‘When writing for strings, it’s through bluegrass that I find my voice’ - Premiere of the Month: Against the Current

H_Harrison pc Steve Broadbent

A work of opposing forces, marking a young composer’s stylistic growth

‘I didn’t want to be too literal and think, “I’ll have a song, then a stormy section.” I wanted something more interrupted,’ Australian composer Holly Harrison says of her new work Slipstream’s commission brief: ‘a song before a storm’. ‘Maybe it’s not just a song before the storm, but a song on top, or underneath.’ Within the five-movement work, Harrison streams together song-like ideas, experimenting with techniques that she says stretched her. ‘The sea shanty-esque beginning is unlike anything I’d done before.’ Paul Stanhope, artistic chair of the Australia Ensemble UNSW, which commissioned the work, also explains: ‘Holly’s piece begins with an atmospheric texture. She then successfully adapts groove patterns with references to bluegrass and funk.’ True to her roots as a drummer, Harrison says that the groove bass acts as Slipstream’s undercurrent. As for her stylistic influences, she explains, ‘When writing for strings, it’s through bluegrass that I find my voice. I love the cool scoops and microtonality…

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