Do you think that your compositional background influences the way you approach your roles as Artistic Director at Musica Viva and the Huntington Estate Music Festival?
I definitely think of every concert as a composition that needs to take the audience on a journey, but that approach is available to everyone - not just composers. Programs for Viva’s International Concert Season necessarily require a good deal of input from the performers, and my job for these programs is more to ensure consistency of content than to “design” programs from the foundation up. However when I devise programs for the Musica Viva Festival, or the Huntington Festival, I really get a chance to create cohesive concert experiences, and my compositional training is definitely useful.
Musica Viva recently launched the Hildegard Project - what is special about this initiative, and why is it so necessary in our current artistic climate?
In 2016, male composers represented by the Australian Music Centre outnumbered female composers by three to one. There is no reasonable explanation for this disparity except an arbitrary gender stereotyping of the profession. The Hildegard Project aims to attack the stereotype by enhancing commissioning and performance opportunities for female composers.
You are one of Australia's most celebrated composers, with an incredible output. What keeps you inspired?
I am inspired by the music of others, and by the way that audiences derive sustenance from music they haven’t heard before. The whole process of making music verges on the mystical, and if a composer can’t be inspired by that then they should find another job!
How has the composition scene changed in Australia during your career, and how can young composers harness the system to make it work for them?
When I started out 40 years ago the support from the Federal Government for all of the arts, including composition, was many times greater than it is today, and there was a horde of opportunities that simply don’t exist any more. Society in general is now infinitely more focused on commercial activity, at the expense of interest in “fine” art, and young composers must carefully consider the clear division between creating original music and having a sustainable career. It seems that the chance of uniting the two is increasingly unlikely.
What are your thoughts on composition competitions and their necessity in promoting developing composers?
I’ve never done well at composition competitions, so they haven’t been much use to me. But if the competition is a good one, with a well-respected jury and some concrete professional performance opportunities at the other end, then this can only be good for your career.
What advice do you wish you'd received about creating a career out of composition when you were starting out?
Occasionally I regret not having spent more time studying overseas and establishing stronger links with musical environments in different parts of the world. But if I’d done that then I would have missed many of the most formative periods of my life, and would not be the composer I now am. My advice to others is to write music that you are passionate about, and work out how to survive afterwards.
Photo by Belinda Webster © 1994