The Canberra Wind Symphony, Canberra’s newest 40-piece orchestra, presents music created for its medium by the finest writers, showcasing the extraordinary sounds this instrumental combination produces.
Artistic Director, Geoff Grey talks to us about what it takes to grow a company from an idea to a national reality, and where they are in the journey. Hear what he has to say ahead of the Canberra Wind Symphony’s 2016 concert season at The Street.
WHY A WIND SYMPHONY?
Access to music has evolved considerably over the past two decades. With instant connection comes heightened expectations, rapid exposure, more fads and, arguably, shorter attention spans. New audiences are calling to be entertained instantly, yet the traditional large-ensemble concert delivery method hasn’t evolved much over the same period.
We’re changing that. To start with, unlike most of the works you’ll hear from a traditional symphony orchestra, the repertoire penned for this medium is 20th and 21st Century. It is very fresh and vibrant music, with the combination of instruments providing the most diverse textural sounds imaginable.
WHAT CONSTITUTES A WIND SYMPHONY? IS THERE A STRICT DEFINITION?
A wind symphony is a contemporary orchestra predominantly comprising instrumentalists from the brass and woodwind families. It uses the full energy of percussion too, and we let one stringed instrument sneak in, the Double Bass!
The defining element of a wind symphony, as opposed to a stringed orchestra or concert band, is that there is only one player per part, so an incredible crispness of clarity is produced, while still providing an enormous range of styles and flavours.
The repertoire written is not esoteric or angular – guests will experience stunning dynamic contrasts, beautiful harmonies and brilliant energy.
WHAT IS THE VISION FOR THE COMPANY? WHERE DO YOU SEE THE SYMPHONY BEING N 5 YEARS? 10 YEARS TIME?
To develop an exciting and relevant future, we first looked at what is currently not satisfying. More and more we’re seeing traditional Symphony Orchestras diversifying their programs to include more ‘Pops’ styles concerts or adding some AV effects in an effort to attract and maintain an audience base.
They are also doing this as they strive to meet funding acquittal quotas in an effort for continued existence. We believe that’s a skewed notion for artists, and poor motivation for the creation of outstanding music.
The CWS model is entirely different. Our repertoire is chosen to stimulate audiences, with the program content selected equally to showcase the thrilling modern sounds the medium produces. The five-year vision has CWS being the base for the nationwide Australian Wind Symphony, with longer goals set to tour the ‘musicians and guests’ friendly concert model to musically engaging Ireland and the Scandinavian nations.
HOW IS BEING RESIDENT EMERGING COMPANY AT THE STREET PART OF MAKING YOUR REALITY HAPPEN?
The opportunity so generously offered by The Street for the next couple of years will allow CWS to introduce this genre to the region and assist in building an audience base of informed and excited concert guests.
The fresh approach to programming and interactive delivery is designed purely with the audience in mind. For too long audiences of high-end music have endured stand-offish presentations and written academic appraisals of the program content, with no real attempt to make the listener feel at home.
The CWS way is to engage with our guests and have an ‘evening in’ together, making it a combined experience for the audience and musicians while exploring thrilling treats for the senses. The Street Theatre offers the perfect environment to do this, helping us achieve the goal of breaking down the barriers usually associated with the concert platform.
As a privately funded start-up, there are numerous hurdles in getting a concert with 40 musicians off the ground, let alone a season of six. To have the support of The Street transcends the physical and logistic elements – it gives an enormous morale boost to help face the times when it all seems so improbable!
WHAT DOES THIS COMPANY ADD TO CANBERRA, ADD TO THE NATION?
CWS is delivering a fresh product to the region and this will become the model for a national version. This is about audiences accessing fine musicians playing great music, not just ‘going out to a concert’.
The very fine players who bring so much to so many have dedicated their childhood, youth and adult lives to studying and perfecting the performance of music, yet there are so few national outlets for them to do so at an international standard. This repertoire is difficult and exacting and facing that challenge is an element of every professional musician’s ideal world!
WHERE DO THE PLAYERS COME FROM? HOW WERE THEY SELECTED?
The Canberra Wind Symphony has assembled a premium roster of outstanding players who are so passionate about doing this.
There is a good number of very high quality musicians in the region who, up until now, have not had the opportunity to play their instruments at the highest level, let alone with 40 like-minded peers. Personal invitations were sent in mid-2015 and the take-up was instant and overwhelmingly in support of the concept.
The benefits of bringing contemporary and relevant large-group music to the stage shouldn’t be understated, and it’s environmentally friendly too: Wind … it’s a renewable resource!
FINALLY, AS A FOUNDATION PRINCIPLE THE CANBERRA WIND SYMPHONY SUPPORTS PHILANTHROPY THROUGH THE ARTS. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT THAT MEANS AND WHY THAT IS?
In some arts circles there is a sense of entitlement; a view that no matter what we produce it should be publicly or corporately funded.
At CWS we’d rather save our energies for creating great music and doing something else good while we’re at it. Sure it’d be great to receive some financial assistance, but it seems a bit selfish to think we are more needy than others.
To that end we are committed to supporting beyondblue and its work in helping Aussie farmers tackling depression and anxiety. Our primary producers are the backbone of this nation. It seems right.