Reviews

Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra
Melbourne University Choral Society
Australian Children's Choir
Melbourne Town Hall, October 7 2006

The Age, October 11 2006, Reviewer : Clive O'Connell

Guitar virtuosi take turns

The first section of the review related to a Saffire concert on October 6, hence the review title.

Surrounding the premiere of John Peterson's Mourning and the Light Within on Saturday, Andrew Wailes conducted Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms and Orff's Carmina Burana featuring the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, Melbourne University's Choral Society and, during Orff's Cours d'amours section, the Australian Children's Choir.

From the opening of the first psalm setting, the Stravinsky work laboured under an over-prominent orchestra, the large choral forces often swamped and unhappy in the middle double fugue. For the popular Orff score, Wailes encouraged the percussion section to saturation level, particularly for the very familiar bookend choruses.

The RMP and associates worked willingly through this infectious score but the overall impact was leaden-footed.

Peterson's new work, concerning the Beslan school atrocity, only slightly challenged this audience. The composer speaks in a forthright manner, the score's emotional fulcrum emerging in the middle movement employing newspaper sentences from last year's commemoration. Peterson's feelings impress as heartfelt, but the work is overly insistent, at its climax hectoring the listener so that the tragedy becomes public rather than personal.

Sydney Philharmonic Choirs
Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, November 5 2004

The Sydney Morning Herald, November 8 2004, Reviewer : David Vance

Mourning and the riches within

If death and taxes are the only certainties of this world, the fringe benefits can bring some relief, if not to those who have paid their heavy dues. Take, for example, the music of mourning: contemplating eternity has been a pastime for many a composer, with the result that we have a rich legacy of settings of the Requiem Mass in which to ponder the death and an afterlife.

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs sought the opinion of three composers on the matter of music to die for, all of whom provided eloquent responses, beginning with Lux Aeterna (1997) by the American composer Morten Lauridsen. Drawing on Latin texts from the requiem, the piece is cast in five movements for chamber choir and orchestra, and offers a sumptuously textured and reassuringly diatonic vision of infinity. The work of the chamber choir was splendid, sustaining perfect intonation in the lengthy a cappella setting of O nata lux and in the other unaccompanied passages. A warm, soothing tone throughout promised that one might go gently into such eternal light without the need to rage.

Rage, albeit controlled, underpins quite a deal of a newly commissioned and most impressive work, Shadows and Light, from Sydney composer John Peterson. Alternating texts from the Latin requiem with material drawn from diverse sources including newspaper headlines, the words of Martin Luther King and Japanese lyric poetry, the piece is intelligently conceived and exciting to hear. Its rhythmic momentum conveys an urgency matching the dilemma of modern strife with apocalyptic chaos, paralleling the Dies Irae text with headlines about terrorism. Replacing an ailing Ali McGregor, Adelaide soprano Teresa La Rocca made a notable, last-minute replacement, mastering the difficulties of the solo work with authority. Peterson's work deserves wide currency: it is surely crafted and a worthy addition to the repertoire, given it's on this program beside Mozart's Requiem, arguably among the greatest of all.

It would be difficult to improve the account of the Mozart where, under David Porcelijn's secure leadership, soloists, choir and orchestra performed as if their lives depended on it. Pathos and fear, solace and hope, all stand side by side: taut, urgent, cataclysmic in places, the performance never lost sight of eternity. La Rocca again impressed and joined an ideal quartet with mezzo Sally-Anne Russell, tenor Jamie Allen and bass Douglas McNicol, while the choir was in peak form to deliver Mozart's extraordinary and compelling intimations of mortality.

Shostakovich String Quartet
Adelaide Town Hall, November 27 2000

Adelaide Advertiser, November 30 2000, Reviewer : Rodney Smith

Sweeping sounds of Russia

The Shostakovich String Quartet ensured Musica Viva's concert season ended with a bang. Their playing represents the acme of the Russian school, with its generous proportions, broad brushstrokes and grand musical gestures, and their program of uncompromisingly big-scale works spanned the past century plus two continents, with music by Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, Richard Meale and John Peterson.

But it was undoubtedly their monumental performance of Shostakovich's 3rd String Quartet which captured the imagination most enduringly. The composer's ability to draw upon the immediate, but to speak with universality, is nowhere more powerfully demonstrated than in the humour and pathos of this richly rewarding work which the quartet presented with the experience of years, determination and insight.

Lead violinist Andrei Shishiov's ample shoulders carried a large burden of responsibility for much of Shostakovich's melodic writing, especially in the profoundly moving adagio movement which he interpreted with all the strength and vision one could wish for. A similar responsibility was also his in the two cantilena movements of Richard Meale's five movement 2nd String Quartet, where his violin is called to soar majestically in expression of the composer's personal grief, never with sentimentality but always with the most sentient emotion.

The Musica Viva commission Tallawarra, by John Peterson, let in some sunshine on this otherwise dark program. There was a simple directness in what this piece had to say and the Shostakovich String Quartet had fun and games with its hurly-burly of cross rhythms and accents. It kept the audience on its toes, too.

Shostakovich String Quartet
North Shore Times, November 29 2000, Reviewer : unknown

Three cheers for Elijah's fiery chariot! Fire was also deemed to play a part in the excellent recital given for Musica Viva by the Shostakovich String Quartet from Moscow. The title of the program - and for some vague reason nowadays most concerts are saddled with an attention-grabbing title - was, without obvious logic, The Fire Within.

Best was the third Shostakovich quartet (1946), beautifully balanced and projected with a whole compendium of expressive nuances to paint its broad spectrum of ideas. Apparently the composer gave it a peace-and-war scenario after it had been written, but later dropped the relvant subtitles.

An unfinished Rachmaninov quartet made on lugubrious phrase go a long way. Richard Meale's Quartet No 2 atoned melodically for his earlier complexities, having well-crafted ideas making, eventually, too introspective an impression.

A short piece, Tallawarra by John Peterson (born 1957) was likeable and forgettable.

Shostakovich String Quartet
Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University, Brisbane, November 22 2000

Courier Mail, November 24 2000, Reviewer : Patricia Kelly

Fruits of mellow maturity

With some changes of personnel over the years, the Russian Shostakovich String Quartet has been performing since 1967. And it shows. Absolutely nothing can replace years of experience and, like a good red wine grown mellow in oak, this quartet has the warmth of maturation in its playing.

All Musica Viva concerts this year have begun with an Australian Miniature commission and for this quartet John Peterson composed Tallawarra. He made inventive use of ostinato (recurring melody) in the five-minute piece which the four delivered in brisk style weaving through its meandering, interesting paths. These pieces have formed a project that deserves to be recorded on disc. Hopefully this will eventuate.

Prokofiev's String Quartet No 2 in F Major and String Quartet No 3 by Alfred Schnittke were two distinct sides to a perfect whole, the first firmly located in Russian folk melody, the second wandering through varied musical landscapes. The full force and sharp attack of the Shostakovich Quartet playing was immediately stated in the Prokofiev with its simple music patterns developing over a complex structure.

The disjunctive nature of the music was well portrayed by four strongly individual musicians who never exceeded the boundaries of ensemble. A march strutted. The cello sang plaintively, the violins soard lyrically and the viola added warm depth, all smoothly integrated.

Schnittke's music is gradually seeping into our programmes and has been well represented at the annual Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville. He creates a rich palette of instrumental tones and moods, of dissonance then harmony, of loud and soft, of choral-like reverence or jarring musical commentary. The Shostakovich four were in command of the idiom and created solid, rich sound with firm and confident bowing strokes that tightened then released the inner tensions of the work with superb ease and control.

Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No 3 had an abundance of lush harmony and lyricism to exploit. The quartet's mature sound, its phrasing rising in smooth arches and meshed with a well-measured sense of ensemble, fully realised its possibilities, a strong finish to Musica Viva's 2000 season from performers well seasoned in their art.

Shostakovich String Quartet
The Financial Review, November 18 2000, Reviewer : Chris Boyd

Expectations blown away

Talk about confounding expectations. The Shostakovich String Quartet began its fifth tour of Australia with an ecstatically beautiful miniature by Australian composer John Peterson; an uncharacteristically gloomy and tortured piece by Rachmaninov; equally uncharacteristic tonality and lyricism from Richard Meale and a jolly little quartet about World War II by Dimitri himself.

Russian compositions, not surprisingly, tend to feature strongly in the Shostakovich String Quartet's programs for Musica Viva this month, with quartets by Rachmaninov, Schnittke, Tschaikovsky and Shostakovich on the menu. But the quartet has taken to Australian material with a surprising relish. We're used to seeing the quartet sawing out Great Russian Works with an immaculate but rather sludgy timbre. They're totally relaxed with the material, but the musicians look as if this might as well be another day at the bank.

The first movement of Rachmaninov's second unfinished quartet suffers when presented so blandly. It's a musical pass-the-parcel when it could, and should, be a game of pass the letter-bomb. The ostinato figure rocks down a smi-tone when it could choke from an emphatic natural to a strangled flat and the walking cello line plods when it could be doing step aerobics.

But if the Shostakovich String Quartet is rather dismissive of the Rach, it plays the Australian work with unfakable enthusiasm. Peterson's miniature is reminiscent of both Glass and a late Beethoven slow movement. Okay, Tallawarra is nowhere near as complex as either, but it is utterly charming in its gypsy-cowboy tang.

In the first movement of Richard Meale's Second String Quartet, timbral variation is more important than melody. And dynamic range is crucial in the shifting sonic slurries of the second movement. The musicians play the fourth movement with jagged intensity and the fifth like a Mahlerian song that has a Debussy shimmer and balletic steps worthy of Takemitsu.

The second half of this particular program is devoted to Shostakovich's Third String Quartet, composed in 1946. The composer's own program for the quartet ("War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!") is as well known as it is, apparently, inappropriate. There's absolutely no triumph in the music, no glory; nothing identifiable, even, as regret.

We're used to hearing this quartet performed as if the composer's deepest thoughts can be unearthed by playing loud and fast. Here, though, the players prove that they know better. Their version of psychotic is marginally more intense than, say, blase. But it's dead right.

If the composer was losing his mind, it was with despair at the futility of war; and the futility of his people's sacrifice.

Shostakovich String Quartet
Melbourne Concert Hall, November 15 2000

The Age, November 18 2000, Reviewer : Joel Crotty

Cautious approach limits ensemble

As a backdrop there was a long piece of metal rigging. It was very industrial, and the imagery supported John Peterson's Tallawarra, a short soundscape on an Illawarra power station. Peterson grew up in the area and has written a number of works based on the industrial environment. This newly composed score has a minimalist shape and it buoyancy is due to its transparent textures and rhythmic impetus.

It is a work that deserves plenty of repeat performances, but the music's energy was never allowed to motor along. It was as if the Shostakovich String Quartet was wary of breaking the speed limit.

This overly cautious approach was also evident in the quartets by Rachmaninov and Australian composer Richard Meale.

Rachmaninov's incomplete second String Quartet is a mere trifle. To sound effective, it needs to have dramatic overlay pinned to the presentation. But in the hands of this ensemble, the piece was drained of its emotional content.

Instead, the Shostakovich members gave the listeners a succession of lessons in musical objectivity. The group's desire for precision left most of the scores devoid of much personality. Occasionally, the lyricism in the slower movements of Meale's String Quartet No. 2 was thoughtfully expressed but the faster sections lacked the necessary momentum.

After the interval, the ensemble abandoned the circumspect mannerisms and disclosed all the vitality in Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 3. Every movement was given the appropriate level of power or restraint and this allowed the music's spontaneous qualities to be brought to our attention. This work is undoubtedly part of their "bread and butter" repetoire and they are comfortable with it. Regrettably, this concert revealed their comfort zone is greatly reduced when dealing with unfamiliar repetoire.

Articles

The Age, October 5 2006, By Robin Usher

Legacy of Beslan recalled in song

It was an event that shook the world. On September 1, 2004, pro-Chechen gunmen seized School Number One in Beslan, southern Russia, and more than 1000 adults and children were held inside for three days. When the siege ended, 331 people were dead, including 186 children.

The Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir is preparing to perform the world premiere of Mourning and the Light Within, by Sydney composer John Peterson, which deals with the tragedy's aftermath.

Although Beslan is not mentioned in the finished work, it features in the program and he wrote it besides a photograph on his wall that shows a distressed woman in the ruins of the school.

"It is a horrible image of despair," he says. "It made me think how unbearably difficult the mourning process must have been for so many families.

"When children are involved, everything becomes incredibly magnified."

Part of Choral Fireworks, the 20-minute work, which will be performed by more than 250 singers from the RMPC, the Melbourne University Choir and the Australian Children's Choir, begins with the medieval hymn Stabat Mater, about Mary's observations of Christ's crucifixion and suffering.

Then Peterson quotes from newspaper accounts of the tragedy, concentrating on how people dealt with the grieving process. "While I don't want the work to become reporting, I think it's much fresher to use contemporary events rather than poetry that can easily become a little bit dated," he says.

"I wanted to focus on a current event to express a range of emotions, without being specific in the work itself. We are bombarded with news of so many terrible events that we become blase and I wanted to put value back on human life."

He says disasters could happen anywhere today and he wanted people at least to acknowledge that it could happen to them.

The work concludes with a sense of hope, but he says that does not involve any sense of forgetting the tragedy of so many deaths.

It is the first of two world premieres for Peterson this month. The second is a song cycle for female voices using texts written during the American Civil War, which will be performed in San Francisco.

"The words I've selected are very general, and are relevant for anyone seeing off people going to war," he says. "It's just as true in Australia, which has sent people off to Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor."

The members of the Mockingbird Vocal Ensemble are so happy with the work that they plan to perform it again at an anti-war rally later this year.

This pleases Peterson, because it means he has succeeded in producing a work that is relevant to contemporary concerns.

Last year he won Melbourne University's Maggs Composition Award, and is working on a new orchestral work to be performed next year by the Australia Ensemble. "It's a work I've always wanted to write and I am very pleased to be able to work with such top-class players."

Peterson, who lectures at the University of NSW, was a part-time assistant to one of Australia's most acclaimed composers, Peter Sculthorpe, for five years until 2003.

"He used me as a sounding board and then I translated his new scores on to computer notation," he says. "It was quite fascinating and reassuring, because I realised I wasn't the only one forced to spend a lot of time revising my work."

The Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra performs Choral Fireworks at Melbourne Town Hall at 8pm on Saturday. Book on 9419 1582.

The University of Sydney News, May 18 2001, By Sara Crow

Honours mount up for musical quartet

Four postgraduate students in the University's Department of Music have won a clutch of prestigious national and international honours. Budding composer and Masters student Nicholas Vines has won an Australian music scholarship to Harvard University as well as a scholarship package from Harvard itself, worth a total of about $A440,000. Vines, 24, won the Harvard Club of Australia's 2001 Menzies Scholarship worth $A60,000 (administered by the ANU), to do his PhD at Harvard from this September.

Harvard University has also given him a five-year scholarship worth about $US189,000 or $A378,000. It includes tuition for five years worth $US25,000 pa, plus a stipend, then a teaching fellowship at $US16,000 a year for four years.

"It's one of the rarest achievements that any undergraduate music scholar could expect to achieve anywhere in the world," said head of the department and composer, Professor Anne Boyd. Vines, who has written 18 scores since 1995, said the Harvard scholarship was an extraordinary honour and a great relief: "I've been brought up in a culture where everything is so fiscally tight that I feel a little bit guilty. It seems extravagant in comparison to what I've had to live on academically here not that I'm complaining in any way."

Other students from the department to be honored include John Peterson, 44, who was chosen from 1,100 entries worldwide to be one of 12 semi-finalists in the BBC's Masterprize. He was the only Australian selected, and it is the second time he has reached the semi-finals. The five finalists will be announced in June, their pieces played by the London Symphony Orchestra in October, and the winner announced after that.

Peterson is doing his PhD under senior Australian composer Ross Edwards.

Two other PhD students have won hard-to-come-by orchestral commissions.

Jane Stanley, 24, has just received a commission from Symphony Australia to compose a work for the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra as part of their New Voices program. It will be performed on 12 October, and later broadcast on ABC ClassicFM.

Meanwhile Mark Zadro, 40, has been chosen to write a piece for the Australian Composers' Orchestral Forum for 200102. Zadro was one of four people chosen from throughout Australia for the forum, along with John Peterson, to write a piece for the Western Australia Symphony Orchestra. The pieces will be performed in September in Perth. At the end of the year some or all the composers will be asked to do a longer work for 2002. Zadro was also chosen for the Forum in 2000.

The West Australian, November 27 2000, By Neville Cohn

Music from the masters

More than 30 years have elapsed since the Shostakovich String Quartet was founded in Russia. It now enjoys and unrivalled reputation for its interpretations of both the music of its great namesake and the Russian repertoire in general.

Although the quartet will not be presenting any of Shostakovich's works in its Musica Viva concert at the Concert Hall on Thursday, it has included two other masterpieces from the Russian repertoire: Profofiev's engagingly tuneful String Quartet No. 2 (based on folk melodies deriving from the Caucasus region) and Tchaikovsky's Quartet No. 3. Also on the bill with be Schnittke's Third Quartet and, as a curtain-raiser, a miniature commissioned by Musica Viva from young Australian composer John Peterson.

The Shostakovich String Quartet was formed by fellow students at the Moscow Conservatiore, where all now teach. They took to the international circuit after winning several major music competitions in Europe in the 1970s. For three years running in the 1980s, the ensemble presented the complete cycle of Shostakovich's 15 string quartets at the Edinburgh Festival as well as for the Adelaide Festival, at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw and in Paris and Rotterdam.

In constant demand as teachers, the quartet regularly give masterclasses in the US, Japan, Korea, Canada, Germany and New Zealand. They have cut more than 50 records for labels such a DGG and Melodya (Russia).

Violinist Alexai Shivlov, viola player Alexander Golkovsky and cellist Alexander Korchagin were born in Moscow. Second violinist Sergei Pishchugin hails from eastern Siberia.

It will be the Shostakovich Quartet's fifth Musica Viva tour of Australia.

Adelaide Advertiser, November 27 2000, By Michael Bodley

Tuned to the sound of Soviet history

Cellist Alexander Korchagin admits that even after touring for more than 30 years as a member of the Shostakovich String Quartet, the appeal of the 20th century composer is still hard to enunciate. "I don't know really," Korchagin says. "Maybe because the expression of his music is very deep. One Moscow composer friend of mine said once that Shostakovich is not a music, it is a literature."

For Russians - including this elite quartet and recent Australian visitor Maxim Vengerov - the emotion in Shostakovich's work is too hard to ignore "because he reflected so many things about our country in his music. He relected so many serious things and events. It's like a novel of our life, of Soviet Russian society during all these tragic and other events we had," Korchagin says.

The Moscow based quartet - featuring Andrei Shishlov and Sergie Pishchugin on violin and Alexander Galkovsky on viola - was formed in 1967 but Korchagin say he's not tired "yet". Thankfully, Shostakovich - whose work at its worst can border on the monotonous - saved his best for symphonies and string quartets.

This is the string quartet's fifth visit to Australia, a country they enjoy touring because "you have such a beautiful music organisation like Musica Viva and they work so hard with the education of the audiences during the decades."

Tonight's performance at the Adelaide Town Hall will feature Propeller, a work by Australian composer John Peterson. Korchagin admits Australian works can be difficult to play. "Oh, very difficult. And interesting," he says. "It's an educational experience for us to learn this music."

Sunday Mail (Brisbane), November 19 2000, By Barbara Hebden

Moscow dreamers still string us along

What started off as a dream has long been a reality for two Moscow-born musicians, violinist Andrei Shisalov and cellist Alexander Korchagin. "As fellow students at the Moscow Conservatoire we decided to form a string quartet. That was 1967 and we had dreams of being one of the best in the world," said Korchagin. In the years since, the Shostakovich String Quartet of which they were founding members has won universal acclaim, performing in 38 countries on four continents.

Shisalov and Korchagin have been joined by violinists Sergei Pishchugin and violist Alexander Galkovsky. Making its fifth visit to Australia for Musica Viva, which Korchagin describes as a "magnificent organisation", the Shostakovich Quartet will showcase ite tremendous authority in the Russian repertoire.

The four members, who are professors at the Moscow Conservatoire, hold masterclasses worldwide. "Last year I was invited to be on the jury for the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. It felt quite change not to be carrying my cello," said Korchagin. "When we perform at festivals our partners come with us; but when we are on a tour like this Australian trip, we are only in a city for one night, so it isn't practical. None of us come from musical families. When I was five I was in a children's film. While I was waiting I began to sing in the studio. The film director tole my mother I should join a children's choir (which he did). Then the choral conductor said, "This child must study music." Without too much enthusiasm, my mother took me to a music school. The only vacancy was for someone to learn the cello, so that's how I began my career."

"Our Brisbane program opens with Australian composer John Peterson's quartet written especially for us and dedicated to the millennium. The title, Tallawarra, refers to the composer's birthplace; where he grew up. It's sincere, fresh music."

"Prokofiev's Second Quartet Op.92, despite the tragic times of 1941 when it was written, is a very optimistic work with deep inner feeling, while Schnittke's String Quartet No 3 is a real paradox in different musical languages. We conclude with a perfect example of classical Russian chamber music, Tschaikovsky's Quartet No 3 Op.30, a very emotional work, almost like a symphony."

Although his colleagues prefer to relax in their hotel rooms when they tour, Korchagin likes to rent a bicycle and "see something of the the landscapes."

Daily Telegraph, November 11 2000, By Michael Bodey

Passion that endures

Cellist Alexander Korchagin admits that even after touring for more than 30 years as a member of the Shostakovich String Quartet, the appeal of the 20th century composer is still hard to enunciate. "I don't know really," Korchagin says. "Maybe because the expression of his music is very deep. One Moscow composer friend of mine said once that Shostakovich is not a music, it is a literature."

For Russians - including this elite quartet and recent Australian visitor Maxim Vengerov - the emotion in Shostakovich's work is too hard to ignore "because he reflected so many things about our country in his music. He relected so many serious things and events. It's like a novel of our life, of Soviet Russian society during all these tragic and other events we had," Korchagin says.

The Moscow based quartet - featuring Andrei Shishlov and Sergie Pishchugin on violin and Alexander Galkovsky on viola - was formed in 1967 but Korchagin say he's not tired "yet". Thankfully, Shostakovich - whose work at its worst can border on the monotonous - saved his best for symphonies and string quartets.

This is the string quartet's fifth visit to Australia, a country they enjoy touring because "you have such a beautiful music organisation like Musica Viva and they work so hard with the education of the audiences during the decades."

Next week's program at the sydney Opera House will feature a work by Australian composer John Peterson, written especially for the quartet. "It's dedicated to the millennium," says Korchagin. "It's called Tallawarra, which is the region where the composer spent his childhood."

He admits Australian works can be difficult to play. "Oh, very difficult. And interesting," he says. "It's an educational experience for us to learn this music."

The Weekend Australian, November 1-2 1997, By Jo Litson

Winning composure

More than 1000 scores from 60 countries were entered in the inaugural Masterprize - an international composition competition launched in London last year with the aim of finding new and original works for symphony orchestras. At the end of September the names of 15 short-listed composers were announced. Among them were two Australians: Carl Vine and John Peterson. Vine, yes. But John who?

Chatting in the sunny backyard of his Sydney home, the unassuming, quietly spoken Peterson chuckles. "Carl said the same thing - "Who are you?" - because he didn't know me either." Peterson, 40, has been composing for more than 10 years but, despite workshopping of one composition by the Queensland Philharmonic and the performance of most of his music by the Sydney University Symphony Orchestra, he remains largely unknown, not having cracked any of the more important State orchestras. Masterprize could go a long way towards changing that.

Besides a cash prize of 25,000 pounds for the winner, the attraction of the competition is the huge international exposure that goes with it. Masterprize is the result of a collaboration between five partners - BBC Radio 3 and BBC World Service, the London Symphony Orchestra, EMI and BBC Music magazine - with support from a network of more than 30 broadcasters worldwide. The short-listed works, including Peterson's Rituals in Transfigured Time, will be recorded by the BBC orchestra and broadcast internationally later this year.

Six finalists will then be re-recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra and a CD distributed with the BBC Music magazine, whose readers will be able to vote on who should be the winner. The six works will be performed by the LSO at a gala concert in London in April next year. The vote of a celebrity jury will be combined with the public vote to reveal the winner.

Whether or not Peterson makes it to the final, the exposure resulting from being shortlisted is invaluable. Already people have taken notice of him, which, says Peterson, "is very exciting for someone like me who has been plucked out of obscurity really. Also, I tend to have a lack of confidence in myself. I worry a lot about the music that I write, so to have this happen is a huge confidence builder."

Born in Wollongong, Peterson grew up playing percussion and piano in everything from brass bands to symphony orchestras. He taught music and dabbled in composition. Then he began doing some classes with James Powell, the principal of Wollongong Conservatorium, to build his theoretical knowledge. It was Powell who introduced him to 12-tone composition; as a result, Peterson wrote a piano piece. Powell was impressed, listened to some of Peterson's other compositions and suggested he might take composition more seriously. Disillusioned with teaching, Peterson applied to Sydney University and was accepted into the music department in 1986, where he began to compose seriously.

A masters degree under his belt, he is doing a part-time PhD at Sydney University. For several years he has worked as the music department's concert co-ordinator, a job he is about to relinquish. "Administration takes up too much time and, for me, it's a little too stressful," he says. "When I get home I'm too tired to think about writing music." Instead he will work a couple of days a week for composer Peter Sculthorpe, his composition teacher, entering Sculthorpe's handwritten scores to computer. "It's relaxing work and it's a learning process in itself because it's so interesting watching another composer work," says Peterson.

His entry in Masterprize was a rewrite of a piece written about a year ago for a smaller orchestra than that specified by the competition conditions. "I wasn't happy with the original piece, so I thought I'd rewrite it and reorchestrate it," he says. "I really enjoyed doing it - I love writing for large orchestra - and as it exists now it's really quite different from the original." The piece is written in five sections, each of which takes one process, sets it in motion and then sees it through to its natural conclusion. Each process is related in some way to the previous one but each section sounds different. The four outer sections are fast and, hopes Peterson, rhythmically exciting, while the longer central section is much slower.

"I have allowed myself a few Romantic lingerings in the 19th-century sense," says Peterson, "which contrasts with the energy of the other sections." He has always loved writing orchestral music - in the past 18 months he has written nothing else - and suspects this is one reason why he doesn't have much of a profile. Getting orchestral works performed is much harder than finding an outlet for chamber pieces. Also, he admits that he works fairly slowly, partly because he has been so tired after work at the university and partly because he likes to mull over ideas until he is convinced they work. He says he needs to become more confident about handing over his music to others.

Peterson nominates his influences as American composers from the 1940s, such as Aaron Copeland and Samuel Barber, and, more recently, John Adams and, to a lesser extent, Philip Glass. "I wouldn't say I'm overtly influenced by Glass's repetitive minimalist style, but certainly by the way that he embraces dominant tonic tonality, which is a classical idea, and makes it all his own and modern at the same time."

As to audience resistance to modern music, Peterson believes most audiences are ready to hear more of it and appreciate it if only they are given half a chance. And not just the chance to hear it once. "There's this attitude of, 'We'll do six or seven token pieces a year', but they do them once and then they don't get performed for years. I think there has to be a way of repeating them so audiences get used to them."

"One of the things I liked about Masterprize is the way ordinary people, though admittedly classical music lovers, get to have their say. I think audiences should have more of a say. I'm sure orchestra managements would say audiences have already decided because they stay away in droves whenever there's a concert of just contemporary music, but I think that's being disputed. The Sydney Symphony runs a 20th-century orchestral series in the Town Hall three times a year and those concerts are nearly always sold out. So, given time, I think things can be turned around. I think the idea of playing more than 100-year old music constantly in the concert hall is appalling at the end of the 20th century."

September 1997, By Penelope Green

Composers in tune with success

John Peterson admitted he was feeling a bit jittery about meeting leading Australian composer Carl Vine yesterday. "I'm still a struggling composer trying to make my way", the self-confessed "unknown quantity" said nervously.

Modesty aside, Mr Peterson, 40, had no reason to feel humbled when he knocked on the front door of Mr Vine's home in Balmain, Sydney, later yesterday. Both men met on equal ground to celebrate their success in being the only Australians to be shortlisted from 1000 entries from 60 countries as finalists in the prestigious Masterprize composing competition.

Supported by the BBC, London Symphony Orchestra, EMI and 30 radio broadcasters across the globe, Masterprize provides a unique showcase for new compositions by handpicking original works for a symphony orchestra and promoting them on the world stage. An international panel of judges yesterday announced 15 Masterprize finalists whose compositions would be recorded by BBC orchestras and broadcast widely later this year.

Six finalists will then have their works recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra and distributed on a BBC compact disc - guaranteeing a worldwide circulation of at least 20,000 - before the final winner receives a 25,000 pounds prize. Mr Vine and Mr Peterson took time out yesterday to "talk shop" and celebrate their success, which they hope will boost their varying reputations and Australia's international standing in contemporary compositions.

Mr Vine, 43, whose music has been staged in chamber performances in Europe, welcomed the chance to have his composition, titled Descent, played by a full orchestra. "The only thing that worries me is that it's not my best piece by a long shot", he joked.