Tag Archives: BIFEM

BIFEM: Aviva Endean, Dual Rituals

Aviva Endean performs Dual Rituals. Photo by Alexander Gellmann.
Aviva Endean performs Dual Rituals. Photo by Alexander Gellmann.

Review by Angus McPherson

A screaming clarinet multiphonic, pitches grating against each other, presages thunderous bass drums. The impact from the drums triggers blinking in the audience, bodies recoiling from the onslaught of sound that seems too vast and terrible to be contained in the tightly packed Old Fire Station. Late on Friday night, Aviva Endean opened the proceedings of Dual Rituals with Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg’s Ablauf (Expiration). This strident music began a recital that had all the solemnity and pageantry of a spiritual rite. The contrast between piercing howls and whispered prayers made Dual Rituals compelling and deeply unsettling.

Flanked by black-hooded bass drummers Peter Neville and Leah Scholes, Endean’s energy is implacable; she slides around the clarinet with virtuosic zeal and screams at the audience in short, vicious barks. She is just as nimble on bass clarinet as the drums recede to low rumbles. Ablauf fades out, the stage goes dark and Endean appears on video above the stage holding up a sign instructing the audience that they will ‘need earplugs to play’ the next piece.

Endean’s own composition, A Face Like Yours, invites the audience to copy the actions of her filmed self, and we obediently insert earplugs and begin touching and tapping at our faces. Drumming fingertips lightly against the earplugs elicits reverberations inside our heads, and in the otherwise silent audience, we run fingers over our scalps and behind our ears. We slap our cheeks and lips, a soft fleshy patter that rises and falls. When the stage fades once more to black the audience, bereft of its leader, seems unsure whether to break the spell by applauding.

The lights come up on Endean kneeling at the front of the stage, Tibetan sounding bowls in her hands for Pierluigi Billone’s Mani. Gonxha, a hypnotic performance of ceremonial prayer. Endean draws a variety of metallic sounds from the bowls – traditionally used in meditation – as she slides them together, mutes them or loosens her grip allowing them to ring out. It is a long piece to sustain such a narrow range of timbres, but Endean’s focus never slips. Her body is both resonator and dampener, as much a part of the percussion as the bowls, and the dull tapping of one bowl against the knuckles of her hand evokes an air of self-flagellation. This intensifies as she beats one bowl against the other pressed to her abdomen, as if trying to drive it into her belly. There is a sense of intrusion, as if this is a private act we have stumbled upon. Quiet gong-like vocalisations become chanting as Endean finally lifts her eyes to stare into the audience.

Endean sits at a desk, the pieces of a disassembled clarinet arranged before her like a vanitas still life. The premiere of Wojtek Blecharz’s Counter-Earth begins with the amplified sound of the clarinet’s barrel rolling across the wooden desk. Dramatically lit from above, Endean paints sounds with the clarinet’s parts, while cymbals chime from a recording, extending the ceremonial mood of Mani. Gonxha. The clarinet’s middle joints become machines for trapping and releasing breath, and one is played as a side-blown flute, reminiscent of a funerary Shakuhachi. The chiaroscuro lighting distorts Endean’s features as she stretches her eyelids open with her hands and claws at her face. Electronic sounds mingled with those produced by the clarinet, which is gradually assembled.

In the next movement, Endean delivers the text of the Wikipedia entry on the Syrian city of Aleppo in the voice of a friendly tour-guide. Her recitation of the historical value of one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world is rendered heartbreaking by the destruction that has resulted from the Civil War. Endean periodically interrupts her bright delivery with hissing chants from a darker text. ‘A slow death, a slow death, a slow death’ a chilling reminder of the suffering Aleppo has seen. Crouching, Endean reaches into a glowing chest, which illuminates her as she pulls out pieces of rubble and drops them onto the stage.

Bathed in blood red light, Endean plays an Aztec death whistle into a microphone for Counter-Earth’s finale. The rasping of the skull shaped instrument is light at first, but gradually mutates into something like raucous, hysterical laughter.

Aviva Endean drew the audience in with her trance-like intensity. Sustaining the reverent solemnity of a priest or shaman throughout, she made us complicit as witnesses to and participants in her dark rituals.

Dual Rituals
Aviva Endean
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
Old Fire Station
4 September 2015
Angus McPherson

BIFEM: soundinitiative, The Exhausted (3)

Fabienne Séveillac performs The Exhausted with soundinitiative. Photo by Marty Williams.
Fabienne Séveillac performs The Exhausted with soundinitiative. Photo by Marty Williams.

Review by Simon Eales

When, in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, the character Hamm says “Use your head, can’t you, use your head. You’re on earth, there’s no cure for that,” we edge a little closer to understanding what futility in the Irish playwright means. The sense of it is ‘there’s no getting out of the situation we’re in, so just use what you happen to have.’ This call to stark rationality gets renewed with each utterance. As impossible as it seems, there’s always a way to surpass the impasse.

This preoccupation—with exploring possibilities—forms the philosophical jumping off point for Austrian composer Berhard Lang’s new long-form, part concert, part music theatre piece, The Exhausted. Co-commissioned by BIFEM and Singapore’s Yon Siew Toh Conservatory of Music for young French ensemble, soundinitiative, it bears a compelling combination of traditional musical structure and experimental elements. Just as a line of coherence develops, we are jolted sideways into a new stratum.

In his 1992 essay L’épuisé, French philosopher Gilles Deleuze articulates Beckett’s exhaustion of possibilities within delimited sets of field. It’s from this essay that Lang takes this piece’s name, and its libretto. Deleuze explores the ways in which Beckett’s plays work and rework the iterations of physical and logical possibilities, providing some indication of why Beckett seems to require a unique style of viewing. His pieces are populated with characters and stories, but, as soon as they begin, their linearity discontinues. They become about what could have happened had what happened not happened.

Throughout soundinitiative’s performance, the twelve ensemble members break with conventional concert behaviour. They are physically gestural, cleaning their instruments for far longer, and more regularly, than could be practically useful, for example. Mezzo soprano, Fabienne Séveillac, carries most of the dramatic responsibility, stepping slowly at times, quickly at others, trance-like, across The Capital’s thrust. At one point she climbs aboard a table and, lying on it, sings. We are not necessarily watching musicians create a piece of music, but being drawn into a demonstration of the creation of musico-theatrical options.

This notion is concise in Beckett. His sparse settings, few characters, and severe repetition of words, allow him to strip individual phenomena of the power they draw as individual elements. His seemingly sovereign objects could easily not have existed. There seem to be many more possibilities presented here. They bifurcate licentiously, like when Séveillac repeats, “It is night, it is not night. It is night, it is not night,” as a funk bassline and jazzrock groove on the kit links a phase of arresting, strung sustain to an intriguing section of plucks, chimes, and short strums. The words of this latter section huddle around difficulty: “scruples,” “remorseful,” “not guilty.”

As Deleuze might find in Beckett, we come across many half-lines of monologue (delivered predominantly by Séveillac, but also by the ensemble as chorus), constantly stunted melodic progressions, various genres, and a vivid flirtation between cacophony and synthesis. Ensemble members flirt, too. Upon the concert beginning, the whole ensemble arrives, enigmatically engaging the audience with eye contact from their individual positions, before most leave the stage, only a few stragglers remaining. The stragglers then leave. Some players return, make to begin playing, then leave again. These syncopated entrances and exits continue for minutes.

As the piece develops, its collection of generic, modal, tonal, rhythmic, attitudinal, instrumental, physical, and psychological possibilities burgeons, pushing the modest limits of this festival goer’s receptivity. Pique moments, such as Joshua Hyde’s saxophone solo, satisfy what thirst there is for brilliant individualism. But there is genuine pleasure in the play of departures, the decomposition of structure, the humour, the joyful combination of disparate elements, and the phases of rhythmic repetition. We can also always plug into the piece’s verbal impasses to rejuvenate our interest in the instrumental ones: “I gave up before I was born”; “I am my father, I am my son.”

It’s worth noting that Lang’s composition is exceptionally well drilled by its players. In our post-performance correspondence, Séveillac emphasised the complexity of the rhythmic and tonal micro-variations within Lang’s structural looping. Such complexity is reminiscent of Beckett, and the ensemble’s execution of the loops is exceptional. Frequent glimmers of spirited expression in the playing, however, seem to signal a point of departure (in both Lang’s text and its performance) from how Beckett required his work to be performed. He would stringently determine things like stage direction, physical form, and attitude for those selected to realise them. Soundinitiative absorb the strokes of their conductor, who is lodged above and behind the audience, and, at the same time, manage to transform the movements of this intricately mechanised system into opportunities for joy. In doing so, they allow the influence of Deleuze’s generative philosophical style to attain a compelling resonance.

The Exhausted
By Bernhard Lang
soundinitiative
The Capital Theatre
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
4 September 2015
Simon Eales

BIFEM: soundinitiative, The Exhausted (2)

Fabienne Séveillac performs The Exhausted with soundinitiative. Photo by Marty Williams.
Fabienne Séveillac performs The Exhausted with soundinitiative. Photo by Marty Williams.

Review by Matthew Lorenzon

“Exhausted is so much more than tired” begins Gilles Deleuze’s essay on Samuel Beckett (“The Exhausted,” trans. Anthony Uhlmann, 1995). Tiredness assumes there is more to be done; the exhausted has consumed, expended, or used up all possibilities. Everybody has experienced the former, whereas the latter is the stuff of mathematical definitions. Beckett combines the two. One can exhaust the possible combinations of objects in a series, just as Beckett permutes series of socks, stones, and physical movements in his plays and novels. “Beckett’s great contribution to logic,” Deleuze writes, “is to display that exhaustion (exhaustivity) does not occur without a certain physiological exhaustion.”

Bernhard Lang’s The Exhausted is a music theatre piece co-commissioned by the young Parisian ensemble soundinitiative for their debut at the Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music. Seated expectantly in the Capital Theatre, the audience was initially treated to only a momentary glimpse of the charismatic ensemble. The players wandered on stage, set up their instruments, and promptly exited. The next five minutes saw a constant flow of musicians entering and exiting the stage like waves lapping on the shore. The choreography by Benjamin Vandewalle made the most of the musicians’ natural and untutored movements. These were not actors and dancers striding purposefully on stage, but cellists and flautists repeating the gestural repertoire of the concert hall. The ensemble would stand, sit, slouch, or freeze with the simplicity proper to Beckett’s stage directions. The mezzo-soprano Fabienne Séveillac was no exception, though no other performer was called upon to sing vintage Deleuze upside-down beneath a table.

There is often a tenuous link between compositions and the philosophical texts upon which they are based. It is therefore wonderful to hear a composer developing his work so thoroughly from a single text. Objects on stage including a desk and a grey tape player are drawn directly from Deleuze’s essay. Beethoven’s Ghost Trio and Schubert’s Nacht und Träume feature in Beckett and Deleuze, though the pieces are cleverly introduced not underneath their description in the essay, but under Deleuze’s discussion of Beckett’s play Quad: “Four possible solos all given. Six possible duos all given (two twice). Four possible trios all given twice.”

Despite drawing heavily on Deleuze’s text, Lang has resisted the temptation to interpret Deleuze’s essay literally. He seeks the same nomadic movement of thought from Deleuze’s essay that Deleuze sought in reading Beckett. With all Deleuze’s talk of combinatory mathematics, it would be tempting to write a serial piece or engage in some other form of musical permutation, especially with such direct invitations as Deleuze’s phrase “Watt is the great serial novel.” While there may have been serial moments in the piece, the work seems to build upon the composer’s earlier Deleuze-inspired pieces by looping musical fragments, especially the jazz-inflected grooves of Lang’s student years. The piece, at least on one naïve hearing, plays to the tiredness inherent in repetition while referring obliquely to exhaustion’s formal properties.

Why repetition? A combinatorial sequence repeats the same elements in different ways, but Lang’s repetition is more static. A reader of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition will recognise that repetition is only possible because of the infinitesimal difference between each iteration. This difference may provide a path past exhaustion. The audience and the performers may realise that there really are tangential possibilities hiding within each musical fragment beyond its combination with others. But repetition is also fatiguing and there is always the possibility that tiredness will win out before exhausted repetition opens a window onto the new.

The Exhausted
Bernhard Lang
soundinitiative
The Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
The Capital Theatre
4 September 2015
Matthew Lorenzon

BIFEM: soundinitiative, The Exhausted (1)

Fabienne Séveillac performs The Exhausted with soundinitiative. Photo by Marty Williams.
Fabienne Séveillac performs The Exhausted with soundinitiative. Photo by Marty Williams.

Review by Jaslyn Robertson

The première of Austrian composer Bernhard Lang’s new work ‘The Exhausted’ (‘L’Épuisé’) began without music, members of Paris-based ensemble Soundinitiative moving mechanically on stage, then off, then back on again, repeating the process for minutes. The entrance set the scene for the repetitive, robotic nature of the music set to text from an English translation of Gilles Deleuze’s essay on Samuel Beckett.

Mezzo-soprano Fabienne Séveillac leads us through the text staring eerily above the audience, repeating phrases accompanied or followed by a complementary musical idea, opening with ‘exhausted is a whole lot more than tired’. Walking backwards and forwards, standing and sitting at her desk, Séveillac’s movements reinforce the mechanical repetition of her vocal part. At times, the instrumentalists use this sort of repetitive movement as well, cleaning clarinets and checking the alignment of bows. Described as ‘part-concert, part-music theatre’, movement is a significant part of the work. In a particularly haunting moment Séveillac lies herself across the desk until her head falls over the edge and sings, torso and head upside-down, without breaking her forward gaze.

The highlights of the performance occurred when the instrumentalists of Soundinitiative had a chance to show off their abilities. The stirring passion of Joshua Hyde’s saxophone solo over the cacophony of the other musicians mesmirised the audience. Forceful blowing and tongue slaps pierced through the sound in the background and demanded attention. His natural movements added as much to the concert as the repetitive choreographed actions. Hyde’s slow walk towards the audience, eyes closed, engrossed in producing rips of sound, is an equally unforgettable image.

The music of ‘L’Épuisé’ never loses interest, listeners bombarded with fast and marked change with each new phrase. Sections of text, with their allocated musical ideas, are never repeated for more than a minute, most lasting only 20 seconds or less. The majority of Séveillac’s delivery of text lies on the spectrum of speaking, ranging from breathy whispers to loud, robotic instruction. In the rare moments of high register singing, the clarity of her voice rings through the audience accompanied by sparse textures, from the likes of piano, electronic keyboard and glockenspiel. Like searching through radio stations, the rapid change between styles, varied in texture and rhythm, caused the music to never become static. Some ideas were more effective than others. Jazz sections suggested a shared feeling between composer and performers for the idiom that was clear to the audience, unlike the brief diversion into a hip-hop beat which sounded out of place on the instruments available and beneath Séveillac’s voice.

Although entertaining, Lang’s attempt to translate Deleuze’s philosophical ideas into music was sometimes sacrificed in order to create a hyperactive atmosphere that never allowed the audience to look away. The competence of standout musicians saved the work by giving expression to the chaos. The eccentricity of ensemble members gave it life, Venturini at one point climbing atop his piano in a fit of ‘insanity’. Soundinitiative showed technical prowess and bravery in taking on a work that required precision and adaptability in every instrument, with the added challenge of choreography. I can’t imagine many other ensembles that could capture the wild energy of this piece without missing a beat.

The Exhausted
Bernhard Lang
soundinitiative
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
6 September 2015
Jaslyn Robertson

BIFEM: Argonaut Ensemble, Maudite soit la guerre (2)

Argonaut Ensemble perform Olga Neuwirth's Maudite soit la guerre. Photo by Marty Williams.
Argonaut Ensemble perform Olga Neuwirth’s Maudite soit la guerre. Photo by Marty Williams.

Review by Charles MacInnes

Olga Neuwirth provokes fresh artistic perspectives by combining the new with the old. We see the patchy restoration of the Belgian silent film “Maudite soit la Guerre” (“Accursed be War”, dir. Alfred Machin, 1914), but accept it due to a live music that pits episodic tunefulness against a soundscape of slipping tonal certainty. The trick to understanding this is to place the sound at the focal point of our attention so it becomes the narrative, and the pictures become the incidental.

Music can perform this shift very well because its abstraction leaves you imagining a world beyond the visual. The chamber orchestra replaces the organ accompaniment of old: “You always need to remember the past! That is the only way that we could learn something,” says Neuwirth in an interview with her publisher Ricordi in 2014. As I walk from the Ulumbarra Theatre’s converted gaol toward the Rifle Hotel, I’m already thinking of the Syrians arriving in Europe. Of our collective responsibility. And guilt. Neuwirth is a step ahead because her sound world provides us with a more satisfying ultimate redemption than that of the colourised celluloid.

In the film story itself, Adolph furthers his training as an aviator by visiting a country that looks and feels like Belgium or France. Honky-tonk piano clanks while the harmon-muted brass crack wise and jostle with colleagues as they meet at the airfield. New-fangled flying machines are being inspected, and as the string harmonics are slowly replaced by concentric sustained cowbells, we are taken to the tavern three months hence as Germany declares war.

The declaration means that Adolph and his new friend Sigismond are now enemies. Even though Adolph has fallen in love with Sigismond’s sister Lidia, he must now return to the Vaterland to take up arms. The melodrama thickens; a grave clarinet turns upon itself alongside forward marching brass and above the strata of an elbowing organ and stringed hums. A mistuning of signals is now more pronounced—the sample track and whimsical electric guitar are prompting us to reconsider earlier impressions.

Blood red explosions are sighted through binoculars as the world is turned upside down. Adolph hallucinates that his sweetheart appears as the suddenly more menacing and now armed flying contraptions lurch and veer above. The percussionist stings the enemy with rapid gunfire and a harrowing sequence follows where hot air balloons are attacked, catching fire and eventually caving in on themselves. These are the corpses; war is indeed cursed. Neuwirth tells us with a further splaying of the tonal focus that another pivotal scene is nigh. A telegraph communiqué is sent via elevated strings and leads to the windmill where Adolph is hiding being set ablaze and collapsing. Lover and girlfriend’s brother emerge from the opposing sides and are both slain on the battlefield.

Cut to a year later and the lieutenant who brought the grim tidings to the family is making a play for the now single Lidia. Love is in the air until she spots her lover’s medallion pinned to his uniform. She convulses and contemplates drowning herself but instead retreats to the convent. We hear a veiled Bach chorale (could it be “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”?) and later a Stravinsky-like “Jesu, Joy…”. By now the sample track and the orchestra are worlds apart and the last vocal echoes shimmer a little longer beyond the church and greenery.

Eric Dudley’s conducting magnificently disguised the presence of his in-ear click track and the Argonaut Ensemble was precise and fluid. I was not convinced that the sound design and amplification recognised the subtle internal dynamics of the acoustic ensemble. The strings and bright percussion occasionally dominated in the mix, leaving some of the delicate muted brass and guitar layers behind. The sophistication of the writing and interpretation created an extraordinarily poignant opening to the 2015 Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music.

Maudite soit la guerre: A Film Music War Requiem (2014) by Olga Neuwirth
Argonaut Ensemble conducted by Eric Dudley
Friday 4 September
Ulumbarra Theatre
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
Charles MacInnes

BIFEM: Argonaut Ensemble, Maudite soit la guerre

Argonaut Ensemble perform Olga Neuwirth's live score to Maudite soit la guerre. Photo by Marty Williams.
Argonaut Ensemble perform Olga Neuwirth’s live score to Maudite soit la guerre. Photo by Marty Williams.

Review by Delia Bartle

Scenes of war flicker across a screen in a darkened hall. Repetitive percussion drills like gunfire and strains of a honky tonk piano emerge from under shimmering strings. This is the sound of Maudite soit la guerre (War is Hell), one of the first anti-war films. The 1914 motion picture juxtaposes tradition with the unexpected arrival of a mechanical age of war. Similarly, Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth’s live score bridges the divide between conventional instrumentation and innovative performance techniques.

The film interprets the turmoil of war through the narrative of a doomed love story and two rival aviators. Neuwirth was commissioned by Ensemble 2e2m in 2014 to compose a soundtrack and the Argonaut Ensemble interpreted the score with a spellbinding balance of delicacy and vigour.

Eric Dudley conducted with subtle gestures to foster an ensemble dynamic that bristled with energy. Neuwirth’s score is unique as far as film music goes in that the image and sound sometimes do not correlate. At one point a windmill crashes to the ground, but there’s no literal effect to signify this. It was intriguing to witness the way in which our reactions were shaped by what we heard more so than what we saw, in particular when comical salon music drew laughter from the audience while characters on screen were departing for war.

Violinist Zachary Johnston, violist Christian Read and cellist Paul Zabrowarny excelled, playing cowbells as well as their usual instruments. Roughly bowed string motifs and airy harmonics created an electric atmosphere. Trumpeter Tristram Williams and trombonist Benjamin Marks delivered crisp notes before shifting into rich echoes of military fanfare. Marks even picked up a melodica to add comic effect to the already diverse world of sound, and electric guitarist Mauricio Carrasco emulated eerie air raid sirens with rising and sinking glissandos.

Neuwirth draws on a range of textures and instrumentations to create a dramatic mix of electronics, classical instrumentation and film. Maudite soit la guerre predominantly features soundscapes over melodic continuity, often with dense passages of limited dynamic range. Neuwirth’s musical theatre works frequently explore the relationship between collaboration and resistance, and that was identifiable in this performance through the overlapping textures and conflicting musical and visual themes.

The film’s director, Alfred Machin, produced this work with the intent to counteract the typically glamorised war propaganda that saturated society leading into the First World War. Neuwirth says of the film, ‘You always need to remember the past! That is the only way that we could learn something’. The Argonaut Ensemble embraced Neuwirth’s philosophy with this performance that honoured the ANZAC Centenary, reminding us of the harrowing emotions generated by war through the frame of an explorative soundscape.

Argonaut Ensemble
Maudite soit la guerre (War is Hell) – A Film Music War Requiem (2014)
2015 Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo
Friday 4 September, 2015

Delia Bartle

 

“How much does it cost?”: A Guide to Commissioning New Music in Australia

The first in a series of feature articles for Partial Durations.

By Matthew Lorenzon

This article began when a friend asked me “How much does it cost to commission a piece of music?” I felt that this might be a loaded question. I also felt that I could be trusted to give an impartial answer, being a musicologist and a music critic. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a clue. I usually come in at the end of the creative process, blissfully ignorant of how much time, sweat, and money has gone into it. So that I never again miss the opportunity to steer a budding patron of the arts towards a bevy of hungry musicians, I decided to ask around.

I quickly found that composers and ensembles were just as curious about commissioning as my friend. I also heard tales from frustrated patrons-to-be. To make this survey useful to as broad a segment of the community as possible, I interviewed a range of artists and donors. I began with student composer Peter Butterlake (name changed for anonymity), then interviewed one of Australia’s most commissioned composers, Gordon Kerry. I sought the advice of the emerging Syzygy Ensemble and the internationally-recognised percussion group Speak Percussion. I also spoke with composer and festival director David Chisholm about the role of festival in facilitating new work. Finally, I asked the philanthropists Tim and Lyn Edward about their experience with the commissioning process. I found all of the participants’ advice on commissioning so enlightening that I have included large swathes of the interviews below. Hopefully the text is navigable thanks to the extensive use of subheadings. Readers can also skip to the end of the article to find a handy list of commissioning “dos and don’ts” that didn’t fit in with the flow of the article.

Even though this article is framed as a prescriptive how-to guide to commissioning, I hope that it opens a discussion of the wide variety of experiences of private giving. If you feel that your experience is not represented here, please take to the comments.

What is a commission?

A commission is basically a request for a new piece of music. Every piece of music has to start someplace, and that place is not necessarily in the composer’s head. It may begin in a conversation between a composer and a performer. A work may even begin in a conversation between a private donor and an auspice organisation such as an orchestra, a festival, or a cultural fund. This piece may be delivered on paper, in a performance, as a recording, or any mix of the above.

In Australia, the commissioner is usually a public funding body, such as the cultural fund of a local council, or the Australia Council for the Arts. However, a growing number of private donors also directly contribute to Australia’s (and indeed their own) cultural life by commissioning new works.

Tim and Lyn Edward have been commissioning new music since 2008. They commission the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s annual Snare Drum Award test piece. Recently, they also commissioned the percussion sextet with electronics Whorl Would Equal Reaches from James Rushford for Speak Percussion. They also have some more commissions in the pipeline. The Edwards see their contribution as “basically financial backing,” rather than artistic curation. They “pay the money to the company’s Administration and their Artistic team sources the composer.”

Not all commissions are so hands-off. Ughetti describes a range of criteria attached to commissions, from very specific commissions by institutions to open-ended commissions by individuals:

A commission could be anything from somebody coming in from the National Gallery of Victoria and saying “We’re doing an exhibition on postmodern European art and we need a composition that will go for this long, it will go after this speech by the minister for the arts [I would like to hear that speech], it has to be for mixed instruments and it has to be loud.” The other extreme would be an individual coming in and offering money for a new work without specifying anything.

Co-commissions

As well as institutions and individuals commissioning works, ensembles from around the world can also co-commission works together. To Kerry, this

mitigates the problem of pieces only being played once or twice and in a single location. People like Brett Dean, Liza Lim, Elena Kats-Chernin in particular have benefited from international co-commissions, which is great as the works are performed in Australia, Sweden, Germany, or the UK.

Syzygy Ensemble has also benefited from international co-commissions. Laila Engle describes a situation where

we played a work by an international composer and his publisher contacted us to say “I see that you played this piece. Would you like to get together with an English ensemble and commission a new piece?” The Brett Dean sextet that we are playing at the moment was co-commissioned by three high-profile groups: The Nash Ensemble in England, Eighth Blackbird and the Australia Ensemble. Splitting the cost and guaranteeing performances in multiple continents. That has really helped that piece come to life.

Festival commissions

Festivals not only auspice commissions, they can also commission new work themselves. The Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music (BIFEM) uses an innovative model of rolling over box-office takings from one year to commission works in the next. As Chisholm describes:

With the help of philanthropic organisations and government bodies, we are able to cover operation costs. Box office sales then roll over to commission new works for the next year. We can’t use Australian money to commission non-Australian composers, but we can use box office takings to do that. There are about five or six new works in the festival, which is absolutely fabulous.

Sharing the risk around

Though the donor expects no monetary return from their gift, donors and performers sometimes exercise risk-management when commissioning new music. In his 2004 Peggy Glanville-Hicks address “Why Bother?”, Julian Burnside remarks that a commission is unlikely to be a completely satisfactory experience for the commissioner if they never hear it. His suggestion that groups of donors commission new works together is not only a pragmatic way in which someone of almost any financial means can contribute to new work, it is a pragmatic way of guarding against a disappointing commission. Engle has noted the move away from single-patron commissions to commissions from multiple donors:

Applying for private funds can be a bit like applying for grants. People don’t want to give you 100% of anything. They don’t want to take all the risk. There is a big push in Australia to couple public funding with private sector funding, which helps share the risk around.

Crowd-funding is an extreme version of distributing risk. Both Syzygy Ensemble and Speak Percussion just completed crowd-funding drives with Creative Partnerships Australia. Creative Partnerships Australia matched private towards these campaigns dollar-for-dollar. The Australian Flute Festival successfully crowd-funded a commission by Paul Dean as a test piece for a competition, the competition’s entry fees effectively paying for the work. The Bang on a Can People’s Commissioning Fund is an ongoing platform for small-scale donations towards new work. While crowd-funding harnesses the significant—but further distributed—resources of a musician’s networks, its principles are the same as other forms of private fundraising: donations result from fostering relationships. Repeated crowd-funding drives without giving back to one’s donors through a performance of new work will result in donor-fatigue.

Managing relationships: The commissioner, the composer, and the performer

The principal risk involved in a commission is that it is not performed. A commission is therefore ideally a triangular relationship between the donor(s), the composer(s), and the performer(s). Artistic directors of ensembles, festivals and agencies are helpful in facilitating these relationships. The Edwards state that they are “more likely to commission through an organisation because we don’t feel we have the expertise to go directly to a composer.” As the artistic director of Speak Percussion, Ughetti is something of a match-maker. All of the private money that Speak has received has gone straight through the ensemble to composers:

It’s hard, it’s not a nice thing to do, to ask people for money. It’s way harder when you have to ask for money for yourself. If you ask on behalf of somebody else, a young composer for instance, if you say “you will support a great talent and in years to come you will be responsible for making an Australian cultural asset,” then that is a much more comfortable situation. I think that to date, all of our private donations have gone straight in and out to composers. It has never remained in the ensemble.

Musica Viva is instrumental in auspicing commissions for some of Australia’s most established composers. Even when commissioning work through Musica Viva, the commissioner may be a long-term friend of the composer. Kerry explains that

when Carl Vine took over as director of Musica Viva he instituted the “featured composer” program. That meant that each season would feature 4–5 works by a composer. Each season became a little retrospective of a composer. Some of the commissions I have received through Musica Viva, including through the Featured Composer program, were more specific than others. It’s not like in the visual arts where the commissioner says: I don’t like that, can you put more pink in it.” Fortunately that doesn’t happen. I did, though, receive a commission from a friend in Sydney who inherited some money and her partner was turning 60. She commissioned a string quartet work through Musica Viva and under the circumstances it was appropriate that the piece be celebratory.

BIFEM’s private commissions have been the result of several years of building trust between the audience and the festival. Chisholm stresses the importance of the artistic vision of the festival, ensemble, or project in fostering private support.

This year we’ve been able to commission two overseas artists as well as locals. There is a couple, regular folks from Essendon West, who are regular patrons of the festival. They came to us not knowing how to commission a work. I showed them the Australia Council guidelines and previous commissions within the festival so they had a sense of scale around the process. But it’s really about these people coming to the festival and deciding that it is something they want to do. It’s a hard thing to go and ask people for. All fundraising is about relationships and they all take time. One of the great failures of some arts organisations is that they appoint a development manager thinking that somehow their Teledex is going to bring them relationships. They may have the contacts, but it’s all about what it is that you’re doing that makes them want to invest in you.

Commission a piece, get a tax deduction

One of the benefits of commissioning a work through an auspice organisation such as certain orchestras, ensembles, festivals and cultural funds is that one receives a tax deduction. The Edwards explained that tax deductions are less of an issue now that Tim is retired, but that while he was working “the deduction was definitely a factor.” Chisholm explains:

Make sure you can commission through an organisation or auspice organisation that has tax deductible recipient status and charity tax concessions. It’s possible that you maximise your tax benefits that way. For $2,500 out of your pocket, you can get a $5,000 work. You would have to pay that tax anyway, here’s a way of controlling where it goes.

Whether you commission a work directly from a composer or through an organisation can depend on how much control the donor wants over the commission. As Ughetti describes the situation:

If someone donates to an individual they will not receive a tax deduction. If they donate to an organisation, they receive a tax deduction but they cannot tell the organisation how to spend the money. That would no longer be a gift, they would be buying something. There are some individuals who know who they want to commission and why. It could be a family member or someone who has seen the artist grow up for years, it could be an artist that they love. But that artist might not be a good fit with an organisation. The organisation and the individual would definitely have an understanding, they have a duty to respect each others’ wishes, but the patron does not have ownership over the work and cannot tell the organisation how to spend their money. Often both the organisation and the donor have similar values. It only becomes an issue when there are conflicting wishes.

If you arrive at an understanding at the very beginning, if you say “there is this fantastic composer, we want to commission them, would you be able to give us some money?” If we then volunteer to pass all of that money on, they get the tax deduction and we get the commission that we would have had to fundraise for elsewhere.

It all starts with a relationship

Even when a commission is made through an auspice organisation, a personal connection is central to the project. Tim and Lyn Edward state that they are inspired to commission works because of their love for percussion and also

to encourage developing performers, see new works added to the repertoire and support individuals and organisations we have come to know.

The Edwards frame the origins of their commissions in terms of personal relationships:

Rob Cossom, the initiator of the Snare Drum Award, put out a call for someone to fund the commissioning of an annual test piece, saying it would add prestige to the event (we now believe it was also necessary for the award to continue) and we decided to take it up.

We met Eugene through John Arcaro and greatly admire him and the work Speak Percussion do. When we expressed interest in contributing, Eugene suggested we do so with a new commission.

Fostering direct relationships with commissioners is as important for established composers as it is for emerging composers. Kerry spoke about the interpersonal origins of some of his most recent commissions:

If the commissioner knows the composer and likes his or her work, then that is usually why that composer gets chosen. In 2012 when I was touring with various groups, when the String Quintet was being played, I would stand up and make this speech about how philanthropy was a wonderful thing and if people wanted to throw money at me I’d be standing by the bar at interval. In Queensland someone came up to me and said “Yes, tell me more,” because she and her husband have a weekender in the Sunshine Coast hinterland and she said it’s just full of birdsong and they’d like to celebrate that. So I got her to buy a Zoom and she went out and recorded an hour or two of birdsong, which I listened to and played around with on Audacity and found a whole lot of hidden musical moments and turned that into a piece. That was a fairly clear brief and a very nice one.

Relationships between composers and performers also need to be carefully managed and are an often-neglected part of the commissioning process. Several interviewees commented on how composers and performers form communities of stylistically-aligned individuals. These relationships develop gradually over time. In Ughetti’s case, it took years before Ughetti and the composer Robin Fox were able to decide how they wanted to work together.

Most composers and performers are looking for like-minded individuals. A particular group with a particular aesthetic will attract a particular kind of composer. There will be composers who think “well, this group will never perform my music because I just don’t fit into their style.” So, a lot of it is about following an artist and through following them you inevitably meet them or start an email dialogue with them and through that you either form a friendship or you form a relationship that has some element of trust and respect. Out of that can come the will to work together. Robin Fox and I have collaborated once, but it took us five years to figure out how we wanted to work together and I’ve been an admirer of him for ten to fifteen years and he’s known about my work too, so there was mutual respect there, but we didn’t know how or when we wanted to work together. In some instances, depending on the context of the project, some funding might become available and then you look at how best to spend it.

Show me the money

So perhaps you have a composer or auspice organisation in mind. How much does it cost to commission a work? The Australia Council for the Arts publishes their own composition fees, “which probably haven’t kept up with CPI,” according to Kerry. The rates can be found online here. The Australia Council calculates the cost of a commission according to the number of independent voices in the piece and its duration in minutes. The table below shows some actual examples of commissions that the interviewees were aware of. I have calculated the Australia Council’s rates for the same works myself in the right-hand column. As you can see from even this limited data, the Australia Council rate tends to sit at the lower end of what established composers tend to be paid. Senior or mega-famous composers tend to attract much more funding, though still an order of magnitude less than their colleagues in the visual arts.

Career stage Independent parts Duration Time Spent Composing (full time) Commission received Australia Council rate*
Emerging composer Solo guitar 15 minutes Two months 500 6,795
Various composers Solo percussion 8 minutes 1,000 3,624
Emerging composer percussion sextet and electronics 30 minutes 5,000 15,420
Established composer Solo percussion 10 minutes 2,000–8,000 4,530
Established composer Solo performer (long-form dramatic work) 60 minutes One year 28,000–30,000 27,180
Established composer Orchestra and chorus (long-form dramatic work) 90 minutes 18 months 35,000–40,000 58,050
Senior composer Twelve

percussionists

10 minutes Several months 20,000 5,840
Very, very famous composer Percussion quartet 12–16 minutes 60,000 6,168

Table: Details of some commissions discussed during research for this article. *Not necessarily received. This column is for comparison.

Early careers and murky economics

Money may not change hands at all if the commissioner is an ensemble or a performer. Engle describes the complex transactions of intangible assets and “reciprocal resources” that can take place when Syzygy Ensemble commissions a work:

In the end it’s all about reciprocal resources and relationships. When you want to commission someone, it is normally someone you know, who you have a deep respect for, whose work you admire. Usually this feeling is reciprocated and both parties gain from the experience without any monetary exchange necessarily taking place.

When Syzygy started, we had a launch party and a lot of composers who knew about the group and who were interested in performing new music approached us. You do get a lot of people just sending you scores. We have worked with composers where we have applied for funding and when it hasn’t arisen they have composed it for free. In return, we played on her album for free, so it was an in-kind exchange.

Kerry remembers his early compositional career as “a mixture of luck and making your own opportunities”:

For a young composer, as I was then, it was a matter of knocking on doors a bit and saying “listen to my choral music.” I had also written on spec for Elision and the “New Audience” concerts—or as we called them the “No Audience” concerts—at Melbourne University. A group of composers who were students at the time, including Liza Lim and myself, began writing for Elision. They built up their repertoire and we built up great skills. It meant that I had a body of contemporary mixed ensemble pieces. Then ideally, one starts attracting the attention of mainstream groups and funding bodies. I started getting commissions for groups like the Australia Ensemble. That broadened the field for me a bit. Also, I had written some works for the Philharmonia Choir, which included works for choir and orchestra, which attracted the notice of ABC Concerts, which in those days managed the state orchestras.

When they are paid, emerging composers enjoy a somewhat higher proportion of in-kind to monetary support as part of their commissions. Butterlake’s first commission came out of the pocket of a friend, a young guitarist. Though the pay was small, both parties benefited from the commission. In Butterlake’s words, commissioning a new work “is as much a milestone for a young performer as it is for a young composer. They want to build repertoire, they want to be the first person to play something.”

Early-career composers may also receive commissions as a result of competitions and calls for scores, both of which begin as unpaid opportunities. Engle explains:

No money changes hands in a call for scores. Those opportunities are usually directed towards developing artists who need time with musicians to ask questions and then, once they’ve proved themselves, that’s a good time to commission someone. These are also in-kind transactions. It may cost $150 per person per call to rehearse a piece. That’s $600 for one rehearsal of a quartet. We did workshops at Melbourne University a few years ago and they just give us a lump sum to play six or seven new works. We say “we will spend one rehearsal preparing all of this,” then we do the workshop with a conductor so that we can get through everything quickly. We then look for funding afterwards to present that work, because the presentation and recording of a work is valuable to the composer. That is something that they would spend their money on, if they had it and it was a transactional relationship. That would be an important part of their portfolio.

We did a workshop at the Kingston Arts Centre where we put out a call for scores. It was open to anybody. We had a guy in his eighties who had never had anything performed professionally, but he had been writing for his church group for many years. We had a teacher from Sale, Gippsland, who wanted further development. We had university students. We workshopped all of those pieces over a series of weekends and then we chose outstanding entrants and programmed them in a performance.

While recognising the important educational role of early-career unpaid performance opportunities, Butterlake understands that there is

a big leap of faith involved in submitting to a Call For Scores or a competition. The Soundstream Collective’s recent competition received 27 or 28 entries, six of which were performed. Three composers from this group were then offered commissions of $5000, $3000, and $1500 for new works.

There is definitely an imbalance of unpaid opportunities. But they are the standard steps that composers go through: AYO, TSO, MSO, Ensemble Offspring and SoundStream. There are really established opportunities in Australia. You do those, then you go overseas and take up similar opportunities over there: Bang on a Can, Royaumont. They are all unpaid opportunities as well. Maybe at the end of that you will have generated enough interest in your work to actually get paid.

Despite competitions and calls for scores being primarily educational opportunities, it is interesting to note that Engle and Butterlake both discuss them in terms of managing risk. Engle talks about composers proving their worth and Butterlake sees competitions as primarily about raising the composer’s profile. It is of course ludicrous to think that the quality of a composer’s work is going to shoot from worthless to payable after a couple of these opportunities, which sometimes amount to a play-through and a pat on the back. There is thus considerable value in commissioning early-career composers through ensembles who have close links to rising generations of composers.

Established careers and murky economics

Even well-established composers and performers often subsidise their own work. Engle recalls asking

a prominent performer about how they go about commissioning works and she said “It matters how much I want it. If I really, really want it and I can’t fund a particular artistic relationship with someone, then I just pay for it myself.” […] There isn’t enough recognition of how much artists subsidise their own work.

Just as a more established composer attracts a higher fee, so too does social distance increase the funds needed to secure a commission. Engle explains:

As soon as you approach someone with a higher profile or who is more distant from yourself, more resources need to be involved. You might need a funding partner on board to manage that three-way relationship between the expectations of the person commissioning the work, the expectations of the composer, and the performer.

Ughetti outlines a similar dynamic, stressing the importance senior composers place on the performance outcomes of their work.

Every conversation is different. Every conversation brings into account all of the previous relationships that you might have had with that person: your awareness of their work, what is motivating you to commission them in the first place, what’s motivating them to work with you, and then an idea that everyone will be excited about. Sometimes just the notion of a new work is enough to get people excited, but better-known composers will often be attracted to a strategically-sound project that is already coupled with an outcome. When approaching high-profile, international composers, right from the beginning I am talking about recordings, performances and tours before we’ve even thought about what the work may be. For young composers, the idea of being paid to write a piece is already great for their career, so the nature of the conversation changes dramatically.

As a senior Australian composer, Kerry also advises having a “sliding scale” depending on who is funding a work:

When dealing with philanthropic people one does need to be prepared to have a sliding scale, on the principle that it’s better to write a piece than not write a piece. Obviously if a particularly munificent patron comes along one takes what is offered, and the fees offered in, say, the UK, are generally considerably higher than here. When dealing with people who haven’t commissioned a work before—especially if they’re not especially wealthy—one tries to come up with something affordable for them that still makes it worth one’s time to write the piece. (Even corporate sponsors have been known to baulk: One colleague produced an orchestral work a while back, which would have taken up to six months to write, and the orchestra’s AA had to bite the tongue when, handing over the giant novelty cheque, the sponsor said “that seems like a lot for a piece of music.”) So in some cases one has to gently explain that writing music is labour-intensive, and there is a lot of time spent doing things that might not look like work but which prepare the way, and that one would never calculate an hourly rate for composition as it would drive one to suicide. Or law school.

Kerry’s private commissions have largely appeared later in his career. This reflects the changing face of Australian philanthropy. The ABC used to play a much greater role in supporting Australia’s major orchestras, including commissioning new works that would then receive two or more performances by different orchestras. As Kerry sees it:

Now, with every orchestra independently managed, there is not as much incentive to commission new work as there was back in the ABC days, when a new work would receive several performances and several broadcasts in a year. But there are some new initiatives from the orchestras for young composers: MSO has teamed up with the Cybec Foundation, for instance. There are those opportunities that weren’t there before.

In Australia, private commissions may occur much later in a composer’s career. He sees this as partly owing to the fact that,

though the orchestras and major organisations are largely publicly funded, they have to trade into surplus, they have to behave like businesses. They tend to be little inclined to spend money on commissions or at least have to rely on philanthropy.

Though there are still many, if not more opportunities to be commissioned, Kerry feels that there are less opportunities to hear repeat performances of works that are important parts of our cultural heritage.

We all face the problem of the lack of programming and of performance opportunities for Australian composers. There is a lot of orchestral music by my colleagues that I’d like to hear more of. It is great that groups like Plexus and Syzygy are commissioning new work. But there is a lot of stuff that we should hear for the benefit of our own cultural understanding that is no longer performed. There are parts of numerous works by Australians that are no less palatable than something by a nineteenth-century composer, so why not program them? There is the problem of audiences wanting familiar names on their programs. The Australian Chamber Orchestra put some obscure eighteenth-century composer on a program several years ago and everyone thought it must be a new music composer. They had to say “it’s okay, it’s full of tunes.”

Who pays for performances?

Despite the importance of performance to the overall success of a commission, performance costs are rarely included in the commissioning fee. Ughetti details the financial pressures of presenting new work:

An important element of a commission is that it has to be learnt and presented. The learning and presenting can often be much more expensive than the writing of it. In Speak’s case, if we commission a trio, it might take three weeks or three months for the composer to write. It could even take a year, but generally between three weeks and three months. We might then have two weeks of solid rehearsals for three players, that’s six weeks of rehearsal to be paid for. There might be a publicity campaign, a venue and a lighting designer that cost thousands more dollars. That’s a really important part of the mix and often composers are more interested in the fact that their work will be presented than receiving a strong fee.

Performance costs are almost never factored into commission costs. Some commissions don’t have a deadline. It’s pretty hard to publicise and plan a performance of a work before you’ve even written it. It might be much longer, or technically difficult, or not suited to the venue. Or, as happens with many pieces, they are delivered late. Sometimes after the deadline of the performance. Depending on the project, presentation costs might be bundled into the whole conversation, into the whole budget.

Think big

The composer David Chisholm avoids the problem of who will play his music by focusing on long-form works over which he has control of the outcomes. It is also easier to secure funding for one large work than it is many smaller ones.

I made a very clear-minded decision many years ago to focus on long-form works. I felt that there was a better chance of securing funding if I was ambitious and there were outcomes assured for the work. I also decided that I didn’t want to fill my catalogue with ten or twelve-minute works. I came to composition late. I studied early but spent a long time at dance parties instead of composing. When I hit 29 and wanted to get serious about my practice, I realised that the best way to get attention and make leaps and bounds was to produce long forms. I feel more comfortable composing like that as well.

Long-form work means that I can self-produce and set up the creative partnerships myself. It seems more sensible to create a work that people will come to and remember than a ten minute work that they might not. Theatre and dance practitioners produce long-form work without even blinking an eye. My big compositional heroes were Wagner and Messiaen and the works of theirs that I was most impressed by were the really big ones. I have always locked composing into presentation. I was speaking to a donor who said that half the works he had commissioned had not been performed. I think that says a lot about his commitment to nurturing the arts, but it is also an indictment on the arts sector for not finding ways to link their work to outcomes.

It is almost a waste to give people small amounts of money. Why commission small works when it’s never going to have an outcome? It is going to take the sector a while to adjust to the thinking that they can ask for a lot of money rather than a little amount.

Dos and don’ts

If you have made it this far, you would be aware of the most important “do” in commissioning new work: Ensure a performance outcome. For a composer, this might mean taking control of the performance of your works (in Chisholm’s case) or liaising closely with ensembles to ensure that somebody has agreed to perform your work. Several more important messages came through in the interviews. Seeing as they did not fit neatly into the above text, I have provided them here as series of pithy “dos” and “don’ts.”

1. Do: Consider commissioning a longer work

Kerry: There is a preponderance of 10–12 minute pieces, going back to the 1970s. If I’m commissioned to write a 10–12 minute piece, I write a 10–12 minute piece, because if I turn around and say “sorry, it’s half an hour long,” then it’s too hard to programme. On the other hand, I saw a blog somewhere that said “Gordon Kerry can only write 10-12 minute pieces.” But that’s not true! Some of my pieces are 20, 90 minutes long. You do have to sell tickets but audiences today are much more open to new music than they were 30 years ago. There has been a stylistic rapprochement with the audience.

2. Do: Be cautious around universities

Some university composition departments facilitate significant commissioning prizes for young composers. These include the Dorian Le Galliene composition award and the Albert H. Maggs. In these cases, substantial funds have been provided to the University for valuable, ongoing commissions programs. Universities have, however, been known to struggle to accommodate smaller donations for individual commissions. For one-off commissions, consider getting in touch with one of the major orchestras or ensembles that work regularly with young composers, including Speak Percussion (Melbourne), Ensemble Offspring (Sydney), Syzygy Ensemble (Melbourne), Decibel Ensemble (Perth), or Kupka’s Piano (Brisbane).

3. Don’t: Be too prescriptive when commissioning work.

Chisholm: It is important that your commission does not predicate style or content too strictly. You are not just investing in the work, but in the individual. Ensure that the relationship you develop with your commissioners is one where you have artistic freedom. Nothing wrong with writing jingles, but that’s a direct transaction and commissioning is not a direct transaction. It is buying an artist’s time to pursue their practice within certain constraints. Of course I will write chamber music for someone with a special interest in chamber music, but I will decide the content of that chamber music.

4. Don’t: Composers, don’t cold-contact an ensemble with a piece. Do get to know them.

Ughetti: Composers cold-email ensembles, though often it is in the form of a media kit. “Would you consider performing this piece?” I’ve had composers I don’t even know say “I’d like to write you a piece, I’m ready to go.” It is very rare that anything comes of these approaches. It would be like going on a date with someone who just emailed you. It’s lovely, but you might want to know who they are first.

5. Do: Keep your commissioner happy.

Kerry: If someone wants to commission a piece they are doing so out of a feeling of good will towards the composer/art form/performer, and if that is successful they may want to do it again. […] On occasion, writing a slightly longer piece than the commissioner can afford can be a nice gesture of good will back, as can personalising the work in some way.

6. Don’t: Chase other people’s commissioners.

Chisholm: Composers sometimes identify a donor of mine and go chasing them. That’s really tacky. Have a bit of solidarity and respect for the fact that these relationships aren’t necessarily transferrable. It’s advisable to cultivate your own relationships.

7. Do: Make sure philanthropic bodies support something central to your project.

Chisholm: Certainly philanthropic organisations really need to know that what they’re doing is playing a vital role, even if they are partnering with government agencies they need to know that they’re going to pay for a very important aspect of the project.

7. Finally, Do: Commission new music, for your own sake as much as anyone else’s

The Edwards give the following words of advice:

Go with your heart and your soul. Choose instrumentation and genre you are passionate about (within budget constraints of course) and, unless you are dealing directly with the composer, feel you can trust the organisation you are dealing with to administer it but to keep you in the loop.

Ughetti notes the considerable benefits of supporting new music to one’s personal culture, as well as the wider community’s.

We’re such a wealthy country and we’re so materialistic and ambitious, which in its best form is a good thing, but our cultural and spiritual dimensions have suffered from this. With this money, our lives could be so much richer and more beautiful than they currently are. Our standard of living would drop a little. We might have one less TV or not quite the latest Lexus, but the vibrancy and depth of our culture would be greater. People work so hard they don’t have time to engage with arts and culture. People need to have an awareness of their own culture, of their physical culture, of music, art, fashion, and design.

Though the benefits for composers, performers, and donors are great, commissioning new music is a strategic minefield. Fortunately there are programs (and now a Programme*) that aim to make this process easier. Whether you donate through Musica Viva, directly to a composer, or throw a few dollars into a crowd-funding campaign, it will probably be because you know the artists or are a fan of their work. To quote Engle, developing these relationships is “one of the most important extra-musical skills” of a contemporary musician. Above all else, make sure that this great new music is shared and heard.

[* I began this article well before Senator George Brandis announced his National Programme for Excellence in the Arts, a programme that is funded directly at the cost of Australia’s independent, peer-reviewed arts funding organisation the Australia Council for the Arts. This article is by no means an endorsement of the continued division and erosion of public funding for the arts. July’s feature article for Partial Durations will look more closely at Brandis’ changes, which put small-medium music organisations—within which almost the entirety of contemporary art music is created—at risk.]