Symphony No.1 (Port Arthur, 1996)

Matthew Dewey’s Symphony No.1 (Port Arthur, 1996) – for string orchestra.


“The highlight was Matthew Dewey’s Symphony No. 1 for string Orchestra – a beautifully crafted and deeply moving work in which the composer’s fine melodic sense and talent for orchestration are clearly demonstrated.”
Carolyn Philpott “Locally grown music showed our wealth of talent”, The Mercury May 20th 2008.


Commissioned by Damien Holloway for the Hobart Chamber Orchestra. Premiered by the Hobart Chamber Orchestra conducted by Edwin Palin, Hobart Town Hall, 17th May 2008. (3 Movements)

Duration: 22’00″

Notable Recordings/Performances
Recorded by the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, please click here for details.

Program Notes
The impetus for writing this piece came from a play by Tasmanian writer Tom Holloway called “Beyond the Neck”, which premiered in 2007, and on which I was called in very quickly and at the last minute to work on (so quickly in-fact, that I wasn’t even aware of the subject matter when I met with the cast and production team for the first time!). The play, to my shock, explored the lives of four characters who had all been affected in profoundly different ways by the Port Arthur massacre of 1996. Whilst I worked, I found myself furious at what I strongly felt was just audacity on behalf of the playwright – but later realised was a very necessary exploration from someone deeply connected with the events.

When I finally watched the first dress rehearsal, I cried, and this reaction confused me a lot – because I was only quite young when the massacre occurred and I knew no-one who was directly affected by it. What occurred to me then was that Tom’s play was actually the first public discussion of what had happened, a matured view delivered with the benefit of time and reflection – upon what is still present in the minds of many Tasmanians, and will likely never be resolved.

In his review of Tom’s play, Robert Jarman described it as “a meditation on our common grief and isolation” – and it is this feeling that I used for the greater structure and tone of the piece: The first movement, which desperately seeks responses to questions which can’t be answered; the second, a “planh” or lament on the death of a friend; and the third, a more optomistic exploration of feelings and emotions complex and unresolvable. The piece is framed by a short musical phrase that symbolises the ultimately unanswerable question of “why?”. The phrase appears only twice during the work – at the very opening of the first movement, and towards the conclusion of the the third.

I would like to thank Damien Holloway who commissioned this piece and lobbied the orchestra for it’s performance; the Hobart Chamber Orchestra who gave the premiere; and Tom Holloway – without whom this piece might not have come about.

Matthew Dewey
Hobart, March 2008

Listen to the Piece


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