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27 November 2008

ANAM: Gordon Kerry Commissions

Melbourne // VIC // 21.11.2008

Gordon Kerry Image: Gordon Kerry  

The South Melbourne Town Hall is a large space for small chamber works, and you might imagine that occasionally passing police sirens, distant tram track rumblings and the heavy air of controversy and uncertainty afflicting the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) at present would do a concert of new works little favour. In actual fact, what resulted was a remarkably intimate and engaging concert – a testament to the synergy between performer, composer and audience.

Brett Dean, the Artistic Director of ANAM, introduced the Kerry Commissions concert with a few well-chosen and spirited words in defence of the Academy, before warmly welcoming composer Gordon Kerry. As composer in residence, Kerry has spent the past few months working closely with some of ANAM’s most gifted students in producing a body of new works. Four of these works were presented – Nocturne, Martian Snow, Silent Film and Nunc Dimittis.

The trio Nocturne, for clarinet (Mitchell Berick), viola (James Munro), and piano (Elina Yasumoto), was the first piece performed, successfully setting the mood for the entire concert. Commencing with only the pianist and violist on stage, the off-stage clarinetist provided veiled lontano lines of colour that gradually melded into the trio texture. Although concealing musicians from the audience’s view carries the risk of being more theatrical than musically effective, the manoeuvre seemed quite natural and justifiable when Mitchell Berick eventually appeared on stage to visually complete the trio.

Kerry’s Nocturne revealed a darkish post-impressionistic harmonic palette, regularly punctuated with ripples of light that the trio did well to bring out. Compositionally, there was a lot of sonic transference between the parts, and all three instrumentalists displayed high musicality in their smooth exchanges and dovetailing of colour lines. This well-crafted composition ended with the warm tones of James Munro’s solo viola, convincingly encapsulating the still and contemplative mood of the overall work and performance.

According to Kerry, the next work, Martian Snow for violin and piano, was inspired by recent news that the Mars Rover had discovered snow falling from Martian clouds. Struck by this image, Kerry composed another well-crafted work with strong harmonic and gestural flow, within which the passing of musical fragments could at times be likened to falling and intermingling snow particles. The strong sense of atmosphere created in the work also highlights the fine calibre of performance from pianist Peter de Jager and violinist Monique Lapins, who each brought the audience along with every nuanced note. It’s always nice to hear a violinist who can turn a series of artificial harmonics into a phrase.

The third work was Silent Film for piano solo. With his choice of an open and non-specific title, Kerry claimed his intention was to give the artist scope to find something for themself within the composition. What pianist Aura Go found was lyricism and sensuality, a precision of touch, and beautifully controlled tone. Built upon a series of unfolding chords established early in the piece, Silent Film displayed evident craft and sophisticated compositional process, yet maintained a somewhat impromptu feel throughout. The work explored gesture, colour and pianism.

Concluding the program was Nunc Dimittis for oboe and cor anglais. Although the choice of instrumentation and program order initially made this piece seem a little out of place amongst piano- and string-based works, Gordon Kerry’s words prior to the performance imbued the work with a strongly linked context. The work had in fact been written especially for this concert, as stoical encouragement to the students and teachers at ANAM in an hour of uncertainty. Kerry used the Latin title Nunc Dimittis for the work – a title drawn from the second chapter of Luke and traditionally used as a prayer for evening worship: ‘Let us go in peace for the future is in good hands’.

In keeping with this sentiment, this final work was again evidence of a strongly composed and performed musicality. The oboe of Annabelle Badcock and cor anglais playing of Amelia Coleman produced a beautiful round tone, displaying an ability to harness the acoustical properties of the space. At times rhythmic unison entries were slightly off, perhaps due more to the slow speaking nature of these instruments, but in general the beautiful flowing liquid lines these musicians produced helped to enhance the sonic direction of the work.

At the end of the concert, composer Gordon Kerry and all of the exceptional young performers received long and deserved applause. Against a difficult backdrop of questions and concerns over the fate of ANAM, this was a concert with no pretensions, just beautifully composed and performed NEW music.

Event details

Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM)
The Academy@1
Gordon Kerry Commissions
Friday 21 November
South Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne, VIC

Further links

Gordon Kerry (www.amcoz.com.au/composers/composer.asp?id=320)
ANAM (www.anam.com.au/)

ANAM Update - media links on ANAM, news item on resonate (http://www.resonatemagazine.com.au/article/update-on-anam.html)

Anthony Lyons is a Melbourne-based composer and teacher.


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