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Bringing music to life

Ross Edwards. Image: Bridget Elliot

Musica Viva is well known for its commitment to presenting Australian music. The Lachlan Skipworth Piano Trio, heard in this concert, has only been made possible with the generosity of commissioner Julian Burnside AO QC. It is a passion for new Australian work and a belief in strengthening and enriching the Australian music canon that saw Musica Viva, commission seven new works last year.

Amongst our much-valued commissioners is philanthropist Kim Williams AM. At the recent Musica Viva Festival, Kim hosted a public conversation about commissioning, with Australian composer Ross Edwards, in which the renowned media executive encouraged others to join him in supporting new Australian music. Megan Steller, editor for Rehearsal Magazine, captured some of the discussion.

Discussing the commissioning process, the pair laughed easily over anecdotes and exchanged recollections of a shared artistic past. They could very well have been chatting without onlookers – such is the style of two men who have become part of the cultural fabric of Australia.

Their conversation, centered on the relationship between composer and commissioner, touched on the difficulties of writing music full time. A freelance composer since 1980, Edwards has been fortunate to ‘work mainly to commission for his entire career,’ highlighting the importance of this kind of support. He has been lucky to focus on commissions that ‘inspire his creativity,’ an outcome attributed in no small part to Kim Williams’ generosity and understanding of what the composer himself calls his ‘musical quirks’.

Ross’ fascination with the environment prompted an interest in ‘bird song and the sounds of wildlife – things for me that represent the very earliest songs.’ This instantly recognisable compositional aesthetic is part of the drawcard for Williams, who encourages Edwards to explore ideas when a piece is in its early stages. ‘There are all sorts of commissioners,’ Williams observes, ‘and while some want to give the composer lots of ideas and tell them what they want to hear, I have never been like that. I trust Ross to create something fantastic.’

Becoming a freelance composer is a not a straightforward path. ‘We need more people to commission music,’ Ross believes, noting the importance of understanding both sides of the commissioning coin: ‘Kim has been in both worlds – the artistic and the financial, and he has a great understanding of not only why we need the art, but how to make it happen.’

By Megan Steller

If you are interested in the future of new Australian Music or would like to learn more about commissioning music through Musica Viva, please visit or contact Amelia Morgan-Hunn[email protected] or (02) 8394 6616.

For Megan Steller’s full conversation with Ross Edwards, visit

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