This May classical performers, composers, producers, marketers, journalists and industry professionals from all around the world will descend on Rotterdam in the Netherlands for the 2019 Classical:NEXT conference, billed as a global meeting for all art music innovators. “Classical:NEXT is part-conference, part-market and part-showcase,” says cellist Hilary Kleinig, who will be performing in Rotterdam with the Zephyr Quartet, in collaboration with Hong Kong’s Gaybird Leung. “Artists, practitioners and industry from all over the world gather together for a few days to discuss current issues, showcase ideas and see a variety of performances.”

Zephyr Quartet, Gaybird Leung, Classical:NEXTGaybird Leung and Zephyr Quartet. Photo © Johanis Lyons-Reid

Kleinig is one of a bumper crop of Australian musicians showcasing their work at this year’s Classical:NEXT, including percussionist Claire Edwardes and Ensemble Offspring, and pianist Sonya Lifschitz (with composer Robert Davidson), who will perform in the Showcase Festival. “We are very much looking forward to sharing our work with audiences that we have not met before, discovering and meeting new artists, composers and musicians and gaining insight into the current state of play of art music from around the world,” says Kleinig.

The project – which is titled Music in Anticlockwise and reinterprets Haydn’s Opus 1 String Quartet using digital media – typifies the kind of international cross-pollination that Classical:NEXT seeks to foster. “Zephyr Quartet’s collaboration with Gaybird Leung came about when we were very happily ‘match made’ by Joseph Mitchell, Artistic Director of OzAsia Festival, who asked if we would like to ‘do something together’,” Kleinig says. “We were thrilled with the idea of working with Gaybird, an incredible artist from Hong Kong – musician, composer, instrument maker, sound designer and visual artist.”

The festival is also a chance for Australian musicians to showcase their work on an international stage. Ukrainian-Australian pianist Sonya Lifschitz will be bringing her politically charged multimedia collaboration with Brisbane-based composer Robert Davidson, Stalin’s Piano, to Classical:NEXT, having toured it across Australia over the last couple of years. “Going to Classical:NEXT is a tremendous opportunity for Robert and I to connect to fellow artists from around the globe who are imagining new ways to create and present music, showcase the work to European and North American presenters, festival directors, record companies and agents, take part in the important conversations and debates shaping the future of art music, and make valuable connections and friendships that enrich the imagination and enliven the mind,” she says.

Sonya Lifschitz at the Canberra International Music FestivalSonya Lifschitz performing Stalin’s Piano at the 2017 Canberra International Music Festival. Photo © Peter Hislop

Stalin’s Piano – which sets speeches by key political figures – has undergone a number of changes since it premiered at the Canberra International Music Festival in 2017, including the addition of a speech by Michelle Obama on poetry and an interview with Susan Sontag, and this is an opportunity to bring it to a wider audience. “Stalin’s Piano is a work full of heart, humour, tragedy and warmth, spanning the whole gamut of human emotion. It speaks to some of the most pressing global issues today, like gender inequality, intolerance and discrimination, nuclear threat, and also the redemptive power of nature and the healing and belonging found through poetry and art,” Lifschitz says. “I think Stalin’s Piano will translate beautifully onto international contexts and speak as powerfully to European audiences as it has done here in Australia.”

“We are hugely excited about joining the Australian delegation and bringing this work to Classical:NEXT and then to the Barbican in London, where the work is featured in three performances as part of the Barbican’s Sound Unbound Festival,” she says.

Claire Edwardes, Ensemble Offspring, Classical:NEXTEnsemble Offspring’s Lamorna Nightingale, Claire Edwardes, Jason Noble and Zubin Kanga. Photo © Keith Saunders

Ensemble Offspring’s Artistic Director Claire Edwardes is no stranger to Classical:NEXT, and will this year be leading her band in performances of works by Kate Moore and Andrea Keller at the festival, as well as chairing a session composer gender equality. She also made the longlist for the festival’s Innovation Award, along with fellow Australians Resonant Bodies (sopranos Jessica Aszodi and Jane Sheldon) and Berlin-based music journalist Shirley Apthorp – who has since also made the shortlist – for her opera festival in South Africa, Umculo.

“Due to the efforts of Sounds Australia and The Australian Music Centre, Classical:NEXT actually has a greater Aussie presence than most other countries in the world,” Edwardes says. “Which is great because it means that as well as being an international mixing pot filled with people who do what we do, it is also a place where you can catch up with colleagues from around the country who you generally don’t bump into very often! That was one of the highlights of the first time I was there two years ago – all of the contact with colleagues from home mixed with seeing all of my old friends and student mates from my time studying in Rotterdam, bumping into old friends from the Rotterdam Philharmonic and the like, it was lots of fun.”

The main aim, however, is promoting the work of Australian music and musicians to an international audience. “We really just hope to raise the profile of Ensemble Offspring and Australian music at Classical:NEXT – we relish the opportunity of this showcase and the fact that many people, all at once, will be able to hear Ensemble Offspring and Australian composers, many for the first time,” Edwardes says. “We chose the Moore and Keller works, which were both written for us over the past couple of years, because of our recent history of championing female composers and feeling very strongly about walking the walk in that area in a global context. Also because both works have bespoke video components which were made by local video artists Lillian Brown and Peter Humble to compliment them through our Offspring Bites initiative. Both of the videos feature differing takes on Australian landscapes and cityscapes and we just thought it was a beautiful opportunity to show off our country in a different light with this added visual element.”

Showcasing two of Australia’s women composers at the festival, Ensemble Offspring’s performance ties in with the session Edwardes is chairing on gender equality. “As much as these sessions often tend to touch on issues that we are all pretty aware of currently, I do feel that it is still an extremely important conversation to have,” Edwardes says. “I really hope that we can delve into the ‘how’ pretty quickly in this session and just take the ‘why’ as a given. It’s not really helpful to anyone for us industry colleagues to all sit there and chin wag in our own little silo about how important it is to have gender equity in classical programming – I think this is pretty well accepted in 2019.”

“The big question for me is still how do we keep striving towards that equality when there are so many subtle and intrinsic challenges that we are up against here,” she says. “This is where for me it gets interesting – these are the difficult questions and this is where I would like to go in our Composer Gender Equity session at Classical:NEXT.”

Edwardes, Kleinig and Lifschitz will by no means be the only Australians in Rotterdam, with an extensive delegation that includes composer Cameron Lam – who is coordinating a session on networking in the Asia-Pacific region – and the Australian Music Centre’s two Classical:NEXT Fellows, arts administrator and producer Simonette Turner and pianist, sound artist and producer Belle Chen, as well as industry professionals from around the country, including Limelight’s own General Manager, Cara Anderson.

“I think it is one of the few platforms we have in our industry to have contact with others who specialise in what we do (innovative classical music let’s call it for now) and a great chance for us to be a true part of the conversation around the future of ‘innovative classical’ music,” says Edwardes. “That said no one event is ever the be all and end all – last time I went I approached it as a bit of an experiment – I just wanted to get to know new people and make new connections. It’s about not being on the other side of an email for once and being able to connect in person – something we so rarely get to do!”

Classical:NEXT is in Rotterdam May 15 – 18

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