Many musicians discover their talent at an early age, but few begin quite as early or as impressively as Amanda Lee Falkenberg. At the age of just two and a half, she began teaching herself piano by transcribing the sound of marching bands directly onto the piano. Since that first spark of inspiration, she’s gone on to perform as a concert pianist for the Australian Ballet company, pursue her own path as a composer and win numerous awards for her TV and film scores – achievements that are fuelled by her insatiable curiosity and lifelong passion for music.
While Amanda was in London to premiere a new trilogy of works, we chatted with her about her musical journey and inspirations.
From the moment Amanda Lee Falkenberg began learning the piano, a career in music seemed like a natural progression. ‘I was listening to piano concertos, deciding which one to learn next, and the sheer power of the piano within that setting just lit my world up,’ she confides.
Her passion for playing pianoset her on the path to composition. She honed her craft until she could bring her musical visions to life; while still at school, sheadded atmosphere to a play on the life of Thomas Becket with original medieval-inspired music. However, it wasn’t until she worked as a ballet pianist that she realised her professional calling wascomposition.
During her time as a concert pianist with The Australian Ballet, her desire to exercise her own creative agency became increasingly evident. ‘I decided that I wanted to write my own ballet, and that no one was going to take me seriously while I was sitting behind the piano. I said to myself, I need to resign.’
Her determination led her to part ways with performance and set up a recording studio in Dubai, a move that is reflected in the Arabic influences heard throughout her work. In fact, much of Amanda’s inspiration comes organically. ‘Music nourishes me, and I feel so energised and excited about where I am and the headspace I enter when I’m making music,’ she explains. She never worries about where the ideas will come from: ‘I love that challenge. Even if you gave me a blank canvas, I’d be working out how to translate that into music.’
After achieving her aim of writing her own ballet, Amanda has since moved into film composing, winning numerous awards for her sweeping, orchestral compositions. Her approach to this work is often intuitive, drawing inspiration from the textures and atmospheres of the films she’s scoring. ‘One thing leads to another, and it becomes this endless dance of ideas.’
She’s also not afraid to scrap work she believes is not up to the highest standards. ‘You have to feel it’s brilliant. Brilliant is your best work,’ she tells us – and it’s apparent thatthis desire for musical perfection has its roots in her earliest days as a musician. ‘When I was a teenager I said to my piano teacher that I would get perfect scores, and they warned me that it would be really tough. To get perfect scores was quite something in Australia,’ she recalls. In the end, she achieved two perfect scores: one in performance, the other in arranging.
Clearly, Amanda dedicates an impressive amount of time and energy to her compositions. However, she refuses to identify as a ‘workaholic’, which doesn’t encompass the creativity and open-mindedness that composition necessitates. Instead, she embraces the term ‘learnaholic’, someone always searching for new ideas and new inspirations.
Her learnaholic attitude has proven useful when it comes to engaging with technology in her work. With no full-time orchestra available to her in Dubai, she primarily utilises editing and scoring software to craft her compositions, giving her access to a powerful library of virtual instruments.
Indeed, the learning curve of innovative new music technologies is something that Amandaenjoys mastering: in preparation for the London premiere of her new Sea Trilogy, she took the drastic step of transferring all of her work into the music notation software Dorico. The challenge of mastering a new notation software with a major deadline approaching doesn’t seem to have phased her. ‘I loved it,’ she remarks, undaunted by the time crunch. ‘It was a beautiful goal and timeline to be working towards.’
Despite her skill with the more tech-heavy side of composing, working on film scores with live orchestras remains her goal. ‘There’s a real energy to listening to something that’s been recorded with a real orchestra. So that’s where I’m headed eventually.’
Even as her hard work comes to fruition and her goals take shape, Amanda retains the inquisitive attitude that brought her to the art of composition in the first place. ‘I know to this very breath that I’m happy with how everything has turned out, but I’m still curious,’ she says.‘That’s how I’d put it – it’s ambitious, but also curious.’So what’s next on Amanda’s musical journey? Whether she’s working with technology or live musicians, scoring for film or TV, her power to transform curiosity into composition will undoubtedly continue to lead to innovation and artistry.