The Sunwrae Ensemble, founded in Melbourne in 2001, is a nine-piece chamber ensemble and is about to launch its third album, Autumn Never Fall.

Before the Ensemble’s national tour, Anna Lozynski caught up with its multi-talented Artistic Director, and ray of sunshine, Rae Howell.

Rae Howell1. What can the audience expect from the Ensemble’s performance as part of the Autumn Never Fall tour?
Expect to be dazzled by the Sunwrae Ensemble's nine performers on grand piano, vibraphone, string quartet, harp, alto flute, double bass & drums. There will be luscious melodies, persuasive rhythms and spectacular improvisations that appeal to any listener!  We are launching a new album, 'Autumn Never Fall' and an animation film, 'The Machine' (to which we play live) and there will also be live projections by Cinematic Accompaniment.

2. What inspired you to invent a music, art and exhibition series?
The combination of music and visual art forms, I believe, work fabulously together. It gives the audience something more than just a “one sense” experience. It also provides the opportunity for mutual inspiration between the two art forms, and in a way it opens up extra possibilities of audience imagination.

3. How did you arrive at the name for the Ensemble?
Someone once described me as a “little ray of sunshine” and the rest is history!

4. What has been the most outstanding achievement for the Ensemble since its inception in 2001?
Independently releasing three albums, numerous DVDs and maintaining a healthy performance schedule across Australia, enabling us to reach a diverse audience demographically and geographically. It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to share my music with such appreciative audiences and highlight the talents of each Sunwrae Ensemble musician.  

5. The Ensemble’s third album, ‘Autumn Never Fall’ is being launched as part of your national tour. In your view, what sets this album apart from its predecessors?
Inspired by the freezing temperatures of winter in the Canadian Rocky Mountains during a music residency in 2006, the album’s seven tracks are thematically linked, each influenced by natural weather elements like wind, rain, snow and sun. The album also brings together a unique combination of instruments, which “paints every style, every influence, in complete, organic harmony” (Silent Ballet 2009). Its music has been developed over some time, giving me the opportunity to refine the compositions for live recording and performance, as well as progress and solidify my writing style. 

6. Which piece from this album do you particularly enjoy performing?
'The Chinook Winds' is always the finale of the show. It showcases the expertise of each performer's technical and improvisational abilities. The work has a lot of room to move dynamically so each performance feels fresh and energetic as if we were performing it for the first time. 

7. Gifted with the ability to play a number of instruments, including piano, vibraphone, trumpet, among others, if you could only play one instrument, which one would you choose and why?
The grand piano, because it feels like home.

8. As a graduate of The University of Melbourne Conservatorium, what is one important lesson you learned during this period?
To pave my own way with my original compositions, staying true to my natural style of writing despite the expectations of fitting into particular categories, be it new 'concept art' music or generally accessible music for diverse listening audiences aside from the mainstream.

Sunwrae Ensemble9. As a chamber group, are you excited about the genre’s recognition in the Melbourne arts scene by the opening of the Melbourne Recital Centre?
It is fabulous to see more chamber-styled music being showcased in such a prestigious venue. I hope this continues to broaden the understanding in the wider demographic of the various genres of contemporary classical music.

10. What attracts you to contemporary classical music?
I believe contemporary classical music has many branches. My own style which has been described as “nu-chamber” draws influences from traditional classical, jazz, pop melodies and cinematic flavours combined with persuasive and driving cross rhythms. It is refreshing that any form of contemporary classical music can be influenced by a variety of genres yet still include extended techniques for advanced musicians.

11. Your career as a freelance musician has extended to international circles.  What is one quality from the international scene that you would like to see more in Melbourne?
It's difficult to compare the international scenes in brief. The USA and European scenes present another contrast again. International audiences are very open to new developments in the arts generally.  Although performers enjoy an abundance of opportunities in Australia and there is an appreciation for a variety of music, it would be encouraging to see more works outside the audience’s comfort zone. How can one determine what they like other than through experience?

12. If you were not a musician, what would you be?
A noble pelican, so my bill could hold more than my belly can!  

13. Finally, tell us one item of information people are always surprised to hear about you.
I can tap dance.

The Sunwrae Ensemble are currently touring. For details visit

Image Credits:-
Top Right - Rae Howell
Bottom Right - The Sunwrae Ensemble
Photos - Dean Jones

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