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News Archive 2006

Premiere performances

little tree for children's choir and orchestra to a text by e e cummings; Sydney Children's Choir and Gondwana Voices, Sydney Symphony/Williams, 17 December 2004, Sydney Opera House.

Stick Dance 2 (revised version) for viola, clarinet and piano; Dean-Emmerson-Dean 25 July 2005, Auckland Town Hall, NZ.

Winter Ground for vibraphone, Australian Premiere; Claire Edwardes 13 August 2005, Sydney Conservatorium.

Falling Man/Dancing Man for organ and orchestra; Melbourne Symphony/Caetani, Calvin Bowman (organ), 18 November 2005, Melbourne Town Hall.

News on other works

Song of Songs was a finalist in the 2005 AMC-APRA Awards for Best Composition of the Year.

Journey to Horseshoe Bend, in its compact disc release, continues to receive a great critical reaction. Read the reviews.

Stick Dance 2 has been performed extensively in New Zealand by Dean-Emmerson-Dean in their tour for Chamber Music NZ. The work is a recent revision of an older version. Read the reviews.

Tonic Continent has also had recent performances in New Zealand by the New Zealand Trio, resident at the University of Auckland. Read a review.

Chamber Music Volume 2 will soon be released on a Tall Poppies CD. It will include From Fire Country, Barcarole, Suspended Preludes, Sleepers Wake - Karalananga, Respiro/Simple Ground, Stick Dance 3, Barcarole and 12 Variations played by musicians from Brisbane, Melbourne and London.

Two recent interviews

ENCORE ISSUE NO. 3 2005

HEADLINE: COMPOSER IN THE ASCENDANT
One of Australia's leading composers, Andrew Schultz's latest work, falling man/dancing man, receives its world premiere under Oleg Caetani's direction at the City of Melbourne Town Hall Proms on 18 November. Here Schultz discusses his musical philosophy and his new piece with Phillip Sametz.

Does your experience in Europe, the United States and Canada suggest that Australia is regarded as an important centre for new music?

It's risky to generalise but my experience suggests that Australia is not consistently well regarded as a centre for new music in Europe and especially the United Kingdom; however, it is somewhat better regarded in the US and Canada. This is partly through ignorance in Europe as well as some ingrained prejudices about what composers and ensembles "should" be doing. However there is a high level of curiosity and a kind of anticipation of the exotic - that new music here may be more than a clone of European and American models.

Do you believe, as has often been said by historians, that the sustained creative atmosphere that leads to what is called "civilisation" is only possible in a period of confidence?

Individuals can be confident in the face of terrible persecution, injustice and hardship; others can be bleak and miserable in spite of incredible material wealth and a life of relative ease. Culture is made by creative individuals trying to define themselves, knowingly or unknowingly, in terms of their place and time. In the process they define their place and time and create a sense of what matters or of what, for some, constitutes civilisation.

I am personally very interested in the biological forces that drive all aspects of human behaviour; in that context, engagement with art may just be another means of asserting one's sophistication and superiority from the mass by giving some a sense of self-importance as members of a club of the like-minded. For that reason, in musical terms, integrity of expression and inventiveness are far more important to me than modishness and fashion. As Groucho Marx put it: "I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me as a member".

What were the central points of inspiration for falling man/dancing man?

They were two photos that reflect in different ways on the human experience of war. The first was the suppressed image from September 11, 2001 of a man falling to his death from the World Trade Centre - an act of desperate defiance perhaps chosen in preference a passive death from fire. The other photo is the famous Australian photo of a dancing man celebrating at the end of World War Two; his hat is thrown in the air as he dances for sheer joy. As I looked into it more I realised that these two images are not unique - dancing and falling bodies seem to be almost universal icons from rock art to now. Musical matters took over pretty quickly in the piece, though, and I realised that the physical position of the elevated organ pipes and the dancing feet of the organist as he played the organ's pedals were apt for the title too.

Reprinted courtesy of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra


The following interview was first published in the concert program for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra of 18 November 2005 and is used with permission.

With Falling Man/Dancing Man Andrew Schultz returns to an orchestral work, as he explains in conversation with Gordon Williams.

GW: You've done a lot of choral and dramatic works recently. What was it like coming back to an orchestral work?

AS: Fantastic because you've got so much freedom. Text is great but it's also a constraint. As a composer you're trying to ensure intelligibility - you have to make text audible and supported. When you come to just orchestra, even orchestra with organ, musical ideas can shape the piece entirely.

You're not an organist are you?

No, but Dad was a pastor and spending time in churches as a kid I heard a lot of organs.

Is there a Lutheran tone to this piece?

Not particularly. It's actually somewhat jazzy. The last movement has a section that's hymn-like, so possibly, but nothing by way of quotation. There are some passing Bach references but I wouldn't have thought of it primarily as being Lutheran.

In the past five years you've had the opportunity to re-engage with Bach. And you completed the Art of Fugue for Luciano Berio. How did that come about?

Berio approached me about participating in a project to recompose The Art of Fugue, which was part of the Bach 250th anniversary celebrations in Europe, and I ended up recomposing No.9 (the mid-point of the set), to create a piece called Ash Fire. There were various other composers involved. Louis Andriessen did the first piece of the set. Berio himself completed the final Contrapunctus which Bach had left incomplete. The project was a creative attempt, I suppose, to re-engage with counterpoint. Berio said to me that he thought that counterpoint was a dying or lost art and was keen to get composers to think about it again and for that reason we included some students in the project as well.

The Bach references in Falling Man/Dancing Man, do they come about through a personal association of the organ with Bach's repertoire?

No, more of a serendipitous musical thing. There is kind of a slow tune at the opening of the first movement, which is accompanied by quite a fast, decorated figure and when that figure returns at one point it morphs into a little bit of Bach. It will just flash past - but it's just one of those accidents, a transient similarity. It may be that the material is still somewhat influenced by some of my previous work which uses long chorale-like phrase shapes. These things are all intertwined in a way. You pick up from what you last did when you start a piece and carry forward an idea. I think there's also something to be said about starting completely from scratch with a beautiful blank page.

Is there a contradiction in tone colour between organ and orchestra?

I use the organ in two ways in terms of tone colour. As a great resonator, where it just picks up on sounds in the orchestra and amplifies, resonates or sustains them as in an echo; the other is as a contrast, a foil, where it operates independently, and quite soloistically.

The tone colour aspect that I found quite interesting coming out of working with the Bach material earlier and particularly working with the Aboriginal voices in Black River and Journey to Horseshoe Bend and, then, applying some of those techniques to Western style singing in Song of Songs is an interest in a kind of nasal, reedy one. There are very prominent parts for oboe, cor anglais, bassoon, muted trumpets and horns, particularly in Falling Man/Dancing Man. It's quite a wiry sort of sonority but also I suppose if you had to colour it, you'd say it's dark brown and mixed reds. It's a palette that's quite self-contained, not huge.

Now in this piece I've used pretty much the full orchestra, although the clarinets are not used except off-stage in the second movement and then onstage in the third. I suppose that might well have been my 'in' to the piece, because I started with this idea. There's a personal iconography for me in this as I'm a clarinettist. The clarinets in the second movement play only at the end as a kind of siren-like sound from a distance; and then they're back on stage in the third movement in a more normal role. This siren-like sound is one I've played with in a number of pieces - Going Into Shadows, The Devil's Music and Dead Songs to mention three. It's highly evocative and registers an element of fear.

Tell me about the way you start work.

Often I start with two things - one is the conceptual or artistic idea, the other is the musical idea. And the conceptual idea with Falling Man/Dancing Man was to do with the photos that I've referred to in the program note - the falling man and the dancing man - and then digging into them and what they represent. I kept being drawn back to the individual; the way an individual suffers being no different from a million people. But the musical references I sense as stronger in this piece. I was initially thinking very hard about the organ and wondering what to do with organ and orchestra, and realising that the organ has this raucous, almost accordion-like, or wild wind instrument sound as well as the traditional pure rich sound and wondering about that side of it.

I sometimes dream music. And I certainly had a dream early on in the composing of this piece where I heard clarinets playing ridiculously shrill music, accompanied by a very funky organ part, and that became a central musical image for me. The other one was a very slow crossing of lines, one going up, the other coming down. Neither of those musical images ended up exactly in the piece, which is funny, because it's almost like they were something which was a starting point then for other things musically to develop.

An instrument can take on a kind of symbolic role for me, it can represent people, and family members even. It's not actually a play as it were, or a script, but there's a kind of intertwining of references.

'It's not actually a play', and yet you have worked in dramatic forms, and explored that range between musical allusion and drama.

The symbolism of things becomes very important. I think a piece needs to work at a number of levels. It should just work directly and straightforwardly as a piece of music for people to listen to, without knowing anything. It has to able to function more or less without explanation. But then there can be lots of other levels too if you have the time or interest to find about them. Which are things that engage you a lot as a composer, and can lead you to make decisions that are not entirely superficial or just entirely about the sound of the work, but which add a lot of character because they shape ideas further. Also for me what was important in this piece was the way it is actually quite compressed. It's quite direct music, and I think not particularly difficult in its language, but it's three movements in 20 minutes. The question for me was, can I make a three-movement structure work in that space of time, with all the massive apparatus of the orchestra and organ to propel? It would be easy to write a big, fat slow piece. Yet this moves pretty fast. There was a kind of discipline in that for me. I had to use ideas pretty frugally and that means they have to have a strong element of distinctiveness.

Can I just ask about your contact with, one of the 20th century's most famous composers, Luciano Berio?

My reason for writing a PhD thesis on Berio was because, as a composer, I was very interested in his music and wanted to understand how it worked. When I was a student with George Crumb in Philadelphia, he commented in passing one day, 'Oh that Luciano Berio he always seems to choose the right note.' And I thought about this and became interested in just what he did to choose the 'right note'. When I mentioned this comment to Berio some years later, he was clearly pleased but said, 'Oh those Americans they always look for an answer'. The implication was that there are all these centuries of tradition behind his decisions as a composer. This note is not just one note; it is the product of thousands before it. It was interesting to get to know his language well enough to the point where I did understand why things were happening, although I'm sure I couldn't imitate them and certainly didn't want to. But I saw in some cases lost opportunities with his work. I felt there were things he was doing in the mid-60s, particularly around the time of Sinfonia which really were opening a new path which I think he didn't follow.

He was very much into re-composition, and you yourself say that there are threads from one piece to the next. Is there an element of re-composing, a door that opens up in one piece and goes to the next?

Yes, very much although that has changed for me over the past five years since finishing the three act opera, Going Into Shadows. Because it was such a large work and the work consumed my time for so long, everything I wrote during a ten year period related in some way to this opera. Recomposition was a way of plotting a larger piece and generating a range of 'rich' material. But my instincts and experience now tell me that that is not the right way to attempt such large projects in future. I think it is far preferable to have a clean and unbroken line through a piece but the realities of composing and realising an opera are immense and can make that very difficult. Bach's B Minor mass is a case in point as it reuses a huge amount of material taken from other works - it's a fair question whether it's really one work or several. I love the way in which meaning starts to accrue from one work to another for Bach - it's a very subtle thing. The thing with Berio is that he actively rewrote pieces in new forms all the time by taking over the whole or segments of an existing work and using it to create a new one. I think that guarantees a kind of continuity and a high level of invention, but for me it can also cripple the imagination, and starve a new piece of oxygen. And so a typical way for me to work - and indeed the way I've worked with this piece - is to start with some fragment or unfinished idea from a preceding piece which I think could generate new material. And that's also happened at the end of this piece. I edited from the work a small section which I liked a lot but realised 'didn't belong' and that's going to be the start of the next piece, which I'm writing for The Queensland Orchestra, called Lines Drawn from Silence.

Symphony Australia 2005

 

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