New symphony celebrates a life of icy service

Far South Symphony

Video transcript

GORDON HAMILTON, composer/conductor:
I’m here in Antarctica near Casey Station working on a symphony, and that symphony is for the Tasmania Symphony Orchestra, the London Mozart Players, and also the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, all to play.

In 2018, Gordon Hamilton went south to create a musical legacy for the Aurora Australis

GORDON HAMILTON:
I was really drawn to this program because — well, Antarctica is a place that may as well be as far away as Mars or the Moon. It’s somewhere I thought I would never have the opportunity to visit, but has always been there in my imagination, like, I think, for most people, and it’s a place that lends itself so much to art and music and cinema.

He recorded the sounds of the icebreaker and Antarctica

GORDON HAMILTON:
So the orchestra will play and I'll compose music around these recordings as if they are the soloist in an opera or in a song.

But often it was the lack of sound that really inspired him

GORDON HAMILTON:
That’s a kind of silence that I've never really experienced before. Perhaps in this symphony there are moments of epic silence.

The first people to hear his new composition were on the icebreaker itself

GORDON HAMILTON:
It was a really nice situation to share the piece about the Aurora Australis on the Aurora Australis and the recordings of the ship as they played through the speaker, we could hear the ship making these groans and these noises and whistles while the piece was playing, so it was actually very special.

Now the premiere of ‘Far South’ brings the music of Antarctica to the world

GORDON HAMILTON:
These sounds will have a lot of resonance for people that know the ship because the ship has a lot of memories — contains a lot of memories for these people — for all of us.

[end transcript]

man with audio recorder on ice
Gordon Hamilton records the sounds of Antarctica near Casey research station, 2018 (Photo: Brendan Barnes)

The world premiere of a symphony celebrating Australia’s Antarctic icebreaker, RSV Aurora Australis, will be performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at Arts Centre Melbourne tonight.

Leading Australian composer and conductor Gordon Hamilton travelled south with the Australian Antarctic Program to compose and make recordings for his ‘Far South’ symphony in 2018.

He sailed from Hobart on a four-week voyage on the RSV Aurora Australis to Australia’s Casey research station.

The premiere of the work will be shared by three orchestras — The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and The London Mozart Players.

“It’s a privilege to be able to pay homage to this iconic ship ahead of its retirement from the Australian Antarctic Program,” Mr Hamilton said. An account of the voyage is published in his blog.

Over three decades of Antarctic service, the icebreaker has carried more than 14,000 expeditioners across the Southern Ocean on over 150 research and resupply voyages.

Australia’s new icebreaker, RSV Nuyina, is due to arrive in Hobart in 2020.