Queensland Conservatorium alumni have been commissioned to create new music for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as part of a new project showcasing Australian composers.

Doctoral candidate Cathy Milliken, alumnus Melody Eötvös and Honorary Doctorate recipient William Barton are among 50 composers handpicked by a national panel to join the 50 Fanfares initiative.

The works will be performed over the next three seasons, culminating in a series of world premieres at the Sydney Opera House in 2022.

First Nations composer bridges cultural divide

Composer William Barton

William Barton completed a one-year fellowship at the Queensland Conservatorium and is the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from Griffith University. The celebrated First Nations composer has worked with many of the world’s most prestigious orchestras, blending traditional and classical music. He first learned to read notation and compose in the Western tradition during his time at Griffith University.

“I’m doing what I love. I want to take the oldest culture in the world and blend it with Europe’s rich musical legacy,” he said.

“I guess what I’m doing is giving back: giving back to my culture and my people because I was given something when I was very young and like the old fellas who taught me years ago, I’m just passing it on.”

Creating music with a social conscience

Queensland Conservatorium doctoral candidate Cathy Milliken. Photo: Uwe Walter

Queensland Conservatorium alumnus and doctoral candidate Cathy Milliken said she was “greatly honoured” to be selected. She plans to use her composition to explore the effects of climate change.

“It is wonderful to see Australia’s performing art institutions commissioning new work and reaching out to create a bridge to the work of contemporary artists and art forms,” she said.

Cathy completed her undergraduate studies at the Queensland Conservatorium, majoring in piano and oboe before settling in Berlin, where she helped found acclaimed contemporary group, Ensemble Modern. She has collaborated with the world’s top composers and conductors, including avant garde musical legends like Frank Zappa and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Cathy was also Director of the Education Program of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, before deciding to return to Australia to undertake a Doctor of Musical Arts, under the supervision of Professor Vanessa Tomlinson.

Celebrating diverse voices

Queensland Conservatorium composition alumnus Melody Eötvös

Queensland Conservatorium composition alumnus Melody Eötvös said the 50 Fanfares project was “truly epic”.

“It’s exciting composing a work for an ensemble like the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, who are well known for championing new music and early career composers,” she said.

“It’s an important project for new Australian music, and we’re fortunate that orchestras are increasingly commissioning work by contemporary composers from diverse backgrounds.”

Melody returned to the Queensland Conservatorium last year to premiere a new work, Ruler of the Hive, performed by the Queensland Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra and students from the Bachelor of Acting.

“I will forever have so many wonderful memories from my time at the Con, and being able to return for such a monumental piece of mine was an absolute pleasure and incredibly fulfilling,” she said.