Kat McGuffie: one to watch

Chris Reid

Great composers typically get started while still students. Kat McGuffie's student recital and the number of commissions she receives portend greatness.

The recital opened with Cumulonimbus, a gentle, rhythmical work for 2 guitars, flute, violin and cello, whose minimalism is punctuated by developing layers of brief, lyrical gestures to evoke tropical rain. Selected for the Australian Composers Workshops in the 2000 Darwin Guitar Festival, Cumulonimbus encourages the virtuosic performer, despite its deceptively simple form and light mood.

24 for String Quartet creates tension through radical shifts in mood and metre. An intense, slow, dissonant first movement gives way to a faster second movement. The quiet third movement recalls the pace of the first, with mournful violin passages. Opening powerfully, the fourth progresses to a series of competing solos. McGuffie used chance, by throwing dice, to create variations on the initial, improvised theme. Despite the chance elements, the work has coherence and final resolution.

Doon for James Cuddeford is a solo violin work written for and performed by the eponymous 2nd violinist of the Australian String Quartet. Cuddeford is a new music enthusiast, and here he can demonstrate his capabilities and love for the genre. It includes alternating and sometimes simultaneously bowed and pizzicato notes, the voices interplaying through a series of sharp gestures and thematic statements to create an idiosyncratic language reminiscent of Ysang Yun's complex, passionate ruminations. This is mature work that invites repeated listening.

For the Cameo Trio was commissioned last year by that trio and was performed strongly here by another–Louise Nowland (clarinet), Sarah McCarthy (violin) and Leigh Harrold (piano). Beginning brightly, the piece develops more reflectively with prolonged, introspective solos for the clarinet and violin. The disparate voices coalesce before the finale's return to the forms of the opening.

Most interesting is little coins are put here, written last year for cello, theremin and vocoder. Live readings by McGuffie of the text from a TV show on Buddhism, superimposed over tapes of that TV show and the work's first performance, are blended by the vocoder to create a low mumble, which underscores the dramatically gesturing cello line. The theremin's electronic whine heightens the work's neurotic feel.

The haunting Sharcoon (1999) is for 2 flutes, clarinet, violin and cello, the flutes and clarinet producing a piercing blend of tones with building tension and abrupt shifts. The Three Short Solo Piano Pieces (2000) come to life in the assured hands of Leigh Harrold, their quirkiness and teasing structure combining enchantingly with the piano's rich tonality.

The recital concluded with the dramatic Elizabeth Smith for saxophone quartet, based on a gaming machine tune, which was performed at the Montreal World Saxophone Congress in 2000. Whether composing for assessment or for commissions or for fun, McGuffie's work has an inherent musicality and strength.

A student of Flinders St School of Music, McGuffie has been commissioned to write for a major SA theatrical event, celebrating Federation, in October. She has already accepted numerous other commissions, and was Vocational Student of the Year and a finalist in the SA Youth Awards Showcase in 2000.

Kat McGuffie and numerous ensemble players were at the Performing Arts Technology Unit, Adelaide University,
April 30

RealTime issue #43 June-July 2001 pg.

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2001