Above : Artistic director of Halcyon, mezzo soprano  Jenny Duck-Chong.

Halcyon’s concert last weekend, In Nature, was no exception to their past pattern of powerful performances, with premieres, performances of innovative compositions from local and international composers.

The concert’s theme of nature and our interaction with it was finely wrought  by artistic director Jenny Duck-Chong. The programme of nine works, six by composers based predominantly in Australia was delivered with pleasing momentum. The music for voice and instruments in constantly shifting ensembles ranged from solo voice through to works requiring six players.

This programme’s diversity of composers and sonic forces presented many different colours of nature and the human predicaments enveloped by its power. Subtlety, tragedy, humour, health and happiness were clearly conveyed using the forces of voice, cello, percussion, flutes and Indian tabla.

Above : Tabla player Maharshi Raval 

Halcyon’s musical director began the evening with a focussed delivery of Catherine Milliken’s recent work for solo mezzo soprano, Kozoku (2019). Duck-Chong’s performance included her expressive face, natural stage presence of a storyteller and flexible arsenal of vocal timbre across the work’s tiny text material.

This evocative  short work to open the concert suggested mountains, trees, and togetherness within a potentially dangerous environment. The cornucopia of shapes for vocal utterance and the emotion hinged on each made this a stunning opening and suggested special  communication to follow.

A highlight of the interesting environments conjured up during this event was the playing  of a newly commissioned work from Elena Kats-Chernin, Moondust. (2019) Flute, cello, percussion and a nicely balanced mezzo line, moving as an instrument in the texture, breathtakingly redefined the concept of stillness .

There was an exquisitely gentle rocking  metamorphosis in this wordless vocal and instrumental composition. This work was complemented by the presence of Larry Sitsky’s angular manipulation of Chinese poetry in translation, The Bamboo Flute (2015) for flute and mezzo, also heard in world premiere.

Later in the night we heard a focussed rendering of the final piece by another legend of the Australian scene, Nigel Butterly’s, This was the  subtly chilling Nature Changes (2014) for voice and cello.

International composer Hilary Tann provided flautist Sally Walker and cellist Geoffrey Gartner a meditative moment to blend with each other in her traverse flute and cello adaptation of the shakuhachi piece, Llef (1995).

Sally Walker alluded to Shakuhachi phrasing and its inimitable shaping of material as her line was woven exquisitely around that of  Gartner’s ever-intimate cello effects. As with all performances at the Summer Hill Church space, a rear curtain on the stage area explored several colour environments as the various statements on nature unfolded.

Above: Soprano Jane Sheldon.

Matthew Hindson’s clever setting of witty, wry and somewhat  existential poems in his Insect Songs was performed with appropriate caricature and familiar sounds from busy nature by guitarist Vladimir Gorbach and Jenny Duck-Chong.

This pair of descriptive songs was a great choice to contrast with other deeper sentiments and abstract sonic structures in the concert. It was a fine showcase for guitar and voice, a versatile combination not always heard.

Soprano Jane Sheldon  joined Jenny Duck- Chong and cellist in a world premiere of a composition from poet-composer Madeleine Isaksson. The bilingual text of Blad över Blad/ Feuille sur Feuille (2000) alluding to trees, leaves and life’s layers was sung in French and Swedish simultaneously. The close overlappings of musical motifs and poetic language gave us one of the evening’s most shapely offerings. Voices and cello blended brilliantly in the close figurative counterpoint.

The concert’s closing work in Australian premiere and quite a masterpiece of text setting was from local  composer Andrew Ford. His song cycle In Nature featured  six musicians across its sprawling structure including the addition of Indian tabla rhythmic pulse and colours from Maharshi Raval.

This premiere closed off the evening and the theme of nature comprehensively in a final celebration of the power of poetry and music together. This entire concert inspired us  to dwell on the nature of environment using the imaginitive blend of words and music to help understand this more.