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31 July 2007

Under Capricorn

MSO // Vic // 12.05.07

Anthony Pateras Image: Anthony Pateras  
© Cindy Milton

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Metropolis concert series was initiated in 1997 at the Melbourne Town Hall with the primary objective of presenting contemporary orchestral repertoire. A slogan promising to ‘celebrate modern life and explore the new sources of artistic energy which have emerged in our time’ has, over time, delivered something akin to an institution; a meeting point for the local composition fraternity. The CUB Malthouse has been hosting the event since 2000 – an extremely suitable venue due to its undeniably ‘intimate and up-close atmosphere’ – and this year’s event has been curated by prominent Australian composer, conductor and performer Brett Dean.

The delicately ornamented textural work opens with sweet, smooth melodic lines, becoming quickly contrasted with harsh metallic percussive colours.Under Capricorn represents the third and final instalment of the 2007 Metropolis festival, and as part of the MSO’s centenary year – under the baton of internationally renowned Scottish composer and conductor James MacMillan – celebrates forty years of Australian composition with a presentation of both established and emerging Australian figures of the composition world together with a young composer commissioned through the Cybec 21st Century Australian Composers program. Brett Dean declares the following aims for the program: ‘In this Australian program, Under Capricorn, I wanted to show that there is an arch bridging the different periods in the language of contemporary Australian music’.

It was John Hopkins with the Sydney Symphony on 22 February, 1969 who presented the premiere of Peter Sculthorpe’s Sun Music II under the title of Ketjak. This is a work of immense integrity; a widely acknowledged classic, musically defined by a sound world of dissonant tone clusters reflective of an Australian landscape engaged in battle with its unforgiving environment. The interplay between the bongos, congas, toms and timpani are in direct response to the Kacak – the Balinese ‘Monkey Dance’ framed within the ancient Sanskrit epic of the Ramayana.

Julian Langdon was the featured ‘young composer’ of the night, and the world premiere of his work Visions from Holographic Space demonstrated great promise. The delicately ornamented textural work opens with sweet, smooth melodic lines, becoming quickly contrasted with harsh metallic percussive colours. There is a good balance between the motivic material throughout, and the introduction of pulse-like ostinatos provides a quasi-minimalist flair to the compositional approach, while also building the necessary momentum. Langdon is currently in the process of completing an honours degree at the Victorian College of the Arts, studying composition with Brenton Broadstock.

James Ledger’s Line Drawing, concerto for recorder and strings, featured Australian virtuoso recorder player Genevieve Lacey on recorders together with the MSO string section. The work – which, incidentally, was the winner of the ‘Best Performance of an Australian Composition’ at the 2006 Classical Music awards – is lyrical and highly virtuosic, focusing on the subtle timbral contrast of different recorders which, according to Lacey, included: ‘sopranino, descant, treble, tenor and bass recorders, as well as an instrument called a Ganassi in G’.

One of the highlights of this work would have to be a passage featuring the beautiful rich tone of the bass recorder, which is subsequently imitated by the violas. Another point of interest incorporates the simultaneous employment of two recorders, reminiscent of the Eastern European dvojnice, the double recorder of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The world premiere of Anthony Pateras’s QQ followed the intermission. Written for amplified ensemble and electronics, it presented a quadripartite division of the instrumental forces – three quartets were generated by woodwind, brass and strings; a fourth, by two percussionists; Pateras on prepared piano; and a G4 laptop computer subservient to a MAX/MSP environment. This most animated and vibrant piece was received as ‘fun’ by the audience, who were audibly amused at the use of unusual percussion such as plastic bags and bubble wrap and became even more unsubmissive at the accidental striking of a music stand by one of the percussionists.

The orchestration – adorned with lush orchestral colours – produced a musically engaging listening experience with its constant explorations of instrumental timbre and tessitura.The evening came to a close with Richard Meale’s Viridian, which brought back the complete orchestra. The orchestration – adorned with lush orchestral colours – produced a musically engaging listening experience with its constant explorations of instrumental timbre and tessitura. The introductory commentary about the tonal aspect of the composition was somewhat perplexing, and especially in view of the fact that apart from the concluding sonority, even the trained listener did not perceive a notable sense of functional harmony.

The musical language of Australian composition is as varied as the cultural diversity of this island’s peoples, and therefore one can only admire Brett Dean’s attempt to ‘bridge an arch across different periods in the language of contemporary Australian music’. In all fairness, Under Capricorn reflects but one point of view. Afterall, how is it possible to represent the history of Australian orchestral composition with five works? One must also take into account that only the works by Sculthorpe and Meale utilised the complete instrumental forces of a symphony orchestra, which presents the question: what actually constitutes orchestral music in the twenty-first century?

Performance details

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra: Metropolis Series
Works by James Ledger, Richard Meale, Anthony Pateras, Peter Sculthorpe
Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne, Saturday 12 May 2007

Further links

Andrián Pertout was born in Santiago and recently completed a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree at the University of Melbourne, studying composition under the guidance of Brenton Broadstock. His music has been performed in over twenty countries around the world by orchestras that include the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, The Louisville Orchestra (USA), The Foundation Orchestra (USA), Orquestra Petrobrás Sinfônica (Brazil), La Chapelle Musicale de Tournai (Belgium), and the Oare String Orchestra (UK).


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Here's the result.

..'I.......is...a....but....the...the ...and........to........it

the for and so I it the there and for we so the.......

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