APO Young Composer residency orchestrates opportunity

10 October 2016
Josiah Carr
Josiah Carr

If you ever see Josiah Carr on the train, chances are he's creating some sonic magic. "Most days I'm writing music of some sort," says Josiah, an honours student in composition who has been named the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s (APO) Rising Star Young Composer-in-Residence. "I quite often work on a piece on the train, it's a great way to spend the commute!"

Josiah discovered the APO's Rising Star Young Composer-in-Residence opportunity through the APO website, submitting an original orchestral piece alongside a composition an APO ensemble had previously played at the annual composition workshop in Nelson. "I'm quite familiar with the APO," Josiah tells. "I've seen them perform many times, I am part of the Our Voice ensemble workshop happening towards the end of the semester and I know a few of the players, so I know a little bit about what to expect from the orchestral world."

Over the next six months or so, Josiah will be producing three scores as part of his residency, each with its own specific brief. During the APO Summer School programme, advanced young music students will work through Josiah's first composition alongside professional orchestral mentors. "It will be interesting in terms of ability," Josiah predicts. "I want to produce something that will be suitable, but still stand on its own musically. There's a lot of simple music which for me isn't musically satisfying, so that will be a good challenge." The second piece is for an APOPS (APO Partnership Schools) ensemble who will perform this work at schools across Auckland, so while the players are professional, the music still needs to be accessible for a school-aged audience. "This one has an interesting orchestration of violin, viola, cello and oboe, so it will be interesting to put together," Josiah says.

He is hoping to lift the profile of composition within high schools, and is enjoying having the odd opportunity to teach both composition and conducting in that environment. "I think composition is almost a foreign concept in most high schools. I really like teaching, and can see myself having this as part of my working career. There have been people and teachers in my life who have been really influential, and I'd like to be that person for others." With his third composition being aimed at a secondary school audience, he will have the opportunity to inspire in another way. Before April next year, Josiah will be completing a piece to be played by the APO before secondary school audiences. The APO's Discovery Concert is designed to educate students about orchestral music, and it is this piece which excites Josiah the most. "It's the full force APO, where I don’t have the restrictions of the other works. There will be limitless opportunities for this piece in terms of what I can write."

Having played percussion, bass, drums, guitar and dabbled in keyboard and piano, Josiah doesn't have first-hand experience in the majority of orchestral instruments he will be writing for. What he does have, however, is significant knowledge of how each instrument works. "I spent a lot of time reading about instruments in high school; understanding their ranges, the sounds they made and their extended techniques," he says. This has given him an advantage when composing, with very few incidents of players coming to him saying they're unable to do what he's asked of them. "At the end of the day, they're the professional players and know what's best for their instrument. It's like a working relationship – I go in with an open mind in terms of adapting the piece, as their experience is only going to make the piece better."

During his residency, Josiah will be working closely with Karlo Margetić, the APO's current Composer-in-Residence who was himself a Rising Star in 2007-2008. Karlo will act as a mentor for Josiah, who expects to be able to contact him freely for advice. "I've not met him yet - he's based in Wellington - but I identify with his music quite a lot, which is cool. I'm about to ask him about working with school audiences, and once I have things written down, I'll send him off some scores for review," he says.

With a masters degree on the cards for 2017, Josiah is considering his options for his future. "If I had my way, I'd love to have a show on Broadway or the West End," he says. Musical theatre offered him an early opportunity to have his scores played, with a high school teacher giving him the chance to produce two musicals for his high school. "Theatre is a completely different hat to the one I'm currently wearing, but having that opportunity was how I decided composition was for me. There's no saying where this opportunity with the APO will take me, but I'd like to tackle another musical at some stage in my career."

One of his lecturers, Associate Professor Eve de Castro-Robinson, describes Josiah as innately musical, with an impressive fluency in colourful instrumental and orchestral writing, as well as the ability to turn his hand to lighter styles. "Josiah has always been zealous and driven about his music-making, whether composition or performance, and I've no doubt he’ll make a success of any venture."

Works Josiah has produced during the academic year will be featuring in the upcoming Douglas Lillburn Trust Composition and Llewelyn Jones Piano Composition prize concerts. For more information on these events, visit the Creative Arts and Industries website.

You can find out more about Josiah and his work via his Facebook page.