The Art of Disappearing

Image: Luke Moseley

Image: Luke Moseley

Just over a week until the world premiere of this new work for mezzo and string quartet, penned by Sydney composer Cameron Lam, written especially for Jenny and presented by Halcyon and Kammerklang on June 1

Cameron’s first experience of Halcyon was that memorable collaborative performance of Tehillim with Synergy Percussion and Ensemble Offspring back in 2007. Having recently arrived in Sydney to study composition, it was his first ever new music gig and became a catalyst for his own path as a composer and then artistic director.  This performance marks Kammerklang’s own significant milestone -  their 10th anniversary – and Halcyon is very pleased to be celebrating this special occasion with them. 

The poetry, by Queensland writer Sarah Holland-Batt is drawn from her collection Aria, which has received numerous awards and a spate of outstanding reviews like this one:

“In poems of startling freshness and immediacy, Holland-Batt bridges the quotidian and visionary worlds in vivid acts of seeing, and reminds us of poetry’s power to renovate, to restore delight in ordinary things...”

Mascara Literary Review

Cameron had a very immediate response to her work and even on his first reading began making notes to himself of which poems he instantly wanted to set.  He says:

“I was drawn to the poetry for its intimacy, musicality, and immense sense of self. The striking thing about Sarah’s poetry for me, was that it was arresting, it stopped me in my tracks – it sang all by itself and I just wanted to add to that.” 

And add to it he has.  The cycle is now an hour-long cycle of eight songs interwoven with four string quartet movements, together tracing a journey through grief as it unfolds over time.  As the composer says: “The cycle doesn’t present loss as something to solve; instead, it paints the inexorable journey from stasis, as we learn to move again…”

Though the subject matter is introspective, it is not a sombre work; the poems savour memories conjured through everyday objects like plums, tea cups, jam jars or sheet music.  Through the gentle sonorities of mezzo and string quartet, Cameron has created a deeply personal and intimate work, itself the fruit of a long collaboration.

Click here for details on the performance

Cameron’s ensemble Kammerklang seek out collaborative art-making.  In our first project with them, Kammerklang VOX, new works of music and visual arts by young artists were jointly presented at the performance, each visual piece inspired by one of the new musical ones.    For this album, Kammerklang have commissioned another visual work from choreographer and film-maker Lou Poletti, using the four string quartet movements as its soundtrack.  The string quartet movements draw their thematic threads from the songs so this is a good introduction to the work as a whole. They have been released each week in the lead up to the album release on May 28 and you can now take a look at them all.

Movt 1: Synchronous Time

Movt 2: Scattered Like a Broken Crusader

Movt 3: Echoing Silence into Sound

Movt 4: That Which Was Always There

You can read more about the piece, the album and the people behind it here

Twenty years of Halcyon - a wrap up

2018 was a great chance to reflect on Halcyon’s past and celebrate some significant events in our history, to release several new CDs and make a big media splash as well as just do what we’ve always done - championing new work and unearthing rarely heard works from here and elsewhere.

Last year was no exception: we featured seven Australian premieres by composers Dai Fujikura (Japan/UK), Anneliese Van Parys (Belgium), Robert Lombardo (USA),  Hilary Tann (UK/USA), Gillian Whitehead (NZ) and Sadie Harrison (Australia/UK); and a new commission by our long time colleague Elliott Gyger (who was himself celebrating his 50th birthday).  Drawing on letters between chef Julia Child and her friend Avis de Voto, and entitled This Kind of Life: A culinary correspondance, it is a wonderful journey from first introduction to the anticipation of first meeting.  It was also a delight to bring this delicious work to life with my long time singing companion, friend and former co-director Alison Morgan.  Together we conceived of Halcyon all those years ago and shared the direction of the group for sixteen years so it was wonderful to share the stage with her for this special event.  The piece itself was a commission - secretly planned over several years and generously given as a surprise gift on the occasion of the recipient’s birthday - so it was indeed a many-layered event with all birthdays well celebrated!  We also branched out into a new format with our art-music initiative at Artsite galleries, intersecting the worlds of contemporary music and art with a new way of looking at music.

Three new CDs were released in 2018:  This Moment Must Be Sung (May) featuring Andrew Schultz; From the Hungry Waiting Country (August) featuring Elliott Gyger; and a hard copy version of Waves III (November) featuring Nigel Butterley and Raffaele Marcellino; which brings our recorded output to 12 exclusively-Halcyon discs plus 3 additional CDs featuring Halcyon.  Find out more here.  

There were also some great articles throughout the year in Resonate, Classikon and Limelight as well as an interview on Andrew Ford’s Music Show (you can find links to them all on our Media page) but I think my favourite was the blog I wrote for Cut Common - Halcyon: 20 Years in 20 Pictures - which gave me a chance to go back through the photographic and image archives and write about some highlights of the last two decades.  So to wrap up the year behind us I’m sharing it here again. Check out the 20 highlights including some from our earliest days. It’s worth it for the pictures alone! Below are just a few more moments that didn’t make it into the blog.

A lot has changed in twenty years but the reason we began the group - to present and champion new chamber music for voice and bring it to new audiences - is still going strong. In our programs over two decades we’ve performed 75 world premieres, 59 Australian premieres, and worked alongside 11 wonderful ensembles and more than 120 outstanding individual artists.   Now we are officially 21 (our first concert took place on 14th February 1998) and I’m really looking forward to the year ahead and increasing those stats.  Stay tuned for more details soon.

art:music in September


A New Way of Looking at Music
Presented by Halcyon and Artsite Galleries

Halcyon is celebrating the start of Spring by trying out something new this September.  On Sunday 9 Sept we are presenting a new project at Artsite Galleries in Camperdown called simply Art:Music.  We’re scaling things down to their barest form and offering a very intimate experience of music and visual art.


Contemporary arts often look to find new connections across art forms.  A recent article about one such crossover of music and visual art at the Bang on a Can Summer Festival concludes:

“Contemporary art was no longer either audible or visual: it was simply art.”

The intersection between visual art and music has always been part of Halcyon’s history. Our logos, concert programs and album covers have regularly featured a wide array of local and international artists and photographers such as Catherine AbelRobert BoynesLorenzo CortellettiLinden Gledhill and Richard Woldendorp..


art:music is our latest experiment.  With the support of Artsite Galleries, we wanted to create a more informal space for people to experience contemporary art - to let you engage with the music and the visual artworks in your own ways - perhaps sitting and watching with focused intent, moving around the space or just listening in and reflecting on the visual works on display while enjoying a complimentary glass of wine and nibbles. 

The performance will take place on Sept 9 at the Artsite galleries at 165 Salisbury Road Camperdown Sydney at 3.30pm and will feature Jenny and flautist Sally Walker presenting a short program of contemporary works predominantly by Australian composers, including Larry Sitsky, Gillian Whitehead and Andrew Ford, in conjunction with the art exhibition From the Blue House by contemporary Australian artist Victoria Peel.  

Performed in two short sets, with time to wander in between, this informal afternoon is the perfect place to invite someone to get a taste of some small-scale new music in an intimate setting. While we will give occasional insights into the works being performed, there are no rules of concert etiquette to be observed and we hope that you will simply enter the space with expectation and curiosity. 

The performance starts at 3.30pm, but feel free to come anytime from 3pm to pick up a glass of wine and take some time to look around the gallery before it begins.  If you have an artistically curious friends, now’s your chance to bring them along to this low key event and share in an afternoon of contemporary art.

All tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the store here but as there are limited numbers they MUST BE PRE-BOOKED. Sales will close on Saturday 8th at midday and there will be NO tickets available at the door

A New Way of Looking at Music

Sunday 9th September at 3.30pm
Artsite Galleries
165 Salisbury Rd Camperdown
For directions to the gallery click here

Artsite is an Independent Australian Contemporary Art Gallery dedicated to promoting exemplary local and Australian artist practices.  Read more about the gallery


20 years of Halcyon

As Halcyon celebrates turning 20 this year, Classikon and Limelight have both published Q&As with me recently which gave me a chance to draw together some thoughts about what the last 20 years has taught me.  You can read them by following the links below.

Classikon: Jenny Duck-Chong on 20 years of Halcyon
Limelight: This Kind of Life: Halcyon celebrates 20 years of new music 


Anniversaries give us time to reflect - on particular milestones and achievements as well as celebrating the many great experiences along the way.  20 years ago it was hard to imagine you could pursue a career as a vocal chamber music specialist but a few decades on and there are many more singers exploring a world which was all but unknown here...

Looking back over the last two decades, this year’s performances were a chance to focus on what Halcyon has always done well - devising eclectic programs of the best of here and abroad and performing them with excellent musicians.  Developing relationships has also been a key part of our performing life – with composers, fellow artists, educational institutions, publishing houses, donors and audiences. Reflecting on this history also provided the opportunity to shine a spotlight on some past highlights. Each program planned for this year features something drawn from Halcyon's recorded history, reacquainting audiences with these works or introducing them to those who may not have heard them live before.

this kind of life

Our first concert for the year, This Kind of Life, took place at the Sydney Conservatorium on July 21 and was an opportunity to celebrate 20 years as an ensemble (and to officially launch our two most recent albums featuring Andrew Schultz and Elliott Gyger) but equally it was an acknowledgement of relationships, both old and new, formed with artists and composers and the wider music community over those two decades.

The program featured a new work by longtime colleague, composer Elliott Gyger who is celebrating his 50th birthday this year.  Sharing its title with the concert, This Kind of Life is a song cycle in fifteen movements scored for soprano, mezzo, clarinet, cello, piano and harp. A celebration of food and friendship, the text is drawn from letters between Julia Child and Avis deVoto from first acquaintance to first meeting and concludes with a lyrical instrumental postlude.  The work was commissioned as a surprise birthday gift, a secret we had to keep (for almost two years) until the day of the concert. The concert also featured Australian premieres of works by Belgian composer Annelies Van Parys and Japanese-born Dai Fujikura as well as a couple of luminous works from our our acclaimed 15th birthday album, Kingfisher: Songs for Halcyon.

The eye-catching image of Liquid Crystal DNA by biochemist and photographer Linden Gledhill reminded me of the music we have championed for all these years – when you spend time examining it closely, it too can be surprising, intricate, beautiful and unique.

Several more shows are planned for the year with details coming soon.  In the meantime, lots more live performances are going up on the YouTube archive so you can relive different eras of Halcyon's performing life.  While you’re there you can listen to audio of both live and studio recordings and watch more interviews with composers in our In Conversation With.. series.  

This Moment Must Be Sung - CD release

icw copy.jpg

Our latest CD featuring the chamber songs of Andrew Schultz was released on May 1 by Tall Poppies (TP250).  You can buy it from Tall Poppies or Halcyon and other outlets.


To celebrate this release and give you a chance to get better acquainted with some of this great music, for a limited time you can listen to a selection of tracks here drawn from the three major works on the album: To the Evening Star (winner of the 2009 Paul Lowin Song Cycle prize) for soprano and piano, Paradise for soprano, cello and piano (runner-up for the 2016 Lowin prize) and I am writing in this book for soprano, mezzo-soprano, cello, double bass, percussion, harp and piano.

Our first composer feature album since Cool Black in 2008, it is well worth taking the time to get better acquainted with Andrew's music.

Our thanks to all those involved in the disc: the artists; Luke Spicer conductor, Alison Morgan soprano,  Jenny Duck-Chong mezzo-soprano, Jason Noble clarinet, Geoffrey Gartner cello, Anna Martin-Scrase cello, Jennifer Druery double bass, Kirsty McCahon double bass, William Jackson percussion, Rowan Phemister harp, Chris Cartner piano, Sally Whitwell piano; those behind the production; Trackdown Scoring Stage, Daniel Brown, Evan McHugh, Utopia Audio, Tall Poppies and Elizabeth Duck-Chong. And especially the composer Andrew Schultz for composing so many wonderful chamber songs.

Andrew is one of the composers we caught up with last month as part of our ongoing In Conversation With… series so you’ll get to hear him talking more about his work and ideas soon.

A special note on the cover art.  Linden Gledhill is a biochemist-artist who is internationally renowned for his extraordinary images which draw our eyes to the detailed and eye-catching patterns that exist in the world around us often at a macro level. You can see thousands of his images on his flickr page here.  But this image has a particular significance to the title.  One of the areas Linden specialises in is cymatics, capturing images of sound waves on the surface of water.  You can see more images like it here and read an article on the process here. The image on the album cover is one sound wave at nine different parts of its cycle, each image representing a unique moment in time.

A new video series - In Conversation With…

In 2018 we are thrilled to launch a new video series on our YouTube channel, simply titled In Conversation With….  You can read more about the idea behind it here.  


One of the joys of performing new music is to get alongside living composers and form relationships with them as well as their music. In this series we are talking with composers who have worked with, or written for, Halcyon over the years to give you insights into their works and process from their own perspectives.  Edited into bite-sized clips on a range of topics, the first videos in the collection - featuring composers Elliott Gyger, Raffaele Marcellino and Ross Edwards - are now live on the playlist here and interviews with Matthew Hindson, Andrew Schutz and Andrew Ford are currently in production.

Subscribe to the channel to see the collection of insights from a diverse group of Australian composers as it grows.  And add to the conversation by letting us know what you think.

A footnote:  As the issue of women’s representation in music is a particularly current (and valid) one, Halcyon would like to note that it has always been pro-active in supporting female composers and musicians.  If you take a look at the photos on our repertoire page (here) featuring the most-performed composers in the list, you’ll see that women have made up a high percentage throughout our 20 years. We believe in celebrating the best of music and, though gender has not been a major selection point, as we have always looked to thematic threads to construct programs, we’re proud to have been able to raise awareness of many wonderful female composers at various career stages who we have got to know both here and overseas.  The video series as yet does not reflect this diversity but we are working to get some female perspectives into the Conversation soon.

Welcome to the new website!

It's been several months in the making, but we're proud to unveil this new Halcyon website, redesigned from the ground up to better act as a hub for information, history and resources.

concert archive3.jpg

Halcyon has always showcased an evolving history on our site, but as we move into 2018 with 20 years of experience now behind us we wanted to better reflect the breadth of work the ensemble has created over the last two decades and make it easier for you to explore that history.

Apart from  new look Press and About Us pages  we’ve added a whole new section on our Educational projects and programs.  Going back through the archives, we’ve also compiled lists of the composers and performers who have most often featured in our programs over the years. These people are now visible at the top of The Music and The Artists pages respectively, and we'll be talking a bit more about some of those relationships in the near future.

On the Recordings and Events pages you will find a catalogue of every single release and performance we've done, with details, downloadable material, reviews, audio clips and more! We’ll be adding to this as well as we draw attention to some of the highlights of the last 20 years, and of course we'll be posting to this News page with regular updates, upcoming concerts, reflections and other interesting projects throughout the year.

The Listen page has had a revamp too and in 2018 you’ll also see the introduction of a whole new range of footage audio excerpts and entirely new projects available on our YouTube channel.

For long-time supporters or newcomers alike, now is the perfect opportunity to take some time to have a look around and find out more about some extraordinary music, composers and performances. You can also keep updated with any new additions to the site by subscribing to our enews.

We’ve an exciting new year ahead of us and we're pleased to kick it off by launching this brand new site!

- Jenny