Since its foundation, Omega Ensemble has commissioned, performed and recorded numerous new works by Australian composers. In fact, it’s an integral part of their philosophy as a modern-day chamber ensemble. To date, the Omega Ensemble has commissioned and performed over twenty new works that demonstrate a Who’s Who roster of Australian composers, including Daniel Rojas, Mark Isaacs, George Palmer, Elena Kats-Chernin, Anne Boyd, Matthew Hindson, Christopher Gordon, John Peterson, Margery Smith, Stuart Greenbaum, Paul Stanhope, Ben Hoadley, and Andrew Ford, to name a few. Now, Cyrus Meurant, who has had two works presented by Omega returns with a new piece for their 2017 concert season.
Cyrus has been having much success with his music. In 2016 he released his second album, Monday to Friday, which has received nation-wide publicity , with an article being featured in The Sydney Morning Herald and Cyrus being interviewed on ABC Breakfast Television and ABC Radio National. Check out Cyrus talking about this project here.
Alongside Cyrus’ Concertino is another Australian composer, Ian Munro’s, Songs from the Bush. Putting two Australian works side-by-side demonstrates both the importance of programming and commissioning new music (which is part of Omega’s core Philosophy) and also demonstrates the diversity that is found between all Australian composers.
For composers, hearing their work performed by professional musicians is vital to their work. Cyrus talks about hearing his music performed here.
Omega's Content Manager recently interviewed Cyrus.
How did the collaboration between Omega and yourself originate, and what is the advantage (for both composer and musicians) to work together in bringing a new work to life?
Previously, I composed and performed in two works for the Omega Ensemble: Eventide Visions (2013) and Impromptu (2015). David Rowden and I had recently been speaking about a new work and eventually settled on my composing the Concertino featuring him as soloist for the 2017 season. Having worked with David over the years, I certainly wrote the work with his fine playing in mind. From the earliest sketches, I was sending music to him for feedback.
I think it’s advantageous to develop recurring professional collaborations. It helps facilitate the exchange and exploration of creative ideas. I find this is true for collaboration with performers as well as collaborating with artists in other disciplines.
Overall, how would you describe your musical style and how did you arrive at this style and what drew you to become a composer?
I’ve always valued the idea of being an independent composer and performer. I particularly enjoy presenting my own work with an amplified ensemble of 4 or 5 instruments, usually with strings, winds and percussion.
I was determined to become a composer during my teenage years. I was always practicing Bach on the violin and piano, my love of jazz and rock music was always in the background too, and I studied a wide range of traditional music at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
I played and recorded with the Renaissance Players for several years, and then I studied in Europe. I think many artists end up fusing a range of personally inspiring influences and this can lead to developing new musical languages. My composing is only possible after having studied hard and having focussed on my craft over a period of years.
I’ve been fortunate to work for many years with leading dance choreographer Brett Morgan, who is now artistic director of the National College of Dance. Brett and I have collaborated on 6 dance works over the last 5 years with multiple staging’s of various productions. I would say my style has broadened in more recent years and this is certainly through having worked on a wide range of collaborative theatre projects over the years with various companies.
Panorama for flute, violin and cello
We are all looking forward to your Concertino for clarinet and strings. Why did you decide to write a concertino and what are some of the challenges (or advantages) when writing in this format?
Well, it really was David’s original suggestion for me to write a concertino – after we’d spoken about a few other possibilities. I thought initially that it was a somewhat unlikely work for me to compose, though I was certainly interested by the possibilities that it presented.
There was the opportunity to compose a work in the vein of a concerto, with the themes of soloist versus the ensemble, though it’s shorter than a fully-fledged concerto and it meant it probably wasn’t going to adhere to a conventional movement structure. I became interested in the relationship of the clarinet to the string quartet and how this relationship could suggest and generate larger forms.
The balance of clarinet and strings seems to work quite well, and there are many composers who have used this medium. How do you approach writing for the clarinet with strings and what, would you say, makes the clarinet such an exciting instrument to write for?
I think one of the allures in writing for clarinet is its flexibility as an instrument across genres and the way it can shift in character from the lyricism of Mozart to the spikiness of jazz, or klezmer or other traditional styles. I’m always impressed too, by the distinctive lower “Chalumeau” register. The clarinet in A goes right down to concert C# below middle C.
With regards to the clarinet and strings – as models you have many, though it’s hard to go past the chamber clarinet quintets of Mozart and Brahms. Then there are works like the Copland Clarinet Concerto which beautifully combines the lyrical clarinet with the strings but then also features the faster jazz-like passages for Benny Goodman who commissioned the work. The capacity for the clarinet to blend well in textures and its relatively uniform behaviour across registers certainly makes its pairing with strings often very pleasing and usually unproblematic.
As a composer, it is vital to get your music played by the best musicians. What would you say are some of the advantages of having an ensemble like Omega play your music and how much of the musicians input informs the outcome of the performance?
Omega Ensemble present diverse and interesting programs and they have shown an ongoing commitment to commissioning and presenting new work. The professionalism of the ensemble and their appearances at the pre-eminent venues in Sydney certainly means a composer will feel that their music is being presented in the best light possible.
Having feedback from the performers means you can make corrections along the way, and really have the score in good shape by the time the premiere arrives. Of course, the performers will always bring something unique to their musical interpretations, and for me it’s always an exciting aspect of hearing the work come to life.
You’ve released two CDs of your original music, and the latest one is rather unique in that it was written for dementia patients in aged-care. Could you tell me how that project came about, and what was it like to write music for such a unique project?
Well, I was forwarded some correspondence several years ago, from Linda Beaumont, who is the proprietor of Beaumont Care in Brisbane. Linda was enquiring about the possibility of commissioning music that might be installed into their residences. Beaumont Care run four residences for people with various care needs, including one of the largest specialist dementia care facilities in Australia.
Music has been shown to communicate with the part of the brain least effected by dementia and I saw firsthand, the positive outcomes music has been providing in dementia care. Following on, I then had meetings with dementia specialists Tara Quirke, and Professor Elizabeth Beattie from the Queensland University of Technology, and I set about writing music which would be played for residents at various times of day – morning, afternoon, evening, and overnight.
The project then expanded and I composed music for each weekday, completing 20 pieces in all. I titled the work Monday to Friday and I produced the recording which was released in December as well as being installed into Beaumont Care residences. It features musicians Sally Walker, Sascha Bota, Alison Pratt and Clemens Leske.
It was a unique project, and as far as we know the first of its kind in the country. It gave me a different reference point for my work as I was considering typical moods of people living with dementia at various times of day, along with the practical needs of the care homes with regards to communal meeting times.
For some audiences, hearing new music presents some ‘challenges’. It’s extremely important that new music is regularly performed. Why do you think some audiences are hesitant to listen to new music and what would you say to audiences (who are perhaps sceptical of new music) to encourage them to listen to new music?
I suppose we’re ultimately talking about the subjective and personal ideals of taste. Though, I think if we’re talking about creating new musical languages then the experience itself, like learning any new language can be not only challenging, but quite bewildering – for the composers, musicians and the audience (and the success will vary a great deal too). Often new ways of doing things involve different starting points, new perspectives, or the flouting of a set of rules. To various extents, new ideas throughout history have been perceived as dangerous and can of course appear threatening when challenging or even undermining long held views and beliefs.
That said, motivating factors of being “modern” and what it means to be “modern” are always changing - particularly in the Western world - given the increasingly rapid dissemination of a wide range of cultural traditions, historical perspectives and inheritances. I think stylistic allusion or the reconciliation of styles and genres will continue to be of considerable artistic and social consequence going forward, perhaps more so than any single theoretical musical process or aesthetic.
I also think sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the more fundamentally defining, experiential and revelatory qualities with which the performing arts can provide us. I would say to people who haven’t found a type of contemporary music they like, to keep looking as there is bound to be a style of new music that will speak quite directly and personally to them. The experience could end up being particularly profound, even life-changing and offer new perspectives and renewal.
Cyrus writes of this work:
Triptych was composed at the request of Australian percussionist Adam Jeffrey and first performed at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam in 2010 by the Plec Sextet. It would later be performed by Ensemble Signal at the June in Buffalo festival in 2012. During the composition of Triptych, I turned to the Pierrot works of Schoenberg, Carter, Druckman and Rzweski along with Stravinsky's Septet as possible compositional models. The language of Triptych however follows very much on my own terms. Clear harmonic schemes serve as the basis for textural variations in the two outer movements, whilst the slower middle movement features lyrical lines offset with a passacaglia-like ground. I am particularly grateful to John Smigielski for establishing contact with me and programming my work. Thanks finally to the musicians of the Post-Sonus Orchestra.
You can hear more of Cyrus’s music here.
Catch the world-premiere of Cyrus Meurant’s Concertino for Clarinet and Strings alongside Ian Munro’s Songs from the Bush , and Mozart’s String Quartet “The Hunt,” and Busoni’s Suite for Clarinet and Strings in G Minor. A concert of rare gems, new works, and iconic pieces of chamber music, this is a celebration of Australian music set in Australia’s most iconic venue – an event not to be missed.