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Composer in residence appointed for National Youth Orchestra

4 December 2013

Composer in residence appointed for NZSO National Youth Orchestra

The NZSO is excited to announce Sarah Ballard as Composer in Residence for the 2014 NZSO National Youth Orchestra.

Aucklander Sarah Ballard recently completed her studies in composition and has already gained experience as a composer, having various ensembles perform her works.

As the focus of the residency, she is tasked with composing a work for the NZSO National Youth Orchestra.

“This is such a special opportunity. I’m looking forward to working with an orchestra of such accomplished young musicians to bring the music on the page to life. And it’s so free, conceptually. I can shape the work however I choose to” says Sarah.

The commissioned work will be performed in Wellington and Auckland in July, billed with Richard Strauss’ works Don Juan and Also Sprach Zarathustra. Sarah will spend the week leading up to the concerts with the orchestra as it rehearses.

“I’m looking forward to being with the orchestra for a week,” Sarah says. “Getting that time to ensure everything is as it should be, getting time to talk to individual players about the parts I’ve written … having it all that much closer to how I intended it. This commission puts me in a unique position to have the time to make connections with performers too – that’s really important to me.”

Sarah described her interests as a composer: “I want to be creating unfamiliar combinations of sounds … sounds that are not immediately distinguishable. Already I know that the various percussion instruments I’ll write for will define the character of each movement of the commission.”

She also has a passion for creating a sensory experience for listeners. “I want to pique the curiosity of the listener – I want to transport them to another place, perhaps even evoking sights and smells. Music should be immersive, something more than just listening. More visceral somehow,” Sarah says. “I’m inspired by colour,” she adds. “And I’d like to think of myself as an empathetic person. That comes across I think in my approach to writing music and in the experience I want listeners to have. Great art is always about being able to provoke a response, and can lead to those epiphanal, seminal experiences we have in life – these experiences shape us as individuals.”

Last week, Sarah was a finalist in the NZSO TODD Corporation Young Composers Awards. This was a helpful ground for her to test out some new ideas and experiment with sounds.

“[My piece] wasn’t quite right structurally, but I was testing out sounds. I also learnt about the extra-musical techniques that I wrote in – even though many techniques have standardised notations, the interpretation varies between performers. So I’m looking forward to building relationships and discussing techniques with the NZSO National Youth Orchestra musicians throughout the composing process.”

Sarah has a passion for composing but also a realism about the challenging path to becoming a full-time composer. “I’m working this year. My ideal plan is to gradually wind back the number of hours I do and do some composing as well through funding, grants, and commissions - and maybe some workshops or festivals overseas. I really want to pursue this, it’s what I want to do. But I’m realistic about a future as a composer. I’m just taking it one step at a time.”

Sarah studied at the University of Auckland’s School of Music. Sarah has had works performed by a variety of ensembles, including The Committee, SMP Ensemble, Estrella Quartet, and the Karlheinz Company. Sarah was winner of the University of Auckland’s 2012 Llewelyn Jones Piano Prize and the Douglas Lilburn Trust Award. In 2012 she won the NZSO TODD Corporation Young Composers Award.


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