The story of a new work – #3

The story of a new work #3

“I’m working to write something that embraces the tone and philosophy of the group as much as it does the instruments themselves…”

by Kym Dillon, 2022 Continuo Composer on November 30, 2022

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Greetings, Continuo Community! Here’s my next update on my ongoing Continuo commission, for Croissants & Whiskey. 

When I first saw this ensemble perform live I was struck not only by the sound of their playing but also their individual personalities; how they each played off one another. This sense of personality seems inscribed into the very core of their group, from the name ‘Croissants & Whiskey’ to their promotional photos. To me they’re pretty much a band (in the contemporary sense of the word), and I’ve been realising how much this side of things is also playing into my compositional process. I’m working to write something that embraces the tone and philosophy of the group as much as it does the instruments themselves, and in considering the upcoming movements of the piece I’m thinking about how they will ‘play’ visually/dramatically as much as how they’ll sound.

For the last few weeks I’ve been chipping away at the first movement. I often find this part of a piece the hardest (and the slowest) to write, as for me it’s like constructing a foundation which will ground and give momentum to all of the material to come after it. This movement will be the very first thing the audience will hear, it will set up the state of mind with which they will experience the rest of the piece, so pacing and structure are everything. A lot of weight rests on this opening, but once this movement is completed it will give me the energy to sail into the rest of it with a strong wind at my back… 

As there is a long lead-time for this substantial piece, my aim is to finish a draft of this first movement (which will likely be a good 5 – 7 minutes long unto itself) before Christmas, then let the ensemble play around with it a bit, do a rough recording, which I can then use to inform my writing going forward. This kind of process will be necessary so that I’m getting a helpful feedback loop with these instruments and players, hearing what works and what could work better, then adapting accordingly as I continue to write. It’s a large challenge which I believe will pay off at the end of it! 

Since this is a new palette of sounds for me I’m being very careful to take the time to hear what I want in my head, rather than rushing into using software. As such, I have been sketching out large sections by hand first, and then, when I’m ready, transferring them to the software I use for fine tuning.  Software is almost a necessity for composers these days but is something that, for me, works against one’s creativity if used too soon! I find that pencil and paper creates the least resistance to one’s imagination.

You can see here a photo of the first page, which I was mostly testing out at the organ. This is because the organ allows me to hold multiple sustained notes at once, has a less defined sense of attack than a piano, and also felt suitably baroque to get me in the right frame of mind. You can also see the many ‘notes to self’ that I scribble around the edges, as I think through things, react to things I’ve done, reclarify what I’m wanting to make out of a given moment, and more. In this way perhaps the handwriting process is a bit like journalling! 

Fun fact: as everything this ensemble does is tuned at A415 rather than A440, it essentially means whatever I play on has to be transposed down. Luckily my electric organ can do this, as well as a digital piano I’ve also been using — writing in this way is yet another new experience for me! 

I look forward to giving an update just before Christmas when I (all things being well) have just sent the ensemble the first movement…

The story of a new work – #2

From left to right: Miranda (G violone), Katie (baroque viola), Ryan (recorders/ocarinas), Joy (harpsichord) and myself (composer!).


The story of a new work #2

Last weekend myself and Croissants and Whiskey (the wonderfully-named ensemble I’m working with for this commission) had our first long awaited catchup, now that a few obstacles had finally cleared!

by Kym Dillon, 2022 Continuo Composer on October 22, 2022

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First and foremost it was lovely to be able to hang out with the group and get to know a couple of the members who are new acquaintances of mine. For an ensemble which take their name from their before/after rehearsal libations, it felt right for our collaboration to start in this informal way, and I can confirm that there were croissants present (you can see Miranda holding up one in the photo!)

At this gathering I was able to give the group my ‘elevator pitch’ as it had formed in my head over the last few months, and talk them through some of the ideas I have in mind for the piece. At this stage these ideas are quite broad and thematic, as it’s difficult to think of specific things when I’m still in the early stages of learning about these instruments!

To give you an example of what it can look like to start the process of discovering an unfamiliar instrument, Ryan (the ensemble’s recorder specialist) sent me a comprehensive document listing all the different recorders (and ocarinas!) that he plays, as well as information of what they’re capable of, and many links to recordings and demonstrations. It’s a lot to take in at first, but it’s great knowing that since this is an ongoing collaboration I can always come to Ryan with my intentions and ideas and he can help best realise them with his wealth of knowledge about his instruments.

Other ensemble members spoke about some of the important features of their instruments, and importantly how they differ from their more ‘contemporary’ versions. To give an easy example, a big difference between the G violone which Miranda plays and the modern cello is that the violone’s fingerboard has frets like a guitar. 

It also has 6 strings rather than 4, and is tuned completely differently! 

I won’t speak about the thematic aspects of the work here, but I can say that it’s planned to be like a mini concert unto itself — multiple movements which will use different combinations of the ensemble. So, in addition to movements which use all four players there will be some duets, and perhaps trios and solos as well. I know that this will not only highlight different colour combinations within this intriguing group, but also continually energise my creativity as I go throughout this lengthy writing process. Artists often love constraints! I’m hoping for this combination of movements to add up to an overall length of 20 – 30 minutes — essentially half a concert. My favourite experiences with music are ones where I have time to really enter the world of the piece and go on a journey over an extended period of time, and my own composing in turn reflects this. 



In a fun coincidence the group told me that they’d recently been saying they’d like to incorporate more duets and other smaller subsets within their programs, so this idea of mine seems to have come at the right time! 

Since the meeting I’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming about the overall structure of the work, and turning my attention towards the very first movement. As soon as my ideas about it became more specific a host of instrument-related questions enter my head, which I’m now aiming to have a chat with individual members about. It’s actually wonderful to have this challenge of never having written for these instruments before; it will be an ongoing process of discovery that will have a two-way relationship with the work as I write it.

I’ll be in touch soon about how things are developing!

Kym

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Kym Dillon: the story of a new work – #1

Croissants & Whiskey, photo: Darren James

The story of a new work #1

“Last weekend myself and Croissants and Whiskey (the wonderfully-named ensemble I’m working with for this commission) had our first long awaited catch-up!”

by Kym Dillon, 2022 Continuo Composer on July 26, 2022

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I’m absolutely thrilled and honoured to have been awarded this Continuo commission; when it was first announced there was such a reaction of giddy excitement from myself and the ensemble! I feel sincerely grateful to the Continuo Community for awarding this to us, and it genuinely feels as if something rather special is about to happen as a result.

Although I’ve met the Croissants & Whiskey ensemble members individually in other contexts, I have actually yet to meet them together in the same room, and as such I’m very much looking forward to shortly attending the ensemble’s first ever gig to hear them live for the first time.

Even though it is still very early in the creative process, I have already begun thinking hard (and perhaps a little obsessively) about the piece. I don’t mean specific notes, structures, styles or otherwise, but more about the foundational question of ‘why?’ — Croissants & Whiskey is such a unique ensemble, with its blend of harpsichord, baroque viola, recorders and G Violone, instruments which evoke an older tradition of music… but is that really their main function today? Can they be brought together in a way that speaks directly, and relevantly, to a contemporary audience? It’s a question I know the ensemble are exploring for themselves generally; it is also one that I feel drawn to answer in my own way for this piece.

I’m also very keen to avoid the idea of mere gimmickry, of simply writing for these instruments because it’s quirky and ‘different’. For instance, I wouldn’t want this to be a piece that could have just as easily been written for a piano and string trio, but merely becomes more interesting because of the uncommon instruments that happen to be playing it. For me, the presence of these intriguing instruments, their unique characteristics, and indeed something of the context they evoke, is an idea that must find its meaning holistically and convincingly within the world and story of the piece itself.

To give an analogy, if I was a film director it’s as if I have been initially presented with four very distinct and enigmatic characters, ones that you wouldn’t expect would be found in the same film. The initial task falls to me to think of a story that convincingly brings these characters together and grounds their presence and interaction. Once this in place, things can begin to grow creatively from there.

Now I believe I have come up with just such an idea, one that links in with larger themes I have been thinking about, and one that I’m very eager and energised to start exploring… but I will share that with you once I’ve first shared it with the group! I’m aiming to give them a ‘pitch’ very soon, after which I’m looking forward to them introducing me to their individual instruments, all of which are new territory for me.

I look forward to keeping you updated as things progress, not only to add to the excitement that comes from this commission but also to give some insight into the creative process itself.

Kym

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Introducing Croissants & Whiskey

Introducing Croissants & Whiskey

2022 Continuo Composer Kym Dillon has chosen Croissants & Whiskey as the ensemble for whom she will compose the commissioned work.

Published by Helen Vorrath, July 4 2022

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2022 Continuo Composer Kym Dillon has chosen Croissants & Whiskey as the ensemble for whom she will compose the commissioned work.

Curious about the name? We asked Miranda Hill to tell us how the group was formed, and how it got its name. Here’s what she sent:

“Croissants & Whiskey, the unlikely pairing that combines the crispness of good pastry with the smooth aftertaste of a well-aged spirit. In musical terms, it brings together the established beauty and earthiness of baroque instruments with new ideas, cultural diversity, and timbral explorations.

“This ensemble was a dream project, conceived of during those long winter lockdowns in Melbourne when everyone was free, and yet no one could gather to play any music. So in lieu of actual rehearsals, we started to muse on the ideal group to break this imposed drought with; what music are we longing for, and what will be restorative both personally and musically after so long apart? This dream-team was founded by Miranda Hill (G violone), asking Joy Lee (harpsichord), Ryan Williams (recorders) and Katie Yap (baroque viola) to form a prog baroque quartet. There is one surviving work for this instrumentation from the baroque period by C.P.E. Bach, however, the main aims of our quartet are to commission new works from diverse Australian voices, and to write our own music as a collective.

“We were fortunate to receive a grant from the City of Melbourne Covid-19 Arts Grants, which commissioned Victorian composer Louisa Trewartha to write our first work, to be premiered at Homophonic! 2021. Rehearsals were scheduled, and then cancelled. The shows were scheduled, and the festival was cancelled. Rehearsals were attempted online but quickly abandoned… so when we finally got to our first rehearsal in person it had been literally 11 months in the planning! And it was even better than we’d imagined.

“It was 11 am on a Thursday. Miranda had brought croissants for morning tea, Joy has a good collection of Whiskey… it was inevitable. These joyous post rehearsal libations have become a strong tradition, and have come to represent our commitment to celebrating what each instrument and musician can bring to the table, and the beautiful combination of our diverse experiences and musical backgrounds.

“We’re bringing the fusion to your aural palette! and by commissioning, performing, and composing new music for baroque instruments we can fully explore this collaboration. Thanks to the generous support from the Continuo Commissioning Circle we are really excited to work with Kym Dillon on developing a new work for the quartet, and have already discussed some great ideas for the commission to be premiered in 2023.

“If this has whetted your appetite for new Australian compositions for baroque instruments, we’ve got our debut performance coming up on the 23 July at the Leaps and Bounds + Beyond Festival in Melbourne. The performance will feature skilful commissions written for us by exciting young Australian composers, including Louisa Trewartha and Emily Sheppard; a classic Nigel Butterly, with world premieres by Ryan Williams and Elizabeth Younan. The Fertile Crescent by Younan is a riotous whirl of Lebanese dances reimagined for western baroque instruments, commissioned and recorded for release by ABC Classic. (There’s also some sneaky CPE Bach and Couperin in there to round off the palette like a nicely aged Scotch in a wine barrel.)”

You can hear and see Croissants & Whiskey play the work by Louisa Trewartha in the video below.

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Continuo Composer 2022 – Kym Dillon

Continuo Composer 2022 - Kym Dillon

We’re delighted to announce that the Continuo Composer for 2022 is Kym Dillon.

We would like to thank our esteemed panel Zoe Knighton, Euan Murdoch and Prof. Linda Kouvaras for their time and incredibly thoughtful consideration of each submission. The Panel were very impressed by the quality of the submissions we received and felt that all of the proposals were worthy of consideration.

We would also like to acknowledge the pioneering support of our first Continuo Commissioning Circle. Their generosity will provide Kym with a wonderful opportunity to continue developing her craft, weaving a new work in collaboration with chamber ensemble “Croissants & Whiskey”.

Kym Dillon has a Bachelor of Music Performance from the University of Melbourne, and is currently studying for her Masters of Music Research (Composition), also at the University of Melbourne. Kym has composed chamber works for the Forest Collective and for the Sonus Ensemble.

You can read more about Kym’s background in the Composers section of our Who’s Who.

About the Commission

Here’s what Kym wrote in her winning submission:

“My intention in submitting this application is to collaborate with the ensemble ‘Croissants & Whiskey’, a quartet comprising of Joy Lee (harpsichord), Ryan Williams (recorders), Katie Yap (baroque viola) and Miranda Hill (G Violone).

Over the last few years I have fallen in love with writing long-form chamber works, drawn in by the unparalleled sense of intimacy and communication that this genre affords. So far these works have all been for relatively common combinations, with my never before having composed for an ensemble of early/baroque instruments.

Collaborating with and composing for Croissants & Whiskey would offer me a unique opportunity to explore these older instruments and sounds, piecing together a language and story that can speak to contemporary audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with classical music. I love finding sonic links between instruments, finding ways to not only celebrate their individual natures but discover the unique worlds that can be created when they are combined.”

Our first Commissioning Circle is complete!

Our first Commissioning Circle is complete!

If you had a plan to join but hadn’t quite got around to it, then don’t despair. We will be back next year (if not before) with another opportunity for our supporters to join in a commissioning project.

In the meantime you can contribute to the Continuo project by becoming a financial member for a mere $45 a year. Your annual fee helps to cover the operating costs of the Continuo Community.

Stay with us!