Some words about my Airbender premiere:

From Clinton White of Limelight:

‘The CSO showcases three outstanding Australian composers in this satisfying concert.

In August 2015, The Observer reported fears that the bassoon had become an “endangered species”, noting that “[a] campaign called Save the Bassoon now aims to remind the public of the importance of this engaging member of the woodwind section and to encourage young musicians to take it up.”

With the instrument in the mind of young Australian composer, Holly Harrison, and in the hands of brilliant bassoonist, Matthew Kneale (described by Matthew Hindson as the “rock-god of the bassoon”), its future is rock-solid safe.

Far from being buried in the woodwind section, the bassoon goes well and truly front and centre in Harrison’s high-energy Airbender for bassoon and string quartet.  The composer, who plays drums and percussion in the improvised rock duo Tabua-Harrison, says her piece “imagines the bassoon as a type of sonic airbender, conjuring up an array of sounds driven by air! … [and] is further inspired by slap bass solos, prog-rock guitar ‘shredding’, and bluegrass sonorities.”

Giving the work its world premiere performance, Kneale rose to the challenge fearlessly, delivering all the work’s in-built qualities.  He built boundless energy through its driving rhythms, raced along the keys with seemingly effortless virtuosity, and showcased his instrument’s amazing agility and incredible range.  The quartet’s part, played here by the Omega Ensemble, is quite understated, giving the bassoon free rein, but pouring a solid foundation, maintaining the rhythms for Kneale’s musical gymnastics.’

Read the full article here.

Below images courtesy of Canberra Symphony Orchestra.

And from Helen Musa of City News:

‘First up was “Airbender for bassoon and string quartet”, by Holly Harrison, who was present on this occasion to talk about the work briefly, as were the other two composers.

The audience was asked to view the bassoon as the “dark horse” of instruments, but there was nothing obscure about star soloist Matthew Kneale, who teased every bit of colour from his chosen instrument in an exciting, urgent performance.

After a solo opening, the Omega Strings came in to provide the driving rhythms to (largely) a dancing dialogue between strings and bassoon, which eventually slowed momentarily before Harrison’s jazz-like inclinations revealed themselves in a lively exchange between the bassoon and violins.

This composer has repeatedly proved wrong the old cliché that there is no humour in music with her mischievous, quirky experiments and the usical conversation turned to what sounded like a dialogue of ships horns sounding in a fog, before returning to the energetic, driving rhythms which characterised the composition.’

Read the full article here.

AuthorHolly Harrison

I’m hugely excited for the premiere of my latest work Airbender for bassoon and string quartet as part of Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s Australia Series. It’s been a real treat working with ‘rock-god’ of the bassoon, Matt Kneale. Also on the program is Cyrus Meurant’s Concertino for Clarinet, featuring David Rowden, and a new work by Stuart Greenbaum, featuring harpist Meriel Owen. All soloists are accompanied by Omega Ensemble.

Thursday 25 October, 2018

Gordon Darling Hall, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra 6.30-7.30pm

20/20 Celebrating twenty years with twenty new portrait commissions

Matthew Kneale Bassoon Soloist
Meriel Owen Harp Soloist
David Rowden Clarinet Soloist

Omega Ensemble
Veronique Serret Violin
Airena Nakamura Violin
Neil Thompson Viola
Paul Stender Cello
Kyle Ramsay-Daniel Double Bass

HOLLY HARRISON: New work for bassoon and string quartet (new commission, 2018)
STUART GREENBAUM: New work for harp and string quintet (new commission from the CSO, 2018)
CYRUS MEURANT: Concertino for clarinet and string quartet (2017)


AuthorHolly Harrison

Next week, Lloyd Van’t Hoff gives A Mad Tea-Party another airing, this time at the Port Fairy Spring Music Festival. I hear it’s sold out! The work was originally written in 2009, during my undergrad days. Lloyd and I revised the piece in March for the Four Winds Festival, trying out some new electronic sounds (for 2018). It’s the opener to Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, so no pressure or anything!



Port Fairy Spring Music Festival

Saturday 13th October, 3:30 PM, St John’s Church

Mozart’s beloved Clarinet Quintet  is brought to life by ABC Young Performer of the Year, Lloyd Van’t Hoff with the Flinders Quartet. This sunniest of works is the epitome of lyricism and charm, especially in such assured musical hands. To open the concert, Lloyd’s more virtuosic and playful side is given free rein in Australian composer Holly Harrison’s exuberant and witty A Mad Tea-Party, one of her many brilliant works inspire by Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland‘

Harrison A Mad Tea-Party

Mozart Clarinet Quintet K 581

AuthorHolly Harrison

Come along to hear the premiere of my latest sextet for Ensemble Offspring, Bend/Boogie/Break, as well as new works by Tristan Coelho and Alex Pozniak. That’s three world premieres of Australian works in one night – a hat trick!  Bend/Boogie/Break also features distorted keyboard and a guitar pedal – it’s going to be fun. . . .  

Spectral Tech flyer.png


September 29, 7pm, Music Workshop, Sydney Conservatorium

Tickets available at:

Shards of sound and jagged rhythms envelop your ears and tickle your feet as Ensemble Offspring brings to life the wild and uncompromising squiggles of local composers Alex Pozniak, Tristan Coelho and Holly Harrison.

With sound worlds so distinctive, we needed to coin a new name for their music. We’re calling it “Spectral Tech”. The virtuosic musicians of Ensemble Offspring get down and dirty with these three premieres alongside an ensemble favourite.

Harrison Bend/Boogie/Break (world premiere)

Coehlo A Line if a Dot That Went for a Walk - solo vibraphone - (world premiere)

Pozniak En Masse (world premiere)

Murail Thirteen Colours of the Setting Sun (1978)

AuthorHolly Harrison

I’m absolutely delighted to announce that Eighth Blackbird have been awarded Performance of the Year at the 2018 Art Music Awards for their performance of my work, Lobster Tales and Turtle Soup.

A brief comment from the jury: ‘The rhythmic and technical demands of this delightful work are amply met in this performance of panache and flair with precision and wit.’

Congratulations, Eighth Blackbird. It was exciting to catch up with percussionist Matthew Duvall too! Here’s a few shots from the night. All photos by Tegan Louise.

AuthorHolly Harrison

The wonderful Melbourne-based group, Rubiks, have now returned from their 2018 European tour. I’m excited that they programmed Lobster Tales and Turtle Soup, performing it alongside works by Samantha Wolf, Samuel Smith, and Jacob Abela, in Darmstadt, Berlin, Manchester, and Amsterdam. Many thanks to Rubiks for championing an entire program of new music by Aussie composers!

Samuel Smith Species
Holly Harrison Lobster Tales and Turtle Soup
Jacob Abela Fixations
Samantha Wolf Want Not


AuthorHolly Harrison

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