When Elizabeth Jigalin heard that celebrated new music outfit yMusic were touring Australia in August with pop-piano innovator Ben Folds, she invited them to take part in a very different Sydney gig, not really expecting that they would have the time.

Jigalin is the Artistic Director of The Music Box Project, a collective of up-and-coming Sydney composers and performers who present experimental, collaborative music experiences. Would yMusic consider performing with them, she wondered? To her surprise and delight, yMusic were keen and managed to find a date in their tight touring schedule. Then Jigalin hit a wall; she couldn’t find a venue. Bumping into flautist Lamorna Nightingale at a classical music forum, she explained her problem.

Excited by the idea of two such innovative groups co-presenting the music of their peers, Nightingale (who is a core member of leading Australian new music group Ensemble Offspring) joined Jigalin as co-curator of the event. Together they found a space beneath a Darlinghurst art gallery called Creative Space 99 for the gig on August 19, which will mark the launch of a new concert series presented by BackStage. “It’s not perfect for music because it doesn’t have a piano and has some limitation on use of the space but we think it’s going to be super cool for our gig,” says Nightingale.

yMusic comprises six New York City instrumentalists who describe themselves as “flourishing in the overlap between the pop and classical worlds” with a mission “to bring a classical chamber music aesthetic to venues outside the traditional concert hall.” They are known for their work with Folds and have championed the music of Nico Muhly and Sufjan Stevens among others. For the Sydney gig they will present a programme of new music from the US including the world premiere of a work by Brooklyn-based composer Missy Mazzoli who was recently described by the New York Times as “one of the most consistently inventive, surprising composers now working in New York.”

“I think we are pretty lucky to have yMusic include a world premiere by Missy Mazzoli. Her style crosses all genres,” says Nightingale. “As NPR’s First Listen asks [of Mazzoli’s all-female ensemble Victoire]: ‘Is Victoire’s music post-rock, post-mimimalist or pseudo-post-pre-modernist indie-chamber-electronica? It doesn’t particularly matter. It’s just good music.’”

For its part, The Music Box Project will perform six new works composed by Jane Aubourg, Harry Burgess, Joseph Franklin, Milan Monk, Kezia Yap and Jigalin herself. “I’m intrigued by what similarities and differences might be revealed by hearing music from these two metropolises back to back,” says Nightingale, who believes that experiences like this are important to the future of classical music. “For groups like yMusic there is a real commitment from the players and composers to the audience’s experience. This doesn’t mean that they are dumbing it down, they just know that unless they put on a good show that people want to hear, they won’t actually be able to keep creating the music they love. This isn’t classical musicians playing cover versions of pop songs, it’s musicians from different stylistic backgrounds coming together to create something new. Groups like yMusic are actually creating their own audiences through developing strong relationships with them. This is the creation of culture as opposed to entertainment and where the future of classical music lies.”

Nightingale believes that the choice of venue is an important factor. “Concert halls are great places to perform music but they are steeped in tradition. This tradition isn’t bad in itself but many of the conventions of presentation are difficult to break away from and, let’s face it, what do they mean in a modern world? In a less formal space, you can start to imagine music in all sorts of new ways that just aren’t possible on a concert hall stage with the audience sitting in rows of seats. I also think most audiences are just more comfortable going to an art gallery, a warehouse or a private home. This familiarity makes it easier for performers to present their music in a more personal and authentic way.”

Finding appropriate, affordable venues in Sydney isn’t easy, however, particularly with funding cuts biting into the small to medium arts sector. “Sydney’s new music needs a home and I’m hoping that by curating a short series in this space Liz and I might be able to build a stronger community and culture,” says Nightingale. “It’s a big mission but I think it’s really important that our local musicians have a voice and that we support each other.”


yMusic + the music box project perform at Creative Space 99 on August 19