The Cybec 21st Century Australian Composers Concert
Each year since 2003, the Cybec Foundation has supported a program whereby four young composers are selected to write 10 minute pieces for a particular orchestral combination. Each composer has a mentor, an established Australian composer, who works with them during the composition process. On Saturday we heard the outcomes of this work for 2017 performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in the Iwaki Auditorium. Two of the four pieces will be selected for performance during the Metropolis New Music Festival, held in Melbourne in May.
All four pieces were performed by members of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by Brett Kelly. There was piano, harp, percussion, one flute (doubling piccolo), oboe (doubling cor anglais), clarinet and bassoon (doubling contra bassoon), two horns, other brass instruments and a reduced string section.
Cassie To, from Sydney, had written The Reef, an evocation of her frustration at the demise of The Great Barrier Reef. It was clearly a program piece, with tinkling harp and percussion depicting the reef’s fragility and menace coming from the deeper instruments. I very much liked the idea of devoting a piece to such a grave issue. For me, the piece didn’t strongly enough suggest the disintegration of the reef. The menace of the deeper instruments reminded me of depictions of ocean depths, such as in Vaughan Williams’s Sinfonia Antarctica rather than the breaking up and dying of the reef.
Second on the program was Stephen de Filippo’s Static Anxiety. Stephen is based in Perth. Taking what to me seemed a technical and psychological approach, the work aimed to cause anxiety through stasis – a lack of motion. As the program notes said, ‘This idea is conveyed through detailed alteration of otherwise quite slow moving lines, introduced by the clarinet. This idea is paired against agitated interjections from different instrumental groups, as well as a repetitive pulse which is echoed through the strings, piano and percussion’.
The third piece was by Brisbane-based Connor D’Netto. Called Singular Movement, it was a very gradual and sustained progression. Within this overall development, some instruments moved from smooth sustained sounds to short, sharp notes whereas others did the reverse. Nothing was sudden, yet in the relatively short time provided the piece ‘traverses vastly contrasting textures and musical ideas’.
The final piece, by Ade Vincent, was The Secret Motion of Things. It was inspired by utilitarian philosophy, particularly work of Francis Bacon and explores the idea of artificial intelligence – will it serve our needs, or will it usurp our dominance? Ade 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.’
All four composers were present to hear their works performed. They were interviewed by the conductor. Some had made revisions and adjustments when they first heard their music rehearsed with the orchestra. Nevertheless, each of the composers has a substantial CV – experience writing film scores, chamber music, commissions with groups such as Plexus and the Tin Alley String Quartet.
My choice of two pieces to be performed at Metropolis would be Static Anxiety and The Secret Motion of Things. They seemed particularly fresh and engaging. Let’s see what the judges decide!
May 16, 2017
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’.
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.