michael sollis


The ensemble is named after the architect of Canberra, Walter Burley Griffin and the mythical beast that reflects the hybrid nature of the group. Under the artistic direction of Michael Sollis, the performers represent some of Australia’s best young musicians, and consist of staff, graduates and current senior students of the ANU School of Music. The ensemble will work closely with Australian, and in particular, Canberran composers in performing new and arranged works.

The Griffyn Ensemble’s instrumentation is unique, which provides the challenge of finding suitable repertoire, and the advantage of an unusual ensemble sound. The ensemble plans to present a repertoire of new works and arrangements of rarely performed pieces, bringing a new sound to existing repertoire. Griffyn concert programs will be highly diverse, featuring many different instrumental combinations that exist within the ensemble, from solo instrument works, through small groups, to the nine-piece sound of a miniature orchestra.

The Griffyn Ensemble also has plans for an education program, which will see the ensemble active in schools, with interactive concert presentations and mentoring workshops for advanced school-aged instrumentalists.

In our launch concert we present a range of musical “transformations” – pieces that have taken folk music from around the world and transformed it into new forms, music which has been transformed into different instrumentations to suit our ensemble – in a tribute to the transformations that have taken place at Old Parliament House over the last 80 years.

Launched by Professor Larry Sitsky, AM

Sergei Prokofiev – Overture on Hebrew Themes, arr. Sollis
Bela Bartok – Two Rondos on Folk Tunes, arr. Sollis
Nino Rota – Quintetto, mvt 1: Allegro ben moderato
Tomaso Albinoni/Remo Giazotto – Adagio for strings and organ arr. Sollis
Bohuslav Martinu – Nonet, mvt 1: Poco Allegro
Alan Hovhaness – Koke No Niwa (The Moss Garden)
Larry Sitsky – Sonata for Solo Flute – mvt 3: Theme and Five Derivations
Michael Sollis – Tale of Two Frogs

31 March 2007 @ Old Parliament House

Said the Sun to the Moon

…said the sun to the moon showcases music written by five 20th century composers all from different countries: France, Wales, Australia, Brazil, and Greece. These composers have written pieces influenced by the mysterious world above in the sky – from fairytales told by a mythical Mother Goose, signs of the zodiac, stars in the night sky, and the image of flying kites in a suburban village.

Maurice Ravel – Ma Mère l’Oye arr. Etherington
William Mathias – Zodiac Trio
Michael Sollis – Fantasy on Orion
Heitor Villa-Lobos – Quintette
Mikis Theodorakis – Η Γειτονιά Τών Αγγέλων (I Yitonia ton Angelon)

1 December 2007 @ Wesley Uniting Church, Canberra

Talking Drums

The relationship between music and language has firmly imprinted itself upon me over the past few years, and I hope to share some of the insights I have been fortunate enough to stumble upon. Tonight’s program includes works written by composers who specifically searched for connections between speech and song, words and notes.

Composers of all genres and cultures seem to have been fascinated by what I have dubbed ‘musical-lingual overlap’ in both vocal and instrumental music. In Western art music composers such as Balakirev, Janáček, Bartók, Schoenberg, Partch and Bernstein have all explored the relationship between music and language in their music. It is no accident that 18th century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose belief that language and music had similar structures, was himself a composer, and whose music you will hear tonight.

One of the most interesting insights into such phenomena is provided by French anthropologist and amateur musician Claude Lévi-Strauss, arguably one of the century’s most influential thinkers. Lévi-Strauss proposed a science of mythology, where myth was analysed as if it were a musical score. Lévi-Strauss most well-known book, The Raw and the Cooked, itself was written analogously to musical structures (such as an Overture, Symphony, Fugue etc.), instead of usual ‘chapters’ to accurately represent his thoughts on myth and culture. Interestingly, the influence of Lévi-Strauss provides a thread through the program: Rousseau’s work was one of the major influences to Lévi-Strauss; I have written a piece using the form and structure of the Overture of The Raw and the Cooked; and Berio used the text of The Raw and the Cooked as his libretto for perhaps his most (in)famous piece, Sinfonia.

As both a researcher and composer, I see the relationship between music and language as an essential component of human culture. This program of works provides many different perspectives on this relationship, which will surely stimulate your own imagination and musician inside.

Michael Sollis

Francis Poulenc – Rapsodie Nègre
Jean-Jaques Rousseau – Overture to Le Devin du Village
Michael Sollis – The Raw and the Cooked: Overture
Nebojša Jovan Živković – To the Gods of Rhythm
Nigel Butterley – The Wind Stirs Gently
Wendy Hiscocks – Pages of Poetry
Luciano Berio – Folk Songs

27 June 2008 @ National Library of Australia

Island Universes?

This project is the culmination of several years of personal interest, involvement, and research into the interface between indigenous music from our northern neighbours, and contemporary Australian music. This interface has been portrayed as a defining identity of Australian ‘art’ music, but only with respect to Indonesia and South-East Asia. Composers such as Peter Sculthorpe and Anne Boyd have deliberately incorporated Indonesian elements into their music and promoted this as part of an Australian musical identity, an idea perpetuated through their many students.

Whether an Australian musical identity can be derived from a foreign musical tradition, no matter how geographically close, is a problematic concept which this program does not attempt to deal with. This program aims to showcase works that have been primarily inspired by Pacific cultures and musics.

Compared to South-East Asia, the Australian conscience seems relatively indifferent to its closer neighbours, particularly Papua New Guinea. This is curious, since Australia used to administer the country, the Torres Straits share an ethnic similarity, and many Australians continue to engage with and work in PNG. It should not be surprising that many composers have also engaged with Melanesian music and culture to varying degrees. Apart from the composers performed this evening, people such as Betty Beath, Paul Grabowski, Robert Davidson, John Antill, Peter Sculthorpe and Ros Dunlop have had an artistic engagement with Melanesian culture.

Stronger and more visible artistic bonds between the two cultures have been created in more popular musical spheres, particularly through the work of musician David Bridie whose exposure and incorporation of Melanesian music has been inspirational to many around Australia including myself and other composers on the program.

We hope that this concert in turn exposes other instances of cross-cultural engagement, and we have incorporated music by composers from Australia, the Philippines and New Zealand. To my knowledge, this is first program of ‘classical’ music that has taken Melanesian culture as its point of departure, and also includes the first piece of Western ‘art’ music featuring Tok Pisin. Hopefully this program, as well as the National Gallery’s superb exhibition of Pacific artwork, can inspire further cultural interaction and understanding between ourselves and our closest neighbours.

Michael Sollis

Paul Stanhope – Morning Star II
John Rimmer – Seaswell
Jonas Baes – Patangis-Buwaya (and the crocodile weeps)
Martin Wesley-Smith – Papua Merderka
David Farquhar – Chap-Chap
Michael Sollis – Ballad of a Highlands Man
Music and transcriptions by Alfred Hill, Sr. Marie Duchesne Lavin, & Emanuel Aarons

10 October 2008, National Gallery of Australia

Steeples and Mountains

The Griffyn Ensemble perform in the historic St John’s Anglican Church in Reid (est. 1845).

Highlighting the program is Maurice Ravel’s Pavane pour une Infant Défunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess) arranged by Griffyn percussionist Wyana Etherington. Originally written for piano in 1899, the piece was described by Ravel as “an evocation of a pavane that a little princess might, in former times, have danced at the Spanish court,” and has become a much loved piece amongst audiences around the world.

The Ensemble will also be performing works by Canberra composers Miroslav Bukovsky and artistic director Michael Sollis. Bukovsky is at the forefront of jazz in Australia and one of the country’s most talented trumpet players. He recently wrote the Tango-infused Time is Moved for clarinet, cello, and piano which The Griffyn Ensemble has revised with vibraphone instead of piano. The concert will also include two world premieres by Michael Sollis, including a quirky setting for voice and ensemble of Rudyard Kipling’s classic Rikki Tikki Tavi – the story of a snake-killing mongoose from The Jungle Book.

Rounding out the program is Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas’ daringly original Homage to Garcia Lorca, which was written just after Lorca’s death in 1936. The piece, based on Mexican folk-tunes has often been described as a hybrid between Igor Stravinsky and Philip Glass, and is one of Mexico’s most treasured works of music.

Michael Sollis – Popular Piece
Silvestre Revueltas – Homanaje a Federico García Lorca
Miroslav Bukovsky – Time is Moved
Maurice Ravel – Pavane pour une Infante Défunte arr. Etherington
Michael Sollis – The Story of Rikki Tikki Tavi

6-7 November 2009 @ St John’s Anglican Church, Canberra

Sacred Geometry

With the opening of Soft sculpture at the National Gallery of Australia, The Griffyn Ensemble celebrates the UN International Year of Astronomy with a musical reflection of geometry and structure. Featuring works by Penderescki, Liszt, David Bedford and Michael Sollis.

Arnold Schoenberg – Theme and Variations arr. Sollis
David Bedford – Erkenne Mich
Peeter Vahi – Digital Love
Michael Sollis – The Raw and the Cooked: A Well-Tempered Astronomy
Krzystof Penderecki – Clarinet Quartet
Franz Liszt – Elegie No. 1

25 April 2009 @ National Gallery of Australia

Tales from Heaven and Hell

From a possessed Romeo and Juliet to an interplanetary First Temptation, Canberra’s premier chamber ensemble present a spiritual performance of divine music. Including works by Henryk Górecki, George Crumb, The Klezmatics, and Michael Sollis, interpreting stories by Garcia Lorca, Jewish Folklore and C.S. Lewis, in a ritualistic setting with the backdrop of the night sky in the stunning Belconnen Arts Centre foyer.

George Crumb – Madrigals Book III
Michael Sollis – Perelandra Piccolo Concerto
The Klezmatics – A Dybbuk Suite
Henryk Górecki – Good Night

24 July 2010 @ Belconnen Arts Centre


Performing a piece of music for every planet, Griffyn explore the iconic works of Gustav Holst; stellar songs by David Bowie and The Beatles; the hauntingly beautiful Saturn by great Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness; as well as works by Estonian and Swedish composers, and excerpts from Griffyn composer Michael Sollis’ Perelandra Piccolo Concerto as set on the planet Venus. A soaring flyby of these cosmic attractions through electronic, acoustic and vocal performance.

MERCURY: Solar Plexus (Mercury) – Stellan Sagvik
VENUS: “Ransom” from Perelandra Piccolo Concerto – Michael Sollis
EARTH: Space Oddity – David Bowie
MARS: Solar Plexus (Mars) – Stellan Sagvik
ASTEROIDS: Across the Universe – The Beatles
JUPITER: South of Jupiter – Thom Hasenpflug
SATURN: Saturn – Alan Hovhaness
URANUS: The Zodiac: Pisces – Urmas Sisask
NEPTUNE: The Planets (Neptune) – Gustav Holst

17 September 2011 @ Bloom Festival, Ainslie Arts Centre

Illicit Passions

From the Baroque to Rock n’ Roll, The Griffyn Ensemble return with inflamed desires and rapture. Performing music exploring the sordid side of love – music inspired by carnal lust, women of the night, and tortured romance, and featuring stories from Ancient Greece to a surreal future. Including ballet music by Debussy, dark inspiration from Beethoven, seductive songs by Bizet, Sondheim, and Sting, with words by Oscar Hammerstein and Bob Dylan.

Ludwig van Beethoven – Scherzo, Second Movement, Symphony No. 9
David Rose – The Stripper
Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin – The Saga of Jenny
Michael Sollis – Hit Me: Variations on a Theme
George Bizet/Oscar Hammerstein – Dat’s Love
The Police – Roxanne
Richard Strauss – Dance of the Seven Veils
Tori Amos – Me and a Gun
Claude Debussy – Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune

Michael Sollis – Letter to a Greek Nymph
Antonin Dvorak – Song to the Moon
Anon – Hodge Told Sue
Astor Piazzolla – Milonga del Angel
Garrett Colley Wellesley – John Knox
Manuel de Falla – Songs from El Amor Brujo
Garrett Colley Wellesley – Sue and Prue
Astor Piazzolla – La Muerte del Angel
Stephen Sondheim – Send in the Clowns
John Corigliano/Bob Dylan – Forever Young

The Griffyn American Songbook

Which three iconic composers taught songwriting legend Burt Bacharach?

Which American classical composer had music conducted by Frank Sinatra?

What drove Scott Joplin to insanity?

Which one composer orchestrated music for Richard Rodgers, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, and Irving Berlin?

Canberra’s premier chamber group The Griffyn Ensemble answer these questions and more, in The Griffyn American Songbook. Through live performance, the Griffyn Ensemble will be dissecting the interface of American popular culture and the avant garde, with influences ranging from musical theatre, film music, cartoon music, popular song, and jazz.

Chapter 1: The Great American Opera – Scott Joplin. Music by Scott Jopin
Chapter 2: American Musical Theatre – Robert Russell Bennett. Music by George Gershwin, Robert Russell Bennett, Richard Rodgers.
Chapter 3: American Chamber Jazz – Alec Wilder. Music by Alec Wilder.
Chapter 4: American Film Music – Alex North. Music by Silvestre Revueltas, Alex North.
Chapter 5: American Popular Music – Burt Bacharach. Music by Burt Bacharach, Henry Cowell.
Chapter 6: American Cartoon Music – Carl Stalling. Music by Raymond Scott, Michael Sollis, Carl Stalling.

6 November 2010 @ Belconnen Arts Centre