The composer is inspired by the moods of the sea, Tennyson’s Ulysses and poetic images of sailing in his new violin concerto.

Work So Dream Thy Sails
Composer Gordon Kerry
Scored for Solo violin, horns, harp, strings
Commissioned by Andrew and Fiona Johnston
Premiere October 30, 2016
Performers Helena Rathbone, Australian Chamber Orchestra


It happens, of course, less often than it might, but it’s always affirming to receive fan mail. Composing requires solitude, and, living 800 metres from my own letterbox I’ve perhaps taken that to an extreme, so it’s nice to be reminded that one’s work is out there. I was especially touched when, some time ago, I opened an email that began, “I have been a long-time fan of your music for years”. But it got better: my correspondent, Andrew Johnston, wanted to commission a new work from me to celebrate his father’s 90th birthday, which would fall in 2016.

I have been very fortunate in regular  commissions from philanthropic individuals. In most cases it’s a simple request for a work of a certain duration for a specific ensemble, but occasionally patrons ask for a work that reflects something or someone close to their hearts. I’ve written works for particular players and even instruments, and works that depict significant landscapes or celebrate important events. Andrew, like my other patrons, wanted a substantial concert work, as against merely an occasional one, but one that would celebrate his father’s long life and achievements, and one of his favourite pastimes, sailing on Port Phillip Bay.

A concerto mirroring the dramatically shifting relationships between an individual and the environment was an obvious choice, and I had hoped to write such a work for violin before going to my eternal reward. The ACO welcomed the proposal asking only that I use an ensemble of strings and three ‘extra’ instruments for ease of touring. I chose two horns, as they can blend with and add warmth to the sound of the lower strings, and harp for its glittering liquid sound.

The piece attempts to capture the feeling of the various moods of the sea, from a gentle barcarolle at the start which features the soloist in long singing lines over a rocking accompaniment, a fast and much less predictable central movement, and finally a slow finale of wide vistas and a soaring solo line.

Various poetic images of sailing influence the work – the tenacious heroes of Tennyson’s Ulysses, and the Anglo-Saxon Seafarer as translated by Ezra Pound and JM Couper, for instance, and the sailing vessels that stream through Kenneth Slessor and James McAuley.
But the title comes from a fragment by Hart Crane, for whom, like me, the sea was a source of inspiration.


The Australian Chamber Orchestra premieres Kerry’s So Dream Thy Sails on October 30 in Melbourne

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