A tireless musical ambassador abroad explains why the Aussie way still works for her.

My first sight of Kelly Lovelady is during a rehearsal for a concert at St John’s Smith Square.  A great deal of frenzied preparation is going on around her, but Kelly’s musical focus is unaffected. In five-inch Cuban heals she sways her baton conducting with knees bouncing to the beat. It is an unusual style but orchestras know precisely where they are and what she wants. There is clarity in her unique brand of physicality and you can tell that musicians feel both safe and inspired under her direction. She is also wonderfully sensitive to any soloists and demonstrates her skill as a great accompanist.

I grab some time with Kelly after rehearsals over a quick drink. Even under pressure she is open and enthusiastic. This particular evening she has been hired to conduct at a winter prom for Tait Memorial Foundation students, past and present, showcasing Australian talent. It is a long and varied program with limited rehearsal time but Kelly is not phased and clearly loves the challenge. (See the review of the concert). “Working with these mainly post graduate students is very rewarding and it is a great opportunity to hear first-hand the talent Tait sponsorship has fostered,” she tells me.

I ask her to reflect on the past year, especially with her London based orchestra Ruthless Jabiru. “One of the highlights has been the project with ‘Sound and Music’ the organisation that supports new composers (www.soundandmusic.org),” she says. “We were able to run workshops with three composers who were interviewed and chosen from many applicants for the project. None of them had benefitted from working with a conducted ensemble. What was great was being able to workshop the pieces and participate in their development. There were mentors around as well and I love this level of collaboration.” Readers can view some of her work on this project via the Ruthless Jabiru website and watch some of her Vimeo videos. What’s impressive is Kelly’s instinctive feel for new music and this leads me to question her about the philosophy which under-pins her Ruthless Jabiru concerts.

“I like to program concerts on an aural sound theme rather than say choose ‘Romantic music of the 19th century’ as my focus,” she explains. “This allows me to be more eclectic in my choices and certainly to include more original compositions and modern music. I want the audience to trust me to take them on a sound journey where there is perhaps more active listening and a greater partnership between audience and orchestra. You have to build up trust and I hope people find this rewarding. I suppose I am aiming to construct a sort of musical story and at the end of a concert I want people to feel we have travelled somewhere together and that I have opened up their ears and emotions.”

She goes on to say that at concerts she has also experimented by grouping pieces together and asking that whole sections are not interrupted by applause. “This way the musical trajectory you are creating from diverse pieces has greater impact.”

Kelly’s enthusiasm and ambition shine through as she talks and I ask how important being in London is to achieve this. “Very important, but it is a strange mix. I want to work with mainly Australian musicians because I have an affinity with the way they work, but London is a place where you can build audiences and introduce new music and new approaches to concert performance because there is such a vibrant scene here.” I ask her to expand on enjoying the way Australian musicians work. “There is a no nonsense approach and a strong work ethic,” she tells me. “Rehearsals can be fun but also work is taken seriously. The Aussie ‘have a go’ ethic is refreshing and I find Australian musicians disciplined yet willing to experiment. Any informality is limited to bending rehearsal and concert conventions, not to the professionalism of playing.”

So what is at the front of her mind at the moment in terms of progression for her orchestra?  “Audience development,” she replies at once. “The challenge for me is to build a local audience in London moving slightly away from the concept of being an ambassador for Australian musicianship. I’m also interested in promoting female composers. Not seeking them out regardless of talent or featuring them exclusively, but there are currently not enough platforms for women to experiment and be taken seriously.”

This all makes sense. Kelly’s idea of programming work in a different way fits in with helping women flourish more in the music scene. She has been actively involved in discussions and workshops at London’s Southbank Centre, which also is working towards a resurgence of participation by women in composing, conducting and programming. “There is a dilemma ,” she admits. “Do you promote women in general or good music? I hate the idea of quotas but I will actively search out interesting women composers but will only play their work if they are good at writing and audiences will be engaged.”

Kelly has been busy promoting her orchestra sending proposals to festivals and venues and is also hoping to pull together a studio recording sometime in 2015. This would certainly help with marketing and getting her work more widely known. She also hopes to premier a new work by Australian composer and broadcaster Andrew Ford. “This will be an enlarged piece developed from something written for the Australian Symphony in 2009,” she explains. “The first piece was based on a poem by Tim Winton called ‘A Dream of Drowning’ and the working title for the enlarged composition is ‘The Drowners’ which will feature percussion, string orchestra and baritone.” Kelly is obviously excited about helping to bring this work to fruition and is clearly up to the challenge.

She goes on to tell me about her future work as part of a London based Australian and New Zealand literary and arts festival called ’This Way Up’. (www.ausnzfestival.com). As part of the festival in May next year she will be working on some of the musical contributions and experimenting around the crossover between literature and music. “It is a great opportunity to see how one art form informs the other. The festival will mainly be based in London but there will be venues throughout the UK so it will provide great exposure for everyone taking part.

This prompts me to ask if she always plans to work in London and the UK. “Given the opportunity I would love to try out the Ruthless Jabiru concept in Australia and maybe work with an Australian orchestra or pull something together for a festival,” she says. “I am open to offers !” And I think she genuinely is. Those Cuban heels could soon be rocking on an Australian concert platform and bring a breath of fresh air to new and established audiences.