This past year has been a most exhilarating one for Australian composer Margaret Brandman, a year filled with international musical adventures in far-flung places. Her European travels began in September last year, with a trip to the Czech Republic, to supervise the recording of her orchestral music for the CD SENSATIONS. This was by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of Petr Vronský.
Brandman’s feet hardly touched the ground after the European trip, when in November she set off for Havana, Cuba, where musicians of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba recorded her suite Warm Winds in Havana for saxophone quartet and percussion, which is included in the compilation CD ABRAZO (Embrace).
Both CDs have been produced by the American recording company Parma Recordings, which has a reputation for producing quality recordings of contemporary music, with both US-based and international orchestras. SENSATIONS was recently released on the Navona label.
The story behind the title is a very personal one and tied in with Brandman’s dramatic family history. Her father, his siblings and parents managed to escape persecution in Nazi Germany, through their chance meeting with William Mackay, NSW commissioner for police in 1936, who visited the Brandman Jewellery store in Berlin. It was Mackay who sponsored the family to come to Australia, enabling them to leave Berlin shortly before war broke out, in 1939. In the family archives, Brandman happened to find a photo taken of the family business in Berlin c1934, with a large banner saying ‘SENSATION’ on the building. She felt that in homage to her very musical family, and as each of her works on the CD presents a different musical sensation, that this would be the ideal title for the album. This treasured photo is included in the artwork for the CD.
The central work on SENSATIONS is Firestorm Symphony, written after the composer experienced the bushfires in 1994 and the Christmas Day fires in 2001 whilst living in Glenbrook in the NSW Blue Mountains. The three movements portray the sounds of the wildlife and the wind during the approaching fire along with the dangerous flare-ups, the devastation and sorrow after the fire, and the eventual renewal of the bush and return to the beautiful life in the Blue Mountains. This film clip, gives some background to the writing and recording of the work: https://youtu.be/53brzaCtgTg
Brandman had already planned to travel to Europe for the recording of SENSATIONS, when Parma Recordings put out a call for scores for their proposed visit to Cuba for the inaugural Havana Sessions in November 2015. She casually forwarded some of her scores and to her delight, of works by 150 composers who submitted scores for the sessions, her suite was selected, along with works by seven American composers. So it came about that Brandman was the only Australian composer to be part of the inaugural Havana Sessions, the first recording project by an American company, after the easing of the embargo in 2014.
Brandman says it was an honour to be included in such a lively group of composers. In Havana, where no new buildings have been constructed since 1959, she experienced a time-warp seeing some of the buildings restored to their original splendour and learnt how the Cubans cope with the rigours of daily life. The recording of Warm Winds in Havana suite, is included on ABRAZO on the newly minted Ansonica Records label. This short clip gives a brief taste of the first movement of the suite, which just happened to sync up with the stilt dancers that Brandman filmed during her time in Havana: https://youtu.be/BfUTS055roM
To celebrate the 2016 release of both CDs, Brandman travelled to the USA to be present at Parma Headquarters in New Hampton on the very day of the USA launch – Friday the 13th! From there she travelled to Rotterdam to the Classical:NEXT conference, as part of the Australian contingent under the auspices of Sounds Australia and the Australian Music Centre.
In 2015 Margaret also travelled to Germany to meet with the German publishers of her works, Furore Music, in Kassel, and then on to Munich, to rehearse her new Cosmic Wheel of the Zodiac Song Cycle with expatriot baritone Martin Cooke (of the Bavarian State Opera Company), who as luck would have it, is coming to Australia this September. Brandman is delighted that he has offered to premiere the Zodiac Song Cycle and several other songs especially composed for him last year, as part of the celebratory launch of SENSATIONS on 3 September.
– Kathy Bluff