…the music emerged straight from the heart 

How do you prepare for your first tour to Australia? 

With a piece of new Australian music, of course.  

Violinist Noa Wildschut and pianist Elisabeth Brauss are about about to embark on their debut tour of this country, and they’ve been practising a new work written just for them. Melbourne composer May Lyon crafted an original piece of music called Forces of Nature, and the name of this Musica Viva Australia commission is matched to the strength of its soloists and writer alike. 

May says it all began when Musica Viva Australia’s Artistic Director Paul Kildea found himself listening to some snippets of Opal – a double horn concerto May had written for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra back in 2021. With brass instruments glistening like precious gems, Paul was so drawn into its magical atmosphere that he asked May if he could hear an extended recording of the work, in all its beauty. 

From this listening experience would come an entirely new piece of music, for two entirely different instruments.  

‘He really loved the work, which I was very flattered by, after which he asked to catch up,’ May said of the composer’s burgeoning musical friendship with Paul. They had a ‘great meeting’ – and it kicked off the commission for Wildschut and Brauss. 

‘We had discussed that it was important that composers and performers are the right match,’ May shares. And the pressure is on when you’re tasked with contributing to a string of successful Musica Viva Australia commissions. This year alone, Australian composer Jakub Jankowski wrote for koto and cello (in the event Silk, Metal, Wood), while Carl Vine’s music for guitar and string quartet was premiered by Karin Schaupp and Flinders Quartet. 

May, Noa and Elisabeth may not be a close geographical fit, but they are certainly well matched in talent: May has been awarded commissions with the most prestigious Australian arts organisations from Musica Viva Australia to The Australian Ballet. Noa is a recording artist with Warner Classics and has starred in a documentary about her musical life (A Family Quartet), while Elisabeth was part of the BBC New Generation Artist Scheme and often plays in Wigmore Hall.

‘I know what Noa and Elisabeth make of this piece will be wonderful.’

May Lyon

So when it comes to figuring out whether or not they’d be a good match, May says: ‘It was an easy decision for me. They are both brilliant, and an extremely dynamic duet. A little while later, I was extremely pleased to hear they also wanted me to write a piece for them.’  

Then the work began. Watching online recordings of their performances, the composer would analyse the players’ gestures. May observed Noa’s spirited body language; the violinist ‘closing her eyes and leaning into the music in sublime happiness’. 

For Elisabeth, May imagined creating music that would allow space for this pianist to convey the full gamut of musical expression – from the delicate to the thunderous. ‘Elisabeth has a focus and intensity in her playing that sometimes reminded me of a gymnast: precise and strong, yet always artistic and poised.’  

May’s interpretations of the performers – watching and listening to them intensely, yet at a distance – would prove an essential tool in forging Forces of Nature. As the artists’ schedules were packed to the brim, May says the three of them were unable to chat about the composition – a step you’d expect to be part and parcel of such a joint project. Instead, the music emerged straight from the heart: through improvisation. 

The composer turned ideas into modes – sequences of notes that help conjure a certain feeling. One mode was allocated to Noa, another to Elisabeth. But Forces of Nature is not a piece that requires you to have a degree in musicology to enjoy. Beyond the technical skills embedded into the writing, May also paints a musical picture of nature’s wildest forces – fire and ice.  

You’ll hear ‘ice sheets, the reflecting sunlight on the freezing water, and cracking ice; the bubbling of an underwater volcano in its early stages; and the searing heat of a fiery volcano, with leaping lava as well as its descent down the side.’ 


In a musical sense, Noa’s violin solo hints at the light shining on the ice and piercing the water. Over the course of the piece, Elisabeth also plays a fugue that sounds like a ‘bubbling’ texture, then the threat of the volcano emerges.  

‘Once we get to the volcano, the piano is driving and rhythmic with rolling lines across the range of the piano,’ May explains. ‘The violin is soaring over the top, or moving in fast racing patterns. This section is designed to get the heart pumping.’ 

You’d generally expect to hear these epic soundscapes in a large-scale orchestral work: the forces of nature are at work in the thunderstorm of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, and the waves that crash in Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture. The challenge for May was to realise and communicate visions of the natural world using just two instruments – but when Noa and Elisabeth are playing them, it becomes less of a limitation and more of a benefit. 

‘To be composing for artists of this calibre, I felt confident that what I had on the page would not only be brought out, but enhanced,’ May says. ‘Simple lines can have so much detail, and then when given to a talented performer, a single note can hold a whole auditorium. Being able to be part of this is an absolute gift and why writing this piece was such a joy.  

‘I know what Noa and Elisabeth make of this piece will be wonderful.’