The beauty of Australian music is that it can be anything you want it to be. This country boasts a fine variety of composers, each with their own distinct musical voices. With them, they bring their own cultures, their own ideas, and their own musical interests. One of those composers is Ian Munro. His diverse output ranges from solo piano rags to piano trios, to flute concertos and beyond. Not only does he compose his own music, but he is also a champion of other Australian composer’s music, regularly performing and recording their works.
Ian’s iconic clarinet quintet, Songs from the Bush is being performed by Omega Ensemble in their next concert at Sydney Opera House.
Get to know a little bit more about Ian Munro with these five interesting facts.
1. Ian is a world-renowned concert pianist who champions Australian music
Ian Munro started out his career as a concert pianist, and he is an exceptionally gifted one at that. In 1987 Ian performed Prokofiev’s fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by (Sir) Simon Rattle, in the finals of the Leeds International Piano Competition.
As a pianist he has championed the works of fellow Australian composers, including Andrew Ford (Ian recorded Andrew’s Waltz Book), Elena Kats-Chernin (whose Piano Concerto No. 2 was written especially for Ian and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra)
Elena’s Piano Concerto No.2 performed by Ian Munro and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra:
2. Ian was the first Australian to release a commercial recording on the Australian Stuart & Sons Piano
Interestingly, Ian was also one of the first Australian pianists to commercially release a recording of music played on the newly developed Stuart & Sons Piano. The 1996 album, Mere Bagatelles, includes works by Australian composers Carl Vine, Peter Sculthorpe, Keith Humble, Nigel Butterley, Elliott Gyger, Ian Munro and a host of others.
The album cover of Mere Bagatelles (Tall Poppies, 1996)
(Omega Ensemble's own Ambassador, Gerard Willems AM alsomade this piano famous for his unique recording of the complete Beethoven Sonatas).
3. Ian’s compositions have a diverse range of styles.
Ian says of composing (source: http://www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/article/interview-with-ian-munro):
“Once, I used to think in terms of absolute music, and notes came from the ether, and other ethereal notes would gather around them, as it were. Too hard for me now! I like to start these days by thinking of an artistic concept, often related to a literary piece or a work of art in another form. My first string quartet was inspired by a collection of woodcuts from the Ballarat Art Gallery. My Piano Trio follows quite closely three Russian folk tales. The actual start of any work is often quite messy, and I have a growing stack of spiral bound manuscript books with a jumble of sketches to prove it. But once a start has been made, often most of the rest of a piece will follow on quite naturally.”
In 2001 Ian composed his famous Whitlam Rag, which lead to him composing and recording Blue Rags, a set of five piano pieces that celebrate that ‘modern,’ Australian Piano Rag. In 1992 Ian returned to composing. At that time, he had recently become a father and several of his works dealt with the themes of childhood. For instance, Lucy's Book (1993-2006) and the Children's Concerto (1999) reflect an abiding concern with music for children.
Ian has also composed a number of chamber and orchestral works, including a Piano Quintet, Divertissement sur le nom d'Erik Satie (2006) based on the idea of a day in the life of Erik Satie, as well as a Piano Trio, Tales from Old Russia.
Here’s Ian talking about his composition process:
Here’s Ian performing one of his own Rag’s called “Bad Girl Rag,” from the collection, Blue Rags
4. Ian composed a Piano Concerto called Dreams
In 2003 Ian’s piano concerto, Dreams, won the prestigious Queen Elisabeth International Competition in Brussels and was subsequently played by the twelve finalists of the international piano competition. He has been the only Australian, in the history of the competition, to win it. Dreams was Broadcast across Europe both on radio and television.
You can listen to Dreams here: https://ianmunro.wordpress.com/biog-composer/compositions/
5. Songs from the Bush was inspired by both Colonial and Indigenous music
Ian Munro writes:
My Clarinet Quintet Songs from the Bush was inspired by folk melodies from both sides of the Australian colonial frontier, and is meant as a personal evocation of historical musical elements that formed part of Australia’s past, as well as its present. The three movements – Country Dance, Campfire & Night Sky and Drover’s Lament – draw material from three sources: My ageing but treasured copy of John Meredith’s Folk Songs of Australia, with its rambling, incomplete survey of folk tunes collected in New South Wales during the 1950s and ‘60s, provided such gems as The Wild Rover, Shores of Botany Bay (both heard in highly modified form in the first movement); and the lonesome immigrant’s lament Sixteen Thousand Miles (heard at the opening of the third movement).
Ian Munro’s Songs from the Bush performed live by the Omega Ensemble
David Rowden loved the work so much that he made it his mission to champion it. So much so that it was recorded on Omega’s debut album in 2016 recorded by ABC Classics.
Don’t miss this chance to hear Ian Munro’s Songs from the Bush, a stirring, a lyrical and emotional composition that will enrich, delight and invigorate you. With the backdrop of Sydney’s iconic harbour, in the most iconic Opera House in the world, this event is a celebration of all that is Australian music.