In the lead up to Sirius Chamber Ensemble’s concert on Friday 23 June, 2017, I interviewed Alan Holley who composed most of the works in the program.
Kate: Sirius Chamber Ensemble has performed several of your compositions and you have heard them perform other works many times. How do you find this familiarity enhances the composition process?
Alan: The members of this Sydney chamber music group bring excitement and joy to all their concert activities. I have heard them in standard repertoire and also perform numerous living Australian and international composers. When they approached me to perform my music in a concert in 2015 I was delighted. I never expected that it would lead to more performances in 2016 and this concert where I have three works. The longest is Cicada Sings (clarinet, violin, cello and piano) and it has been especially reworked for SIRIUS. Originally it was a shorter work for baroque trio and I enjoyed the opportunity to have not only the extra instrument but a keyboard with sustain.
I know the sound that the core members make and that was in my imagination when I wrote the piece. And I used the same instrumentation for the Tredinnick Songs but this time I had text that needed to come through the instrumental lines so there is more ‘space’ in the instrumental writing for the songs.
The shortest work is my virtuosic clarinet solo ZOASTRA from 1991. Ian Sykes will perform it and I enjoy the contrast of placing of my earlier work with music that still has ‘wet ink’.
Kate: How was Mark Tredinnick, the featured poet, selected? Is there an existing friendship?
Alan: I only met Mark recently. However, I had come across his work in a newspaper and online a few years back when he won the Montreal International Poetry Prize and then last year I bought two of his poetry volumes. Wanting to set his poems I approached his publisher Pitt Street Poetry and then we met.
To me, his words seem to sing themselves ‘off the page’ and I had a great time setting them.
Kate: How is the composing process different when the poet is alive, other than being able to work with them? How does it enhance it?
Alan: It is hard to know if working with a contemporary enhances my composing process but some things come through. The use of language that is ‘now’, certain inflections that are of ‘this time’ let the reader/listener know that this is poetry of our time and not one that is long gone. Maybe that helps me to set the text with my musical language – a ‘music’ of now.
The songs are being sung by the fabulous Taryn Srhoj and one of the poems is written from a male’s perspective. Mentioning this to Mark he changed a word to make it gender neutral and he liked the new ‘sound’ he made.
Kate: In this same concert there is a work by the Croatian composer Frano Parac and I understand you suggested this work to SIRIUS.
Alan: I did. Over the last few years I have been to Croatia three times for music festivals and concerts. The score of Quartet by Frano Parac was given to me by the pianist Tamara Jurkic Sviben in 2012 and I was intrigued from the very first look. Parac is a major European voice and his Quartet is a delight – full of highly coloured passages and beautiful lyrical writing.
Buy tickets to the concert for $25/$15:
Sirius Chamber Ensemble Twilight Recital: New Music by Alan Holley | Friday 23 June 6pm, 2017 | Lavender Bay, NSW