Last week, I took part in the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra’s Australian Composers’ School. The following is a blog post I wrote for the Australian Music Centre’s Resonate Magazine:

The revamped Australian Composers' School is a two-year program (2018-2019) with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, run by composer Matthew Hindson as its director, with the TSO's Outreach and Education Executive Jenny Compton. The orchestra is conducted by Elena Schwarz, with composers Natalie Williams (in 2018), and Paul Stanhope & Jessica Wells (in 2019) as tutors. The participating composers are Mark Holdsworth, Ella Macens, Harry Sdraulig, and myself.

One thing I've discovered about composers (and perhaps any artist) over the last few years is that we almost always have a special dietary requirement. This week was no exception: we're a sensitive bunch. It was a mostly meat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free week, but certainly not fun-free!

This year's program saw us each write three pieces: a short 'calling-card' or fanfare work, a longer work of 8 minutes, and an orchestral experiment. Before arriving in Hobart, I calculated that I had prepared and proofed approximately 450 pages of score and parts - a humble dynamic marking was bound to go astray!

© Alastair Betts

Daily activities included rehearsals with TSO, feedback session from principal players, and end of day debriefs with the ACS staff. We also had a session with librarian David Harvey and an orchestration seminar with tutor Natalie Williams. In addition, on the Monday night (13 August), we saw Ray Chen and Julien Quinten perform Matthew Hindson's violin sonata Dark Matter at Hobart Town Hall! It was an incredible performance of an extraordinary piece.

Having mostly written for chamber groups, I learned a ton about orchestration throughout the week, big and small. My music draws freely from jazz, rock, funk, and metal influences, and it's been a fascinating experience to experiment with how my musical voice sounds in an orchestral setting.

After school hours, there was more work to be done! Making changes to parts was time-consuming but well worth the result. There were moments of literal 'cut' and 'paste' onto players' parts in the early hours of the morning, as we battled with scissors, tape, printer, and manuscript. I've never been one for arts and crafts, and naturally have messy handwriting... I vow to work on that for next year.

One aspect of the week that was especially enjoyable, was our orchestral experiments. Matthew Hindson suggested we explore orchestral sounds that we had always been curious about, but had never tried in a piece. In contrast to my short and long works, I opted to experiment with some softer, lighter textures, which was quite a challenge for me. I found this a particularly useful exercise, and hope to continue developing some of these sounds in an orchestral work for next year.

The week culminated in a concert of our eight works for the public, in the order of the program: War Cry (Holdsworth), Melting Glaciers (Macens), Vortex (Sdraulig), Jammed (Harrison), Colourscapes (Sdraulig), Ascension: Ode to Stephen Hawking (Holdsworth), Lamentation (Macens), and Splinter (Harrison). The concert was recorded for archival purposes by the ABC.

Stay tuned for next year's projects, which include concertinos for piccolo (Lloyd Hudson), cor anglais (Dinah Woods), bass trombone (Mitchell Nissen), and viola (Stefanie Farrands), as well as collaborations with singer-songwriters. I'm thrilled to be writing for Stefanie and curious about working with a singer-songwriter (I'm secretly hoping for something rock-y, but remain open-minded).

The great benefit of the ACS being a two-year program is that we can continue to build on what we have learned, and act on new ideas while they're still fresh in our aural memory. I also feel that it's important to start to develop a rapport with Elena and the orchestra, as well as being mentored by established composers with diverse perspectives.

AuthorHolly Harrison

I'm delighted to announce that Eighth Blackbird are a finalist in the 2018 Art Music Awards for their performance of my work, Lobster Tales and Turtle Soup, in the Performance of the Year category. 

Congratulations to all finalists - very much looking forward to seeing you in Melbourne next month for the awards ceremony! You can find the finalists for all categories here


AuthorHolly Harrison

I had an absolutely fabulous time in Melbourne last week for the 2018 Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. As I've mentioned before, I was commissioned to write the required work for string quartet, while Paul Stanhope wrote the work for piano trio. The eight quartets who performed Balderdash were:

Gildas Quartet (United Kingdom)

Baum Quartett (South Korea)

Callisto Quartet (USA)

Eliot Quartett (Austria/Russia/Germany)

Goldmund Quartet (Germany)

Idomeneo Quartet (Belgium/Hungary/Spain)

Quatuor Agate (France)

Thaleia Quartet (Japan)

It was a real privilege to hear Balderdash performed eight times over three days (virtually unheard of in composer-world!), and fascinating to hear the different interpretations of the work. The cellists have been particularly inventive throughout the slap, strummed, and percussive sections, rocking out with hands, plectrums, and, in one case, even a credit card! Many thanks to Musica Viva Australia and to the Silo Collective for making the commission possible.

Congratulations to the Goldmund Quartet for receiving First Prize in the string quartet division and the Quartet Commission Prize for the best performance of my work! And, of course, congratulations to Trio Marvin on receiving the Grand Prize.

Balderdash Program Note

Balderdash begins and ends with amplifier feedback: a sound that quickly makes us bring our fingers to our ears! The piece imagines an alternate world in which music is heard between the feedback – a sort of sub/hyper-snic sound world which takes place in mere seconds.

With this in mind, the string quartet explores musical ideas inspired by electric guitar, including distortion, white noise, whammy bars, power-chords, dive-bombs, wah-wah, phaser effects, slap bass, and of course, speaker feedback. Balderdash makes high use of punk rock rhythms, dissonance, and percussive-based jams, which morph in and out of bluegrass, grunge, prog-rock, metal, and . . . disco.

Given the piece was commissioned for a competition, I felt it might be fun to experiment with a battle-of-the-bands theme within the string quartet itself. Throughout Balderdash, players go rogue (especially the cello!), engage in one-upmanship, jam, duel, challenge, compete, interrupt, surrender, work together in teams, and cooperate as one. The piece is intended to be theatrical and encourages the quartet to perform with abandon.

I have called the piece Balderdash as it is a term used to refer to nonsense – of which I am quite a fan! The ‘dash’ part also resonates with the high intensity nature of the work, and the sense of moving somewhere quickly.

AuthorHolly Harrison

My Vibe Rant receives another performance by Ensemble Offspring in Richard Gill’s upcoming ‘A Voyage of Music Discovery’ series:

'Richard Gill Presents - A Voyage of Musical Discovery is a unique concert series at the City Recital Hall in Sydney exploring Western art music. Across three concerts, Richard Gill AO and the world-class musicians of the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra seamlessly weave their passion for historical context into musical performance. Beloved works of the musical canon are revitalised through the sounds of period instruments and stylistically appropriate performance practice. Our vibrant journey is complemented by our guest ensembles, who perform music from Medieval through Jazz to Contemporary.'


AuthorHolly Harrison

I'm back after an exciting world premiere of my children's work, A Mad Hatter's Tea-Party at the 2018 Canberra International Music Festival. Given the content of my last post (and the piece's title!), it might seem like I'm a little obsessed with all things tea-party! Theatrics and costume are getting a good workout too. 

The piece is written for narrator, flute/piccolo (Alice), clarinet/bass clarinet (Mad Hatter), violin (March Hare), cello (Dormouse), and percussion (Time), performed by Paul English, Ned McGowan, Oliver Shermacher, Anna Da Silva Chen, Miles Mullin-Chivers, and Claire Edwardes. Special mention to Ned for rocking the Alice wig, and bringing a glam rock vibe to the gig!

Official photographer, Peter Hislop, captured the concert below:

AuthorHolly Harrison

I enjoyed a fantastic time at the 2018 Four Winds Festival, held in Bermagui, on the far south coast of NSW. Check out the beach view below! It was inspiring to spend the week in such a beautiful area, hear wonderful new music (including two world premieres from Damian Barbeler and Tim Gellar!), and experience the generosity of the locals and festival volunteers. I even saw a pod of dolphins from my bedroom window!

Lloyd Van't Hoff performed my piece A Mad Tea-Party, for solo clarinet and electronics, in the 'Sideshow Alley' concert, produced by Sam Thomas. I originally wrote the piece in 2009 for Jason Noble, during my honours year. It's been insightful revisiting the work and redesigning the electronic component (Ableton Live). It's been great to collaborate with Lloyd. The show was an extravaganza of theatrics, humour, costume and lighting, as the Windsong Pavilion was transformed into an old-school sideshow alley. It was a whole heap of fun and lots of mad sounds were made!

AuthorHolly Harrison

Ensemble Offspring play Vibe Rant (flute/clarinet/vibraphone) at The Melbourne Recital Centre on Tuesday, November 28. You can check out more details here.

The concert features the premiere of a new work by the 2017 Merlyn Myer Music Commission winner, Andrea Keller. The program includes works written especuially for Ensemble Offspring by female Australian composers:

Holly Harrison
Vibe Rant

Bree van Reyk
Light for the First Time

Mary Finsterer

Andrea Keller
New Work

AuthorHolly Harrison

My latest work Flash Point received its premiere over the weekend by shakuhachi master Riley Lee and Enigma Quartet. The piece was commissioned as part of the ‘5 Elements’ project, which is based on the belief in many ancient cultures that the universe was made of five fundamental elements: Earth, Air, Water, Fire and Ether.

Riley and Enigma performed eight new works for shakuhachi and string quartet by Ross Edwards, Anne Boyd, Gerard Brophy, Stuart Greenbaum, Katy Abbott, David Hirschfelder, Andrew Howes, and myself, alongside existing works by Lachlan Skipworth and Elena Kats-Chernin. Each composer drew inspiration from one of the five elements - mine is based on fire, hence the title!

Stay tuned for a studio recording  next year!

(I also thoroughly enjoyed a slice of delicious lemon meringue pie as part of North Sydney’s Independent Theatre Prelude in Tea series. Highly recommend!)

Riley Lee & Enigma Quartet with fire lighting!

Riley Lee & Enigma Quartet with fire lighting!


AuthorHolly Harrison

Vibe Rant has another outing; this time at Ensemble Offspring's 'Sizzle', Petersham Bowling Club, April 23:

In Ensemble Offspring's words:

'Sizzle is contemporary classical music at the local bowlo. Now in it’s seventh year, Sizzle has become a fixture in the Inner West arts calendar.

With the usual mix of art-meets-popular culture-meets-family fun, this year promises an all female composer line-up; special guest artists and jazz super-collective, Sirens Big Band; an interactive music installation for contrabass clarinet and ping pong balls by Melbourne-based Aviva Endean; and an eco-friendly instrument-building workshop with a twist for all ages by Liz Jigalin. Add a dash of chaos for good measure! It’s free and family-friendly as usual.'



Holly HarrisonVibe Rant 6′ (flute/piccolo, bass clarinet, vibraphone)
Pauline OliverosWind Horse 5’ (percussion, clarinet, flute)
Bree van ReykLight for the first time WP 9′ (keyboard, flute, clarinet, vibraphone, violin)
Ivana RadovanovicOctober Morning 7’ (electric violin solo)
Sarah Kirkland-SniderPale as Centuries 6’ (keyboard, flute, vibraphone, double bass, clarinet)

AuthorHolly Harrison