Each year WASO’s Composition Project offers young and emerging composers the opportunity to develop their skills in a professional environment.

2022 sees the program return to its original format, after the 2020 and 2021 editions were altered due to COVID-19, seeing composers work with solo instruments. Participating composers from 2020 and 2021 were invited back this year, giving them the opportunity to compose for 14-piece chamber ensemble.

One of our 2020 and 2022 participants, Victor Arul, was announced earlier this year as having successfully secured one of only two places annually to study a PhD in composition at Harvard University. This huge achievement will see Victor commence his studies later this year, but before then, and before his new composition premieres, we were fortunate to chat with Victor about his work.

Victor Arul

How would you describe your ‘sound’?

It is in part inspired by the compositional logic of György Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki. I like to model these sorts of soundworlds with inanely-themed sonic gestures.

You recently completed an honours degree at The University of Melbourne under Elliott Gyger, whose latest composition received its world premiere by WASO in April. What were your key learnings from Elliott and how did they change the way you approach your work?

A key learning from Elliott was his approach to orchestration; he would talk of a theoretical spectrum with very focused textures on one end, and very washy textures on the other pole. He would explain that considering the compositional agenda at hand, it would be germane to think of what points on this spectrum would work best in particular scenarios. He would talk about how the symphonies of Jean Sibelius are great examples of how textures on the 'washy' end of the spectrum could be constructed and utilised without sounding like a mess. These key learnings, rather than fundamentally alter my compositional aesthetic, served to heighten the aesthetic which I had been developing before I met Elliott.

We’re pleased to have WASO Assistant Concertmaster, Semra Lee-Smith, leading the chamber ensemble for Composition Project this year. When you first completed the program back in 2020, you composed a solo work for Semra; what did you enjoy about composing for solo violin, and about working with Semra?

The violin is my favourite instrument to listen to; as an instrumental genre, I believe it is one of the most beautiful demonstrations of what is possible in the acoustic world. Writing for it in a solo context magnified the intimate and nuanced possibilities of the instrument.

Working with Semra in 2020 was great for many reasons. She is a great player and she was willing to try out any ideas I had no matter how bizarre. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, she is an awesome human being! I have really learnt a lot from working with her.

Semra Lee-Smith performs Victor’s composition for 2020 Composition Project

How has your approach to composition changed from 2020 to now?

I have become more concerned with deviating from conventional conceptualisations of form. In particular, I have been more inclined to explore how multidimensional approaches to form might manifest in my pieces.

Last year you were announced as one of the recipients of the Schenberg Music Fellowships alongside WASO’s current Composer in Residence, Olivia Davies. Have you worked with Olivia previously?

Yes - during my first year at The University of Western Australia Olivia was an honours student. This meant that we, as part of the compositional cohort, worked on issues raised at the weekly composition seminar through collective dialogue. Olivia has also led one of the Composition Project workshops this year, so I had the opportunity to work with her in a different capacity earlier this month.

Victor (right) discusses his 2020 composition with Composition Project Artistic Director, James Ledger

What are you most looking forward to in your future Harvard studies?

I'm most looking forward to working with a new set of highly passionate people in the field of music. In many respects, I'm looking forward to seeing how my experiences at Harvard complement the compositional experiences I've had thus far in Australia.

Victor’s new composition, Elective Affinities, will have its world premiere as part of the Composition Project concert on Tuesday 24 May at Perth Concert Hall. Book your free ticket here.