Featured Composer: Richard Grantham

Source: Lyrebird Music Society

Source: Lyrebird Music Society

Richard Grantham is a jack of all musical trades whose compositional and performing experience stretches from orchestras to bands to solo improvisation, encompassing an exceptionally broad range of classical, folk, popular, cabaret and experimental styles. He composed his first piece (for piano) at age seven and his first orchestral work at 14, winning the ABC's Young Composer Award that year. Honed by studies in composition at the University of Queensland under Philip Bračanin (graduating with first class honours and a University Medal) and eight years in the Queensland Youth Symphony, he has gone on to compose and arrange music for festivals, films, theatre, spoken word and burlesque, as well as for the concert hall.

Improvisation is an important aspect of Richard's compositional practice, both as a mode of composition in itself and also directly informing the form and content of recent fully-notated works such as The Lyrebird in my Piano. Having spent the best part of the last decade performing and touring with a multitude of bands, he has become an adept improviser upon a large number of stringed, keyed and woodwind instruments (including all four featured in this work). His solo improvising act The Viola Cloning Project uses a loop recorder and other effects pedals to turn his customised five-string carbon-fibre viola into a one-man string and percussion orchestra, and has performed with performance poet Ghostboy (David Stavanger), Zen Zen Zo physical theatre company, and at conferences and festivals including three appearances in closing ceremonies of the Woodford Folk Festival.

His notated compositions have been performed by The Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Queensland Youth Symphony, flautist Janet McKay, six new music ensemble, and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra violinist Sarah Curro who performed Tourmaline for violin and electronics in 2011 as part of her VOLUME series of concerts. Richard is currently working towards a PhD, investigating and devising new electronic and physical timbral resources for violin and viola. His cat Beckett is afraid of brass instruments.

Richard Grantham's piece, The Lyrebird in my Piano, was premiered in PLEXUS: Lyrebird Commission Concert on 8 June 2014 at Wyselaskie Auditorium.

The Lyrebird in my Piano (2013-14)

I. Satók

II. Reichemitsu

III. Debugeti

The Lyrebird in my Piano was written for PLEXUS to fulfill the 2013 Lyrebird Commission. The title alludes not only to the commission and the instrumentation, but also to the extraordinary talents for mimicry of the Superb Lyrebirds: not only can they perfectly imitate other birds' calls and assorted environmental sounds, but some in close contact with humans have been heard imitating their neighbours' music. Even more remarkably, some individuals appear capable of combining two learnt tunes into a hybrid melody of their own devising.

The Lyrebird in my Piano is an attempt to answer the whimsical question of what a hypothetical lyrebird residing in my piano might sing. Each of the work's three movements is a hybrid of the styles of two of my favourite 20th-century composers, whose works are liable to find themselves inexpertly hammered out on my well-loved Yamaha. The styles are in no way intended to be rigorously authentic, which would prove a less interesting exercise in any case.

First up is Satók (Satie x Bartók). Satie is the junior partner here, represented primarily by the relentless simplicity of the piano accompaniment for the first and last couple of minutes but also by the movement's flashes of humour. Bartók on the other hand strongly informs the Eastern European melodic, harmonic and sometimes contrapuntal spikiness.

Secondly, Reichemitsu (Reich x Takemitsu) combines the American's signature repetitiveness - and even a little light phasing, two simultaneous repeated cycles being 9 and 16 beats long respectively - with the gentle textures and bittersweet harmonic complexity of his Japanese near-contemporary. The movement is in fact written as though it were performed using a loop recording pedal, with the piano capturing, repeating and accumulating material from the clarinet and violin.

Finally, Debugeti (Debussy x Ligeti) starts with an unmistakable French lightness and occasionally tangles the texture by mixing a bit too much unmistakable French lightness in at once. (Spare a thought for the amount of unmistakable French lightness allocated to pianist Stefan, who must play almost 2500 notes at a rate of fourteen per second.)

The Lyrebird in my Piano is dedicated to the Lyrebird Music Society and to PLEXUS, to both of whom I am vastly indebted - many, many thanks! 

© Richard Grantham 2014