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.

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!