Composer Portrait

Our upcoming Composer Portrait concert will feature the music of Corrina Bonshek and Margery Smith. The program will include a world premiere and two Australian premiere performances. We spoke to Margery recently about her work and inspiration for the pieces we are to perform.

Margery Smith. Photo: artist supplied

Sirius: Sirius will be performing the Australian premiere of The Long Now. Tell us about how this piece was conceived and first performed.

Margery: The Long Now was written whilst taking part in the program Composing in the Wilderness, jointly run by Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, the National Park Service and Alaska Geographic. The Long Now
is the result of this experience and was first performed on July 22nd, 2019
at the Denali National Park Visitors Centre, Alaska. The nine composers who took part in this program wrote music inspired by some aspect of their experience in Denali National Park. For my own contribution, the braided rivers that we saw from a high pass below as patterns, or simply watching from the riverbed inspired me. Listening to the rushing, gurgling and bubbles – the fresh vapour clearing my head. Perhaps listening to these rivers and the stories past and present that they tell will help us to understand that everything in the world is connected in some way. 

S: Both Poppy and Inferno reference visual art. Tell us about the art which inspired your music.

M: Both Poppy and Inferno were originally inspired by the artwork of my brother Pete Smith. Poppy is inspired by Pete’s graffiti style poppy images. Poppy was an early work in Pete’s journey as an artist; the lines are bold, stylistic yet with a softer quality. This makes a great start for a musical work…simple but strong lines suggest shapes in sound.

Inferno was inspired by a selection of Pete’s series on Dante’s Inferno. Pete’s Inferno series are much later paintings, however Pete’s bold style shines through, and was a wonderful start to my own imagination. 

S: How does your compositional process usually begin? 

M: The first part of any new project for me is searching for an angle to act as a springboard for inspiration. I will churn through many ideas before the central argument for the work becomes clear, and sometimes I don’t figure out what the work is doing until I am a fair way through the process. At other times it seems that hours are spent without much to show for the effort, and then as if by magic, a whole lot of ideas will crystallize onto a score very quickly and looking back, I think ‘Where did all that come from?’ A creative process is fascinating to step back and observe, so much happens behind the scenes in ones mind – relationships happen between your ideas that you are not consciously aware of.

There is the big idea behind the music, but so much realizing this is problem solving. The old saying of ‘sleeping on a problem’ often suggests solutions, but often these will come ‪at 3am! Questions like ‘what is that sound I can hear in my head?’ ‘How can I represent my ideas so the musicians can understand what I am asking of them?’ A musical score is a blueprint for action in sound, yet so much is open for interpretation and this is where the magic really happens for me. My music invites the performer to participate in my creative process, often I loosen the parameters so that performers interact and can add something of them selves to the score with elements of improvisation.

S: Who are some other composers or musicians who inspire you?

M: These are many! I love composers like Ligeti, John Adams but I also admire artists Björk and Laurie Anderson. I enjoy exploring the work of artists who embrace a broad context of what it means to be a musician. There is much to explore, I just keep an open mind. A highlight of my recent trip to Alaska was seeing/listening to John Luther Adams’ work ‘The Place where you go to listen’ literally hearing the landscape sounding, real-time seismic and weather events controlling the music. So, I’ve been reading a lot of Luther Adams writings, listening, trying to figure how he controls the massive soundscapes that he creates. 

S: What other projects are you currently working on?

M: At the moment I’m planning a multi-work project based around Southwestern Victoria, the new landscape where I am currently living. Themes will be based around environment, water, pre-colonial history and contemporary influences. Music is so abstract; it embodies emotions, a sense of place…

S: What is the most unusual place your music has been performed?

M: One of the most interesting places a work of mine was performed was in an empty grain silo-the acoustic was truly amazing!

Margery Smith is a composer-performer and creative music workshop facilitator with a special interest in collaborative work. She is a curious musician who explores new music and improvisation with works that cross boundaries through producing her own projects. Smith loves to work with students of all ages and abilities, and has performed throughout the world on both clarinet and saxophone. She has held Principal positions with Australia’s leading orchestras and chamber music ensembles. 

Concert details: Annandale Creative Arts Centre
81 Johnston St, Annandale on Sunday 20 October, 2.00 pm. Tickets via

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