dream big, and make room for conversation

Forest Collective's artistic director Evan Lawson writes about the importance of conversation for successful collaboration - conversation both before, and, crucially, also after the concert. Forest Collective's next event takes place at Abbotsford Convent on25-27 May, a collaboration with queer artist Addison, with arrangements by Lawson. The Collective's concert in November 2018 will feature works by three of the AMC's Associate artists, Jakob BraggAlex Turley and Samantha Wolf.

There are two prongs to programming - firstly, the fun one: creating a 'pipe dream' list and dreaming up huge possibilities for collaborators, commissions, and venues. And then the pragmatic one: how the project will actually work, and what it will take from an operational perspective to make it happen. At Forest Collective, we have limitations because of tight finances - a challenge faced by many ensembles and artistic collectives, both emerging and otherwise - but this limitation also allows us significant freedoms. We do not have to adhere to any specific funding guidelines, so working creatively within those aforementioned limitations, we are afforded the opportunity to dream as big as we possibly can.

When I'm speaking with collaborators, I frequently quote a piece of advice given to me by my theatre mentor, David Chisholm, who said the best way to approach any new project is to work within the largest canvas you can dream up. There's no point putting restrictions on yourself to begin with because you can always make things smaller or narrow the plans down the track. I've learned it's significantly harder to go big after you undersell your idea than cut back if you've drafted something huge.

There are always risks that are taken at the beginning of a project, that may work spectacularly or fail just as well. As I continue to build works, both with Forest and outside of it, I'm learning that the inevitability of failure is not something to shy away from, but, in fact, something to embrace from the beginning. Allowing yourself the opportunity to create and acknowledging that things will, in fact, go wrong at some point during the process, is the exact freedom that I try to instill in all the members of the Collective.

A huge part of this process has been fostering conversation between performers, collaborators, patrons and management personnel, with a focus on what is discussed once the applause has died down and the project has come to an end. In classical music, you often don't get the opportunity to debrief after a performance - there are the usual discussions during the rehearsal period before an audience is invited in, and, while you may consider how to make the work better for next time once the concert is over, there is often not the time allocated to talk about the process of putting the work on stage in the first place.

With Forest Collective, I'm interested in developing a space for collaboration and conversation, and am seeing the most value in having these conversations once the project is over. Regardless of how well the project has gone, we bring people together and talk about the process from start to finish, allowing everyone to share their thoughts and suggestions for how things can run next time. It means shifting the focus from the wrong notes or technical difficulties to the rehearsal period, the conversations, and the value of collaborating. We hear a lot about the fact that the performance is the 'final' thing, but I've found this to be untrue. Focussing on the life of a work outside of our performance, even if it was a commission from the collective, is crucial not only for the composer but for the wider artistic community. Compositions deserve more airtime than they're given, and the philosophy that any given work has room to grow and be improved upon helps us stay accountable to the people we collaborate with.

My job as Artistic Director of Forest Collective means a lot of artistic things, as the title suggests - creating programs and approaching composers, lighting designers, and opera singers - but the most important role I play is one of mediator; allowing conversations to happen and managing expectations. It's my job to make sure everyone has a voice in the ensemble, not only artistically but personally. In all forms of art, the most important factor is the people - those onstage and those offstage - and balancing collaborations and conversations between people is how we get things done. For all the roles I play within the ensemble, the thing I've always been most interested in is teamwork. Honestly, only 10% of your time is spent on music, when you account for the management and administrative work that is required ahead of mounting a show!

Giving composers, including myself, a constructive but nourishing environment is a really important part of Forest, and one we take very seriously. Part of our philosophy has always been the importance of supporting emerging composers and giving them the opportunity to work 'up-close-and-personal' with individual musicians, meaning part of my job is facilitating those opportunities with the ensemble. For our end-of-year concert in November, we have commissioned two works from young Australian composers - Jakob Bragg (QLD) and Alex Turley (WA) - and we will be giving the second performance of a work from Samantha Wolf (QLD).

I have been a fan of Jakob's music for a while and have admired his compositional aesthetic and work ethic since I met him in 2016. I heard Alex Turley's work during the Cybec showcase with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and was impressed with his cinematic colour palette and understanding of orchestration. Samantha's work, The more I talk about it the bigger it gets, which she wrote during her studies in composition at the University of Melbourne, is an important one, focusing on the experience, as a woman, of walking home at night. The piece explores danger and freedom for women and is an important conversation for us to continue in this second performance of the work.

I am always thrilled and excited to provide opportunities to create and perform new sounds. I think it's essential that emerging and developing artists are given wide and many opportunities to broaden their practice, but most importantly an environment where risks can be taken without judgement.



Crown of Ptherirein program note

The crown is the perfection of deceit, it is the deceit that circles in on itself, it is that perfection which includes deceit within it.

-Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, Roberto Calasso


This quote from the 1988 book is in relation to the gift of a crown from Dionysus to Ariadne during his seduction of her.

In ancient Greek ptherirein means to destroy but also to seduce. This piece plays with the dichotomy of these two ideas.  My inspiration for the piece is also peppered with the power play between human woman and immortal, male god. A majority of my music focuses on these ancient greek stories and I am very interested in this idea of manipulation and seduction, a recurring theme of these tales.

Another interesting factor with such old myths is that they can have various versions. In Ariadne's’ case, one telling of the story Dionysus rapes her, in another he seduces her, and in yet another she is a willing participant in the seduction.

All these elements are at play in this piece, twisting and turning in a musical labyrinth where I play with flow and transfer of energy.

This is the second piece I’ve had the pleasure of writing for Crystal, having met at the 2015 SoundSCAPE New Music Festival in Italy. I want to thank her for the opportunity and wish her the best with this performance.      

Peane from Hyacinth program note

Peane for Hyacinth opens with a dark and cold first movement introduces the listener to the

main musical material present throughout the work. This bleeds into the opening chords of

the second movement. The second movement is relatively conventional in its structure with

passages for soloists, orchestra, and a cadenza followed by a coda. The third movement is a

short flourish for the orchestra, a sort of “dawn chorus” followed by a duet or love song for

the two soloists with some interjections from the orchestra.


The work’s title and inspiration come from the mythology of Hyacinth who loved Apollo but

in an attempt to show off to the God, the young hero threw a discus and in trying to catch it

the west wind Zephyr killed him. It is from his death that the flower bearing his name was



A “peane” is a hymn in the name of Apollo. This work is a depiction of a love song the young

hero (the clarinet) may have sung to Apollo (in traditional Greek mythology represented by

the Lyre – in this composition, the Harp).


The orchestra’s role at the beginning is as Zephyr, eventually taking over by the end of the

movement. The third movement, (dawn chorus) is inspired by the natural world followed by a

final love duet for the hero and the God.


This work was premiered as a three-movement version in August 2012 with myself playing

clarinet, Catherine Ashley on harp and the Victorian Youth Symphony Orchestra conducted

by Patrick Burns. Tonight, we hear the recently revised version which includes a new first


Sikinnis III for solo piano

Sikinnis III (2015) follows from two previous works for solo flute (2010), flute, viola and harp (2013) and piano (2016).

A sikinnis is a vigorous dance performed during a satyr play in ancient Greece theatre. These dances are strongly associated with the half-faun character of satyr’s and generally explore hyper-masculine, male fantasy.   

In my works titled “Sikinnis” I am generally exploring the idea of dance, joy and sexuality. In these pieces I generally contrast two musical ideas with different aural outcomes, and to me, emotional experiences. In this third Sikinnis I’m most interested in the muddy, almost overly resonant textures, as at the beginning of the piece. To me there is a fascinating melancholy in the sustained sounds available with use of the piano pedal.  

Generally these moments arise from the lower register of the piano to then focus on more hyperactive rhythms.

This is contrasted with higher register material which is less rhythmically rapid and more focused on melody, line and a sense of sparkly-ness.

There is a third element in block chords, which help form a basis for the ongoing resonance of the piece.     

New Opera

Name a company championing, or even just presenting an opera from our time?

"The artist needs an ivory tower, not as an escape from the world, but as a place where he can view the world and be himself. This tower is for the artist like a lighthouse shining out across the world."

Charles Koechlin 

Demeter And Persephone

Faint as a climate-changing bird that flies
All night across the darkness, and at dawn
Falls on the threshold of her native land,
And can no more, thou camest, O my child,
Led upward by the God of ghosts and dreams,
Who laid thee at Eleusis, dazed and dumb,
With passing thro' at once from state to state,
Until I brought thee hither, that the day,
When here thy hands let fall the gather'd flower,
Might break thro' clouded memories once again
On thy lost self. A sudden nightingale
Saw thee, and flash'd into a frolic of song
And welcome; and a gleam as of the moon,
When first she peers along the tremulous deep,
Fled wavering o'er thy face, and chased away
That shadow of a likeness to the king
Of shadows, thy dark mate. Persephone!
Queen of the dead no more -- my child! Thine eyes
Again were human-godlike, and the Sun
Burst from a swimming fleece of winter gray,
And robed thee in his day from head to feet --
"Mother!" and I was folded in thine arms.

Child, those imperial, disimpassion'd eyes
Awed even me at first, thy mother -- eyes
That oft had seen the serpent-wanded power
Draw downward into Hades with his drift
Of fickering spectres, lighted from below
By the red race of fiery Phlegethon;
But when before have Gods or men beheld
The Life that had descended re-arise,
And lighted from above him by the Sun?
So mighty was the mother's childless cry,
A cry that ran thro' Hades, Earth, and Heaven!

So in this pleasant vale we stand again,
The field of Enna, now once more ablaze
With flowers that brighten as thy footstep falls,
All flowers -- but for one black blur of earth
Left by that closing chasm, thro' which the car
Of dark Aidoneus rising rapt thee hence.
And here, my child, tho' folded in thine arms,
I feel the deathless heart of motherhood
Within me shudder, lest the naked glebe
Should yawn once more into the gulf, and thence
The shrilly whinnyings of the team of Hell,
Ascending, pierce the glad and songful air,
And all at once their arch'd necks, midnight-maned,
Jet upward thro' the mid-day blossom. No!
For, see, thy foot has touch'd it; all the space
Of blank earth-baldness clothes itself afresh,
And breaks into the crocus-purple hour
That saw thee vanish.

Child, when thou wert gone,
I envied human wives, and nested birds,
Yea, the cubb'd lioness; went in search of thee
Thro' many a palace, many a cot, and gave
Thy breast to ailing infants in the night,
And set the mother waking in amaze
To find her sick one whole; and forth again
Among the wail of midnight winds, and cried,
"Where is my loved one? Wherefore do ye wail?"
And out from all the night an answer shrill'd,
"We know not, and we know not why we wail."
I climb'd on all the cliffs of all the seas,
And ask'd the waves that moan about the world
"Where? do ye make your moaning for my child?"
And round from all the world the voices came
"We know not, and we know not why we moan."
"Where?" and I stared from every eagle-peak,
I thridded the black heart of all the woods,
I peer'd thro' tomb and cave, and in the storms
Of Autumn swept across the city, and heard
The murmur of their temples chanting me,
Me, me, the desolate Mother! "Where"? -- and turn'd,
And fled by many a waste, forlorn of man,
And grieved for man thro' all my grief for thee, --
The jungle rooted in his shatter'd hearth,
The serpent coil'd about his broken shaft,
The scorpion crawling over naked skulls; --
I saw the tiger in the ruin'd fane
Spring from his fallen God, but trace of thee
I saw not; and far on, and, following out
A league of labyrinthine darkness, came
On three gray heads beneath a gleaming rift.
"Where"? and I heard one voice from all the three
"We know not, for we spin the lives of men,
And not of Gods, and know not why we spin!
There is a Fate beyond us." Nothing knew.

Last as the likeness of a dying man,
Without his knowledge, from him flits to warn
A far-off friendship that he comes no more,
So he, the God of dreams, who heard my cry,
Drew from thyself the likeness of thyself
Without thy knowledge, and thy shadow past
Before me, crying "The Bright one in the highest
Is brother of the Dark one in the lowest,
And Bright and Dark have sworn that I, the child
Of thee, the great Earth-Mother, thee, the Power
That lifts her buried life from loom to bloom,
Should be for ever and for evermore
The Bride of Darkness."

So the Shadow wail'd.
Then I, Earth-Goddess, cursed the Gods of Heaven.
I would not mingle with their feasts; to me
Their nectar smack'd of hemlock on the lips,
Their rich ambrosia tasted aconite.
The man, that only lives and loves an hour,
Seem'd nobler than their hard Eternities.
My quick tears kill'd the flower, my ravings hush'd
The bird, and lost in utter grief I fail'd
To send my life thro' olive-yard and vine
And golden grain, my gift to helpless man.
Rain-rotten died the wheat, the barley-spears
Vere hollow-husk'd, the leaf fell, and the sun,
Pale at my grief, drew down before his time
Sickening, and tna kept her winter snow.
Then He, the brother of this Darkness, He
Who still is highest, glancing from his height
On earth a fruitless fallow, when he miss'd
The wonted steam of sacrifice, the praise
And prayer of men, decreed that thou should'st dwell
For nine white moons of each whole year with me,
Three dark ones in the shadow with thy King.

Once more the reaper in the gleam of dawn
Will see me by the landmark far away,
Blessing his field, or seated in the dusk
Of even, by the lonely threshing-floor,
Rejoicing in the harvest and the grange.
Yet I, Earth-Goddess, am but ill-content
With them, who still are highest. Those gray heads,
What meant they by their "Fate beyond the Fates"
But younger kindlier Gods to bear us down,
As we bore down the Gods before us? Gods,
To quench, not hurl the thunderbolt, to stay,
Not spread the plague, the famine; Gods indeed,
To send the noon into the night and break
The sunless halls of Hades into Heaven?
Till thy dark lord accept and love the Sun,
And all the Shadow die into the Light,
When thou shalt dwell the whole bright year with me,
And souls of men, who grew beyond their race,
And made themselves as Gods against the fear
Of Death and Hell; and thou that hast from men,
As Queen of Death, that worship which is Fear,
Henceforth, as having risen from out the dead,
Shalt ever send thy life along with mine
From buried grain thro' springing blade, and bless
Their garner'd Autumn also, reap with me,
Earth-mother, in the harvest hymns of Earth
The worship which is Love, and see no more
The Stone, the Wheel, the dimly-glimmering lawns
Of that Elysium, all the hateful fires
Of torment, and the shadowy warrior glide
Along the silent field of Asphodel. 

Alfred Lord Tennyson


"The way that Hadrian took the boy on his travels, kept close to him at moments of spiritual, moral or physical exaltation, and, after his death, surrounded himself with his images, shows an obsessive craving for his presence, a mystical-religious need for his companionship."

Lambert, Royston (1984). Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous. George Weidenfeld & Nicolson.



As I floated down impassive Rivers,

I felt myself no longer pulled by ropes:

The Redskins took my hauliers for targets,

And nailed them naked to their painted posts.


Carrying Flemish wheat or English cotton,

I was indifferent to all my crews.

The Rivers let me float down as I wished,

When the victims and the sounds were through.


Into the furious breakers of the sea,

Deafer than the ears of a child, last winter,

I ran! And the Peninsulas sliding by me

Never heard a more triumphant clamour.


The tempest blessed my sea-borne arousals.

Lighter than a cork I danced those waves

They call the eternal churners of victims,

Ten nights, without regret for the lighted bays!


Sweeter than sour apples to the children

The green ooze spurting through my hull’s pine,

Washed me of vomit and the blue of wine,

Carried away my rudder and my anchor.


Then I bathed in the Poem of the Sea,

Infused with stars, the milk-white spume blends,

Grazing green azures: where ravished, bleached

Flotsam, a drowned man in dream descends.


Where, staining the blue, sudden deliriums

And slow tremors under the gleams of fire,

Stronger than alcohol, vaster than our rhythms,

Ferment the bitter reds of our desire!


I knew the skies split apart by lightning,

Waterspouts, breakers, tides: I knew the night,

The Dawn exalted like a crowd of doves,

I saw what men think they’ve seen in the light!


I saw the low sun, stained with mystic terrors,

Illuminate long violet coagulations,

Like actors in a play, a play that’s ancient,

Waves rolling back their trembling of shutters!


I dreamt the green night of blinded snows,

A kiss lifted slow to the eyes of seas,

The circulation of unheard-of flows,

Sung phosphorus’s blue-yellow awakenings!


For months on end, I’ve followed the swell

That batters at the reefs like terrified cattle,

Not dreaming the Three Marys’ shining feet

Could muzzle with their force the Ocean’s hell!


I’ve struck Floridas, you know, beyond belief,

Where eyes of panthers in human skins,

Merge with the flowers! Rainbow bridles, beneath

the seas’ horizon, stretched out to shadowy fins!


I’ve seen the great swamps boil, and the hiss

Where a whole whale rots among the reeds!

Downfalls of water among tranquilities,

Distances showering into the abyss.


Nacrous waves, silver suns, glaciers, ember skies!

Gaunt wrecks deep in the brown vacuities

Where the giant eels riddled with parasites

Fall, with dark perfumes, from the twisted trees!


I would have liked to show children dolphins

Of the blue wave, the golden singing fish.

– Flowering foams rocked me in my drift,

At times unutterable winds gave me wings.


Sometimes, a martyr tired of poles and zones,

The sea whose sobs made my roilings sweet

Showed me its shadow flowers with yellow mouths

And I rested like a woman on her knees...


Almost an isle, blowing across my sands, quarrels

And droppings of pale-eyed clamorous gulls,

And I scudded on while, over my frayed lines,

Drowned men sank back in sleep beneath my hull!...


Now I, a boat lost in the hair of bays,

Hurled by the hurricane through bird-less ether,

I, whose carcass, sodden with salt-sea water,

No Monitor or Hanseatic vessel could recover:


Freed, in smoke, risen from the violet fog,

I, who pierced the red skies like a wall,

Bearing the sweets that delight true poets,

Lichens of sunlight, gobbets of azure:


Who ran, stained with electric moonlets,

A crazed plank, companied by black sea-horses,

When Julys were crushing with cudgel blows

Skies of ultramarine in burning funnels:


I, who trembled to hear those agonies

Of rutting Behemoths and dark Maelstroms,

Eternal spinner of blue immobilities,

I regret the ancient parapets of Europe!


I’ve seen archipelagos of stars! And isles

Whose maddened skies open for the sailor:

– Is it in depths of night you sleep, exiled,

Million birds of gold, O future Vigour? –


But, truly, I’ve wept too much! The Dawns

Are heartbreaking, each moon hell, each sun bitter:

Fierce love has swallowed me in drunken torpors.

O let my keel break! Tides draw me down!


If I want one pool in Europe, it’s the cold

Black pond where into the scented night

A child squatting filled with sadness launches

A boat as frail as a May butterfly.


Bathed in your languor, waves, I can no longer

Cut across the wakes of cotton ships,

Or sail against the pride of flags, ensigns,

Or swim the dreadful gaze of prison ships.





A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels

Someday I’ll talk about your secret birth-cries,

A, black velvet jacket of brilliant flies

That buzz around the stenches of the cruel,


Gulfs of shadow: E, candour of mists, of tents,

Lances of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of parsley:

I, purples, bloody salivas, smiles of the lonely

With lips of anger or drunk with penitence:


U, waves, divine shudders of viridian seas,

Peace of pastures, cattle-filled, peace of furrows

Formed on broad studious brows by alchemy:


O, supreme Clarion, full of strange stridencies,

Silences crossed by worlds and by Angels:

O, the Omega, violet ray of her Eyes!


The Rooks

(Les Corbeaux)


Lord, when the fields are cold,

When, in the abject hamlets,

The long angelus is silent...

On nature, deflowered, old,

Falling from the open sky

Let the lovely rooks sweep by.


Strange army with your stern calls,

Cold winds attack your nests!

You, along the yellowed river-edge,

Over the roads’ with old crosses, fall,

Over the wayside ditches, and the alleys,

Disperse yourselves, then rally!


In thousands, over the fields of France,

Where sleep the dead of yesteryear,

Wheel, then, in the wintry air,

So each traveller, at a glance

Remembers! Be the call to duty,

O our black funereal beauty!


But, saints of heaven, at the oak’s top,

Mast lost in the charm of fading day,

Leave the little warblers of May

For those imprisoned in the copse,

In depths from which one cannot flee,

Who defeat, without a future, see.