• Born 1968
Matthew Hindson is the most prominent contemporary composer in the relatively undeveloped tradition of Australian Classical music. Through his unique synthesis of popular music into his concert works, he has created a new branch that has been immensely successful on both the national and international levels.
Although he started as a string player, Hindson soon turned to composition during his teens. His main teachers wherePeter Sculthorpe while at the University of Sydney (1986-1989 and later 1996-1999), Brenton Broadstock at the University of Melbourne (1991-1992) and Ross Edwards (2000-2003), with whom he studied privately. Edwards in particular had a major stylistic influence on Hindson, with his advanced modal harmonies and strong Australian nationalist sentiment both making their way into Hindson’s own compositions. Many of his earlier works, includingMace (1992), also betray a modernist influence which he likely picked up while in Melbourne. However, Hindson soon moved away from this style, preferring a broader and less dogmatic palette.
By the late 1990s Hindson had found his niche at the intersection of Australian, European Classical and popular music. It was this last element which would in many ways define his career. In particular, Hindson became known for his use of death metal, techno and other electronic dance styles, while usually maintaining a traditional classical instrumentation.SPEED (1996), which Martin Ball fromThe Australian called “a raging 18 minutes of explosive techno for orchestra,” provides the perfect example of this. Accompanied by a dance-tempo drum track, the orchestra mimics all the sound effects and synthesizers usually at the disposal of the DJ, and includes parallel thirds and fifth motion, a high degree of repetition and aggressive rhythms that put it squarely in the techno genre. Works such asRave-Elation (1997) and technologic(1998) further explored this theme.
Another central ingredient in many of Hindson’s works from the 1990s was death metal, which is blatantly obvious in works such asDeathStench (1995) and Homage to Metallica(1997). In both of these Hindson uses extended techniques such as woodwind multiphonics and overpressure in the strings to simulate a heavy distorted sound, and elevates speed, virtuosity, volume and aggression to the highest of considerations. A decade later he would revisit these themes withThe Metallic Violin(2007), for solo violin.
Beginning in the early 2000s, Hindson began to include even more diverse elements in his music, not wanting to get pigeonholed as the composer that only writes techno and death metal. In addition to utilizing more “traditional” influences such asVivaldi, he increasingly sought non-musical inspiration from fields such as physics and mechanics. Works from this period includeLight is Both a Particle and a Wave(2010), which has a mechanical yet irregular rhythmic impetus,Industrial Night Music (2003), featuring a variety of string techniques and glissandi, andSymphony No. 2: E=mc2 (2009), which is a dance piece commissioned by the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Unlike his early works, which were more intuitive with regard to pitch, his newer compositions are organized more systematically, frequently using “non-octavating modes,” or scales which require more than one octave to complete.
A final main source of untraditional inspiration for Hindson is indigenous Australian music, influenced by his first teacher, Sculthorpe. For example, Kalkadungu (2007) featured William Barton on didgeridoo, electric guitar and vocals, andIn Memoriam: Concerto for Amplified Cello and Orchestra (2000) also deals with the Australian experience. Of the former, Murray Black fromThe Australian declared that the piece “marks a new development. They have succeeded in combining two musical traditions into a unified work of art.”
Due to Hindson’s propensity for featuring virtuosic instrumental passages, it is probably not surprising that several of his concertos have become huge hits. His Violin Concerto (2001), also titledAustralian Rules football was recorded for the first time with Canadian violinist Lara St John and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 2008. His flute concerto,House Music was premiered in 2006 by the London Philharmonic Orchestra with Marina Piccinini on flute. Richard Fairman from theFinancial Times declared that the piece “shows you things that you never knew a flute could do, creating faux chords with harmonics, mixing air and notes, napping on the keys, separate tonguings, quartertones… the result is bizarre but strangely compelling.” The debut recording of the piece was released in 2015 by the Oberlin Conservatory Orchestra with Alexa Still as the soloist.
Hindson has been widely recognized and rewarded for his compositions. In 2006, the year he founded the Aurora Festival for contemporary music in Sydney, he was appointed to the Order of Australia, largely for his efforts in music education which include several pieces for amateur orchestra and a well-received instructional CD for string teachers. Four years later, he became Associate Professor at hisalma mater of the University of Sydney. Over the course of his career, his pieces have been performed by all the major Australian Orchestras, as well as multiple dance companies including the Sydney Dance Company, which toured Australia with his workEllipse (2002).
Although Hindson’s compositional career has undergone many stylistic twists and turns, he is still solidly in his musical prime, and will doubtless continue to make valuable and unforeseeable contributions in the decades to come. In the words ofHobart Mercury’s Elizabeth Bailes, Hindson’s “fabulous fusion of new and old encapsulate[s] what it is really like to be an Australian,” and more so than any previous composer, he has brought that sensibility to the international stage.
Images courtesy of Faber Music and Matthew Hindson