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8 August 2013

Kingfisher - songs for Halcyon

Kingfisher - songs for Halcyon

It's a tough gig, new music, so it seems oddly important to celebrate occasions like a landmark birthday. Now 15 years old, Halcyon is in good health, engaging regularly with Australia's new music community of players, composers and listeners, and celebrating with its own live Sydney performances on 7 September and 23 October. This year we've actually had a few months of down time where we've been able to reflect on the journey, which is a great way of getting some perspective on it all. And it appears we've done ok, at least according to the stats, with 60 Australian works, more than 110 international works, over 20 commissions, 35 world premieres and at least 40 Australian premieres to date.

Now rested and ready for a bold new challenge, we've asked 23 composers to write 23 new chamber songs for Halcyon. 'Kingfisher' ('halcyon' is the genus name for this dashing little bird) is already proving to be an immensely satisfying venture, though rehearsals are still three months away. The first songs have trickled in, each one a unique instalment in what promises to be the best birthday present ever!

Reconnecting with composers we have known and loved is replete with special moments, whether via email, hand-written letter, text or over a coffee. Seeing the words, 'I would love to write something for you guys' or 'I'm incredibly busy but I'm sure I can knock something out!' or 'Here's the song, I hope you like it', I'm mindful of the endearing nature of such written phrases over fleeting spoken conversation. And it's amusing to think that when Halcyon was dreamed into being 15 years ago, we knew a small handful of Australian composers, but not many to actually talk to; we knew some from university connections as teachers and fellow students, but mostly admired them from a distance.

The first composer we plucked up the courage to approach was an accomplished singer herself, Claire Jordan, who wrote us a most beautiful song cycle. 15 years on, and surrounded by many cherished composer colleagues, we remain deeply committed to expanding the existing repertoire for voice and chamber ensemble and performing it for our equally committed audiences.

The brief we presented to the composers at the start of this year was to write a chamber song for voice/s and instruments, duration strictly less than four minutes. The theme for the project, we said, was simply 'halcyon' and they could explore one of the following ideas derived from the word/legend of 'halcyon': the legendary bird that calms the stormy waters; the Australian kingfisher who dives fearlessly into the waters; tranquility; the ocean and its moods; the rich blues and greens of the ocean or the kingfisher; two female singers you know who perform and direct together; an ensemble that explores new and rarely heard music. We finished by gently impressing on them that literal uses of the word 'halcyon' was not compulsory - we didn't want to end up with 23 songs containing the word halcyon!

For Kingfisher, Halcyon has commissioned songs by artists we have chosen for their particular talent in writing for the voice and to acknowledge their important contribution to Australian vocal repertoire to date. In just a single year, the fruits of Kingfisher will significantly expand the existing Australian repertoire available for singer and small ensemble. Ensembles worldwide will find this repertoire both attractive and accessible for several reasons: the songs are for a small group and thus easy to insert into a program and not too costly to perform, and several could be performed in a thematic bracket. And of course, the songs form a superb collection of works by some of Australia's finest composers.

Thanks to the Australian Music Centre, who are supporting this project, and where scores and recordings will be housed, everyone will have easy access to this new collection of resources. We'll produce a CD to complete the resources in 2014.

A fine excuse for a party, the Kingfisher project will feature a gala event at the Sculpture Café, The Museum of Contemporary Art on Wednesday evening, 23 October, plus further concert events in early 2014. More detail will be added to the AMC Calendar and on Halcyon's website.

The 23 composers of the Kingfisher project are: Katy Abbott, Stephen Adams, Gerard Brophy, Nigel Butterley, Sharon Calcraft, Ross Edwards, Andrew Ford, Stuart Greenbaum, Elliott Gyger, Graham Hair, Moya Henderson, Gordon Kerry, Raffaele Marcellino, Kevin March, Ruth Lee Martin, Rosalind Page, John Peterson, Andrew Schultz, Paul Stanhope, Jane Stanley, Nicholas Vines, Dan Walker and Gillian Whitehead.

Further links

AMC Calendar - event details
Halcyon website
(www.halcyon.org.au) - including an interesting history section

Subjects discussed by this article:

Soprano Alison Morgan is one of Australia's foremost interpreters of contemporary vocal music. In a career spanning twenty-five years she has performed as a soloist with many national ensembles, at numerous festivals and industry events and is co-founder of vocal chamber ensemble Halcyon, which she co-directs with mezzo-soprano Jenny Duck-Chong. This year, the ensemble celebrates 15 years with Kingfisher, their most ambitious commissioning project to date.


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