The Canberra Symphony Orchestra has made it an extraordinary year for new Australian music.

This year, Limelight talked with Aaron Wyatt, Miriama Young, Harry Sdraulig and Sally Greenaway about works commissioned and debuted by the orchestra – and this isn’t even an exhaustive list of the Aussie composers commissioned for the 2023 season.

On 22–23 November, CSO wraps up its mainstage program with yet another world premiere in Living Greena program drawing inspiration from the natural world.

Louisa Trewartha holds her trumpet and looks over her shoulder.

Louisa Trewartha. Image © Abi Trewartha/Tangerine Creative.

Weave Magic Secrets by Louisa Trewartha reflects upon the works of Sibelius – whose Karelia Suite and Seventh Symphony also features on the program – with her own musical vocabulary built from her experiences as a composer and performing trumpeter.

Trewartha speaks to Limelight about the creation of her new work.

Was the commission brief to respond to the work, or was that a choice of yours?

Jessica had a strong vision for this commission, which helped to guide my creative process. For example, this piece needed to be written for antiphonal horns, it needed to fit within the character of Living Green, and it needed to segue into Strauss’ Four Last Songs. I really enjoy this sort of problem-solving.

How did you decide on the title of your work?

The title Weave Magic Secrets comes from the prose in Sibelius’ tone poem Tapiola. Below is a prose printed in the Tapiola score, which depicts the character of the wood-sprite and the majestic yet unnerving feeling of the deep, tall Finnish forests. I felt that this snippet of the prose captured the character of my work.

Wide-spread they stand, the Northland’s dusky forests,
Ancient, mysterious, brooding savage dreams;
Within them dwells the Forest’s mighty God,
And wood-sprites in the gloom weave magic secrets.

What does Sibelius’s work and/or tone poems mean to you; what do you hear in it?

Sibelius’s works tend to have a haunting beauty about them. What first comes to mind is how the string and woodwind parts cleverly swirl around, creating a sense of brooding, and then suddenly the brass emerge with their homogenous sound. It is the richness of these climactic moments that tugs at the heartstrings.

How did you first approach the piece, and how did it develop?

I began the compositional process by listening to all the works from this concert program to try and understand how they fit within the theme of Living Green. I first needed to know how I could emulate their style. There are a number of small motifs in Weave Magic Secrets that nod to other works in this concert program. From there I aimed to incorporate space, contrast, and depth into the music.

Are there any more personal aspects you are weaving into the work?

Having performed antiphonal works as a trumpet player, I know how difficult playing them can be, given the sound delay from your fellow musicians. This is why much of the piece comprises independent parts and only occasionally brings together the three instruments in precise synchronisation. I decided to add the bass trombone to help link the two horn parts, to add greater harmonic depth, and to provide more moments of rest for the horns. I always aim to bring my empathy as a performer to all of my compositions.

What interests you most as a composer?

I enjoy new challenges, and I love learning about new subject matter. With each commission I ask myself three questions:

Will the musicians enjoy playing this?

What will the audience gain from hearing this?

Am I happy with this?

These considerations are very important to me.

What are you looking forward to next?

I have commissions for a handful of larger ensemble and solo works that I’m excited to get stuck into, plus the release of a recording of my new brass quintet. I never can predict what new ideas will hit my inbox – I have such an enjoyable and fulfilling career!

Weave Magic Secrets by Louisa Trewartha receives its world premiere in Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s Living Green, 22–23 November, Llewellyn Hall, Canberra.

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