Featured Composer: Larry Sitsky

Source: Australian Music Centre

Source: Australian Music Centre

Larry Sitsky, born in China of Russian-Jewish parents, travelled to Australia in 1951 and settled in Sydney. He studied piano from an early age and was granted a scholarship to the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music, where he studied piano and composition, graduating in 1955. Post-graduate studies continued with the distinguished Australian pianist and teacher, Winifred Burston. In 1959 he won a scholarship to the San Francisco Conservatory, where he studied with the great Egon Petri for two years. Returning to Australia, he joined the staff of the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. A grant from the Myer Foundation in 1965 enabled him to conduct research into the music of Ferruccio Busoni, on whom he has written extensively. In 1966 he was appointed Head of Keyboard Studies at the School of Music in Canberra (now part of the Australian National University), where he was later Head of Musicology, Head of Composition Studies, Head of Academic Studies and now Distinguished Visiting Fellow, as well as Emeritus Professor.

In the field of composition Sitsky's approach has led to similarly diverse of achievements. He has written in numerous genres including opera, theatre, orchestral music, chamber music, solo and vocal music, and his works have been commissioned by many leading Australian and international bodies. As well as working with every orchestra in Australia, Sitsky has been commissioned by the Sydney International Piano Competition, the ABC, Musica Viva, the International Clarinet Society and the International Flute Convention.

Sitsky's collection of teaching pieces, Century, has been published by Currency Press. Numerous other works have been published by the New York based Seesaw Music Corporation with whom he has an open contract.

Sitsky has received numerous honours for his composition, as well as his research. Among others, he has won the A H Maggs Award twice, the Alfred Hill Memorial Prize, the first National Critics' Award, and the inaugural Australian Composer's Fellowship presented by the Music Board of the Australia Council. In recognition of Sitsky's various achievements, the Australian National University awarded Sitsky its first Higher Doctorate in Fine Arts in 1997. In 1998 he was elected Fellow of the Academy of Humanities of Australia, and in 2000 he became a Member of the Order of Australia. He has also been awarded a Centenary Medal, Advance Australia award, and cultural ambassadorships to China, Russia, and the USA.

Sitsky's research has been supported by a number of Australian Research Council Grants. His areas of expertise include the music of Busoni, Rubinstein, Music of the twentieth century avant-garde, the repressed Russian avant-garde and 20th century Australian piano music. Many of Sitsky's writings on these topics have now become standard texts.

Sitsky's recording projects have focused on contemporary Australian composers, especially Roy Agnew. His own works are included in numerous anthologies and collections released on labels including ABC Classics, Tall Poppies and Jade CDs.

A biography of Sitsky was published in the USA in 1997, and in 2004 the National Library of Australia published a book by Jim Cotter titled Sitsky: Conversations with the Composer.

Important recent premieres include Sitsky's Concerto for Double-Bass & Ensemble (Beowulf), premiered in the Netherlands in 2007; The Nine Songs - sonata for oboe and piano, performed in Hobart at the Conservatorium of Music in August 2011, as well as the very successful premiere performance, in Townsville and Cairns, of the Concerto for Young Pianist in 2013.

Larry Sitsky's piece, Blood from the Moon, was premiered in PLEXUS: Spotlight on 24 November 2014 at the Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre.

Blood from the Moon (2014)

My Trio #9 has the somewhat curious title of "Blood From The Moon". This came about because the raw materials for the piece are derived from that wonderfully dramatic scene in Alban Berg's opera "Wozzeck", in which Wozzeck, having committed murder, is trying to get rid of the evidence, by throwing his bloodied knife into a lake. It is dark, but then the moon rises. In his demented state, Wozzeck perceives that the moon is red, and in his mind, this translates into everything being red, soaked in blood. He wades further into the lake, feeling that he hasn't thrown his weapon far enough, and it may be discovered. But, he goes out of his depth and drowns. 

The raw material that I used was partially Wozzeck's vocal line, and partially Berg's succession of harp chords, but all this is much altered. However, using Berg's material as a jumping off point did give me an evocative title. 

The trio begins very softly and mysteriously. A repeated chord figure in an easy to recognise rhythm allows the temperature to be hotted up, leading to a climax of repeated chords in asymmetric rhythmic patterns. M

Then, a reverse occurs: the atmosphere calms down, and we move back towards the opening feel. The piano has the last say, perhaps in an unexpected manner!”

© Larry Sitsky 2014