Lifestyle The Arts Old Meets New
Old Meets New
Written by Peter McClelland


It’s a brave new world for home-grown composer Lachlan Skipworth. Not only will his choral piece nestle alongside J.S. Bach and Mahler in a concert at St Mary’s Cathedral next month, but the current WASO Composer-in-Residence is also juggling the demands of a new baby.

“She’s just over seven months now and becoming a bit more aware of what’s going on so that means we have to be as well. I’m feeling my way back into writing new compositions, which means that I have to get used to working in smaller time-slots. But I am in the fortunate position of being able to coast along on pieces I wrote before becoming a father.”

“It will be interesting to see if my music changes with this new way of working.”

Lachlan is currently writing a new choral piece for the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus and is looking forward to hearing his new work performed in Perth on September 24.

“There aren’t a lot of choral compositions being written at the moment, so that’s an incentive for me to write pieces that will be popular with choirs all over the world. It can be a good way to make your mark as a composer, too. A lot of people love getting together and singing, so hopefully these pieces will end up having a life of their own.”

“I’m looking forward to hearing my music in St Mary’s, the entire space has a beautiful sound. It shapes the way I write because the acoustic of the building tends to favour quite slow music, the chords take time to arrive then slowly fade before moving on to the next one.”

“I’ve been involved in a couple of really interesting concerts at St Mary’s and its soft echo makes for wonderful music.”

One of the interesting things for Lachlan is the way in which his own compositions ‘sit’ within a program. In this case Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna, Bach and Mahler.

“Knowing the actual sequence of works in advance and how they might fit together can be quite helpful. It gives you a hint of the shape for your own piece, and in which direction it may go within the ‘architecture’ of the concert. Last year one of my piano pieces ended between two Mozart quartets and it turned out well. I’d like my music to speak in a similar way to Brahms with an emphasis on musicians coming together to communicate both between themselves and to an audience.”

“As long as you try to make it as close to perfection as possible I don’t think it matters where it sits in the program.”

Lachlan’s early musical education was conventional enough, but then took a somewhat exotic turn.

“I didn’t come from a family of musicians, but there was always a lot of music at home. I played piano and then had lessons on the recorder, which led to the clarinet. I found a wonderful teacher in Jack Harrison, the ex-principal WASO clarinettist, and was accepted into the Perth Modern music program.”

“I studied at UWA, immersed myself in the music of Brahms and Copeland, who both wrote superb music for the clarinet. I’d had about 16 years of education in institutions by then, so I went to Japan to teach English. I was utterly captivated by the Japanese Shakuhachi bamboo flute and eventually went to Sydney to study with a master of the instrument, Riley Lee.”

“It’s a very nuanced sound with highly emotive melodies, not unlike Brahms in many ways.”

Lachlan’s profile as a composer is on the rise. He was awarded the Paul Lowin Prize for orchestral composition in 2014 and his work, Spiritus, was the winner of last year’s New England Philharmonic’s Call for Scores.

“I try to experiment and be creative, but still sit write music that most audiences will enjoy. It can be a struggle to avoid ‘dead spots’ and sometimes I’ll put notes down and think, ‘that’s pretty nice’. But often it’s not ‘nice’ enough and out it comes.”

“But you can’t do too much of that one week before a deadline.”

By Peter McClelland

ED: WASO Chorus St Mary’s Cathedral Lux Aeterna September 24, 2pm