Halcyon & Ensemble Offspring
Music Workshop, Sydney Conservatorium
Sydney Morning Herald, July 2005
Reviewed by Peter McCallum
You could say it was a concert of uneasy relationships between the vulnerable human voice and the more mechanised certainty of instrumental sound. Michael Finnissy's Springtime wove fragments of intermingling melody on flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Each proceeded independently and the first half proceeded like five love songs, each undisturbed by the other, followed by a second part of more focused and assertive energy.
Nigel Butterley's Carmina: Four Latin Poems of Spring brought instruments and sung words into a more formal elegiac relationship, wiath the soprano Jenny Duck-Chong singing in Latin, and the instruments gesturing supportively, as though of like mind. Its final song, By the River, breathed the sounds of sultry warmth and halcyon days.
Esa-Pekka Salonen's Floof: Songs of a Homeostatic Homer is built from words rather like the junk email many of us receive with text drawn from God knows where to evade the radars of spam filters. Starting with monosyllabic groans from the soprano Alison Morgan against heavily amplified instruments, the voice part progressed like one intimidated to random nonsense like "I see the eigenvalue in thine eye" against assertive wildness in the instrumental parts which always threatened to overwhelm it.
In Simone East's The Voice of the Shuttle, the voice in fact did end up symbolically defeated in the last piece, Cage, with the singer, increasingly hesitant and fragmented, enclosed within a circle of firm, domineering instrumental parts. The work explored the relationship of sound and space with each of its four movements involving a different player layout, producing textures evocative of a broad spatial canvas. In the last work the voice (Alison Morgan), singing in an invented language, was reborn in a pulsating, quivering iridescent texture of slow-moving intensity like a long hymn of love from a distant world. Duck-Chong and Morgan sang throughout as intelligent and able servants of the new.
Halcyon and Ensemble Offspring, conducted here by Roland Peelman, are responsible for some of the most innovative and adventurous programs currently heard in Sydney and this concert was a cogent show- case of some of the most original musical thought of our age.