Great Rhythms and Beautiful Lines
I was fortunate enough to hear the Kelemen Quartet’s performance of Ross Edwards’ String Quartet no 3 in Newcastle. On meeting Ross Edwards, the group reportedly thanked him for writing them ‘great rhythms to play and beautiful lines to sing’. This got me thinking about some of my own formative experiences with Australian music.
Sadly I’ve not played much chamber music by Australian composers, but the first piece I ever played in an orchestra was Graeme Koehne’s Powerhouse. It was on a music camp and the rehearsal venue was a large hall at a sport and recreation camp. It was not designed for music at all – the floors were carpeted but everything else was hard, reflective surfaces. As we launched into this work the feeling was overwhelming. It was loud, like nothing I’d experienced before; it was fast, rhythmically challenging, but melodically catchy. It was an exciting introduction to orchestral playing and left me wanting more.
A year later I found myself with the same orchestra on stage at the Sydney Opera House, preparing to premiere a new work for choir and orchestra by Matthew Hindson. At the time I had no idea who Hindson was, but if the funky rhythms and harmonies weren’t enough to interest a teenaged ensemble, the lyrics based on graffiti from a toilet wall certainly grabbed our attention! To this day, if I mention Velvet Dreams to a certain group of friends, they will launch into a rousing rendition of the opening verse!
I’ve had some fantastic experiences with Australian music, many of which helped open up my mind and ears to new sound worlds, new techniques, and new possibilities. There was the powerful sense of foreboding created playing the opening to Nigel Westlake’s Antarctica suite in a darkened Sydney Entertainment Centre; or the moment during a performance of Gerard Brophy’s Colour Red… Your Mouth… Heart where, for the first time, I could hear and feel the compositional processes unfolding around me; or one of my first encounters with extended techniques when, studying the score of Elena Kats-Chernin’s Variations in a Serious Black Dress my high school music teach pointed out the instructions for the pianist to play cluster chords first with their fists, and later with their entire forearm; and I can still recall conductor Richard Gill vocalising the very particular way he wanted the oboes to growl in a passage of Koehne’s Tivoli Dances.
We are so lucky to have so many fabulous and inventive composers in Australia and I can only hope that many more people will continue to have transformative experiences with the music they write.