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(Photo credit: Jim Rolon)

Andrew Ford’s “The Meaning of Trees” to Receive World Premiere

Commissioned by the Australian Youth Orchestra in 2020, they will premiere this work on December 15, 2022, at the Melbourne Town Hall


Andrew Ford OAM is a composer, writer, and broadcaster, whose music often responds to literature or the visual arts. Recently, his pieces have increasingly drawn on his experience of people and places in the New South Wales Southern Highlands, where he resides with his wife and daughter.

One of those works is The Meaning of Trees, which Ford composed between 2019 and 2020. Dedicated to Robyn Williams and commissioned by the Australian Youth Orchestra (AYO), this 16-minute orchestral work focuses on nature and the ever-changing climate. 

The piece will receive its world premiere performance by the AYO with conductor Matthew Coorey on December 15, 2022, at 7:30 PM at the Melbourne Town Hall. The concert program also includes Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No.1 with cellist Pei Sian Ng and Stravinsky’s 1911 version of The Firebird: Suite.

The Violin Channel had a chance to learn more about the work from the composer himself:


VC: What was your idea or inspiration behind the work?

Andrew Ford: The piece came together rather gradually. It was always a piece about the natural world and the climate — I've never been one to feature causes in my music, but more and more, I find myself addressing this issue. For a youth orchestra, it seemed to me, I simply had to write music that would in some way concern itself with the players' future and the existential threat to it. The title comes from an African proverb: 'The meaning of the tree is in the shade it provides.'


What was your compositional process? How do you take a piece from an idea in your mind to a full-fledged score?

My initial idea had been to compose something gentle and consoling. I figured that I should be offering some hope to the players of The Meaning of Trees, whether or not I felt particularly hopeful myself. 

So the dry, windy, rattly sounds that dominate the first part of the piece would give way, gradually, to something lusher as the planet renewed itself. Specifically, my noisy music would be imperceptibly taken over by Handel's Largo, that orchestral piece based on the aria 'Ombra mai fu', King Xerxes' song in praise of the shade of trees. That was the plan. But I was working on this piece during the summer of 2019-20 when South-eastern Australia was on fire. 

The Australian Bush is meant to burn — that's how it regenerates — but by December 2019, forests that had never burnt before, were burning; rain forests were ablaze. By New Year's Eve, my family felt it prudent to evacuate our New South Wales Southern Highlands home. We returned a couple of days later, then evacuated again on January 4, and on this second occasion we were absolutely right: the fire came very close to our town. So the direction of the piece changed; consolation was replaced by rage.


What do you hope listeners will take away with them upon listening to the piece?

I hope listeners will take some of that rage away with them. More importantly, I hope the players do. While the members of the orchestra will be in their teens and early twenties, the majority of the audience will be twenty to fifty years older. In other words, the players will be performing The Meaning of Trees to an audience - me included - representative of the generations that have imperiled their future.


To attend the AYO’s performance of this piece, click here.


Ford’s music has been broadcast and performed internationally, including by the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), Brodsky Quartet, New Juilliard Ensemble, Het Trio, Hong Kong Sinfonietta, London Sinfonietta, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, among many others. His works for orchestra or large ensemble have been conducted by Jeffrey Tate, Marko Letonja, Benjamin Northey, and recent Ivors Composer Award winner, Brett Dean.

A graduate of the University of Lancaster, Ford studied composition with Edward Cowie and John Buller, plus received mentorship from Sir Michael Tippett. Ford later taught at the University of Wollongong, where he also completed his doctoral studies, and from 1992 to 1994, was composer-in-residence with the ACO. His many accolades include the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards and the Medal of the Order of Australia in the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honors.

Founded in 1948, the AYO is a non-profit training organization for young pre-professional musicians, providing tailored programs each year for aspiring musicians, composers, arts administrators and music journalists aged between 12 and 30. 

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