A hot house of women composers sets up at The Con

8 March 2016

Historically classical music composers have been mostly men and still today women only make up 26 per cent of composers registered with the Australian Music Centre. The Sydney Conservatorium of Music will launch the first national women composers development program this month to address the gender imbalance in music composition in Australia.

Four promising women composers Elizabeth Younan, Clare Johnston, Ella Macens and Natalie Nicolas are part of the first national development program set up by The Con. Photo: Mandy Campbell.

Four emerging composers, Natalie Nicolas, Elizabeth Younan, Clare Johnston and Ella Macens, have been chosen to take part in a two-year development program at the University of Sydney’s music faculty. The inaugural program will see them mentored by renowned women composers and write for leading Australian ensembles and musicians.

Professor Matthew Hindson AM, a well noted Australian composer and the Con’s Head of School and Associate Dean of Learning and Teaching (Acting), said: “In recent years we have been pleased to see an increasing number of female students enrolling in composition. They now make up around 44 per cent of our current composition undergraduates. However our interests are to see these more women advance to compose at the top of their music profession.

“By creating a ‘hot house’ for emerging composers, they will cultivate their technical skills in working with leading artists and music ensembles. It also creates a networking opportunity for these women to be seen and heard by the leading arts organisations in this country,” he added.

As part of the specially tailored program, the women will be nurtured by successful composers including Professor Anne Boyd AM and Dr Maria Grenfell. They will write new works for four different performing arts organisations and artists, namely, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Goldner String Quartet, and Claire Edwardes, a percussion soloist, chamber musician and artistic director of Ensemble Offspring and Con alumna. At the end of the two years, each ensemble will also pick one composer to commission a new work for a public performance.

“The capacity to become a prominent composer typically happens through workshops, performance of new works, and working with highly skilled mentors. The Con is well placed to set up these opportunities with access to one of the biggest Composition departments in the country and many of Australia’s finest composers on staff,” said Professor Hindson.

The four composers in the new program were picked from a pool of applicants received across Australia. To be considered, they must have a music degree and are pursuing postgraduate music studies. The successful participants were chosen for their academic and professional achievements so far.

Clare Johnston, a graduate of the University of Melbourne, joins University of Sydney graduates Natalie Nicolas, Elizabeth Younan and Ella Macens in the inaugural program. The women are all recognised for their top academic achievements and music awards, and have already had music performed publicly by ensembles and artists in Australia and overseas.

Natalie Nicolas says that the chance to work and write for leading ensembles is just too good an opportunity. “Working with professional musicians is one of the most valuable experiences for a composer. When I worked with the Australian String Quartet three years ago, I learnt more in one week than I ever imagined. I hope to improve insurmountably as a writer and come out with some solid industry relationships with like-minded people,” she said.