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12 June 2009

Kammerklang 2009

Sydney // NSW // 28.05.2009

Kammerklang 2009

Ten compositions (nine premieres) by seven Australian composers were performed in Kammerklang 2009, an eclectic concert which blended music and art. The aim to 'intrigue, tease and confuse the senses' was instantly achieved through the artworks on display in the foyer throughout the evening. Each of these works, covering a variety of mediums, drew upon a composition within the program, either literally or abstractly, as the source of its inspiration.

The Kammerklang orchestra, conducted by Hoshimi Sakai, was joined by Ensemble Offspring’s artistic director and percussionist Claire Edwardes along with soloists Shaun Barlow (flute), Morgan Pearse (baritone), Emma Moore (soprano) and Daniel Luscombe (percussion) to perform in this exciting concert.

The evening opened with Chris Williams’s New Ecstasies for solo percussion, performed by Claire Edwardes. Dramatic and exciting, the work contrasts the rhythmic nature of untuned percussion with the melodious vibraphone. It immediately captured and retained the audience’s attention until the final, suspenseful taps. An honours student at the Sydney Conservatorium, Williams has studied abroad and several of his works have been performed internationally. A second work by him, Amid your candles and lilies, was also premiered in the concert. Written for strings and flute, this soundscape begins calmly, featuring harmonics and whistle tones in the flute, before gradually building in tension to a climax of grunts and screams. The main melodic theme, dubbed the 'moonlight' theme, returns to bring the work to a sombre close.

In a clever manipulation of the title of a Michael Smetanin composition, Amy Bastow’s Minimalism isn’t dead… it’s just sleeping is a full realisation of a composition exercise she completed while in her first year at the Sydney Conservatorium. A recent honours graduate, Bastow masterfully maintained minimalistic simplicity while developing the composition through changes in timbre with synthesised organ, drum kit and guitar sounds and body percussion fused together with the ensemble of piano, vibraphone and marimba.

Third year composition student Jason Pestana also had two premieres in the program. The first, The Beginning of the End for baritone and orchestra, featured lyrics of anxiety and depression taken from American poet W.H Auden’s personal diary. It was a captivating performance by baritone soloist Morgan Pearse, and the accompanying orchestral lines passed seamlessly through the instruments, particularly in the woodwinds. Koniuchy, Pestana’s second premiere, depicts the Lithuanian village Kani kai. For flute, marimba and cello, the work is developed around a set of eight cluster chords, maintaining an ambiguous tonality.

Cameron Lam is an advocate for creating opportunities for new music to be performed. Beyond founding Kammerklang, Lam was also responsible for the revival of the Sydney Eclectic Composers Society in 2007. Nyx is the first musical realisation of an ancient Greek text from the Orphic Hymns, a set of 87 hymns each depicting a different god or goddess. Lam encapsulates Nyx, the oldest god and goddess of night, through the passionate blend of soprano and baritone voices. Also, the combination of the baritone and the flute towards the end of work uniquely conjures the imagery of a voice from the past. The Colour of Woods, written by Lam for Edwardes, cleverly contrasts the different wooden timbres in the extreme registers of the marimba as well as the sound of the temple blocks. The whole performance, not just the notes on the page, is considered by Lam to be the composition, and Edwardes did not disappoint creating an engaging and exciting performance.

Sydney Conservatorium Master's student Peggy Polias’s composition The Moon is based on the cyclic phases of the moon and was joint winner of the University of Sydney’s 2007 Women’s Composer Award of the Fellowship of Australian Composers. Written for orchestra, the music immersed the audience in the darkness of the night sky. Unaccompanied solos were engaging and the serenity of the orchestral sounds captivated the audience's unwavering attention.

The inclusion of Stuart Greenbaum’s Chamber Concerto seems unusual for a concert with a program consisting mainly of premieres by university students and recent graduates. A senior lecturer and Head of Composition in the music faculty at the University of Melbourne, his work was commissioned for the Sydney Omega Ensemble in 2008. Performed here by Shaun Barlow and Daniel Luscombe, the first movement contrasts the solo piccolo and vibraphone, whose lines artistically intertwine, with the rest of the orchestra. The second movement features the alto flute and is strongly reminiscent of the oriental jazz sounds of performers such as Don Burrows. Barlow effortlessly performed the changes between flute, alto flute and piccolo, and, together with Luscombe, performed with virtuosity and vibrancy.

The myth of the river Styx as the division between the real world and the underworld formed the basis of Peter McNamara’s composition The Styx. McNamara’s works have been performed both in Australia, by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and ensembles such as Ensemble Offspring, and overseas in Lithuania and Amsterdam. The composition began with the alternation of two notes, though each instrument played at a different speed, creating a background wash over which the solo percussionist, Edwardes, was able to demonstrate her natural musicality through a captivating performance.

Event details

Kammerklang 2009
28 May 2009
Music Workshop, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, NSW
Works by Chris Williams, Amy Bastow, Jason Pestana, Stuart Greenbaum, Cameron Lam, Peggy Polias and Peter McNamara

Further links

Claire Edwardes: Coming a full circle - an interview on Resonate



Kimberley Pearson is currently studying musicology at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. In her honours year, she is exploring the role of classical music in 21st-century Australian culture through the employment of classical music in commercial advertising.


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