Syzygy Ensemble: a concert of four world premières

by Jennifer Bryce

I’ve written a post about the Syzygy Ensemble before, but that was back in March 2020, the last concert they gave before we plunged into the thick of Covid-19, lockdowns, and very little work for artists. How exciting to attend this concert two years later — to hear that their superb music-making is as good as ever inspite of the drought of performance opportunties, and to experience four world première performances, all composed since that concert of two years ago.

The concert was entitled ‘Revive’. As pianist Leigh Harrold says in his program notes, ‘We’ve been here before’. In other words, the ensemble has been trying/ hoping to put together a concert for some time and with so many set-backs — new strains of the virus, new regulations, there’d been a feeling of cynisism as to whether the concert would ever eventuate. Congratulations Syzygy — it was a memorable evening.

Zinia Chan

Recently I’ve been fascinated by writers and composers I’ve come across who draw their inspiration from the study of plants. In this case, in Weaving Threads, composer Zinia Chan draws parallels between the relationships of fungus and plants and the symbiotic nature of human relationships. Chan says, ‘I wanted to explore the current time and also the importance of human connection and to draw the comparison between the Mycorrhiza network and humans; how although trees are seemingly separated and distanced, they are in fact connected through a mass of thin threads, known as mycelium (fugus).’ Her music explored these connections. It had been commissioned for Melbourne Recital Centre by Jane Kunstler.

The piece that bowled me over for the evening was by Australian/ British composer Keyna Wilkins. The program notes told us that Keyna’s music is characterised by a fascination with astronomy, First Nations culture, jazz, dance forms and intuitive improvisation. Her piece, Virago(meaning female warrior), celebrates women leaders. Keyna had taken four contemporary leading women and short sound bites of their speeches were incorporated into the composition: Greta Thunberg ‘We will not let you get away with this…’,

Greta Thunberg

Grace Tame ‘Share your truth it is your power…’,

Grace Tame

Jacinda Ardern ‘It takes courage and strength to be empathetic and I’m very proudly an empathetically-driven leader…’

Jacinda Ardern

and Angela Merkel ‘Anything that seems to be set in stone or unalterable can, indeed, change…’ The music reflected the energy and wisdom of these words.

Angela Merkel

Another favourite for me was a piece that had been especially composed for Syzygy and commissioned by the Echo Commission, founding donor, Dr Rosalind Page. Composed by Anthony Moles, The Tower, celebrates Sydney’s inner west, in particular the Petersham Reservoir, which is an interesting structure where a kind of nested tower structure is built over the old, covered, reservoir of 1888. The tower also depicts a tarot card — a tower with no obvious entrance. There was vibrancy and energy in the music — strength in the face of adversity — destruction of the old and emergence of the new. The piece is written in memory of composer Louis Andriessen.

Anthony Moles

The final item by Cyrus Meurant was also a memorial, commissioned by writer and former ABC producer Mark Wakely for his dear friend Steven Alward. To me, the music was a little more conventional than the other items but was nevertheless a beautiful tribute, with inspiration from Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, each movement depicting the crossing of a sea: The light that glows on the sea waves — Love, Amduat — Loss and Our different worlds — Transformation.

Steven Alward
Cyrus Meurant