5 minutes with Anne Cawrse

11 Jun 2021
  • Community
by Nicola Cann
5 minutes with Anne Cawrse

She Speaks – a day to celebrate music written by women.

On Saturday June 19th, Elder Hall will be filled with glorious music. Across three concerts, audiences will be treated to a musical smorgasbord of performances by the Seraphim Trio, the Elder Music Lab, a handful of Adelaide’s finest operatic voices, and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. They will hear art songs and arias that tell of love, loss, longing and self-discovery.  They will hear chamber works written by composers in their prime, full of brilliant virtuosity and restrained tenderness. There will be music that explores the stars, music that reflects the natural beauty of the Australian landscape, music that intrigues through its brooding moodiness, and music with an infectious, bombastic groove. Beyond sheer appreciation of the wonderful music and exceptional artistry, audiences will be encouraged to listen to the messages behind the notes, and to consider the voices of others.

It just so happens that every work on the program was composed by a woman.

To my knowledge, the last time an MPA organisation presented a program entirely of works by female composers was in the mid-90’s, when the Queensland Symphony presented their ‘Meet the Composer’ studio concerts. Framed from this perspective, She Speaks has been a long time coming. Together with the establishment of the Myriam Hyde Circle, this day of music signals a real, practical and deliberate commitment from the ASO towards the performance of music by female composers, past and present.

In the lunch-hour concert Domestic Voices, the Seraphim Trio and Cheryl Pickering will perform works by arguably the two best known female composers of the early nineteenth century, Clara Schumann and Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn. Clara’s songs are jewels of precision and sophistication, and Fanny’s Piano Trio is bold and exuberant, but equally intimate and lyrical, and explores the form in a way unique for the time. Opening the program will be a work for violin and piano by Dr Ruby Davy, an Adelaide born and trained composer who bears the distinction of Australia’s first female Doctor of Music. I believe her music has not been performed in public since her passing in 1949.

Following lunch, you are invited to listen to and talk with local composers and musicians Anna Goldsworthy, Hilary Kleinig, Rachel Bruerville, Becky Llewellyn and myself. We will discuss the role female composers play in our musical culture, the problems of representation, and the positive steps that are occurring to address gender imbalance in classical music.

Symposium speakers L-R Rachel Bruerville, Becky Llewellyn, Hilary Kleinig, Anne Cawrse, Anna Goldsworthy

For the evening concert She Speaks, our focus becomes Australian orchestral music. The strong tradition of women composers in Australia is represented by Dulcie Holland, better known for her ubiquitous music theory workbooks than her compositional output, and Peggy Glanville-Hicks, a musical maverick and composer of five operas. The bulk of the program is devoted to works by living composers: Elena Kats-Chernin, Maria Grenfell, Natalie Williams, and Holly Harrison. Of special significance is the premiere of a suite taken from my opera, Innocence: a story about grief, ambiguous loss, and those left behind following tragedy.

For those who like to stay out late, When We Speak will be presented by the Elder Music Lab. Hilary Kleinig will perform the program’s titular work for solo cello and electroacoustic track by Melbourne composer Lisa Cheney. Accompanying Lisa’s powerful and thought provoking piece will be a work for solo Flute by Kaija Saariaha, the large ensemble work ‘Nosztalgiaim’ by Finnish composer Lotta Wennäkoski, and ‘Gustave Le Gray’, a Chopin-inspired work by young American composer Caroline Shaw. To complete the program, Hilary’s string quartet work ‘Great White Bird’ will acknowledge the indigenous people of our land and reflect upon the time in Australia before European settlement.

Part of my job description as a composer is to be invigorated by the new. I am on a constant search for new possibilities, new note combinations, new ways of manipulating musical elements and ordering them in such a way that the resultant sound ‘says’ something- communicates a feeling, an image, a colour, an idea, or a story. Curiosity is essential: while I appreciate and acknowledge the importance of the musical canon, it alone does not satisfy me. I hope ‘She Speaks’ says as much about curiosity and appetite for the new as it does women composers. My wish is for Adelaide audiences – indeed, all audiences – to delight in the new; to discover a new favourite piece or composer, and to grow in the awareness that there are many musical voices that deserve the stage, the airwaves, and our personal playlists. That way, once She Speaks is over, we will continue to intentionally consider the musical menus that are curated for us; to listen carefully, respectfully question, and always be learning.

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Recording courtesy of ABC Classic

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