Writing, concerts, theatre and a little bit of travel

Two Metropolis concerts, Melbourne Recital Centre, 4th and 6th May

These concerts aimed to blend ancient and new music – it was a blending of forms and also of instruments: harpsichord and recorder, for example, playing music by composers born in the 1950s. There was also a blending of cultures, with Joseph Tawadros playing his oud with a symphony orchestra and playing Vivaldi transcribed for oud and recorder.


Brett Dean’s Carlo refers to madrigals composed by Prince Carlo Gesualdo (1560 – 1613) and uses pre-recorded vocal collages. The orchestra takes over, as Dean says, leading us ‘to altogether more 20th Century realms of sound’. He describes the music as a journey between two different time zones ‘Gesualdo’s madrigals are eventually reduced to mere whisperings of his texts and nervous breathing sounds’.

Metropolis 1

The Metropolis concert series is an opportunity to hear very recently composed music played by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Earlier in the year I had attended the Cybec 21st Century Australian Composers Concert – a competition for new composers to write for a particular orchestral combination.  Four young composers are selected to write 10 minute pieces and two of these are selected for the Metropolis concerts. At the Cybec concert, my choice of two pieces was Static Anxiety by Stephen de Filippo and The Secret Motion of Things, by Ade Vincent. They seemed particularly fresh and engaging. The judges selected Ade Vincent’s piece and Singular Movement by Connor D’Netto. Vincent’s piece was inspired by New Atlantis by Francis Bacon – about a utopian society that revolved around a research institution where knowledge of causes and secret motions of things were studied.

Sir Francis Bacon. 2jpg

The composer says that this pursuit ‘seems particularly relevant now, as humankind stands on the precipice of creating artificial intelligence that vastly supersedes our own’. Vincent describes the music: ‘the work begins with a vast, expansive opening act that gives way to a surging and driving conclusion. I used the opportunity to explore a range of sounds and extended techniques, many of which I have not attempted before, with the ultimate aim of injecting a sense of wonder into the piece, followed by an urgent, relentless and unstoppable momentum.’

Ade Vincent

Ade Vincent

Connor D’Netto’s piece is an exploration of direction and development where each section of the orchestra is set on its own trajectory:  some instruments moved from smooth sustained sounds to short, sharp notes whereas others did this in reverse. Nothing was sudden, yet in the relatively short time provided the piece ‘traverses vastly contrasting textures and musical ideas’.

connor d'netto

Connor D’Netto

For me, a very exciting piece on the program was a transcription of Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Minor, Opus 3, No. 6 for oud and recorder. Earlier in the evening we had been introduced to Erik Bosgraaf’s virtuoso recorder playing with an Australian premiere of a recorder concerto by Willem Jeths (born 1959). Now Bosgraaf was joined by an equally virtuosic oud player, Joseph Tawadros. With his Arabian headgear (which he also supplied for Bosgraaf) and his brother playing percussion and using no musical score he blended brilliantly with the baroque instrument and music. Tawadros seems to have a mission to promote the oud in mainstream western culture. He has lived in Sydney since he was 3, and was awarded an Order of Australia last year.
Eric BosgraafTawadros 2

Also in the two concerts we heard music by Elena Kats-Chernin, Pierre Boulez, Brett Dean, György Ligeti, J.S. Bach and Anna Meredith.

Resonant Bodies Festival, Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre, 5th May


Resonant Bodies has come to us from New York. I’m not sure that it’s accurate to call it an organisation. According to program notes, ‘Resonant Bodies is not just a series of concerts but a community’. It was launched in New York in 2013 and is an annual festival that has become an indispensable part of the New York music scene. Rather than curating programs around musical works, the singers are central – singers from around the world, some famous, some just starting out. Here in Melbourne we had just one concert – a festival in miniature, co-directed by singers Jessica Aszodi and Jane Sheldon.

jessica and jane

The program included four world premières: by Elliott Gyger, Natasha Anderson, Carolyn Connors and Odeya Nini.

The two pieces that stood out for me were Gyger’s A Church Made of Glass (world première) and Eight Songs for a Mad King, composed in 1969 by Peter Maxwell Davies.

oscar and lucinda

The text for A Church Made of Glass is by Peter Carey – it is central to Oscar and Lucinda – one of the ideas is the ‘doomed fragility’ of glass; ‘I cannot separate love from glass’ and another memorable part was reference to insects being trapped in glass:

‘They did not understand

For one hundred thousand years

Their progenitors had inhabited that valley

Without once encountering glass

Suddenly the air was hard where it should be soft


Bashing against nothing.’

insect trapped in glass

The form used by Gyger was a deconstructed Baroque cantata. There were two sopranos and a mezzo-soprano accompanied by (or, more accurately perhaps, working with) piano, clarinet and percussion. I was surprised that the impression was not top heavy but rather it helped at times to convey fragile delicacy.

shards of glass.jpg

Peter Maxwell Davies’s Eight Songs for a Mad King (libretto by Randolph Stowe) is about England’s ‘mad’ King George III, who loved birds – and hence the musicians wore bird costumes. Much of the instrumental music (played by clarinet, flute/piccolo, ‘cello, violin and percussion) imitates exaggerated bird sounds. On the surface it is highly amusing and indeed greatly demanding of bass-baritone Matthew Thomas who did a great job of making all kinds of mad, sometimes bird-like sounds ranging over 5 octaves. But it is also a poignant portrait of madness. The eight songs are based on songs that George III would have known and apparently tried to train his birds to sing. In the end, the mad king grabs the violin and smashes it – we in the audience didn’t notice the subtle substitution of a cheap variety for the valuable instrument Elizabeth Welsh had been playing.

eight songs for a mad king

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