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Perth's getting a Symphony for a City

Features - Classical Music

Perth's getting a Symphony for a City

by Tod Machover on January 29, 2014 (January 29, 2014) filed under Classical Music | Comment Now
Tod Machover's Between the Desert and the Deep Blue Sea puts musical West Australians centre stage.

I grew up in New York in the 1960s, when Leonard Bernstein was leading his Young People’s Concerts, Bob Dylan was waking up Greenwich Village, and John Cage was shaking up, well, just about everything! Inspired by my parents – my mother was a Juilliard-trained pianist, my father a computer graphics pioneer active in the Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) movement – I absorbed tradition along with the avant-garde.

I was equally drawn to the exhilarating dynamism of Dylan and The Beatles and have been trying to synthesize all of these elements ever since. After studying with Elliott Carter at Juilliard and helping Pierre Boulez to launch IRCAM in Paris, I came to work at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge (USA) when it opened in 1985, and have ever since found it an ideal place to experiment with combining acoustics and electronics, “music” and “noise”, composition and improvisation, and to explore new relationships between the author and the audience.

To intensify this synthesis, I have embarked on a series of “city symphonies” with the idea of creating musical portraits of places, inviting the collaboration of the people who live there. Toronto (Toronto Symphony Orchestra) and Edinburgh (Edinburgh International Festival and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra) were the first two places – both works premiered in 2013 – and Between the Desert and the Deep Blue Sea: A Symphony for Perth (commissioned by the Perth International Arts Festival) is the third.

Building on concepts and techniques developed for the first two projects, I started my Perth investigations in September 2013, first by reading about the city and surroundings and discussing concepts with my colleagues at the Perth Festival, then by visiting in person. While in Perth for two weeks, I explored the city extensively (binaural recorder in hand), met people from all walks of life, listened to – and improvised with – a diverse range of musicians (from indie rockers to classical instrumentalists to laptop improvisors to didgeridoo masters and more), and supervised workshops throughout the greater Perth area with students from elementary to high school using our Hyperscore graphical composition software.

I am writing this text in mid-December from my 18th-century barn in cold, snowy Boston, reflecting on hot, sunny Perth as heard in the myriad of sounds received, through my own musical impressions, and via continued discussion with my new friends from halfway around the world. When the Symphony for Perth is premiered by WASO on March 1st, I hope that all will hear a composition reflecting the feel of the land, the vitality of the people, and the challenge and promise of explosive growth and change over the coming years. I believe and hope that this musical adventure will be stronger and bolder for having been imagined by all of us, together.

Between the Desert and the Deep Blue Sea is at the Perth Festival on March 1.