In 2013, barrister Julian Burnside asked Australians to write letters of comfort and support to asylum seekers detained on Nauru. Nearly 2000 of those letters were sent back unopened, marked “return to sender”.

Composer Katy Abbott had always planned to write a letter but somehow never got around to it. Offered the chance to read through the returned letters, she was inspired to write a work for female voice, narrator and string quartet called Hidden Thoughts II: Return to Sender. Her musical response is, she says, “my contribution to that dialogue”.

Melbourne’s Flinders Quartet will present the world premiere for Melbourne Digital Concert Hall on July 23, performing it with mezzo-soprano Dimity Shepherd and actor Richard Piper as the narrator.

Katy Abbott and Flinders Quartet cellist Zoe Knighton spoke to Limelightabout the new work.

Zoe Knighton, Julian Burnside and Wilma Smith with the returned letters. Photograph © Agatha Yim

Zoe Knighton

What made you want to perform Hidden Thoughts II: Return to Sender?

As soon as Katy came to us with this idea, it was clear that it was going to be one of the most...

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