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6 October 2009

The Yarra Trio - 2009 Lyrebird Commission

The Yarra Trio Image: The Yarra Trio  

The Yarra Trio is relatively new to the local chamber music scene in Victoria but, through regional touring and inventive programming, swiftly building a reputation for polished performances of accessible contemporary repertoire. Sunday's concert saw the group fulfilling obligations to perform two recent commissions in a program that showcased composers associated with Melbourne University, both established and emerging.

One of the trio's initiatives is an annual composition award, the most recent winner of which was Annie Hsieh's Murmurs (2008). This fresh work is brimming with compelling ideas, novel textures and a restlessly youthful energy. The ideas themselves were substantial enough to warrant much more development. The trio was together from the opening notes, showing tight ensemble skills and good awareness of the tricky reverberation present in the venue.

The other featured work was the 2009 Lyrebird Commission, Hidden Dimensions by Lorenzo Alvaro. Cast in three movements, this piece is based on the rhythmic interplay of voices against a bluesy, pentatonic ostinato. The piece gathered power and intensity as it progressed, the presto giocoso conclusion exhilarating with its rapidly ascending figures and pure kinetic energy. Earlier, in the second movement, the trio had seemed slightly hesitant in some of the groove patterns, but seemed much more at ease in the final movement.

Hsieh and Alvaro have both been students of Stuart Greenbaum, and though their music could be said to intersect with his, neither is obviously indebted to his style. Greenbaum's music regularly appears on Yarra Trio's programs, and two of his recent works were presented on this occasion. Both pieces are characterised by simple tuneful ideas that slowly unfurl against a backdrop of pulsing ostinatos. This initial simplicity turns out to be deceptive, as juxtapositions and developments create a multifaceted web of ingenious thematic and structural relationships.

Greenbaum's 800 Million Heartbeats (2008) was the more straightforward piece, with its well judged proportions and obvious build towards a climactic theme statement at just the right moment. There is little angst in Greenbaum's music, but this melody sung with passionate intensity before ebbing away to a conclusion. This produced one of the trio's best moments, the richly expressive string playing both supported and driven by the keyboard dynamic.

The second Greenbaum work, Book of Departures (2009) explored much of the same ground, but utilised a more complex structure. A strong refrain reoccurred several times as a kick-off point to the exploration of different musical landscapes. The last of these was the most effective, abruptly shooting off and offering only a tantalising glimpse of mysterious new territories. The trio played both works with accuracy and commitment, but there were uncertainties in some of the trickier polyrhythmic sections.

The other works on the program were supplied by the trio's pianist Stefan Cassomenos. Tableaux Nos 1 (2008) and 12 (2009) take their inspiration from Homer's Iliad and, perhaps befitting their classical subject matter, rely heavily on music from past centuries. The harmonic style of the first piece is reminiscent of Liszt's later more impressionistic work, which in this setting sits strangely with the seventeenth-century cadences that dominate the work's middle section. In the second piece, Cassomenos channels Mussorgsky in a Cossack dance driven by heroic rhetorical gestures. The balance was slightly uneven in these works, possibly due to the fact that the writing favoured the piano.

It is early days yet for this ensemble. Their approach to this kind of rhythmic repertoire is energetic and brash, if not yet always completely settled. They blend extremely well together, and it is gratifying to see ensembles of this calibre supporting local composers. Their well received performance was both assured and compelling. It was also fascinating to see one small microcosm of Melbourne's composition scene thus illuminated.

Event Details

2009 Lyrebird Commission
The Yarra Trio
Music by Annie Hsieh, Stuart Greenbaum, Stefan Cassomenos and Lorenzo Alvaro
The Yarra Trio: Stefan Cassomenos, Jess Ipkendanz and Chris Howlett
Sunday, 4th October, 2009
St. Peter's Parish Hall, East Melbourne, VIC
More details: AMC Calendar

Further links

Yarra Trio (www.theyarratrio.com.au/)
Lyrebird Commission for Composition (www.lyrebirdmusicsociety.org.au/commission.html)
Stuart Greenbaum - AMC (www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/artist/greenbaum-stuart)

Subjects discussed by this article:

Mark Viggiani is a Melbourne-based composer. His recent works include pieces for the Melbourne and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras, The Song Company and Speak Percussion. In 1997 Move Records released The Rainmaker, a CD of original compositions, to international critical acclaim. In 2009 Viggiani was awarded an Australian Postgraduate Award towards a PhD in composition, following studies with Stuart Greenbaum and Elliott Gyger at Melbourne University.


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