Could the TSO’s newest concerto be a “future masterpiece”?

Written by Stephanie Eslake, December 2023

In October 2023, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra presented the world premiere of a piece that was commissioned by a local music lover, composed by a Melbourne artist, and performed by an expert soloist who has long made this island her home.

Could their music be a “future masterpiece” in the making?

TSO Concertmaster Emma McGrath says the only way we’ll know is if we keep exploring and showcasing new music. And considering the standing ovation she received when she played the solo in this work – Joe Chindamo’s original Violin Concerto – it may one day become an Australian staple for her instrument.

“All orchestras need to take risks and perform new music, otherwise we will never discover the future masterpieces,” Emma says.

“Australian orchestras need to support new Australian compositions to further solidify our classical music identity, and continue to give it a future.”

This concerto commission was initiated by Parker – husband of the orchestra’s CEO Caroline Sharpen – because he “wanted to do something to support the TSO, and to help the TSO continue its fine tradition of championing Australian music”.

The architect and driving force behind the commission grew up attending orchestral concerts in Sydney. He says classical music has been with him for five decades, during which time he also became a loyal listener to the TSO through its recordings and live concert broadcasts on ABC Classic FM.

“The feeling of being able to contribute to the development of Australian music after having listened to it for so long is wonderful,” Andrew says.

Although he provided generous backing that would enable this piece of music to come to life, Andrew speaks candidly about his own role in the project. He knew that to make it work, he needed to trust the experts, “get out of the way, and enjoy seeing what emerged”.

Joe Chindamo and Emma McGrath.
Emma McGrath performing Chindamo.

That’s where the orchestra’s artistic team came in, and Andrew says TSO Director Artistic Identity Simon Rogers picked just the right talent for the commission: Australian composer-pianist Joe Chindamo OAM.

“My hope was that Joe could write a work that he was proud of, that showed off Emma’s virtuosity, and that was consistent with Joe’s canon,” Andrew says. And with this team locked in, he had no doubt the result would be “technically significant, exciting, and with sufficient appeal that it could become a cornerstone of the Australian literature”.

But while Andrew was humble enough to let the creative team get stuck into the practical side of the project, he certainly wasn’t passive throughout the process. He observed the concert preparation with Emma and conductor Otto Tausk as they analysed and played through the score, and he listened to the full orchestral rehearsals that he describes as “an absolute highlight”.

“I was made to feel incredibly welcome and part of the process. The sense of involvement was very powerful and exhausting at the same time because everyone gives their all physically and emotionally.”

Emma describes a similar experience: she felt the music was a journey through “the gamut of human emotion”.

“It is engaging throughout and has wonderful architecture,” Emma shares. “It all builds towards the end, which is astonishingly exciting. It’s like watching a movie with a great plot and wonderful actors – you couldn’t wish for anything more.” 

Emma and Joe spent plenty of time planning how the score would turn out, and she told the composer to “go for it and to not hold back”. He had familiarised himself with her unique style of playing through listening to recordings and having heard her in past performances. Emma says she hoped he would write to the strengths of her instrument, and as there were “no egos and there was no tension whatsoever”, they were able to forge a successful collaboration throughout the composition process.

“We have the same goals: to create and recreate beautiful music that makes a difference in today’s world,” Emma recalls.

It wasn’t Joe’s first time working with the TSO, either: the string section has recorded his music for an ABC Classics release, and performed his music in the Obscura series. In 2021, the TSO also premiered their commission of his Concerto for Orchestra. So it’s no surprise that as soon as he had his first meeting with Emma, Joe knew this project “would be special”.

“She is so open-minded and excited by a wide spectrum of music-making,” Joe remarks.

“From the outset, I was made to feel so comfortable about creating a concerto for her that the piece almost wrote itself.”

To inspire “outside-the-square thinking”, he asked Emma if there was a concerto she’d love to play – but hasn’t yet been written. This gave him a feel for the types of music she’d be passionate about, which he combined with his own voice as a composer to ensure the music would sound “authentic, honest, and fresh”.

But when asked to break down the music, Joe is hesitant to describe the building blocks. Instead, he takes pride in the way the smallest musical elements are combined to share a story that in the concert precis he described as both a “nod to the great tradition to its adherence to time-honoured conventions” and a work that “reflects the pulse of our own time – that is alive to and speaks of the spirit of the day”.

Otto Tausk conducting.
Emma McGrath performing a violin solo.

He feels that spirit was captured by the performer who “embodies all the great qualities that I look for in a contemporary musician”.

“Emma is a classical virtuoso with all the sensibilities and skills that entails, plus a cool sense of rhythm one expects from a top-tier jazz musician coupled with the wild-child attitude of a rock ‘n’ roll maverick,” Joe praises.

“She is the perfect modern violinist, and it was a joy to write for her. This sense of modernity and ability to embrace new music with a great degree of natural ease is also a quality I love about TSO,” he says.

“When can we please do this again? I can’t wait!”

Commissions come in all shapes and sizes. If you are interested in helping create more Australian stories through music, please contact

Emma McGrath

Coming up in 2024

Emma McGrath steps into the spotlight as soloist in the third and final violin concerto by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Dedicated to Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate – one of the most lauded of violinists – the Third Violin Concerto will dazzle and delight.

Saturday 12 Oct 2024 7:30pm,
Federation Concert Hall, nipaluna / Hobart

Book Now