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Q&A with Mark Holdsworth

Q&A with Mark Holdsworth

PHOTOGRAPHY Elle Borgward/Community Newspaper Group (Mark Holdsworth)

Mark Holdsworth

Acclaimed local muso Mark Holdsworth recently won the prestigious Dorothy Ellen Ransom Prize in Musical Composition, an award to UWA students for an orchestral arrangement of seven minutes or less. We chat about the inspiration behind his prize-winning composition, Odyssey.

What were you trying to achieve with your composition?
I wanted to create an epic-sounding piece for a large orchestra. I tried to do an unconventional thing. Contemporary music is experimental, and composers tend to focus on articulating intellectual and philosophical points. But I’m more of a Romantic – my principal focus has always been wanting to touch people, to communicate emotion. In this piece, I tried to marry Romantic notions with modern practices to try and create something new and innovative. 

What was it like writing for an orchestra?
I’ve never written properly for an orchestra before. A lot of my work is structured around epic poems – I try to do that to give them purpose. With Odyssey there are some really experimental parts, where you hear moments that sound like a horror scene, kind of strange tone colours coming from the orchestra, but I’ve framed them to make them purposeful, to further the narrative.

What is that narrative?
It’s based on Homer’s Odyssey. The basic idea is that Odysseus is away from home. It’s a story about homecoming that flows on from the Trojan War, about how he’s changed with the journey, about how his wife is waiting for him with all the suitors trying to marry her, and the long journey home.

What was challenging about writing it?
The time limit was challenging – it’s difficult to build a theme in that time. I tried to do that in a condensed form, by creating, like, blocks of music that were all separate, but related to each other, and have them follow one another in a rapid sequence to give a sense of time passing.

What are you going to work on next?
For my honours recital I’ll compose something for string instruments. The violin is my favourite, it’s the closest thing to a human voice. And then I’ll do a masters – maybe Iliad as an opera.

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