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