Concert Notes: Music Speaks

MCO’s Music Speaks can be heard on Thursday 29 February 7:30pm and Sunday 3 March 2:30pm at Melbourne Recital Centre.



Katy Abbott (b 1971)
Glacial Thunder (2024)
‡ MCO Premiere Commissions

Composer Dr Katy Abbott illuminates and inspires the heart of us.

Katy’s work explores ‘connection’, especially in relation to the audience–performer–composer relationship. Her work looks at the macro (societal) human connection as well as the intimate (one-to-one connections within relationships, families, friendships and connection to self).

As a musical master storyteller, Abbott’s compositions are performed, published and recorded around the world. She has five solo albums on ABC Classics and MOVE records and is highly awarded for composition (including Paul Lowin Award for Composition (song-cycle) and a two-year Fellowship with the Australia Council for the Arts).

With 30 years as an Educator and Mentor, she has a holistic approach to her composing and Artist Mentoring. Her most recent role included 10+ years on staff at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, where she is now Honorary Senior Fellow. Katy founded The Artists’ Mentor: Illuminate. Challenge. Change in 2020 to support mid-career, established artists and arts leaders, across disciplines, to build long-term, vibrant practices with capacity and impact.

In 2024, Katy is Composer-In-Residence for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and continues her work on the Hidden Thoughts Series.

The composer writes: This work was kindly commissioned by Melbourne Chamber Orchestra for the opening of the MCO 2024 Season. With Music Speaks as the umbrella theme for the concert, Glacial Thunder aims to pick up on the nuances of resonance in regards to communication; through playful gestures and ensemble “stillness”. Without any direct or specific narrative, the work “plays” with ideas and illuminates interaction and communication between the musicians and also the composer-orchestra-audience dynamic. Dedicated to Heather Rowell on the occasion of her 80th birthday. Wishing you the happiest of birthdays and great lightness and joy over the coming year.

WA Mozart (1756–91)
Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major K364 (arr string orchestra Christopher Moore)
I. Allegro maestoso
II. Andante
III. Presto


The Sinfonia Concertante is predominantly a genre of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries for solo instruments (usually two or three but sometimes up to nine instruments) with orchestra. The genre is symphonic in scale with extended solo parts that bring it closer to the concerto in concept. (The term ‘Sinfonia’ is sometimes replaced by ‘Symphonie’.)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–91) composed the E flat Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola in Salzburg in 1779-80 following his tour to Paris and Mannheim. Around this time, he was exploring the idiom with the Symphonia Concertante for Four Wind Instruments (flute, oboe, bassoon and horn) K 297B, the Concerto for Two Pianos in E flat K 365, and the Concerto for Flute and Harp in C major K 299. Fragments remain of two other works: one for piano and violin in D, and another in A major for violin, viola and cello.

The Sinfonia Concertante K 364 was originally scored for solo violin, solo viola, two oboes, two horns, and strings. The arrangement for string orchestra by Christopher Moore provides nuance and new insight into the work.

Possibly more than in any other concerto, Mozart is able to encapsulate a universe of emotions and expression. Each movement holds its own beauty – demonstrated so clearly with the exquisite interplay between the two solo instruments and the gentle but supporting punctuations of the other four strings. The potency of this work is in its depth of poignant expression.

Molly Jalakbiya (deceased) + Paul Stanhope (b 1969)
Dirrari Lament from String Quartet No 3 (new version for string orchestra) ‡
‡ MCO Premiere Commissions

Paul Stanhope is an award-winning Sydney-based composer and a leading figure in his generation of Australian composers. He has had prominent performances of his works in the UK, Europe and Asia, as well as in North and South America. After studies with Peter Sculthorpe, Paul studied at the Guildhall School of Music in London.

In May 2004, Paul’s international standing was confirmed when he was awarded first place in the Toru Takemitsu Composition Prize.

Paul has composed a number of major works in recent years for large forces including Jandamarra: Sing for the Country, a dramatic cantata based on the life of the Western Australian Indigenous resistance hero, premiered by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2014 in collaboration with members of the Bunuba community from North West Australia. In the last ten years he has composed concertos for piccolo, cello and trombone as well as major chamber works, many of which were commissioned for visiting international artists by Musica Viva Australia. His most recent orchestral work, Ocean Planet, was commissioned and premiered by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in December 2022. In 2024, a new work nyilamum – song cycles, co-composed with Dr Lou Bennett AM, was premiered at the Amsterdam String Quartet Biennale by the Australian String Quartet.

Paul is an Associate Professor of Composition at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and is also the Artistic Chair of the Australia Ensemble at the University of New South Wales.

The composer writes: Molly Jalakbiya was a Bunuba woman who lived her whole life in the Fitzroy Valley, in Fitzroy Crossing and on the cattle stations on Bunuba country in the Kimberley region of North West Australia. She was a much loved and highly respected woman, a granny and a mentor to June Oscar and Patsy Bedford, who are the custodians of her haunting song Dirrari, which tells the tale of a mother black cockatoo grieving the loss of her young one.

Molly’s song was incorporated into a stage play about the life of Bunuba resistance hero Jandamarra, set in the late nineteenth century during the time of dreadful and bloody frontier wars. The Dirrari song is sung in the play by Jandamarra’s mother, Jini (played by Patsy Bedford), as a metaphor of mourning for the fallen hero. Later the song was incorporated into the Dirrari Lament in the large-scale dramatic cantata commissioned by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and written by Steve Hawke and me in collaboration with Bunuba musicians, dancers and storytellers.

A further transformation, this new chamber orchestra version, commissioned by Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, begins with sombre, introspective mourning with mysterious-sounding harmonic textures, and gradually develops into a searing emotive outpouring. Molly’s song is used here with the kind permission of June Oscar and Patsy Bedford.

Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904)
Serenade for Strings in E major Op 22
I. Moderato
II. Tempo di Valse
III. Scherzo: Vivace
IV. Larghetto
V. Finale: Allegro vivace


Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904) was a Czech composer of symphonies, operas, oratorios, songs and chamber music. His compositions across many genres display a strong sense of nationalism.

The Serenade for Strings in E major Op 22 was composed in a matter of days, from 3-14 May 1875, and first performed in Prague in December 1876. Interestingly, Dvořák initially published the work as a piano arrangement for four hands in 1877 – a year after the original string performance. As with many compositions written under the title of serenade, this work expressively exudes a great sense of carefree joy. Most profoundly, it is dominated by a beautiful sense of lyricism.

The five movements are concise and complementary and filled with expressive contrasts. With the exception of the finale, each of the movements is in A-B-A form – with an idea presented, contrasted and a return to the original material. The flow and charm of the opening Moderato is contrasted with the lilting waltz in the second movement with its longingly melancholy trio. This is then followed by the humorous Scherzo that leads to the still and tranquil Larghetto which is the heart of this composition. The Finale. Allegro vivace is in the style of a spirited folk dance.

Mozart + Dvořák notes: David Forrest