The Winner of the 2021 Steel City Strings Celebration of Youth Composition Competition is… Adriel Sukumar with his winning entry, ‘Recovery’.
We sat down with Adriel to learn more about him and his new work for our orchestra.
Tell us about yourself, when did your musical journey begin and what initially sparked your interest in classical music?
I am currently 17 years of age, but my musical journey started at around the age of 4, when I started learning Sangeetham (Carnatic singing) which I continued learning until 2019. This helped provide a strong musical foundation for me and continues to help me as a composer. Not long after starting Carnatic Music, I started learning piano and became a member of the children’s choir at my local church. From then onwards, I learnt to play many other instruments including Carnatic Violin and became a member of the Australian Youth Choir. My interest in classical music was first sparked through my AMEB piano pieces in higher grades, as well as through studying it as a unit early in high school music. I immediately started to do some listening of my own, discovering the works of many composers like Chopin, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff. This in part, inspired me to start composing some of my own music. What I love about Classical music is that there is such a rich history behind it, and I am discovering more composers and music everyday.
Who gave you your first instrument or compositional opportunity? How did you enjoy your first time in the limelight?
My first instrument was given to me by my parents. It was a Yamaha upright piano, and on it, I spent many years developing my ability as a pianist. It was on this piano that I first, unaware of the existence of notation software, improvised and started composing my first music. As a self taught composer, my first compositional opportunity came as one of 8 national winners in Artology’s Fanfare competition last year. I gained the opportunity to have my composition workshopped with mentor composers Lyle Chan and Nicholas Vines, along with the seven other winners. My composition was then professionally recorded At Trackdown studios by the Australian Youth Orchestra and conductor Matthew Coorey. It was then used by concert halls around Australian in place of audience cue bells for performances. It really is any young composer’s greatest dream to have their music performed by an orchestra and Artology as well as the AYO were able to make this a reality for me. It was a really exciting experience and I felt really privileged to be able to work aside such great young composers and musicians. Nothing I could do at school would come close to this great opportunity!
Where are you at right now with your musical journey?
As a pianist, I completed my AMEB Certificate of Performance last year and am working on preparing my Core performance for my HSC music 2 exam. I plan to start working on my AmusA and hopefully eventually my LmusA, after my HSC. I am also currently an organist and vocalist/soloist at my local church and also take part in various music ensembles at school. As a composer, most of my work is focused towards my 4 compositional major works for my HSC. This includes a solo piano, and an orchestral work for Music 2 as well as a two movement chamber work for Music Extension. On top of this, I also try to work on some additional side projects from time to time. Right now, I enjoy writing for a variety of instruments and ensembles, mainly piano and organ as solo instruments, as well as chamber music and works for orchestra.
Where do you see yourself in the future composing music? Do you have a dream orchestra or ensemble that you would like to compose for in the future, or are you just simply enjoying the moment and seeing where music takes you?
In the future I hope to be able to work with large ensembles to write large scale works such as concertos and maybe eventually even symphonic works. I would also love to write choral music and chamber music as well (which I realised I really enjoyed writing whilst working on my Music Extension Major Work). I would also love to write solo repertoire for my main instrument, the piano as well as the pipe organ, which I find a quite magical instrument due to its vast possibilities in terms of tone colour as well as its ability to easily fill a cathedral or large concert hall. Do I have a dream orchestra or ensemble to write for? At the moment, any performance opportunities for my compositions are basically a dream come true, but I would really love to write for a large orchestra like the Sydney Symphony one day!
What composer do you most admire and why?
This is a really difficult question to answer as I have many favourites – Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Rachmaninoff, Franck, Rautavaara (whom I discovered quite recently) as well as many modern composers such as Ross Edwards, Carl Vine and Thomas Ades… The list just keeps on going! However, if I had to choose only one composer it would be Rachmaninoff (maybe partially biased because I am a pianist) but also because his music was a gateway for me to discover many late romantic and later, 20th/21st century music which I have grown to really love and which has greatly inspired my compositional style. Even through all the new music I discover, I have many times come back to the music of Rachmaninoff and it still never fails to please. There is something very magical to me about his music and his ability to evoke emotion.
Tell us about that piece you’ve composed for Steel City Strings. Is your piece significant to you on a personal or musical level? What drew you to composing this music for Steel City Strings?
When I compose, I always try to bring meaning to what I write through my inspiration or what I am trying to convey, and I try to have a positive impact on listeners through my music. It was during the devastating floods that struck NSW near the end of March/the beginning of April this year that I first found out about this competition. After days of heavy rainfall and flooding, I remember stepping out one morning to clear skies, being able to finally feel the warmth of the sun and hearing birdsong, something that had been quite absent during the heavy rainfall. This moment, although quite small, reminded me about the amazing ability of our natural world to recover from disaster and bring about new life, whether it be the drought that affected us a few years ago, bushfires, or even the recent floods. I realised how relevant recovery was to us even now, from the pandemic that still affects the world. This inspired me to write ‘Recovery’, hoping that it would be able to remind us that there is always hope for things to get better. My piece consists of two parts. The first is an introduction marked ‘Grave’ bearing the sense of unease in the aftermath of disaster, but with a hint of hope through its resolution to A major and occasional major seventh harmonies. The second part starts in the lydian mode (which I associate with nature and hope) and accelerates to a faster tempo where it is bursting with energy and new life.
You can hear Adriel’s piece at the next Steel City Strings ‘Celebration of Youth’ concerts in June.
Congratulations Adriel and thank you to all who entered.