hobart for another two-week period of writing, during which time I hope to be able to workshop at least part of the new work with the orchestra. My humble thanks to Simon Rogers, the TSO and the Australian and New Zealand Music Centres.

Kenneth Young is one of New Zealand’s leading conductors and composers, and was for many years Principal Tuba with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. In 2001 he resigned from the NZSO in order to pursue his conducting and composing career full-time.


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