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On the Pulse with Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition

On the Pulse with Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition

Australian composer Paul Stanhope speaks to Stephanie Eslake, editor of Cut Common, about his latest commission for the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. 

Stephanie Eslake: You've been commissioned by Musica Viva to produce a work for the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition (MICMC). Tell us about how this came about.

Paul Stanhope: Wilma Smith from MICMC got in touch with me in late 2016 with the idea of me writing a new trio for the competition, and I thought it sounded like a great idea, so I said yes.

SE: As a composer, what opportunities do you feel MICMC presents to you?

PS: The rare opportunity to have a number of local and international trios learn the piece. It will be fascinating to hear the different interpretations. Some sections are mostly about accuracy and faithfulness to the intentions in the score, others will leave open a little more space for interpretation.

SE: As an established composer, what influences your decision to take on a commission?

The qualities of the opportunity and, I will be honest, the financial component are both important. Musica Viva have a fantastic track record in supporting the creation of new chamber music, and I pay tribute to the amazing advocacy in this regard of Artistic Director Carl Vine - himself probably the finest chamber music composer in the country. The opportunity to have a bunch of different groups performing the work was certainly an attractive one.

SE: What are some of the underlying themes that you have included in your work?

PS: The piece is called Pulses - the reasons why will become evident when you hear the work! Rhythmic relationships and the notion of underlying pulse have fascinated me for quite a while, so there are sections which explore cross rhythms, driving pulse and heartbeat rhythms as well as the idea of underlying pulse which holds structural elements of the piece together, even when the surface rhythm is not so much in the foreground. The last element to this idea has got to do with metric relationships which are contracted in ratios in different parts of the piece: The 2nd tempo is 3/4 of the first, the next 1/2 of the first; there is then an acceleration back through these ratios as a way to both delineate and link sections. 

The piece is in a single movement but explores both fast, spiky writing and more lyrical and playful sections. In fact, the overall character of the piece is quite playful, even until the end of the piece where I have left some choice to the performers of how they end the work!

SE: Why is MICMC an important event in Australian creative arts?

PS: This competition has been a great exploration of talent in Australia’s chamber music scene, and has seen the launch of a number of now established groups. I’m glad to see there are some Australian players among the ranks of the trios performing. This high level competition is a wonderful and relatively rare opportunity for chamber music groups from around the world and it will be a treat to hear the performances.

SE: Why do you feel it's important for audiences to support new Australian music?

I have a vested interest here, don’t I! I think our creative artists speak to the core of who we are as a country. Vibrancy in the arts is fundamental to a creative, interesting society which is more than just an economy. New Australian Music can and does speak to this vibrancy and we would be much the poorer without it. It can be a real struggle in this sector at times, so having an audience drive support makes sure that the endeavour is not just a ‘top down’ one.

SE: What are you most looking forward to in MICMC this year?

PS: Not being in Sydney for a few days? Haha, I love coming to Melbourne. MICMC is a fascinating competition and I’ve enjoyed listening to it on the radio in times past. I’ll be fascinated to check out the new, up and coming talent.

Hear the premiere of Paul Stanhope’s piano trio Pulses at the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, 1-8 July 2018. This article first appeared at

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