Ollivier-PhillippeCuneo is well known around Perth for his conducting and violin playing. Less well known is the blossoming of his composing career. Cuneo has been based in Paris since 2012 and is back in Perth this month for the premiere on Saturday of a work commissioned by the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra.

Le Verre Siffleur is named after the cafe at the end of Cuneo’s street and pays musical tribute to French cafe life including an elegy to the victims of the 13th November terrorist attacks. It was commissioned by the FCO after the enthusiastic reception to Cuneo’s opus one Between Two Moons which the orchestra premiered in February.
The premiere of Le Verre Siffleur has taken on extra potency given the Nice truck attack on Bastille Day last week. When we spoke Cuneo was still in shock from the news of the tragedy. He explained how Le Verre Siffleur expresses musically the way life for French citizens has permanently changed.

Le verre siffleur cafe

“We try to go about life as usual but it doesn’t feel the same. This is reflected in the music at the end of the work where there is a forced joyfulness, an out of kilter waltz with five beats in a bar. There is not the same naivety or innocence anymore.”

The piece is a mix of old and new much like the environment Cuneo experiences every day in Paris. It is scored for a Mozartian orchestra with two oboes, two horns and strings and draws on Cuneo’s research into the art nouveau architecture on his street and the correlating music from the early 20th century. Cuneo fused ideas from Strauss, Mahler, Stravinsky and Puccini to evoke the changing moods and scenes of cafe life. A chord from Ravel’s L’Enfant et les sortileges inspired the elegy at the heart of the work.
Cuneo’s composing career is a new addition to an already flourishing conducting career that began with a young artist residency with Opera Australia and has included work with
various Australian opera houses and orchestras. Cuneo conducted the Pearl Fishers with WA Opera in 2009.
Ollie Cuneo in conducting mode

Cuneo currently teaches at the Conservatoire Gustave Charpentier where his work involves arranging and creating operas with school children. From there it was a small step to writing his own music.

“As a conductor you study so much music in order to understand a composer’s thought processes,” he explained. “You have the vocabulary, you just need to play around with it and search for something to say, for an original voice.”
A big part of his inspiration came from observing the innate imagination and creativity of his two daughters. Watching them play inspired Cuneo to channel his own creativity and begin to compose.

“We need to prioritise that creativity in children and adults. It is a crucial way to keep culture as a valued part of what gives a community meaning and cohesion. It is so important to keep creativity an active part of life.”

Le Verre Siffleur will be performed by the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra at 2pm on July 23rd (Perth Town Hall) and July 24th (Fremantle Town Hall). The program includes symphonies by Mozart and Haydn plus Hoffmeister’s Viola Concerto performed by Sally Boud. Tickets can be purchased here or at the door.

The article copyright The West Australian newspaper 2016.