Meet the Composer – Houston Dunleavy

In our upcoming Meet the Composer concert, we will feature two Melbourne based composers, Eve Duncan and Dr Houston Dunleavy. In this post Houston discusses each of his compositions selected for this programme.


Houston Dunleavy holds a PhD in composition from the State University of New York at Buffalo, a Master of Music in composition and a Master of Music in Choral Conducting from the Cleveland Institute of Music.  He has held positions in Composition at the University of Wollongong, the Australian Institute of Music (Head of Composition and Production) and The Australian National University. His music has been performed in many countries and he has been guest artist as composer or conductor at over 30 Universities and international festivals. He has conducted over 40 operas and music theatre works, including new works, and has conducted a wide range of choral and instrumental works. In addition to being Academic Director of The Australian Guild of Music Education, he performs with his group “Third Rail”, is Artistic Director of The Southern Cross Philharmonia Orchestra, and Director of Music at St. Oswald’s Anglican Church, Glen Iris, Victoria.

Sideling Hill for flute and piano*

“This little piece came out of a visit to a place, a few kilometres west of Hancock. Maryland, USA (in the Maryland panhandle). Here a ridge has been cut through to make way for Interstate 68. Because all of the surrounding rock was more easily eroded, Sideling hill is a topographical inversion, and a great outdoor classroom for the student of geology. For a visitor like me, it was almost like a sculpture, full of beautiful flowing lines. So, this piece tries to illustrate these beautiful lines not only melodically, but over other parameters too, like harmonic and textural changes, rhythmic complexity and register. At the same time, I hope I’ve created a coherent piece of music!”

Mourning Song and Morning Dance for violin, cello and piano*

“Song and Dance for violin, cello and piano is in two movements. The first, “Mourning Song”, recalls the scene from the first part of Cervantes’s story where Don Quixote witnesses the funeral of a student who dies as a result of his love for a disdainful lady turned shepherdess. This music, both played and sung, tries to evoke the sadness of the occasion, but also, because of the alien sounds of the human voice and the plucked piano strings, also tries to emphasise the alien nature of Don Quixote himself.”

 “The second movement, “Morning Dance”, represents the joyful, although a little clumsy, dance of the knight errant as he leaves on the first morning of his first adventure and foreshadows the demise that must be his in his first battle. The crashes of steel and wood are portrayed in the heavy, accented music, while the awkward dance rhythms and metres accentuate Don Quixote’s ungainly horse and equipment.”

Fireball for clarinet and piano*

“I was a professional clarinettist until the age of 24, when a serious injury to my left hand put that life out of my reach. Since then, as a composer, I’ve resisted writing the standard “clarinet and piano” work because there have been so many good ones already written, and because I knew all the pitfalls one can fall into when writing for this beast. So, it took a long time for me to work up the courage to compose this piece, and, when I did, I seem to have made it one of the most difficult pieces in the repertoire! Everything is based on the leaping motives in the clarinet, and the step-by-step runs in the piano. For a little variation, the clarinet fills in some of the leaps by glissandi, and performs some trills that are not quite those that are found in text books.”

*Première performances


Meet the Composer Concert

When: Saturday 23rd June 2018, 6:00 pm

Where: Christ Church Lavender Bay, corner of Walker and Lavender Streets, Lavender Bay, NSW.

Tickets: $30 Adults, $20 Concession, $10 Child available at or at the door.

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