Interview with Australian Composer – Peggy Polias

Sydney born Peggy Polas is a deserving jury winner in the 2021 ‘Composing the Future’ competition. Her solo piano composition ‘Sonata: Ode’, inspired by an ancient Sumerian poem, is given its debut performance by pianist Bernadette Harvey on 2 December in Coff’s Harbour, marking the 45th anniversary of The Sydney. Book HERE. Let’s hear more from Peggy on the inspiration behind her new work: 

Composing the Future 

Tell us about yourself. How did you discover the ‘Composing the Future’ competition?

I’ve been based in south-west Sydney for a long time. I’m a composer, casual academic, freelance music engraver, and for many years now have enjoyed an eclectic “portfolio” career in the arts, while I’ve honed my craft. As an active composer, I am always looking for opportunities that fit in with my current activities and that’s how the ‘Composing the Future Competition’ came onto my radar.

Is this your first time composing works for the piano?

No, my original introduction to music was as a young pianist chipping my way through the AMEB levels. I wasn’t a natural performer but I do love the instrument and have composed quite a few works for piano in the past, from the recent smaller scale Fragmentations on a Theme by Diabelli (2019) to the longer-form Picnic at Hanging Rock Suite (2009).

Do you compose for other instruments?

Absolutely, everything from a single line through to orchestra, with or without electronics.

You were part of the ‘Composing Women’ program in 2018-19. Is this a special interest for you and how has it influenced your work?

The pathway of motherhood for me has meant that I have intentionally pursued a longer-tail career trajectory. This is in line with the time that it seems to take for composers to build a personal style and reputation that I have observed out in the ‘real world’. I decided to apply for the Composing Women program, coinciding with my child reaching school age and have been able to successfully complete a Doctorate after a long break since my previous Masters studies.

I am very interested in and committed to matters of representation in the music industry. For me this has meant actively and deliberately participating in the industry, recognising the times when gender barriers may have meant I didn’t put myself forward, and working towards recalibrating those internalised barriers.

Participating in the Composing Women program in 2018-19 involved an intensive schedule of composing and workshopping with amazing musicians and organisations, often in multi-stage processes that allowed us to return to compositions as they evolved. The intensive aspect was not easy, given my various responsibilities, but I am really proud of the work produced and very grateful for and admiring of the many musicians I have had the opportunity to work with.

What was the inspiration behind Sonata: Ode?

Sonata: Ode is a musical setting of aspects of an ancient Sumerian poem, The Exaltation of Inanna, by Enheduanna, a priestess and poetess said to be the first attributed writer in human history. It explores various themes from the poem: glory, violence, spirit. The sonata also explores physical aspects of the poem, from its original Cuneiform inscription on clay tablets, to modern pencil transcriptions of the characters, to roman transliteration of the syllables of the ancient language to an English translation, all freely available online and in high resolution in this amazing digital age.

Where will you be when you see it first performed live?

I am very much looking forward to attending the solo premiere by Bernadette Harvey in Coffs Harbour on the 2 December.

How will you feel hearing it played for the first time?

Composers often have nerves during the premiere of a work but in a sense our work is done once the composition is in the capable hands of an amazing performer. I am looking forward to the combined feeling of trust, pride and awe at Bernadette’s capability and sensitivity at the piano.

What legacy would you like to leave behind with the creation of your works?

With each new composition I aim to create a strong sensory impression of the thing that inspired the work, something that is a bit beautiful and a bit weird. I hope that across the body of music I make that there will be moments that shift listeners’ perceptions of time.