New musical directions for Lachlan Skipworth

24 March 2022

The release of a new album from Lachlan Skipworth reveals fresh ideas from a composer convinced that classical music has relevance.

It’s been two years since Lachlan Skipworth’s last album was released. Since that time the world has changed and Skipworth’s new album released this month reflects this, marking a significant new direction for the West Australian composer.

“Since COVID began there hasn’t been as many opportunities for performances,” Skipworth says over the phone. “But we don’t have time to sit in a rabbit hole and wait for people to come and find us.”

There is mild urgency in his voice as he explains his desire to address the shrinking audiences for classical music and his decision to produce an album of chamber music people want to listen to.

“I have had to reevaluate what classical music is. A lot of the things I wanted to do became more relevant because of COVID. I want my music to be more immediately responsive, more expressive and less niche.”

Skipworth’s music is hardly niche. His composing career got off to a flying start in 2016 when he scooped the prestigious Paul Lowin Prize and APRA Art Music Award for his Clarinet Concerto and was took up a year-long residency with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. His music has been performed around the world by ensembles such as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Philharmonic, Musica Viva, the New England Philharmonic and the Australian String Quartet. But his yearning to connect even more with his listeners has propelled him to explore new principles.

“I wanted a better understanding of what happens in our brains when we play and listen to music… to learn new skills that would allow me to embed these principles at the heart of my compositions.”

A very hazy photo of a white sailed boat on water with the blue sky fading to gold on the horizon
Skipworth’s new album ‘Chamber Works Vol. II’ features a photo by Fran Forman on the cover. Image supplied

Skipworth’s curiosity was aroused by the writings of David Huron, whose research explores how our brains rationalise sound. In particular, how we innately prefer a particular style and amount of complexity in music, and how delaying or suspending what we expect to hear can trigger a greater sense of joy when the music finally resolves. The ideas have greatly influenced the way Skipworth writes.

His new album showcases the results of exploring these ideas over the past two years. “Chamber Works Vol. II” is his third full album, following the orchestral album “Breath of Thunder” in 2020 and “Chamber Works” in 2019.

It is an album that moves between gentle invitation and firm assertiveness. There is less textural exploration of sound and decay, which was a central aspect of Skipworth’s earlier music (due in part to his fascination with the soundworld of the shakuhachi) and more of an enhanced focus on well-crafted melody.

Skipworth has gathered recordings from the cream of Australia’s chamber musicians, including the Syzygy Ensemble who perform the 2018 piece The Crossing. It’s an example of Skipworth’s first attempts to simplify his harmonic language and resist the voice of his restless inner artistic critic whispering ‘make it more interesting’ and is the most overtly minimalist work on the album.

Oboist Diana Doherty and the Streeton Trio perform an exquisite recording of Skipworth’s 2020 Oboe Quartet, where you can hear residual hints of shakuhachi moods evoked in the slow movement. Flautist Andrew Nicholson gives a sizzling rendition of the virtuosic Flute Sonata from 2020 and Liam Wooding performs the Michael Nyman-esque piano solo Shingetsu.

Pianist Jonathan Bradley is accompanied by Cygnus Arioso (a Perth ensemble co-directed by Skipworth) in the hypnotic 2020 Piano Quartet, originally composed as the soundtrack for a virtual reality dance film.

Light Rain, performed shakuhachi player Bronwyn Kirkpatrick and string quartet, is the exception; a throwback to 2009 with its trance-like intensity and explorations of texture and haze.

The album is beautifully produced by Skipworth, who financed the project through crowd funding. The mastering was done by Lee Buddle at Crank Recording.

All the recordings are by musicians who have also performed the music live, which is key for Skipworth, who wants his music to be more than just a recording.

“I like my music to be tested on a live stage, and for it to be fun for the musicians to play,” explains Skipworth. “I want to shine a light on what is great about classical music, and performance is a key part. I want my music to be vibrant and energising to listen to, but also to suggest more; to invite people to come back and develop a strong relationship with it so it becomes part of their lives.”

‘Chamber Works Vol. II’ is available as both compact disk and digital download on Bandcamp and other streaming platforms.

Pictured top: Composer Lachlan Skipworth released his third album ‘Chamber Works Vol. II’ on 18 March 2022.

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She was co-managing editor and founding board member of Seesaw Magazine 2018 – 2023, is author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine (UK). She loves park percussion instruments.

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