Featured Composer: Gordon Kerry

Photo by Keith Saunders.   Source: The Australian

Photo by Keith Saunders. Source: The Australian

Gordon Kerry was born in 1961. He studied composition with Barry Conyngham at the University of Melbourne, and he has held fellowships from the Australia Council, Peggy Glanville-Hicks Trust and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, USA. He lives on a hill in north-eastern Victoria, Australia. 

In 2012, Gordon Kerry was Musica Viva's composer-in-residence. In 2009, he was awarded the Ian Potter Established Composer Fellowship to compose new works for the Sydney Chamber Choir, Bendigo and Sydney Symphony Orchestras, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and to complete a new opera with playwright Louis Nowra. His book, New Classical Music: Composing Australia, (UNSW Press) was also published in 2009.

Recent works include settings of cantos from John Kinsellas Divine Comedy, pieces for students at the Australian National Academy of Music (where he was composer-in-residence in 2008), a completion of the Mozart Requiem for ABC Classic FM and an overture celebrating the Melbourne Symphony Orchestras Centenary. Orchestral music has been commissioned by the ABC, BBC, Symphony Australia, Ars Musica Australis and the Australian Youth Orchestra. His chamber music has been commissioned for Musica Viva Australia and Wigmore Hall, London as well as independent ensembles in Australia, Germany, the USA, Sweden and Russia. Recordings of his music appear on Tall Poppies, Vox Australis and ABC Classics.

For his local community, Kerry has composed new works for Opera in the Alps, the Murray Conservatorium Choirs and Orchestra and the Riverina Summer School for Strings. He has written numerous choral works for ensembles including Sydney Philharmonia, the Prague Chamber Choir and the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic. His opera Medea has been performed in Australia and the USA with Chamber Made Opera and in Germany in several seasons with the Berliner Kammeroper. ABC Classics has released the opera on CD.

Drei Jahreszeitenslieder, was premiered in PLEXUS: Brunswick Beethoven Festival on 9 February 2017 at Brunswick Uniting Church.

Drei Jahreszeitenslieder  (2012)
  I. Hälfte des Lebens – Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843)
  II. Herbsttag – Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
  III. Ein Winterabend – Georg Trakl (1887-1914)

These songs were composed in 2012 for Merlyn Quaife, who has been a valued friend and interpreter of my music, for stage, concert hall and church, for some 25 years. 

Originally for voice and piano, this version was made especially for Plexus, whose wonderful members have, individually and severally, also performed much of my work over the years. The piece is dedicated to Ute Bierbaumer and Portia Eubanks, who patiently bear my mangling of spoken German.

I chose three of my favourite German poems, which also gave me an opportunity to make up my own new German word for the title.

The Middle of Life, by Beethoven’s direct contemporary Friedrich Hölderlin, has been set by a number of composers including György Ligeti and Britten. It evokes a late summer scene of fruitful beauty, but only in the terrified knowledge that it will soon pass away. It was the basis for my second Piano Trio, Im Winde, composed in 2000, and I use some of that work’s material here.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s Autumn Day traces a similar movement from the fruitful days of late summer to the stark loneliness of autumn, and approaching winter.

The snowbound landscape in Georg Trakl’s Winter Evening has an obvious symbolism, with the promise of rest and sacramental comfort when the traveller finally crosses the threshold of pain.

© Gordon Kerry 2017

The End of Many Worlds was premiered in PLEXUS: Pantheon on 2 April 2014 at the Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre, as part of the Metropolis New Music Festival.

The End of Many Worlds (2014)

The composer writes: “This piece enabled me to bring together a centenary memorial to the fallen in World War I as suggested by Christopher Saunders, with something derived from mythology as suggested by Stefan Cassomenos. One of the greatest of mythic wars is, of course, that of Troy, and leafing through Euripides’s Trojan Women I found a moving address by the chorus to Ganymede, a prince of Troy who, generations earlier, had been carried off to Olympus to serve as a cup-bearer to the gods. The women, captured and brutalised by the Greeks in the ruins of Troy, ask why Ganymede could not have interceded with the Gods on behalf of the city that gave him birth. The bliss he enjoys is in stark contrast to appalling destruction of all he once knew and loved.

The eternally youthful Ganymede is himself in stark contrast to the hero of Sebastian Barry’s novel A Long, Long Way. Seventeen-year old Willie Dunne fights in the trenches of Flanders, aware of the ambivalent feelings between the Irish (of whatever persuasion) and the British (but hoping that loyalty will breed respect) and of the rebels at home in Dublin who will regard him as a traitor. His poignant death scene, set to music here, comes when, after many horrors, he hears a German soldier singing from the opposite camp, and realises they are both fallen human beings on whom war has forced the extremities of human experience. Like the Trojan women he asks why God won’t intervene to comfort them.

This piece is dedicated to my great-uncle John Kerry, who died of horrific wounds in Flanders in 1917; his razor, a book and damaged fountain pen were returned to his wife in Australia via a ship called the Euripides.

The extract from Sebastian Barry’s A Long, Long Way is used by kind permission of the author.”

© Gordon Kerry 2014