Roger Smalley, 1943–2015
I was so sad to hear after our concert last night that composer, pianist, teacher and long-time friend of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Roger Smalley had died. He was only 72.
My first encounter performing Roger’s music was Strung-out for 13 solo strings. It was October 1990 at the Canberra School of Music and I had only been with the ACO for about a year. But I knew immediately that this was a composer with whom I had an affinity. We went on to play Strung-out all around Australia, as well as on tour to Slovenia, Austria, England, China, and the US, including a sold-out performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall. And I am so pleased that Strung-out is enshrined permanently for audiences around the world, as it is one of the featured works in ACO VIRTUAL – our interactive installation.
For our 30th anniversary, Barbara Blackman (whose husband was painter Charles Blackman) commissioned Roger to write a piece for us, Birthday Tango (later renamed Footwork), a work we have performed about 30 times. It won the 2007 Australian Classical Music Award for Best Composition by an Australian composer.
Roger had an extraordinary life. He was born in Manchester, England, studying with some of the greats – Peter Racine Fricker, John White, Alexander Goehr, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez. Not only was he an incredibly talented composer but he was also a gifted pianist and teacher. He established the new music program at the University of Western Australia, where he was a key player for about 30 years.
I read many obituaries this morning that catalogue his numerous awards and amazing achievements. But a quote he gave to The West Australian in 2008 really resonated with me:
“There is a strong feeling about the place these days that music is something you have burbling around in the background and to relax to… It’s not that I don’t want to appeal to the listener. I do. I don’t want them to turn off but I like to write music that has some kind of content to it. Something that you can latch on to and follow in the way of a musical argument that keeps the brain stimulated rather than ‘chilled-out’.”
Thanks for keeping us inspired and stimulated Roger.
Richard Tognetti Artistic Director & Violin