Featured Composer: Lisa Cheney


Lisa Cheney is an emerging Australian composer based in Melbourne. Her music has been performed by The Southern Cross Soloists, The Australian Voices, The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Ady Ensemble, Belladiva, Ensemble Fabrique, The Melbourne Metropolitan Sinfonietta, Syzygy and The Australian Ballet, amongst others. Having previously completed her undergraduate and Masters degrees at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music (QCGU) with Gerard Brophy and Gerardo Dirie, she is currently studying her PhD at the University of Melbourne with prominent composers Stuart Greenbaum and Elliott Gyger. Cheney has also received lessons from renowned composers William Duckworth, Philip Bracanin, Iain Grandage, Robert Aldridge and David Dzubay.

Lisa has written for a variety of mediums including orchestra, chamber ensemble, choir, ballet, theatre, film, animation and electronic tracks for live performance collaborations. Her composition accolades include being the recipient of the Glen-Carter Varney Award for Composition (2009), first places at the MTAQ Gold Coast Composer’s Competition and the ASME Young Composer’s Competition (2004-2010), the Bill Murray Encouragement Award for Composition (2009), first prize at the Keys Festival for Australian Music (2006), the Griffith University Owen Fletcher Postgraduate Award (2008), an Australia-Korea Foundation Scholarship (2011) and the Silver Harris and Jeff Peck Composition Prize (2014). She has participated in the 2010 Atlantic Music Festival (Maine, USA), the 2012 Australian Youth Orchestra National Music Camp, the 2013 Brevard Music Centre Institute (North Carolina, USA) and the 2013 Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Cybec 21ST Century Composers’ Program. Her work The Pool and the Star, written at part of the Cybec Program, was most recently selected by the MSO for performance at the Metropolis New Music Festival under the baton of Finnish maestro Olli Mustonen.

As part of her Master of Music research Lisa has written papers exploring various experiences of other early career female composers in Australia. In addition to her composing schedule, Cheney enjoys supporting the careers of other emerging composers and artists as the founder of the Brisbane Composers’ Forum. She is currently working on commissions for The Queensland Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra, Plexus Ensemble and The Melbourne Metropolitan Sinfonietta.

Lisa Cheney's new work No Distant Place was premiered in PLEXUS: Post-Patriarchal on 16 March 2015 at the Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre.

Earlier this year I had the unique experience of discovering a poem entitled No Distant Place by Derek Bourne-Jones in a cemetery, located on a rock in the centre of a beautiful ‘Garden of No Distant Place’. The powerful words of the poem eloquently touched on many feelings that I had had up until to that point about life, loss, sacrifice, eternity and most importantly, love. Drawing my inspiration from the poem, No Distant Place is being approached as a large-scale and long-term project, of which Movement I and II are initial offerings.

If, dear one, I should die,
My constant prayer will be
That you share my belief
And know the reason why
You must go on, and live
And, too, this is the test
Of that philosophy
In which our two minds grew.
The soul’s eternity,
My grief would be for you
To know that you were sad
And cared to live no more
Without me by your side.
Throughout my life your love
Has urged me ever on,
Has comforted and soother
The moments of despair.
This moment, more than all,
Is when I need you most
I now could happy be
Since I have thrown away
That nature which I feared
Would jeopardise my soul.
But let me be assured
That one more gift you’ll give –
That joyly you will live
And love the things I loved
And hope the hopes I held.
I then shall ready be
To wait at heaven’s gate
Your soul’s approach to see
Meanwhile, hold me not back
But feel great joy that I
Have looked on earth’s dark glass
And did not fear to die.

I. ‘Soul’s Eternity’

This first movement is dedicated to the contributions of our World War 1 heroes, in particular the selfless bravery of Army Nurse Rachel Pratt. Conflicting emotions arise when reflecting on such tragic events as war and sacrifice; an undeniable sense of deep sadness and loss, an aching awareness of the long term impacts and of the vast legacies left behind. These feelings combined left me with a sense of depth, timelessness and the gravity of an immeasurable ‘eternity’. Near the beginning of the poem, Derek Bourne-Jones writes, 

The soul’s eternity,
My grief would be for you
To know that you were sad
And cared to live no more
Without me by your side.

I found it almost impossible not to hear those words being spoken to loved ones by the millions of voices who lost their lives. With this impact in mind, the work explores what I felt to be an infinite sense of space, time (eternity) with a constant sense of tension and ‘waiting’ permeating throughout. The work begins ‘senza misura’ (free time) and remains flexible throughout. The traditional roles of melody and accompaniment are examined and subverted. In the place of a traditional melody, foregrounded notes rise out of chords and clusters, often emerging from or responding waves of energy. 

II ‘This is the Test’  

And, too, this is the test
Of that philosophy
In which our two minds grew.

Energetic and gestural, the second movement begins with the Bass Clarinet and Piano (a reference to the ‘two minds’) in a series of dynamic, forceful trills. The idea of rapid movement continues to evolves throughout the work, ‘testing’ the ensemble with rhythmic runs, crushed notes and on going sense of blurred time and space. Written in free-time without key signatures or bar lines, the work transitions between metrical and non-metrical passages and ideas. The performers are granted a liberal license in the shaping of phrases and gestural ideas.

– Lisa Cheney