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The Seasons Project

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 of Country.

 

The Seasons Project 

Conceived in 2021 with the aim of broadening our understanding and representation of indigenous seasons, The Seasons Project commissions new works inspired by the diverse seasons of Country in Australia. These works are curated within performance and education programs, inviting audiences to explore the narratives and cultural significance of the seasons. By delving into the perceptions and stories surrounding each season, the project offers an opportunity to deepen connections to culture and the environment. The Seasons Project premiered in 2022 with a collection of season-inspired works for string orchestra, composed by First Nations artists. These compositions were paired in performance with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, creating a dialogue between traditional and contemporary perspectives. The works were commissioned and performed by The Melbourne String Ensemble.
Original Concept Caitlin Williams.
Developed and realised by Caitlin Williams, Creative Producer and Fintan Murphy, MSE Artistic Director & Conductor.

 

The Seasons Project Presented by Melbourne String Ensembles

Premiere Season, Melbourne Recital Centre, 30 April, 2022.

The Seasons: Melbourne String Ensembles Celebrates 35 years. A program of newly commissioned works for string orchestra by First Nations composers inspired by Seasons of Country, paired with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Composers: Christopher Sainsbury, James Henry, William Barton, Antonio Vivaldi
Cultural and artistic consultation: Christopher Sainsbury, James Henry & Michelle Mills
Score copy: Taran Carter
Artistic Director and Conductor, MSE: Fintan Murphy
Creative Producer: Caitlin Williams
Development support: Imogen Williams
Supported by City of Melbourne Arts Grants

PROGRAM
Boonwurrung Welcome Song by James Henry.
Lyrics by Jarra Steele, Translation by Aunty Faye Muir.
String Arrangement by Taran Carter*
Vocalist James Henry

Commissioned by the Boon Wurrung Foundation and the
Footscray Community Arts Centre for the Due West Festival 2019
Arrangement for String Orchestra commissioned by The Seasons Project in 2022

Warrin by James Henry (World Premiere)*
Inspired by Warrin (Wombat Season) Wurrundjeri Country. Cultural consultation Michelle Mills

Guwara by Christopher Sainsbury. (World Premiere)*
Inspired by High Wind (early spring), Dharag Country

Elements of the Earth by William Barton (World Premiere)*
Inspired by Kalkadungu Country

Spring from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
Soloist Jennen Ngiau Keng

Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
Soloist Rochelle Ughetti

*The Seasons Project commissioned works

The Seasons Regional Tour, Foster Town Hall Prom Country Recitals, September 2023
Prom Country Recitals presents Melbourne String Ensemble: The Seasons

Composers: James Henry, Brenda Gifford, Antonio Vivaldi
Cultural and artistic consultation: James Henry 
Creative Producer: Caitlin Williams
Artistic Director and Conductor: Fintan Murphy
Score copy: Taran Carter
Supported by Prom Country Recitals

PROGRAM
Boonwurrung Welcome Song by James Henry.
Lyrics by Jarra Steele, Translation by Aunty Faye Muir.
String Arrangement by Taran Carter*
Vocalists: Harriet Carter-Williams and Pascal Uxo Williams

Commissioned by the Boon Wurrung Foundation and the
Footscray Community Arts Centre for the Due West Festival 2019
Arrangement for String Orchestra commissioned by The Seasons Project in 2022

Warrin by James Henry*
Inspired by Wurrundjeri Country (April-July). Cultural consultation Michelle Mills

Biwaawa by Brenda Gifford (World Premiere)*
Inspired by Dhagarwa (winter), Yuin Country

The Four Seasons, Winter by Antonio Vivaldi
Soloist Emma Li

The Four Seasons, Autumn by Antonio Vivaldi
Soloist Daniel Feng

* The Seasons Project commissioned works


Second Premiere Season 2023
Melbourne String Ensemble presents The Seasons 2, The Edge, Fed Square Melbourne, 2 December, 2023. New works by First Nations Composers Aaron Wyatt and Brenda Gifford inspired by Seasons of Country alongside Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons .

Composers: Aaron Wyatt, Brenda Gifford, James Henry, Max Richter, Carl Vine
Musical consultation: Stefanie Farrands
Artistic Director and Conductor: Fintan Murphy
Creative Producer: Caitlin Williams
Development support: Imogen Williams
Supported by City of Melbourne Arts Grants

PROGRAM
Boonwurrung Welcome Song by James Henry.
Lyrics by Jarra Steele, Translation by Aunty Faye Muir.
String Arrangement by Taran Carter*
Vocalist James Henry

Commissioned by the Boon Wurrung Foundation and the
Footscray Community Arts Centre for the Due West Festival 2019
Arrangement for String Orchestra commissioned by The Seasons Project in 2022

Djeran for solo viola and string orchestra by Aaron Wyatt (World Premiere*)
Inspired by Noongar Country (April-May)
Soloist Stefanie Farrands

Biwaawa by Brenda Gifford
Inspired by Dhagarwa (winter), Yuin Country

Recomposed by Max Richter Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Spring

Carl Vine, Smith’s Alchemy

* The Seasons Project commissioned works

International Premiere: Seasons Tour to Germany and Czechia, Easter 2024

Melbourne String Ensemble presents a program of Australian works including First Nations Seasons works by James Henry and Christopher Sainsbury, Carl Vine’s Smith’s Alchemy alongside Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in D minor. Performing in Leipzig, Berlin, Liberec and Stuttgart.

Composers: James Henry, Christopher Sainsbury, Carl Vine, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.
MSE Artistic Director and Conductor: Fintan Murphy
Creative Producer: Caitlin Williams
Development support: Imogen Williams

PROGRAM
Boonwurrung Welcome Song by James Henry.
Lyrics by Jarra Steele, Translation by Aunty Faye Muir.
String Arrangement by Taran Carter*
Vocalist James Henry (Harriet Carter-Williams and Pascal Uxo Williams – Stuttgart)

Commissioned by the Boon Wurrung Foundation and the
Footscray Community Arts Centre for the Due West Festival 2019
Arrangement for String Orchestra commissioned by The Seasons Project in 2022

Warrin by James Henry*(International Premiere)
Inspired by Warrin (Wombat Season) Wurrundjeri Country April-July. Cultural consultation Michelle Mills

Guwara by Christopher Sainsbury* (International Premiere)
Inspired by High Wind (early spring), Dharag Country

Smith’s Alchemy by Carl Vine

Violin Concerto in D Minor by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
Soloist Jacinta Ryan

*The Seasons Project commissioned works

 

Looking Ahead

The relationships and connections that have developed out of the Seasons Project are ongoing and dynamic, and the quality of the new works, and their significance has been recognised by the music community.

Guwara by Christopher Sainsbury (2022): Sydney Symphony Orchestra performance as part of their 2023 education program.

Warrin by James Henry (2022): Preston Symphony Orchestra 2024 concert program (new arrangement for full orchestra). 

Djeran by Aaron Wyatt (2023): Inclusion in the Certificate of Performance Viola syllabus for the Australian Music Examinations Board. 

MSE is thrilled about the potential for The Seasons Project to continue expanding and evolving in the future. If you would like to find out more, share your ideas or support this project please contact Caitlin Williams, Creative Producer, The Seasons Project.

 

 

The composers and their Seasons

2023

Commissioned by Melbourne String Ensembles Seasons Project these works for string orchestra were 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

Djeran for solo viola and string orchestra

Djeran is the Noongar season from April to May.

Represented by the colour green, it is the time of year where the oppressive heat of the summer months finally gives way to cooler weather and dewy mornings. Where banksias start to flower, and the red gums and summer flame add their hue to the landscape. It is a time for renewed life and activity, and that took on a particularly personal note this year (and made the season an obvious choice) as my partner, Cathrin, and I welcomed our first child into the world. It is to him that this work is dedicated. (Life pro tip: don’t take on a commission that’s due when you’re going to have a newborn to contend with if you want a stress-free existence.) The work is in a single movement, but within that it has a condensed three movement structure. After a slow intro that brings us from the heat of the previous season, Bunuru, into Djeran, each of the three sections begins with a solo viola moment that sets the tone of what is to come. The first is a celebration of life. Of the return of water to a parched landscape, and of the birds, fresh water fish, and frogs that revel playfully in this. The second section (from letter K) brings to mind a still, cool, starlit night. Some of the melodic fragments in the viola introduction are drawn from a simplified transcription of a koolbardi’s (magpie’s) song, while the ensemble entry brings with it an ode to our new child. The final section (from letter R) marks the coming of rains, the blooming of the red flowers that colour the season, and a drive to prepare for the cold of Makuru that lies ahead.

(Aaron Wyatt, 2023)

Biwaawa

Biwaawa is inspired by Dhagarwa (winter), Yuin

Biwaaawa means cold east wind in the Dhurga language. Biwaawa is strongest in Dhagarwa (winter). Sweeping up off the ocean to the headland and beyond. It can be biting and very cold."

This piece is about my connection to country and the Gambambara (seasons) and elements that are part of that. It is cyclic and comes from my culture. I am Yuin. 

(Brenda Gifford, 2023)

The composers and their seasons

2022

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 has been in demand as a composer 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 direct (musical director) the Dreamtime at the G opening ceremonies, direct (musical director) ‘Tanderrum' Melbourne Festival Opening Ceremonies, various theatre and dance productions as well as commissions. 

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 into contemporary contexts and genres, he is able to walk the fine line between what is innovative but remaining culturally appropriate and sensitive. 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

Guwara

Inspired by early spring, Guwara means high wind in Dharug language 

Guwara means ‘high wind’ in the Dharug language which is the language of the Aboriginal people of Sydney and surrounds, including into the Blue Mountains and even lower parts of the Central Coast. The lower Central Coast is where I grew up, and Dharug is my heritage (which is also known as Eora). The melodies in the upper strings soar like high wind, and the lower strings have more robust rhythms that suggest the push and pull of strong winds. There are moments of repose, as if drifting high in the atmosphere above everything. It aligns with early spring when the high winds come to the Sydney region. Using the word is to practice language reclamation for me.

(Christopher Sainsbury, 2022)

Warrin

Inspired by 'Warrin' (Wombat Season) April-July, Wurundjeri

I was honoured to have the blessing of the Wurundjeri people to write this piece representing their culture through an interpretation of ‘Warrin’ (Wombat Season). I am grateful to have Michelle Mills guide me on the information about the season and have her trust with my representation of it. 

Warrin season is marked by the behaviours of certain animals and cycles of vegetation. It is said to be broken up into two parts, the ‘early winter’ of April and May and the ‘deep winter’ of June and mid-July. 

Musically the piece is inspired by animal movements, weather and Wurundjeri preparation for the colder and wetter months. The piece starts with a solo violin representing Bunjil (Wedge-tailed Eagle) in flight and finishes with a rain of pizzicato as soloists represent the Wurundjeri moving to higher land due to flooding.”

James Henry, composer, March 2022

Elements of the Earth

Winter inspiration from my Kalkadungu country

As the cool air is embraced by the first signs of the winter season, the sky descends upon the earth met by the upward draft. The sun descends through partially-birthed clouds, and as the fragments become crystallised, the transparent horizon cradles the morning gift of life.

The violins dance with the sunlight of dawn upon the delicate transparent vessel/skin of a water drop. Here the thoughts and memories of the winter sky ceremoniously gather as mystical mist spirits, at times calming the sometimes other-worldly wind flow, to become dust spirits dancing on the earth.

A memory. As the wintery sky eclipses the thoughts of the night, the stillness of the air ascends into a prism of light to the universe – a reflection of the canvas of earth from an eagle’s eye view.

The deep red blue hues resonate a sound, a feeling, etched in time. The big sky country expands into an ocean of blue.

The bird song calls out to the translucent moon. Dancing on silver-lined ghost gums by the rivers. Forever connected to the rivers of our mother country.

The shimmer of the strings sing with the ancient earth. Winter: a time of reflection, strength, resilience, hope and survival. A necessary journey – a season of renewal. A time where life may stand still like the ghost gums by the river; like the etchings of our living Dreamtime on the canvas of our past on the cave walls. So much ancient wisdom our winter gives.

A beautiful season to reawaken the spirit. One of many seasons to appreciate in our cycle of life.

William Barton, March 2022

‘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, 2024 MSO Composer in Residence

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.