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Be part of Australian music history

Jolene Laverty

When you think of ‘Australian’ rock or pop music, loads of iconic bands should come to mind, however, when one thinks of Australian classical music, there’s a very good chance that few artists pop up.

Is it really the case that Australian composers just can’t write as well as Midnight Oil? Or that no Australian classical tune will never be as good as a Kylie Minogue song? Or is it more likely that music lovers just don’t know what’s out there on the Australian classical music landscape?

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s Australian Series at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is going to change that, in what will be a trailblazing moment in Australian music history.

To say that it is a bold step for an orchestra to create an ongoing series made up entirely of Australian composition is not an understatement.  The music business is a risky one; for classical, even more so. Keeping the attention and interest of a discerning audience is tough, and the view has been that Australian classical music alone just wasn’t enough of a drawcard, that without the likes of Mozart or Tchaikovsky on the program, audiences just weren’t interested.

Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s (CSO) Australian Series creator and curator Dr Matthew Hindson AM, himself an acclaimed composer, explains that until relatively recently, Australian classical music was seen as, well, bland.

“A lot of Australian composers lacked the confidence of their international counterparts, and were still looking towards Europe for direction as to what was ‘supposed’ to be happening for new music to be ‘acceptable’,” explains Hindson. “By acceptable, I don’t mean to audiences, by the way – the audiences were not deemed to be the primary focus to any composer worth his or her (mainly his) salt.  So, they were going to Europe to hear and experience the newest trends, and then trying them out in Australia.”

Things have now moved on and are vastly different, which is exciting for musicians and music lovers.

“Now there is literally something to suit everyone. If you don’t like the music of this composer, then try the music of another composer. There is so much from which to choose. The Australian Series is a statement that our culture is unique, important, and worth experiencing.”

The CSO’s Australian Series presents three concerts of bold, original, emotional and thought provoking music, which will be paired with a special exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  The compositions range from the early 1900s to commissioned works written especially for this series, all of which will be played by some of Australia’s finest performing musicians.  Following the one-hour concert, the audience is invited to merge the aural experience of the Australian Series with the visual in a private after-hours viewing of the featured NPG exhibition.

The first Australian Series concert, Companion Pieces, compliments the hugely successful NPG exhibition The Popular Pet Show; and like dog and man, these fundamentally different pieces work together in intriguing ways.  The concert will be performed by quintet Arcadia Winds (pictured), one of the rising stars in the Australian music scene, who will demonstrate their expertise and sheer brilliance at interpreting some very challenging repertoire.

New works have been created especially for the CSO Australian Series, meaning those in the audience will be the first to hear it performed. The composers themselves have considered the themes of the National Portrait Gallery exhibition when creating their music. Among the pieces to be performed is a newly commissioned work from Dr Natalie Williams, a brilliant, award-winning composer with international accolades who is currently based in Canberra.  To create her piece ‘Animalia,’ Williams spent many hours with the imagery of The Popular Pet Show.

“The suite is intended as a collection of works that highlights the relationship between pets and their owners, each movement comments on 1-2 pieces within the exhibition,” explains Williams. “For example, there’s a portrait of five sheep – and there are also five players in the quintet I wrote Animalia for. So I’ve given each player a solo which hopefully captures the idea of the sheep, so the players should have a lot of fun with that.”

The multimedia presentation of the CSO’s Australian Series lends itself particularly well suited to art lovers who want their hit of culture to be dynamic and new. The concerts themselves only go for an hour, and the program rips through several different pieces of varying styles and textures. Then, at about the time that some people get fidgety, it’s time to go for a walk through the National Portrait Gallery to view the linked exhibition.

Tickets are just $45, which includes entry to both the concert and the exhibition. You can get your tickets online, or at the door on the night.

the essentials

What: CSO’s Australian Series, Companion Pieces
When: 6.30pm, Thursday 2 March, 2017
Where: Gordon Darling Hall, National Portrait Gallery
Tickets: $45. Find them here

HerCanberra is a proud sponsor of The Canberra Symphony Orchestra

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Jolene Laverty

Jolene Laverty was born and raised in Darwin, but has lived in Canberra for most of her adult life. She spent close to twenty years in radio, which took her to the copper outback of Port Augusta to the sparkling aquamarine waves of the Whitsundays. Today she is a member of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra*, ANU student, wife of a high-school teacher/rock-musician, and mother to three children who were each born in a different decade. *not allowed on stage. More about the Author