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9 November 2011

fusion vocal ensemble and Dirié's Pomegranate Friends

fusion vocal ensemble Image: fusion vocal ensemble  

Among the few fundamental concepts which are universal to the human experience, surely both music and friendship must be near the top of a reasonably short list. It feels only natural that these two ideas should collide in a new work for choir, saxophone and 4-channel live electronics by Argentinian-Australian composer, Gerardo Dirié. The new work in question is the third movement of the triptych Pomegranate Friends - all three movements will be performed this November in a concert by the Brisbane-based vocal ensemble fusion.

fusion was founded in 2009 by Dr Debra Shearer-Dirié and began with the purpose of drawing together some of the best and most experienced ensemble singers from across Brisbane. Many members sing regularly with other choirs or are professional musicians, conductors and teachers. They currently collaborate on three concert programs a year, and the group prides itself on combining choral maturity with youthful vibrancy to bring a fresh sound to music that is not often performed in the region.

The next concert 'Tapas' (19 November) is an exploration of music by Spanish and Latin American composers but will also feature the new work 'Stratagem' by Gerardo Dirié, along with the two other existing movements of Pomegranate Friends. Dirié, who was born in the Argentinean city of Cordoba, has lived and worked in the United States, and currently teaches theory and composition at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, Griffith University.

Aside from the unusual combination of voices and instruments for which it was written, the work draws inspiration from four continents, with the end result being a unique sound that transcends geographical boundaries and cultural barriers. The three pieces that make up Pomegranate Friends play with live frequencies and unconventional tuning systems. They are overlaid first with improvised saxophone, and then with mixed-voice choir.

The texts, although Dirié's own, were inspired by Matteo Ricci's work On Friendship. Ricci was a 16th-century Italian Jesuit scholar who lived and worked as a missionary in China for almost thirty years and, after becoming fluent in Mandarin, set himself the task of translating a collection of aphorisms about the values and virtues of friendship.

Each movement of Dirié's song cycle continues his exploration of the poetic potential in Ricci's writing. While 'Two Hands or Wings' reflects on the mysteries and preciousness of finding friends, the second movement, entitled 'Pomegranate Friends', ponders the dangers of finding oneself tied up in pernicious relationships, and contrasts this with the potential for growth which honest friends bring to our lives. The concluding movement 'Stratagem' weaves together some metaphors that Ricci used in linking his own experiences with friends during dark and difficult times, with ideas from Plutarch's Moralia about cherishing quiet honesty over greasy extolment, and on how to first seek solace in one's own company.

There is something quite pertinent about the diverse cultural threads which have woven their way into both the work itself and the nature of the collaborative performance. Singers and instrumentalists from a range of backgrounds will come together in the spirit of friendship and a desire to make great music, to perform a work by an Argentinean-Australian composer which is inspired by the writings of an Italian-Chinese scholar. A more fitting reflection of Australia as a multicultural melting pot is seldom to be found in this country's choral repertoire.

Event details

Tapas: A musical journey of fiery passion, abounding joy and intimate beauty
Featuring music by Dirié, Guastavino, Yupanqui, Guerrero, Padilla, Lobo, Salazar, Encina and Gavilán
Saturday 19 November, 4pm
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Fortitude Valley
More details: AMC Calendar and www.fusionvocalensemble.org

Subjects discussed by this article:

Bronwyn Mitchell is a freelance classical vocalist, arts administrator and writer, based in Brisbane.


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