Composing Women is a two-year professional development program at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, aimed at fostering and empowering women composers. With the 2018 schedule structured around three major composition projects, the four composers have had a big year of writing, workshopping and showings of works in development. The year kicked off with a series of dynamic business skills workshops facilitated by industry leaders including APRA AMCOS, Musica Viva and the Australian Music Centre, before the group got to work on writing three compositions each, to be developed throughout the year.
The four composers’ first task was to write a piece of music for high-profile American flutist Claire Chase to perform, as part of her visit to Sydney in May this year.
‘It was a high energy start to the program, where we got to hear four fiercely distinctive compositional voices performed by a virtuoso artist, who is also one of the most exciting cultural leaders of our time.
“The works explored a whole range of ideas and techniques from looking at the beauty of non-normative speech patterns in Georgia Scott’s work, to Peggy Polias’ excavation of the personal archive of her own pop songs, to Josie Macken’s oceanic exploration of flute multiphonics in dialogue with electronics and Bree van Reyk’s theatrical musical portrait of Claire Chase,” Professor Liza Lim explained.
Josephine Macken said: "My experience of writing for Claire was shaped by the electricity of her character. There’s a great challenge in writing for such a strong musical voice, however Claire’s engagement with the collaborative process counters this and I was grateful for Claire’s willingness to engage generously and authentically with each of us as individuals.”
“Claire is such a dynamic and exciting musician who makes composers feel like they can write anything, no matter how out there, without fear of judgement,” Georgia Scott added.
The second challenge for the group was no mean feat: to develop both the libretto and music for a chamber opera. The composers were teamed up with Masters student directors from NIDA and they had a week of intensive rehearsals with the singers from Sydney Chamber Opera, conductor Huw Belling and pianist/artistic director Jack Symonds, before presenting a showing of works-in-progress at Carriageworks.
Bree van Reyk said: ‘Writing the first iteration of The Invisible Bird for our initial development in August of this year was the most challenging artistic experience I’ve encountered in my career to date.”
She continued, “I really feel that the breadth and scope of my work has increased tremendously because of this. I never thought that I would write an opera. The grand scale often associated with the genre is easily seen to be against the grain of my DIY-suburban-rock-drummer/small-to-medium-arts-organisation aesthetic and ideals. But having now launched into this project I’m very excited to try to forge a path for my work in the intersection between the highly-refined opera traditions and more contemporary performance practices.”
I really feel that the breadth and scope of my work has increased tremendously because of this. I never thought that I would write an opera.
An excerpt from Bree’s opera ‘The Invisible Bird’ will be broadcast on ABC Classic on Vanessa Hughes’ Drive program as part of Ausmusic Month this November. A full production of a quadruple bill of the finished operas with Sydney Chamber Opera is in the works for early 2020.
The final outcome for this year was a week-long creative development period with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Fellows and concert at the Conservatorium.
“At the beginning of October, we had a fantastic week of workshopping four new pieces with members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Fellows”, Georgia explained.
“Each composer had written around 10 minutes of music and was able to explore this collaboratively with the SSO Fellows and conductor Roger Benedict over the week of rehearsals,” she continued.
Peggy Polias added: “The workshops were a wonderful dialogue between composers and a talented and skilled group of performers, all of us in training for professional careers.”
“I must thank Roger in particular for his capable leadership as conductor,” she continued.
“Roger brings an instinct for the music on the page, as well as understanding the different specialisations of both the composers and ensemble musicians present. By Friday afternoon I had a score full of annotations for improvements and minor changes to the work, as well as a video recording of the fellows looking snazzy and sounding great in their rendition of my work Street Sketches.”
The workshops were a wonderful dialogue between composers and a talented and skilled group of performers, all of us in training for professional careers.
As a result of this development period, the Sydney Symphony Fellows will be performing Peggy's piece Street Sketches as part of the Blue Mountains Concert Society 2019 season and Wyvern Music Forestville 2019 concert season.
The year has also seen an exciting outcome for Georgia, who was invited to orchestrate the piece to be performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as part of Music Australia’s ‘Music: Count Us In’ project.
She explains: “This fantastic initiative brings together over half a million students from across the country to learn the same song and perform it together at the same time on 1 November. This program not only unites children from all over Australia but also provides a framework to bring music education into schools which is incredibly important.”
“This project was a huge learning experience for me as I had written a couple of orchestral works but had never orchestrated a pop-song before. I learned so much about writing for different instruments and how to use an orchestra to support a vocal line. It was especially interesting for me to explore different ways of colouring and changing a song using the orchestra.”
Reflecting on the year overall Peggy said: “It has been wonderful working in a solid cohort to bring new works to life. The ongoing dialogues from our workshop settings have been inspiring and heartening, facilitated by the wonderful mentorship of Professor Liza Lim and in collaborations with flutist Claire Chase, Sydney Chamber Opera, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Fellows, as well as numerous visiting industry advisors. Onwards in 2019!”
All four composers will continue writing, learning and presenting new work as part of the Composing Women program in 2019.