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11 June 2014

The beauty of melody in Australian art song

Zenith: Rhodri Clarke and Michael Lampard Image: Zenith: Rhodri Clarke and Michael Lampard  

Baritone Michael Lampard writes about the repertoire he has chosen for his forthcoming concert of new Australian art song - works by composers Calvin Bowman, Matthew Dewey, Andrew Ford, Graeme Koehne and Richard Mills. The concert by Zenith - a duo consisting of Lampard and pianist Rhodri Clarke - takes place at the Melbourne Recital Centre on 24 June.

There is such a strong legacy of song composition in Australia. Margaret Sutherland, Dorian Le Gallienne, Raymond Hanson and many more prepared the way for the current crop of composers who, in their own voice and style, are writing songs and song cycles that are helping show the world the Australian voice and gift of melody.

Later this month Zenith (my duo with pianist Rhodri Clarke) presents a recital featuring the music of five living Australian composers: Calvin Bowman, Matthew Dewey, Richard Mills, Graeme Koehne and Andrew Ford. I wanted to perform music that moved and said something to me; I also wanted to select music that showed established composers and those who are now starting to put their footprint on the industry. I consider the performance of Australian music of the highest importance.

One of the major works is Matthew Dewey's Four Shakespeare Songs that I premiered in Hobart in February 2013. Matthew Dewey and I studied together at the University of Tasmania and have collaborated on many projects over the last 10 years. It is fair to say that his knowledge of my voice has developed along with my own understanding of it. Matthew's music has a strong melodic sense that infuses drama and emotional subtly with great beauty and individuality.

The other major work on the program is Graeme Koehne's Three Poems of Byron. Graeme's wonderfully accessible music is driven by clear harmonic impetus and this really brings Byron's sensual and moving poetry to the fore. I have admired these songs for many years and performed them during my student days in Tasmania; I couldn't resist the opportunity to sing them again a few years on with my gained knowledge and focus, and also with such a perfect collaborator as Rhodri.

I have been familiar with Richard Mills's vocal writing through his operas Batavia and Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, but I have enjoyed the challenge of getting to know it in a more intimate way through the excerpts I am performing from his recent song cycle Songlines of the Heart's Desire.

There is such variety on this program, from the sublime settings of Calvin Bowman to Andrew Ford's joyously ridiculous Edward Lear songs, Nonsense. It is music that is on one hand rooted in tradition and, on the other, fresh and exciting. I could have programmed this recital ten times over from the Australian songs that I love - and then, of course, there is the wonderful repertoire I am yet to explore.

It seems rare to perform an entire recital of just Australian song, but why? It is not rare to perform all-English art song or German lied concerts - this is our country's voice, and something we should be proud of as Australian artists. There is more coming too; I am programming music by John Haddock and Don Kay in future recitals and also looking back to those composers mentioned earlier, Sutherland, Le Gallienne and Hanson, to explore this rich heritage that today's composers have embraced.

AMC resources

Event details 24 June (AMC Calendar)

Subjects discussed by this article:

Michael Lampard and pianist Rhodri Clarke collaborate as the ensemble Zenith.


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