Q&A with Gemma Turvey

We caught up with NPCO Artistic Director Gemma Turvey to talk about her new composition Prism, ahead of its first performance as part of their concert at Melbourne Recital Centre Salon next month.


Q: Tell us about your new composition, Prism?


A: I composed most of Prism back in April 2016, but put it to one side as other priorities took hold.  When Melbourne Recital Centre invited us to perform this year, I saw the perfect opportunity to premiere it and program an entire concert around the prism theme.


Sometimes when I compose the majority of the work comes out in one sitting, which is a blessed thing! When this happens, I haven’t sat down and decided “I’m going to compose a piece about ‘x’.” Rather, it interrupts my plans for the day and almost plays itself, although often at a slower tempo to begin with! This is what happened with this piece.


Q: Why did you call it Prism?


A: I knew immediately when I started playing that the music was inspired by a close friend who was navigating a very difficult phase in her life. Watching her situation unfold was like trying to look through a prism – something that distorts, slants, or colours whatever is viewed through it. This doesn’t mean the piece has blurred lines or lots of distortion, although now I think of it there are a lot of semitones which create some harmonic ‘clashes’! But there is also a lot of compassion and empathy in the work.


Q: Prism is written for Piano and String Quartet, sometimes referred to as a Piano Quintet. What made you choose to write for this combination?


A: At the time of composing, I could hear String Quartet and Piano, but interestingly I didn’t hear an obvious role for any other instrument. I think subconsciously I had been wanting to write a piece for Piano Quintet for a long time anyway, and this presented a good opportunity.


Q: What can audiences expect from the rest of the concert next month?


A: This is our last concert for the year, so we’re sure to all have a lot of fun! The rest of the repertoire centres around the ‘prism’ theme, so varying angles of perception and illusion. I know some people’s first association with a prism might be Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon classic album cover. There won’t be any Pink Floyd, but I think thats about all this concert is lacking!

I’ve really enjoyed selecting the repertoire and am bursting to share it, and the stories that go with them. Phoebe and I will perform Arvo Pärt’s sublime Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in Mirror), which I’ve wanted an excuse to program for a long time.  I’ve also enjoyed arranging Piazzolla’s Oblivion for the group. It has such a great melody, and Jeremy (our first violinist) will really make it sing.  And we’re all very excited about Campbell taking on Eugene Friesen’s Shadow Play as well as Ligeti’s Dialogo for solo cello! Plus we’ll perform Brisbane composer & saxophonist Rafael Karlen’s gorgeous work Sweetness of Things Half Remembered. Every time I think about it, this concert is simply overflowing with great music! 


Hear Gemma and NPCO String Quartet perform Prism on Friday 17th November 7pm at Melbourne Recital Centre, Salon. Tickets $39 Book online at melbournerecital.com.au or phone 03 9699 3333