About Me

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I was born in Northern Ireland, live in Australia, and am a composer, conductor and actor. I am Head of Composition and Production at The Australian Institute of Music and Musical Director of the Sydney Male Choir. I've been Visiting Composer at Universities and schools and my music has been performed in Australia, the USA, the UK, Canada, France, Germany, China, Italy, Ireland, Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico and Puerto Rico by many international concert artists and ensembles. My compositional interests include music for orchestra, the theatre (including dance), the voice and the church, the combination of electro-acoustic and acoustic resources especially in real time, the exploration of virtuosity and indigenous Australian music. I've conducted in festivals and concerts all over the world, as well as acted in too many professional theatre works to list here.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A short message :)

A Merry Christmas to you all and a wonderful 2011!!!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A little taste of the new career :)

As of the end of January 2011, I will be deemed surplus to requirements at the University of Wollongong where they have, to put it bluntly, cut the composition program and offered Voluntary separation to three world-class creative composers and researchers. In the meantime, while acknowledging that the Faculty has too many governmental position, they have managed to restructure the Faculty with THE SAME NUMBER OF GOVERNMENTAL POSITIONS BUT WITH DIFFERENT NAMES!!! All of the senior executive staff have received new job titles and, one assumes, carry on as normal. Meanwhile I can hear the scraping of deck chairs around the games deck on the Titanic.

One of the ways to put such unpleasantness behind me, is to think on the fantastic opportunities and adventures that await outside the whinnet-ridden walls of academia.

Here is one such adventure. In August I began my tenure as Musical Director of the Sydney Male Choir - one of the oldest choirs in Australia. My first performance with them was on 12th September 2010 at the Sydney Town Hall. Here is an excerpt from the DVD of that concert.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

A lovely premiere!

The Sutherland Shire Choral Society, conducted by Melissa Kenny, premiered Laura's and my "4 Christmas Carols" today at 2:30 pm in St Patrick's Catholic Church, Sutherland. They did a really nice job with some very difficult music. The final one, in particular has some real rhythmic challenges for the singers, as well as setting the bar pretty high when it comes to getting the right balance between soloist and choir. All in all, it was a very satisfying performance, as the choir's diction was very good, and the silvery voice of soloist Judy Rough was delightful to listen to as the "difficult child" of the last carol.

The piece has been performed in bits at other times by the Illawarra Choral Society, although the final carol has never been performed. Thus, this counts as a world premiere of the collection. It was great to sit next to Laura and think, "This is really what we both wanted from these carols." The singers were very gracious and fulsome in their praise of both the words and the music, with some even saying that they'd like to perform more of my music. They may have been just being polite, but it's still nice to hear all the same!

That's the last premiere scheduled for this year. 2010 began with a new work for flute and organ played in the "Organs of the Goldfields" by Jean Penny and Andrew Blackburn in January, and, after several more pieces have been premiered in Taiwan, the USA, Melbourne and Sydney, it finishes with this one close to home. In all, six new works got airings this year - a record for me.

And there's more to come in 2011!

Friday, October 29, 2010

A great premiere!

On Wednesday 27th, my string orchestra piece, I Saw My Lady Weep was premiered in Melbourne by the Southern Cross Philharmonia. Conductor Gerald Gentry is a champion of Australian music and it's amazing to have a conductor who has such breadth on knowledge and musicianship interpreting your piece for a first performance. This is a conductor who worRalph Vaughan Williams, Roberto Gerard, Elizabeth Lutyens, Sir Arthur Bliss, Samuel Barber, John Ireland, Andrzej Panufnik, Percy Grainger  and Paul Hindemith The young players of the orchestra have a superb sound and are technically very good. It's a great pity this is not more than an "occasional" ensemble, as Gerald would be able to build a superb sound and ensemble sense form such great talent.

My piece, which was originally a string quartet written for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra String Quartet at the 1995 Hoy Composers' Course, run by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, is based on the opening notes from John Dowland's song of the same name found in his Second Booke of Songs or Ayres (1600), which I first sang when I was about 15 or 16 in a concert, in full Elizabethan costume! I had been searching for a way into the work - an emotional entry key if you like - while under the pressure of having to try to compose the piece in less than a week. After three failed attempts to start the piece from a purely technical, sonic point of view, I finally found what I was looking for when, unbidden, a memory of the first time I saw my wife, Laura, cry, same to mind. 

The piece just flowed like tears (another Dowland reference for those of you who are counting) and the piece was completed in a real heat of industry. It's ten minutes long and took only five days using pencil and paper! It was so long that it caused Max to question whether or not I'd written it beforehand or not. However, there were plenty of witnesses to the contrary, so the piece went ahead. Afterwards, the players suggest that it would make a good string orchestra piece and, after 14 years of waiting (I converted it to a piece for String Orchestra in 1996) Gerald and the SCPO proved them right.

What was deeply satisfying to me about this work is that the complex counterpoint and deep emotion work very well together. It is a big wall of sound for a lot of the time, balanced by some very delicate and tiny sounds. Juxtaposition rules supreme, as it did for a lot of my music from the 1990's, and it still seems to hold up, 14 years after the event!

My deepest thanks to the Southern Cross Philhramonia and, most especially, Gerald Gentry for, as he says, championing Australia music!

Friday, October 22, 2010

An update on an exciting project

Last month, though it seems much further back, I was part of the creative team for a new project headed by lighting desigder extraordinaire Toby Knyvett. Briefly, along with two other composers, four dancers and come computers, cameras and interactive software, we created an event called Feedback You can read all about it by clicking the link above, which will take you to the documentation. There will be excerpts up on my website eventually too.

This is a very exciting and worthwhile project that seems to have garnered a lot of interest. The Festival circuit awaits, I think, as well as the installation circuit. We have some bugs to iron out as well as some over-arching structural ideas to develop, but this is one of the most interesting projects I've been involved with for some time. Keep a lookout for it as a Festival near you :)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A week in Tasmania

I think I've finally settled down enough to write about the superb week we have just spent in Hobart. I was Composer-in-Residence at the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music last week, and Laura had a teaching gig at the Tasmanian Writers' Centre. Margaret brought her homework and, apart from a few hours a day spent doing maths and German, the city lay at her feet!

Hobart left a deep impression on all of us. Apart from its beauty and the happiness all around (people seemed really content to live there!) there was a delightful mix of sophistication and a "small town" feel. It was like stepping into a Cornish fishing village which just happened to have all the amenities of a capital city.

This included the University of Tasmania and its Conservatorium of Music. They were my generous and friendly hosts, providing us with a lovely, rustic cottage built around 1850 (and still going strong except for the night when the clothes dryer fell off the wall) and a steady, but not overwhelming, stream of student composers who are always exciting and challenging.

Apart from the one-to-one lessons (a bit of a novelty for me at the moment) I gave a two-hour seminar on my music, and Laura and I presented a one-hour seminar on the subject of collaboration - particularly ours.

On the Saturday night, the 9th October, pianist Vanessa Sharman capped the week off for me by premiering my "With Open Arms" for solo piano. Her intensity and musicianship were a blessing to a piece that has so much space, silence, reverberation and tension. The moment at the end where she crossed arms was a huge relief of tension both musically and "theatrically" - a dramatic moment she completely understood. In fact, she understood the work superbly all the way through. I could not have asked for a better reading of this work. I feel very blessed.

Sunday was a day to savour as, on Margaret's suggestion, we went to the Choral Eucharist at St David's Cathedral. An added bonus to the superb music was the presence of an old friend and colleague, Jane Edwards, who consummately performed the Mozart "Laudate Dominum". Afterwards, it was a great joy to have lunch with her, her husband Drew and little girl, Grace.

Add to all of this two perfect journeys to and from Wollongong and Hobart and we look back on this time as very special.

My thanks to Maria Grenfell, Don Kay and Kevin Purcell for making it all possible, Peter Lynch for organising the mechanics of it all, Sarah Miller for singing the papers and let me go and Stephen Ingham, who covered my classes while I was away.

And thanks to Laura and Margaret for coming with me :) It made all the difference that we could share this together.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A new website on the intertubes!

Yes, I've finally managed to get my website up! Please drop by at www.houstondunleavy.com and let me know what you think!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A new piece - on youtube!

This has just been uploaded by pianist extraordinaire Helen Lin. It is a recording she made with exciting American trumpeter John Irish of my "Skeletal Dance" for trumpet and piano , written especially for them in December 2009 and premiered by them in July 2010 in Taipei. She has put a nice little slide show together to accompany the sound file - I especially love the skeletons that appear at the 1 minute mark.

Enjoy! I did!!

Skeletal Dance, premiered by John Irish, trumpet, and Helen Lin, piano.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

It's a pity every week isn't like this one!

It began with a lovely few days at World Con in Melbourne, being Laura's boy toy/trophy husband/arm candy etc. as she swam the corridors of Science Fiction Writers Inc. Laura had a book launch for the anthology Baggage which can be purchased from here  and is summarised and reviewed, among other places here. Apart form the launch, Laura was a panel moderator, where she kept the pace going, asked interesting questions and kept the loonies in the audience on a short leash. She also had a reading of her own work, but I had to miss that as I had to come back to the Gong to WORK! ARGH!

Actually, that work was pretty cool. I spent all of last Monday, and a fair chunk of the rest of the week, in the Bruce Gordon Theatre at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre. There, along with two other composers, three dancers and a lighting designer, I was involved in the development of a new project for dancers, sound and motion capture software called "Feedback".  This involves computerised music and sound that is controlled by the movements of the dancers and, in the case of my work, the shadows of the dancer, which could be recorded and manipulated, thus triggering more sound cues. This is really nifty stuff to be involved in, with loads of potential for installations and public art, theatre and festival performances, as well as for film and internet projects. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings, we presented what we had been working on to the public for the first time, and the result was overwhelmingly positive.

All of this was made possible by development funding and in-kind support given by the Merrigong Theatre Company who are doing so much to facilitate good theatre and music theatre in our region, as well as providing local talent with the chance to develop their work to a more national standard.

Apart from this, and as if that weren't enough, I began preparing the The Sydney Male Choir for their 11th City of Sydney Concert the the Sydney Town Hall. I was only supposed to do last Tuesday night's dress rehearsal.  The retiring music director, Alan Thrift, should have conducted the concert today with me playing African drums on a couple of pieces. However, Alan, who has been in very poor health lately, took a turn for the worse and was hospitalized during the week. He was unable to be at the concert today, so I had the duty and honour of conducting the concert with 1200 or so in the audience.

The choir was, simply, stupendous. Their musicianship, a great tribute to the work of Alan Thrift, was on special display, and the fun and exuberance the men showed during the up tempo numbers (including the delirious moment when they front row formed a kick line in perfect unison!) caught the huge audience's imagination and joy rang out its song - all because of the legacy of Alan Thrift.

A great afternoon of music and laughter, with fabulous guest artists like the Bathurst Panorama Choir, Renae Lopez and Peter Kneeshaw. I mentioned drums before too. I couldn't play them on the concert, of course, so Laura bashed away on our African drum instead in primal, African style and made the day!

A special mention of pianist Eleanor Gair - a true and marvellous player, who is going to be a fantastic collaborator in the years ahead!

I'm looking forward to a great year in 2011 with this choir. Stay tuned for further concerts and events and I look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, August 30, 2010

It's good to have great friends!

A great concert by Charisma celebrating the composers of the Illawarra and mourning the demise of the composition program. There was music by Stephen Ingham, Michael Barkl, Wendy Suiter, Matin Wesley-Smith, Michael Dixon and yours truly. All beautifully, passionately played, with a deep understanding of the requirements of each of the styles required by each piece.

The Sound, Composition and Music Production program is, and I'm not the only one to say this, one of the most innovative and egalitarian programs around, and the three full time academic staff members who have guided this program for nearly 10 years, and who have about 75 teaching and research experience between them, will be probably made redundant at the end of the year. This not only throws their lives into some form of chaos, but particularly the lives of their postgraduate and, to a lesser extent, undergraduates students.  

The reaction to this, form all over the world, has been one of shock and dismay. This department was world-renowned and the centre of, among other things, studies in alternative tuning and innovative compositional pedagogy.

How did this all happen?

I'll be as brief as possible here, partly because it grieves me greatly to go over this stuff.

Simply, the Sound, Composition and Music Production program was recommended to be closed and to take no more students after this year as part of a routine review into the Faculty. It would be taught out by the end of 2012, with a new program, goodness knows what, coming online either at the beginning of 2012 or, more likely it seems now, at the beginning of 2013. All the composition staff are to be offered voluntary separation, leaving one to wonder how the program will be taught out and how the large number of postgraduates will be looked after to completion. The University will not re-hire any of us back after voluntary separation due to taxation issues.

It's worth noting that he review suggested a number of inaccuracies about the nature of the program, and said that they would prefer 40 students per year level, when only 25 can fit in a classroom, there was no more teaching load room for current staff and extra casuals would not be hired. So, the easiest thing to do, which would also save the Faculty the amount of money it had as a shortfall in its budget, was to cut the program and get rid of three senior academics, myself included.

So marks the of the serious study of music in any form in any defined way at the University of Wollongong. None of the existing senior staff has been asked to contribute to a future program, and, in fact, the University has made it clear by offering Voluntary Separation at this stage (which, if it is refused, will only result in forced redundancy at the end of 2011 for all concerned - before the new program comes online) that it doesn't want the existing composers to be involved in anything new.

Time to look for work!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Post script

For those who might be interested, here is the website of the The Sydney Male Choir

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Little by little...

Last night I started a new chapter in the adventure of being a musician. I went to my first rehearsal of the Sydney Male Choir, as its new Musical Director. I take over after the 12th September, when the choir performs its final official concert under the direction of Alan Thrift (who has been the Musical Director for 20 years!) at the Sydney Town Hall as part of the 11th Annual City of Sydney concert.

This appointment, along with a couple of other affirmations, makes up a lot for the sting of being made redundant from my University position. I am very excited about the choir and its possibilities. The members have been tremendously welcoming and its very exciting to have an accompanist of the calibre of Eleanor Gair to work with. The choir is looking to expand its repertoire into Australian music as well as build on its already impressive sound and audience base. I'm am looking forward to this very much!

In other news, Laura's and my opera based on her story "The Dancing Mice and the Giants of Flanders" now has a couple of scene finished and worth being shown around. The story, which is included in the anthology Masques is a beautiful and slightly disturbing fairy story set in Flanders and celebrates the cultural life of that part of France and Belgium, particularly the giants that are the emblems of the local communities.

For an introduction to the giants as they are celebrated today, her's a great little video, despite the rather "stuffed shirt" style of narration:

More about the details of the opera as they come to hand, but we are starting on a very long and exciting journey with this one!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Little Update

For nearly 15 years now my bio has begun with words along the lines of my being a Lecturer or Senior Lecturer "in Composition at the University of Wollongong." Sadly, that is no longer going to be the case soon. Our program, Sound, Composition and Music Production, is to be cut. So passes one of the most innovative and egalitarian tertiary music programs in the country. We will be offered voluntary separation and made, and perhaps the word has more reverberations than just an industrial relations term in this case, redundant.

I have had a fear for a long time that the full time composer/academic was turing into a thing of the past. It seems the perfect model for the University of the future, in this country at least, is that each department be run by an administrator, who need not be a specialist in the area, and the teaching and research be done by limited-term, casual staff.

This reflects the direction that I believe universities are heading: toward the situation where they produce drones who have varying degrees of flexibility of thought, but no real specialist skills.

Universities, rather than leading social change, are responding to it. They are not looking to produce leading thinkers who can shape the future, but people who are able to read the changing societal winds and set their sails accordingly - the middle managers of the world who don't make policy but carry it out without questioning where we are all headed, or the wisdom of the powers that be - the career administrators. They will be the people who can do the most with the least amount of money and reflective thought.

That will be our future unless we do something about the dreadful way universities are funded and the staff are treated.

It may be that I am completely mistaken here, but I find it is so tempting to say, "Be seeing you!"

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Little concert review

I'm approaching this with a little trepidation, and promise not to do this too often, but an otherwise nice little concert in The Australian Museum on Thursday night has left me a little troubled.

The Noise is a new string quartet, based in Sydney, that gave its debut concert in the TAM as part of Biodiversity Week. The concert was a series of improvisations based on issue arising from biodiversity. Simple enough, and a lovely idea when species are dying all around us and every extinction affects us somehow (just ask the beekeepers of the world).

The sound world the quartet inhabited was beautiful. The instruments were all amplified and connected to foot pedals which had some effect on the sound, so it all looked excitingly electronic. At the beginning, two of the instruments' sound failed, which made those of us in the audience who regularly use such things as electronics feel simultaneously sympathetic and smug.

The ideas the quartet passed around for improvisation were sophisticated and very well-structured, aided by mastery of the instruments they played. This was clearly an enjoyable adventure for them, and that proved infectious to the audience, which was larger than what one might expect at a concert of improvised music.

The little stone in my shoe here is the fact that this concert was presented as a bit of a ground breaker - part of the avant garde. If so, then it is pleasing to note that the avant garde has at last caught up with what many of us have been doing for 20 or 30 years and what I, for one, have been teaching for the past 15. The ideas seemed to be manipulated by some traditional techniques such as imitation, retrograde, inversion etc. so not a lot to add there.

However, even with that in mind, it was a successful night of music making, in a way that was new to the players and, I'm sure, a few of the audience. There was a goodly gathering of composers and improvisors in attendance, and perhaps their response to the premise of the evening is a little different to mine - a little more generous maybe. However, it is hard to get around the fact that this sort of music making is not the cutting edge that it seemed to want to be, or the dark suspicion that because it was being performed in the big smoke of Sydney, rather than, say, the hick towns around it, like, say Wollongong (grin), it now had some form of legitimacy in Australia.

None of this will stop me going to hear further concerts by this group though, as there is so much potential for great music making here. I will watch them grow with great pleasure and help when asked.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The start of a new adventure!

This evening is the first presentation of an excerpt from the new opera The Pea Pickers by Maltese-Australian composer (and sometimes doctoral student :-) Jeff Galea, with a libretto by Bonnie Cassidy. It is based, of course, on the Eve Langely book of the same name, published in 1942. It shouldn't be confused with Ivy Getchell's The Pea Picker's Daughter, published last year.

My role is to conduct - to wave my arms in time to the music until it stops, then turn around and bow - while the small ensemble and singers' role is to perform the opera in spite of the conductor.

I conducted Jeff's previous opera Wounding Song, (I believe I suggested the title) back in 2008 at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre with a cast of University students and a mostly professional orchestra. This work is quite different. It has no Maltese folks elements, but it does draw, in one scene, on a kind of reel which features the violin - it's not quite Irish, but you can smell the potcheen.

There are three singers, Lotte Latukefu, Jane Sheldon and Mara Davis, whose voices are all completely different and add texture to the characterisation. All three are fine musicians, which is a joy to find in a singer with a great voice. The ensemble of violin, guitar, 'cello and electronics are terrific to work with too - all of them being quite flexible and willing to do a great job. An added bonus for me is having Laura, my dear wife, as electronics monkey, which satisfies two of her cravings - music making and playing with gadgets

Jeff's music is very singable, despite the opening tritones for the soprano! His harmonic language is very assured and he is, as the late Andrew Foldi would have described him, a true "man of the theatre", in that he is wiling to change things to make them work dramatically and musically: in opera, the are often the same thing of course.

When the smoke has cleared from this evening, I'll write a little about the music and my thoughts about it - right now is not the right time, as I'm about 10 hours away from performing it! Straight after the performance, I'll be attending a concert by the new string quartet "The Noise" at The Australian Museum. It seem like every interesting composer/friend is going to be there tonight. It should be a blast.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

And While I'm the subject...

This is the program for a concert today in Taipei at the Yamaha Artists Centre.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Just a quick promo!

Just thought you might want to know about this one. It's the first of two performances of this program, the second being in Adelaide on 4th August.

A recital of Australian Flute Music, by Melanie Walters, flute, and Tony Baldwin, piano

Sunday, July 4, 2010
1:30pm - 3:00pm

Dapto Ribbonwood Centre (Kurrajong Hall)

Princes Highway

Dapto, NSW Australia

Program includes:

Firefly (Jane Stanley)
Sonata (Carl Vine)
Icarus (Houston Dunleavy)
Spinning (Andrew Ford)
Under Simple Stars (Mark Pollard)
Balibo (Martin Wesley-Smith)
Nymphe-Echo Morphologique (Gerard Brophy)

Entry by donation - $5

This is Melanie's Masters recital program, based on her thesis "Australian Flute Music of the past 25 years"

Friday, June 18, 2010

...one more thing....

Todays is my 16th wedding anniversary. You'd think I'd get tired counting, but no: it's nowhere near enough.

This is why I teach

I teach because I get the chance to meet with, mentor and learn from talented people who, at least in the case of the program I currently teach into, may not have anywhere else in this country to study. We can say all we like about our pedagogical method, our financial viability, future plans etc., but the proof of what we do comes out, in the end, in the quality and originality of music that these young artists produce.

For want of a better term, we are an experimental music composition program. We use what we have to hand, be it the latest gadget on the computer market (preferably free of shareware!) or a second-hand viola, or a bicycle wheel - anything that makes a sound in fact. The more dramatic and visual it can be the better at times. Our students have created instruments for their works that are as much sculptures as they are musical instruments, and they are encouraged to break down the barriers between what might be considered more pedestrian definitions of "music", "sound", "sculpture", etc. This is hardly a new idea, but it's very surprising how challenging it is to the artistic community even now, and how it really doesn't seem to be something the rest of the community has embraced either - at least on a conscious level.

In the coming weeks, I'll post some pics and video of the concerts the students have recently mounted, which will all be available on youtube. Meanwhile, to whet your appetite, and to illustrate what I'm talking about, here's a video my Faculty made last year of our first year students performing improvised music live and outdoors, some with instruments they had found/bought recently/built.

It contains an interview with me, but you can fast forward through that. I seem not to have slept for the previous two years if this shot is anything to go by.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A second chance

It's been a long time since I blogged. It just hasn't seemed like I had anything to say. I think it's time gave blogging a second chance though, because right now I feel that I've been given one over the last six-to-eight months.

Soooooooo here I go again. I'm not going to use this as a platform for what to say or even my opinions of other people. This will be only about music - mostly mine, and anyone else's which happens to take my fancy.

It's the most interesting thing I can think of - far more so than the minutiae of my daily life, or my musings on events and things about which I know precious little. For heavens sake, I know little enough about music and that's supposed to be what I'm best at!

Also, because I'm a cheapskate, this can do double duty as my website :))