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soundstream: smart new music

chris reid: interview, gabriella smart


Jamie Adam, Gabriella Smart, Elizabeth Layton, Soundstream Collective Inaugural Concert Jamie Adam, Gabriella Smart, Elizabeth Layton, Soundstream Collective Inaugural Concert
photo courtesy the artists
“MUSIC IS A SPIRITUAL REFLECTION OF SOCIETY, AND NEW MUSIC ITS NEXUS. THE ENGAGEMENT OF AUDIENCES AND EDUCATION ARE BUT SIMPLE TERMS TO DESCRIBE THE DEVELOPMENT OF A VIBRANT CULTURE OF EXPLORATION, INSPIRATION AND COMMUNICATION THROUGH THE ARTS” (GABRIELLA SMART, 2011 CHURCHILL FELLOWSHIP REPORT).

Gabriella Smart is a pianist, festival director, teacher and entrepreneur and she has a clear philosophy. For over 20 years, she has championed new music, making a unique and significant contribution to the music scene nationally and internationally.

Smart’s oeuvre is the piano. “My discipline as a musician comes from complete devotion to the instrument,” she says. She credits her teacher, Russian-born and trained pianist Eleonora Sivan, with helping her find that devotion and discipline. “Eleonora provided the key to absolute love, not just the physicality of the instrument but the philosophy of classical music. That foundation makes new music exciting. There is a feeling of emancipation through new music.” She feels a constant urge to practice and perform, and not only perform but communicate. “New music is very complex but it is failing society if it is not out there.”

soundstream new music festival

Smart founded the Soundstream New Music Festival in 2008 to elevate the profile of new music in South Australia. She has always emphasised excellence in programming, production and performance and this approach won the 2009 Soundstream Festival a Ruby Award for Best Event in South Australia. (Reviews of the 2009 and 2010 festivals can be found in RT93, p49 and RT99, p50.)

The 2012 Soundstream Festival—it’s now biennial—will be different in scope and intention, emphasising connection with youth and community. Smart says that it will be aimed at music with strong community support. “The theme of the 2012 Festival is Intersection, a celebration of new music through community.”

soundstream collective

The Soundstream Collective was established in 2011 as an ensemble in residence based at the Elder Conservatorium, University of Adelaide, which will provide essential infrastructure and support. As the Soundstream Collective’s artistic director, Smart’s intention is to maintain a dedicated group of musicians able to perform regularly and at the highest level. The collective will collaborate with other musicians, commission new works, research new music and extend Adelaide and Australia’s new music culture. Its ongoing nature will obviate the difficulties of establishing ensembles anew for each Soundstream event.

The Soundstream Collective’s launch concert was at Elder Hall, University of Adelaide, opening with Steve Reich’s Clapping Music (1972) and followed by the premiere of Brisbane-based composer Erik Griswold’s exquisite a leaf falls (2011) for cello (John Addison) and percussion (Vortex Ensemble). Griswold took the title from e. e. cummings’s 1958 poem. The work is delicate and nuanced, as the Vortex percussionists (Ryan Simm, Jamie Adam, Ryan Harrison and Andrew Wiering) respond to the cellist’s motifs, timbres and playing techniques. On the previous evening, Griswold and Vortex had given an open rehearsal of the work in a smaller space that enhanced the subtlety of this intimate, poetic music, with Griswold providing an enlightening discussion of the work’s genesis and performance requirements.

The Collective’s launch included Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Meeting (1982), superbly performed by Stefan Ammer (piano) and Peter Handsworth (clarinet). Smart’s own performance with trumpeter Martin Phillipson of Polish composer Hannah Kulenty’s emotionally charged A Sixth Circle (1995) was excellent, its intensity developing through long-held trumpet notes layered over a driving piano line. Phillipson periodically pointed the trumpet directly into the piano as if seeking a special resonance, and the work climaxes with the thundering piano sounding like a tolling bell.

Adelaide composer John Polglase’s enchanting Shining, Unbreakable (2011) for violin (Elizabeth Layton) and piano (Smart) followed. Measured, balanced and beautifully performed, it was outstanding even amongst the other gems of the evening. In the final work, Smart, Layton, Handsworth and soprano Sidonie Henbest blended nicely in Peter Eötvös’s theatrical Natascha-trio (1996-7), which the Hungarian composer adapted from his opera based on Chekhov’s Three Sisters. Henbest was dynamic in the demanding vocal role.

The Collective’s ensemble playing was of the highest quality and this insightful survey of contemporary music had all the depth of a Soundstream Festival. The Polglase and Griswold works were particularly well-received and the Kulenty work generated great emotional power, something that contemporary music is often felt to lack. Smart’s programming generally offers emotional depth as well as intellectual challenge, and these works should draw audiences and inspire further compositional and performative development. The Collective subsequently performed the complete Kulenty Circle series at the Judith Wright Centre in Brisbane.

great music in great spaces

Straight off the plane from Brisbane, Smart launched another new series, on November 4, Music in Great Spaces, in co-operation with the Australian Institute of Architects. The series combines the musical recital with discussion of the relationship between architecture and sound. The first event was held in two locations—the foyer of the imposing neo-classical Freemasons Hall, built in 1934, and the foyer of the recently opened Innova21 Building at the University of Adelaide. Architect Steve Grieve discussed the Freemasons Hall, Innova21 creator Ross Chalmers outlined his approach to building design, Emma Horwood (harpist-soprano, at Freemasons Hall) and Aleksandr Tsiboulski (guitar, Innova21) performed across renaissance, classical and contemporary repertoire, and Peter Swift of AECOM then analysed both buildings’ sonic characteristics. Horwood opened her bracket singing from the Freemasons foyer balcony and continued as she walked down the gracious staircase to her harp, creating an ethereally resonant effect.

Such an event is accessible to a wide audience, and opens a range of possibilities for musical and cross-disciplinary programming. “One of the outcomes I would like to see for this series is growing public awareness of the role of acoustics in understanding a city, and how acoustics can fundamentally influence spaces,” Smart said in opening the program.

churchill fellowship

Earlier this year, Smart’s Churchill Fellowship involved a six-week trip to the UK, Europe and Canada where she interviewed some 50 people involved in new musical performance and management. “In that time my perception of new music was transformed, from my definition of what new music was to the meaning and scope of audience development and education in the arts, and to the role of artistic direction.” She visited arts organisations and individuals with a history of audience engagement and development to identify strategies that might be employed in Australia.

“What transpired was an intellectual discourse on the meaning and role of new music in contemporary society, the art of listening, the precious need for engagement of and respect for youth, and the inadequacy of blanket assumptions and empty categorisations,” she reported. She especially noted the importance of networking and commissioning, and the role of the musical animateur, “who facilitates reception of new music through education and public discourse, in particular at a grassroots level.”

Smart has been organising musical events under the Soundstream banner for many years, frequently with limited support and on negligible budgets. Her considerable achievements are a testament to her energy, commitment and leadership. The Churchill Fellowship provided an essential opportunity for her to expand her musical thinking and programming horizons and this is already paying off in her planning for future Soundstream events and the establishment of the Soundstream Collective. “Soundstream is about shaping Australian culture through new music. This sounds grand but it’s not, as Soundstream works at a grassroots level. It is especially important to look to the aesthetics of the younger generation.” There is now a five-year plan for Soundstream ranging from programs for school children to composer workshops and a young composer’s award. Gabriella Smart says she will know she’s been successful “when musical contagion develops and when there is light in students’ eyes.”


For the 2012 Soundstream New Music Festival Program go to www.soundstream.org.au/soundstream-festival/2012-10/. Gabriella Smart’s Churchill Fellowship report is at www.churchilltrust.com.au/fellows/detail/3482/gabriella+smart

The Soundstream Collective, Madley Performance Space, University of Adelaide Sept 29, Elder Hall Sept 30; Music in Great Spaces, Emma Horwood, Freemasons Hall, Aleksandr Tsiboulski, Innova21 Building, University of Adelaide, Nov 4 November; http://soundstream.org.au

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 42

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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