World premiere chamber work for CSO shines light on women’s rights

Ian Bushnell 7 April 2021
Composer Moya Henderson

Composer Moya Henderson believes her new work will resonate in the national capital where the issue of women’s rights has been in the spotlight. Photo: David Franklin.

The world premiere of a work dedicated to the late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the highlight of the first Australian Series concert of the year at the National Museum of Australia tomorrow (8 April).

The composition from Australian composer Moya Henderson was commissioned by Series curator Deborah Cheetham and will be performed by a seven-piece group of Canberra Symphony Orchestra players.

Ms Henderson said that Justice Ginsburg was on her mind when Ms Cheetham contacted her late last year about writing a piece for the CSO. The storming of the Capitol in Washington in January clinched it for her.

“I guess Ruth Bader Ginsburg was on my mind by way of keeping Donald Trump out of my mind,” she said.

She thought the world was small enough to deal with a subject not of these shores but as it happens, the events in Canberra over the past weeks has shone a spotlight on women’s rights and equality – something Justice Ginsburg championed through her work and judgments.

Originally conceived for five instruments, the work was expanded to seven – flute, clarinet, bassoon and string quartet – on the advice of a friend who suggested they would have to use circular breathing to navigate it.


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The extra instruments provided that breathing space and the piece was much more gracious because of that, Ms Henderson said.

“It starts off fairly fast then becomes somewhat more subdued and lyrical and actually rather lovely I feel,” she said.

“I’m very happy with how it turned out.”

A great supporter of First Nations culture, Ms Henderson said she was honoured for Professor Cheetham, a Yorta Yorta woman, to be involved in the Australian Series which will feature Indigenous works.

“Deborah Cheetham immediately embraced my idea to use this CSO commission to throw light on the life of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a US Supreme Court Justice who cared about women and advocated on their behalf,” she said.

“I resolve to do whatever I can to remind this nation that First Nations people are to be revered, their sovereignty respected and their entitlement to enshrinement in the Australian constitution promulgated as quickly as possible … for all our sakes.”

Deborah Cheetham

Deborah Cheetham is performing at Sharing the Sky for the Canberra Symphony Orchestra on Thursday 8 April at the National Museum of Australia. Photo: Supplied.

Titled Sharing the Sky, Thursday’s concert, according to Professor Cheetham, explores “what it means to return, in all its complexity and hope, to Canberra, to the concert hall, to each other and to the narrative of Australian identity, through the lens of composers inspired by this ancient land”.

Conducted by CSO Chief Conductor and Artistic Director Jessica Cottis, the CSO Chamber Players will also present Professor Cheetham’s Song for Dulka Warngiid, the fourth work in the composer’s Woven Song series.

Inspired by the painting and tapestry of the same name and sung in the language of the Kayaldild people, the work transports audiences to the tiny Bentinck Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The concert will open with Brenda Gifford’s Miriwa (Sky), a contemplation of the vast canopy spoken in the ancient beauty of the Yuin language.

This will be followed by The Moon by Peggy Polias, charting its course across the night sky from new moon to waning crescent.

The program is rounded out with Matthew Hindson’s Rush.

Ms Henderson praised the CSO for promoting Australian music and composers saying many continue to be overlooked in favour of artists from overseas, particularly Europe or the United States.

“Australian composers need as much support and help as we can get,” she said.

“It’s fantastic the CSO is doing that and I’m honoured to be involved.”

AUSTRALIAN SERIES | Sharing the Sky
6:30 pm, Thursday, 8 April
Tickets $30–60

Jessica Cottis – Conductor
Deborah Cheetham – Curator, Soprano

CSO Chamber Players:

Brenda Gifford – Miriwa (Sky)
Peggy Polias – The Moon
Matthew Hindson – Rush
Deborah Cheetham – Song for Dulka Warngiid
Moya Henderson – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
World premiere, new CSO commission.

Book through the CSO website.


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