Musical explorer: meet NZSO National Youth Orchestra Composer in Residence Ihlara McIndoe

We’re delighted to have Dunedin composer Ihlara McIndoe as this year’s NZSO National Youth Orchestra Composer in Residence.

Along with her music performed by the NZSO and other New Zealand ensembles, her works have featured in international composer forums. Prior to lockdown last year Ihlara travelled to Antarctica as an Inspiring Explorer with the Antarctic Heritage Trust. 


What have you been up to recently?

I have been working on two works for my community engagement project as part of the Antarctic Heritage Trust Inspiring Explorers programme: a solo flute work to be performed by Jennifer Timmins, and a piece for the Dunedin Youth Orchestra, which includes audio recordings taken while I was in Antarctica.


Can you tell us about a project or two that you really enjoyed in the past?

At the end of 2020 I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write for Japanese instruments koto and shō, as part of a project produced by composer Dylan Lardelli, for musicians Mayumi Miyata and Nanae Yoshimura. This was a great challenge as I had never written for koto or shō before! I loved the research process for this piece.

I also always love writing music for my friends. Recently I wrote another Antarctic-inspired work for Nathaniel Otley (violin) and Mark Menzies (viola), with electronics. I really enjoyed the process of collaborating to try out different interpretations of gestures within this piece.


Tell us about the piece you’re writing for the NZSO National Youth Orchestra?

My experience with the Antarctic Heritage Trust introduced me to the concepts of exploration and preservation (from an environmental and Antarctic history perspective) as inspirations for composition. Over the course of the past year, as I have been using these concepts within my compositions, I have started thinking about them more in the context of classical music as an industry, and the cultural and social significance of the orchestra.

Orchestral organisations, now more than ever, sit in a difficult position, somewhat torn between the need to preserve the integrity and history of classical music, while simultaneously needing to explore new ways of thinking about and experiencing music to ensure a loyal and engaged audience in the long-term future.

I see a responsibility as a young composer to write with these themes in mind: understanding the integrity of the orchestra as a historical cultural and social force, while exploring new ways of hearing and experiencing orchestral music in reflection of our ever-changing world.

Flowing from this thinking, I aim for this composition to be an immersive experience which both reassures and challenges the audience in their ideas of what it means to go to an orchestra concert, and what it means to experience sound. Audience members would be immersed in a sound world which they themselves are an important part of.


Do you have any ideas about how it’ll come together?

I’m hoping that (health and safety approval pending!) the Orchestra can be spread around the venue. I want to break down the wall between the audience and the Orchestra, and I also want to challenge the way we are used to hearing sound in a concert context. I hope to be able to create waves of sound swirling in different directions. The exact logistics of this are yet to be determined but planning currently involves print-outs of several floorplans, lots of colourful highlighters, and a bunch of Sellotape and manuscript paper.


What music have you been listening to recently?

I’ve been working with 2019 NZSO Young Composers Award winner Nathaniel Otley recently to build a programme of new music to perform together – so I’ve been listening to a lot of music for violin and piano – Toshio Hosokawa, Eve de Castro Robinson, Rebecca Saunders, to name a few composers. I’m also trying to deepen my knowledge on Australian music, so have been listening to a lot of Liza Lim. I think my most played artist on Spotify is still Björk though – I love her!


Listen to Ihlara McIndoe interviewed on RNZ Concert