Seven years ago, the Perth Guitar Quartet created a collection of work inspired by the stories of the East Perth Cemeteries, entitled ‘Sound from the Ground’.
This week, they return to the Perth International Classical Guitar Festival to perform these songs and more, inspired by West Australian Landscapes.
We had a chat with Dr Jonathan Fitzgerald prior to the event.
1. The Perth Guitar Quartet is bringing the new work West Australian Landscapesto the stage later this month. How long has this been in the works for?
It’s been quite a journey! Planning for the project began early in 2022, and really ramped up over the last 6 months with many hours of rehearsals and recording sessions. We’re so excited to finally perform these works – the composers have written such fantastic music for us, and we can’t wait to share it.
2. Has the Perth Guitar Quartet always been interested in creating work inspired by the WA landscape, or was the creativity ignited after the completion of the project at the East Perth Cemeteries with the late Dr Duncan Gardiner and the National Trust?
We’ve always been keenly interested in new works by WA composers, but performing site-specific works at the East Perth Cemeteries was a new and quite special experience for us. So much of the Australian guitar repertoire is inspired by the natural world, but almost all the sources of inspiration are locations over east. Duncan Gardiner’s “Stone, Shell, Bone and Feather” (commissioned by the Trust as part of our “Sound from the Ground” project) may well be the first site-specific guitar quartet inspired by a particular location in WA, and we were keen to build on that.
3. Did you face any difficulties when trying to find a composer? And what was the process behind selecting and working with Lydia Gardiner, Robert Davidson and Nicholas Bannan?
Thankfully it all came together quite easily. Rob Davidson is a well-established composer whose guitar music we’re always admired, so we were very keen to have him write for us. We were not optimistic that he’d agree, but luckily he said ‘yes’ and wrote a fantastic three-movement work. We also wanted to give an opportunity to a young, emerging WA composer. We had been impressed with the work of recent UWA composition graduate Lydia Gardiner (no relation to Duncan Gardiner), so she was the obvious choice. Nicholas had actually approached us a couple of years ago about performing a work he had written inspired by WA bird life, and this project was the perfect opportunity to make that happen.
4. In your previous work, there is a musical piece for each of the individual cemeteries, and some begin with a fragment of a hymn that was played at a funeral at East Perth Cemeteries, are there are similar incorporations or influences associated with the new pieces of work?
Each of the composers took quite a different approach for this project, but none of them quite as ‘literal’ as Duncan’s quoting of funeral music. Robert Davidson’s Three Moods was inspired by a trip to Perth as a teenager, and the work is quite tuneful and nostalgic. The first movement is inspired by a sunset on the Swan River, the second is titled Sunrise, and the third draws its inspiration from waves lapping up the shore of Cottesloe beach.
Lydia Gardiner’s The Town of Wind is inspired by the leaning trees that grow in Greenough, just outside Geraldton. She takes inspiration from the literal form of the tree and the flat plains where it grows, with the movements musically representing everything from the wind to the roots and branches of the trees, to the imagery of cars zipping along the highway on the drive between Perth and Geraldton.
Nicholas Bannan’s Ensemble is inspired by bird life in the West Australian bush, particularly the flocking of birds in a sort of controlled chaos.
Do you personally have a favourite piece from your upcoming CD launch? Which one, and why?
That’s a bit like asking someone to pick their favourite child! They each are so unique and so different, there’s something I love about each of them. And as a collective whole, I think they make a really cohesive concert program that will take listeners on an engaging journey. There’s not much more I could have asked for!
Lastly, as someone who’s chosen WA as their home since 2012, is there anything distinctive about the states natural environment that’s motivated you to create these new pieces?
The motivation was largely due to the fact that WA is really underrepresented in the Australian guitar repertoire. Even guitarists living in the US who are performing Australian guitar music pretty quickly realise that the music they’re playing is inspired by the natural world, and the sources of inspiration are largely in the east. After living here as a professional guitarist for over decade, we decided it was time to change that!
Learn more about this collection of work on our website. And book your tickets for the show here: https://loom.ly/W0R7Bks