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13 April 2021

What Is Old Can Be New Again

South Australian composer Anne Cawrse's songs will feature in both programs. Image: South Australian composer Anne Cawrse's songs will feature in both programs.  

Composer and Kammerklang artistic director Cameron Lam writes about a new concert series, based on an open call for scores, with the aim of uncovering underperformed Australian works.

Comfort and curiosity. I argue these two desires define an audience and what they want from an experience. At times we all need to return to our favourite comforts, whether books, music, food or other media. Other times we're bored, and only new content will satisfy. Most experiences we create satisfy both desires in varying degrees, even in comfort we seek novelty or a safe place to indulge our curiosity. A rollercoaster is thrilling because we know it is safe and a little predictable.

So, what does this have to do with Kammerklang and our new event series 'Hidden Curiosities'? Perhaps, unsurprisingly, quite a lot. Art music audiences generally are a brave and curious bunch: we seek out the new and unheard, we're excited by creative risk-taking, and we look out for the newest of the new, the premiere. But art music gigs aren't without their comforts. We trust familiar curators (performers, ensembles, presenters); we understand works through the lens of familiar authors (composers, improvisers, sound artists); and are attached to bounds of genre/sub-genre labels. Hidden Curiosities comes from searching for new methods to satisfy this craving for newness in a way that is more sustainable.

Kammerklang started as a student ensemble back in 2009 with the intention of doing entirely new Australian music. But, as Kammerklang has evolved we have moved away from solely doing premieres to now include existing Australian repertoire, pieces that are the hidden gems of Australia's musical landscape. Drawing people's attention to existing content has become a core part of my practice in recent years. Inspired by Making Waves (lead by composers Peggy Polias & Lisa Cheney) and UK composer Matthew Whiteside's contemporary classical playlists, I've been curating the Australian Art Music playlist on Spotify for the past two years. Now published monthly in Limelight, what started as a way to diversify my listening practices, has turned into a way of discovering and sharing gems of the Australian art music repertoire - both old and new. It seems inevitable that this thought process would feed back to my work with Kammerklang.

Hidden Curiosities is a concert series drawn entirely from an open call for scores. We've specifically asked for underperformed works, perhaps premiered works that are looking for a second performance or pieces that have been sitting in a drawer for an age. Our call for scores is designed to be accessible to the entire industry - a simple submission form, support readily available to applicants, and, most importantly, free to enter. For each composition that is selected for performance, the composers are paid for their composition, a small but significant step in creating a more sustainable music industry for composers.

The concerts themselves are curated from the pool of submitted works by selected performers who themselves have had experience promoting Australian music. Each performer's aesthetic adds a layer of comfort, familiarity, and cohesion to the program - they are the lens through which we get to see these undiscovered gems - again balancing our curiosity with comfort. Performers have power here, not solely as interpreters of works, but as the creators of a cohesive and engaging experience.

This year, we've partnered with two duos to explore Australian art song repertoire; Anna Fraser and Jack Symonds will perform their program 'Vestige' in Sydney, while Amelia Jones and Stefan Cassomenos will perform 'Memento', their own selection of works, in Melbourne. This presentation format doesn't require travel (a clear benefit given coronavirus), but also provides two very different perspectives into the available pool of works - something we'll be continuing in future years.

The selected works are broad in their subject matter and, hearteningly, the stage of career of the composers. From Anne Cawrse's This Too Shall Pass, originally written in 2008, to more recent pieces such as David Evans's In My Brain or Luke Styles's Spring Song Cycle, we hope to provide a new context for these works. Hidden Curiosities can be a new 'in' for the audience and a way to consider them amongst the larger repertoire and their peers (again, comfort and curiosity).

This also makes each concert its own entity to promote. As we open up and get back to travel in a post-COVID world, I'd love to see the concert performed back-to-back - a fascinating example of how musicians engage with music differently based on how, what, and why they perform.

I'm excited, as Kammerklang's artistic director, to see Hidden Curiosities continue and develop as a series - working with other performers and instrumentations, continuing to show composers their work has value even when it's not newly created, and introducing audiences to amazing Australian art music (and even composers) that are new to them. Who knows, perhaps some of these will become new 'old favourites'.

> Vestige: A Hidden Curiosity on 17 April 2021 at 5pm at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music - Anna Fraser & Jack Symonds, with music by Luke Styles, David Evans, Mark Oliveiro, Diana Blom, Ian Whitney, Robert McIntyre, Sean Quinn, and Anne Cawrse. For more details and ticket links, see the AMC Calendar.

> Memento: A Hidden Curiosity on 22 May 2021 at 6pm at the Melbourne Recital Centre - Amelia Jones & Stefan Cassomenos with music by Connor D'Netto, Jessica Wells, Philip Eames, Diana Blom, Keyna Wilkins, Robert McIntyre, Caerwen Martin, and Anne Cawrse. For more details and ticket links, see the AMC Calendar.

> Kammerklang website www.kammerklang.com


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