Tell us about what it was like working with such personal material – How did you approach it creatively, did you meet the family of the soldier whose letter you selected?
At first it seemed daunting, to use the first-hand experiences of a man who died nearly a hundred years before I was born as the basis for a composition. At the start I was worrying myself with the politics around the whole ANZAC celebration; that the work would come across as being either sentimental glorification or else dehumanising to the man. Once I got into reading Bert’s [the soldier] letters though, all of that became insignificant. His writing was so honest and idiosyncratic that as I read it felt as though I was getting to know him personally, and so it became clear to me that my approach had to be a very direct and personal response to Bert himself. I did contact Bert’s granddaughter, and her daughter came to the concert. They were all very happy that I had chosen Bert to be my subject. The family members who came said they were pleased with the work too.
What was the process like working with APO and Ken? What kind of opportunities did having workshop sessions afford yourself and your music? Did it help with the final work (Alternative Q for Ken – What was your role working with the APO and the other composers – did you take on a mediation role?)
The workshops are quite a uniquely luxurious experience, in that you had multiple chances to hear the music live, and use this perspective to really take your time tweaking and honing it to be the best it could be. You don’t really get to experience that much with new music. The APO are great, their professionalism makes it that much less stressful getting the music out, plus the players were always happy to listen to my ideas and lend advice. Ken was helpful too, when it came to the practical side of things, especially as this was my first time writing for singer with orchestra. He has so much experience in the field, and his advice for balancing the orchestration with the singer was extremely useful.
Now that the project is over, how do you feel about this kind of process of working? Did it help the work? Are there clear advantages over the more traditional forms of developing a piece of music?
I think it’s a good process, especially for a large-scale work such as this. As I said, the time-frame gives you the luxury of really getting to think about the piece as you write it, getting to examine your material in as much detail as you like, which I think was very positive for the work. Meanwhile, the workshops are good for bringing a bit of objectivity back to your thinking, lest you get lost in those details! I think you can learn a lot more from such an experience.
Is your work is very specific to this time and place of the ANZAC centenary? In what kind of context could you see the work performed in the future?
I don’t think the work bears much direct relation to the centenary. I wasn’t thinking about it when I was writing it. It’s much more a character study of Bert himself rather than of the events surrounding him. I can see the piece performed in any sort of context without too much trouble really.