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17 June 2022

Sam Allchurch: Innocence and Experience

Sam Allchurch Image: Sam Allchurch  

Memory is one of the fascinating parts of our shared humanity. What and how we remember creates who we are individuals and as a society. Sydney Chamber Choir's upcoming concert, Innocence & Experience, features two pillars of the Choir's identity, Franco-Flemish Renaissance music and contemporary Australian composition. The Australian works have all been commissioned by or written for the Choir. They are in themselves our memories.

One of these memories is in fact about memory: Stephen Adams's 1995 work Memory Pieces which sets Ania Walwicz's stream of consciousness poem. The piece is structured around a child's memory of four places - an obelisk in a park, a bank with granite steps, a doctor's office and a library. The memories are presented in order and then superimposed, before eventually disintegrating. This is a masterwork of choral writing, offering an insight into the mind's ability (and inability) to make sense of our memories.

Another work from the choir's commission list is Flower Songs by Ross Edwards, first performed in 1987. This piece is in two very contrasting parts - the first is a rhythmic tour de force with 16 individual vocal lines, as well as two percussion parts. I first heard this piece in 2018 as part of concert at City Recital Hall celebrating the composer's 75th birthday. I remember admiring Paul Stanhope's conducting of it and thinking that I would like to try my hand at it. Hours of score study later, I think I'm about ready! The second movement is, by contrast, very calm but requires incredible control to sound relaxed and natural. Both movements are based on pattern, and the hypnotic repetition of the second movement in particular allows us to look for patterns in our own memories.

That same concert in 2018 saw the premiere of a powerful work, Let them all come by Josephine Gibson, who also sings soprano in the choir. Possibly for the first time, Josie set text by Guardian cartoonist First Dog on the Moon, raging against Australia's treatment of refugees. This piece made a real impact and needs to be heard again, as we seem to have very short memories when it comes to this topic.

A piece of music is a particularly meaningful way to remember a person. A similarly powerful work from our recent commissioning is Dan Walker's Yúya Karrabúrra. This is the text and story of Alice Eather. Alice's mother was a Gunibidji woman from Maningrida in Arnhem Land and her father was a direct descendant of a convict on the 1788 second fleet. This piece explores a life across worlds that have not historically understood each other very well. At the heart of the piece is a plea to listen, especially to other people's memories.

For this program, it seemed essential to create a new memory with a new piece and so we have commissioned Ella Macens, who has composed When the world closes its eyes. This is a heartfelt work which encourages us to see the good in people and the world, even in difficult times. The piece ends with the Choir humming a main melody, enacting a memory from Latvian culture that is a strong part of Ella's artistic identity: humming a special Latvian folksong was a secret communication for Latvians living under the oppressive regime of an occupier.

Our memories manage both to shape and reflect us and are simultaneously rooted in the past and processed in the present. By performing these works together, we are celebrating our memories and allowing audiences to make new ones.

Sydney Chamber Choir performs two concerts of Innocence & Experience at The Neilson, Walsh Bay on Saturday 25 June at 3pm and 7.30pm.

More info: www.sydneychamberchoir.org


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