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2020 - Music, Bushfires and Coronavirus: The year at a glance.

Updated: Jan 5

Happy New Year everyone! Last year was very difficult worldwide, and there are more difficult times to come. But it’s still nice to stop and reflect on what was achieved, despite the setbacks – or, for composers, perhaps because of them (extra time in solitude and contemplation)… At the beginning of last year, I had the pleasure of premiering my violin and piano piece ‘Extinction and Rebellion’ with Ole Bohn in Oslo, Norway, during an especially warm winter. The next week, my new Octet about dreaming was performed by Bohn and his octet, which I wrote for the occasion. The comforting and dreamlike quality of the octet contrasted with the lamenting and vigorous music of Extinction and Rebellion.

Upon returning to Sydney, I had the good fortune to be thrust into the next project without a break, which was Voces Caelestium’s 7th charity concert. I performed the Bach keyboard concerto in D minor with the VC orchestra and TaeSoo Kim, and the concert also featured an opera gala and a Requiem by Michael Haydn. We raised $10,000 for World Wildlife Fund Australia, which went towards restoring nature and wildlife following the horrific, unprepared-for – but not unexpected, bushfire season.

Then the COVID-19 lockdowns happened in Sydney, just as I was moving out of home. Once the chaos of moving subsided, I came back to a movement of a Sinfonietta, which I managed to complete (more on this in the coming months). One of the more spontaneous events was a live-streamed lecture demonstration of my Mahler 6 solo piano transcription with Nicholas Young (pianist) and David Larkin (pianist and musicologist at the Sydney Con). I got a wonderful prompt for a flute prelude from Toni Berg (flutist), and wrote an oboe prelude as well, both of which were premiered as ‘Two Lockdown Preludes’ at Dreambox Collective’s Nightlight live launch (for more on Nightlight, see the website here). At another Dreambox Collective event – the virtual ‘Big Blue’ concertChloe Chung and I performed a new marine-inspired flute and piano piece I wrote titled ‘a Shower of Sunbeams’, along with a piece by my good friend Jolin Jiang called ‘Weathered’.

In August, I composed a short solo violin piece titled ‘Variations on Light and Death’, which will be premiered by Victor Avila in Boulder, Colorado in March this year.

October saw my old friend, pianist and conductor Alexander Yau lead the newly formed (and aptly named!) Ole Bohn Chamber orchestra in the Australian premiere of my Octet ‘San’ (see the video below). In November, the year was brought full circle with another performance of ‘Extinction and Rebellion’ by violinist Dominic Azzi at his final recital at the Con!

Throughout the year, I've also been having composition lessons with Brad Gill who has fulfilled my wish to be introduced to music that challenged my views and aesthetics – a process that’s been both eye-opening and allowed me to know myself better!

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on some ongoing projects which will be completed, with any luck, this year – a song cycle of ancient Chinese poetry, and a project I’ve been having a lot of fun with recently, a Concerto Grosso for strings! Keep an eye out for them…


Above: my Octet 'San' performed by the Ole Bohn chamber orchestra, conducted by Alexander Yau, at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, October 2020.

Audio: Conan Tran

Video: Jeffrey Cheah (http://www.jeffreycheah.com.au/pages/videography.html)


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