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The Cybec Foundation supports the MSO in its flagship Cybec 21st Century Australian Composers’ Program. The four participants for the 2017 program are Catherine Likhuta, Mark Holdsworth, May Lyon, and Daniel Thorpe.

Get to know where these up-and-coming composers gain inspiration and what the Cybec program has meant for their respective careers.

Mark Holdsworth – L’appel du vide

What has Cybec meant to you and your career
Cybec has been an incredibly rewarding experience. It has provided an integral platform for the development of my orchestral composition skills. It nurtures growth as a composer and liaison within the industry. It’s a tremendous privilege to have been chosen to partake in Cybec, and to have such esteemed musicians premiere my work!

The program is so highly regarded, and as such it has given my work profound national exposure that will pass on to perforce career opportunities.

Can you tell us a bit more about the piece that you have written for Cybec?
Music for me, like it is for most people, is a powerful expressive force; it is a uniquely effective way of contemplating the abstract and complicated aspects of human life. Music has significant potential and capacity for discussing the darker things in life, those hard and heavy subjects that are often avoided or too uncomfortable to discuss in everyday conversation. Like much of my compositional output, L’appel du vide is devoted to exploring the dualities that characterise our humanity.

Conceptualising this piece was an arduous and lengthy process, involving a lot of introspection as well as research into the psychological and philosophical perspectives surrounding humankinds struggle between good and evil.

Was a career in music always the plan for you?
I’m very fortunate in that I have known, since I took up piano aged 13, that I wanted to devote my life to music. I began as an aspiring concert pianist and composed small pieces for myself to play. However, my love of composition soon overtook my love of performance and so my career trajectory consequently changed!

Composing is a strange and unique craft. Putting the notes down is often a hugely cathartic experience but those notes of course remain unheard until they are realised in performance. To have MSO, one of Australia’s leading orchestras premiere my work, is a dream come true. It is both uplifting and terrifying. There is a lot of fear when it comes to having your inner thoughts laid bare before an audience; it’s a naked and unapologetic experience, but unlike any other reward.

Catherine Likhuta – Rituals of Heartland

How has the program impacted your career?
Being selected for the Cybec program is a great confidence boost for any young composer, with many benefits, both immediate and long-term. It’s very special to me, as this was the first time I applied and the last year that I was eligible. Having written several substantial works for wind orchestra but nothing for a symphony orchestra since 2004, I was equally inspired and intimidated to be writing my first orchestral work in over a decade for such a stellar group of musicians. Inspiration ended up winning over intimidation rather quickly!

Tell us about your piece, Rituals of Heartland.
Over the years, I have developed a strategy that helps me create works I believe to be meaningful: when starting any new composition, I imagine making a seminar presentation about the final product. This helps me ensure that each piece contains something I could discuss with the audience. I love writing programmatic music, telling stories and/or taking listeners on a journey with each new work. Rituals of Heartland was no different.

I came up with the title right after the announcement that I had been accepted into the program. Born and raised in Ukraine (referred to as Heartland in mid-centuries), I am always eager to share the elements of rich Ukrainian culture through my music and assist with giving it the exposure it deserves. I find it fascinating that many Ukrainian rituals, sprouting all the way from Pagan times, still exist in most Ukrainian villages today.

How was the writing experience?
As the only Cybec composer this year who is also a young parent, I thought: why don’t I involve my four-year-old daughter Skylie and create something that is almost guaranteed to bring a new perspective into this year’s showcase? At the time I was starting to compose Rituals, Skylie had just begun drawing recognisable things, with each doodle encapsulating the wild imagination only pre-schoolers are gifted with. I gave Skylie the task to draw several characters to contribute to the story we were going to write together. After she completed this task successfully, we sat down and incorporated the creatures from four of her drawings into a fairy-tale, using my memories of Ukrainian folklore from my own childhood as a base. I then put that fairy-tale into music, which resulted in a 10-minute contemporary symphonic poem with some elements of Ukrainian folk music. I can’t wait to share it!

May Lyon – Ignition

Why have you chosen a career as a composer?
I came to composing quite late, not even considering a career in music until I turned 26! Before this I was working as a bookkeeper in an accounting firm. Despite nearly a decade away from the craft, I still felt ‘musical’ and decided I would start to learn music theory again and have vocal lessons. Because my goal was to learn as much about music as possible and to teach, composition and several studies in ethnomusicology, was the best avenue. Also, and most importantly, I love composing!

How has the Cybec process been for you?
One of the limitations when starting composition is getting performances. As a profession, composition can attract those who would prefer to sit in a room on their own putting black dots on a page, rather than chase down performers! The Cybec 21st Century Young Composers’ Program not only offers an amazing performance opportunity, but participants are offered invaluable support. From meeting the orchestra, to lessons with a respected mentor during the composition process, I am extremely grateful to have been included in this program and for the experience I have gained.

Rumour is you’re writing a Chamber Opera? Tell us more!
Something I rarely lack is new compositional ideas and plans. One of my long-term goals I’ve been working on since 2015 is the composition of a chamber opera. Pieces of Margerylooks at the changing relationship of a mid-sixties couple after the wife’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease. Despite the sensitive topic, the main focal points are common things that we all face at some point: fear of change, learning to ask for help, and how chronic illness affects our lives. After all these years I’m now very attached to my characters and I’m looking forward to them finally being given voice in July, thanks to More Than Opera.

Daniel Thorpe – From Above

How have you found the Cybec experience?
Honestly, it’s such an honour to be involved. As a performer myself, I have an incredible amount of respect for the musicians we’re working with. There was something really beautiful about meeting them and being able to write something for them that hopefully gives them room to speak, too. This excites me far more than any career implications — new collaborations, colleagues, and chances to learn are what keep me going.

What’s your piece about?
It’s about touch and distance. I’m a (terrible) dancer, and something that’s really occupying me musically is this idea of contact improvisation and the possible points of contact between two almost touching bodies. I’m really interested in musical materials that oscillate around each other, move in waves, or collide by chance. In this piece, I’ve been thinking about the context of being drawn to someone, almost like a tide over a shore, and the pull and push of that. I’ve also been thinking about this specifically in terms of queer bodies — that first, unsure reaching out into something that feels dangerous and new and unknown.

You’ve said that you’re a performer as well as a composer. What sort of work do you like to perform?
I love to focus on queer and female composers. There’s something really beautiful about hearing your story. When I first started playing work by queer people (not even deliberately, it just kind of happened…) something clicked for me, and I thought, “Oh, this is my experience!” Broadly, I want to play music that tells me something about being alive, and I think marginalised people (disclaimer: marginalised people extend far beyond women and queer people!) have way more imperative to make work that addresses the material realities of existing. This is something I want to share with my audience because those are the best pieces to play as a performer.

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