Ensemble Offspring’s Hatched Composer Intensive has for nine years supported new voices in Australian music. It connects local composers with leaders in the field — this year including creative mentors Lisa Illean and Brett Dean, and hosting workshops with harpist Emily Granger, composer Tristan Coelho, and Ensemble Offspring artistic director Claire Edwardes.
Ahead of the Hatched Composer Showcase in November, CutCommon connected with this year’s young composers — Ceridwen McCooey, Andrea Guterres (pictured above), Alexander Voltz, Lewis Mosley, and Sean Quinn. We asked what they’ve gained from this educational intensive, what their new music is all about, and their dreams for the future.
I have gained so many things from being part of Hatched, but I think the main thing is as simple as being able to work with such wonderful performers. I’m still fairly new to composing for instruments other than my own, so having musicians who are so generous with their time and knowledge and who are so patient in explaining why things do or don’t work for their specific instrument is invaluable.
I also love that Ensemble Offspring offers solutions to things, rather than simply writing something off. They take the time to understand the soundworld I am trying to create, and then show me how to achieve in a way that also works for them as players.
The piece I have written is called Arrhythmia. I was loosely inspired by the life of a heartbeat — when it is settled, when it stumbles, when it is rapid, when it is slow, when it starts and when it stops; when it’s in unison with another heartbeat and when it throbs on its own.
Arrhythmia is also an attempt to capture the tension that comes with having a heart — the yearning, the curiosity, the pain, the wisdom, the anxiety, and the love. It’s not an overly complicated premise, I just find myself being very aware of my own heartbeat and its tempo during the day, and that inspired me write a rhythmic piece.
This experience has given me skills to write more for other instruments, so I hope that I continue to build on that in the future. I hope to maintain the connections made as a direct result of being involved in this program.
My big dreams are to continue writing and performing new music as much as possible.
Definitely getting the chance to work with one of Australia’s premiere ensembles for contemporary music [was something I gained from this experience]. And that it’s not a one-to-two-rehearsals-then-concert situation — they’re really putting in the time to workshop our pieces with us, advise us in everything from orchestration to score refinement, and connect us with some great composers all over the world.
My piece is called Aion, named after a Hellenistic deity that represents the circularity of time. In short, it’s about how events often repeat themselves, in a way that makes you question if time is linear. In a similar way, motifs in my piece return completely unchanged at different moments, but they carry the weight of everything that’s happened in between.
I’ve been living overseas for some time now, and I’m hoping this experience might lead to some more opportunities in Australia, especially projects of a more collaborative nature, which is really my jam at the moment.
Hatched is a fantastic, comprehensive artistic experience that I highly recommend to all composers. I am particularly looking forward to the program’s retreat to Cowra next month, which promises intense yet rewarding learning. To date, it has been tremendous to work with Claire and all of Ensemble Offspring. I also feel particularly fortunate to have had the opportunity to receive compositional instruction from Brett Dean, a long-time role-model of mine.
My work for Hatched is called Operetta. It’s a dramatic work in three acts for five players, but one that doesn’t actually have a concrete narrative. In creating a work that suggests a story but is actually storyless, it is my hope that individual listeners’ imaginations are ignited. I believe strongly in the power of interpretation, and have of late rejected prescriptive program notes that appeal to extra-musical considerations. Operetta, thus, might be seen as a kind of protest peace. The work is dedicated to my friend and mentor Brenton Broadstock.
If only we composers could look into a crystal ball and alleviate our anxieties [about the future]! All I can say is that my lone hope is to be able to continue to write music and, if I am so fortunate, hear it performed. I have always been interested in forms of large-scale dramatic music — opera, ballet, cantata, and so on — and hope that one day, I can present my own work in these mediums.
I was fortunate to grow up writing for orchestra. Next year, it is my intention to return to working on large-scale compositions, whether they have performance outcomes or not. After all, it is a pleasure to just compose, and a sheer joy to simply create.
For me, being able to work one on one with a mentor was a great part of the experience. I was lucky enough to have Lisa Illean as my mentor, and I definitely feel as though I gained really important insight into the composition process from her — being able to talk in depth and at length about all aspects of the piece, from analysing the notes in single bars to lengthy discussions about the compositional process as a whole. Learning from a composer of her calibre was really amazing.
My piece is called the Donkey and especially the Toad, which is itself a line from a book I’m reading at the moment. I don’t want to say too much about the piece, but a lot of it is about the fog and the clear blue skies — I’m still trying to figure out which is which.
I haven’t worked much with purely instrumental music. Often, I use a blend of electronic and acoustic instrumentation in my music, so for me, a large part of this experience has been to develop and refine those skills.
I would love to keep working with and writing for groups like Ensemble Offspring. It’s such a great group of people, and writing for and learning from them has been a really great and fulfilling experience.
Having the chance to work alongside world-class mentors and performers at this point in my career has been a wonderful opportunity afforded to me by EO and the Hatched program.
Now being in the European scene — which is chaotic at the best of times, but usually in a good way — having the chance to bridge the gap with Australia again is definitely helping ease some of the homesickness I feel at times.
I feel that this process has highlighted some of the better parts of my practice, and allowed me to reflect on things that still need improvement in a healthy way.
My piece is called a hollow heart’s temptation — I’m quite a fan of longer titles. The piece stems from an ongoing body of work titled skin on skin; contact made up of multiple panels of musical material ranging between solo works, chamber music, big orchestral works, and installations, all planned for the next few years — how busy I shall be! hollow heart falls inside of the second part of panel two — NEST — which focuses greatly on the aspects of relativity and the establishing of long-term connections.
The cycle of five pieces, of which it is the second — so many layers! — reflects on the tricky space that is family, relationships, and intimacy; hollow heart refers more to the latter two. One might imagine a firepit — smouldering with coals and embers, filled with ash and decay — and at the center, a heart glows with subtle sentience. As the resonance and landscape are revealed gradually, the heart begins to pulsate more irrationally — in pain? in pleasure? hope? hate? or a mixture of all? — leading to moments of despair being reached and relished in, which eventually tangle at the point of revealing the entire ensemble, and then settling — in defeat or resolve?
A fairly vulnerable approach to instrumental writing is my usual route to expressing what I want from performers, often achieving ecstatic and usually earthy results. The vision of this work was to explore relationships within chamber music: the in-breath of one instrument capturing the up-bow of another; the serrated yet sensual nature of extreme proximity dissonance; the glittering textures of single lines that enfold to unlock new elements of fascination.
The unraveling of this space, and traversal of every surface of its many textural dimensions, forms a complex web of interaction in the quintet. Particular voices are partitioned off in duos and trios throughout, seeking to both ‘blend’ into one another and ‘blur’ across each other, as well as single voices waywardly wandering in their own directions — embracing the whole entity as not only a group but five very different humans that bring their own approaches and interactions within the ensemble space.
I hope in working in a more successful space of chamber music, I may now be able to fully flesh out more of the ideas explored in this work in larger senses, both in this body of work and works that may orbit it. This space of exploration afforded to me by Ensemble Offspring is one I’ve cherished, and I hope to continue to bear works of the same dexterity well into the future.
Hear this new music in the Ensemble Offspring Hatched Composer Showcase, 7pm November 12 in the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.