Q & A with composer Lisa Illean
14 November 2017

Born in Sydney, Australia, Lisa Illean graduated from the Royal College of Music in 2015 with the Corbett and Hurlstone prize for outstanding achievement and is currently a Soirée d'Or Scholar on their doctoral programme. Lisa Illean's music has been described as 'exquisitely quiet shadows shaded with microtunings' (The Sydney Morning Herald) and 'a compelling exercise in stillness and quietude' (The Australian). Her ensemble works have been performed by the BBC, Sydney and Melbourne symphony orchestras, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Scordatura, Octandre Ensemble and Explorensemble, among others. She is one of the winners of the 2016 Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize.

Lisa Illean's piece Januaries features on the Philharmonia Composers' Academy album which is available to download here.



Can you share with us your top five contemporary composers and/or pieces?

There have been moments when a piece or a composer has meaningfully altered how I make sense of sound: this happened the first time I heard Luigi Nono live, and the first time I heard a longer Feldman work live too … the physicality of the sound, the presence of those playing and the collective experience of the audience were all part of this mix.  Some improvised music that I’ve heard in Melbourne or London has also had this effect. But I’m wary of making lists.

I’ve recently been listening to/playing a lot of ‘old’ music; enjoying its mysterious lucidity, and the quietly unfolding sense of drama that a different, eddying approach to time affords.


Where and when was your first composition performed? What was it?

From the year we began working together, my first piano teacher encouraged me to write down really short pieces I would play myself. I suppose I was seven or eight, so they were super simple, odd things—but also strangely meticulous pieces, given that their harmony was so intuitive and irreverent.  I just loved discovering sounds; and the richness of acoustic sound, with all the grains of detail staining it.  Apart from to my family, only one was ever performed: in a student concert at the opera house in Sydney.  That was a nice moment.


Any stories of unusual jobs you had prior to entering the music world?

I worked for a violin luthier/magician for a year between studies…


You’re stuck in a lift with three people of your choice (dead or alive)! Who are they and what would be the topic of discussion while you wait to get rescued?

Probably three great friends… ideally Emma would have her projector in tow, so we could settle in as for a long international flight and watch The Long Goodbye and The Passenger back-to-back.


What are you working on the moment?

My next project is a work for voice and electronics, for (terrific soprano) Juliet Fraser.  I’m making sketches at the moment, and my flat is a jungle-installation of microphones and instruments.


If you could collaborate with anyone across any genre or art form who would it be and why?

I have a good friend who’s a visual artist and I’m really looking forward to when we will make something together. His work is often about the perception of time, which is on the surface quite an unstable thing, but also underpinned by simple, cyclical patterns. Over the years we’ve built up an understanding of one another’s work, and a love of making good food together… we’d probably eat very well!


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All entries in chronological order
30 March 2011
11 March 2011
8 March 2011
4 January 2011
15 November 2010
31 August 2010
31 August 2010
4 August 2010
29 June 2010