Musica Viva Australia is proud to introduce the newest FutureMaker, Matt Laing! Along with the Partridge String Quartet, the Melbourne-based violist is part of the fourth iteration of Musica Viva’s acclaimed leadership initiative, FutureMakers. The program is designed to discover brilliant, early-career artists destined to be the musical leaders of tomorrow, providing them with the support to continue to grow and evolve as musicians.

Matt Laing recently sat down with Musica Viva to discuss what being a FutureMaker means him, his first (digital) intensive for the initiative, musical inspirations and innovation within the chamber music world.

What inspired you to first pick up a viola, and why have you continued playing it to this day?
I started on violin as a child like most viola players but I saw the light, switched and haven’t looked back! I love the sound of the viola, and it’s great from a composition perspective when playing in an orchestra or quartet because the viola chair is a great vantage point to enjoy what’s going on around you and learn how a piece works.

How did you first begin composing?
I dabbled a bit when I was young, and while I was studying at university I was sketching ideas for different works but it wasn’t until I finished my viola studies and was working professionally that I started to complete works and get them performed. I always felt at some point composition was going to be a big part of my musical life, and a lot of my compositional opportunities have come from developing artistic relationships through playing the viola.

Your music is described as being ‘fundamentally driven by an interest in storytelling through sound’, what is it about telling stories through your music that is important to you? 
I see it as fundamental to the art form itself, whether the story has some external influence or is the development of purely musical ideas, music is a temporal art form that needs to evolve to say something and be impactful.

What kinds of stories do you typically like to tell through your music? 
It varies, it’s usually a response to the time or something I’m reading or listening to, or a personal observation about nature or society. I try to keep the subject matter deliberately pretty vague, and write in a way that allows an audience to bring themselves and their own lived experience to a work, I feel like art/classical music is uniquely able to do that, and playing with the context of that experience is something I want to explore in the future.

What have been some career highlights for you to date?
The opportunity to write for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra through the Cybec Young Composer program was really special having worked as a viola player with the orchestra for years, and I’m really looking forward to hearing the bassoon concerto I’ve written for them in mid-September. I had a work premiered overseas last year just before COVID hit which was a great milestone, but looking back it’s the opportunities that have been given to me really early on when I had little compositional experience from groups like Flinders Quartet and Ossicle Duo that are really special. For early career composers there’s no substitute to professional groups playing your work back to you to develop and learn, so I’ll always be grateful for that

What does being a FutureMaker mean to you?

It means a lot, Musica Viva have been such an important institution for Australian musical life over many years having brought great international artists to Australia and providing a platform for Australian artists, so to be working and developing under that umbrella is really humbling, and it’s a great opportunity to explore new ideas and build a career platform while things are so uncertain.

How do you hope to evolve as an artist?
I don’t know, and it’s quite hard to imagine when everything is so stop-start! I have some projects in mind involving live performance, recordings and installations that I’d love to do but I don’t think too far in advance when it comes to evolving my compositional style or what I want to do as an artist. I learn a lot from project to project, and one of many frustrations with COVID has been the delay in the premiere of new works; ideally each new work would be informed by learnings from the last. But COVID’s also shown that you can’t really plan the world you live in or hope to reflect in your work, and when you think too long term about these things you can lose sight of what’s in front of you so right now I’m just trying to apply myself as best I can, trying to roll with the ups and downs of the moment as they happen and I guess however you evolve artistically through that is how you evolve. 

Who are your musical inspirations?
There are a lot, limiting it to within classical music I’d say Brett Dean, Liza Lim and Unsuk Chin (amongst many others!), their work and story telling is so compelling and they’ve each had really successful and varied careers. Outside of that I try to read a lot to pick up ideas and new perspectives, stay up to date with what’s happening in the world and I think a lot can be learnt watching great stand up comedy too.

If there was one thing you could change or innovate with chamber and classical music, what would it be and why?
There’s a lot we can do, but I think if I had to boil it down to one thing it would be for a mindset that our art form is for everyone, and the responsibility of bringing it to audiences in a variety of contexts is taken as an industry-wide core value. I’m really inspired by a lot of people around me looking to show how our art form can evolve and be moved into new contexts, from the Australian String Quartet to New North in Melbourne, there’s clearly an appetite to perform new work and in a context that invites new audiences into more relaxed settings. Sometimes I think we forget how intimidating the concert hall can be for a new audience and those less formal settings can really help break that down and make it about the art.

Learn more about Musica Viva's FutureMakers initiative here.