Composer Kim Cunio joins ANU School of Music

Photo of Kim Cunio
Thursday 4 May 2017

"I reconstructed an orchestra of the time of Jesus and played the earliest surviving Jewish music on replica instruments"

I am a composer and all around music lover. I was born in Sydney Australia, both my parents were refugees. My Mum was from Burma (now Myanmar), but left when she was a still a girl and ended up in India before coming to the UK and then Australia, whereas my Dad was an Iraqi Jew from Shanghai; and their stories were a big part of my life. For example, my Mum’s family were full of musicians and they survived World War 2 by playing music, and all became very well known in India before moving to the West, and my Dad’s family also had musicians and a lot of Rabbis in it. My Mum’s cousin was the famous jazz guitarist Ike Isaacs, and when he found out I was interested in music he took me under his wing, sent me off to stay with his brother in London, who was a famous classical violinist. They mapped out a lot of my career, which I am eternally thankful for.

I love classical music and also traditional music, so when I was a music student at the University of Newcastle I studied voice and composition and became a bit of an all-rounder, I would write new music, sing opera and at home learn Arabic, Sanskrit and Hebrew music, and play jazz, and even play in rock bands. My composition teachers were Nigel Butterley and Colin Spiers and they quite lovingly taught me despite my many failings as a young composer. I was really lucky when I graduated because the ABC signed me up as a fairly inexperienced but enthusiastic composer, and over the next decade I wrote quite a lot of music for them, making several albums, and doing lots of screen composition, which is really fun, and a large part of what I teach now at ANU. I also worked with the Compass program for years, and worked with the major Australian Galleries a lot during this time.

In the meantime, I kept studying. I love university life, and did a Masters and a Doctorate in music composition, and my Doctorate was amazingly obscure yet beautiful, as I reconstructed an orchestra of the time of Jesus and played the earliest surviving Jewish music on replica instruments. Some of my current projects include making music with the Gyuto Monks of Tibet, a work on the forced foeticide of young girls in India and helping on a project of music on the TIWI Islands. I also grew to really love teaching.

While in Queensland, I became involved in a beautiful project ‘The Harvest of Endurance’, which set a wonderful Chinese historical scroll that is housed in the National Library to music, with short works by 18 Australian composers. My work in it is called ‘The Summons of the Soul’, I wrote something very simple yet quite arresting, lots of repeated notes for singers and instruments with weird dissonances coming in and out of the music. I can’t wait to hear it again and be a small part of the Canberra International Music Festival, which I hope to be much more involved in, as well as the musical life in Canberra.

Dr Kim Cunio
Senior Lecturer in Composition and Convenor of Musicology
ANU School of Music 

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