After Hobart, la petite mort

Last week I spent one of the most intensely creative weeks of my life in Hobart, as a guest of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO) and Victorian Opera (VO). Somehow, I did not die of hypothermia. Despite living for five years in a place that regularly saw snow and ice, Sydney has softened me to the point where every time I stepped out of doors in Tasmania I felt that need to publicly monologue ‘oo-er, that is fresh/brisk/bracing’.

I am officially on record as saying how grouse the Symphony Services/TSO Composers School is, and how essential an opportunity it is for anyone who wants to write for large forces. Whatever weird alchemy that happens in a selection process worked overtime, and this brigade were a delight to be around, and astonishingly talented. Any cockiness I had due to making my second visit to the School quickly evaporated as I heard the work of Lisa Cheney, Mark Holdsworth and Tim Shawcross and I very much had to sit up straight and take notes. Literally, as there is material from all their work that I intend to steal for my own purposes.

Of course, we weren’t on our own. Tutors Andrew Schultz and Matthew Hindson could not have been improved- challenging without being dogmatic. Conductor Brett Kelly somehow- somehow!- turned our laser-dotted A3 into something which sounded Quite Good. TSO are sounding particularly fine at the moment, all the more remarkable considering the School came at the end of a very busy period of challenging repertoire. It was also wonderful to have a visit from Maria Grenfell, and mad props to the staff of the TSO for taking such good care of us. In particular, Jenny, who combines friendly good humour with the no-nonsense scheduling and herding skills of a Field Marshal, and David, for whom no printing nor binding was beyond the pale.

Some learnings that arose from my piece Komorebi:
• Don’t underestimate the power of unison strings
• Related, do you really need all that violin divisi?
• Let us discuss trumpet mutes!
• The Lydian Flat 7 has been good to me, but it’s time I met some other modes

This was immediately followed by orchestral workshops for the VO Seven Deadly Sins project under the baton of Tahu Matheson and watchful eyes and ears of Richard Mills (who, remarkably, flew in having conducted an acclaimed I Puritani the night before). As mentioned, I had only the one scene for the orchestra but I couldn’t have been happier in the leap from piano score to orchestral score. It’s incredibly reassuring to hear things pan out more or less as you hoped they would when you crammed all your orchestral thoughts under ten fingers on a keyboard in a rehearsal room. There is still some tweaking being done (and of course the matter of the whole second scene), but its trundling along very nicely indeed (have I mentioned that tickets are on sale now?).

Hobart is a neat little city- the stroll between the orchestra and one of my two favourite bakeries in the world along the waterfront is becoming a walk with a prominent place in my pantheon of walks. And oh, what bakeries! So all in all, a highly fulfilling week on personal, musical and gastronomical fronts.