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19 September 2013

Invitation to another voyage: my new work for Halcyon

Amfortas the Kingfisher Image: Amfortas the Kingfisher  

As I left Sydney for Victoria only a couple of years after Halcyon's formation, I haven't had the pleasure of watching the ensemble close up as it developed concert by concert. I admired Halcyon from afar, of course, and was well acquainted with the individual work of many of the musicians involved, so was delighted when Jenny Duck-Chong contacted me a few years back about performing my Sappho's Reply, a short work for women's voices. One of the striking things about Halcyon is how several strong and attractive musical personalities retain their individual qualities while producing such beautifully integrated interpretations. Halcyon's dedication to new work has been exemplary; the results are performances of the highest standard, both of newly commissioned and established works.

Last year in Sydney, Jenny sang in the Australian premiere of my Goodison Quartet no 1: Country Music, in a fantastic program that Halcyon presented with the Acacia Quartet. So, like many colleagues, I regarded it as an absolute pleasure to contribute a work to Halcyon's 15th birthday celebrations, and to conceive of such a work according to the overarching and capacious 'kingfisher' theme. (We have kingfishers around here. The one pictured, Amfortas, dived under our car and emerged unscathed except for a tonsure, and while recuperating proved a friendly, fearless and funny little bird.) After some trawling through kingfisher-related literature - sadly, TS Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins weren't Australian, and I wanted to use an Australian text if possible - I decided to go with the broader oceanic theme that Alison and Jenny mentioned in their brief.

The requirement for an Australian text was met when I was leafing through The Jaguar's Dream, a volume of translations of, and riffs on, a range of non-English poetry, by John Kinsella - one of this country's greatest poets, and one whose work I have set in various other pieces. Nearly 30 years ago I composed a set of songs to poetry by Charles Baudelaire (who, I had to inform a publisher, wasn't Australian either, and, having gone to his eternal reward, didn't need the royalties) the first of which was his sonnet 'La musique', of which John has a beautiful version in this collection.

For Baudelaire, 'Music often carries me away like a sea!/ Toward my pale star…' and his poem continues this metaphor, the lungs of the singer swelling like sails, the journey encompassing steep, exhilarating waves, tempestuous passion, becalmed despair. My setting uses soprano, mezzo and an ensemble of clarinet, vibraphone and cello, and, while Baudelaire was thinking of Beethoven when he wrote his poem, I think its imagery of the protean and powerful nature of the sea is an apt image for music generally. And I can't think of a better way in which to thank Halcyon's musicians for their years of work in service of our art.

> Read a blog article by Halcyon's Alison Morgan about the Kingfisher project.
> Event details: Kingfisher - Songs for Halcyon, 23 October 2013 (AMC Calendar)

The 23 composers of the Kingfisher project are: Katy Abbott, Stephen Adams, Gerard Brophy, Nigel Butterley, Sharon Calcraft, Ross Edwards, Andrew Ford, Stuart Greenbaum, Elliott Gyger, Graham Hair, Moya Henderson, Gordon Kerry, Raffaele Marcellino, Kevin March, Ruth Lee Martin, Rosalind Page, John Peterson, Andrew Schultz, Paul Stanhope, Jane Stanley, Nicholas Vines, Dan Walker and Gillian Whitehead.

Subjects discussed by this article:


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