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Syzygy Ensemble

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Syzygy Ensemble

A Q&A with Leigh Harrold from Syzygy Ensemble

What is your goal/s for your Local Heroes series in 2016?
To continue to provide our audiences with the highest quality music from the 20th and 21st centuries, curated in innovative and meaningful ways.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To wake up every morning knowing that I get paid to do something that I love and that helps me understand the world just that little bit more. As an added bonus, I get to do this in Melbourne, supported by loved ones, surrounded by dear friends, and with access to the best food and wine in the world!

What do you think about when you perform live?
Everything from 'now relax your shoulder and jaw here' to 'I wonder if we'll have fish and chips after the show?' I wish I could say I'm only thinking about the musical message I want to relay to the audience. Sometimes this is the case, but I think audiences would often be highly amused if they had access to the running commentary inside every performer's brain!

Which historical figure do you most identify with and why?
More and more, I find myself inspired by the great scientists of the past, particularly those that weren't satisfied with the prevailing philosophical or religious dogma because it didn't fit with what they observed. Galileo, Darwin, Curie, Feynman, Mandelbrot - all these guys pressed forward, often scared by the results of their experiments and uncovering uncomfortable truths all the while. We owe them a lot.

Where is your favourite place on Earth and why?
If I can be somewhere at any instant, doing something I love in the company of someone I love, and feeling untroubled while doing it, then I'm in my favourite place.

If you could swap places with any other human or animal who or what would you choose and why?
I'd definitely like to remain human! I adore animals but, perhaps selfishly, I relish having a human brain which can appreciate the cultural and intellectual achievements of the human race. I honestly can't think of another human being I'd like to swap place with, although in quieter, selfish moments, I do wonder what it would be like to have more control over the actions and decisions of a country - particularly at the moment when I disagree so absolutely with Australia's stance on immigration and climate change.

Who is your ideal audience?
Anyone who is thirsty to listen and who is receptive and open. Because Syzygy plays contemporary music, we're often playing pieces that haven't been heard much. We want the audience members to have visceral reactions to the music - even if the reactions aren't positive ones! We love nothing better than talking to our audiences afterwards - their reactions to our pieces and programming influences how we think about curating our future concerts.

What colours speak to you? Have you ever experienced synaesthesia? 
I don't experience synaesthesia however I'm naturally drawn to cooler colours like greens and purples. Different timbres in me often provoke textural imagery rather than colours, so I will often speak in rehearsals about certain passages being 'gritty', 'spiky', 'cloudy', 'liquid', etc.g person do you most admire and why

Which living person do you most admire and why?
I'm most in awe of public figures who promote humanitarianism in the face of blatant at-all-costs capitalism or territorialism. People like Rosie Batty, Gillian Triggs and Justin Trudeau, who are using their public profiles to sway us towards compassion (often in the face of vile opposition), inspire me and give me hope.

What is your favourite book and why?
I can't pick just one! From classic literature it is Joyce's Ulysses - the invention and scope is beyond remarkable. From modern literature it is Johnathan Franzen's The Corrections for almost the same reasons. Both books take people leading unremarkable lives and elevate their experiences to the remarkable and the transcendent. I love the idea that everyone can be special, even if everyone is not heroic or famous.

What is your favourite piece of music and why?
It is impossible to get a musician to name just one piece of music! But if I had to, then - following on from Q12 above - I would choose the 4th Symphony of Charles Ives. It does what the books do: it takes the day-to-day goings on of a country town with all the mundanities and routines and turns it into high art, recognising that every individual on the planet has an origin and a future, and is full of dreams and regrets. Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is performing this work in 2016, and I'm participating! I'm beyond excited... 

How did you come to play your instrument/s?
When I was 7, my parents bought a small Casio keyboard 'for the family' and apparently I went up to it in the lead-up to Christmas and started picking out Christmas Carols on it. This led to my parents asking me if I wanted to take formal keyboard and organ lessons, which led - at the age of 11 - to piano lessons in order to increase my finger strength. I was briefly diverted into a career as an industrial chemist upon leaving school, before classical pianism took a hold of my life and gradually took over. I maintain to this day that I had very little say in the matter!

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