This exploration of the space between poetry and music, marshalled by the Red Room Company and Musica Viva, has been kept as free and open-ended as possible, with just one boundary: it must result in a public showing and a printed publication.
We have taken a fresh look at ways in which music can reflect upon, respond to and benefit from, poetic collaboration. In chamber music, musicians take responsibility for their own contribution while responding intimately and immediately to those around them. Here the paradigm is transformed into a tableau of live and recorded music, and live and recorded words. Composers are architects of sound, so it was Melody Eötvös’ task to draw together the work of the individual poets and create a synthesis through the performance of master percussionist, Claire Edwardes.
Although composers are popularly considered to work alone in ivory towers, composition is more commonly a collaborative process. Performers and composers take ideas and inspiration from each other, as well as the occasional very practical pieces of advice. Claire Edwardes’ impressive performance flair, combined with her remarkable preparedness to step into the unknown, was a vital part of this exercise. Counterpoint was a leap of faith for all the artists, and I thank them for their courage and willingness to look beyond the natural fences of their own artform to see what strange invention might lie on the other side, waiting to be discovered.
Carl Vine AO
Poetry Meets Music: Counterpoint, Sunday November 2 at 2pm, Giant Dwarf Theatre (199 Cleveland Street, Redfern, 2016). For more information on Counterpoint, and to book your tickets, please visit; www.musicaviva.com.au/counterpoint
I can’t recall the first time I met Peter, nor the first time I heard his music. In thinking about him over the past few weeks, they both seem to have always been a part of my life. The beauty of his mellifluous voice, his warm presence, the emotive power of his visceral music have all come together as I reflect on the joy he has brought to my life.
An early memory is singing his 1988 carol The Birthday of thy King in the Sydney University Musical Society’s Carolfest in the university’s majestic Neo-Gothic Great Hall. The combination of the memorable text after Henry Vaughan and the vibrant music with its wonderful alto solo line was a powerful indication of what contemporary music could do. Similarly hearing his 1990 his eleventh quartet, Jabiru Dreaming performed by the group he wrote it for, the Kronos Quartet, that year was a very powerful music experience.
Some of my most memorable listening experiences in the past few years have been hearing works by Peter, including those that I have played a small part in helping to bring to life.
When Peter was Musica Viva’s Featured Composer in 2005, he decided to adapt his 1999 String Quartet no 15 to feature William Barton alongside the Goldner String Quartet. After much discussion with the musicians and a lot of re-workings the performances proved a great hit.
Two other memorable performances involved the Goldner’s. Their performance of the String Quartet no 6 (the first Australian work Musica Viva commissioned in 1965) at Ken Tribe’s 90th birthday concert was a reminder of how striking a compositional voice Peter had. Equally, their performance of his String Quartet no 17, commissioned by Ken as his gift to Australian music, at the 2007 Huntington Estate Music Festival was a very moving occasion for everyone in the hall.
Most of all, Peter’s String Quartet no 16 has a very special place in my heart and is the work I’m most proud to have worked on with him. It was commissioned for Musica Viva by Julian Burnside, QC to be performed by the Tokyo String Quartet in November 2005; the group reprising it on their June 2013 farewell tour, and the last time Peter took at a bow at a Musica Viva concert. The work was inspired by From Nothing to Zero, a book of extracts from letters written by asylum seekers in Australian detention centres which Julian had written the preface and chapter introductions for. Peter’s response to its heart-rending testimony of the inhumane treatment of refugees, including children, was some of his finest music and the work stands as a powerful reminder of the power of art to help tell important stories. The response to the work was palpable and the Tokyo’s cellist Clive Greensmith commented at the time that “It’s always a special feeling to work with a composer but to play Peter’s piece all over Australia with him in the audience for almost every performance was very special indeed.” Peter himself said that “the work is, I feel, among my very best.“
From the time I began to work in the artistic area at Musica Viva, a particular pleasure was calling Peter. It felt a huge honour to be given his private studio number rather than having to call. Best of all, though, was receiving either a hand-written note – what a distinctive and wonderful hand Peter had – or beautifully composed email. Looking through my folders in writing this, I came across many such emails however this is my favourite. It’s a wonderful combination showing Peter’s pride in his achievements and his love of people and a good party!
Yes, the Christmas party was just great. I must confess, though, that I didn’t feel too good the following morning!
Thanks so much for the SMH article. I’m really pleased to have a copy of this. Meantime, have you seen this month’s ‘Limelight’? String Quartet No.16 rates two questions in The Big Quiz.
Happy happy Christmas to you and to Chris.
Best wishes and love,
Director of Business Development, Concerts
Chamber music lover and Musica Viva volunteer, Tomas Drevikovsky, discusses the repertoire English pianist, Imogen Cooper, will perform on her upcoming Australian tour. Most of the repertoire focuses on the extrodinary musical and emotional kinship between Clara and Robert Schumann and their friend and protégé Johannes Brahms – and in particular on Clara, another ground-breaking female pianist.
SCHUMANN Novellette in D major, op 21 no 2
SCHUMANN Davidsbündlertänze op 6
BRAHMS Theme and Variations in D minor (arr. from String Sextet op 18)
SCHUBERT Piano Sonata no 21 in B flat major, D960
For more information on Imogen Cooper, and to book your tickets to see this repertoire performed live in concert, please visit; www.musicaviva.com.au/cooper
I first met up with the Sitkovetsky Trio early on Wednesday morning in Sydney. Their maiden appearance in Australia, the first concert of their national concert tour for Musica Viva, was in Newcastle the following night. Violinist Sasha (Alexander Sitkovetsky) had only landed in Australia the previous evening, but they weren’t going to waste any time getting stuck into the tour repertoire, and particularly into my new piano trio, The Village, that nobody in the world had ever played before then.
As with most of the artists appearing for Musica Viva, jetlag is an inevitable feature of the start of every tour, with a variety of home remedies and “travellers’ tips” (most of which don’t work) being tried out in the process. Cellist Leonard Elschenbroich had landed two days earlier, so was nearing the worst of that unstable phase where metabolism tries to rotate night into day. Pianist Qian (pron. “Chen”) Wu seemed as bright as a daisy, while Sasha philosophised that, as the father of a new baby daughter, he had forgotten what sleep felt like, so didn’t miss it. He appears to have been correct.
I was to leave them alone to rehearse for four hours before they would let me hear my new trio. It turns out that they continued working through until 9pm that night, with Leonard taking advantage of the quiet solitude to practice on his own until after 10pm. These musicians are serious!
I returned at 1pm and we spent 90 minutes thrashing out all the mistakes in the score and the individual printed parts, and correcting some of the simple misunderstandings that inevitably accompany first readings of new music. At this stage it was hard to tell exactly how well the composition would flow, or whether any of the experiments in material, texture and architecture that I had tried for the first time in this work, would actually work in real performance. I left them alone to continue acclimatising and working through their demanding tour program.
I didn’t see them again until the following afternoon, before their debut concert. I had just delivered a seminar on my still non-existent piano trio to keen and attentive students from the Newcastle Conservatorium, the wonderful auditorium of which was the venue for the evening’s performance. The Sitkovetskys arrived at 4:30pm, ready for their last two hours of preparation.
They played through my composition almost without flaw, and with a sense of organic flow and development that I hadn’t dared hope for. When they played it for real, to a paying audience a few hours later, it had become a living piece of music that, it seems, had really touched the players and could connect with listeners who had no idea what they were about to hear. This was a stunning experience that every composer hopes for, and should live to experience.
At the end of a rapturously received concert, the group came back on stage for one of our trademark “Meet The Artists” sessions, for which about 50 audience members remained, armed with a bevy of fascinating questions. But the players’ evening still wasn’t over, being then whisked away to one of the post-concert suppers that have become legendary, and unique to, the highly dedicated Committee of Musica Viva Newcastle.
Committee members had piled tables high with great food, and we were swamped with excellent wines from Huntington Estate, while a dark chocolate birthday cake materialised from nowhere to celebrate Leonard’s birthday the following day. (The trio themselves had forgotten all about this, but our canny Operations team triple check EVERYTHING when they secure work visas).
We all got back to the hotel, overlooking picturesque Newcastle Beach, a little before midnight. I had to remind myself that two of the trio had, at that point, only been in Australia for not much more than 48 hours, and had spent at least 16 of those in deep rehearsal. Someone suggested that they meet early the next morning for a quick dip in the surf. I went to bed, confident that, as they flew to Melbourne the next day to continue the rest of the tour, youthful energy and innate brilliance would make this a completely memorable sequence of appearances in Viva’s 2014 concert calendar.
For more information on the Sitkovetsky Trio, and to book your tickets, please visit musicaviva.com.au/sitkovetsky, or call 1800 688 482.
This week is an exciting one at Musica Viva. It’s the first time many of us will get to hear the Sitkovetsky Trio live after enjoying their recording so much. And it’s also the first time we – and anyone, including the composer – will hear Carl Vine’s new piano trio “The Village” as the performances of the work by the Trio are its premiere ones.
How does anyone approach hearing a new work for the first time? Sometimes we’re helped by having heard other works by the composer. I’m lucky in that regard with Carl’s music, having heard in concert or on recording all of his symphonies and concertos, many of his ballet works, a lot of his piano music and all the works for chamber ensemble he allows to be performed. Some of those works have hit a very emotional spot for me, especially the Third and Fourth String Quartets and the Anne Landa Preludes for piano. What’s exciting me about this week’s premiere is that it’s the first time Carl has written a piano trio, one of my favourite groupings of instruments and one that combines three of the instruments Carl writes best for – violin, cello and piano.
Carl’s music is often described as being accessible, richly coloured and rhythmically driven. He also writes great melodies, especially in his slow movements (listen to the Third String Quartet or his recent Violin Concerto). I’ve always felt that the piano trio combination would be a great one for Carl to write for as it would allow him to use the piano to create a wonderful palette over which the two string instruments could create textures and colours.
Now that he’s done it I’m really looking forward to hearing how he has approached the three instruments. I’m also looking forward to hearing it four times, to really get to know it. I know that I’m lucky to have the job I do that allows me to get to know a new piece so well, but I hope that through the radio and web many others get the chance to listen to some of Carl’s other works before ABC Classic FM broadcast the piece on Saturday 22 March (with it then being available on the station’s website for another month).
I’ll let you know my response to the work after I’ve heard it a couple of times!
Director of Business Development, Concerts
For more information on the Sitkovetsky Trio and their tour for Musica Viva, visit musicaviva.com.au/sitkovetsky, or call 1800 688 482.
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.