15 November 2016
Arrivals by Zephyr Quartet
Cellist and Artistic Director Hilary Kleinig writes about the Zephyr Quartet's program 'Arrivals', presented this month in Western Australia and South Australia. See also: details of forthcoming performances in the South Australian Maritime Museum, Port Adelaide, on 17-20 November (AMC Calendar).
We know that Australia is very much a nation of 'boat people', past and present. Many of we Australians are boat people, or are descended from boat people, and many of us came here either fleeing persecution or in search of a better life - my ancestors included. Yet, as recent political actions have shown, migration to Australia by boat is still a divisive matter, fraught with complex issues and often influenced by fear.
When Zephyr Quartet decided, a couple of years ago, that we wanted to do a concert set in maritime surrounds, exploring boat migration to Australia, it wasn't necessarily an overt political statement. However, the bittersweet irony of the timing of these concerts - called Arrivals and being performed on 13 November in Fremantle, WA and 17-20 November in Port Adelaide, SA - just weeks after the Australian Government's announcement of their desire to make it 'illegal for asylum seekers who try to come to Australia by boat to ever enter, even as tourists', has meant that, by default, our performances have become a political statement. Rather than being didactic, we hope to provide a space for people to come together and meditate on these stories and ponder what arriving in Australia by boat migration means to us, in the past, present and future.
In Arrivals we are exploring notions of boat migration to Australia through music, and, with it, the trials, transgressions, struggles and successes present in our history. Our program of Australian works covers a range of historical perspectives, each expressing thoughts, stories, emotions and reflections of oceanic journeys to Australia.
Featured in the program is Paul Stanhope's String Quartet No. 2, a reflection 'on the stories of those individuals who managed to flee from the persecution and tyranny of war-torn Europe in the mid-twentieth century and make a new life for themselves in Australia'. Kate Moore's work Broken Rosary is a movement from the chamber work Songs for Maria Epskamp, in memory of the composer's grandmother, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her family's migration to Australia from the Netherlands.
We are also excited to premiere a collaborative work that we have written with the Adelaide-based, Baghdad-born house music producer Motez (see the souncloud page for more information). Called Beginnings, it is inspired by the personal story of Motez's father's arrival in Australia from Iraq by boat 16 years ago.
Audiences who attended our concert Music for Strings and iThings in 2014 are among a limited number of people who have participated in a 'smartphone choir'. The choir, consisting of audience members' smartphones broadcasting from their choice of pre-recorded backing tracks, accompanies the quartet in my composition For those who've come across the seas…, a work highlighting the contradiction of current policies to the words in our national anthem.
Zephyr's viola player Jason Thomas's experiences as a psychologist in Australia's regional processing centres on Manus Island and Nauru, providing support to the Australian staff who worked with the asylum seekers, inspired his world premiere composition. This new work is a representation of Tamil and Australian cultures interweaving, the joy of collective music making, and the underbelly of the unfinished journey of those seeking asylum in Australia.
Zephyr's violinist Emily Tulloch explores the pain of missing one's homeland, as experienced by post-war migrants in Australia, with an arrangement of Carlo Concina's Vola Colomba. This was a popular Italian song in the 1950s which resonated with the migrant community of the era, thanks to its lyrical content which speaks of a man longing to be a dove so that he can fly back home to his love to tell her he will return soon.
My new piece Great White Bird imagines the time in Australia before European settlement and makes reference to Susie's Ship Song - a song sung by Susie, a Wirangu woman from Yardea on Eyre Peninsula, recorded by anthropologist Edward Harold Davies on wax cylinder in 1928. Davies believed that when the Indigenous people first saw a ship sail into and be anchored in Denial Bay, they created this song which tells of a great white bird that came over the sea and was tied up so that it couldn't get away. My piece re-imagines this setting, honours and pays tribute to Australia's first people, their stories and their land.
'Arrivals' ultimately celebrates the incredible courage and great hope that the people who travelled across the oceans to Australia have shown and the positive contribution that they have made, and continue to make, to our nation. The program also acknowledges our troubled history of boat migration, from a multiplicity of cultural perspectives, personal stories and through to present day policies.
As we celebrate the benefits that different cultural perspectives have brought, and still bring today, to our society and nation, perhaps most importantly of all, it is timely to remember that most of us are merely caretakers and custodians of this country and that the land belongs to the Indigenous Australians who were here 50,000 years before European settlement and who have fought to maintain their culture and languages.
This program has been in our hearts and minds for a few years, and we are pleased to finally bring it to life in stunning maritime settings. We have enjoyed bringing our own personal perspectives to a program which we hope reminds us all that these stories of boat migration are an important part of our collective national history, and that migration to Australia by boat affects us all very much still today.
Zephyr Quartet: Arrivals, South Australian Maritime Museum (Port Adelaide, SA), 17-20 November - event details in the AMC Calendar.
Zephyr Quartet - homepage (www.zephyrquartet.com)
Zephyr Quartet - performances (www.zephyrquartet.com/performances)
© Australian Music Centre (2016) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Cellist Hilary Kleinig is Artistic Director of the Zephyr Quartet.
Be the first to share add your thoughts and opinions in response to this article.
You must login to post a comment.