Music Workshop, Sydney Conservatorium
Sydney Morning Herald, November 21, 2011
Reviewed by Harriet Cunningham
Take nine composers and hear how magic is made
HALCYON has always been defined by its sense of adventure. First Stones, then, is a natural next step in an expedition into the jungle of contemporary art music, a hands-on collaboration with nine emerging composers. Their performance was the culmination of six months of development, including two intensive workshops with the musicians and the composer-mentor Elliott Gyger.
The results were impressive: nine well-formed new works, all displaying their own, distinctive voice and all performed with a thrilling mix of commitment and virtuosity. Individually, each one was persuasive. As a whole, this blind chocolate box of new works provided some fascinating revelations about the voice as an instrument, as a mouthpiece for words, and a conveyor of meaning.
Nicole Murphy's Temple Bell was an exquisite place to start: voices integrated seamlessly into the musical texture, with words coming later, all building to a delicate denouement. James Wade's The Voice of the Ancient Bard was heavily pregnant with meaning, to the point of self-consciousness at times.
Pedro Oliveira Woolmer's In Eternity and Chris Williams's That a Circle, This a Linewere also ambitious in scope, but managed, through vocal and instrumental textures, to cut through the sheer weight of their philosophical texts.
In The Queen, Owen Salome repurposed a natural history text on insects to create a disturbing buzz of sinister intent.
Meanwhile, Peggy Polias's Digital Lullaby was a counting song for the 21st century. Lachlan Hughes's Lines Drawn of my Cartilage was a brave rejection of structure and control, while Anastasia Pahos's Seeking Eurydice took traditional modes and rhythms to tell a story. As for Damian Griffin, he bypassed the burden of meaning with his delightful and curiously sensible nonsense song Fzzzt-Pop!
As a bonus, this slickly-produced concert filled the gaps for scene-shifting between works not with the usual agonising talks from the stage from shy artists, but with a rough documentary, fleshing out the story of this six-month process. It was a nice example of how the process and presentation of new music can engage, enlighten and entertain.