Paul Dean on composition, ego, and the value of accompanists

Endeavour Trio will play at the Accompanists' Guild of SA fest



“Music is a living culture, and the moment we just start playing music of dead white males then it will wither on the vine.”

This, according to Brisbane-born clarinettist Paul Dean, is the ethos behind Australia’s Endeavour Trio.

The group, also featuring Stephen Emmerson (piano) and Trish O’Brien (cello), will perform a range of works for the first time this 31 July as Musicians in Residence at the 2016 Accompanists’ Guild of South Australia chamber music festival. On Endeavour’s program are pieces by 2016 Accompanists’ Composition Award joint winners Rachel Bruerville and Thomas Devereux, a new work by Paul, and classics from Debussy, Brahms and more.

There will also be a range of classes and lessons with the members of the trio, but as a warm-up we chat with Paul about what he looks for when awarding a “first place” composition, and how he feels about the role of the accompanist in musical settings in light of the festival. After all, having performed with the Australian World Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Australian String Quartet, and many others among major symphony orchestras, he ought to know a thing or two.


As a chamber performer, how would you describe the value of an accompanist in a musical performance?

I value accompanists so much I don’t call them accompanists but either pianists or associate artists. I got a earful from a pianist when I was a student at the Queensland Conservatorium for describing my associate artist as an accompanist for a performance of a Brahms sonata; a tongue-lashing I have never forgotten. I spent a lot of time at the Australian National Academy of Music getting the pay and conditions of the associate faculty to somewhere near acceptable. The role that pianists have in getting all of our students on stage for exams and recitals and concerts should never be underestimated!

Have you found there’s a lot of ego present in the scenario of a musician performing with accompaniment? How do you feel musicians should balance showing respect to their accompanist while playing as a ‘soloist’?

There is a lot of ego involved in music-making in general and when it leads to disrespect amongst musicians working together, it is completely unacceptable. I had an occasion recently where a musician I was working with had their heart set on making life difficult for everyone to make up for their own insecurities, and it was just laughable but also quite embarrassing and frustrating. When chamber music is performed with people who are there for the right reasons and who leave their egos at the door for the greater good of the joy of music-making, it is simply the greatest thing in the world. That is why I love making music with Trish and Stephen.

You’ll present a few notable premieres in your performance, including winning works by emerging composers Bruerville and Devereux. Talk us through how you came to choose these two talents as joint winners.

Holding competitions in music is a fairly silly concept in general but, of course, I understand why they exist. Picking a winning composition is akin to picking the best soloists in a concerto comp when you have a violinist versus a pianist versus a tuba player. I guess you look for the musical spark at all times. Some clever notion of sound or direction of phrasing or impetus appeals to me.

Do you find the ‘winning’ ingredients in a piece of music are things reflected in your own personal voice as a composer, too?

Interesting question. I have just turned 50 and have been seriously composing for less than 10 years. I think every piece I write is part of the journey towards finding my own voice; something the winning composers in this competition are also doing, no doubt. I have some stylistic fingerprints which keep recurring in my pieces without my conscious knowledge, which is interesting.

What can we expect from your own new work for Endeavour – Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano?

The subtitle is Traversing the passage of time. The piece is a fairly intense one with the major thrust being the slow movement. The whole piece is inspired by several main influences including Japanese theatre, Chinese Face Changing, and also a wonderful concept I remember from a classic BBC Drama from the ’70s called The Norman Conquests – the concept being that each episode features the same play witnessed from a different room in the house.

In some ways, the emotion of the work sums up the 10 years of my life I experienced while working with these two amazing musicians and people, Trish and Stephen, and is gifted to Trish, my partner, as a symbol of thanks, love and adoration.


For the full Accompanists’ Festival program, visit the website. The events take place in Adelaide from July 27-31.


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