“Australia is an exciting tabula rasa for fresh musical creativity”, says young composers’ festival director.

When Carlo Forlivesi announced he was going to bring an international young composers’ festival to Australia, his decision roused its share of skepticism. “People would say, ‘But why Australia? It’s so far from everything’”, he chuckles with an air of poised self-assuredness. The 41-year old Italian composer, and his partner in crime, co-founder of Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio Stefano Fossati, however, knew what they were doing. 

“Australia is not like Berlin or Paris,” Forlivesi continues. “While these places may be interesting, they have long histories of intense artistic activity and, because of this, they have arguably said all the can. Australia is fresh and so, in a way, young artists feel freer to express themselves here.” 

A fondness of what Forlivesi describes as “distinctive geographic areas” – or parts of the world lying outside the traditional power regions of western classical music – has been a defining feature of Forme uniche since its inception in 2008. In fact, the inaugural festival took place in Tokyo, where Forlivesi and Fossati were based at the time. It’s since migrated south from the Japanese capital, taking up residence in Melbourne in 2009 and 2010, and finally Adelaide, where the festival’s fourth incarnation will unfold today. 

“We moved around from place to place, and this geographic restlessness is a big part of our ethos,” Forlivesi explains. “The magnetic pole of creativity is in constant motion, and we believe in the importance of following it wherever it leads us.”

The festival’s name – which translates as Unique Forms of Continuity in Space – is taken from a sculpture by Italian futurist artist Umberto Boccioni, which itself is a symbol of the sort of dynamism to which Forlivesi and Fossati aspire. Forlivesi describes the sculpture itself as “a kind of futurist manifesto, and the futurist ideals of fluidity and forward drive are central to our approach as festival directors.” 

The eight composers showcased this year – finalists hailing from Australia, the UK, Italy and Japan – were selected by Forlivesi, Elder Conservatorium professor Stephen Whittington  and Christian Zanesi (director of Paris’ prestigious Groupe de Recherches Musicales), according to an innovative voting process pioneered by Forlivesi and entirely unique to Forme uniche. “Rather than follow the conventional approach of giving all judges equal say,” he explains, “we decided that each judge could vote for a candidate that moves or impresses him, irrespective of how unfavourably the candidate may be viewed by the other judges. We believe this ensures that composers with strong personalities who polarise listeners might be favoured over mediocre talents who elicit uniformly indifferent reactions.” 

One of the eight fortunate young composers to emerge victorious from Forlivesi’s system is 23-year old Sydney-born Sebastian Phlox. His piece, Exile for violin, clarinet, piano, mezzo-soprano and live electronics, will be performed on Tuesday along with the works of his seven colleagues. In response to the challenge put to all Forme uniche applicants – to set a new Australian or Italian poem to music – Phlox draws on verses by Adelaide poet Emma Carmody to create a sound world combining elements of sung and recited text, soundscape and electronic effects. 

Phlox is no stranger to composer competitions. As recently as October of this year, his piece Total Internal Reflection was runner up at the inaugural Soundstream Young Composer’s Award in Adelaide. “This is more international experience than the Soundstream award. It’s very exciting to work with composers from all over the world and see what kind of work they’re producing.”

When asked who he’d put money on to win Forme uniche, though, Phlox was diplomatically reticent. “I really couldn’t answer that!” he laughs good-naturedly. “All composers have submitted great work, and the work is of very high standard, so I really couldn’t pick.” 

Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio (Unique Forms of Continuity in Space) will take place in Elder Hall, Adelaide at 8pm, Tuesday November 20. Free admission.