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17 April 2008


Silo String Quartet // Vic // 28-29.03.08

Silo String Quartet Image: Silo String Quartet  

The Melbourne-based Silo String Quartet—Aaron Barden, Andrea Keeble (violins), Ceridwen Davies (viola) and Caerwen Martin (cello)—have created a successful niche for themselves by only performing new music, especially Australian composition. This time their concert featured premieres by Queenslander Daniel Salecich and Melbourne-based composer David Chisholm.

There is always something special about a concert that features new music performed by musicians who have a genuine interest in the contemporary scene. Too often one attends concerts with both new and established music, and so the performance of the more recent composition is run-of-the-mill due to the fact that the musicians’ hearts are elsewhere in the program. So, it was with a great sense of anticipation that I attended Silo’s concert at the Assembly Hall—a venue not much used these days, but in the 1950s and '60s it was Melbourne’s new music hub. I always attend new music concerts with the idea that the pieces I will hear will work for me. It is like receiving a higher degree thesis to assess, where one opens the first pages with high hopes that it will reach the grade.

I left the Assembly Hall engaged with one piece and totally dismissive of the other. Let’s first dispense with the piece that left me completely cold. Daniel Salecich’s Dreaming of… is an essay in sterility. It is as if Salecich is trying to outdo Lachenmann, and on that level he certainly achieves full marks. The composer warns the audience of his intentions in the program notes when he states that: ‘…the composition [aims] to encourage both improvisation and dialogue between the musicians on a rational and irrational level. The post-tonal dream-state will also evoke fractures of other modernist sub-genres like extremism and pointillism.’ The motivic working at the micro level was the modus operandi for a good proportion of the work. I found the sonic jigsaw approach to be quite grating rather than dream-like. One started to crave for a collection of motives that could build to a continuous phrase. This did happen but way too late into the piece to save it from its dislocation of ideas. I pitied the performers who had to toil through a composition that was, for the most part, so fragmented that any sense of pulse was almost non-existent.

David Chisholm’s Luminal was far more successful in terms of addressing an audience. Chisholm’s music was inspired by a two-pronged program featuring the Nazi’s euthanasia policy of administering the overdose amounts of the sedative, luminal, to children deemed to be unfit for their society, juxtaposed with a personal dimension of the death of German Nazi Party member Joseph Goebbels’s own children at the hands of his delusional wife. A sombre tone is certainly called for, but, at around 40 minutes in length, the rather slow tempo leaves the work with an overarching sense of one-dimensionality. For a work to successfully stave off being soporific, the inner workings of the ensemble must engagingly weave nuanced lines. This marked element is where the piece proves its worth. Chisholm starts off, with language not too far out of place with the Second Viennese School (perhaps a direct snub at the Nazi regime’s dislike for non-tonal music?), this is slowly counterbalanced by some beautiful long-phrased tunes straight out of the neo-Romantic school. Chisholm suggests that it is a lullaby requiem and this is exactly the right label. With a ‘Berg’esque sense of stylistic interplay, the tunes break through the non-tonal sonic web like sunbeams casting out from behind darkened clouds. The sense of drama is perfectly timed and brings the sombre program perfectly to the foreground. Chisholm’s Luminal deserves more performances; whereas Salecich’s Dreaming of… should remain in a state of slumber.

Performance Details

Further Links

Joel Crotty is the Associate Dean (Graduate Research), Faculty of Arts, Monash University. He was a member of the Australian Music Centre Board between 1997 and 2003.


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