In our occasional interview series for 2021, classikON Ambassador Alan Holley discusses the aftermath of 2020 and the future with composer Evan J Lawson
Alan Holley: Evan, my understanding is that you are a very active composer on the Melbourne scene and my question is: did 2020 put a dampener on your career and will the effect impact this 2021 and beyond?
Evan Lawson: 2020 certain did impact pretty much all my musical activity. As artistic director of Forest Collective, I had to cancel a number of performances that had been planned in 2020 and defer them to 2021.
I didn’t have a huge amount of my own compositional work in these gigs, but I was meant to be conducting and doing some arrangements, but this all of course got cancelled. I did get one work premiered online – a new piano solo was performed by my close collaborator Danae Killian – Check it out here
AH: The loss of opportunities in 2020 has led to some composers finding their activities for future performances and commissions disappearing. Has this affected you – in Melbourne and elsewhere?
Yes, I had a performance of a work with the Bayside Chamber Orchestra planned, which is now sitting in a bit of limbo. I also was meant to go to France to work on a new opera. I was meant to leave for some development sessions a few days after the border ended up being closed back in March 2020! The project will still be taking place in some way, however it’s all still very up in the air how it will be presented.
AH: Have you found that collaborating with other composers and performers can lead to a more expansive presence in the Australian music scene?
Absolutely. Collaboration is at the core of what I do as a musician, and especially with my activities with Forest Collective. At Forest we aim to present as much Australian and new music as possible, and leads us to working not only with composers from a notated, western art music tradition, but improvisers, indigenous artists, pop musicians, cabaret musicians and many many more. It helps create a broad and diverse focus for my curatorial practice, but also gives me the opportunity to do arrangements and orchestrations for traditional instruments with new and wonderful textures unheard in the western art music tradition.
AH: The few events of last year and on the horizon now that include new music seem to now focus on smaller scale works – solos and duos predominate. Does this suit your musical vision?
Yes and no. I think big projects, in terms of length and instrumentation, are really important, especially for emerging composers, or composers or musicians who are working in the western art music form for the first time. Forest Collective is a 15 piece ensemble, so we certainly can and do perform smaller works, but we work best when we have the full line up of instruments, it’s part of what makes us different. We have had to have the inevitable chats around social distancing and possible changes to event capacities and a big part of that is talking about small ensemble works to fit within guidelines. In my own composition practice I’ve always written a lot for solo instruments and it’s something I really enjoy. The opera for France is for two singers and a saxophone player, so that’s giving me an opportunity to really explore smaller intimate textures.
AH: What will be, or has been so far, the reinvigorating event for you this year? The event that tells you things might just return to some sense of normalcy and can you share details for the readers?
Probably the first concert Forest Collective presented on February 28 at Heide Museum of Modern Art. We played arrangements I’ve made of the music of the fantastic indigenous artist Diimpa. It was in the “new normal” as an outdoor event, and the audience members were able to bring picnics, and have a drink in the beautiful gardens at Heide. It was a really inspiring event and the energy was so palpable and people seemed so happy to finally share new music again. We’ve gone on to launch a whole series of events for 2021, and I’m so excited to share music of a wide diversity with audiences in the coming months.
Evan J Lawson (b.1989, he/him) is one of Australia’s leading queer artists, working at the forefront of contemporary culture as composer, curator, and conductor, chiefly as artistic director of Forest Collective.
Hailed by Bridget Davies in The Age that Lawson’s innovative musical imaginations…are striking… Evan is a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts and the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. He has studied with Benjamin Northey, Richard Gill, Johanna Selleck, David Aronson (at the Wiener Staatsoper) and Matthias Pintscher (at Grafenegg Festival) who has said that his music is serene, deep, it’s even breathing the heritage of Mahler.