The 'Set' Blog

Creative Coordinator Leigh Harrold keeps us up-to-date with everything inside The ANAM Set with monthly blogs and insights in to what's going on behind-the-scenes.

December update: The end is just the beginning

As anyone who composes for a living will tell you, getting a new piece performed for the first time may be difficult, but getting that same piece performed a second and third time is by far the bigger challenge. As the world fills up with new pieces of music – often commissioned for very specific events – they jostle for space amidst the existing ‘classics’, even though the number of concerts that can be held in any given year can rarely be increased to compensate.

On a related note, now that all of The ANAM Set works have been written, and well over two-thirds of them have been performed, I’ve been asked a few times whether there remains anything to continue to write about on this blog. I realised that if I replied ‘no’, I would be feeding into this idea that a commissioning project ends once the piece(s) have been written and premiered. But, these pieces - all of them - deserve more. As has already been mentioned here, the first performance of each piece is only the first step in their journey and, in some ways, it’s also the most predictable one.

Now that over 50 of the works have been performed in front of a live (and virtual) audience as part of our ANAM musicians’ recitals we can now, in a manner of speaking, stick 67 GPS trackers on our ANAM Set pieces, and see how their lives evolve from here. We already know that Brett Dean’s Byrdsong Studies has had another performance in London, and that violist Dasha Auer, who finished training at ANAM earlier this year, is getting ready to premiere Luke Altmann’s work for her in Finland next year… so The ANAM Set is already going international!

Additionally, in what must be some sort of (un)official record for breath-taking efficiency and ambition, 44 of the Set works were recently recorded over three days at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Our huge thanks to the MRC crew for creating such a welcoming and warm environment in order for our ANAM musicians to present their professional best. I had more than one moment of overwhelming pride as I watched wonderful performances of wonderful pieces, one after the other, and I arrived home at the end of it all feeling well and truly over-indulged. These recordings will be yet another vector for these pieces to make their way through the world.

Emily Su recording her ANAM Set piece at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Image: Laura Manariti

So, at least until our ANAM Set Festival in May 2022 (when all the works will be re-united once more), this blog will continue. The difficult thing will be to choose what not to write about, as we observe these works making their way into the established classical canon.

One last thing remains to be said – there is no point in new works being performed at all if there is not an enthusiastic audience to receive them. So, our huge thanks to everyone who has tuned in to hear an ANAM Set work, who has supported our musicians as they learn ‘their’ work, or who have even just followed this project with keen interest. Your presence on this journey has been invaluable, and I hope you have found it as fascinating as we all have. To be present at the ‘grass roots’ moment of creation is always special. Imagine a concert, 20 years from now, where an oboist performs Ross Edwards’ Windsong for Sacred Earth, and you can turn to the person sitting next to you and say, “I remember in 2021 when…”

To be continued.

BONUS BLOG: Full Set!

Please excuse this rather breathless extra blog coming hot-on-the-heels of the last one, but The ANAM Set has just passed a rather monumental milestone.

(Also, there are way too many extra things happening, and if I wait another fortnight the next blog risks being about 300 pages long).

A week ago, and within a day-or-so of each other, the final two scores for The ANAM Set slid into our inboxes, right on cue. Samantha Wolf’s Adrift for bassist Hamish Gullick, and Cathy Milliken’s BRAID for hornist Tim Allen-Ankins have topped-up my ForScore set-list to full. The Age and Limelight Magazine were on board to help shout the news, and if I wasn’t currently avoiding alcohol for medical reasons, I would definitely have popped a bottle of bubbles (instead, I poured some flavoured mineral water and applied some artistic imagination, as per my training).


Behind the Scenes of Hamish Gullick's photoshoot with The Age

Although we expected no less from these hand-picked composers, it is actually a remarkable result to contemplate. Every. Composer. Came. Through! All 67 ANAM musicians now have an original work that has been dedicated to them, written by 67 unique local composers. That’s well over 400 minute’s worth of brand new music that didn’t exist eight months ago – 67 individual and important statements that are being taken to heart with love and care by our ANAM musicians and which are, finally, being shared with (at least a tiny portion of) the world.

Recital season has begun, you see. Each ANAM musician’s recital is always the perfect way to celebrate their hard work and artistic growth throughout the year. This year, we’re not celebrating any less, but we are celebrating a bit more quietly thanks to the just-out-of-hibernation vibe created by the always chaotic Coronavirus. Performances are large, but audiences are small, and the ANAM Set pieces are making an appearance in most recitals. Because of the constantly shifting sands of 2021, these performances are no longer strictly premieres but rather a chance to workshop the pieces – to take them for a spin in front of a panel, a couple of invited guests, and in some cases, the composer themselves.

Thanks to the technological upskilling of the last two years, we know the composer doesn’t have to be in the same room (or even the same country) to enjoy the experience. On Wednesday, David Chisholm – all the way over in Auckland – tuned in to hear bassoonist Jack Cremer perform Temporal Sweetness Profile and immediately sent a wonderful message of congratulations, thanking Jack for his ‘excellent work under difficult conditions… [it] was a pleasure to share this creative journey with you’. It was a timely reminder of the importance of connectedness during times of physical isolation.

If you’ve clicked on those links above, you’ll know that the official premieres of all the works will take place in the much anticipated ANAM Set Festival, happening between May 13-15 next year. Now that The Set dance-card is full, we’re in overdrive thinking about the myriad ways we can curate these 67 jewels so they can be shown-off in their most brilliant light. The musings on all of this will give us plenty to think (and write) about in the coming months. The year may be ending, but the journey of these pieces is only just beginning…

November update: Finally...

November has brought with it the welcome sounds of the ANAM musicians practising and rehearsing around the grounds of the Abbotsford Convent. The rolling lockdowns have kept us all on our toes, and I think were up to about the fourth iteration of the recital schedule for our musicians. The new-found appreciation we all have for even simple things like enjoying a coffee at the on-site bakery are palpable. Like most of the world, I think itll be some time before we take such seemingly small pleasures for granted.

These monthly blog updates seem to be full of firsts, and this one is no exception – in the last week weve finally seen the first rehearsals of those ANAM Set pieces that require more than one performer. Last Friday, I got to start participating too, as Oliver Crofts and I met for the first rehearsal of Elena Kats-CherninGrand Rag for clarinet and piano. After practising the piano part on my own at home for the last month, this was a very special moment, reigniting the part of myself that reacts and responds to the musical gestures of my fellow performers, and reminding me why I love chamber music so much. A couple of days later I had a similar experience with Oliver Russell, as we started piecing together Jack Symonds’ Eau Vivante for cello and piano. While wandering around campus, Ive heard from behind closed doors some tantalising electronic soundscapes, as ANAM musicians collaborate with sound technicians to realise those works that require some computerised co-ordination – yes, chamber music with MacBook is a thing!

In a couple of weeks, the musicians will start to present their end-of-year recitals, and the ANAM Set works will finally… finally receive their premieres... Of course, the world being what it currently is, the wider public will have to wait to hear these works a little bit longer still. But not too long. At the end of this month, over 40 of our musicians will enter the ABC studios to produce a recording of their Set work. As the project that keeps on giving, this new development to The Set adds several dimensions – it allows our musicians to experience the rigour and discipline of a professional studio environment, it provides some lasting audio documentation of the works, and it also allows our valued audience members and listeners a chance to hear the works in the not-too-distant future (and possibly from the comfort of your lounge rooms!) Be sure to keep an eye on the ANAM site for future broadcast details of these pieces.

We should also bear in mind that a premiere’ is just that: the first performance of a work. The ANAM Set doesnt end here... actually, this is just the first small step in the life-journey of these 67 pieces. Having heard about 20 or so of the works now, I am convinced that many of them will embed themselves into the repertoire, and become pieces that many performers both here and internationally will want to take up. I imagine they will continue to be learnt and championed long after the events of 2021 are a distant memory. They may, in fact, outlive all of us. And I find that thought rather wonderful. 

October update: Music to our ears

The 9th of September, approximately 2,659 days (or thereabouts) into Melbourne’s 27th lockdown (or thereabouts), was a very special day. From the tiny Covid-shelter that is my Brunswick study, I heard the first notes of a piece from The ANAM Set. ANAM flautist, Lily Bryant, pressed ‘play’ and the haunting opening exhalations of Matt Laing’s Destructive Interference came wafting through my laptop’s speakers. It was quite an emotional moment, and I had to momentarily turn off my video stream to sit with my feelings in private. Five more premieres followed as part of the online woodwind class I was viewing. The ANAM Set had officially levelled up.

The composers have all done their hard work. 65 of the 67 works have been submitted as I type this, and by the time you read this we may very well have a full ‘Set’: 470 minutes’ worth of brand-new music across 14 orchestral instruments (plus carving knife). It’s actually astonishing, and all the more so when one considers the many roadblocks thrown at artists this year, and the twists and turns that we’ve taken to get to this point.

If you’re one of our Set composers and you’re reading this, you have our undying respect and gratitude. The completed anthology is remarkable, with pieces engaging with themes on everything from the natural world (Felicity Wilcox’s To The Sea), politics (Paul Dean’s Roll Out The Pork Barrell), geometry (Tim Dargaville’s Unfolding to an Infinite Number), through to the mechanics of instruments (Noemi Liba Friedman’s The Eleventh Partial) and even to past composers (Huw Belling’s Shadow Partita 1004).

Now it’s the performers that are working hard, learning the dots on the page, internalising them, and transforming them into meaningful aural statements. For those works that require two musicians, we’re champing at the bit to get back to face-to-face rehearsals, watching the daily vaccination rates increase with giddy anticipation. If the roadmap stays on track, we can hopefully share these works with you all, and with the wider world, very soon.

An old piano teacher of mine once said to me: “The problem with a wonderful piece of music is that you can only hear it for the first time once.” For that reason, I’ll never forget September 9 2021, when I had that unique experience six times. That still leaves 61 for me and, of course, 67 for all of you. How lucky we all are.

September update: Slight Light

I keep coming back to Kate Milligan’s Lux Levis for violin and piano, written for ANAM violinist Josef Hanna. Working from home is the norm now, and when I’m in front of my desk or my piano I often just feel a compulsion to look at Lux Levis (pictured below) and lose myself in it. With its shards of rainbow-flecked notation arching upwards against a black background, it is just so aesthetically beautiful and invigorating. I almost want to frame part of the score and hang it on my wall. It’s a shining ANAM Set success. 

                       

And yet, for all its successes so far, The ANAM Set has not really gone to plan. At all. And that’s because not much has gone to plan for a large part of Australia since June this year. ANAM has become quite expert at pivoting in and out of an online world, but this way of living, while necessary, can never mean ‘business as usual’.

There are now 50 complete ANAM Set pieces, and at least 6 of them should already have received their premieres. As an ANAM Associate Artist, I should already be knee-deep in rehearsals for Jack Symonds’ Eau Vivant, Elena Kats-Chernin’s Grand Rag, and Alex Voltz’s Prayer for a Lost Friend. Instead, it’s like managing a truck stuck under the Montague St bridge: the road to the destination is currently blocked, but the traffic keeps coming. And yet, thank goodness it does, because the grind of lockdown seems to have caused a seismic shift in the thinking of many of these composers.

A lot of the themes that have been unearthed may be discomfiting (Matt Laing’s Destructive Interference) or confronting (Andrew Batterham’s A Black Dog Near Me), but – importantly – they wouldn’t ‘be’ at all without the events of the last two years. The ANAM Set is looking to become an artefact that will provide us with a snapshot of Australian life at a time of great upheaval – documenting a crisis in a way that only an artist’s eye can.

And I think that’s why I keep being drawn back to Milligan’s Lux Levis. There’s a nod to pride and diversity in its rainbow shadings; an acknowledgement of a surrounding darkness; an embracing of chaos in its improvisatory moments; and an acceptance of inevitability in the way the score is meant to inexorably scroll past the performer. It doesn’t always paint a rosy picture, but it reflects so much of our current mindset back at us. These composers see us, and they have our backs. For that, we can all be thankful.

 

August update: An avalanche approaches!

What began as a trickle has now become an avalanche 

Questionable metaphors aside, it now actually takes considerable effort to remember how many completed works we’ve received for The ANAM Set – as the number changes daily! At last count, there are 18 works sitting on my ForScore setlist, but by the time I’ve finished typing this, there may well be more. 

What I find fascinating though is that while I might have difficulty remembering exactly how many works I’ve seen, each work – once glimpsed  is never forgotten. There is no sense of genericness about these submissions, nor a danger of them all blending together as one. As we had hoped from the outset, each work is a unique mix of composer know-how and performer personality. Without having actually heard a note of any of the pieces yet, their character jumps off the page, and the results of careful collaboration are obvious and joyful. 

There is no denying that we are in the midst of difficult and worrying times, and being isolated from each other currently plays a larger role in our lives than I’m sure most of us want. It is quite emotional, then, to see in these works the huge part that human interaction has played in shaping the final products. In fact, the idea of connection  to the self, or to others  is emerging as a major theme in this anthology.  

Matt Laing’s Destructive Interference for flautist Lily Bryant is inspired by “the experience of lockdowns… whether everything went great or terrible before, you’re in lockdown and you’re brought closer to those lives you left behind, even if they’re completely unrelatable”; K. Travers Eira’s [sound is] A Body in Space for percussionist Alison Fane is all about how “a person is constrained to inhabit and enact particular types of body in particular ways… and express responses, including frustration or refusal”. In a lighter vein, Ian Whitney’s An architecture of butter and sugar for flautist Lilly Yang is an extravagant response to the pair’s shared love of desserts and pastries! 

We are dearly hoping that the Melbourne concert scene can come out of hibernation soon. As I mentioned, lockdown cant stifle the creative process, but it can most definitely assist in heightening the anticipation. The ever-fattening file of ANAM Set pieces is seething with a potential energy that you can almost feel  these pieces are aching for their world premieres! 

As soon as the ANAM Recital season begins, the connection between composer and performer will be joined by a third person  you, the listener  and the full communicative loop will be complete. 

PS... As I predicted, while I was typing this, another ANAM Set submission hit our inboxes. It seems as though Jet Kye Chong’s work requires a piece of fruit and a knife amongst its instrument battery. What was I saying about uniqueness and memorability? To say more would spoil the surprise. Perhaps we should hand out face-shields at the door… 

July update: Collaboration finds a way…

Its the middle of July and, suddenly, the submission date for the first wave of ANAM Set scores is almost upon us. At the same time, the onset of another wave of lockdowns - first in Victoria, and now New South Wales - has scuppered some well-laid plans for composers and ANAM musicians to meet in person to help flesh out ideas for the soon-to-be-completed pieces. 

But it certainly hasnt stopped the art of collaboration. ANAM horn player Josiah Kop, paired with composer and internationally-renowned didgeridoo player William Barton were due to meet up in Sydney to workshop ideas. Nevertheless, the resultant meeting over Zoom was wondrous, and Josiah was kind enough to share some of it with us. It was inspiring from the get-go: Imagine yourself in a Grand Canyon, or a Cathedral… conversing through music to connect with other cultures… you are the flowing spirit,” said William, describing the mood of the opening bars of his piece for Josiah. From there, a lively discussion and demonstration evolved, where horn and didgeridoo techniques were combined and merged to create wholly new sounds (and, in the process, posing new challenges of musical notation!). 

The whole situation was reminiscent of most artistic life for Melburnians in 2020. Being the softie I am, I found it incredibly moving back then, and I do now as well - the idea that the collaborative process finds a way, flowing like water around any obstacles that might appear to stand in its path. 

Graeme Leak, currently based overseas, will not get to meet ANAM percussionist Alex Meagher before Alex premieres Graemes piece THIS is IT, but is confident he can finalise those parts of the score that need to be worked out collaboratively on the rehearsal room floor” nonetheless. K Travers Eira and ANAM percussionist Alison Fane view their collaboration as not just a musical one, but one that aims to take risks, challenge binary perceptions of the world, and reach out to members in the community to collaborate and create meaningful change. 

Good musical collaborations dont stop at the printed page - they transcend them, creating ripples that enrich the wider world in ways that are both personal and political. When you come to ANAM to hear the first instalment of The Set pieces in September, we hope youll hear that defiant spirit burning through these pieces, and through the musicians performing them. Theres not long to wait now 

June update: Mushrooms and Meteorology

It was such a thrill when the first ANAM Set piece hit our inboxes a few weeks ago. We had all seen the tantalising pictures of ANAM cellist James Morley working with Liza Lim, two cello bows in his hands but to see the finished work, Cello playing - as Meteorology, on an actual music stave with Liza’s characteristically beautiful musical calligraphy was quite moving. In some ways it was the first tangible glimpse of The ANAM Set legacy. I’m perusing the manuscript as I type this, and it looks like a work of subtle timbral beauty, inspired by both the animacy and the intimacy a cellist develops with their instrument over time.

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ANAM cellist James Morley (SA) with composer Liza Lim. Photo by Pia Johnson

Less than a fortnight later, “an anti-opera for piano, toy piano, extended rock kit, and vocal/guitar playback” dropped into our DMs. Not so subtle, perhaps, but Michael Kieran Harvey’s composition, Death Cap Mushroom for pianist Hannah Pike (and her percussionist partner Alex Bull) is an angrily political work bathed in dark humour, deliberate banality, and metal virtuosity of the ‘Bang-on-a-Can’ variety.

In some ways, Michael’s and Liza’s works are aesthetic opposites, but they both draw heavily on analogies from the natural world, and that seems to be an emerging theme as more ideas from The Set start to crystallise. Maybe the climate crisis is causing artists to commune with nature in a more urgent way, or perhaps the stasis of last year’s lockdowns made us slow down and reflect on our surroundings more. Whatever the reason, the world outside our four walls has stimulated the imaginations of our composers in a multitude of ways. There’s Lim’s meteorology and Harvey’s mushrooms; Chris Dench has drawn parallels between the pincers of fiddler crabs and the stance of trombonists; Ross Edwards is paying homage to ‘Mother Earth’ via fragments of mediaeval Marian chant.

The personal connections continue to be revealed too: it’s been discovered that Cathy Likhuta and cellist Charlotte Miles (paired together) have close relatives that work in the same scientific fields; Alex Voltz and violinist Emily Beauchamp met at a National Music Camp in 2020. Oh, and Elena Kats-Chernin did end up dropping in for that FIFO visit. She crammed about 10 hours’ worth of wisdom and enthusiasm into a 3-hour meeting with clarinetist Oliver Crofts, who not only workshopped ideas with her for his ‘Set’ piece, but also played her a couple of movements of her clarinet concerto. Her reaction? “I’ll never worry again whether parts of the piece are playable or not, because you’ve proven that it is all perfectly playable”.

 The Set project continues to inspire, and grow beyond its boundaries!

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ANAM Artistic Director Paavali Jumppanen, composer Elena Kats-Chernin and ANAM clarinetist Oliver Crofts (WA)

 

May update: 3am thoughts

“So, the good thing is, for the last two weeks I’ve stopped waking up with a start in the middle of the night thinking about The ANAM Set”, I proudly declared to our General Manager last week. I would never dare to suggest that pairing our 67 chosen composers with the 67 ANAM musicians was as complicated as playing chess (rather, more like a jigsaw puzzle where you don’t know what the final image should look like), but I’d certainly been experiencing my fair share of ‘Queen’s Gambit’-esque ponderances while staring up at my bedroom ceiling late at night. I’d be just drifting off to sleep when my brain would suddenly say to me “But if Lilijana is paired with a percussionist, then Nathan or Jamie risk not getting their first choice, unless we ask Elliot to write for double bass, which will take pressure off the bassoons, but then we might have to ask Elizabeth to write for horn, which I don’t think she really wanted to do, but perhaps she could write for piano - we do need one more composer for piano… or is it one less? I can’t remember. Oh look, it’s 3am”. 

Jeanette (our fantastic ANAM Set Project Manager) and the rest of the team have similar stories involving other various complex matrices. It was so important to us to collect as much data as we could: composers that ANAM musicians wanted to work with; instruments that composers wanted to write for; collaborations that faculty members saw great potential in. Each new piece of information inched us towards our final image, while also making manoeuvring the puzzle pieces that much harder. When, over a Zoom connection, the final pairing was confirmed (I believe it was Mark Wolf with oboist Alexandra King) several people in several work-places around Melbourne gave a little happy-dance.

Now, of course, it’s over to the composers and musicians. The ‘Set’ is already starting to weave itself into the busy schedule that occupies our musicians: casual coffee-chats have been spied on campus between performers and composers; it’s rumoured there’ll be a FIFO visit from Elena Kats-Chernin sometime soon so she can meet with clarinettist Oliver Crofts; Liza Lim has all but finished a new work for cellist James Morley. There have been some serendipitous surprises too: Emile Frankel and pianist Kathy Chow, paired together, know each other from their Uni days; Thomas Green and violinist Claire Weatherhead, also paired together, had apparently been keen to collaborate on a project for a while - who knew?!

The next few weeks are all about building relationships, being inspired by mutual exchanges of ideas, and sowing the resultant artistic seeds. To see this happening all around the grounds of ANAM is incredibly invigorating. It’s exciting to think about how much new music is currently being incubated, and how soon it is until we get to hear it all. We really are in for a treat.

 

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