Kate Miller-Heidke: Out Of The Band And Into The Orchestra

Column: Features   |   Date Published: Thursday, 16 March 17   |   Author: Rory McCartney   |   2 months, 2 weeks ago

The songbird with the three-octave voice, KATE MILLER-HEIDKE, is returning to Canberra. You may have heard her brilliant albums Little Eve or O Vertigo! or seen her with a rock band, but she is returning to perform with an orchestra in a format vastly different from her previous indie-pop performances.

Endlessly creative, Miller-Heidke is always extending her boundaries. These included writing the score for the musical The Rabbits and taking the bold, but successful, step of making a break from her record label. Relying on crowdfunding enabled her to exert more artistic independence when recording, including control over such aspects as videos, photos and artwork. Her biggest production was performing with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO) at the Museum of Old and New Art, Festival of Music and Art (MONA FOMA), which earned her (and the orchestra) a 2016 Helpmann Award for Best Australian Contemporary Concert. Now the show is coming to us and BMA talked with Miller-Heidke to find out more.

Creating a show of this dimension was no easy task, being in the works for several years with MONA FOMA and the TSO, the driving force behind the production. “It requires a lot of planning and pulling together a group of arrangers, of which we’ve ended up with some of the finest in the country, including Iain Grandage. About three years ago the TSO contacted me and we’ve been in touch since then. I didn’t want to do the standard, boring pop musician plays with an orchestra thing, playing songs the regular way, but with 45 musicians behind them; I wanted arrangements to be reimagined and rebuilt from the ground up, to exploit all the textures and colours, their amazing power and dynamics you get in an orchestra.”

A lot of trust was put in the arrangers and Miller-Heidke’s and Grandage’s previous collaborations on The Rabbits for Opera Australia paid off. Punters will find that some of Miller-Heidke’s songs, with which they are familiar, will sound a little different. “It’s quite a dramatic concert and those storytelling moments are really powerful, done with an orchestra. There are elements which the arrangers brought out which I didn’t even know were there, or had forgotten were there.” As a singer, performing with an orchestra is quite different from going with a rock band as it increases the scope of what you can do. “You can move through so many sonic landscapes. Strings are gorgeous and one song features a beautiful brass choir.”

The music is complemented by a special visual aspect, created by filmmaker Amy Gebhardt and woven into the performance. “She does haunting, strange and wonderful videos; some of them even feature nudity. It’s very exciting to me, though I may need to put a nude warning on my concert.” The set list will feature tracks from O Vertigo!, some lesser known songs, new material plus a selection from The Rabbits.

This musical creation (music by Miller-Heidke and libretto by Lally Katz), The Rabbits was based on the children’s picture book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan. “It’s such a gorgeous, evocative, moving book with so much detail in the images that make it quite a musical book.” It became a cross-genre opera/contemporary music/baroque vocal work, with each character singing in their own style. “The rabbits sang in a Gilbert and Sullivan-esque 19th century British style, the marsupials sang in a more naturalistic, contemporary way, and my bird character sang in an angular, otherworldly, highly decorative fashion. It’s an interesting thing about theatre, how you can express character through vocal quality.”

Her training as an opera singer enables Miller-Heidke to present songs over a huge vocal range and the show is structured to make full use of her talents, to a greater extent than any past gig she has done, especially with the inclusion of The Rabbits material. “It explores the limits of what I can do vocally, which is fun.” While very solid on most material, Miller-Heidke admitted there was one song where she sings on pitch while breathing in, and “some nights that works, other nights it doesn’t.” Of them all, Miller-Heidke loves The Rabbits songs the most. “Those orchestral arrangements, they really take off. Plus I love doing ‘Sarah’, a spooky murder ballad. There’s something about that song that really, really works with a full orchestra. It turbo charges everything.”

The local show will be done in conjunction with Canberra’s own 38-piece National Pops Orchestra. They and Miller-Heidke will have just a couple of days to rehearse before the show. “So the show will have a wonderful, spontaneous flavour.” Iain Grandage will also conduct the Canberra show, ensuring a high level of performance. Shows vary from venue to venue as Miller-Heidke orders the set list to take account of audience requests, received pre-show through Twitter or Facebook.

It has been a couple of years since Miller-Heidke’s last Canberra appearance and this event promises to be both an audio and visual feast.

Kate Miller-Heidke and the National Pops Orchestra will play at Canberra Theatre at 7:30pm on Friday April 7. Tickets are $77–$87 + $4.95 BF, with full details available at



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