Alumni News – Ben Robinson, Class of 2014

After graduating from St Columba in 2014 I worked at the school for a year as the Performing Arts Centre of Excellence (PACE) Assistant, conducting various vocal ensembles and providing technical assistance for SCAS’s performing arts productions. This allowed me to move to Sydney and begin my Bachelor of Music (Composition) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Since then, my time at the Conservatorium has been spent improving my compositional skills, networking among promising young musicians and industry contacts, learning about Sydney’s classical music industry and learning how to build a career post-university. Essentially, I’ve been slowly breaking into Sydney’s classical music scene, and I’m excited to continue this journey after graduating at the end of this year.

I’ve been very fortunate to have learned privately from some of Australia’s leading composers, and worked closely with various semi-professional performers including the clarinet ensemble, The Clari Boys; the saxophone quartet, Sarasax; Ensemble Apex’s Sam Weller; and Gondwana Choirs. I’ve discovered that I really enjoy writing intricate, interweaving music, which often lends itself to small ensembles and wind instruments. One of Australia’s leading wind quintets, Arcadia Winds, have commented, “We all loved how Ben took a simple idea and developed it with imagination and flair.” 

My biggest achievements over the last few years have been: in July 2018 I won the AMEB Centenary Fanfare Competition, receiving the prize of $5,000 – this piece is now the processional music for AMEB NSW’s official ceremonies; in August 2018 I wrote a confronting political piece about gun control in America, We Call B.S., which was featured in ‘Extended Play’, a twelve-hour new-music festival at Sydney’s City Recital Hall; in September 2018 I was awarded the second prize in Arcadia Winds’ composition competition for my wind quintet, Earworm; and in June 2019 my piece Expansion for alto saxophone and electronics was premiered as part of Vivid Sydney, a commission for Konzertprojekt’s mini-festival, ‘Light Qualities’ — this piece will receive its first international performance in September 2019 at the Asia Saxophone Congress in Shanghai.

This is my final year at the Conservatorium. After I graduate I plan on staying in Sydney and continuing to build a profile as a dedicated and competent composer. I’m already designing and curating a concert-series for 2020 which will showcase eight of Sydney’s most promising young performers and composers; this is a way to create my own professional opportunity, and if the project receives enough funding to go ahead, it will also create an important asset to Sydney’s cultural scene. I can definitely see myself returning to study composition after a year or so, as there is still so much to learn and there are some great composers I’d like to learn from. 

My piece Earworm will be premiered by The Icarus Wind Quintet on their regional tour in August this year. The Icarus Wind Quintet was formed at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music by Joshua Ning (oboe), Nicholas D’Silva (clarinet) and Nicholas Zengoski (bassoon) to fulfil their shared interest in chamber music. Originally playing together as a reed trio, they expanded into the Icarus Wind Quintet with Ella Jeong (flute) and Oliver Harris (horn) in 2017. The quintet has also explored a variety of standard and less familiar repertoire using expanded instrumental combinations as the Icarus Chamber Project, holding a number of successful concerts.

The Icarus Wind Quintet will be coming to the Port Macquarie Glasshouse on Friday the 16th of August at 12:30pm as part of the Glasshouse’s Lunchtime Concerts series. In addition to my piece, they will be playing Le Petit Patisserie by Jacques Leclair and Carl Nielsen’s famous Wind Quintet, Op. 43. The group will also perform in Hawks Nest, Dorrigo, Forster, Nambucca Heads and Kempsey between the 10th and 18th of August.

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