TEHILLIM with Synergy Percussion, Halcyon and Ensemble Offspring
City Recital Hall, Angel Place

Manly Daily, August 2007
Reviewed by Steve Moffatt

rom water to Psalms

THREE diverse and rather strange pieces made up the first half of this concert of contemporary music.

Ensemble Offspring's artistic director Damien Ricketson's work No More Than Liquid looks at water and the part it has played in music, with references to Telemann, Ravel's piano piece Jeux d'eau and Sibelius's The Oceanides as well as more modern composers like Takemitsu.

Scored for oboe, clarinet, horn, strings and percussion including a waterphone - a series of metal spikes filled with water which distorts the pitch when struck and shaken - this work received its first public airing and made an interesting opening.

Avant-garde composer Gyorgy Ligeti's work is widely known, though many listeners may not know it as he was a favourite composer of filmmaker Stanley Kubrick and his pieces featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Eyes Wide Shut.

Seven of his short songs, brilliantly sung by Halcyon's Jenny Duck Chong, followed. Based on poems by Hungarian poet Sandor Weores they range from the absurd Dancing Song in which there are no words but the direction that the voice is ``virtuoso, dangerous and capricious'' to the rather beautiful Bittersweet, with several mood changes in between.

No less of a vocal challenge was the closing piece of the first half, French-Canadian student of Stockhausen Claude Vivier's Bouchara. Written in the composer's invented language the piece is a love song. Interestingly, Vivier was murdered in Paris in the 1980s, it's thought by a jealous gay lover. Not surprising then that this piece is not your conventional ``moon in June'' song but a work which demands much of the singer, in this case soprano Alison Morgan.

This was a stunning performance, with Morgan having not only to make sense of a nonsensical text but also to use a number of vocal effects including moving her hand in front of her mouth like a child doing an American Indian war whoop.

The other two members of Halcyon, soprano Belinda Montgomery and mezzo Jo Burton, joined the ensemble for the headline work of the night, Steve Reich's extraordinary, jubilant Tehillim, based on four of the Psalms sung in Hebrew and layered over a fast percussive beat and slow chords.

One of the founders of minimalism - a term he rejected - Reich had an enormous influence on late 20th century music, some might say to its detriment. This work is from his post-minimalist phase though some of the trademark repetition and simple chord structure remains. But it is a mesmerising piece with four voices singing repeated phrases in a round above percussive effects, including handclapping and an insistent rhythm on a small drum.

Marimbas and keyboards were used in some sections and with an ensemble of 20-plus musicians, many of them wired for sound, it was a brilliant achievement to set the stage up in just 20 minutes.

All works were conducted with a combination of energy, humour and aplomb by Ronald Peelman. A challenging and immensely enjoyable night.