26 September 2007
A Lifetime of Teamwork
Kawai Keyboard Series // QLD // 10.09.07
2007 seems to be the year of anniversaries. By happy coincidence, as Kawai Keyboard Series celebrates its tenth birthday, the Queensland Conservatorium attains its fiftieth and Kawai its eightieth. One of the joys of Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University’s 2007 Building musical futures, the first fifty years campaign is the opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the musical community who have been involved with the institution since 1957. This variety, and indeed the depth of talent, has been showcased throughout the year by a series of Celebration Concerts. The 2007 Kawai series has taken the opportunity to mark many associations with composers Gerard Brophy, Stephen Cronin, and Larry Sitsky, as well as showcasing recitals from keyboard artists across generations, many of whom have played major roles in the Conservatorium's history. In this regard, this concert had a particular resonance through performance of a composition by Larry Sitsky, a former staff member.
The distinguished piano duo, Max Olding and Pamela Page, display the epitome of teamwork, taking their wedding vows as seriously onstage as off. Most notably in this concert, the performers demonstrated tremendous energy and physical prowess in works that make great demands on their entire bodies, incredible for performers of their age. Their varied careers, heightened level of experience, teamed with Olding’s friendly and informative introductions made for an exceptional concert, with a relaxed ambience.
It is brave for a composer to have little regard for audience reaction, especially considering the amount of works commissioned for specific occasions...Olding brought the audience’s attention to several parallels between the two pieces on the program. These challenging works are certainly not repertoire of a typical piano duo. Sitsky, just as Bartok was a century ago, is fiercely passionate about originality in his work and does not expect audiences to agree with his music. It is brave for a composer to have little regard for audience reaction, especially considering the amount of works commissioned for specific occasions, and the ‘no strings attached’ scenario sets the incubator for some of the most innovative art to be created. Sitsky once declared that ‘I don’t mind about the reaction, as long as there is a reaction’, which was essentially Bartok’s view as well. Causing any effect on the audience marks success in this kind of music, and the commitment and determination with which the duo performed certainly struck a chord within most present. All this is not to say that the techniques in these works haven’t been used before, but the unique use of them in assisting the structure of the pieces was successful in achieving cohesion in such rapidly evolving works.
Although a founder and long-standing staff member of the School of Music, Canberra, Sitsky originally composed the Concerto for Two Pianos for this duo while he was lecturing at the Queensland Conservatorium. This rarely performed 20-minute piece has been a landmark work in the Australian piano repertoire since it was written forty years ago. Five distinct sections run continuously as one gigantic set of variations, providing a large overriding architecture. The fragmented version of this chordal, linear theme was particularly memorable for its extremely cheeky dynamic changes. The use of register extremes, call and response in the murky depths of the left hands and unnerving clusters throughout this constantly evolving work was engaging. The duo’s excellent communication in the awkward passagework is to be commended, especially as the unusual setup (necessitated due to percussion) did not allow the performers to see each other well.
Although perhaps not what one would necessarily choose to listen to on a Friday night, even after a grueling week this work intrigued my interest on several levels. At times, it was like the music was provoking me, persistently gnawing away with repetitious material. There was no chance of the music simply washing over you; it challenged you with abstract fragments that needed to be pieced together by the audience. As was the intention, it begged to be interacted with, either in defiance or sympathy depending on your perception of the work, frame of mind and mood. I’d like to hear the work again to see how different my view of it would be at another time.
Undoubtedly one of the twentieth century's most significant chamber works, Bartok’s Sonata for two pianos and percussion highlights the percussive compatibilities of a two piano team in collaboration with a battery of tuned and un-tuned percussion (two percussionists playing seven instruments between them). In the same vein as the more popular Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste, this work is the pinnacle of Bartok's fascination with exploring the percussive timbres of the piano and the expressive capacity of percussion.
Throughout the three movements, the quartet led us on a colourful journey with dramatic climaxes and powerful contrasts. The sonata-form first movement uses a mysterious motif, ostinatos and a fugue. The ternary-form second movement was mesmerising, the ensemble displaying languid and mystical qualities. The colourful sonata rondo form finale demonstrated determination, excellent timing and tempi changes and immense physicality. Based on a modal children’s song, it was full of humoristic turns, ending quite surprisingly on a soft dynamic. A beautiful work, particularly captivating was the sense of style and poise within even the brashest of sections.
This intriguing pair of works which complemented each other surprisingly well (like yin and yang) was performed with ease and in-depth understanding by a pair who have long since worked, lived and breathed together, with audiences reaping the results. It was touching to note three generations of musicians within the audience for this event, Max and Pamela’s students, along with their student’s students. This demonstrates the empowering impact that the duo has had on the Australian piano community. The valuable contribution of these living treasures made them an excellent choice to perform in this commemorative series.
© Australian Music Centre (2007) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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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