A Sonic Sense of Self: Sarah Elise Thompson

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

Photo credit: Billie-Jean Bullard

This piece was written as part of a paid partnership. Unless otherwise stated, all material published on Fever Pitch Magazine is put together through voluntary contributions from the editor (Stella Joseph-Jarecki) or guest contributors.

It has been a long time between drinks here at Fever Pitch Magazine. Four months passed without any new articles or content- not only because of the dire situation the performing arts industry was in, but because I was entirely preoccupied with getting through Melbourne’s fifth and sixth lockdowns in one piece.

I’m keen to embrace a sense of optimism as Australia takes its first tentative steps into a vaccinated economy. Still, I am amazed at anyone who managed to keep their creative fires burning during such a devastating period.

That is why I am very happy to be partnering with emerging composer Sarah Elise Thompson, to take you behind the scenes of her debut album self centre. (Out now on a range of streaming services including Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal).

Album art: Ellen Bird. Listen on Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal

The concept for self centre rose out of the enforced pause of lockdown, as Sarah had a chance to reflect on three years’ worth of music.

“I listened back to all of my pieces and read through my program notes from 2018 to 2020. I realised there was a through-line story, memories from my life that I had captured in my music… watching sunsets, diving underwater, heartaches and anxieties. I realised I could not give these pieces away to someone else. This was me- in the most vulnerable musical output I had ever written.”

Because the album is the product of gradual artistic realisation rather than a condensed stint of songwriting, each track comes with its own story. Read on to find out more!



Creativity doesn’t often happen in a straight line. For many artists, a defined sense of their musical identity is something that comes over time, often with accompanying shades of grey.

This could be said of Sarah’s path as a composer. “Before this year, I couldn’t have told you my focus- I would throw myself at every opportunity and hope one would turn into ‘my sound’. I tried sound installation, performance art, improvisation, graphic scores, multimedia interactive pieces, and orchestration jobs.

During the composition course at the Conservatorium, we studied composers such as Luciano Berio, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Philip Glass, Louis Andriessen, Gerard Grisey, Salvatore Sciarrino and more- and I felt totally overwhelmed! I felt like there was this pressure, as sense of ‘if you sound like these big composers then you too will become a successful composer and make good music’. I’d go home after uni and put on Joni Mitchell’s Blue album or Beach Boys Pet Sounds and try to come back to a familiar place musically, because in the classical music department ‘pop’ was like a dirty word.

In hindsight, my professors were showing me these composers to show us the capabilities of sound combinations we could create, and how to succinctly put them into a musical sentence. I owe a lot to my professors and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from them.

After graduating, I started learning about composers who were able to be their own artist- they would perform in concert halls filled with people who loved their music and wanted to hear them perform live. The shows would look and feel like a pop show at Festival Hall or the Hordern Pavilion, but the set would be completely instrumental. Composers such as Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds, Hania Rani, Nils Frahm… These artists gave me the courage to be a composer and embrace my classical training, but also to be the contemporary artist I wanted to be since I was a kid. 

My focus is now on being a recording artist and creating ornate sound worlds based on my stories or events that inspire me; blending classical, indie-pop and minimalist musical stylings, based from writing sessions at my home piano.”

Premiere performance of striking out, during Ensemble Offspring’s Hatched Summer School Academy, 2019.

A music performance degree at a classical institution can be described as simultaneously broad and narrow. Broad, because a performer and composer has over 500 years’ worth of music to study; narrow, because after graduation you aren’t exactly parachuted into a ready-made job. The first few years without student status can be a shock to the system after the comforting structure of university.  

“The best thing that I did to set myself up as a composer was having opportunities to travel and participate in different workshops and residencies,” Sarah attests. “I spent a fair bit of time in Europe and the US straight after graduating – forming new networks that generated exciting collaborations and new commissions. The tracks big blue and sanddollar came from writing sessions during my time abroad.

self centre is a reflection of the core of who I am musically. It captures the feeling of coming back home and being at peace with yourself. It’s meditative and reflective in the way you listen to the album from top to bottom.”

Photo credit: Billie-Jean Bullard

These commissions came from a range of sources: the Women in Music festival in Melbourne, the New Music on the Point festival in Vermont, and US-based pianist Dr. Huizi Zhang to name a few.

“sanddollar was written especially for self centre, during a writing session with percussionist Matthew Stiens in San Francisco in January 2020. The recording you hear was actually made by Matthew in his parents’ house in St Louis, Missouri… in his mother’s closet!

undone came about after I was given the Young Composer Award at the inaugural Women in Music festival in 2019- an award I was surprised and honoured to receive! I was asked to write a piece for two of the members of PLEXUS ensemble- violinist Monica Curro and pianist Stefan Cassomenos, as well as soprano Deborah Cheetham AO.

The libretto of the piece came from a poem of the same nameby Stephanie Millett, a childhood friend of mine. Stephanie and I worked together, and created a piece on accepting when a chapter has closed, and being able to ask for help when you are not ok. It is a very personal piece and I’m grateful to have written it with Stephanie and to have had it performed by such talented musicians.

From left to right: Monica Curro, Stefan Cassomenos, Deborah Cheetham AO. Women in Music Festival, 2019.

striking out was written and recorded while I was a participant of Ensemble Offspring’s Hatched Academy summer school in 2019. The program involved workshops with the ensemble as well as mentoring from Kate Neal and Ken Thomson of the Bang on a Can ensemble. striking out is the only track on the album that was recorded before lockdown: the live recording comes from the piece’s premiere in Sydney.

core began as a piece in my uni portfolio which I had never quite fleshed out. When I returned to the piece, I asked my good friend Will Hansen whether he wanted to play double-bass on the track. After we recorded the demo, I sent it to Avik Chari, the mixing engineer on the album. We both agreed the track was missing something- a treble melody.

I remembered that I was in an email chain with David Elton- principal trumpet of Sydney Symphony Orchestra, previously the principal trumpet of London Symphony. We had been pen pals for a while. I quickly pitched him the track along with the demo- and he loved it!

It took a long time to find a suitable date to record his part. We ended up recording the track in about twenty minutes at Trackdown Studios in Sydney. We had never played together as a group- but it was an amazing experience. We were able to work closely with Rose Mackenzie-Peterson, the sound engineer at the studio. It was a really special session and the last day of recording for the album. 

pink salt originated after Huizi commissioned me to write a solo piano piece for her debut recital at Carnegie Hall in 2018. The version you hear on the album was recorded in Huizi’s home studio in her New York apartment. I love listening back to this recording as you can hear the rustling of the pages- I like to imagine that you are right there with her with the New York skyline out the window.  

big blue was written for the New Music on the Point festival, where I had been given the brief to compose a work for viola, bassoon and piano. It was such an odd combination but I felt motivated to make it work. I wrote the piece during a short window between trips overseas. In my downtime I would go swimming and snorkling at Shelly Beach in my hometown (which is actually where the visualiser for the piece is shot)! I was inspired by the feeling of being in the middle of the ocean.

The artists from the original performance unfortunately could not make it to one studio in the States, so Monica, Stefan and Jye Todorov, a bassoonist who I had met through Australian Youth Orchestra, were able to do a new recording of the piece.”

The landscape which inspired the piece big blue.

Lockdown blues… 259 days on

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

Photo credit: Stella J.J.

If you are reading this and are based in Victoria, please consider signing this petition to get small-to-medium music venues on a sustainable roadmap to recovery.

If I could describe my creative spirit at the moment, I would use the phrase ‘dried-out husk’. It’s probably not a fair summary- over the past three months I have enthusiastically harnessed the power of crafty pastimes to block out thoughts of the outside world.

So to be more specific: whenever my thoughts have turned to my musical and artistic ambitions for my career, I have come up with a blank page. Logically I am aware this blank page is the result of very obvious environmental factors. Since March 2020, there have been an accumulated 259 days of lockdown in my home city, and since that time I have had to witness the decimation of the performing arts industry all over the country.

The funny thing is, I am not looking towards non-locked-down life (‘normal’ isn’t a word I use anymore) with rose-coloured glasses. Of course, there will be a period of euphoria as the pubs reopen and loved ones can congregate in restaurants and homes. But loneliness, self-doubt, writers’ block, the feeling of being ‘stuck’- those emotions are hardly unique to lockdown.  

So why am I writing this? As a creative person who has dealt with periods of depression, one lesson I have learned it there is no downside to airing the warts-and-all thoughts you are comfortable sharing. Primarily this helps you hear the irrational slant of your own thinking, a phenomenon that can be very hard to notice unless you say things out loud. A nice side effect is this can also be beneficial for the person listening (or in this case, reading). It is part of human nature to question our place in things.

On 31 August 2020, I published a piece on this blog called Why I Never Want to Forget COVID-19. By that stage I had been working from home for five months, the first five months of my first-ever full-time job. The state had just entered Stage 4 lockdown, the strictest possible set of restrictions. I wrote that piece to reflect on the resilience I had shown over the course of 2020, along with everyone around me. I contended that while things felt like they were dragging on forever, a few weeks into relaxed restrictions we would begin to forget how it felt (much like childbirth…). I stand by that point. Nothing is permanent.

In the year since, we have been on a rollercoaster of recovery and regression. My state experienced three consecutive months with no COVID-19 community cases, squashed two outbreaks of the Delta variant with snap lockdowns, before a third transmission from another state plunged us into the lockdown which is still ongoing. If there is a better example of progress rarely happening in a straight line, I can’t think of it. We all joked 2021 had to be an improvement because anything would be better than 2020. But in a funny way, 2021 has been just as hard. We were given a brief period of freedom and artistic revival only to have it snatched away again, by an evolved disease and an incredibly slow, arguably incompetent national government.

I suppose this is a sequel to last year’s post. In the same way, I want to harness the power of perspective to stand back and face my own sadness, my lack of motivation, my occasionally bleak view of my own life. These are valid things to feel, but I have to remind myself the sun will rise again. International stadium tours are coming to Australia in 2022! Everyone I know is either fully vaccinated or on their way.

I’m turning 26 in two days and it’s taking every ounce of common sense to stop myself from having a meltdown. But hopefully in airing my own messy thoughts, you’ll feel less alone in yours.

Kamalarella: An Operatic Battle Cry

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

This piece was written as part of a paid partnership. Unless otherwise stated, all material published on Fever Pitch Magazine is put together through voluntary contributions from the editor (Stella Joseph-Jarecki) or guest contributors.


Can an opera bring together influences as diverse as a cult film from the 60s, a David Attenborough documentary, a US Vice-President, and the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen? Read on to find out.

If you have read anything I have written on the topic of opera (you can find a couple of pieces here and here) you will know that I believe the art form can be brought into the 21st century. But I don’t think that is something that can happen overnight.

To distil it down to the simplest terms, two things are needed: funding, and fresh blood. The two interact in unsatisfying ways: creatives need capital to get their projects off the ground, but applying for grants is an exhaustive and highly competitive process. Without that first package of funding to funnel into a showcase or preview, it becomes even harder to put together compelling applications for future opportunities.

Whether or not it is fair, emerging creatives often have to invest countless hours of their own time and funds from their own savings to turn their concepts into a reality.

All of this to say, the independent project we are featuring below is a particularly exciting one.


Image supplied

Kamalarella is a newly-composed chamber opera written by composer/ producer Michael Folmer Hansen and soprano/ composer Sofia Laursen Habel. It is available for streaming and purchase from Bandcamp, Spotify, and Apple Music.

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 global pandemic created incredibly challenging conditions for artists. But in Hansen and Habel’s case, it provided the impetus behind two new operas. The pair first collaborated on Repudiating Oran, which was written entirely over Zoom during the Stage Four lockdown in Victoria. Hansen and Habel were joined by singer Luke Belle and New-York based composer and producer Emilio Guarino. The team took inspiration from the real-life ‘Ring of Steel’ between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria, and elements of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Kamalarella follows protagonist Mi, as she tries to survive in the aftermath of events of Repudiating Oran. Emilio Guarino returns to the creative fold, supplying the opera’s lush orchestral overture and finale.

I had the chance to speak to soprano Sofia Laursen Habel about the inspirations behind the project.


SJJ: Can you tell us about the main ideas driving the opera, and what makes it unique?

SLH: Our newly-composed opera is called Kamalarella – a name created from two sources – the 60’s cult classic film Barbarella starring Jane Fonda, and Kamala Harris, newly elected Vice President of the United States. The opera follows the main character Mi, as she navigates a new world post-novel virus. The central ideas explored through this opera are feminism (or female oppression) and the climate emergency.

Musically, Kamalarella merges classical with electronic music. Michael has named Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Helikopter-Streichquartett and Phillip Glass’ minimalist opera Einstein on the Beach as his main musical inspirations. He wasn’t intending for the piece to sound like them, exactly, but that was where he was coming from.

Image supplied

A vocoder is also used in the storytelling to incorporate a robotic sound at various points of the opera. A vocoder is an instrument that distorts the voice – it consists of a mini keyboard and a microphone, and as you press the keys and speak into the microphone, it distorts your voice! It is super cool…

You have taken a musical format many see as dusty and old-fashioned, and used it to explore contemporary issues with a sense of urgency. Can you tell us a bit more about the passion and advocacy element behind this project?

I am extremely passionate about this project – while writing the libretto, I wanted to take from personal experience and keep it relevant to the issues I feel are critical to not only talk about, but act upon.

I particularly enjoyed researching and writing the advertisements that roll in the background in Act 3, and Mi’s three arias. Mi’s arias are written to inspire, to revolutionise the people to revolt against their oppressors. I wanted to connect feminism and climate change, because I believe there are parallels between both issues, as seen in this example from Act 3:

“What is this world? Dying… where are the birds? The forests? The wilderness? The wild? Where is the wild? Where is the wild in me?

Just like the ocean, my mind has been poisoned. Just like the forests, my ideas cut down. Just like this planet, I am empty of life – yet I am living. I must heal my soul, and the soul of the planet. We are one, joined together in this fate.”

As a queer, feminist, environmentalist, and composer and singer, I wrote the libretto as a way of expressing my fears on the current and future state of our planet.

This is my way of screaming at the top of lungs for something to change. I want people to listen, think and act.

Image supplied

How did the compositional process work between the two of you?

First, Michael composed the soundscapes for the 5 Acts. Once they were complete, I wrote the libretto and melody.

Michael and I spent a week in his studio down by the coast once the soundscapes were complete, to create a structure around what the opera should be about, and sound like from a vocal perspective. We spent a few months writing back and forth before going into the studio in Melbourne to record!

Then I completed the libretto, taking inspiration from a variety of sources. In addition to the two I already mentioned: David Attenborough’s TV series Life on Our Planet and Glennon Doyle’s biography Untamed.

The film and cartoon Barbarella – although it is quite problematic by today’s standards due to the sexist nature of the work – was an inspiration at the beginning of the process. Michael introduced me the film. We were inspired by the storyline, the idea of a strong female character living in a dystopian world, as well as the sci-fi aesthetic. Barbarella is an extremely polite and well-mannered character, so we took inspiration from that for when Mi is ‘tamed’ to become the perfect woman.

Untamed is a fantastic book – it is a biography and self-help book which details Doyle’s own experience of losing her ‘wild’ when she ‘tamed’ by society for being a woman, and then to finding her own voice and inner ‘wild’ again later in life.

The book begins with an analogy of a leopard they visit in the zoo. This leopard has been tamed and has lived in the zoo her whole life. After the entertainment, Glennon continues to watch the leopard, and sees that she still has wild instincts – the wild is still within her even though she has been tamed. I used this as inspiration when writing sections of the libretto regarding feminism and climate change: we need a return to the wild.

1968 movie poster for ‘Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy’. Property of Paramount Pictures.

As for Kamala Harris, both Michael and I are so excited that she is Vice President of the United States. As the first woman, and woman of colour, to be VP, we were so inspired by her speeches, her white suffragette outfit and her as a person. For Mi’s Act 4 aria I specifically tried to emulate the syntax from her inaugural speech as VP. It is so uplifting! Hopefully I have been able to capture some of the same vibe.

Combining ‘Barbarella’ with ‘Kamala’ was a wordplay, to show the progress of female representation on screen, in our society and in politics.

Once the recording was finished, we sent off the opera to Emilio Guarino in the US to compose the overture and finale.

The Living Music Report

Cover page of 2019 Edition of Living Music Report. Design by Thought & Found

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

Sometime late last year, I was scrolling through Instagram and came across a post by Declassify Podcast (a project which bears the fabulous tag line of ‘Challenging classical music through conversation’). The post was promoting an episode featuring composer Ciaran Frame and something called the ‘Living Music Report’. Twenty minutes later, I had gone down an investigation spiral and was trawling through the report itself.

What exactly is The Living Music Report? The report presents a cross-section of statistics relating to the programming decisions of eight Australian orchestras and one performing arts organisation. The data behind the report is comprehensive: Ciaran assembled complete records of the pieces programmed by these organisations in their 2019 and 2020 seasons.

In his own words: “The Living Music Report was prepared as independent quantitative analysis of MPA musical programming in Australia, with a focus on the extent to which it reflects the 21st Century’s cultural landscape of diverse and emerging musical experiences.” The MPAs in question: SSO, MSO, TSO, QSO, WASO, ASO, ACO (Australian Chamber Orchestra), ABO (Australian Brandenburg Orchestra), and Musica Viva.  

I was thrilled to see this kind of disciplined research applied to the arts industry. It can be easy to fall into the habit of describing cultural trends with broad, sweeping statements (I include myself in this). But by examining the data, we can draw factual conclusions on where the major players in the Australian performing arts industry are going.

I had the chance to speak to Ciaran on the impetus behind this project, and what he hopes it will achieve in the coming years.

You can download the 2019 edition of the Living Music Report here, and the 2020 edition here. If you would like to download the open data set compiled in the report, you can do so here. You can follow Ciaran’s composition work here.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following piece may contain images of deceased persons.


Infographic from 2019 Edition of Living Music Report. Design by Thought & Found. Graphic reads: Sydney Symphony Orchestra. 8 living Australian works programmed across 148 works. 100% of Australian works were written by living composers. Out of 148 total works: 81% were written by dead composers, 19% by living composers. 5% of works were written by Australian composers, 95% were written by composers from a country other than Australia. 99% of works were written by male composers, 1% by female composers.

SJJ: To start us off with context, can you tell us a bit about your background as a composer?

CF: I studied at the Sydney Conservatorium and I had a great time there. It was quite traditional in some ways, but I feel like I got a broad sense of music- but perhaps not the way music functions in real life and the industry.

In terms of a composition background, I am really interested in collaboration and working with people. I guess I don’t see myself as a composer, in the sense that my role as someone who makes music is more someone who works with other musicians, creates musical systems and has a good time!

I think that is a healthy outlook, to want to collaborate and bounce off other people.

I think the role of the composer is disappearing in some ways… in a formal sense at least! Putting notes on a piece of paper and sending it off to a higher entity, is becoming rarer and rarer. Not just for orchestras. That goes for all walks of life: film music, game music, even the concert hall. As we saw during 2020, the concert hall alone is struggling! I think the role of the composer has to adapt.

Particularly with so many online platforms and methods of self-publishing out there.

Gone are the days where an orchestra is your sole employer.

Fragment of Orazio Gentileschi’s ‘The Lute Player’. 1612-1620, National Gallery of Art.

When did you realise you wanted to put together the Living Music Report, to survey the programming decisions of major orchestras?

My initial motivation came from the annual report put together by composer and teacher Ian Whitney. This report looks at Australian music and how often it is programmed.

I thought that was so inspiring. It was that, combined with the fact that there was no evidence base or data out there to support claims I was making. It is very easy to say, ‘Orchestras are playing XYZ’ and it’s very hard to prove it. So that’s where it all started!

Infographic from 2020 Edition of Living Music Report. Design by Thought & Found. Graphic reads: 12 out of 915 performed works were written by a First Nations composer. There were 3 First Nations composers represented across this number. There were 11 composers with the first name Johann represented across this number.

What was the process behind putting a report like that together? I can imagine there was a lot of trawling through program notes…  

It was a combination of sources; program notes were a massive one. I used composer websites and blogs to keep track of any news with the orchestras. I also made sure to contact the orchestras themselves. I had varying levels of success in terms of response rate, but I think it’s important nonetheless. I’ll definitely continue to contact the orchestras every time I publish the data. Because I am human and I make mistakes!

It’s all open data– anyone can contact me with corrections. I would love to fix up anything I have missed. I want things to be as accurate as possible.

Fragment of Félix Armand Heullant’s ‘In gedanken’ (In contemplation). 1905, private collection.

The first edition of the Living Music Report is a full summary of the 2019 seasons. I know it wasn’t planned- but in hindsight you couldn’t have timed that better! With the events of 2020, 2019 is the most standard or “normal” year we have had in recent memory.

When it came to compiling the data for the 2020 edition of the report, did you run into any particular challenges due to the unique online environment created by the pandemic?

Surprisingly, it’s very difficult to keep track of digital concerts. You’d think it would be easier when they are online! I am planning to release a Living Music Report every year, and I have no plans to stop!

The 2020 edition was obviously extremely different, with half the number of concerts from 2019 and wildly different presentations, but I still think it’s important to keep a record every year, no matter how strange a year it is!

Cover page of 2020 Edition of Living Music Report. Design by Thought & Found

What would you love this report to do, if you had to summarise it in a few sentences?

I see the report as a tool for change, but it’s not the report itself that is creating that change. The report is creating the dialogue, the conversations, and a resource for people to look at.

If it is continuing into the future, I’d love for it to be used to document trends, maybe even improvements in the sector. Keeping the conversation going. If we can talk about this every year, I think that is a massive win.

The core purpose of the report is to capture diversity data in the form of lots of different metrics, that reflect who we are. Obviously, it is called the Living Music Report- living composers is a massive one. People think of diversity as this idea of ticking boxes, but there is such a diverse range of music experiences and lived experiences out there. I’m trying to capture that as much as possible.

This is also a massive issue within the opera sector. I knew it was an issue faced by orchestras, but perhaps it is less in-your-face with instrumental music, as there is no accompanying narrative or characters (most of the time, at least). When you listen to a Beethoven symphony, it’s not as blatantly obvious that you’re listening to “a white man’s music”… But when you sit back and look at the data that you’ve drawn up, some of the statistics are pretty laughable.

I totally agree- it is almost comically bad at times. I like telling stories through the data. It’s an objective fact that figures like Bach, Beethoven, were played more than all the female composers combined. That’s not an attack on any orchestras, that’s an objective fact.

Infographic from 2019 Edition of Living Music Report. Design by Thought & Found.
Top graphic: female composers 3%, male composers 97%.
Bottom graphic, left to right: female composers, Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Out of every performed work around the country in 2019:

19% were written by living composers

9% were written by Australian composers

3% were written by female composers

0.45% written by CALD Australian composers (CALD = culturally and linguistically diverse)

0.05% were written by First Nations composers

The Living Music Report, 2019

For these major arts organisations who are sitting on this big cushy pad of guaranteed funding- I think it’s irresponsible and almost immoral to not use that opportunity. It’s a waste of the resources they have, to not take some risks.

The government is giving these organisations funding. And I have no problem with that! But in my opinion, that funding is giving them permission to take bigger risks. It is not giving them permission to subsidise ticket holders for a program that doesn’t inspire, doesn’t deal with diverse experiences…

I’m of the somewhat controversial opinion that the lack of diverse musical experiences is mismanagement of the organisation. Not only morally, but from a purely business perspective! I think people forget that is a legitimate argument.

George Winunguj plays his didgeridoo with David Cubbin, Jiri Tancibudek, Thomas Wightman, Patrick Brislan, Gabor Reeves and the Adelaide Wind Quintet, 1972. Photo credit: Michael Jensen, National Library of Australia.

Did you get a noticeable reaction to the release of the 2019 report?

In some senses! The reaction that I wanted to see the most from was from the orchestras, and that was the response I saw the least. I think it is very easy for orchestras to not respond to these things. It’s not in their interests, necessarily, to acknowledge this report exists. And that’s absolutely fine.

The heartening responses I received were from people I really look up to, who are driving the scene in Australia: Deborah Cheetham, Cat Hope… It was so lovely to see engagement on that level and conversations on that level. In my mind, that means it the report was a success. Not to toot my own horn!

It absolutely is a success. Anything that is the result of that much hard work is a success, and it doesn’t really matter how far a reach it has, because that is something independent of the hard work.

A final quote from the Living Music Report:


“While MPAs are guided by well-established musical traditions and audience preferences, a bigger conversation is needed about what role our Major Performing Arts Organisations play in advocating for and providing diverse experiences.

The Living Music Report was created to spark dialogue and provide quantitative evidence for future discussions. It is the start of a conversation that continues with artists, performers, audience and communities. Where will these conversations take music next?”

Ciaran Frame

Composer

Ciaran Frame is a composer, media artist and researcher currently based in Melbourne. Having completed his honours at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Ciaran is passionate about cross-disciplinary collaboration and education, seeking a place in the world of data, technology and music. He has found a home in interactive and generative computer music, creating everything from sonification toolboxes to make music out of plants, to performance works where players must purchase their musical material.

Ciaran is currently undertaking a PhD at Monash University’s SensiLab under the supervision of Prof Jon McCormack and Dr Alon Ilsar. His research explores autonomy and agency within musical systems, pursuing meaningful music creation regardless of musical experience.

Ciaran was born on the lands of the Eora Nation and lives and works on the lands of the Kulin Nation.

Macbeth: Melbourne Opera

Photo credit: Robin Halls

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

A big thank you to ClassikON, where this review was originally published.


On an appropriately dark and wintery night, Melbourne Opera partnered with Melbourne Digital Concert Hall to present a livestream of Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth at Her Majesty’s Theatre. 

This particular piece has a chequered history. The first version of the opera was written when Verdi was only thirty-three years old, premiering in 1947. The composer collaborated with two librettists in adapting Shakespeare’s work, anxious for the text to retain its power and urgency. Almost twenty years later, he made a number of alterations when the opera was mounted in Paris. Melbourne Opera’s original production, directed by Bruce Beresford, is predominantly made up of the first version. 

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth has to be one of the most atmospheric and fantastically creepy pieces of theatre ever written – all the more terrifying for the fact the violent acts mostly take place off-stage. So how do you sustain that level of tension on the operatic stage, where the action is frequently pausing for an aria or two? 

The answer: with difficulty. Macbeth is the kind of source text where pacing is integral, and this libretto chops the story into uneven chunks. It should also be noted that in 1847 Verdi was writing luscious, beautiful music first and foremost, and building drama and suspense second. 

Photo credit: Robin Halls

Musically, the cast easily rose to the challenge. Helena Dix supplied a powerful and deftly controlled soprano throughout and reveled in the eeriness of Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking aria. Simon Meadows gave a solid, stoic turn as Macbeth, and in role of Banquo, Adrian Tamburini’s rich, resonant bass was a scene-stealer. The orchestra handled Verdi’s colossal score with skill and dexterity under the guidance of Raymond Lawrence. 

While I am familiar with the concept of suspended disbelief, particularly in the larger-than-life art form of opera, there are moments in Macbeth where Verdi’s musical decisions actively undermine the horror of the events taking place on stage. A sizeable coven of witches could have been an unsettling sight, if they weren’t given such jaunty music to work with. At one point, a thirty-strong band of mercenaries assemble in the centre of the stage – one half of the group loudly asks the other what they are there to do, and they answer back in thundering chorus that they are there to murder Banquo and his young son. Despite this strength in numbers, little Fleance still manages to escape! 

A no-frills but remarkably effective piece of staging took place during Macbeth’s banquet, after he has had Banquo killed. Tamburini appeared on stage in blood-stained clothes, lit by a harsh white spotlight – not approaching or gesticulating, but simply gazing at Macbeth. 

Under difficult and uncertain circumstances, Melbourne Opera is determined to bring large-scale opera productions to the Victorian public. This is a worthwhile and commendable goal.

Hidden Curiosities: Memento

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

There are many challenges inherent in the life of a freelance composer: being commissioned to write works in the first place, reaching out to potential audiences, connecting with like-minded performers. But a challenge that is less commonly discussed is the life cycle of pieces, once the score is written and the applause from the premiere has faded away.

Once a musical work has come into the world, what then?

A concert series in Melbourne and Sydney is hoping to answer that question.

This piece was written as part of a paid partnership. Unless otherwise stated, all material published on Fever Pitch Magazine is put together through voluntary contributions from the editor (Stella Joseph-Jarecki) or guest writers.


I was recently contacted by Cameron Lam, a producer, composer and arts administrator who has been interviewed here at Fever Pitch Magazine. Alongside his artistic associate Alicia Crossley, Lam is the artistic director of Kammerklang, a production company based in Sydney and Melbourne.

Their latest endeavour is Hidden Curiosities, a two-concert event performed by a pianist/ soprano duo in each state.

Hidden Curiosities was born out a gap in the offerings for Australian composers: the one that exists when it comes to their back catalogue. Lam elaborates that the company “wanted to create a platform to highlight the many hidden gems in existing Australian repertoire. This series aims to champion existing, under-performed, Australian compositions with interstate performances by some of Australia’s leading performers.

A piece of music doesn’t need to be brand new, to be new to an audience. We want to support these works to have a long and varied life after their premieres.”

Last month, soprano Anna Fraser and pianist Jack Symonds presented their Vestige program at Sydney Conservatorium, drawing a glowing review from Limelight Magazine.  

This weekend, Stefan Cassomenos and Amelia Jones will bringing their Memento concert to Melbourne Recital Centre. (Tickets are still available here) While the mission behind the Hidden Curiosities series is to give new life to existing repertoire, it should also be pointed out that the program is entirely made up of works by living composers. This would be barely rate a mention in many other musical contexts, but is sadly all too rare in the world of chamber music and related classical genres.

Both concert programs were drawn from an open call for scores which attracted over 390 minutes of music. The performers took charge of the curation process- guided by instinct rather than the specifications of a particular theme.

“It was a nearly impossible task to narrow down the works submitted to a shortlist- there was so much wonderful music”, Cassomenos concedes.

Stefan Cassomenos

“I was drawn to works that affected me deeply, and there wasn’t a particular style for this program in my mind. The only real theme I noticed emerging was that they were all really well-written and heartfelt works, and the composers all have an inspiring level of craft.”

It is makes sense then that the program is a diverse one, both musically and artistically, with composers in varying stages of their careers. Those in the audience on Saturday night will hear works by Anne Cawrse, Connor D’Netto, Robert McIntyre and Caerwen Martin among many others.

Cassomenos and Jones are known for their versatility as performers. Jones regularly appears alongside early music ensembles across Melbourne, and has supplied vocals for multiple video game soundtracks. Cassomenos can be seen performing concert pianist repertoire, and is also an active figure in the world chamber music.

“It has always been a great pleasure to feature Australian compositions in my solo recitals, particularly overseas, and also to premiere Australian piano concertos”, he elaborates. “I also feel very fortunate to have premiered and recorded several new Australian art songs. My chamber ensemble PLEXUS has commissioned and premiered over 110 new works, including many art songs – and I’ve also written a few, as it’s a genre which is very dear to my heart.”

Amelia Jones

I also had a chance to speak to Lam about the link which exists between the dual programs in the project, and how this was represented in the original poster designs. “Sydney’s Vestige refers to ‘that which remains’, in contrast to Melbourne’s Memento– ‘that which is taken’. Both focus on the context these programs were created in, sorting through a trove of treasures to curate something new. The artwork follows that visual theme of something hidden or obscured being found.

The moth motif is depicted in both posters. In the poster for Memento is appears in silhouette, drawing attention to its absence in the landscape. It has been pinned and preserved outside of its original context. The contrast between dull peaches and indigos highlight the final sunset on this original meaning. However, mementos can have a second life. They can serve a new purpose beyond merely preserving the shadow of a memory.”

Tickets to Memento can be purchased here

Facebook event can be found here

1,000 Kinds of Listening (pt. 1)

Photo credit: Cem Ersozlu on Unsplash

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)


There is a famous quote on the importance of music, commonly attributed to Ancient Greek philosopher Plato:

“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”

Whether or not Plato actually said this, I think it’s right on the money. The quote describes music as an invisible, dazzling eternal form; I think of it as being like ‘the force’ from Star Wars.

Music is essential to our wellbeing as a species and as individuals- but unlike other essential elements such as water and oxygen, music is not consumed in one way by all people.

It’s limiting, and inaccurate, to see musical consumption as a one-way street or a process that happens in a straight line.

If you buy a ticket to a live concert, you are paying to experience transient, non-replicable soundwaves bouncing around a precise location at a particular point in time.

If you buy a ticket to a musical theatre production, you are paying to be transported aurally and visually to another place- a world where the inhabitants are dressed in costumes and interact with props, against the backdrop of a set. You are paying for an experience, but also a product, brought into existence through the collective effort of hundreds of people.

If you download or stream an album, you are paying for a produced recording, patchworked together from multiple takes, which you could listen to on repeat forever if you wanted to.

And these are just three common examples!

After mulling this over, I’ve begun to visualise musical consumption as a layered, shifting, landscape- one where there is a constant overlap between the roles of ‘performer’ and ‘listener’.

At one of the first concerts I attended this year, the headline performer addressed the audience. She reflected that the events of 2020 reminded her that a certain level of musical meaning is only unlocked when music is shared. Audience members are a huge part of the equation- not just because of the obvious financial reason, but so performers can feel there are people receiving the work they poured so much energy, thought and time into.

Does this mean that what takes place in a practice room is an entirely insular process? If we wanted to get philosophical, we could repurpose the famous question of a tree falling in an empty forest. If someone plays a piece of music in practice room and no one else is around, is there still a two-way exchange taking place? I think the answer is yes.

Let’s say there was a classically-trained pianist inside the practice room, playing through a composition by Johann Sebastian Bach. While this sounds like a simple solo exercise, there is still a push and pull between two forces occurring.

In playing through the piece, the pianist is actively engaging with a composer who lived over 300 years ago- both in a tactile sense, with their hands, and in an intellectual sense. J. S. Bach is a particularly good example, as in his lifetime he perfected a number of structural forms which went on to influence the ‘Western’ or ‘European’ musical tradition for hundreds of years. Learning Bach’s music without trying to understand the structures within it, would be like studying physics without reading the works of Albert Einstein.

Let’s say there was jazz pianist in the practice room instead, looking at the chords of a famous jazz standard. From the 1920s to the 1950s, the landscape of jazz was molded by virtuosic composer/ performers: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald…

In playing through the standard, the pianist is interacting with the framework left behind by the composer, while using their own musical mind to improvise on top of that structure. Improvised phrases come from within a performer’s brain- they are the product of both conscious and subconscious impressions. I’m sure you’ve had a song ‘stuck in your head’ before, even if it wasn’t one you particularly liked. In the same way, a musician’s mind will contain fragments of every piece of music that has ever left an impression on them. They may be alone in the practice room, but the pianist is still taking part in a dialogue as they play. When they leave the room and join other performers on stage, the energy and stimuli shaping their improvisations will be different.

The final scenario I will offer is a classical singer learning an aria from an opera. If they are taking a sophisticated approach to memorising the piece, they will have a long list of considerations. These could include: the phrasing and dynamic markings made by the composer, renditions by other singers, the relationship between the text and the musical character of the piece, and their own personal interpretation of what the character is trying to achieve in the scene.

Like the jazz pianist, their interpretation will become more detailed when their surroundings change. Phrasing, inflection, and tone colour can all be affected by the physical act of portraying a character on stage.

So the next time you attend a live musical performance, whether it’s in a crowded bar or a concert hall, I encourage you to think beyond the ideas of ‘active performer’ and ‘passive listener’. I believe it’s rarely that simple.

Hidden Curiosities: Vestige

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

There are many challenges inherent in the life of a freelance composer: being commissioned to write works in the first place, reaching out to potential audiences, connecting with like-minded performers. But a challenge that is less commonly talked about is the life cycle of pieces, once the score is written and the applause from the premiere has faded away.

Once a musical work has come into the world, what then?

An upcoming concert series in Sydney and Melbourne is hoping to answer that question.

This piece was written as part of a paid partnership. Unless otherwise stated, all material published on Fever Pitch Magazine is put together through voluntary contributions from the editor (Stella Joseph-Jarecki) or guest contributors.


I was recently contacted by Cameron Lam, a producer, composer and arts administrator who was recently interviewed by Fever Pitch Magazine. Alongside his artistic associate Alicia Crossley, Lam is the artistic director of Kammerklang, a production company based in Sydney and Melbourne.

Their latest endeavour is Hidden Curiosities, a two-concert event performed by a piano/ singer duo from each state.

In Lam’s words, Kammerklang aims to “create, curate, and recontextualise Australian artistic creation, to instil wonder, awe and a sense of play. We present this work in formats that are inquisitive, detailed, and accessible; while still fostering exploration and communication between the arts.”

Hidden Curiosities was born out a gap in the offerings for Australian composers: the one that exists when it comes to their back catalogue. Lam elaborates that the company “wanted to create a platform to highlight the many hidden gems in existing Australian repertoire. This series aims to champion existing, under-performed, Australian compositions with interstate performances by some of Australia’s leading performers.

A piece of music doesn’t need to be brand new, to be new to an audience. We want to support these works to have a long and varied life after their premieres.”

Audiences in Sydney will be hearing a varied program of Australian art song brought to life by soprano Anna Fraser and pianist/ composer Jack Symonds. If you find yourself in Sydney this weekend, you still have time to grab a ticket– the concert is taking place at Sydney Conservatorium of Music on Saturday afternoon.

While the Sydney and Melbourne concerts are linked, they are also discrete. The programs were curated by their respective performer duos from the same open call for scores, which was met with over 390 minutes of music.

Soprano Anna Fraser took a moment to answer a few questions on how she and Symonds tackled the selection process.

How did you find the process of curating a program from a “call-for-scores” of Australian repertoire?

I was delighted to have such a large collection of submissions to consider – over 40 compositions! I am always up for a vocal challenge and the process of reading and singing through all the works engaged my artistic appetite instantly. I’ve enjoyed the process and am very pleased with the balanced qualities of the selected works for the Vestige program – lyrical, textural, virtuosic – showcasing stunning new Australian art song.

What drew you to the art songs you selected for Vestige: A Hidden Curiosity? Were you looking to build a program around a particular theme or style of music?

Text is key to devising one’s own story in performance. I love to take the listener on a journey, perhaps over textural landscapes or across wild open seas, yet often it is the inner emotional journeys that can lead us to moments of realisation.

Every piece in the program is linked by a thread – some connections more obvious than others. It was intriguing that many of the compositions submitted had common themes with works written during a joint time of isolation in 2020.

I do tend to lean towards settings of better-known poets. I engage well with dramatic subjects and am intrigued how a composer can find inventive ways to interpret text through a new musical idea – we all have our roles to play!

Having worked across a wide range of genres and performance contexts in your career, can you tell us a bit about your experience studying Australian art song?

I can honestly say I have been singing Australian art songs all my life! I believe all singers should engage with art song as it is such a versatile genre. Whether it’s a simple Australian Christmas carol or an expressive virtuosic setting of prose- through art song we can discover nuances of our collective artistic and poetic voice as a people, influenced by our heritage and unique location on this planet.

Whilst studying in Boston (now almost two decades ago- yikes!) I shared many Australian art songs with local repetiteurs. And on the other side of the coin, I wanted to leave Boston having experienced the art songs of a different culture.

I have continued to collect and perform art songs from all over the world throughout my career. I place a great importance on historical performance practices (approach to style, affectations, ornaments, language and pronunciation).

In a recent project associated with Sydney Living Museums’ Rouse Hill House collection, I was lucky enough to visit a physical space frozen in time to better understand the tone of the collection. This helped me learn how I could best represent a somewhat archaic, yet charmingly fashionable, collection of Australian art songs from the Victorian era.

I always like to return to original poetic texts in my performance preparation to find emotional and timbral detail. I find this helps me as I try to lift these miniatures off their pages.


Tickets to Vestige can be purchased here

Facebook event can be found here

Divisi Chamber Singers: Compose Queer

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

I was recently asked if I would like to review Compose Queer, a concert mounted by Divisi Chamber Singers. The vocal octet was founded by Bailey Montgomerie and Alex Gorbatov (baritone and tenor respectively), while they were students at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. Bailey and Alex were interviewed on this blog back in November 2019; you can find that piece here.

A big thank you to ClassikON, where this review was originally published.


Compose Queer is an initiative created by Divisi Chamber Singers, funded through a donation campaign and a grant from the Australian Cultural Fund. This initiative went beyond a single concert: four emerging queer composers were commissioned to write a work for eight voices, and had the opportunity to be mentored by composer Sally Whitwell. These four pieces would be premiered alongside a new multi-movement work by Whitwell.

Compose Queer marks the ensemble’s first foray into commissioning new works. Empowering young artists is a commendable goal, and the fact Divisi were able to successfully deliver this project during an incredibly destabilising year is cause for admiration enough. The flip side of this emphasis on learning, was that Compose Queer situated itself somewhere between a professional engagement and a young artist program. Considering this, it made sense that the four composers came from varying levels of experience and comfort in writing for eight voices.

As an octet, Divisi sang with the confidence and precision you would expect of experienced chamber singers. The ensemble was well-balanced, but I will single out the soprano section for handling their top notes with delicacy throughout the program.

The six movements of Whitwell’s new work, ‘Spectrum’, showcased her prowess in balancing sophisticated layers of sound and texture, with each movement functioning as an individual song. Movement 1 (Red) was playful and agile, utilising syncopation and the percussive nature of the words ‘zip zap zoom’. Movement 2 (Orange/ Torch Song) was a sultry descent down winding, dissonant passages. The finale, Movement 6 (Purple/ All Hail the Aubergine Queen), was a satirical takedown of those who blindly follow morally questionable leaders; and appropriately enough, featured the most rousing vocal crescendo of the night on the words ‘All Hail!’.  

The four commissioned works had distinct styles. Here is a Safe Place by Lore Burns had a pastoral quality, with bright consonant harmonies- it emerged out of Burns’ desire to write something ‘gentle and enveloping for the queer community’. It certainly crafted a serene atmosphere- though it might have had more of an impact with a greater degree of dynamic light and shade.

Ariel Bonnell’s Are You the New Person Drawn Towards Me? examined the supposed ‘physical markers’ of a queer person, tongue planted firmly in cheek. It began with mellow, jazzy piano. The ensemble delivered doo-wop vocal stylings reminiscent of the 1950s and 60s, vamping on the clichéd characteristics of a queer person (‘Flannel! Rainbow hair! Floppy wrists!’).

Robert McIntyre’s Syrup and Silicone was inspired by the experience of ‘internal marginalisation’, of being told to conform to particular criteria within the queer community. The original text was written by McIntyre’s friend and collaborator Savanna Wegman. I was struck by the introspective mood and dramatic tension McIntyre was able to build.

Lastly, Meta Cohen pushed Divisi to their dynamic limits with a structurally dense and at times frenetic piece, (i)dentity. Cohen played with the sound and meaning of the word ‘I’, with layers of vocal and piano texture which threatened to become overwhelming. It certainly made a rollicking finale.