During a festive gathering over the new year, I was asked my top composer FAQ, which is “Are you writing anything at the moment ?” Leaving aside the logical flaw inherent in those last three words, I always welcome being asked, since it allows me at least to name check the activity which I spend so much time worrying about. But I've noted that the question is usually asked warily, suggesting to me that earlier composers have given such enquiries the bum’s rush. Indeed I know some that refuse to discuss their current projects at all. And at the opposite end of the spectrum, others never stop talking about them, and certainly don’t have to be politely asked to do so at a party.
One of the problems of answering is that you don’t necessarily know mid-composition what will eventually emerge from the musical brain swamp. Over this year’s ‘break’ (something composers don’t really have) I was writing a short piece for the Schubert Ensemble’s farewell season. Conceptually I’d got as far as trying to evoke in my own style a Schubert song, Abschied, sung by a young man who is leaving town defiantly and with outward good cheer. I began to imagine that Schubert’s original accompaniment was conjuring up a horse (mentioned once in the text) trotting efficiently along; to think of horse movements, rhythms, speeds, string solos, how to wave goodbye in musical shapes…did I also imagine that my courteous FAQ asker was looking rather nervous once I got into my stride ?
I expect that enquirers also fear a long stream of composers’ jargon in response. A much more successful conversation ensued when I said that I was also writing an oboe concerto. Oboe, concerto, everyone could imagine this scenario. When I mentioned that the first performance would be in Adelaide, I sensed an immediate wave of relief; we could stop talking about music and turn our focus to Australia, how to get there, how hot it is at the moment, the underground motel in the desert, the poisonous spiders, etc etc.