Sydney Symphony Orchestra Viola player and composer, Justin Williams was awarded a jury prize in the 2021 ‘Composing the Future’ competition with his solo piano composition ‘Three Intermezzi’. Let’s hear more from Justin on the inspiration behind his new work:
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you live, what do you do and how did you discover Composing the Future Competition?
I live in Sydney with my wife, Lerida and our Golden Retriever ‘Tuppence’! I play the viola in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and with the Tinalley String Quartet, and I love to compose.
From memory, I think I read about ‘Composing the Future’ Competition in Limelight Magazine.
Is this your first time composing works for the piano?
No. I was drawn to composition when I was young, and I composed primarily for the piano. My first musical memory is playing the piano, and I studied it to a reasonably high level, although up until very recently I hadn’t played the piano for over twenty years, so my technique is a little rusty… In the absence of sufficient and experienced technical ability, one needs to rely on what one imagines to be technically possible, which is challenging.
Do you compose for other instruments?
Yes. My first serious attempt at composing was a work for string quartet which I finished in 2020. With a background in string quartet playing, it seemed to be a comfortable space within which to explore composition. I had the great fortune of being able to perform this work with members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Haveron, Lerida Delbridge and Umberto Clerici (now Chief Conductor of QSO). You can see this performance at https://www.sydneysymphony.com/backstage-news/justin-williams-movement-for-string-quartet
I’m currently writing a short set of songs for string quartet and baritone, which will be premiered at Blackheath Festival next April, and I have recently composed a Symphony which will be premiered by QSO next September under the direction of Chief Conductor Umberto Clerici.
What was the inspiration behind ‘Three Intermezzi’. Tell us a bit about the music. Is it dedicated to anyone?
No, the work isn’t dedicated to anyone.
I have always loved Brahms’ Intermezzi, in particular his Opus 117, so I immediately had it in mind to write three short concert pieces. However, my ‘Three Intermezzi’ are not at all based on Brahms’ works, thematically speaking, or even stylistically. These pieces are possibly more closely aligned to Debussy, and the expressionist works of Schoenberg.
The first piece is based on a semitone trill at the interval of a 3rd and explores drama through an abstract lens. The second piece is based on the form of a Rondo and is quirky by nature, and prone to moments of abrupt changes in character. The third and final piece is written in Ternary form and is a more personal form of expression.
Where will you be when you see it first performed live?
I was thrilled to be there when Daniel de Borah premiered this work at the Bendigo Chamber Music Festival in February.
How do you think you will feel seeing it played for the first time?
I was very excited and relieved to have it out there…
What legacy would you like to leave behind with the creation of your works?
That whatever I have written, I have written it with conviction and honesty.