What are your early musical memories?

I remember my uncle Waleed entertaining my sister and me by singing and playing funny songs on the piano. I also remember my parents and grandparents singing along to Fairouz, who is a famous Lebanese pop singer. My grandfather also played the oud, and as a kid in the late 90s and early 2000s, I’m pretty sure I was The Wiggles’ biggest fan.

Elizabeth Younan

When and how did you first become interested in composition?

I was 12 when I first started making things up on the piano. When I was 14, my sister Lauren introduced me to Beethoven and I became (and will always remain) completely enamoured with his music. That is when I resolutely decided to become a composer.

Who would you consider your most significant musical influence?

Bartók. His works are immaculately crafted, and I will always be in awe whenever I come back to his six string quartets.

How would you describe the kind of music you set out to compose?

I deeply value organicism, motivic economy and structural integrity. I aspire to create works with a stimulating musical trajectory and forward drive, even in slow music. I
also love writing contrapuntally, and my musical language is a mix of both tonal
and post-tonal sources.

You were one of the first students to participate in the National Women Composers’ Development Program in 2016. How significant was that for you?

I cannot emphasise enough just how valuable it was for me, and how grateful I am to have been a part of it. My colleagues and I were able to write in almost every genre and these pieces were workshopped by some of the best performers in Australia. Perhaps the most important element of all was the conversation that the Program sparked regarding women in composition. My colleagues and I are indebted to Professor Matthew Hindson, who spearheaded this project.

Who have been your musical mentors?

I have been studying with Carl Vine at the Sydney Conservatorium since 2014, and he has been fundamental to my development as a composer. Carl is not afraid to critique the technical construction of my work and he also helps me to critically consider other ways of thinking about composition and encourages me to explore as much as I can. He has also given me confidence in myself, and I am forever grateful for all the guidance he has given me over the years.

You were commissioned by Musica Viva to compose a piano work for Joyce Yang to perform as part of its International Concert Season. Can you talk about that process?

I’m very grateful that Musica Viva was able to send me to Wellington, New Zealand to watch Joyce perform the Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. We discussed many things, such as the contrapuntal clarity you can achieve through careful marshalling of textures on the piano. I started writing when I returned home, and once I had a decent chunk of music I sought feedback from Carl Vine. My Five Persian Preludes for piano was the first work I had written under Carl’s supervision, and now four years later the last is the Piano Sonata for Joyce Yang. It’s nice and cyclical.

Where do you hope to be in five years’ time?

Although I set goals for myself, I don’t think too much about the future because music and composition are precarious careers. I am grateful for each of the opportunities I do receive, and do the best I can with each task and see where it takes me. I am very humbled and excited to have been accepted to study composition at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and I leave in mid-August. I’m incredibly privileged to be able to make even a small contribution to the world through music and I hope this will continue.

Elizabeth Younan’s Piano Sonata will be performed by Joyce Yang for Musica Viva from July 10 – 28, touring nationally. Her work Electors of Middlemarch will feature in Ensemble Offspring’s Beginnings to New Ends concert, June 24 at the Sydney Opera House