Australian composer Corrina Bonshek writes contemplative, nuanced music inspired by her love of nature. We’re delighted to present the premiere of her work Up in the Clouds on next week’s concert with All of the Above.
CSB: Could you tell us a little about the background of your piece?
CB: Up in the Clouds is a reimagining of a solo Pipa piece I wrote in 2015 for Taiwanese Pipa virtuoso Chen Yu Rong. The idea for the work came after reading Robyn Davidson’s book Tracks, which is a memoir of her solo trek from Alice Springs to WA with four camels and a dog for company. She describes time as passing differently in the desert, moving in eddies and curlicues, with a spaciousness that hints at the eternal. This idea really sparked my imagination and began to think of curling waves of sound-color that were sometimes times forceful and at other times gentle and subtle. In my music, these waves gradually reveal a simple heartfelt melody that I think of as blossoming of a desert flower after rain. Up in the Clouds revisits these ideas in a new ensemble context with some new musical materials.
CSB: What challenges did you face in arranging your work from pipa to Pierrot ensemble?
CB: Pipa has a very specific tonal palate. When you strike or pluck a string, the sound dies away quite quickly. Perhaps that’s why Pipa has an immense range of techniques to sustain notes including lots of different types of tremolo, bends and slides. Often phrases are punctuated with silence so that you can fully digest the prior sound-color before a new technique is introduced.
Rather than trying to imitate the Pipa with western instruments, I decided to think about the essence of what attracted me to this instrument – the interplay of active gestural variety and silence or pauses and the variety of tone- colors. It was a treat rethink these ideas in relation to Pierrot ensemble as there so many wonderful tone-color combinations possibly with instrument pairing: for example cello and bass clarinet, vibes and piano, etc.
And so, I rethought my interplay of active gesture and silence as a interplay of faster filigree gestures and sustained notes that get passed around the ensemble to create waves of varying sound-colors. I’d quite like to revisit these ideas again for an even larger ensemble.
CSB: How does location impact your work?
CB: I am very influenced by the sounds where I live. My composing room or studio looks out onto a forest. Birds do sing just outside my window. In Australia, the birds are incredibly raucous and lively. That’s because a lot of the birds are nectar eaters. They get pretty vocal about their tree or patch of flowers. As different native plants are in flower almost all year round (its subtropical here), there is no shortage sound or inspiration.
In fact, I often find nature sounds creeping into my music. Up in the Clouds is no exception. The last section is my musical version of the neighbourhood dusk chorus. A choir of Currawongs and Butcher Birds who sing outside my window every evening as the sun goes down. It’s a joyous sound.
CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar this season?
CB: My creative focus at the moment is a big outdoor work I am creating for fifty-piece string orchestra and percussion. This project is a little different as it is conceived as an installation for a walking audience and will be premiered at a major festival in my hometown. I am busily writing away and drinking lots of tea to help me stay focused and meet my upcoming deadlines! There are a lot of notes in this piece, the show will span one hour and 30 minutes, so this project is going to keep me busy for the entire season.