Do you recall the first time you heard Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik?

I would say it’s almost impossible for this work to have escaped the consciousness of anyone who grew up in western civilisation during the last century – even without having attended a single classical music concert. It’s so profoundly enmeshed in popular culture, through jingles, music boxes, film soundtracks etc. that it seems there was never a first time!

Joe Chindamo. Photo supplied

When you were first approached by Perth Symphony Orchestra about the commission, what were your first thoughts? Did you feel daunted by the task?

There is no greater compliment for a composer than to be entrusted with creating something new for an exceptional group of musicians – a work they can give birth to and be forever associated with. As such, I approach every commission with a profound sense of responsibility coupled with an almost religious frenzy that lasts till the final note has been written.

There are many things I’m daunted by, some of them are even musical in nature, but composing is a fearless realm for me: it’s my happiest of places, and the more challenging the project, the better. Reimagining Mozart was an act of love and acts of love can never be daunting.

What was your creative process like when it came to reimagining Eine kleine Nachtmusik? Did you study the score in great detail or listen to recordings?

I knew this music already – who doesn’t! – but did study the score well enough to get inside Mozart’s head, but not so well as to remain stuck there. It’s important when reimagining other people’s music not to lose one’s own identity. My brief was to create, by way of EKN, a Mozart for modern audiences. Here was a rebel, an anti-establishment wild child, an improviser, working musician, bon vivant – someone for whom there would be no shortage of modern day Colloredos to sink in the boot! This is the Mozart I channelled, a miraculous bad boy of music, a sort of Stravinsky of his time.

What kinds of considerations did you bear in mind when working on your piece? What did you set out to achieve and did those aims change as the piece grew?

Firstly, the pragmatic ones like the instruments I was to write for, the players (knowing I had Concertmaster Paul Wright leading etc.), the duration of the work, type of orchestration, how much of Mozart’s original elements should I incorporate, should the work be atonal and do I adhere to the original four-movement form? On an aesthetic level, I set out to do something new, a work that would have its own strong sense of authenticity. As the work grew, I found I didn’t deviate from my original conviction.

What were some of the challenges you encountered?

Unlike the snappy riffs one finds in Vivaldi (and quite a lot of early music), Mozart’s long operatic lines – which he channelled through the stylistic conventions of his day – do not lend themselves well to a modern reimagining. Since his music was intrinsically evocative of an epoch, the challenge was to separate Mozart’s spirit from his period.

What might surprise audiences about your work?

That Fantasie auf nachtmusik is not merely an arrangement of Eine Kleine, but a new work that is in essence a kind of musical biography and celebration of Mozart.

Have you heard the work played yet? 

No, but I’m looking forward to the premiere by this wonderfully daring orchestra, which will be conducted and led by the inimitable Jessica Gethin and Paul Wright respectively.


Joe Chindamo’s Fantasie auf nachtmusik premieres as part of Perth Symphony Orchestra’s Mozart by Candlelight, which is at St George’s Cathedral on October 16

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