Fall Orchestral Sessions

The PARMA team just returned from our last two orchestral recording trips of the year, producing a mix of orchestral and chamber recordings in both Russia and the Czech Republic this September and October.  The past two months saw music recorded from Carl Vollrath, Phillip Rhodes, Jay Anthony Gach, Stephen Lias, Douglas Anderson, TJ Sclafani, David Tanner, Michael Lee, Yves Ramette, and Alan Beeler.
We had the pleasure of working with Australian composer, Margaret Brandman, in both September and October.  We recorded a wide variety of her music and Margaret was able to join us for sessions in the Czech Republic.  Upon her return to Australia, I had the chance to ask Margaret a few questions about her trip.
AB: You recorded a variety of works with PARMA and the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra in the Czech Republic over the past few months.  What was the general experience like and how did it compare to past recordings you’ve been involved with?
MB: What an exhilarating experience recording with the Moravian Orchestra!  Being present to comment on the interpretation and performance at the time of the recording was a very satisfying and rewarding….a rare treat, as composers do not always get the chance to be on site during performances and recordings.
Margaret Brandman

The orchestra played my music with a great accuracy and depth of feeling, which allowed my music to truly breathe and sing.  Their interpretation not only captured my musical original concept but added another special dimension to the notes I had written, something I have not experienced with other orchestras that have performed my music.

In addition the process seemed quite streamlined as the conductor and all the musicians demonstrated great sensitivity to the musical lines I had written and were able to learn the parts very quickly.
I was impressed with the efficiency of the recording process,  Bob Lord’s producing experience, and the professionalism of all concerned. 
This was the first time I had traveled to the Czech Republic, so it was an interesting travel experience as well.

AB: What were the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of the recording process?  Did anything unexpected come up once you heard a score performed by a live orchestra?
MB: Two of the orchestral works, ‘Undulations’ and ‘Lyric Fantasy’, have been performed on previous occasions, and I have had the privilege of attending some of the performances. However the wonderful Moravian Orchestra under the direction of Petr Vronsky far outdid any of the previous performances, with accuracy of intonation and rhyhmic cohesion, plus their intuitive interpretation of the natural rise and fall of my melodies and phrasing and suitable dynamic range.
AB: Some of your works reference the flora and fauna of your home country, Australia.  What was your inspiration behind some of the pieces we recorded together and can you tell us more about the music that was recorded?
MB: Several of my pieces reference my native Australian landscape, birds and animals to which as I feel very connected. (One of my books of pieces for piano – Contemporary Modal Pieces, has pieces with Australian Animal Titles)
Margaret Brandman with Lucie Kaucká

‘Undulations,’ seeks to express the wave movements in the ocean on the eastern seaboard of Australia, near which I was born and am currently living.  (I love to swim in the ocean as we have such wonderful beaches along the Sydney coastline.)
The first movement is a theme and variations based on a poignant adagio theme while the second movement is more animated. It begins with a section of rhythmic hocket and then introduces ostinati with floating melody lines.
Firestorm Symphony is a descriptive work which depicts the atmosphere and my emotions during the summers of 1993-94 and 2001 during which time my family and I fought a fire that had taken hold in our house the forested Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.
In the 2001-2002 fire season, the fires were so intense, the smoke was blown right over Sydney Harbour.
The first movement depicts the searing summer heat on a still day, with the only sound being that of the plaintive sound of the Eastern Spinebill (bird)  followed by sharp gusts of wind carrying dangerous embers which cause widespread outbreaks of fires. As the wind picks up the piercing sound of the cockatoos fleeing the fires is heard, signifying the danger ahead. The dramatic sections in this movement, seek to capture the tension of these times.
The second movement begins with the sound of three bells tolling as heard in the memorial service for the victims of the fires. It depicts the sorrow and reflection of the nation after the devastation of the fires, which, in the 1993-4 fire season, for the first time affected even suburban areas of Sydney where several lives were lost and many people were left homeless.  The nation reels back, stunned by the ferocity of the fires. Yet through the tears there are signs of renewal and a sense that life must go on.
The final movement reflects the renewal of the bush with new green shoots appearing after the fires and the rebuilding of lives affected by the tragedy. To achieve this effect I composed lively cross rhythms and used Quartal harmony lending a feeling of vigour and brightness to the piece.
Binna Burra Dreaming (for violin and piano) – Binna Burra is the aboriginal place name for ‘where the Beech Tree grows’.
Dreaming refers to the Aboriginal Dream-time stories.  Binna Burra is a world-heritage site among the Gondwana Rainforest of Australia, located near the Gold Coast in the Australian state of Queensland.  Local aborigines used the place for shelter and cooking.
Therefore in this work I incorporate effects which suggest the Australian Aboriginal musical instrument the Didjeridoo ( https://www.didjshop.com) and wind gently flowing through the branches of the trees of the Gondwana forest. As the themes are explored and developed taking the listener through various moods various rhapsodic sections are contrasted with sections employing contemporary rhythms.
The Eastern Spinebill (for violin and piano) is an arrangement of the first movement of Firestorm Symphony for violin and piano, In this work I include sounds of our native birds, the Cockatoos and the Eastern Spinebill which I heard while living in the Blue Mountains. I also incorporate wind effects, and the rhythms of aboriginal clap sticks.

Eastern Spinebill
The other works recorded were purely musical works rather than descriptive works.
AB: You wear many “hats” in the music industry.  What other engagements do you have in addition to composing?
MB: I started out in music at a very young age, playing several instruments including piano and accordion. My family owned and operated a music education and instrument business in Sydney – Brandman Music Studio.
My mother Else Brandman taught accordion and piano and employed many teachers of other instruments.  I grew up surrounded by music of many music genres and exposed to the sounds of many instruments.
I performed at my first concert at age 6 and then at the Brandman Music Studio annual concerts for at least 12 years from then. After completing studies at the music specialist high school in the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney, I attended Sydney University where I majored in composition. Concurrently with the university course, from the age of 18, I began work as a professional pianist performing either solo, or with various ensembles or as accompanist for singers or other instrumentalists.
Therefore by now, I have had experience in many aspects of the music industry. My various musical hats include:
Producer Vit Muzik with Margaret Brandman

Performer – I have had a lot of stage experience and that continues to this day.  In the past two years, I have performed at my ‘Rhapsodies to Rhumbas’ concerts which were two-hour events featuring only my compositions played by a team of 12 musicians, plus concerts in Oxford, England where I performed my own works and just last week, a concert in my local area, accompanying the soloist and the choir, and performing my own compositions.  I am also currently writing two new song cycles for Baritone Martin Cooke (who sings with the Bavarian State Opera).  We intend to perform them together in Sydney in 2016 if all goes to plan.

Composer – Apart from my immediate family, composing is my absolute passion in life.  The creative process is a form of meditation in which I can become totally absorbed. I get the sense that I am channelling the music from the matrix and when playing it back often wonder at how that particular theme or rhythm happened to flow through me onto the page?
Music Educator – I have endeavoured to combine my interests in music education with my composing career.  I have been teaching piano for over 40 years and have devised a unique teaching system and a complete series of music education materials, many of which contain my original compositions for piano and other instruments. I also conduct Professional Development courses for Music teachers.
Published Author – Among the collection of materials I have written are a high school music text book (Accent on Music), a set of ear-training materials (Contemporary Aural Course),  a Piano Method, a Recorder Method and several music theory and harmony texts and workbooks.
Professional Arranger – over the years I have arranged many pieces for various ensembles and voice.   The arranging skills of course come in handy when composing my own original works for voice and piano or orchestral settings.
AB: What else should we know about you?
MB: I am interested in languages other than English.  My family heritage (on both sides) is German, although I was born in Australia.  When I was young German was spoken in the house by my parents and grandparents and I recall my mother singing children’s songs in German with me. Therefore the German language comes quite easily and is handy to have when travelling to Europe.
I enjoyed learning French at school, which means at least I understand French when travelling to Paris, and lately I have been learning Spanish as a hobby, which will come in handy for my trip to Cuba for the next recording session in November.
Apart from composing my daily activities include, yoga, walking, gardening (I love Australian native plants) and swimming in the ocean when the weather is fine. These activities provide a healthy balance considering I spend a lot of time at the piano (either composing or teaching) or arranging music at the computer. I am also a second level Rei-ki channel. Since doing the Rei-ki course back in 1994 many amazing things have fallen into place, through chance meetings and my e.s.p. seems even stronger since doing the course.  Music, like Rei-ki, is vibration and can affect people in very subtle ways, so having both in my life seems a perfect fit.
I read for information and enjoy doing cryptic crossword puzzles for relaxation.  I don’t spend much time watching TV or reading novels as I always have some musical project on the go that requires my attention.
I am now also a dual citizen of both Germany and Australia.  This is a recent development as the German government is now allowing the descendants of people who fled the Nazi regime in Germany, to once again obtain citizenship.  My grandfather, grandmother, father and four of his siblings (my uncle and aunts) all managed to immigrate to Australia in early 1939, just before the war broke out. 

They were sponsored by our state (NSW) commissioner of police at the time, who had visited the family Jewellery Shop in Berlin during the Olympic Games in 1936. Another amazing synchronicity, that actually saved the whole family.  The business was confiscated by the Nazis so when the family came to Australia that had to make a fresh start.
Brandman Family Jewely Shop, Berlin, Germany

Having my new German passport made it extremely easy to travel to Europe for the recent recordings, as I was able to use the European Union smart gate to enter the country. In recent years I have been archiving the family history and as a result I feel more connected to my German roots. In fact I have music already published in Germany by Furore Music, who publish exclusively women composer’s works.

Keep an eye out for updates on Margaret’s project.  You can learn more about her and listen to her music at www.margaretbrandman.com

One thought on “Fall Orchestral Sessions

  1. It is just so very pleasant to follow your 'journey' as you connect with your 'heritage'? 'roots'? It was all so much easier for me. You may not like me referring to this but I am again!!! reminded of how my Oma (Grandmother) Postma, fed the two German soldiers who'd come to her back door, saying: “They're just boys!”.

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