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Review: The Song Company Modern Art Series #1 10 September 1996

  • David Gyger
  • Source: Opera Australasia October 1996

Ever innovative in its performing activities, the Song Company inaugurated
a two-part Modern Art Series at the Sherman Galleries in Sydney's inner-suburban
Paddington on Tuesday, September 10.

This was an impeccably chosen and exhilaratingly executed early evening concert
featuring three works of our time.

Roughly reflecting the origins of its artistic director, Roland Peelman, and the
singing roster of the Song Company, the program was one-third European and two thirds
Australian, the Australian première of Chimères by the important Dutch composer Ton
de Leeuw, born in 1926, sharing the limelight with the world première of
Songs with a Few Words by Andrée Greenwell and Andrew Schultz's Ekstatis of

From a narrowly chauvinistic operatic point of view, both of these home-grown
works have particular resonances in view of Greenwell's Sweet Death and Schultz's
Black River, two important outcrops of our serious music theatre scene in recent years.

All three works were stimulating and impeccably performed, registering quite
overwhelming impact in the ultra-resonant acoustic ambience of a venue whose design
could almost have been conceived with such music-making in view.
Such venues welcome chamber music with open arms, enabling one to savor
the full impact of voices and/ or instruments at point blank range,

The down side is that they are almost without exception tiny and off the beaten track,
and ill equipped with the creature comforts concert-goers have come to expect in recent

This event, though, was a wondrous exception which could almost have been calculated
to prove that rule: for the ambience was as gracious as could be, with wine and
canapes even served in situ to those who felt unwilling during the brief interval to prowl
and forage for themselves lest they lose possession of a prized seat.

The music, though: that's what such events ought and must be all about and no one
who turned up could have been disappointed in that quarter either.

In Chimeres, Ton de Leeuw sets a three-part French text by Gérard de Nerval, sonnets
addressed in turn to three larger-than life females - Myrtho, Dafne and Lanassa- using
mildly provocative, off the beaten track, but not quite confrontational musical structures
which seemed absolutely at home in the accommodating ambience of this venue,

Greenwell's piece, in eight brief sections, proved to be highly dramatic for its
splendid internal contrasts: its opening gambit, for instance, entitled Love Note #1
consisting of mayhem with yelps; followed by Viewing, a slow, heavy ostinato with lyrical
overlays; and Do You Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve?,a rather boppy, gospel-groovy segment
with a quick fadeout; and Obituary, a unison lament: followed by a soprano and a gentle
ensemble reminiscence,

And so it went on, via: Love Note #2, brief and zippy and dissonant; and Plait, a cri
de collective coeur; and The Contents of My Lipstick, where vaguely comprehensible
phrases were forged into a kind of bouncily energetic whole; to its final segment,
After Arvo, whose pseudo-religious ambience evoked resonances of Arvo Part as was
obviously intended.

Cumulatively, Songs with a Few Words was a wonderful, thoroughly entertaining,
manifestation of the What Next? syndrome.
Schultz' Ekstasis of 1990, a setting of eight lines from the conclusion of the "Song of
", explores, in the words of the composer,"the sensual territory at the border
of love and pain, obsessive lust and spiritual transcendence."

In less than l0 minutes, it manages an almost hysterical build-up of scarcely
comprehensible  fragments of text giving the impression of six hearts in full cry -
an overpoweringly proximate image in such an intimate venue, and a quite memorable climax
to an astonishing, if brief, musical event.