Freedman Music Fellowships

Three Conversations: an exploration of growing up non-white in Australia

Kyla Matsuura-Miller Freedman Classical Fellowship Project 2021

Kyla Matsuura-Miller (Suzie Blake)

Three Conversations is an interdisciplinary musical exploration that invites listeners to immerse themselves in the collective cultural memory of being raised non-white in Australia.

Three new works for solo violin with optional electronics will be commissioned and premiered in 2022. The pieces will draw upon the experiences of each composer, and the themes and memories captured within each piece will be explored and contextualised within a series of interviews between the composer and performer that will precede each composition. The performance, including the conversations preceding each piece, will be recorded in its entirety with the intention of later distributing Three Conversations  through Youtube. This decision is informed not only by the recent unpredictable circumstances, due to COVID-19 disrupting live performances worldwide, but by the accessibility of Youtube as a distribution medium, as it accommodates the ethos of the project itself. Three Conversations seeks to open a dialogue about the experience of being raised non-white in Australia between the composers, peformers, and quintessentially – the audience. Wider distribution on a platform such as Youtube has the potential to carry the ideas encapsulated within Three Conversations beyond the limitations of a physical concert hall to a wider audience for whom accessing classical music might be challenging. The project is a launching site that not only hopes to reach the predominantly white audience of classical music, but to inspire other BIPOC Australians by serving as a point of entry for others to add to our country’s rich tapestry of stories.

Each of the three composers, beginning with Stéphanie Kabanyana Kanyandekwe, will be selected from a carefully curated shortlist of exceptional, interdisciplinary artists who are not only informed by, but are committed to being actively engaged in the discourse around being raised non-white in Australia. These new compositions seek to create the necessary space for that dialogue. The project will become an opportunity to express their unique experiences of being raised non-white in Australia, and as they unravel and explore the complexity of their individual experiences, we hope to reveal the strands of these experiences that are alike – the beautiful and painful moments we all share.

The audience will arrive in the partially lit, grungy, industrial carpark – an atypical venue which immediately establishes the premise that this performance will seek to challenge the traditional, Western conventions of concert attendance. Through its immersive and sensational nature, the venue invites the audience to experience the cacophonous sounds of their own voices as they fill the space, heightening a sense of anticipation. The sound fills the venue in surprising and delightful ways – far removed from the deliberate architecture of venues which seek to draw a clear line between the stage and audience. Here, the audience and performers enter a conversation that resists the atmosphere of silence/sermon that dictate conventional concert experiences within halls and cathedrals. The audience is part of an active dialogue that is currently occurring, not passive participants considering the value of a static past.

As the performance begins, the venue is plunged into darkness in order to screen the first element of Conversations. The video curated by Tobias Willis will open the performance with an honest conversation between composer and performer about their experiences of being non-white in Australia. The first composition then emerges, enveloping the patrons into a multidisciplinary, multi-sensory experience that not only invites audience members to enjoy the compositions, but challenges them to consider the experiences of the composers. In marrying these two portions together, we hope that each audience member will leave the performance not only having enjoyed the pieces, but with the realisation that the marginalised experience of non-white Australian performers and musicians is an ongoing issue which they as audience members have the power to recognise, and alleviate by hearing these voices and supporting BIPOC Australian artists.

Kyla Matsuura-Miller

Since graduating from the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) in 2018; violinist, educator, and media personality Kyla Matsuura-Miller has more than established her place at the table in the Australian cultural scene.

Born in Tokyo but raised in Brisbane, Kyla studied violin at the Queensland Conservatorium under Michele Walsh before beginning her studies with Dr Robin Wilson at ANAM in Melbourne, where she is currently based.

Kyla has received numerous prizes and scholarships, including the Gwen Nisbet Prize for most outstanding student at ANAM (2018), the Richard Pollett Memorial prize (2017), Grand Prize at MRC Great Romantics (2017), and has placed at both the Kendall National Violin Competition and Australian Youth Classical Music Competition.

In 2022 she will be the recipient of the Homophonic Pride Prize, which will enable the commission of a new work for solo violin to be composed by Jaslyn Robertson, another member of QUILTBAG+ community.

Central to Kyla’s creative and professional work as a violinist lies her commitment to chamber music. Kyla was an Emerging Artist with the Australian Chamber Orchestra in 2017, and is currently enjoying working with Inventi Ensemble, Trio Clara – which strives to champion the works of gender diverse and BIPOC composers, and Duo Piaggio with her long-time collaborator and friend, pianist Adam McMillan.

2021 has also seen her television and radio debut as a contestant on the iconic Australian music quiz show, ABC’s Spicks and Specks, as well as featuring in various guest spots on radio programmes through ABC Classic FM.

Kyla currently plays on a fine violin made by Giovanni Pistucci (c. 1910-1920), which has been generously loaned by a syndicate of music lovers.


Stephanie Kabanyana-Kanyandekwe 

Stéphanie Kabanyana-Kanyandekwe

Stéphanie Kabanyana-Kanyandekwe is a Rwandan-British composer and multidisciplinary artist.

Through her viewpoint as a synaesthetic “third-culture kid”, Stéphanie’s research-based arts practice explores how culture is constructed and archived through transcription into visual languages and mediums. Stéphanie uses music and performance practice to articulate these languages in a tangible, story-telling format which demonstrates sensitivity, respect, and a deep understanding of the cultural contexts behind her work.

Stéphanie has generously committed to being the first of the three composers commissioned to work on this project.

Tobias Willis 

Tobias Willis

Tobias Willis has firmly established his career as a filmmaker and now runs his own collaborative film production studio in Melbourne, KEWL. As a film director, Tobias has abundant experience working with members of the local music community, and has previously directed a feature-length documentary titled Now Sound: Melbourne’s Listening. The documentary premiered as an official selection at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August 2018, and has since been distributed internationally. Some of Tobias’ recent work with KEWL is as the producer of a six-part web series titled Sex and Death which was principally funded by Screen Australia. The series was picked up by SBS Viceland and is set to air in late 2020.

Play On 

Play On showcases Australia’s most acclaimed young classical musicians alongside the country’s best electronic artists. Recognising a global shift in the way audiences engage with live music, Play On was founded in 2016 to create an entirely new musical experience.

Holding performances in unconventional spaces and with innovative programming, Play On is about creating an accessible, inclusive, and exciting musical experience that attracts new and diverse audiences to both classical and electronic music.

Play On has very generously offered to provide many aspects of this collaboration in kind; including concert promotion, audio engineering, and venues for all pre-concert videography + the actual concert space itself.

Hilary Geddes, guitarist, is the Freedman Jazz Fellow for 2021.

Four finalists were chosen from 15 nominees, and Hilary Geddes was chosen from among the four finalists. The other finalists were saxophonist Flora Carbo, electric bass guitar and double bass player Joseph Franklin, and drummer Maria Moles. See all about Hilary below.

So three out of four were women, an enormous and sudden reversal of what has been normal since jazz was invented a century ago. The selections were made entirely on merit. While the Music Trust supports greater inclusion of excluded classes, whoever they may be, there was no affirmative action program here.

The nominees were chosen by senior jazz figures from around the country. The nominees who choose to become candidates (and they all did) send in video and sometimes audio recordings of their performances. The music is of course crucial in the judges’ choices of finalists. Normally, the Fellowships are in the end decided in part through the finalists’ live performances at a concert at the Sydney Opera House. That couldn’t happen this year and the music trail ended with the recordings.

Most such competitions consider only the candidates’ musical achievement. The Freedmans are different. How will the candidate use the fairly substantial prize to benefit their own music, their contribution to the art form and to the communities of audiences and musicians?

To address this issue, candidates send in descriptions of projects on which they would spend their prize money if they win. As you will see, the projects this year are unusually unusual! – and give a sense of the diversity and imaginativeness of the front edge of jazz in Australia.

In choosing the winner, the judges interviewed each finalist online, mainly to discuss with them their project proposals. Here are brief descriptions of what each one planned.


Hilary Geddes grew up in the NSW country town, Griffith, and for her project is taking her triumph home. But it’s more than that. She will take her band with her and give public performances across the Riverina region, Goulburn and Canberra. They will give workshops in schools, regional conservatoriums and other community and regional organisations and foster a great elevation of the amount and quality of music making in the area. Hilary intends to begin long-term creative relationships with these organisations.

Hilary will write new compositions for her band members. The band will travel to the Cad Factory, a professional rehearsal and recording studio at Boree Creek, south of Narrandera. There it will take up residency and have a rare opportunity for extended rehearsals. It will make a recording. To promote the recording, it will extend its tour to Sydney and Melbourne.

Hilary was already a rapidly rising star in Australian jazz. The Freedman Fellowship will quickly lift her to national status.

Flora Carbo

Flora Carbo’s career has also been advancing rapidly. She has won major awards, performed with some of the best known Australia jazz musicians, toured within Australia and internationally. She is very articulate and her submission revealed a clear, interesting and well organised thinker.

Flora’s project is unusual in jazz. I will describe it as though she had won the award and expect that she will follow through on her plan to some extent. She will create ‘site-specific’ music – compositions, improvisations for her ensemble that amplify and complement the sounds of the environment, whether a children’s playground, the environs of a creek, an urban traffic bridge, sounds of a river, movement on gravel… Like Hilary, she will work collaboratively with local Indigenous people.

Also, she will participate in Speak Percussion’s year-long artist mentorship – support in conceiving, developing, managing projects, audience development, funding research and its application, learning more about artistic leadership. The compleat jazz musician.

Joseph Franklin

Joseph Franklin is active across a wide range of musical forms and has performed across Europe and the USA. His project has three highly imaginative components. Firstly, composition, performances and recording of original solo music for contrabass guitar, his instrument. The performances will include innovative concepts suggested by experience with Stambeli music (see second component) and visual projections that guide the listeners. Secondly, collaboration with a Tunisian Stambeli musician. Thirdly, composition, performances and recordings with his quartet comprised of percussion, double bell trumpet and electronics, prepared nylon and electric guitars, and his own bass instruments, resulting in two recordings and a series of performances.

Just as jazz resulted from the collision between the music of the West African diaspora with the European culture via the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Stambeli resulted from a collision via the cross-Saharan slave trade where displaced African slaves came into contact with the Islamic world. Stambeli, says Franklin, is a trance ritual featuring highly structured long-range musical forms eliciting a physical change in the listener. He has been deeply affected personally by this music and would begin a searching engagement with it, working with the Tunisian musician Salah Oergli.

Maria Moles, drummer

Maria Moles impressed the judges at the outset with her video of a 20 minute solo drum performance of one of her own compositions. Solo performances are the course which has already proven especially successful for her, and which she intends to be central in her musical career. Her project will be to compose a suite for solo drummer, inspired by five solo drummers – Tony Buck, Will Guthrie, Susie Ibarra, Simon Barker and Laurence Pike – each of whom she will interview as a source of inspiration for the composition. She will complete an extended compositional process with a one week retreat in which she can work in isolation. Then she will record the suite and release it world-wide on the Berlin-based Black Truffles label (led by Oren Ambarchi, an Australian), supported by an international promotional campaign which she hopes will lay the groundwork for international touring. The Freedman would have supported a very thorough developmental process that is rarely available for an Australian jazz musician.

The Freedman candidates are interviewed each year as part of the assessment process. They always show their passion for the direction they take in their projects and even if they do not win the Freedman cash prize, intend to pursue that direction to the extent possible. In some cases, the cash is essential to following any part of the project. In others, it enables the project to be done far better or taken further than is possible with no assistance. They always say that the process of planning the project has been very positive and has taken their thinking and aspiration to new places.

The young candidates for the Freedman Jazz Fellowship reveal the cutting edge of jazz in Australia. This is art music created in nearly all of its aspects by the performers. It being jazz, they mostly are not only performing it, but inventing it through composition and improvisation, and the Freedman candidates do that superbly. Jazz is not much supported by the funding bodies nor by the commercial music industry. Jazz musicians must depend mostly on themselves to build their musical skills and develop projects that take them to an audience.

Jazz is not found on the “charts”, but as we can see from the achievements and resourcefulness of the Freedman finalists, it is a vital music that in Australia, is going places.

The judges for this year’s Freedman Jazz Fellowship were saxophonist Loretta Palmeiro, trumpet player Naadje Noordhuis, pianist Stuart Hunter and guitarist Ben Hauptmann, former Freedman Fellow.

In the second phase of their project design, the Fellowship provided them with assistance from the mentor of their choice. For Hilary, the mentor was bassist Jonathan Zwartz. Flora chose Jim Denley, Joseph chose Anthony Pateras, Maria, Barney McAll.

Hilary was nominated by Zoe Hauptmann, Flora by Jessica Nicholas, and both Joseph and Maria by Scott McConnachie. Good one, Scott! The Music Trust appreciates the support from each one.

The Freedman Music Fellowships are made possible by the financial support of Laurence and Kathy Freedman and the Freedman Foundation. The Music Trust and the jazz community are very appreciative of the opportunities they have created.