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31 July 2007

A Class Act where a Multitude of Styles Collide

Collusion // QLD // 15.06.07

Collusion Image: Collusion  

‘The thread that binds…that connects…that draws us in…that holds us…’

Collusion is taking off, and with good reason. This hybrid-arts contemporary classical music ensemble – comprising of young, vibrant and imaginative artists – enraptures audiences by championing new or rarely performed works.

The second presentation for 2007, the June performance was Collusion’s string quartet spectacular of the series, with a vibrancy of Jewish influence.

A celebration at the culmination of several years work, this concert also acted as a launching pad for their anticipated debut CD ‘In Depth’ (Move Records). Recorded in 2005 in the QCGU IMERSD studios, this disc features four world premiere recordings by acclaimed Australian composers: Paul Stanhope’s Sea Chronicles, Gerard Brophy’s Sheer Nylon Dances, Steven Baker’s Chamber Concertino and Tom Adeney’s Summer I Gurre.

Guests are an exciting and integral part of Collusion’s performances, with each concert bringing something and someone new. As well as performing as an ensemble of four, the group also invites guest artists of different artistic mediums including music, dance, spoken word, film, visual arts, circus arts, photography and theatre to contribute in part to their productions and share the stage. This concert was indeed no exception.

Sheer Nylon Dances (also featured on the disc) are a set of four eclectic movements by local composer Gerard Brophy, flitting between the serene, quirky, languid and downright groovy. These extremely polished musicians were comfortable enough with each other to execute the coordinated additive phrases perfectly. Using some special effects on each instrument, the fetished piano was particularly intriguing. Brophy explains:

Some years ago I was commissioned by the Griffith Trio to compose this piece and my good friend Stephen Emmerson surreptitiously passed over a plastic lock-it bag full of rubber wedges of varying sizes. He suggested all manner of pianistic manipulations with the aforementioned wedges, and after inserting a few into my superannuated old upright I was hooked on the gorgeous sonorities that resulted. These piano pizzicato play a very important structural and timbral role and at times create a beautiful halo of sound against which the melodic utterances of the violin and v’cello are displayed.

a beautiful pinnacle of the harp repertoire, was performed with myriad blended tonal colours and textures, good balance and excitement...The virtuosic and seemingly effortless performance by Brisbane harpist Lucy Gallop demonstrated the close associations Collusion hold with top players in the industry. Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, a beautiful pinnacle of the harp repertoire, was performed with myriad blended tonal colours and textures, good balance and excitement, bringing this well-known work alive to a captive audience.

Collusion’s variety of programming and performers was demonstrated clearly in the first half of this concert, with Barber’s Dover Beach providing a change of pace and mood. This despairing and pessimistic poem by Matthew Arnold is beautifully set for string quartet and baritone. Highlights of this performance were the fluid string passage work and heartfelt vocal line (albeit by an influenzed baritone).

Entering Russian/Jewish territory, Prokofiev wrote his Overture on Hebrew Themes at the request of old schoolmates, who wanted a Jewish work for their chamber music group. Initially hesitant, armed with only a notebook of Jewish folk songs for inspiration, Prokofiev eventually wrote the piece which was a great success and he later arranged it for orchestra. Collusion’s blend and controlled gradual changes in dynamic and speed assisted with building the long lines with throbbing insistence.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Golijov’s The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, perhaps only the second performance of this moving work in Australia. Growing up in an Eastern European Jewish household in Argentina, Golijov studied at the local Conservatory, then the Jerusalem Rubin Academy (Israel) before moving to the United States where he earned his PhD and worked with Crumb and Knuessen. He worked very closely with two string quartets: St Lawrence and Kronos. He is currently on the faculty of Boston University and the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, and is in high demand with regards to commissions and future works requested by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera.

Binding the conventional medium of string quartet with the great traditions of Jewish folk song, this piece is a kind of epic, a history of Judiasm. In the words of the composer:

Around 800 years ago, Isaac the Blind – who was the greatest Kabbalist rabbi of Provence – wrote a manuscript which detailed that everything in the universe, all things and events, are products of combinations of the Hebrew’s alphabet letters.

This intense and evocative work (written in a series of programmatic movements) demonstrated the phenomenal stamina of all players, particularly Stephen Wylks, who was called upon to play B flat, A and bass clarinets in authentic style over the course of this half-hour work. Static, still string landscapes were interrupted by jolting clarinet proclamations and cadenzas. Complex rhythmic layers, awkward unions and hemiolas were combined with col legno, double stops, tremolo and pizzicato effects as this continually evolving process unfolded. All different speeds and dynamics were explored with unresolved harmonies presenting a yearning, begging feeling of immense unrelentingness.

The experienced members of Collusion know how to program a concert, showcasing a variety of genres and performers, providing a complete package with something for everyone. It is hard work to keep an audience’s attention for two and half hours, but in this Collusion succeeded. An excellent space for dance, the venue, despite its intimacy, is unfortunately not always kind to chamber musicians, with the sound at times less present then it should be, problematic lighting and outside noise distraction. However, the high quality of Collusion’s concerts is indeed cause for repeat performances of their programs, and their personable approach and interaction with their audience sets them apart from other groups of their calibre. One can only imagine the exciting events to come in the group’s further development – in offering something this unique, they deserve to become a prominent force on the national (and international) stage and a group definitely worth watching.

Performance Details

Collusion: Benjamin Greaves (violin), Therese Milanovic (piano), Shannon Tobin (cello), Stephen Wylks (clarinets)
Associate artists: Brendan Joyce (violin), Paula Newcomb (violin), Charlotte Burbrook De Vere (viola), Briony Macgillvray (flute), Lucy Gallop (harp), Peter Adams (baritone)
Work by Gerard Brophy, Prokofiev, Golijov, Barber, Ravel
Thomas Dixon Centre, Brisbane 15 June 2007

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Morwenna Collett has recently taken up a position as Arts Development Officer in Music and Dance for Arts Qld. Previously she was the flute teacher and publicity officer at the Riverina Conservatorium of Music (Wagga Wagga). She holds a first class Honours degree and a Masters degree from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University.


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