Con Fuoco: Thea Rossen

Welcome to Con Fuoco – CutCommon’s interview series with emerging musicians across Australia. 


Melbourne percussionist Thea Rossen was awarded the 2014 prize for Most Outstanding Performance in a Solo Recital and Best Program in a Recital at ANAM for her presentation of purely theatrical and gesture-based works. A Speak Percussion Emerging Artist and founding member of the saxophone/percussion duo Ad Lib, Thea has a passion for new music and has performed with a range of international artists including Kroumata Percussion Ensemble, Lisa Moore, members of the Aurora Orchestra, Brett Dean, Simone Young and Lior. Thea is on the casual lists for Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and West Australian Symphony Orchestra and has also played in the Perth and Melbourne International Arts Festivals.

Originally from Perth, Thea completed her Bachelor’s degree with honours at the University of Western Australia in 2013 with teachers Louise Devenish and Tim White. Thea has recently returned from a trip to Princeton University, New Jersey, to study with world-renowned percussion quartet Sō Percussion at their Summer Institute. Thea is also passionate about bringing the joy of music to the community and has designed and facilitated school and community workshops in Victoria and Western Australia.


Your all time favourite piece of music?

I definitely don’t have a single favourite piece as I often fall in love with the music I am working on at the time. At the moment it is Tan Dun’s ‘Water Concerto’. For my upcoming ANAM recital on November 4, I have had two huge water basins made especially for the piece and I get to make beautiful sounds with my hands and other instruments in the water including gongs, wooden bowls, agogo bells and even a metal pasta strainer. However, this piece is not about the novelty of splashing in water – the melodies, rhythms and orchestration that Dun has composed are transporting.

Most memorable concert experience?

When a performance of my own has gone really well, I often have little memory of my time on stage! It is a strange trick that the brain plays. One of my earlier performance memories, though, is of having an amazing time playing the first timpani part in Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ on the AISOI camp in 2010 in Tasmania. It is such an exhilarating piece of music to be a part of.

Biggest fear when performing?

No matter how many times I check beforehand, I’m often nervous about whether my sticks and music and instruments are all out on stage and in the right place. It is a common percussion nightmare to walk on stage to play with nothing set up and all the mallets missing!

Best piece of musical advice you’ve been given?

‘All music can be divided into two or three’. This is from Eugene Ughetti in a lecture, which he gave at Speak Percussion’s Emerging Artists program in 2014, about decoding and performing complex rhythms. From a percussionist’s perspective, this is a very useful thing to remember. Because the bulk of percussion music has been written in the last 50-60 years, I spend much of my time working out complex rhythms, which can seem daunting at first. With this rule, almost anything can be simplified down to a more digestible ratio. On another level, this piece of advice is a helpful way to think about music in general: when something seems complex and unachievable, it is important to remember that it is simply the sum of its smaller parts.

How do you psych yourself up for practice on a lazy day?

There is nothing wrong with having a well-earned lazy day off every now and then. But if I know I need to get some work done, I will bribe myself with rewards afterwards, like tea with a friend or a yoga class. I also find it helps to give myself limited time to practice – if I only have a few hours, then I tend to be more productive than when I have an entire day.

Most embarrassing moment on stage?

I was playing a solo during a ragtime percussion ensemble piece on a collection of glass and ceramic objects including an old (empty) gin bottle. During the performance, I must have hit it the bottle in the wrong place and glass shattered everywhere. It was dramatic, but not a great way to end a solo! This was with the Defying Gravity Percussion ensemble in Perth, 2012.

Favourite post-gig activity?

I usually feel like getting a delicious dessert and/or gin and tonic. But not before all the gear is packed away. Percussionists are always the last to leave a gig!

What are you most proud of in your musical career so far?

I was very surprised and honoured to win the Most Outstanding Performance in a Recital and Best Program in a recital at ANAM in 2014. I love programming and presenting recitals and it was very humbling to be given these awards. The prize money went towards a musical adventure that I had around the world mid- this year, with a percussion camp at Princeton University in the US and recitals with my duo Ad Lib in France and the UK.

What do you most love about making music?

There is a certain feeling that you get playing live to an audience that cannot be recreated. It has to do with the exhilarating and terrifying experience of sharing something that you have worked hard on and feel passionate about. Making music with other people is also a wonderful feeling. There is no point playing music by yourself to an empty room.

What’s your ultimate goal?

To collaborate on projects with artists and musicians in Australian and around the world which inspire and transport audiences.


See Thea perform her solo ANAM recital ‘Water Recital’ at 8pm November 4, South Melbourne Town Hall. Works include Tan Dun’s ‘Water Concerto’, Iain Grandage’s ‘Drowning Dream’, and Jacob Druckman’s ‘Reflections on the Nature of Water’. Follow the Facebook event here


If you’re an emerging artist and would like to be featured in Con Fuoco, give us a shout at 


Image supplied. Photo: Cameron Jamieson.


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