Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Composer, writer, broadcaster, raconteur - Andrew Ford

Andrew Ford

THE fourth and final in the Canberra Critics Circle Winter Conversations series for 2018 took place at the Canberra Museum and Gallery on Monday, August 6, with composer, writer, broadcaster and present H.C. Coombs Creative Arts Fellow at the ANU, Andrew Ford, as the circle’s guest.
Probably best-known to the critics as presenter, since 1995, of The Music Show each weekend on ABC Radio National, he joins an illustrious line of Coombs fellows, including Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Don Burrows, Xavier Herbert, Christina Stead and Judith Wright.

Ford as a composer has won many awards, including the 2004 Paul Lowin Prize for his song cycle Learning to Howl, a 2010 Green Room Award for his opera Rembrandt's Wife and the 2012 Albert H Maggs Prize for his large ensemble piece, Rauha. 

During the conversation, he told the critics of the compositions, recordings and composing workshops he was undertaking this year, but stressed that the university allowed him to be the initiator of what he did under the fellowship. In fact he had come to the conversation fresh from a workshop during which he saw students playing some of his own compositions.

The evening proved to be a genuine conversation with the critics, in which he ranged over his upbringing in Liverpool, England, describing how he had listened as a child to all the different kinds of music in his mother’s considerable record collection the later come under the prevailing influence of the Beatles and Merseyside music. His less than brilliant career as a student pianist from age 8 was something he was later to overcome.

A consummate raconteur, Ford sketched his earliest days as a composer, something which came upon him after a Damascus Road-type encounter with the music of Stockhausen, which got caught him thinking, “I want to do that.“

Pouring gentle scorn on the idea that you go to university to “learn to be a composer," he suggested that composers are driven by a fundamental urge to compose.

But in fact his academic studies at the University of Lancaster and his job lecturing in Australia at the University of Wollongong had introduced him to the historical and musicological essentials of music as well as to other subjects, notably comparative religion, from which he had drawn the principle that it was necessary to respect the beliefs of others as ‘right’. That principle, he said, should also be at the basis of arts criticism too.

The notable eclecticism of Ford’s musical interests was the subject of some discussion, although he told those present that when analysed, it turned out that that 40 percent of The Music Show was devoted to classical traditions and 40 per cent to “all the rest.”

Ford is of course more than a commentator. He has been composer-in-residence for the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) and the Australian Festival of Chamber Music. In 2014 he was Poynter Fellow and Visiting Composer at Yale University and, in 2015, visiting lecturer at the Shanghai Conservatory. A former academic, Ford has written widely on all manner of music and published nine books, most recently The Memory of Music, (Black Inc., 2017) to which he referred several times. 

Because of the breadth of his knowledge and experience, the tone of this winter conversation was relaxed, with lots of backward and forward questions and answers.

But to the music critics present, perhaps the most affecting parts of the session were found in his detailed explanation of moments in his own composing life. His description of hearing one of his own works played contrary to his initial intent was particularly intriguing. 

As Ford said, he’s getting more tolerant as the years go by.

The Canberra Critics Circle winter conversations will continue in winter 2019.
Helen Musa, convenor of the CCC