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‘Bathe in sound – let your ears decide’

Festivals

Composer Cathy Milliken’s new piece for solo guitar will have its premiere at the Adelaide Guitar Festival Symphony Gala. Here, she talks about her work and urges audiences to ‘take the chance to experience listening in a different way’.

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“DACCORD – A diary of discourse”, which Adelaide Symphony Orchestra composer-in-association Cathy Milliken was commissioned to write specifically for the Symphony Gala, will be performed by Russian guitarist Vladimir Gorbach and London-based Australian soprano Jessica Aszodi with the ASO, under the baton of Benjamin Northey.

Below, Millikin discusses the new work and her broader career, as well as sharing her views on the opportunities offered by the Australian classical music scene and her favourite non-classical artists.

In the theatre, a triple threat is a performer who can sing, dance and act well. A quadruple threat adds one further skill – the ability to play a musical instrument. You have these attributes as a performer, composer, creative director and educational program consultant. What are you most passionate about?

I couldn’t really say. I seem to enjoy solitude, working with others, dreaming up possibilities and projects, working alongside others on plans, learning myself as well as sharing knowledge on different subjects. I feel very lucky that my life seems to be in step at the moment with being able to simultaneously ask questions and search for answers and then sharing them.

Tell us about your new work for solo guitar?

This was a challenge, as the guitar is a rather different sound world than an orchestra, however I do love guitar and all its possibilities. I thought it would be interesting to add voice, guitar and voice being such iconic duo partners.

The next step was to imagine how this duo would interact with the orchestra. So I decided to focus on each of the soloists, then explore how they meet in accord with one another and how this process is mirrored and transformed by the orchestra.

How will you feel at the world premiere of the work? Will you be backstage listening or front and centre in the auditorium?

I will be in the audience listening.

Guitarist Vladimir Gorbach will perform Cathy Milliken’s new work at the Guitar Festival. Photo: Dario Griffin

Does the Australian classical music scene offer much for young professionals?

I think there are some excellent chances for young people. Hopefully, music colleges will continue to diversify the type of education for young musicians so that composition, improvisation, contemporary music techniques, and how to lead creative music-making workshops become part of every young musician’s training.

Is there an artist and/or conductor you would most like to collaborate and work with and why?

I have worked a lot in theatre in Germany, as well as in radio and always somehow with voice – whether performing myself or with my sister (actress Angie Milliken) or on shorter dramatic works, such as for the [German opera company] Staatsoper Berlin.

Now I would like to write a longer opera, but as well I have ideas for chamber operas and operatic installations! It would be wonderful to work with a whole creative team on this.

What pieces of music have left a lasting impression on you?

I find this an extremely difficult question to answer, as I like to listen to a large variety of music. In my time with [Germany’s] Ensemble Modern, “Quodlibet” by Emmanuel Nunes was certainly a piece that impressed me. Imagine an instrumental ensemble, an orchestra and a percussion ensemble placed around Lisbon’s wonderful 19th-century coliseum playing Nunes’ music.

Another favourite spatially conceived piece of music is Gruppen by Stockhausen, which is marvelous. I first heard this recently live with the Berlin Philharmonic in the old Tempelhof Airport Hangar.

And Benedict Mason has always been a great inspiration as one of the most thoughtful and barrier-breaking musicians of his time. I have performed many of his works for concert halls.

Apart from classical, what other music do you listen to?

Singers are in my ears at the moment – it’s so amazing how the human voice can touch us. I am listening to guitar and voice: Tuck & Patti for example, then kd lang, Dionne Warwick and the marvellous Drupad singer Amelia Cuni.

Finish this sentence: Music is … a life force.

Outside of music, what inspires you?

Other art forms inspire me, as well as writers and philosophers reflecting on the world, sharing their views and insights.

And nature inspires me. It is so much bigger than we are and all-encompassing, all-expanding.

Movement inspires me – watching movement and moving myself. Discussion inspires me, as well as collaborating, working and discovering alongside others.

Where will Cathy Milliken be in five years’ time?

Hopefully still passionate about life and music and I will hopefully have just finished premiering a new opera!

For those that have never attended a classical concert, what would you say to encourage them to attend the Guitar Festival Symphony Gala?

I would say be curious, take the chance to experience listening in a different way. Bathe in sound – let your ears decide. Then, who knows, this could be the start of a great friendship with the orchestra, with musicians, soloists and listening to music.

The Guitar Festival Symphony Gala will be presented at the Festival Theatre on August 10 as part of the 2018 Adelaide Guitar Festival, which runs from August 9-12. The Gala program also includes Manuel de Falla’s “Three Cornered Hat: Suite No. 1” and will see the Beijing Guitar Duo join the orchestra for Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto Madrigal.

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