Meet Julie Simonds

Julie Simonds arranged the three great concerti that the Sydney Soloists will perform at our concert on Friday 11 July 2014. Sydney Mozart Society Secretary, Charmain Boyakovsky, spoke with Julie recently about her career and the challenges of arranging classical music

Julie is a very busy, multi-talented music  professional. She is an accomplished performer, a composer, an arranger and orchestrator. She is a radio presenter. She collaborates with orchestras, ensembles and artists on a range of projects that cross music genres. She is a supporter and mentor for young composers.

After graduating from the Sydney Conservatorium Julie embarked on a professional career as a Pianist and an Oboist. After a stint with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra as Second Oboist, Julie returned to Sydney. It was a chance request to put together a show with arrangements of bawdy folk songs for the Dirty Dicks Theatre Restaurant, of all places, that started Julie on a career as an arranger. ‘It was a lot of fun’ she said. That seems to be a theme that has run through Julie’s career. The music has become more serious and the challenges have become greater, but Julie meets them with enthusiasm and enjoyment.

Julie joined the Music Arrangers Guild of Australia, becoming President for a time and then a Trustee. ‘It’s been a great experience ‘ she said ‘meeting and learning from wonderfully talented people. We would call ourselves the real back-room boys of Australian music.’ Julie explained that arrangements are always in demand from ensembles that may not have the exact instrumentation for which a piece of music was originally written ‘Arrangers help to bring the enjoyment of music to a wider range of performers and audiences than composers might have envisaged.’ 

Julie talked about the joys and challenges of arranging the works of Mozart. The joys are the beautiful melodies. The challenges are the complexities. ‘He is a composer who makes music sound simple,’ she explained ‘but underneath the simple melodies are complex fugal style lines and counter melodies.’ Her challenges as an arranger are to listen intently to Mozart’s music, understand the complexity and arrange the music without losing or upsetting that complexity.

The foundation for Julie’s ability to understand the style of a composer, like Mozart, and then work in that style herself goes back to her Conservatorium days. She was in a class under Richard Gill; he would give students a melody then ask them to arrange the melody in the style of many different composers, such as Beethoven, Hayden or Mozart.  For Julie, the Mozart-style arrangements were always the most complex and enjoyable.

Like all good arrangers, Julie has great creativity and artistic judgement. But she is adamant, this should never override the need to remain faithful to the original composition. ‘ Good arrangers don’t put themselves into the music. If they do it is not really an arrangement! You have to divorce yourself from your own creativity. You have to turn yourself into someone working for the composer.’ Julie’s key to a good arrangement is the feeling that the composer would have approved of the arrangement. It is also important to consider the audience  ‘The audience needs to feel comfortable that this is Mozart, or Beethoven for example.’

In arranging Mozart’s concerti for a small chamber ensemble, Julie explained that it was challenging to maintain the balance, depth and blend of sounds that Mozart achieved in the original works.  One technique that she has used has been to make each solo instrument work both as a solo player and as an ensemble player. In the clarinet concerto for example, there are places where there might be 24 bars before the solo clarinet comes in. In Julie’s arrangement the clarinet is used in these 24 bars, quietly and unobtrusively melded into the ensemble part, then there is a short break before the clarinet takes on its soloist role, which is a different style of playing.  ‘The nice thing about arranging for the Sydney Soloists is that they are top musicians, who know the concerti well and who can play in both an ensemble style and a soloist style, switching between them effortlessly.’

Julie’s advice to Sydney Mozart Society audiences about listening to the concerti she has arranged for the Sydney Soloists was simple  ‘Just listen for those wonderful familiar melodies. The melodies of the flute concerto are lovely. In the clarinet concerto, especially in the second and third movements, the clarinet is like an eagle; it takes melodies and soars with them. Mozart’s horn concerto is unusual; in his works the horn is more often part of an ensemble, rather than a soloist. Listen to the melodies, you can sense Mozart’s enjoyment giving the horn some lovely sounds to play with.’

Julie talked about other projects she is working on at present, particularly those involving young performers and composers. 

Julie has just written a number of arrangements to be performed by Conservatorium of Sydney students on a concert study tour of Italy. One of her biggest challenges has been the diversity in the group: a chamber orchestra, a horn trio, a brass quintet, two wind quartets, eight pianists and 6six singers There is also the responsibility of  creating arrangements ‘representing Australian music to Italy.’  There has been lighter side to the project. Julie created arrangements of Australian folk songs for the entire group assembled on one stage, which she described as ‘more brash than Mozart, but a lot of fun.’

Herself a composer, Julie is also one of the organisers of the Young Composers’ Award, which has been run by Willoughby Symphony Orchestra for the last twelve or so years. The competition is for young composers under the age of thirty, it attracts entrants from all over Australia. This year, young entrants must compose a piece for string orchestra and solo violin.  Julie is on the assessment panel to select a composition for performance by Willoughby Orchestra. ‘Perhaps we will find the next Carl Vine or the next Mathew Hindson.’ she said.

We can all look forward to hearing Julie’s arrangements of three great Mozart Concerti at our concert on 11 July. Julie is a good custodian of those works, keeping the arrangements as close as possible to the style and intentions of Mozart. But as adamant as she is that the arranger’s own creativity should not intrude into an arrangement, I am hoping to hear just one or two notes that express the vibrant personality of Julie Simonds!  

Meet Julie Simonds Smaller