BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
“How do you make your music stand out from the crowd?”
It’s a question on the mind of Australian composer Matthew Hindson. And there’s no single answer, with qualities based in passion as much as profession.
Some valuable characteristics, Matthew reckons, include “being creative, taking risks, striving for continual improvement, maintaining a positive and collaborative outlook, and most of all, being yourself and going for it”.
With this ethos, Matthew will mentor the next generation of composers through the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra’s 2022-23 Australian Composers’ School.
Four early career composers from across the country have been selected to take part in the course: Sam Wu (Melbourne), Thomas Misson (Melbourne), Angus Davison (Sydney), and Georgia Scott (Sydney).
Under the guidance of leading Australian composers, participants will write two works for orchestra – and will travel to Tasmania to hear their notes brought to life by TSO players.
“The outstanding thing about the ACS is the very rare opportunity to work with the TSO musicians and entire organisation,” Matthew says of the program.
“The musicians are supportive and understand that they will have a huge difference on that composer’s career and musical direction.”
“It is our hope that this is a springboard to future success,” Matthew says (pictured below).
“It’s not just about the music itself – though that is fundamental. It’s also about how the composers choose to go onto the next stages of their careers.
“I want them to go on to be writing fantastic orchestral music that is programmed by all sorts of orchestras, all over the world.”
“A stepping-stone between education and the music industry”
ACS participant Georgia Scott (featured image) doesn’t hide her excitement in being selected for the program, believing it will bring a huge boost to her future career in the Australian music industry.
“I’m incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to work with and learn from such a fantastic orchestra!” Georgia says.
“I never could have dreamed that I would get this chance, so I’m still pinching myself a little bit!”
Georgia – who also took part in the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s 2018-19 Composing Women Program under a scholarship, after graduating from the Royal College of Music – understands what makes the TSO’s composer program different. As she enters her career in the field, ACS offers a competitive edge that can’t be achieved through academic studies or single commissions alone.
“The fantastic thing about this program is it provides a stepping-stone between education and the music industry,” Georgia says.
“This program is rare as it allows for a dialogue to be built between composer and musician, and provides a long-term practical education in the concert hall rather than the lecture hall.”
Matthew adds that the program will be structured for its participants to learn new skills in the first year, and apply that knowledge on a deeper level in the second.
“As a composer, it doesn’t matter how much you study or imagine beforehand. When your piece is rehearsed and performed, you learn so, so, so much,” he notes.
Shaping the musical voices of Australia
While assessing ACS applications, one of the traits Matthew searched for was the “voice” of the composer – that is, what makes their music a reflection of their unique personality and identity. Perhaps voice must be found, rather than taught. But it can certainly be nurtured and showcased through the right tools.
Matthew defines compositional voice as a “sense of innate musicality”.
“It’s also about being willing to take risks. To be bold. To be engaging. To be uncompromising.
“Then there are technical aspects to it as well. How do you make orchestral music actually sound good, and add up to more than the sum of its parts? It’s harder than it may appear.”
One of the first-year activities he likes to share with ACS participants is called “OK-to-fail”. Through this task, the young composers can feel free to experiment with the orchestra, realising their wildest musical ideas in a supportive environment. Think unusual instrumentation, weird dynamic choices, or even making the TSO “sound like an amp feeding back” (as was the experiment of alumnus-turned-mentor Holly Harrison).
Of course, voice is fluid and means different things to different artists. Georgia says she’s still shaping her own.
“My compositional voice is always shifting and changing as I learn,” Georgia says.
“I love playing with rhythm and metre, and exploring the unique power that comes with writing for orchestra.”
Contributing to the future of Australian music
While the program is designed to support composers, another outcome is the growth of our cultural landscape. The creation of new orchestral works provides a valuable contribution to and reflection of contemporary Australian culture. What does this mean to the composers involved?
“For all orchestras across the world, they have a plethora of amazing music already written,” Matthew observes.
“But as I am fond of saying: No matter how amazing Brahms symphonies are, Brahms could not imagine what life as an Australian living in 2021 could possibly be like.
“We have the opportunity to write music that reflects us, as people living today.
“For orchestras, if they want to continue a tradition of great music for their artform, investing in the future through programs like the ACS is really important.
Georgia shares this sentiment, saying her goal is to connect with listeners, celebrate diversity, and “change the demographic of who comes to listen to classical orchestral music”.
“I think now is a unique and exciting time to be a composer in Australia,” she says.
“More and more diverse voices are being given a platform to have their music performed, and this is really diversifying the Australian compositional landscape.
“It’s programs like these that are giving the next generation the opportunity to have their music heard, and I’m incredibly grateful to be involved!”
Keep up to date with the 2022-23 Australian Composers’ School, as well as the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra’s other education and artist development programs, online.
Images supplied. Jonathan captured by Alastair Bett.