All things Australian - An Interview with composer Michael Bakrnčev

bakrncev Kupka pianist Alex takes a break from rehearsals for a yarn with composer Michael Bakrnčev. We're super excited to be giving the premiere of his new trio for flute, percussion and piano entitled 'Fortified Echoes' this Saturday 16th May at the State Library of Queensland as part of QSOCurrent

Alex Raineri: You're a very active young composer! I'm interested to hear about your latest and upcoming projects?

Michael Bakrnčev: Thank you, yeah it's important to be active, especially as a young composer - I think that's the best way to learn, by doing and learning from your actions. I have just written a clarinet quartet for Blackwood who will premiere it over in Madrid, it was really cool writing for them because I got to write for two bass clarinets which isn't something that you get to do very often. My Piano Trio based on a Macedonian folk melody will be performed later this year in Melbourne which i'm really looking forward to.

I'm currently writing a piece for sax and piano which is inspired by heavy metal and thrash metal music, lots of bashing on the piano which seems to be something that i'm interested in lately, that'll be performed in the Netherlands and here in Melbourne later in the year. I'm also writing a work for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for the Cybec composers program, which i'm looking forward to - it'll be my best and latest attempt at writing for orchestra, and I have a feeling that not everybody is going to like it, but I know that i'll probably be able to look at it from afar and think "fuck yeah mate, this isn't so bad!"

Other than that, i'm curating concerts with my orchestra, The Melbourne Met, which is going really well, the next concert is all female Aussie composers, so it should be top shelf. I've also written this fairly bad arse piece for you guys, which i'd say is one of the best pieces i've ever written.

AR: Fortified Echoes was commissioned specifically for QSOCurrent and QANZAC100. Could you tell us how the piece explores this thematic context? 

MB: For me, the main thing that I had in my mind was that part in the movie "Gallipoli" (with Mel Gibson) right at the end, when the main actor (the runner) gets shot and killed and that's where the movie freeze-frames and it rolls to credits. Thats always stuck in my mind, from the first time I watched it as a kid, and the second time as an adult. The work isn't supposed to go with that scene at all, it's just what I had in my mind while writing.

AR: How then did that affect the way you approached musical materials?

MB: The frantic-ness of the piccolo part and bashing of the piano as well as machine-gun style percussion part is all reminiscent of war. The only thing that makes any obvious reference is the alto flute part in the end, which has the beginning of the last post - the fifths - which is basically what the entire piece is based on, harmonically speaking. It's always shifting in fifths.

AR: Who are some musical idols - eg. performers/composers/colleagues/mentors?

MB: These days i'm making a shift in my musical consciousness to revolve around all things Australian. I'm not quite there yet, but the main ones that are sticking with me are my current teacher Elliott Gyger, Peter Sculthorpe, Sun-Ju Song, Phillip Gearing, Martin Crook, Mary Finsterer, Paul Grabowski, Larry Sitsky, and ensembles such as Chamber Made Opera, The Song Company, Syzygy, Plexus, Kupka's Piano, Chronology Arts, Speak Percussion and others.

But, if I look back, then influences are - Macedonian folk music, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Bartok, Mozart, Beethoven, Ravel, Debussy - Guns n Roses, AC/DC, Queen, Children of Bodom, Powderfinger, The Cat Empire, Michael Jackson & JET.

AR: What are you listening to at the moment? Top five desert island pieces? 

MB: I've been listening to Peter Sculthorpe's ABC boxed set recording, with a focus on his orchestral works - it's been interesting to map his musical style from the very beginning of his professional career. I've also bought my 4th cousin's CD boxed set - Anthony Pateras' collected works - which is pretty wicked.

Top five desert island pieces ... 1) Pushteno Oro by the Boys from Buf 2) Tchaikovsky's 5th 3) Stravinsky's Rite of Spring 4) My own 'Vidi' 5) Any recording of my nephew and girlfriend talking/singing