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Adelaide Symphony Orchestra presents a participatory community engagement project: Floods of Fire

10 Oct 2021
  • Media Release
by Nicola Cann

In celebration of World Inclusion Day, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra is proud to announce Floods of Fire – an artist-led community-building project drawing on the cultural heritage of a wide spectrum of communities living in South Australia.

Thematically, Floods of Fire focuses on our environment and the impacts of climate change, stemming from flood and fire stories associated with creation, destruction and re-creation.

ASO Managing Director, Vincent Ciccarello, said Floods of Fire was conceived with European participatory theatre director, Airan Berg, in response to the devastating fires and then floods of 2019/2020. He said, “Floods of Fire is an example of how ASO reflects the issues and concerns affecting our community today, by listening, connecting and learning. This inclusive engagement is finding expression in the development of new music and a new way of working for the orchestra, which is very exciting.”

Over the course of 12 months ASO collaborated with Nexus Arts, Tutti Arts, Brink Productions, Open Music Academy, Elder Conservatorium, CFS and SES after receiving funding from Department of Premier and Cabinet, Arts SA. The orchestra engaged South Australian Composers: Julian Ferraretto, Hilary Kleinig, Adam Page, Luke Harold, Grayson Rotumah, Jakub Jankowski, Zhao Liang and Belinda Gehlert.

The composers conducted workshops with musicians: Noriko Tadano, Nancy Bates, Farhan Shah, Iran Sanadzadeh, Alain Volodze, Lazaro Numa, Zuhir Naji, Maryam Rahmani, Bortier Okoe, David Dai, Yidaki Player Robert Thomas and Conductor Luke Dollman who distinctively brought the project to life.

Chris Drummond Brink Productions Artistic Director, used his skills as a theatre director to take on the role of facilitating for the way in which the disparate contributors came together, particularly with an eye on how stories intersected with the process of collaborative composition.

He says, “Over three hours an extraordinary musical conversation unfurled between this community of artists representing many cultures and backgrounds, all exploring personal responses to their different encounters with floods or fire. Dr Jared Thomas from the SA Museum spoke of the First Nations dreaming stories that shaped the lands on which we exist. It was a powerful and unifying start to the project and has sustained and nourished all the participants as they have gone on to work in smaller separate groups over the ensuing months. The privilege of being at some of the orchestral rehearsals for the new works that have since been written has been spine-tingling. The combination of these experiences to date only hints at the enormous potential this work will have with its public outcomes”.

Soloist Farhan Shah described his workshop group as a cocktail mix of different cultures, sounds and innovation. “A Pakistani Sufi Chanting composer vocalist, a flamenco guitarist/composer, a young innovative Iranian female musician with a unique manually digital sound box instrument all working with acclaimed lead composer/musician Julian Ferraretto.” he said.

Coming from a different part of the world Farhan had an idea of destruction and floods in different contexts, but the project was an eye opener for him in an Australian context. He says, “The different metaphors around fire and flood, it was heartbreaking to hear the many personal stories.” Farhan’s biggest take away from Floods of Fire was getting to meet and work with a range of artists, hearing their stories and sharing and learning from others’ experiences.

Floods of Fire will be performed in 2022 but audiences will get a sneak peek at three of the compositions at Festival of Orchestra. Zhao Liang’s story of the phoenix will be shared as a family workshop as part of the Festival’s family program, Sunday 5 December. Whilst at Carmina Burana, Saturday 27 November Grayson Rotumah and Luke Harrald’s piece will be performed on the main stage along with Julian Ferraretto’s piece, co-written with the Open Academy and students from Carlton School Port Augusta.

ASO Community Projects Manager Elizabeth McCall said Floods was such an exciting project to work on, “ASO had never contemplated a project on this scale, it had worked with different communities but not immersed in the same way this is. Music is this incredible way of telling a story, it’s more than just music it communicates someone’s whole experience often beyond words so if we can get into people’s stories and help create that music we are truly connecting with them. It makes music contemporary it brings it into the now. You can bring different musicians together from many different walks of life and have incredible music outcomes.”

Tutti Arts Founding Artistic Director Pat Rix said, “It’s so unusual for any flagship company to embrace a project that brings diversity right into the room in a way that is inescapable. They are not only in the same room but they are working together. Music is a universal language possibly the one universal language and everybody in that room felt the emotions that go with that.

Everybody in Australia has some experience of fire or flood so people want to share their stories. It’s the time when humanity can come together and celebrate the richness of experience that is being human and not just have these voices heard and these voices unheard. There is extraordinary beauty in unexpected places.”

Singaporean-Chinese, composer Zhao Liang says she created a work that reminded her of the fire bird ‘Phoenix’ as it rejuvenates through diving into fire. Working with composer Belinda Gehlert she created a suite of five pieces themed into a storyline which tells the tale of the Phoenix. She’s most proud of what she discovered about herself through the creative process, “Floods has unearthed the depth of my potential and my capacity to strengthen and grow as a musician/composer was very rewarding. It has been a very reflective process, and also rejuvenating! The greatest surprise through this project it that I have surprised myself!”  she said.

ASO Associate Principal Trumpet Martin Phillipson was one of the thousands that fled Mallacoota as ravaging bushfires hit Gippsland in January 2020 burning more than 200,000 hectares. Martin vividly remembers the experience as harrowing he says, “the fire front was approaching and we decided to evacuate we got out through smoke but it was very scary. We left everything behind and lost everything we left.”

Martin described the Floods of Fire community workshops as a humbling experience, “Music is a great art form for telling stories and one of our primary objectives in the orchestra is to connect with community. Community really needs music for healing it needs music to tell stories it needs music to connect again. People need music now like never before.” he said.

Barkindji Song Woman Nancy Bates spoke at the workshops of the practice of cultural burning and the use of fire to bring life not destroy it, she says, “before language we had song, we communicated through song with humans all over the world and it’s the way we have been able to live in this country and create harmony. When you’ve taught an orchestra to learn through birdsong and you’ve shared that cultural process it feels like you’ve done something important.”

Shivani Marx, ASO Chief Operator Officer, spoke of the importance of Floods of Fire and how it forms part of the ASO’s greater commitment to cultural inclusion and community. She believes “projects like Floods make the orchestra relevant and meaningful to the wider community.” Shivani said.

ASO commissioned South Australian film makers Randy Larcombe and Suzi Ting to document Floods of Fire creative workshops the short film can be viewed at

Airan Berg is an internationally working theatre maker and artistic director, who specialises in large scale participatory and inclusive projects. He is currently the artistic director of: Festival der Regionen, one of Austria’s most prestigious festivals, Orfeo & Majnun a Creative Europe music theatre project in 7 European Countries, and Floods of Fire, commissioned by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Made in collaboration with the following partners: Nexus Arts, Tutti Arts, Brink Productions, Open Music Academy, Elder Conservatorium, CFS and SES.

ASO wishes to thank the project composers: Julian Ferraretto, Hilary Kleinig, Adam Page, Luke Harold, Grayson Rotumah, Jakub Jankowski, Zhao Liang and Belinda Gehlert. Along with soloists: Noriko Tadano, Nancy Bates, Farhan Shah, Iran Sanadzadeh, Alain Volodze, Lazaro Numa, Zuhir Naji, Maryam Rahmani, Bortier Okoe, David Dai and Yidaki Player Robert Taylor for bringing this project so vividly to life.

Conducted by Luke Dollmann

The project is being evaluated by Dr. Tully Barnett with LabAdelaide

Floods of Fire will be performed in 2022

Cheree McEwin, Publicist Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
08 8233 6205 / 0416 181 679 /

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