November 25, 2015
Jessica Cottis conducts the epic, eleven-composer 'Gallipoli Symphony' in Australia

After conducting the world premiere in Istanbul, the fast-rising young conductor last night conducted the Queensland Symphony Orchestra to play a musical remembrance between former enemies, in Brisbane. The DVD release of the Istanbul performance debuts at number 2 in ARIA Music chart.

Even in a season that has seen her conduct at prestigious institutions such as London's Royal Opera House, the Sydney Symphony, Queensland Symphony and the BBC Scottish Symphony orchestras (and with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales and a return to Covent Garden on the horizon) rising star Jessica Cottis has found The Gallipoli Symphony one of the highlights of her career thus far. It is also one of the largest pieces of cultural diplomacy Australia has ever undertaken. Last night (Tuesday, 24th November) she conducted its Australian premiere, in Brisbane, with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra – to a standing ovation.

A decade in the making, written by no fewer than 11 composers, The Gallipoli Symphony is one of the most ambitious classical music projects ever to have come out of Australia. The brainchild of journalist and producer Des Power, brought together under the musical direction of Christopher Latham and the baton of Jessica Cottis, it marks the centenary of the notorious Gallipoli Campaign of the First World War; a campaign in which thousands died.

“What is remarkable about this symphony,” says Cottis, “is that not only do we have a new and important work of musical pluralism by 11 of the foremost composers from Australia, New Zealand and Turkey, from the late Peter Sculthorpe to Omar Faruk Tekbilek, but that it truly affirms how music is universal: it can bring us closer, help us understand each other better. The movements join together perfectly as one piece. The music itself and the story it tells is overwhelming, sending a deeply profound message of collaboration and friendship between nations. The emotional impact is deeply moving. It genuinely feels as though it joins hands and creates a unified remembrance between these countries who were once at war."

This, says Des Power, is exactly what he was aiming for. “The beaches around ANZAC Cove where the Australians landed back in 1915 have become a place of pilgrimage, there are some 32 cemeteries and it’s a very emotional piece of commemoration. I was doing some work there as a documentary producer in 2004,” he explains, “and I wanted to commemorate the centenary in a way that wasn’t ephemeral and that was appropriate to the events. And so we brought together 11 composers and music director Christopher Latham, and each composer had a specific episode in the narrative – for instance Gareth Farr’s “Farewell”, which was prompted by a photograph of principally Maori women and children on the shoreline waving goodbye to their loved ones. But although the movements are specific – Gareth for instance weaved in traditional instruments like a cone-style shell to capture the sound of the ship’s horn – Peter Sculthorpe had rightly assured us that if the composers were good, it would all come together and work.

“And ironically, although we lost thousands of our young men and were defeated by the Turks, the nations have formed a quite remarkable and beautiful friendship that has endured. So the notion of a joint commemoration in music felt very natural.”

The other movements have evocative titles such as “Thoughts of Home” (Sculthorpe), “The Trenches Are Empty Now” (Ross Edwards), “100 Seconds for 100 Years” (Graeme Koehne) and “Hope of the Higher Heart” (Demir Demirkan). As well as chorus and traditional orchestra, the work features harmonica, kanun, baglama, didgeridoo and other traditional instruments. In Australia, these will be played by leading musicians such as Julian Jackson (harmonica), William Barton (didgeridoo) and Tekbilek (nev and zurna).

The world premiere took place at the historic Hagia Irene in Istanbul, in August, with Cottis conducting the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra. “It was unforgettable.” says Cottis, simply.

“What Jessica achieved was outstanding,” says Power, “With such an ambitious project, she brought it all together, determined to get the ultimate performance. She also has a physical presence on that podium and excited not only the musicians but the audience, her whole body becomes part of the performance. She comes alive with the music. And because her father was an Australian diplomat, I think that connection also made this even more special for her. It was a very special experience.”

The DVD of the international premiere has recently been released by ABC Classics and entered at number 2 in the ARIA Music DVDs chart. And Cottis can’t wait to bring the work to Australia. “I’m Australian as well as Scottish,” she says, “so bringing it ‘home’ to Brisbane, and with the ever-fantastic players of the QSO, is likely to be even more meaningful. These kinds of experiences are rare but they show what music at its greatest can always do – remind us of what is truly meaningful in life.”

Watch an excerpt from The Gallipoli Symphony, conducted by Jessica Cottis.

The Gallipoli Symphony world premiere performance is available on DVD from ABC Classics and can be purchased here.

Notes For Editors

Named one of the UK's "five young conductors to watch" by The Independent newspaper and "one of the big hopes for change" by the Sydney Morning Herald, Jessica Cottis recently finished her tenure as Assistant Conductor at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, first to Vladimir Ashkenazy and then to David Robertson. Previously she has assisted Donald Runnicles at the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Charles Dutoit with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas with the San Francisco Symphony. Before all of which, the Royal Academy of Music graduate was taught by Sir Colin Davis.

Since launching her guest conducting career, Jessica has been much in demand and has conducted at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Queensland Symphony, BBC Scottish Symphony, London Philharmonic, BBC Philharmonic, New Zealand Symphony, Bit20 Ensemble, BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Scottish Opera, the Edinburgh Festival, the Aldeburgh Festival and elsewhere. She balances popular core classical repertoire with contemporary music - she is the principal conductor of Glasgow's New Music Expedition - and outreach and educational work (for the Queensland Symphony, the UK's National Youth Orchestra and others).

Other high-profile achievements include conducting an all-female composers programme in Cardiff for International Women's Day and the Women Of The World Orchestra at London's Royal Festival Hall, and founding London's Bloomsbury Opera. She has appeared on various broadcast outlets, including as conducting mentor to presenter Jenni Murray on a Radio "Woman's Hour" special (BBC Radio 4) and in a similar capacity to DJ Trevor Nelson in BBC Two Television's series "Maestro at the Opera". She has broadcast on the subjects of Brahms and of Verdi, both for Radio 4.

She has conducted world-class soloists such as Sarah Chang, Kathryn Stott, Nikolai Demidenko and Nicola Benedetti, and was recently made Associate Member of the Royal Academy of Music (RAM).

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