Nørgård Percussion Concerto: For a Change

I've known for a while that 2016 would be a really interesting year for me. For the first time in a very, very long time, I won't have been a student in some capacity. The year seems full of potential and possibility, and I'm excited that some big things are already in the works! 

Having been released into the 'real world' of freelancing at the end of 2015, it's been kind of funny that I've been back at ANAM almost immediately. The Australian National Academy of Music was a wonderful home for me over the past three years and played a tremendous role in shaping my ideas about music, and I'm completely thrilled to be back as a guest artist for the ANAM Orchestra's 2016 Opening Concert to perform Nørgård's Percussion Concerto For a Change

I've been living with Nørgård's work for a long time now, having first performed the solo version I Ching in 2014 and then giving two performances of the concerto version in 2015. As an undergraduate student at the University of Western Australia, this piece had a kind of mythological quality to it. I knew my teacher, the wonderful Tim White, had given the Australian premiere as part of the Young Performers Awards, and saw friends and colleagues give incredible performances of individual movements. The huge number of instruments, the ferocious tempo of the final movement, and the need to memorise large chunks of the work to make it playable made this piece seem like a kind of musical Everest.

Years later, as the end of study approached, I started to create a list of big, crazy dream pieces I hadn't played yet. I wanted to make sure I ticked off some of the major works that would only be playable while I still had access to the number of instruments and rehearsal spaces that an institution's percussion room provides. I Ching came out on the top of my list, and I began collecting the instruments and working through the movements with the help of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's John Arcaro. It still seemed like Everest at the beginning! Tim kindly lent me some of the more difficult-to-source instruments, which we flew over from Perth, and I took over multiple practice rooms at ANAM and the University of Melbourne as we tried to build the vast set up. There were endless decisions about mallet changes and sticking to be made, and Nørgård's meticulously notated dynamics and accents needed tremendous amounts of slow, mindful practice to bring out the desired effects. I usually prefer to practice in the morning but found myself working late into the night, worrying less about disturbing others with my thundering drums and enjoying the silence and serenity of the near-deserted buildings in my breaks.

Having the chance to return to a piece so many times over a year and a half has been an unusual experience. It seems pieces are usually performed once or as part of a set season, then cast aside as you begin work on the next project. Every time I set Nørgård's work on my music stand, it felt like I reached a new level of understanding and ease. This opportunity to spend so much time with a piece is one we don't get often as musicians, and I've enjoyed it immensely.

And now we're in the performance week! This will be my first time performing the concerto with a full orchestra, under the guidance of Spanish composer Antonio Mendez. I'm so incredibly grateful to all at ANAM for this opportunity - the staff, the players, and the audiences who have supported me through the years. This seems to me like such a beautiful way to farewell ANAM and celebrate the start of the next chapter, and I hope you'll be able to join us for the performance.

What's next?  

  • International Women's Day. I'll be celebrating by attending 'This Will Be Our Reply', a concert of new Australian works by an impressive line up of female composers. Curated by Samantha Wolf, with all proceeds going to the Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre.
    Samantha Wolf has put together a wonderful concert of new works by Australian 
  • An announcement next week from Rubiks about our first concert of 2016...
  • Rehearsals and planning for the first Bricolage show of the year. We're very excited to be performing a set of works for vibraphone at Conduit on Sunday March 20, alongside Shani Mohini-Holmes and Adrian Sherriff (voice/bass trombone improvisations) and Matthew Horsley (uillean pipes).