paul stanhope

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