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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | November 29, 2021

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Katie Noonan launches AVÉ: Australian Vocal Ensemble

Katie Noonan launches AVÉ: Australian Vocal Ensemble
Claire Matthews

Introducing AVÉ, a national first acapella quartet celebrating old and new classical music and stories. Led by Brisbane’s Katie Noonan, AVÉ includes internationally renowned artists mezzo-soprano Fiona Campbell, tenor Andrew Goodwin and baritone David Greco.

The quartet will hold their official launch concert on Saturday April 10, at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. We caught up with Katie over Zoom on her new ensemble.

The Creative Issue: Tell me a little about your new ensemble, Australian Vocal Ensemble?

Katie Noonan: I’ve been dreaming of starting an acapella vocal ensemble since I was a little girl. I love singing, but usually it’s only me and I don’t get to make sounds with other singers. So, I dreamt up this band featuring three incredibly virtuosic classically trained singers. They have a whole different set of skills to me, so it’s a challenge.

As a new band, it takes a while to find your band juju, but we’ve spent the last few days recording and it’s going really well. We’ve only spent two days rehearsing because we live all over the country. Fiona lives in Perth, David and Andrew in Sydney and I live near Eumundi, so it’s not easy for us to get together and rehearse, particularly when Brisbane goes into a lockdown! A week ago, I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to go ahead.

We’re playing all new works, we’re premiering seven world premiere pieces on Saturday, all featuring the music of David Malouf, an amazing poet. I’ve commissioned twelve pieces that we’re learning and then we’ll be releasing our album later in the year.

TCI: AVÉ will perform a blend of old and new repertoire. Why do you think it’s so important to nurture Australian composers?

KN: I’m a fiercely proud Queensland artist so I love to celebrate our cultural identity through supporting, programming and also celebrating our Queensland artists. David Malouf has an amazing way of summing up the minute moments of everyday life and making them into something beautiful and poetic. He’s got eight decades of experience on this earth to imbue his words with that wisdom and knowledge and beauty. So, we’re celebrating his incredible writing.

I love the classics, we’re also doing some Bach, and some Handel and some Tomás Luis de Victoria, so the idea of AVÉ is we do Renaissance and Baroque and then we do very new Australian stuff. The baroque music is so harmonically perfect that it’s like a nice little palette cleanser between a five-course meal, it brings back this very in-tune world. It’s in keys and modality that we understand, whereas modern music is pushing and stretching those boundaries.

So I’ve commissioned twelve composers, 50% are from Queensland. We make great composers here! One of our favourite pieces is a piece by Thomas Green, a recent graduate of UQ. There’s a piece by my husband Zac Hurren, who brings in impressionist jazz. It’s incredibly important to keep on supporting composers because they can help define our sound as a nation.

TCI: What can audiences look forward to in the AVÉ launch concert on Saturday?

KN: We’re hoping to give you 80 minutes of music that will transport you to a better place. The role of the arts and music is to explore, question and encourage us, but also to have a break and be in the moment making beautiful sounds together. We hope it’ll be an exciting introduction to a new sound world. We’re trying to dream something new.

There currently is no vocal quartet dedicated to new classical music in Australia. So I’m excited about building this world for singers to listen to, aspire to and be inspired by, for composers to write for, and to create a platform for Australian expression.

We’re doing 12 pieces, eight of them are brand new, four are old. I think that should be more of the quota of new vs old because we need to keep searching for our own expression. Rather than playing Italian and German music from centuries ago. So that’s my passion, celebrating Australian identity.

TCI: What is it like to start a new arts organisation amid a pandemic?

KN: Terrifying! I’ve picked the worst time to start a new arts ensemble, because the arts obviously rely on cross border travel and large gatherings of people. So COVID was a catastrophic loss of income for everyone. Most of our indie museos are independent sole traders really and fell through the cracks. Even a lot of the really established arts orgs are struggling.

I’ve had three amazing supporters who’ve supported us economically in order for us to exist, and we’ve had amazing support for the Queensland Conservatorium of Music who have hosted us as artists in residence, enabling us to perform and record. So we’re excited by the support we have, but I am dreaming big and have big, bold, expensive dreams that I’m currently fundraising for and writing grants and  so I do feel that I’m meant to be doing this.

We were first meant to launch in November, but no one could travel across borders, then last week with the lockdown, we thought we’d have to cancel again! But amazingly Brisbane smashed the lockdown, and our concert is happening!

TCI: Can you give us a little sneak peek into AVÉ’s debut album, due to be released in August?

KN: So this will be my 21st studio album, I’ve pretty much made a record a year for twenty years. So it will be twelve pieces, 50% Queensland composers, 100% Australian and 40% female. We’ve got amazing composers like Ian Grandage, Richard Tognetti, David Hirschfelder, Robert Davidson, and some up and coming emerging composers like Connor D’Netto, Thomas Green, Alice Humphries, and of course I’ve written a piece, and my husband Zac. It’s a really interesting body of work. When you commission composers, you never know what you’re going to get. I said pick a poem, any poem, do your thing. Then we just do the best we can with their work and hope we do it well. I think we are making a special unique sound world and it’s new to me so I’m excited.

TCI: What have you got planned for AVÉ’s first national tour?

KN: We’re planning on touring the country in September. My big thing is everyone who can talk can sing. I’m a huge fan of community singing, getting the audience to sing along, making people feel welcome and safe to use their voice. So I’m going to get choral arrangements done that will suit a community choir level of musical capacity, for them to sing with us. Then, I’d love to collaborate with school choirs, work with other vocal groups and collaborate more. So I want to sing with more people and make it accessible, warm and welcoming. We are putting the tour together, we’ll probably announce it in May, and we’ll be touring the country in September.

TCI: What’s the best way for people to get involved and help AVÉ get on its feet?

KN: The main thing is to come to our gig of course on Saturday, if you live in Meanjin or near Brissie. If you want to be a supporter of what we do economically, you can email us. I think more than ever, philanthropy is essential for the arts. The main thing is to listen to our music, go to our gigs, buy our album when it comes out, but if you do want to be more involved as a supporter, you can contact us on our website.

TCI: What are your biggest dreams for AVÉ?

KN: I want AVÉ to be a nationally and internationally focused elite chamber vocal quartet that goes for many decades. That’s my big dream. It’ll be beyond me. I’d love this to be my primary focus for the next decade or so but then, I’ll be the caretaker that’ll hand it on to the next generation. I’m passionate about showing integrous creative leadership from Brisbane. We have amazing musicians here, we have great ensembles, but they never tour. So no one outside of Queensland really sees them or hears them play. Whereas, my priority is touring nationally and really having a nationally-focused ensemble. So that is quite a big point of difference for us as an ensemble.

The Details:
What: Australian Vocal Ensemble launch concert
When: Doors open 6:30, concert starts 7pm. Saturday 10 April 2021.
Where: Queensland Conservatorium theatre, 140 Grey St South Brisbane.
Tickets: Adult $60, Concession $50, Student $40. Book here.