Capturing an Australian geographical icon in composition.

First Light at Uluru is inspired by the spectacular sunrise of Uluru – Australia’s most famous icon. It showcases unique, atmospheric and captivating sound worlds an army of saxophones can create. This piece features every type of saxophone ranging from the biggest and lowest sounding instrument, the bass saxophone, to the smallest and highest sounding one, the soprano saxophone.

Commissioned by the Queensland Conservatorium Saxophone Orchestra, the work received its world premiere performance at the XVII World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg, France. It was also performed at the Selmer Saxophone Showrooms in Paris, and in a joint concert with the Royal Northern College of Music Saxophone Orchestra in England. The Australian premiere will be performed by the Sydney Conservatorium Saxophone Orchestra in October as part of the 2015 Con Centenary lunchbreak concerts.

A compositional aim of my saxophone music is to create works that a layman audience can enjoy and appreciate just as much as a professional musician specialising in contemporary music. For example, a stylistic trait of my saxophone music uses avant-garde techniques to create calm, lyrical, expressive and atmospheric passages.

I am also a saxophonist and to depict the sunrise at Uluru I knew the type of sounds I wanted to explore to showcase the technical sound possibilities when writing for such a large number of saxophones. So I chose three of my favourite extended techniques to highlight the distinct palette of colours that the saxophone orchestra can create: air wind sounds, multiphonics and quarter-tone trills.

The opening of First Light at Uluru reflects the peaceful and tranquil atmosphere of Ayers Rock with soothing air wind vibrato effects to depict the soft gusts of wind. To portray the sun slowly rising over Uluru, slow, dream-like melodies gradually build up to chorale-like passages, showcasing the beautiful, lyrical sounds of the saxophone orchestra. At dawn, the giant red rock changes colour and produces an illuminating red and orange glow. This is conveyed by the gradual emergence of the multiphonic and quarter-tone trills producing a fusion of colouristic and layered tone colour effects.

Wind sound effects are passed through the saxophone orchestra: soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass saxophones. Air wind sounds are very soft and most effective when played by a large number of saxophones, since fast air is blown through the instrument without sounding the actual note. The mesmerising size of Uluru and glowing image of the sun slowly rising over the big red rock is enhanced in an improvisation passage where all the saxophonists play fast semiquaver motifs creating a loud, collage-like and kaleidoscopic textural sound mass.

At the world premiere performance in the main square of Strasbourg (Place Kléber) a number of French people came up to me and said how they had never heard the saxophone played in that way, with all the special sound effects, and found it really fascinating. I speak fluent French so I was lucky to be able to communicate with the audience. Receiving such a great response and positive feedback from a general audience confirmed what I was trying to achieve. At the congress, a number of renowned French saxophonists said how my soundscape captured the picturesque image of Ayers Rock and that my music had a distinct Australian flavour.

First Light at Uluru receives its Australian premiere on October 14, 2015 at Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

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