Tilly Grieve Interview

[ML] Hey Tilly thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Shall we start by talking a bit about your work and career so far? You studied classical saxophone at the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane with Diana Tolmie before moving to Sydney Conservatorium to focus on composition. Tell us more about what you do, and what you’re trying to achieve overall as an artist.

[TG] After studying performance at the Queensland Conservatorium I decided to study composition. I’ve always loved composing and I was conflicted about what to choose first at university however I took the advice of someone who recommended I study a bachelor of performance first as it will greatly benefit my composition career.  Six years later I am now two weeks(!) away from completing my Masters of Music Studies in Composition and cannot wait to get out into the real world. I want to continue writing works for saxophone as well as experiment with writing for film, vocal works, other chamber works, really I want to keep writing for anything and everything! As an artist, I want to create music that people enjoy listening to so much that they’ll listen twice ☺

[ML] We’re really excited to be premiering of your piece ‘Inertia’ for our World Saxophone Congress concert in Zagreb on July 14th - You've written many times for the saxophone from solo to sax orchestra but the Tenor Saxophone Collective is something unique... 12 of the same saxophone! What can you tell us about the piece in terms of influences, concept, the inception of the piece etc?

[TG] Recently understanding that I am most satisfied when I am constantly learning, I decided that through my compositions I want to learn something new. So, when it came time to write a piece for the Tenor Saxophone Collective it was the very presence of 12 tenor saxophones that inspired me to write a work about Newton’s first law ‘… every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force. This is normally taken as the definition of inertia. This was something I knew nothing about and was intrigued by, so with some light study into a very deep topic I extracted the most necessary information and was then able to transfer that into a musical language. 

Within this work there are several strong musical ideas that affect the trajectory. I work with this idea as one musical notion is passed onto another; the proceeding notion is strong enough to affect the motion of the preceding notion. The game is to not consider the music as if it is dying away, yes that’s what it appears to do but in fact that it is compelled to change by a stronger force. If there were no interference from other forces, the music would never change.

[ML] I met up with Australian saxophonist Emma Di Marco recently who was on her Churchill Fellowship fact finding trip. We talked a lot about the classical saxophone community and the repertoire associated with it. We agreed there seems to be a lot of tradition and convention when it comes to classical saxophone writing, and both talked about how perhaps composers and players should look to develop and break out from some of these established conventions! Having moved on to study composition I wonder if you had any thoughts on this from a new outsiders viewpoint? Or if your compositional voice has changed since studying away from saxophone performance?

[TG] My compositional voice has certainly changed as I’ve learned new techniques and concepts since studying at the Sydney Conservatorium. What’s also changed is the way in which I compose, I used to rely so heavily on Sibelius as that was all I knew. Having learned how to compose in school and never taking a composition lesson until last year - my first year of studying composition - I’ve come a long way. Now I use my saxophone to help me compose, I no longer see it as an instrument that can only perform well rehearsed works but a tool that can help create new material. Improvising lines and producing music this way is much more liberating and creative!

You raise a great point and for me I stand on both sides of the fence as I have always loved and appreciated writing melodic lines and supporting harmonies in my saxophone writing. It was not until I included my instrument into my method of composing that I really appreciated the effect and quality of improvisational material. It has taken me a little while to introduce avant-garde material into my works but now I incorporate multiphonics, timbral trills and other devices as decorative additions. I’m also exercising aleatory processes which have been extremely rewarding to write and to hear!

As much as I enjoy experimenting with these devices I do believe that one of the reasons that as a performer/composer I’m perhaps afraid to diverge completely from the conventional repertoire of composition for saxophone is that still to this day I am faced with explaining to so many, the existence of the classical saxophone genre. If I deviate from this conventional writing with the aforementioned devices, I am contributing towards the furtherance of the emergent ‘new music’ and leaving behind the music that I first fell in love with.  Despite this, I am aware that performer/composers have a role to play in developing and shaping the repertoire, ironically just as I explained with the concept of Inertia, if there were no interference from other forces, the music would never change.

[ML] Nice answer! My overall musical approach as a player composer has drastically changed since studying saxophone performance and has certainly broken away from the conventions of said traditions so it will be really interesting to see how your writing continues to develop as ideas and processes percolate.

[ML] Before we finish up, is there anything you’d like to plug?

[TG] Thank you for asking! I have my final concert at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music on Thursday the 14th of June which features four of my works completed within my Master’s degree. Special mention to Nathan Henshaw - a member of the Tenor Saxophone Collective - as he will perform Improvisation I & II, a solo work for saxophone. 

As well as your world premiere performance of Inertia at the XVIII World Saxophone Congress, The Australian Saxophone Orchestra will also perform a world premiere of a work titled Little Cove. And finally, the Queensland Conservatorium Saxophone Orchestra will perform another world premiere at the Melbourne International Saxophone Festival at the end of July.

[ML] Sounds like you're going to have a very busy congress! To finish up, I'd just like to say a massive thank you for taking the time to do this interview - I’m really excited to meet and work with you on ‘Interia’ in Zagreb!


Join us for the premiere of 'Inertia' as part of our WSC extended recital. Saturday 14 July 2018 | 14:00 Theatre & TD Big Hall Zagreb World Saxophone Congress. Please check out the media below and also Tilly's website for more info.