Katie Yap, one of Musica Viva Australia's FutureMakers for 2023-24, is artistic director of Music, She Wrote, a three day festival presented by 3MBS celebrating women in music. Harriet Cunningham caught up with her as she put the finishing touches to the program.

Tell me about Music, She Wrote.

It’s a three-concert festival designed to celebrate women in music and highlight the fact that classical programming is extremely male-dominated. That’s partly because it’s a historical artform, and we can’t change the record but this balance of programming isn’t necessary—there is amazing music written and performed by women. Our goal is to show the diversity and quality of music by storytellers outside of the usual canon.

You’re also entering the second year as a FutureMaker. Can you tell us anything about the creative project you are developing?

My project’s working title is Diaphanous, and through it, I want to explore vulnerability and the sounds that western classical music rejects. Musicians and performers must convince our audiences to trust us, but at the same time, we are human beings - we have flaws, idiosyncrasies, fallibilities.

My body’s way of dealing with the nerves I get when I perform is to tremble. As a string player, the bow is my voice, and it’s a complex, subtle movement to draw the bow along a string - and so when I’m nervous, I get bow shakes. It’s something I’ve struggled with since I can remember performing, and that I’ve worked on incessantly to overcome.

During one of our FutureMakers intensives last year, over a coffee with Helen Svoboda and Jen Lang, the question arrived: could that shaking and tremulousness could be beautiful? Could I explore it with curiosity, rather than stamping it out? So for Diaphanous, my mission is to explore the sounds that we leave out of western classical music - shaking sounds, in-between sounds, wispy or crunchy sounds.

This project will be a solo one, as the viola is such a collaborative instrument, and for me vulnerability means going outside of my comfort zone. However - I won’t be totally alone, shrouded in a sound-veil of guzheng, baryton (a gamba-like instrument with sympathetic strings), electronics, and viola. I will be working intensively with a lighting designer and a dramaturg to create a real show - I want to create a different world for my audience to step into, to feel safe enough to be vulnerable with me.

As women, we are allowed to be vulnerable in a way that men aren’t in our society. I think that’s a wonderful thing. If we were all able to do a little bit more of that, no matter what gender we are, perhaps we could find different ways to deal with conflict and tension. Perhaps we could embrace the fact that we are all fragile and fallible, and accept that in ourselves and other people. Perhaps we would have more patience and understanding of each other.

So you’re stepping away from the classical goal of perfection?

Perfection? To be honest, I think that’s incredible in live performance, but also sort of boring. I believe one of the great attractions of concerts is to witness something with inherent risk, to experience being in a place with other people, listening and watching and somehow being part of something.

Paul Kildea has a saying, ‘Once a FutureMaker, always a FutureMaker’. What does that mean to you?

My interpretation is that FutureMakers are going out of their way to do things a bit differently, even if that’s little-by-little. It requires someone who is curious, not afraid to take certain risks; someone who has the courage and support to take those risks.

Classical music is an interesting industry. It is mostly seen as a heritage artform, but it has to live in order to have a future. We have to find the living edge of it to see how it might fit in the next ten, fifteen, twenty, three hundred years; to find a way to make music, both old and new, in a way that connects deeply with our modern context and audiences.


Katie Yap appears at Brunswick’s Tempo Rubato on 21 March, performing alongside fellow FutureMaker Helen Svoboda and guzheng player Mindy Meng Wang in The Wave In the Mind, an evening of improvisation and musical storytelling as part of the Music, She Wrote festival.


In honor of International Women’s Day, the team at Musica Viva Australia has curated music performed and written by the women who inspire them.