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25 June 2008

Eclectic Directions

Christopher de Groot // WA // 01.05.08

Christopher de Groot Image: Christopher de Groot  
© Alice Ponce

An intriguing fusion of musical styles and traditions, and uncommon instrumentation characterised this programme of exciting, new and recent works by emerging Perth composer, Christopher de Groot. De Groot’s formal training in both the classical and jazz idioms is clear in his compositional approach, which is influenced by a diverse range of composers, from Olivier Messiaen, Steve Reich and John Cage to Chick Corea and Frank Zappa. Skillful in fusing genres, de Groot feels strongly about bringing generally under-utilised instruments to the fore – tonight’s audience was treated to prominent performances on the Rhodes electric piano, as well as the Stradella accordion.

The programme commenced with Tribal Karaoke for two flutes, viola, marimba and prepared electronics. Composed in 2007 for WAAPA’s Eccentricity Ensemble, this piece was de Groot’s first foray into the world of minimalism. Repeated melodic patterns emerge, converge and transform over driving, African-inspired triplet rhythms, mainly sustained by the marimba and electronics. Increased dissonance towards the end of the piece made for a successful conclusion.

Next, the audience was presented with a string quartet arrangement of a Chick Corea composition, Eternal Child. Although written in 2003, this evening saw the premiere performance of this arrangement. Here, Christopher de Groot took lyrical, Latin-tinged jazz melodies and harmonies and intertwined them with baroque counterpoint, one of several examples of his penchant for combining styles and techniques. The effect was honey-smooth and well orchestrated, but I couldn’t help wishing for a heavier incorporation of Latin rhythms.

An exciting and contrasting performance followed. Pedro’s Lunch (2007) was played to precision by a group of current and past WAAPA students. Six winds (horn, bassoon, flute, oboe, clarinet, trombone) accompanied keyboard percussion (marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel), piano and the Rhodes electric piano, proficiently conducted by Michael Cartwright, a Masters degree student. The composer had the pianist frequently play inside the Rhodes in different ways, a novel technique which created interesting timbres. This work was influenced by Frank Zappa and also strongly reflected de Groot’s jazz background. Rhythms were punchy and harmonies bitey, often utilising elements of Messiaen’s modes of limited transposition – a fresh and satisfying statement.

The Rhodes piano again featured in the enjoyably unpredictable Modal Logic (2006-2007), a series of six short duets with flute. The instruments blended beautifully. Messiaen’s modes also reappeared, melodically and harmonically, studied in succession, set against more jazzy rhythms.

The evening concluded with what is possibly de Groot’s most innovative and challenging experiment. Cirrus of the Open Sky was not completed until 5:30am on the morning of the concert, as the composer and his accordionist, Cathie Travers, strove to adapt a work for four Stradella (pre-set bass chords) accordions into an arrangement for a solo player. As a result of the unfortunate scarcity of professional accordion players in Perth, Christopher de Groot’s bold, new work was at risk of not being performed at all, until Travers came to the rescue. This amazing performer, and accomplished composer herself, pre-recorded and mixed three of the parts, and played the more melodic lines live – an impressive feat. The piece is based around numerous poly-chords, which are stacked and fragmented, and gradually evolve, using phasing techniques. The repetitive rhythms and heavy chords underpin fleeting melodic moments, which are interspersed throughout, helping to create a trance-like effect. For de Groot, this work highlights a change in direction, and he considers it to be the most accurate representation to date of his personal style and journey.

Currently completing his Masters of Music in Screen Composition, Christopher de Groot wants to avoid being pigeonholed. Although he writes music for classical ensembles, big bands and film, he prefers to be simply thought of as a composer, not of or for any one style or genre in particular. His versatility, passion and adventurous spirit should stand him in good stead as he continues on his professional pathway. He once read that no serious composer would write for the Stradella accordion. Hats off to you, Chris – may you continue to prove theories wrong and go your own way!

Performance Details

Further Links:

Kelly Curran is currently completing a Bachelor of Music in Composition at Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts @ Edith Cowan University. She has had many of her works for chamber groups performed around Perth, and has also written pieces for film and dance. Kelly aims to continue her research into emerging hybrid forms of tango.


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