A Sunburnt Country is related to the completion of your Masters degrees in both flute and piccolo at the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp. What sparked the idea for the interdisciplinary project?

I knew from the beginning that I wanted to explore Australian identity, which led to the idea of an all-Australian programme as Australian music is under-represented in Belgium. The Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp is part of a performing arts campus; it works alongside the dance and drama departments, and this leads to a lot of opportunity and encouragement for cross-fertilization between music, dance and drama students. But it wasn’t until I stumbled upon a performance on YouTube by Claire Chase, an American flutist, that I decided to go for it and create an interdisciplinary programme.

It’s a bit of an abstract connection; Chase’s performance didn’t include dance or poetry, and the music in A Sunburnt Country does not reflect her experimental style. It was something else about her performance, which just moved me so much. I was simply in awe. Her movement and how strongly she emoted definitely had an impact, along with the impressive sound and lighting design. It inspired me to broaden my horizon, get out of my comfort zone, challenge myself to the fullest, and really tell a story.

Why did you decide to incorporate elements of dance and literature into the performance?

Creating an interdisciplinary project is normal at the Antwerp Conservatoire, so I had resources readily available to me. I already had contact with Nicola Wills, from the Royal Ballet of Flanders, so she immediately came to mind as a choreographer for the project. The name of the project, A Sunburnt Country, was inspired by the poem My Country by Dorothea Mackellar, so it felt very natural to include it in the programme. That all fell into place very easily.

What were the challenges in putting this project together?

Establishing the commissions was difficult as I was unsure of the feasibility of working with composers at such a distance, and I had never commissioned someone before. Eventually I decided I really wanted to support young, emerging artists (I am one myself, after all), and so I could condense my search considerably. Michael Bakrnchev and Samantha Wolf came to mind immediately, as I studied with them at the Queensland Conservatorium. I had been following their careers online and really enjoy their musical language, so I was thrilled when they said yes.

I commissioned William Barton to add something really extraordinary to the project – not only is William an international legend and brilliant representative for Aboriginal Australians and their culture, but the didgeridoo is an instantly recognisable symbol and sound of Australia. I am awed by his ability to blend the oldest culture of the world with the rich musical legacy of Europe and the contemporary music world, and I have wanted to work with him for a long time.

Australian flautist Maddilyn Goodwin

What can the audience expect from each of the newly commissioned works on the programme?

Michael Bakrnčev’s Flute Concerto combines his Macedonian heritage and Australian identity in a work with strong folk elements and wonderful ensemble textures. This piece has a true sense of collaboration – we worked together and shared ideas over email before the final score was created. It has a strong theme of connectedness – it is less important to dazzle the audience as the soloist, but rather work with the ensemble to emanate a rich and colourful sound as one entity.

Samantha Wolf’s work, Unbelonging, is an insight into the Australian refugee crisis and the experiences of asylum seekers in offshore detention. It is a contemporary piece, utilising speech, tape, and a modern musical language. The speech is a means of being as direct as possible, and the sounds of the flute and percussion melt into the text as the piece progresses. It is a powerful, moving, and confronting work – absolutely a story worth telling on an international stage, as both a recognition of suffering and a warning about these methods of detainment.

William Barton’s piece is for flute, didgeridoo and string quartet. It will portray a sense of Aboriginal culture and sounds, but I haven’t received the full score yet so I’m excited to see how it will come together. There is a lot of power in the rhythmical language of the didgeridoo amidst the colours of the strings and the flute; I think this will be a new sound world for the audience. There might even be some improvising!

Australian didgeridoo player William Barton

What led you to choose the two older works on the programme, the Edwards and the Boyd?

I have heard these works performed in Australia multiple times and always enjoyed listening to them, but never got to perform them myself! Having done research on both composers in the past, I knew that they both connected their work to Australia in various ways, and were inspired by the landscape and Aboriginal cultures. This connection was important to me, as the research revolves around Australian identity and connection to country.

I always considered Boyd’s Goldfish Through Summer Rain to be a bit meditational and something which movement would complement very well, which is why I commissioned Nicola Wills to choreograph a solo dance to it. Ross Edwards’ Nura also lends itself to physical interpretation and I was thrilled when Australian dancer Madeline Harms contacted me from Rotterdam and suggested choreographing to this piece.

What do you think Barton and the other soloists will bring to the performance?

Something incredibly unique! William Barton is a legend in Australia and has an impressive international career behind him. I am very excited to welcome him to Belgium to not only perform but present a commission which really connects to Australia and the concept of the project. Nicola and Madeline, the dancers, add the element of movement to enhance and translate the sounds and the music – they add another means of storytelling and emoting, and encourage a more diverse audience.

What do you hope audiences in Antwerp will get out of the performance?

An entertaining, authentic and organic overview of Australian culture and art. This will be a concert which demonstrates something new in terms of style and content. It will also educate the audience on Australian history and present-day issues, and inspire the young artistic community to collaborate and search for new partnerships, concepts and inspiration.

Where do you see the project going from here?

We want to take the project home to Australia and hold the premiere in 2018, as well as record the premiere programme. After that, we will work on establishing the second programme in the series – hopefully this time with all-new art and more collaboration with young artists. However, to be able to get there, we need a little help. At the moment we have a campaign running with the Australian Cultural Fund, with tax deductible donations going towards establishing new commissions and the costs of the developing the project at home. Donations help with commissions, wages, production costs, marketing – there is so much to consider when starting up a new performance venture, and I’ve really put my all into this. We are working hard so that it can be relevant for all artists and represents something valuable and forward-looking for Australian art.

A Sunburnt Country will premiere at Blauwe Zaal, deSingel, Antwerp May 19


Maddilyn Goodwin is raising funds for the A Sunburnt Country project through the Australian Cultural Fund. 

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