We are a retired couple of moderate means with a love of chamber music who decided that we would commission a new piece of music to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We had little idea of how to do this, or what a sensible amount of money might be for this; but we thought that a new work from a young composer would not cost too much. So we contacted the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and explained what we wanted – a chamber work of around five to 10 minutes written by one of their students.

CommissioningAmy Whyte, Kim Falconer, Pamela and Neil Hardie, Harry Sdraulig and Eliza Sdraulig. Photo supplied

The Conservatorium put us in touch with Damien Ricketson, the Head of Composition. He gave us a link to Matthew Hindson’s website which discusses typical costs for commissions from various levels of composers, from emerging composers to premium composers.

Damien also circulated our request among the other teachers of composition to ask who they would recommend; they came up with two suggestions, and proposed that we listen to some of their works on the web. We did that, and decided that although we liked both composers, we were especially taken by Harry Sdraulig. So we agreed on a fee – which was less than it would cost for
a two-week holiday in London – and arranged to meet Damien and Harry for coffee in October 2018.

This was an unusual commission, as it was unrelated to any concert or performance, and there was no decision on the instruments to be used. We talked about what instruments we liked (clarinet because one of us plays it, and cello), and then left it to the composer to decide. The deadline was April 26, 2019, which was our wedding anniversary, when we wanted to have a video recording of the work, and a score.

Having chosen Harry, we discovered that he was much more than the student we were expecting – he was doing a DMA at the Conservatorium, but he had also done commissions for a variety of organisations, and his Octet was due to be played at the Huntington Festival in November.

In January Harry let us know that the work was to be a trio for flute, clarinet and cello of around seven minutes; and it would be played by his wife, Kim Falconer, on flute, his sister Eliza Sdraulig on cello and Amy Whyte, a friend, on clarinet – three of the best young players in the country!

The next event was the rehearsal/video recording session at the Conservatorium on April 5, which we attended. Having heard some of Harry’s work, we were confident that he would produce a work we would like, but we were not prepared for the beauty of the actual piece (or the stunning playing!). The Serenade was a lovely reflection of the happy years of our marriage. The first part was slow and serene, followed by a vivacious second section, then returning to a calm ending. The three voices of the flute, clarinet and cello blended beautifully. It was played around five times, and Harry recorded these takes to edit them into a final version on DVD.

Two days before our wedding anniversary, Harry brought around the DVD and an autographed copy of the score, and we watched the performance together. If you want to hear the work, it is on Harry’s website, harrysdraulig.com, under Trios.
We now have a recording which we will treasure for the rest of our life and play regularly – but with a special significance – each year on our wedding anniversary. Our investment in this project is one of the best investments we have ever made, and we recommend other music lovers to do likewise.

For those who want an introductory level chance to commission new music, they can be part of a Silo Collective project. Silo commissions pieces by Australian composers through such organisations as Musica Viva Australia and the Australian Youth Orchestra. It has about one project a year, with each participant donating $500. Contact Leta Keens via her email [email protected] or on her mobile number 0408 639 926.