Have you ever considered the fate of the humble childhood toy “Jack in the box” ?
Well, Rosemary Dobson has:
“He crouches low and supplicant/His elbows knocking on the wood…/He waits the tapping at the locks/He hears the children calling”Jack!”…/They think he sleeps, but how he weeps/His small tears falling with no sound……”
Rosemary Dobson was a distinguished and prolific Australian poet who died in 2012 at the age of 92. Her poetry is somewhat more intellectual and detached rather than visceral…but nevertheless she still writes movingly of the human experience.
The first time I ever heard chamber music was in a medieval church lit by candlelight in Dubrovnik, Croatia. It was atmospheric and the acoustics were superb. Cut to Drummoyne and the challenging contemporary chamber music benefited from the warm acoustics of St Bede’s Anglican Church.
This recital which took place on Saturday 10th September was staged by Halcyon, an advocate for new contemporary music, especially by 20th century composers.
With a career spanning more than 25 years mezzo soprano Jenny Duck-Chong is the Artistic Director of Halcyon. She performed in the first piece, composer Margaret Sutherland’sWoman song, Midnight and Winter Kestrel, based on poems written by Judith Wright and Duck-Chong was sensitively accompanied by Daniel Herscovitch on piano. Herscovitch is Associate Professor in Piano at the Conservatorium of Music. The abstract rhythm and metre of Wright’s poems were equally matched by the dissonance of the intense, bold, long flighted melody that threw out a challenge to Duck-Chong which she easily mastered. She found a balance between voice and words and her diction was excellent so as to wring the emotion from the poems.
This musicianship was continued in composer Brett Dean’s Literature And A Child Is A Grub, based on Michael Leunig’s prayer poems, which are both whimsical and serious. Duck-Chong ably mastered these contradictory themes.
Composer Roger Smalley’sPiano Trio was performed by Ewan Foster on violin, who currently works with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, Geoffrey Gartner on cello, who has played ambulatory cello for the Sydney Dance Company’s CounterMove, and who lectures extensively at Universities and Conservatoriums throughout Australian and the United States. Daniel Herscovitch played on the piano, the titular instrument in this piece. It draws its inspiration from a chromatic chord of Chopin’s Mazurkas. The work comprised with a prelude cherzo followed by a passacaglia. The Trios performance encompassed hypnotic dissonance interspersed with accessible Chopin like motifs and extracted the delight and complexity of this piece. Composer Andrew Shultz’s Paradise naturally deals with a dystopian world. Performed by Gartner on cello and Herscovitch on piano, this piece is sung by soprano Alison Morgan. Again with a 25 year career span, she has performed as a soloist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Pinchgut Opera, The Song Company amongst others. Shultzs’ melodies matching its theme were, for me, the most accessible. I found that I was so enchanted by Morgan’s bell like soprano that I occasionally lost track of Shultz’s lyrics.
I have presented mini biographies of these performers to highlight the calibre of musicianship and to show how they have battled and won the challenge for audience acceptance of new classical chamber music.
My favourite piece was the whimsical The Domestic Sublime Part 1, composed by Katy Abbott Kvasnica, based on the poems of Christopher Wallace-Crabb. The poet asks us to pause and think about mundane things like shaving, changing beds, and the indoor yacht and spinnaker when you throw out the bed sheet, and coathangers coming to life. These pieces show that new music can have a sense of humour. Alison Morgan sang playfully, accompanied by Herscovitch’s piano chords.
The next piece brought a real sense of occasion to this enjoyable recital. This was the World Premiere of David Malouf’sThree Malouf Songs and it was performed in the presence of fabled author David Malouf and its composer Gordon Kerry. Both they and the audience were delighted by the performance of Duck-Chong, violinst Foster and cellist Gartner. The three songs – Stars, Rock Pools, and The Glass House Mountains had the theme of water interacting with the shoreline. Kerry created music that shimmered like water and brought out liquid motifs on the piano. Duck-Chong’s mezzo soprano beautifully amplified the glassy piano chords and string harmonies suggesting still and then suddenly shattered water surfaces. Malouf’s songs are intensely atmospheric and the performance captured this. The piece was also performed in the presence of the compositions’ sponsors Denise and John Elkins who applauded enthusiastically.
Petit Testament, the final piece, composed by Elliott Gyger, saw both singers harmonising and singing counterpoint to each other. The piece is based on the hoax poems of Ern Malley, (really written by James McAuley and Harold Stewart), spoofing incomprehensible modern poetry. Duck- Chong and Morgan mimicked the two poets whose voices then create a single musical line and then drop out of unison into polyphomy as though the two poets sought to highlight their individuality.
Symphony Orchestras can only be commercial if the contemporary classical music they play is a musical score. So the modern Symphonic icons are composers like John Williams and Enrico Morricone. By playing in intimate venues like St Bede’s Church and performing for love rather than money, Halcyon keeps the flag flying for new Australian and international chamber works.
“A verbal art like poetry is reflective; it stops to think. Music is immediate; it goes on to become.” W.H. Auden
Each art has a language of its own that can ’speak’ to us. Poetry can resonant within us, its chosen words honed into crystalised form. Music, wordless, can stir, move, shake or provoke us. In song, these two powerful languages are synthesised, the poet’s and the composer’s voices intertwining, shining new light on the words while drawing out fresh musical ideas. Yet no one song or poem speaks in the same way to us all; our responses are as diverse as our human experience.
The songs and cycles in THE POET’S VOICE are the work of contemporary Australian composers, inspired by Australian poets and writers, who explore their shared understanding of our world, our environment and our everyday life with works spanning a period of almost 50 years. Features the poetry of Judith Wright, David Malouf, Michael Leunig, Ern Malley, Christopher Wallace-Crabbe and Andrew Schultz and songs and song cycles by Margaret Sutherland, Brett Dean, Elliott Gyger, Andrew Schultz and Katy Abbott Kvasnica, Roger Smalley’s Piano Trio and the world premiere of Three Malouf Songs by Gordon Kerry.
Artists: Jenny Duck-Chong mezzo soprano, Alison Morgan soprano, Ewan Foster violin, Geoffrey Gartner cello, Daniel Herscovitch piano
For more information go to www.halcyon.org.au
Halcyon’s concert THE POET’S VOICE will be performed at St Bede’s Church, Drummoyne on September 10 at 5 pm.
Tempus fugit. It is one of the preoccupations in the peony of poems contained in the Faber
Tempus fugit, (Latin for time flies), reminds one of the staple cinematic device of calendar pages a blowin’ in the wind to mark the passage of time. Calendars are the flighty, flirty bosom buddy if not kith and kin to the more steady diary, both now somewhat quaint in this digital age.
For cold, hard appointment keeping, one’s tablet or phone is perfectly adequate. However for concise elegance in date data, THE FABER & FABER POETRY DIARY 2016 is an appointment application par excellence. Continue reading FABER AND FABER POETRY DIARY 2016→
“Dance is present at every stage of human life,” declares editor Emma Wright in the introduction to her wonderful anthology. “From lessons to courtships to celebrations and moments when music just demands a response, dance is an essential part of our textured existence.”
This is a small, delightful book full of contemporary poems about dance in short, staccato bursts. There are forty two poems included from both established poets and emerging voices. What is interesting as well is that four of the contributors (Katherine Gallagher, Hilary Gilmore, Melinda Kallasmae and Lana Faith Young) have links to Australia.