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In Conversation with Arcadia Winds

“'wouldn’t it be cool if we joined the circus?', and so that’s exactly what we did! We were lucky that the lovely folks at Circus Oz were just as crazy about the idea as we were…"

With a passion for making music accessible, and telling stories through musical performances, we chat with Arcadia Winds about their inspirations, their creative collaborations and what they’re looking forward to about their upcoming performance at the Convent!

The program for your Convent performance is diverse, traversing folk tales from Romania, French fairy tales, catchy South American dance party tunes and more. How do you choose your repertoire, what inspires your direction, and which piece are you most looking forward to playing on the night? 

Our programs are usually driven by a single idea or concept. In this instance, we were fascinated by the thought of telling stories through musical performance. Each of the pieces on this program have distinct stories behind them and it felt appropriate to combine each of them to make a menu full of enchanting and imaginative tales from all around the world.

The piece I’m most looking forward to playing is ‘Animalia’ by Natalie Williams. Natalie wrote this piece based on several pieces of art on display at the 2017 ‘Popular Pet Show’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The artworks she chose were quirky, endearing and awfully sweet depictions of several artists’ animals or pets. I love how Natalie tells these stories within her work and I hope our audience gets as much joy listening to as we do play it.

In just six years since you came together as a group in 2012, at which point you were awarded a fellowship at the Australian National Academy of Music, you have gone on to achieve so much. In addition to being named Musica Viva Australia’s inaugural FutureMakers musicians from 2015–17, you have since played in nearly every corner of the nation, toured China and performed in the inaugural BBC Proms chamber music concerts in Melbourne, live on BBC and ABC radio. What do you think has been the key to your success, and what are your ambitions for the future?

So many different things come to mind. Persistence, a lot of hard work, a tremendous amount of support from some amazing people, and a little bit of good luck have all played noteworthy roles in our journey. Perhaps the most striking thing for me though has been our continual honesty to who we are and the work we do as Arcadia Winds. I think we have really strong values both as individuals and as a group, and I feel it’s that honesty that really comes across in everything we pursue. It’s one of the traits I love most about Arcadia, and something that I hope will stay close to us in the future.

And as for the future? I see us expanding on all of the things that we are passionate about: making music accessible to young people and regions where live music is scarce, educating our audiences about the joys of wind music, working with composers to ensure there is a future for our medium, and being fantastic ambassadors for wind music and role models for those who come after us.

From pop artists to Circus Oz, collaborations have been a key part of your journey. You’ve also commissioned more than 10 new works for the wind quintet from some of Australia’s most celebrated composers, including the award-winning Shoreditch Grind by Elizabeth Younan. How do your collaborations come about, and who would you love to work with in the future?

Our collaborations happen fairly organically and usually without a lot of contrived thought. In the case of Circus Oz, I distinctly remember the day our bassoonist Matthew said, “wouldn’t it be cool if we joined the circus?”, and so that’s exactly what we did! We were lucky that the lovely folks at Circus Oz were just as crazy about the idea as we were…

The commissioning of new work is a no-brainer for us. We’d love to see how we can expand this into cross disciplinary artistic collaborations, with visual artists, directors, and narrators for example, and how we can make our message relevant within these new spaces.

You’re very committed to advocating for wind instruments, and making music accessible to all, including the many school children you have performed for. Why does chamber music matter, and what are those who are not familiar with this missing out on?

Life is full of highs and lows, harmony and dissonance, momentum and obstacles. Chamber music is filled with all of these things plus many more. It can be a highly rewarding adventure shared with like-minded individuals or it could be a maddening illustration of human behaviour gone wrong.

What I love is how transparent chamber music is, and how clearly these things come through in performance.

As a group and as individuals chamber music exposes who you are and unwraps your vulnerabilities for all to see, which for me brings performers and audiences closer on a human level.

It’s that closeness, intimacy and level of risk and vulnerability that makes chamber music significant for me both as a performer and listener.

What are you most looking forward to about playing in the Convent’s Industrial School?

The Industrial School is that the space has all the hallmarks of being a great chamber music venue but feels nothing like a concert hall. It’s an intimate room with terrific acoustics, where the performers and audience can interact with ease. It’s relaxed in feel and lacks all the stuffiness of more formal concert spaces. I’m looking forward to using each of these elements to help enhance our story telling and the journey we will go on in this concert.

What’s your next project, and what can your audiences look forward to in the next 12 months?

Arcadia Winds have a jam-packed 12 months coming up, which will see us develop a number of new initiatives that are dear to us. We will shortly be launching our Composition Prize which is aimed at supporting and encouraging young composers to write for the wind quintet medium.

This year will also see the continued development of our exciting new Digital Australian Music Portal, which will bring the music of Australian composers into the digital age, onto our screens and into our hearts.

There will be numerous opportunities for us to bring our music to younger audiences and to regional areas throughout the country – most notably our tour through regional NSW in September/October.

Finally, we have two massive concerts (15 April and 30 October 2018) at the Melbourne Recital Centre, which will be hugely rewarding artistic experiences for us. We’d love to have as many people as possible share this journey with us throughout 2018!

See Convent Live Presents: Exotic Tales from Arcadia Winds at the Convent on Friday 23 March 2018, 7 – 8pm.