Skip to the content

The Seasons Commissioning Project

Reimagining a contemporary and diverse youth music organisation through newly commissioned music for string orchestra

With the aim to contribute meaningfully to Australian music for string orchestra, in 2022 Melbourne String Ensembles launched a bold commissioning project, engaging First Nations composers to write new works inspired by seasons from their traditional Countries.

The Seasons project explores perceptions of the seasons, how they are changing, and how we tell their stories. MSE musicians are very excited to have the opportunity to participate in workshops  with the composers. 

The first three commissions of the series by renowned didjeridu artist/composer William Barton, acclaimed composer and educator Christopher Sainsbury and Melbourne’s own composer singer-songwriter James Henry were performed alongside Vivaldi’s much-loved Summer and Winter at the Melbourne Recital Centre on 30 April 2022.

Following on from the success of the these works, MSE continues to build on this project in 2023, with commissions by composers Brenda Gifford and Aaron Wyatt. 

We are delighted to welcome back Stefanie Farrands,  MSE alumnus and Principal Violist of the Australian Chamber Orchestra to premiere Aaron Wyatt’s new work. Supported by the City of Melbourne, MSE will showcase these new works at Federation Square on Saturday 2nd December 2023.

The relationships that have come out of the Seasons project are ongoing and dynamic, and the quality of these works, and their significance, is beginning to be recognised.

Guwara by Christopher Sainsbury, commissioned by MSE in 2022, has been included in  Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s 2023 education program. Prom Country Recitals will host MSE for a performance of The Seasons program in the regional Victorian town of Foster in September 2023, and in Easter 2024, the works will be featured in the MSE program on a tour to Germany.  

MSE welcomes interest from venues and festivals. Please get in touch via the contact page. 

Meet the composers


Commissioned by Melbourne String Ensembles these works for string orchestra will be premiered on Saturday 2nd December 2023 at The Edge, Federation Square.

Djeren  Aaron Wyatt   |  Biwawaa  Brenda Gifford     


Aaron Wyatt

Aaron is an accomplished violist and was a regular casual with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra before moving to Melbourne to take up an assistant lectureship at Monash. He plays with the award winning Decibel New Music ensemble, and is the developer behind the Decibel Score Player app, the group’s cutting edge, animated graphic notation software for the iPad.

An emerging conductor, he was nominated for a Helpmann Award for his role as musical director of the premiere season of Cat Hope’s new opera, Speechless, at the 2019 Perth International Arts Festival. He has since taken on the role of director of Ensemble Dutala, a group created by Deborah Cheetham AO to bring together Indigenous classical musicians from around the country, and became the first Indigenous Australian to conduct one of the state symphony orchestras in concert when conducting the MSO’s performance of Long Time Living Here at the Myer Music Bowl in 2021.

As a composer, he has been a participant in the Ngarra-Burria First Peoples composer program, writing for Ensemble Offspring.  He has also written a number of electro-acoustic works, using a mix of traditional and animated graphic notation for Decibel, GreyWing Ensemble, and Ensemble Dutala.

Brenda Gifford

Brenda is a First Nations, Yuin woman from the Wreck Bay area. Her country, community and culture are the basis of her arts practice. She is a contemporary classical composer and creates music for ensembles, orchestras, choirs, dance performances, festivals and concerts.

She works collaboratively and is a classically trained saxophonist and pianist. Her music has been performed at venues such as the Sydney Opera House and Internationally, and is available through ABC Classical Music. She has completed a Masters in Composition in the Woman in Composition program at Sydney Conservatorium Sydney University.

Visit Brenda Gifford's Website to learn more

‘Melbourne String Ensemble is re-imagining itself, and I’m excited to see how deeply they have connected tradition and history with a strong and viable vision for future sustainability and growth.

We need to invest in young string players because they traverse the traditions of music. By working with composers in the ‘now’ they learn to bring knowledge of the past to music of the present…. This is how we build future-ready artists.’

Katy Abbott, composer

Meet the composers


Commissioned by Melbourne String Ensembles, these works for string orchestra were premiered at Melbourne Recital Centre on 30th April 2022

Guwara  Christopher Sainsbury   |   Warrin James Henry    |    Elements of Fire William Barton

Christopher Sainsbury

Christopher Sainsbury is an accomplished composer and a highly experienced music educator, and is Associate Professor in Composition at the Australian National University (ANU). He has made a sustained contribution to Australian music as a working composer in regional, community and professional music arenas for many years.

As an Indigenous person he maintains a commitment to lifting the profile of Indigenous Australian composers, and is founder and artistic director of the Ngarra-burria First Peoples Composers program 

In 2020 he won an Australian leading Classical/Jazz music award - the Inaugural APRA National Luminary Award, awarded for the impact the Ngarra-burria program has had on the music industry. He writes in various styles and genres, from simple solo instrumental works to large orchestral works, and from surf music to jazz. 

Visit Christopher Sainsbury's website to learn more

James Henry

James Henry is a composer, singer/songwriter and sound designer writing various blends of traditional Aboriginal and contemporary genres. His diverse skill set has seen him compose for Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Philharmonia Choir and musical director for the Dreamtime at the G opening ceremonies, as musical director of 'Tanderrum' Melbourne Festival Opening Ceremonies, various theatre and dance productions.

Having worked closely with various communities reviving their languages through song and recently completing his fellowship learning About traditional Aboriginal music and finding ways to incorporate it in to contemporary contexts and genres. He is able to explore these avenues with his own compositions and commissions all the way from Techno to full orchestral pieces.

Visit James Henry's website to learn more

William Barton

William Barton is a Kalkadunga man and acclaimed artist of extraordinary breadth and musicality. A virtuoso performer of the didjeridu, William has performed across Australia and at many landmark events. In his performances and compositions, William holds the awe and attention of audience members around the world.

The importance of William’s outstanding contribution has been recognised by many awards including the Artist Residency Peggy Glanville-Hicks Composers House (2020), Artist in Residence Melbourne Recital Centre (2019), Best Original Score for a Main Stage Production – The Long Forgotten Dream – Sydney Theatre Awards (2018), ARIA Best Classical Album – Kalkadungu: Music for Didjeridu and Orchestra (2012). William Barton is the 2021 recipient of the Australia Council Don Banks Music Award.

Visit William Barton's Website to learn more

The fact the management team (including Fintan, Caitlin and Imogen) have taken the initiative to commission three First Nations composers – James Henry, William Barton and myself, and bring the young musicians in their care into working relationships with First Nations artists is not just admirable, but it heralds a mode of culture-making through performance that will last a lifetime for these young musicians now starting out. This is a culture-making with First Nations people that they (the young ones) also contribute to greatly. James and I were present for rehearsals and had some valuable interactions with the young musicians, including ‘hang out’ time. One thing that is often missed when professional groups engage a First Nations musician is hang out time, where much transpires, off the page away from the dots. Groups have to factor time in for that, cuppa breaks, meals, chats, sharing, learning of First Nations people’s expressions and ways, and just time itself. Melbourne String Ensemble got this right.

Christopher Sainsbury

MSE Auditions

MSE Auditions now open

Melbourne String Ensemble acknowledges the Wurundjeri, Woi-Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation, upon whose Country we are based and recognises their continuing connections to community, culture and country.  We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.