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Five Quick Questions with Evan Lawson

Artistic director, composer, conductor Evan Lawson (Forest Collective) chats about the changing landscapes and challenges of the live music industry through multiple lockdowns during the pandemic.

Forest Collective returns to Abbotsford Convent with their latest program Shifting
curated by Ali Fyffe at the Industrial School
24 – 27 February, 2022.

Shifting is a great name for an event. Can you talk about some of the transformational shifts Forest Collective has experienced and your approach to audience engagement over the last 12 months?

We’re delighted to finally return to Abbotsford Convent in 2022, after a lot of ups and downs last year. We were lucky enough to present some weeks of development for various projects as part of the fabulous Pivot residency in January 2021, including the live performance of Emo Phase.

After that, however, we attempted to mount two shows—Asia in focus and Australia & New Zealand in focus—however, those pesky lockdowns got in the way. 

Being a live performance organisation, planning and preparing when you can’t present live performance safely has been very tricky. Last December, we staged a film shoot of the remarkable Pierrot Lunaire (also planned for 2021 as a live show) at the Convent and created a new digital experience around this work. Pierrot Lunaire creates a new way to enjoy the Forest Collective’s chamber music experience, encompassing film, chamber music, dance, design, photography, and writing. This project is really exciting for us, as it’s a new avenue for art, not one we’ve thought of before. It gives us more control over the final product—one silverlining to an otherwise tricky few months. 

How does it feel to be returning to the Convent in 2022? What are some of the things you enjoy about the precinct?

We’re delighted to be back.

Forest Collective has been performing at the beautiful Convent since 2013, so it’s our home. We do bits and pieces at other locations, but we always end up at the Convent. We enjoy the beautiful and flexible spaces available to us and the “all-in-one” aspect of the site—the many different food options, beautiful gardens—lots to see and do before concerts. The Convent’s wonderful team have always believed in me and Forest Collective. They are always a pleasure to work with are always a pleasure.

What are you excited about with this program?

To be honest, just doing it.

Putting on live music is hard enough, let alone with everything else going on, so I’m just happy to be doing it.

But to answer the question, I’m excited for the world premiere of Micah Thompson’s new work Otaki Songs featuring the amazing Kim Tan on bass flute. How often do you get to hear a new concerto for Bass Flute!!! 

This magical work showcases all the instruments in wild and new sounds, marking an important step for Micah, a young composer based in New Zealand. 

Can you tell me about some of the unique voices showcased?

Shifting showcases a real breadth and range of music and compositional voices. Forest Collective dedication is to creating accessible and open concerts, with a range of music covering a wide breadth of emotions, ideas, techniques, genres, and composers’ life experiences.

As I mentioned, Micah is a new voice from New Zealand. Dylan Lardelli is a well established and amazing composer who is also from New Zealand. We will also be showcasing a range of works from Australia; Margaret Sutherland, active during the middle of the 20th century, to Elliott Gyger, a Melbourne-based composer working at the Conservatorium. I’m also very excited about the two works of Toru Takemitsu, a giant of 20th-century music. Takemitsu’s music is a joy and always surprises me with its beauty. Other highlights are Ravi Shankars raga inspired cello and harp piece (yes, that is Ravi Shanka of Beatles and Philip Glass fame), Salina Fisher, another young composer from New Zealand and a wide variety of Chinese songs curated by our tenor Daniel Szesiong Todd and so much more!

What impact do you hope to make on how people listen to and engage with contemporary classical music?

Forest Collective and my personal goal are always to present the work that anyone can enjoy. You do not need to have been to a classical music concert before. You do not need to know about classical music conventions. It’s about the music. You can sit at the back or come right up close and sit right next to a growling double bass or an angelic harp. Composers are often in attendance, so you can easily chat to them after, as well as the musicians and myself. We’re keen for everyone to enjoy music as music, not as an academic exercise or stuffy traditional laden concert. 

I hope you can join us and enjoy the wide variety and depth of these fantastic pieces and the smorgasbord of music that is on offer this February!


Forest Collective: Shifting
24 – 27 February
Industrial School

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