Each year since 2003, the Cybec Foundation has supported a program whereby four young composers are selected to write 10 minute pieces for a particular orchestral combination that is performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO). Each composer has a mentor, an established Australian composer, who works with them during the composition process. One of these young composers will be chosen to be the MSO’s Young Composer in Residence for 2019 and commissioned to write more pieces. The young composers attend the concert and in preparation they have been present during rehearsal to gain experience into working with instrumentalists and to have the opportunity to see how their compositions might be ‘tweaked’ to gain desired effects.
The first piece, Rituals of Heartland, was by Catherine Likhuta, who was wearing a beautifully embroidered shirt from her mother-country, the Ukraine. Her composition is program music – it has a story, influenced by Catherine’s 4 year-old daughter: a fairy-tale about a brave young girl from Medieval Ukraine and her puppy, lost in an enchanted forest – the puppy had to be rescued from a witch, which provided opportunity for use of the considerable battery of percussion available to these composers. Catherine had made use of Ukrainian folk dances, which are described as having ‘angular’ rhythms. The music was easy to listen to and at times playful.
Catherine and her daughter
We then heard the work of Adelaide-based Daniel Thorpe, From Above, which took us from a clearly-outlined fairy-story to something very intimate; exploration of queer culture from a personal perspective. Of the queer body, Daniel says, ‘we have to re-learn our intuition, carve space for ourselves to understand our bodies on their own terms’. Daniel speaks of the ‘wordlessness’ of touches, and some of the music was so soft it seemed to be at the extremity of human hearing – a tiny shimmer from a harp, or magical soft bowing of strings.
May Lyon’s piece, Ignition, is a dedication to a close friend who passed away in May 2017. The music reflected his ‘mercurial’ personality and his love of driving – he is described as having an ‘enigmatic’ character. The music was very exciting and engaging, making great use of the contra bassoon and percussion. It reminded me very much of Bernstein’s West Side Story, particularly ‘the Jets are in gear’.
Mark Holdworth’s L’appel du vide, (the call of the void), uses the phenomenon of suicide ideation as a framework for examining the human proclivity to self-destruct. This is inspired by consideration of ‘the declining global socio-political climate, and the pervasive depiction of violence and depravity in the media’. The piece depicts the seduction of good by evil. Influenced very much by this compelling framework, I did find it the most interesting piece of the evening. There was plenty of percussion and rough bowing (it seemed to me like scraping) of strings, use of instruments such as piccolo and cor anglais was subtle.
We will have to wait until the Metropolis concert in April to find out which of these four talented composers becomes the MSO Young Composer in Residence for 2019.