In Nature

Image: ‘Cymatic Flower’ © Linden Gledhill

Next up for Halcyon on October 12 is IN NATURE, a diverse program that contemplates the diversity, wonder and beauty of the natural world.

Here’s an introduction to some of the works and composers we’ll be featuring.

• Though Andrew Ford's new song cycle Nature is not officially premiering in our Oct 12 show, it will be the first Australian performance and our premiere of this very new work. Commissioned for Halcyon alongside performers and ensembles in Europe, it had it's world premiere in Sweden in September and will have two more performances in Europe shortly after ours. You can read more about them all here. Great to see a new chamber piece begin it's life in so many places!

Andy, an acclaimed writer, broadcaster and self-professed lover of language and words, has drawn together eight wonderfully evocative poems about the natural world from Shetland, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England, Sweden, Finland and Australia and set them to a delicate instrumental palette of flute, cello, guitar, percussion and tabla with mezzo.

Titles like 'The Moor', 'Midwinter', 'The River' , 'NIgh No-Place' and 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' set the scene for this atmospheric work. And to prepare yourself, he has helpfully included all the poems on his webpage so go and take a look here. Then come along on October 12 and hear what these words have inspired!

• ‘Blad över blad/Feuille sur feuille’ by Madeleine Isaksson will receive it’s world premiere on Oct 12.  A composer found on one of many internet voyages of discovery, we are delighted to have finally found the opportunity to showcase her unique voice. According to a recent review, “she cites a number of composer influences picked up on her studies and travels, including Sandström, Nunes, Ferneyhough and Scelsi, together with visual art and literature - and "life". She is interested in the relationships within ensembles and each voice finds itself in 'intimate, counterpointal contact with others'. “

The text is penned by the composer in overlapping Swedish and French, combining her native language with that of the country where she has lived and worked for the last two decades. The work focuses on the close timbral interplay between the three parts - soprano, mezzo and cello - with languages, vowels and pitches interweaving in taut relationship.

Larry Sitsky, a prolific and tireless composer, performer, teacher and researcher who celebrated his 85th birthday recently, has written a significant body of vocal music - art song, chamber vocal and opera - including several substantial pieces for Halcyon. ‘Letters from the Trenches’ featured on our War Letters CD and ‘A Feast of Lanterns II’ on our latest EP release Waves IV.

On Oct 12, we'll be performing the premiere of The Bamboo Flute, a small and soulful piece he wrote for Jenny and flautist Sally Walker. To whet your appetite, take a listen to ‘Song of the Night’, the final movement of his most recent song cycle.

Hilary Tann is a Welsh-born, American-based composer who we discovered online some years ago and struck up a conversation with.  Strongly influenced by the natural environment, her music has great lyricism and a sense of reflection.  

"Her way of using space in her compositions is uncanny; even at a pause, one realizes that this pause is not there for effect, that it means something, and so one waits patiently for the music to resume. And one is never disappointed."

She has written a wealth of small chamber and chamber vocal works (amongst many others) and we featured her delicate haiku-inspired work 'Winter Sun, Summer Rain' (for flute, clarinet, viola, cello and celeste) last year in our Shining Shores program performing from old handwritten score and parts.  Since then, another group has requested the score and parts for performance and typesetting is now underway. Very glad we have helped breathe new life into this early work. 

On the program this time is a lovely duet for flute and cello, Llef, which in her words recalls "the rain-swept stone walls of the Welsh countryside."

Matthew Hindson’s Insect Songs, originally commissioned twenty one years ago by Melbourne duo singer Jeannie Marsh and guitarist Ken Murray in the same year that Halcyon began, is a wonderfully energetic and vibrant duo about insects that Australians are very familiar with - ants and cicadas.  I was lucky enough to perform it with Ken back in 2015 in several performances. Working alongside Matthew, Halcyon is pleased to have now produced the first studio recording all these years on featuring Jenny with guitarist Vladiimir Gorbach on our EP Waves IV.  

Matthew is also a featured composer in our In Conversation With… series.   You can hear more of his insights about the piece and the recording session here.  

• New works are often created because of a relationship that has developed between composer and commissioner - whether this is a performer, ensemble, organisation or philanthropist.  But often there is also another story behind them and someone to whom the work is dedicated.  

Elena Kats-Chernin’s new piece Moondust, which will be premiered on October 12, is one such piece.  Commissioned by flautist Sally Walker, it is dedicated to Dr Philip Spradbery, the renowned entomologist, CSIRO scientist and passionate environmental advocate and concert attendee, who passed away earlier this year.  You can read more on his fascinating life here.

As a composer highly regarded for her energetic dance and dramatic works, Elena's new work Moondust is a real change of pace. She has responded to the intimacy of Halcyon's ensemble with a wordless reverie for voice, flute, cello and vibraphone; a spacious work in which drones and gently mesmerising melodies interweave over shimmering percussive chords.

• In new music, sometimes it is easy to focus only on the performances of world premieres and the buzz created around first performances.  But if they are to stand the test of time, they need more performances - both by those who premiere them and by new performers who will bring their own ideas and interpretations to the work. 
On Saturday soprano Jane Sheldon and cellist Geoffrey Gartner perform Nigel Butterley’s Nature Changes at the Speed of Life.  This delicate and brief work was written for our 15th birthday Kingfisher: Songs for Halcyon project in 2014 to words by his favourite poet Kathleen Raine. Renowned for his sensitive and nuanced vocal writing, you can hear the composer talk a little bit more about the poet, the piece and writing for voice in a short interview recorded at the time of the first performance, here. His haunting and beautiful song cycle Orphei Mysteria also is featured on our Waves III EP.

• We’re delighted to be showcasing a short solo vocal work by performer and composer Cathy Milliken on Saturday, which we premiered at Extended Play back in August. Drawn out of her award-winning orchestral work Earth Plays I-IV, this poignant solo features only one word of text -‘Kazoku’ (family) - but is able to convey a world of meaning with it. Cathy has been the recipient of a number of significant awards and accolades in recent years, most recently for her new opera Romeo’s Passion. She will also be a featured as both performer and composer in Backstage Music’s next show, Radio Signals on October 17 another great initiative to hear new music.