Tim Passes – An orchestral song cycle with the Arco Set Orchestra – A Dark Mofo premiere June 2014

Almost immediately after the performance of Tim Passes on June 12, I checked my watch: I couldn’t believe it went by so fast. The fastest hour of my life. Remarks flowed in that another hour could easily have been enjoyed. A repeat? or a development? Either way, I want to feel that hour again…and again. Often, as a mentor, tutor or such, I talk to student about the landscape of the set, the song, the verse, the phrase, the line, the word and the breath. People will hang onto the most inane of things if you deliver it well, with intent, and with the authority of a map; you know where you’re going and no one is going to get hurt.

I spent much time thinking on the set order for Tim Passes as the 8 poems were not given to me chronologically, alphabetically, or in any other discernible state or theme, other than Tim’s joy and suffering. I organised them so as to introduce Tim with a reference to his end, then celebrate his inner child, his children, his genitalia, his inevitable end and the family that needed consoling after the fact. It was this final point which had the most significant weight. This work was about, and for a family; a family that I believe had engaged in little ceremony for Tim’s passing over 20 years ago and had yet to celebrate him. Not that I’m claiming to have any authority on the passing rights of a man through the families eyes, but I don’t imagine Tim ever had a party as big as this one.

I learned a great deal about poetry, music and respect during this process. Tim’s work was of a unique position; closer to death than any of us care to be and vividly aware of its slow grip and of the nearest peoples reactions to it. I can’t say that I’ve felt that. I had a ripping hangover once and can’t remember the booze I drank to get it – that’s as close as I get. Lame. I can imagine though as life grinds down around you, that whatever words you commit will ultimately define your position. They will become your expression after you part. Tim chose his words well. Honest and brutal. The music needed to fit the same shaped hole he made; the hole his family recognised as ‘Tim’. During the lead up, there was much press about the event. One such article in a weekend magazine had a quote from Tim’s brother David about my composition of Tim’s work. Referring to Tim’s “right-angled turns and about-faces” swerving from “truculence to tenderness”, David went on to say, “Dean must preserve that inadvertent ambiguity”. David had announced this expectation via print media and I shit myself. It was the word “must” that buried in the most. I must interpret the words in accordance with the Tim-shaped-hole that I was still learning to appreciate only hours before the show.

I spoke on an earlier day about the study and use of vowels and consonants when defining the parameters of the music. But beyond that is the performance, the delivery of another mans ideas who can no longer tell you if you got it right, nearly right, or missed completely. But, as I’m sure any musician can empathise, when performing someone else’s work, a line delivered poorly has you imagining the originator in the front row, tongue out, fingers up, or turning their back on you as you over-sing the next few lines to attempt recompense, ultimately making it even worse. I learned a lot about performing with an orchestra too. With a band, when you trip, you can turn to the band, raise your eyebrows (literally or metaphorically) and the band can react to this and adjust. An orchestra is like the Titanic approaching a u-turn at 80 knots; if you trip, there’s fuck all you can do accept find your own way to make what you just did sound like you meant it.

The media were kind. The Age called it the ‘highlight of the opening weekend’. Given the other acts on that weekend, I’ll take that. My favourite moments? Being a piece of bread in a stage-light toaster in Song for the Adequate Person and listening to the guy who tried and failed to wait until the music stopped before clapping (he was so keen!). Keeping focus whilst singing about a floating cock in a bathtub. The dynamic smash of the Professor of History Greets His Students, conducting the Fragment of a Requiem for Timothy Hamilton Walsh and who doesn’t like a 5 minute standing ovation. I wonder now what Tim would have thought at the premiere. His remaining friends and family seemed chuffed, but would they say that with Tim standing by?

 

 

 

Royal Work. A commission for the Queens 90th Birthday.

Risks are good. They help break conventions and skulls. Professionally, in music, the breaking of conventions is a necessary hazard. It’s how people know you’re there. Otherwise you’re wallpaper.

This year, for Her majesty the Queens 90th birthday celebrations, Government House in Hobart took one such risk. They asked me to produce something for the occasion that would be new yet referential, risky yet respectful. I used the opportunity to engage two people I’d wanted to create with for sometime; Kelly Ottaway and Julius Schwing, and we discussed the concept. Truth be told, I think it was Kelly who first spake the idea of God Save the Queen – Theme and Variations. Well, that is what it was called in the end. Initially, the ideas ‘Meditation upon… or GSTQ Re-arranged… were bandied about, but they presented too much fog around the idea and not enough clarity of meaning for a traditional occasion.

And so…

Kelly, Julius and I began to explore phrases from GSTQ and its closest friend, the Hymn Jerusalem. What became of it was a 45 minute concert composed equally by the three of us for string quartet, brass quartet, piano, guitar, samples and taped excerpts of the coronation.

The risk factor rung on in the minds of the Governor and staff so that right up until my baton went down for the first time, everyone was a little on the edge. What was this going to sound like? How kooky were the variations going to be? Would the Queen be offended? One month earlier, I had been called into the Governor’s office and asked this question directly. They wanted to avoid any unpleasant complications given the gravity of the occasion. I played them a freshly composed example from my laptop of a brass quartet piece with the working title God Save the Brass Quartet, which I had penned not two days earlier (phew!). They liked it, (phew!) and we went on…cautiously.

 

Did it work? Did we vary too much? Was there anything left of the regal theme and its potency? The Governor and staff seemed overjoyed with the result (phew!). So much so the next night a camera crew was employed to film it and send it to Buckingham Palace the following day in time for London’s celebrations for the Queen in the Mall. Did the Queen see it? Not sure. Haven’t heard yet. But, personally, I couldn’t be happier with the process, the outcome and the story to tell.

 

The concert is linked below. Enjoy.

http://www.govhouse.tas.gov.au/vice-regal-news-and-photos/8-june-2016

 

 

In Time – Ten years on

Wow. 10 years since the release of In Time. My second album, but first made in Tasmania where I fully embraced the idea that I was a musician for life. My first albums were more like ‘collections’; being random assemblages of what I knew to be music at the time, Which wasn’t much to crow about. *sigh

In 2006 I was many things. Mostly just keen. Not too clever, but my keen made up for what or whom I did not know. I did know that I wanted to make a splash; at least locally. There were a handful of bands in Hobart at the time releasing albums they were also proud of. But I struggled with their launching process. Who were they doing it for? And for what? To release an album for the people is to play it to as many as you can as often as you can. To do it for yourself, was to have a lunch gig, sit back in the glow of it all until a year later, you remember you have 10 boxes of unsold CDs under your bed and no one knows your name anymore. Above all, I wanted to launch a career.

So we recorded in Red Planet, and to launch it we chose the Theatre Royal in Hobart – the oldest operating theatre in the country. A teeny weeny Lascala, but a mighty place to propose yourself in Tasmania. We recorded (too much), rehearsed (not enough), got a camera crew, made flyers and pretty soon the theatre filled up. My family were filled with the gala of it all. For a local singer songwriter, it looked like a big deal, a big venture. Most bands at the time were launching albums at local pubs. Good fun, but I think I got the platform I was looking for in terms of ‘Launch’.

So, 10 years on. So much music since then. The changes along the way have often made me dizzy. I’m still proud.

 

All songs © Dean Stevenson.

Album Band:

Guitar and Voice: Dean Stevenson

Guitar: Dave Wilson

Bass: Pat Breen

Drums: Shayne Rogers

Hammond: Randal Muir

Rhodes: Kelly Ottaway

Horns: Les Johnston and Chris Williams

Produced by Stewart Long. Assistant producer: Al Future.

 

 

The Juliet Letters

In 2009, for a Masters degree recital, I played the song cycle released in 1992, The Juliet Letters. I needed a new sound and a new way of playing, singing and performing music. In the string quartet I found a new home. The ensembles I wrote for quickly got bigger, but the small chamber ensemble was my weapon for several years to come.

When we next played it for the inaugural MOFO festival. The queue around the block had more people in it than were already seated in the theatre

Then in 2015, with my good friend Daniel Lopez at the helm on 1st Violin, I played The Juliet Letters again in QLD. I couldn’t have been happier playing this outstanding song cycle written by Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet.

I have performed it a few times since; Festival of Voices in Hobart 2016, then again this week at Government House, Hobart. It is a work that I believe I will revisit many more times in my life for the simple reason that it is magnificent. Its writing, its intellect, its passion, its honesty, its complexity and above all, its pure ensemble chemistry. I hope you get to hear it one day.

Facing North

Last year Dean was awarded a residency in the North West of Tasmania by the Cradle Coast Campus. He was the first musician/composer and performing artist to be awarded this residency which was an honour in itself, but the real treat was in the music of the region he spent a month living in. As one of the musical educators of the region, David Turner said, because there is a limited amount of touring music being performed in the region, there isn’t as much of an opportunity to go and see it. So…they have to make it themselves. This is true of many rural places of the world that create and innovate due to a lack of the flow-through of tours and arts funding.

Dean’s idea, in the beginning, was to write music to be recorded by the people of the north west that could become part of an installation within the cradle coast campus that the local musicians could be proud of. A music that could tell a north west story, or at least be inspired by a north western perspective. When he began this journey, he had no idea just how big the community music participation of the north west was and to what extent they would embrace this project and feed into it.

And now, Dean has been awarded the residency for a second year running. This means living on the north west for another month this year to fully realise this wonderful region into a large scale piece of music.

The project has now been adopted by Tasmania’s Ten Days on the Island festival and will premiere in March 2017 in Burnie. Watch this space for more info!

 

 

Spiders = orchestra and Australian pop diva. What?

As mentioned in earlier posts, I was fortunate to be asked by the Bookend Trust to compose music for their up-coming film Sixteen Legs; a film on the Tasmanian Cave Spider featuring a host of marvellous people including the narration of Neil Gaiman and the beautiful sounds of Kate Miller-Heidke. I waited for a long while for the crews to come in with enough footage to begin assembling, and when they did…whoah! So this spider is amazing and really, really big. The footage by Joe Shemesh is in 4K, award winning and shockingly beautiful. He’s caught the spider doing a lot of things including eating crickets and…yes…having sex. That’s the big one. Never caught quite like it before. Kooky, I know. And there are caves under Tassie that will put the most grand cathedrals to shame.

I had the deep privilege of recording much of the score with the wonderful Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gary Wain (what a legend!) and then to Melbourne to add the extraordinary voice of Kate Miller-Heidke. What Kate did to the music is to be heard to be believed. I simply can’t do it justice by describing it here. Kate was a wonderful, gentle, utterly professional soul to work with and I can’t wait for you to hear it.

 

Keep a look out in late 2016 for Sixteen Legs. Here’s a preview of Joe’s award winning shots of the spiders in habitat.

 

 

A.I.R. Artist in Residence. Collegiate

This year I was a recipient of an A.I.R grant through Arts Tasmania to be a composer in residence at the St. Michaels Collegiate school in Hobart.

The brief: to be a role model for senior students in the creative industries and to create a new body of work through this process.

It began with:

Well, having never done a residency before, I was delighted at the idea and utterly terrified at the ides of being a funded role model who had to come up with something in order to inspire. As I took my study space, set up my gear, attended classes and walked the grounds, I was searching for inspiration. I searched for sometime. Then a few weeks in, I panicked. I had very little to show for my efforts. Why? It turns out that I’d been teaching a principle foe years that in this instance I had failed to adhere to myself. Limitation. Limit your creative area, in order to free yourself. There’s nothing scarier than the open book, the limitless sky, the boundless plains, the world’s your oyster so to speak. With anything possible, nothing was.

I was reminded of the Quartet for the End of Time by Messiaen. Here was a work written by a french composer in a concentration camp in WW2. He was recognised as a composer of note and allowed to write for the instruments that were available to him in the camp. Piano, Cello, Clarinet and Violin. If you’re looking for limitations, WW2 POW has got it covered! Messiaen was limited and in the process, knew what he had to work with, and so he punched the boundaries of his possibilities. Without walls, how is boundary pushing even possible?

So, I went back to basics. What instruments do I have, what is my course and why? It turns out that when you lock it down to a string quartet, things become easier. Not just because a quartet is amazing, but the boundaries make the possibilities almost endless. Also, whilst walking the school library and perusing the bookshelves of music and art, (music and art are always side by side in a school library), I happened upon a book that took my notice because of where I had recently journeyed from. A book on post WW2 Parisian Art became my favoured read.

It ended with:

http://www.arts.tas.gov.au/industry_development/air

 

 

 

Oh Sting

Sometimes ,missing a deadline works to ones advantage. I’m not suggesting this as a business strategy, but sometimes, as in this particular time, something good came of it. I was so busy with the NW project, that when an email loaded with a poem from David Walsh, issuing the challenge to set it to music came, I quarantined it, knowing that it would become the greatest of marvellous distractions from all other work. I left it for a few weeks. This, apparently, is far too long for a poet who’s muse was restless for music upon his verse. So I was both disappointed and delighted when informed that, due to my lack of activity in this area, the poem had been sent to Sting to muse upon.

In the following blog, David writes that I dismissed said poem. See above my defence. See blow the blog. Being one point of a triangle of David Walsh, Sting and myself is a pleasant place to be. Sentimentally, I rejoice.

 

 http://monablog.net/2015/09/25/o-death-where-is-thy-sting/

 

London Suite Release.

Well that was fun. A premiere. Government House Hobart. We did it. The room filled up, we played, they applauded, then we drank and went home. And in-between all those elements was fine music, some tears, cinematic imaginings, the throwing of a baton and the public release of music that has changed me.

I can now exhale.

And then inhale quickly as I need more oxygen than ever before to get me through the next project. More on that later.

 

If you would like your own copy of the London Suite, please email me at [email protected] and with a small fee I can set you up with a link to download your own copy.

I love making new music and sharing it with you and I’m a big fan of all my fellow creators who want to do the same. This is what makes our world go ’round. And it makes yours spin too. With patronage we will keep turning the world in a way that makes us all happy to be on it. I’m happy to share my music with you and I know you’ll support those who create it for you.

 

Thanks. enjoy.

 

[email protected]

 

 

London Suite Premiere

Last year I spent a month in London. It became a more profound time than I had anticipated. Time in mentorship, composition and travelling made for a month that produced a suite of music that reflected my experiences of London and creating music in a new way. I’ve written a suite of music that doesn’t contain me. I’m not in it. Well, I wrote it, conduct it, paid for it, etc, etc, but you won’t hear me in it. Not singing, playing bass, nothing. Just strings, piano and vibraphone. What a relief.

Tomorrow night, it will be released into the ears of the world. I was invited to premiere the London Suite at Government House, Hobart. It’s a deep privilege and one not to be taken lightly given that it booked out in 18 minutes.

The program notes will say something like:

The working title for this suite was Music for an Imagined Film. This meant that each piece is a scene of sorts; a comment or feeling that inspired, delighted or devastated him. However, most of the music is not intended to transform the feeling or vision, but only to honour it, stay in it and notice it becoming music. Many of the suite’s 11 pieces are without narrative and are disconnected with each other, in that there is no desire to draw a connection that could be falsified; the music came and went at random as the autumnal city allowed itself to be written. 

Therefore, as there is no hidden narrative to lend you, you are invited to bring your own to it. Each piece brings with it a colour that you can imagine your own scenes with. Dean’s inspirations are somewhat irrelevant to your listening experience. Make the music your own soundtrack; underscoring your own imaginings or memories with it.

 

 

So. If you don’t already have a ticket, you can’t get one. Sorry. But it will be out soon enough. Enjoy.