2 October 2009
Vanishing Tekopia - David Chesworth Ensemble
Melbourne // VIC // 19.09.2009
David Chesworth's music typically refuses to be easily categorised, and his latest composition, Vanishing Tekopia, is no exception. The presence of drum kit and electric bass seems to drive it out of what we might call contemporary classical music, but the relatively larger scale of its form, its unusual instrumentation, and the lack of lyrics in this work prevent it from sitting comfortably in any kind of pop music genre.
Vanishing Tekopia is written for an expanded version of the David Chesworth Ensemble, which currently consists of eleven members, including two percussionists, two vocalists, violinist, cellist, pianist, trombonist, guitarist, bass player, and Chesworth on electronics. The work is a series of nine short pieces that somehow relate to 'the many pockets of indigenous and sub-urban cultures that are continually being absorbed by the more dominant cultures' - Chesworth sees a parallel between this global phenomenon and his own compositional process, which involves appropriating fragments of music from diverse sources and weaving them into an original piece of music.
The work was performed for the first time to a very appreciative capacity audience on September 19 in the intimacy of the Melbourne Recital Centre's Salon. Each short movement, like much of Chesworth's music, relies on building up and then removing layers of sound, each layer offering a new repeated melodic or rhythmic motif, or a new colour and depth.
The title refers to 'an actual island in the South Pacific Ocean that is in danger of being swamped by the rising ocean', and the first piece fittingly evoked a relaxed, swinging island feel, starting with simple motifs in the percussion and piano parts, then gently building up a thicker texture with the addition of more instrumental layers. The pieces that followed stuck to a similar structure, although there was a gradual increase in the intensity of the music as the work progressed.
Vocalists Melissa Webb and Joanne Kuluveovski joined the ensemble in the second piece, singing wordless melodic lines, which allowed them to blend into the group as just another two instruments, rather than taking centre stage as vocalists often do when they're singing lyrics. There were a couple of moments during the performance when Webb and Kuluveovski were slightly out of time with the rest of the otherwise very tight ensemble; I wondered whether this was because they were sitting behind Chesworth (who was conducting) in the fairly restricted space of the Salon.
Percussionists Peter Neville and Eugene Ughetti gave very impressive and exciting performances, particularly when they were given the chance to shine in some of the later pieces. The very last piece ended with an exhilarating burst of percussion, and it was a pleasure to watch the enjoyment these two musicians derived from playing Chesworth's energetic music.
It was not until the second last piece that the sonorities and harmonies darkened a little and the direction of the music became slightly unpredictable; up until then, a constant, unwavering beat underlined every piece and while the music called for increasingly vigorous playing, it remained upbeat and positive. Towards the end of the eighth piece, the music stopped suddenly before resuming at a slower tempo, creating a sense of drama and unpredictability that had previously been lacking.
I found the structural sameness of all the pieces in this work a little frustrating; by the fourth piece I felt as if I knew how all the others would proceed. In addition to this, each time a climax approached, the music seemed to stop prematurely, almost as if it was scared to go all the way. It is quite likely that this was Chesworth's intention, perhaps with a view to building tension throughout the whole work, but instead it seemed to create more of a sense of tension being constantly diffused before it reached a high point.
The last piece was, for me, the most effective, because it broke out of this pattern. By the time the musicians reached this point I felt like they needed to escape from the rest of the work and indulge in a bit of uninhibited craziness, which is just what Chesworth had them do. After beginning joyfully and light-heartedly, the layers of sound gradually built up to a dynamic and unconstrained ending that brought smiles to the faces of audience and performers alike.
David Chesworth Ensemble
Music by David Chesworth
Melbourne Recital Centre Salon, Melbourne, VIC
19 September 2009
David Chesworth - AMC (www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/artist/chesworth-david)
David Chesworth - homepage (www.davidchesworth.com)
© Australian Music Centre (2009) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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Rachel Orzech is a Melbourne-based writer, teacher, musician and dancer. This year she is undertaking a music journalism internship in Sydney, and she plans to continue her studies in musicology in 2010.
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