Canberra composer Michael Sollis hasn’t slowed down since COVID-19 restrictions heavily disrupted arts across the world in March.
Between his various roles as director of leading Canberra chamber group, Griffyn Ensemble, Musica Viva’s artistic director of education, and facilitating the Canberra Artists Action Group, Sollis has recently found time to return to one of his loves, composing new work.
Sollis has written a brand-new piccolo solo he composed for and in collaboration with his wife, acclaimed flautist Kiri Sollis, and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO), called The Hairyworm Hobble.
The curiously named work will premiere tonight at 6.45pm via the CSO’s YouTube channel.
Sollis told Canberra Weekly that creating The Hairyworm Hobble has been his first opportunity “in a long time” to create new music.
He said collaborating with his wife is one of his favourite pursuits, the couple having done so “since we’ve known each other”.
“When you’re a composer, sometimes too much stress can be placed on making sure you have enough notes on the page; what you want is the right idea and framework for a performer,” he said.
“To be able to collaborate with her on that is fantastic, that’s what’s exciting about being a creator, it’s a collaborative process.”
The work’s title comes from a 19th century superstition, where people would wear the carcass of a caterpillar around their neck to stave off the whopping cough – at that time caterpillars were known as hairyworms.
“I had this image in my head of a creature moving through a landscape and the name came afterward,” Sollis said.
“I hope people laugh, it’s a two-minute piece for solo piccolo, it has a bit of character, hopefully people find it a little bit amusing, it’s kind of like a demented march.”
No slowdown during pandemic
It’s not an overstatement to say the last six months have been a busy time for Sollis.
“Since COVID started, most of my energy was really put into helping others in the arts sector and the broader community,” he said.
Between spending a lot of time facilitating the Canberra Artists Action Group – helping dozens of local artists navigate their way through the turbulence of the pandemic – Sollis’ role at Musica Viva has also led to him enlisting 60 of Australia’s finest musicians to perform over 300 online interactive concerts for students across the country.
He’s also been working on a new, ground-breaking performance with the Griffyn Ensemble, titled Songs from a Stolen Senate, that will premiere online next week – 4 September at 7pm and 5 September at 2pm & 7pm.
Sollis described the feat he’s accomplished with Musica Viva as the “biggest project I’ve been involved in in my life”.
“It really speaks to power of creativity to bring people together,” he said.
“The power of creativity to navigate uncertainty, kids across country being inspired by these concerts, to create and deal with these really trying times,” he said.
The Griffyn Ensemble’s Songs from a Stolen Senate will premiere works by six different First Nations composers, all from different backgrounds, all of whom are telling their own stories.
“It’s inspiring to be able to translate their stories of witnessing youth in custody, having people they know get shot by police, their reflections on climate change, solar generation, and the words of Indigenous politicians,” he said.
Part of this process involved recording the works and accompanying video footage at Mulligans Flat, a significant site for the local Ngunnawal people.
“We worked with local Ngunnawal custodians to perform at Mulligans … we’ve done filming out there just recently for the project,” Sollis said.
“It sent shivers down your spine to bring these Indigenous voices to Canberra and share them in these three online performances.”
Visit the Griffyn Ensemble’s website to register for Songs from a Stolen Senate.