Friday, July 3, 2009

Against the Dying of the Light - Notes

The following is a short note about Against the Dying of the Light for solo flute and chamber orchestra. Written for flautist Megan Hobbs and the Sydney University Symphony Orchestra, the work is also a musical memorial for Sir Peter Platt, a much-loved professor in Sydney Uni's now defunct Department of Music.

Against the Dying of the Light is above all things a tribute to the late Professor Sir Peter Platt. Prof Platt was a musicologist, composer, conductor and performer who had an enormous impact on the musical life of the University of Sydney, to say nothing of his national and international contributions. Both the form and content of this work reflect the tragic circumstances surrounding his death. The first movement is concerned with his own immense sense of frustration at leaving a life he felt was still wholly incomplete. The flute solo is often at loggerheads with the inevitable rigidity of the structure, a conflict which the orchestra emphatically and consistently addresses, much in the style of a Greek chorus. The second movement, an extended cadenza for the flute, is a transition from the deeply private, internal world of the opening to the more public, conventional expression of grief that is the third movement. Here, the style is at once removed- through its ritualistic temporality- and immediate- in its engaging, transparent rhetoric. This is in effect a memorial service for both Prof Platt and the department to which he devoted so much love and energy. The appropriation of ‘Cortigiani, vil razza dannata’ from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, Rigoletto, and its employment as the emotional vector of the movement embodies this duality. On one hand, as a token of Prof Platt’s love and knowledge of Verdi, it provides a fitting tribute to his scholarly [ed] passion and dedication; on the other, it draws cathartic parallels between the loss of one kind of daughter and another.

Dolmen for New Albion - Notes/Seeds for a Rant on Identity?

This blurb was written as part of an (eventually unsuccessful) application for the ISCM World New Music Festival 2006. While tailored specifically as a frame for the work, Dolmen for New Albion, its sentiments have a broader resonance for me, and may inspire some sort of lengthy Rant...

I am a product of globalisation. My mother is Australian of Irish descent, my father South African of English descent. The first twenty-five years of my life were spent in Sydney, a city which through my lifetime, has become the most ‘international’ in Australia. I was steeped during childhood and adolescence in the artistic traditions of both the British Isles and continental Europe, to whose cultures I nevertheless have had little real access. My undergraduate training mitigated this Eurocentrism by introducing Asian and Aboriginal cultural identities as viable alternatives. I then studied [ed] at an institution which, despite the fact that its name is in many ways synonymous with American culture, draws much of its aesthetic impetus from the Old World.

The polyglot nature of my background and experiences raises some serious questions in regard to my creative output. Should what I produce be contextualised in terms of a globalised world, or a specific, discrete society? Is there actually an audience, one way or the other, for my music? Are my compositional endeavours still culturally relevant and/or worthwhile if there is not? Every time I begin work on a new composition, I am forced to grapple with these ‘Grenzenlos’ aspects of my artistic identity. There are of course as many ways to respond to this dilemma as there are pieces to write, but for me, approaches in this regard have generally fallen into two broad camps. On one hand, I have embraced the multiplicity of identity inherent to the globalised lifestyle; on the other, I have pushed aside this clutter of cultural paraphernalia to focus as consciously as possible on one single, homogenous aesthetic stance.

There has emerged increasingly of late, however, a third option, that is, the opportunity to reconcile these two opposing methodologies. One such consequence of this approach is the work, Dolmen for New Albion. Before beginning the compositional process for this piece, I constructed in my mind an alternative, purely speculative cultural trajectory for the city of Sydney. This was inspired by the settlement’s change of name from New Albion to the present designation, which occurred very early on in the history of the colony of New South Wales. I asked myself, what would have Sydney been like if it had kept its original name? What if the power of these words had driven the colony, then in a fragile state of external cultural dependence, along a different path? The consequent imaginary scenario is both a rejection and a validation of globalisation’s heterogeneity. Ostensibly, it concerns itself with one specific homogenous culture, in direct contradiction to the nature of globalisation. However, this particular society never existed: it is a figment of my imagination, has no strong grounding in any one specific reality and therefore in effect, is a conglomerate of all my diverse cultural influences.

Dolmen for New Albion is thus one creative solution to the paradoxes of identity we face in a globalised world. Its composition enabled me to grip firmly to the concepts of clarity and boundary- which after all underlie so much of human experience, and are therefore vital to both artistic and psychological well-being- while simultaneously accepting, and indeed rejoicing in contemporary society’s spirit of ‘Grenzenlos’.