21 August 2007
Eighth Classically Melbourne Free Concert
Orchestras Victoria // Vic // 08.08.07
© Photo courtesy of 3MBS FM
The 3MBS orchestral competition is now firmly established on the awards calendar. And with a performance for the winner, the competition is one that budding young composers take seriously. There are limited opportunities in Australia for composers to hear their works for large forces, as the major orchestras will only perform the occasional locally-crafted work. Tokenism is alive and well. But with the hectic schedules of most orchestras, tokenism also means the lack of rehearsal time given to the presentation of new work. Two calls for a re-visit of a Schubert symphony might be all that is required for musicians fully versed in the style, but little performance time for contemporary orchestral writing might leave the piece half-baked at the time of presentation. This was how the performance was presented of the winning composition – Peter McNamara’s Auftauchen der Nacht .
Try as the concertmaster Jo Beaumont does with reshaping Orchestra Victoria, her colleagues overall still have their pit mentality and look like scared rabbits when they appear on the stage rather than below it. Regrettably, McNamara’s piece was beyond their overall scope. Both the guest conductor and his charges had their heads buried in the score and parts, and the effect was note playing rather than nuance-induced shaping. What the audience received on the night was an overview and as mechanical as an electronic rendition that some composers use as playback in their studios.
It was a pity that the presentation was perfunctory as the score does demonstrate a composer with an impressive ear. McNamara’s springboard is Ligeti’s textualism. With the tempo being relatively constant (well, at least in the performance I heard), the building of contrast, and ultimately momentum, is carried out by the layering of voices. Occasionally, outbursts from various sections of the orchestra – most notably from the brass – give the work periodic climaxes.
The use of quartertones certainly injects the score’s increased vitality. By moving below the semitone the composer explores, to good effect, the sense of sonic unease that this creates, and the series of quartertones wonderfully reinforces the mysterious nocturnal world. Quartertones are not the easiest thing to pull off successfully, but the orchestra, to its credit, did a reasonable job in creating the required atmosphere.
Sydney-based Peter McNamara is a composer with a great future ahead of him. Auftauchen der Nacht has already been issued with the 2004 WSOC 2MBS-FM APRA Encouragement Award, and the 3MBS prize just reinforces the belief that it is a work that demands further hearings. Perhaps the composer should think about offering it to orchestras in Europe where cultural attitudes are more developed in terms of giving new music its rightful due.
© Australian Music Centre (2007) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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Joel Crotty is deputy head, School of Music-Conservatorium, Monash University. His research interests are Australian and Romanian music, and he was on the AMC board between 1997-2003.
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Like it is
Tell it like it is Joel.
My work here may soon be done.
Beam me up.