Send in the Clowns : Brisbane Music Festival, Concert #2
Concert #2 in the inaugral Brisbane Music Festival
Stephen Sondheim (arr. Ethan Iverson) – Send in the Clowns*
Enno Poppe – Thema mit 840 Variationen
Stephen Sondheim (arr. Thomas Newman) – Not While I’m Around*
Stephen Sondheim (arr. Mark Anthony Turnage) – Pretty Women*
Chris Dench – flex for AR
Stephen Sondheim (arr. Duncan Sheik) – Johanna in Space*
Stephen Sondheim (arr. Fred Hersch) – No One is Alone*
George Gershwin (arr. Michael Finnissy) – They’re Writing Songs of Love, But Not For Me*
George Gershwin (arr. Michael Finnissy) – They Can’t Take That Away From Me*
James Ledger - Intended Inventions
(*Australian Premiere Performance)
Please join the artists for a complementary glass of bubbles and sumptious nibbles after the event*
Alex Raineri (artistic director / piano)
Ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous (in however you might interpret that within the context of this program!), this program features re-imaginations of well known tunes by Gershwin and Sondheim, alongside thrillingly virtuosic works by Enno Poppe, Chris Dench and James Ledger.
The featured Stephen Sondheim works hail from the shows Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods and A Little Night Music. These remarkable arrangements for solo piano come from the ‘Liasons’ project curated by pianist Anthony de Mare. In this project 36 of the world’s foremost contemporary composers were invited to re-imagine a selection of beloved musical theatre works by Sondheim, incorporating the originals into a sound-world which is uniquely contemporary.
English composer Michael Finnissy despite his huge output of solo piano music is perhaps best known for his collections of Gershwin arrangements. Here perhaps more obviously than in the Sondheim selections, the original tunes are embedded more intricately into a fabric which treads a fine line between Finnissy’s complexist language and Gershwin’s unbridled sentimentality.
Enno Poppe’s 840 Variations lasts only 7 minutes. The theme is just one bar long, and consist of two intervals: two dyads of seconds. What follows is an extraordinary feat of compositional achievement. This extremely simple ‘theme’ is twisted, turned, and reborn in every conceivable manner. Most striking is the sense of organic development through this work, which is akin to an erratic jazz-inspired improvisation.
Born from the major chamber piece flux (written for Kupka’s Piano in 2016), flex for AR by Chris Dench was derived from flux’s leftover musical material which was then organized into this new work, contributing to the cycle of piano works Heretical Bagatelles. An exercise in colour and virtuosity, flex for AR is a brief but kaleidoscopic addition to the contemporary piano repertoire from one of Australia’s most respected composers.
The concert concludes with the most extended work on the program, Intended Inventions.
James Ledger’s Intended Inventions (2017) is a set of seven short piano pieces, each inspired by real-life inventions that either failed to eventuate, or have yet to be constructed.
1. Floating Cities -The concept behind this movement is ocean colonization. These imagined colonies exist on the ocean floor, float on the surface or exist somewhere in-between. The music here has an infinitely descending quality that ebbs and flows in bell-like, fluid motion for the most part. The music splits in two at the end and descends to the ocean floor.
2. Docking Airships - There is a famous photograph of an airship docking at the top of the Empire State Building. As it turns out, the photograph is a fake, but the idea of docking fare-going passengers at the 102nd floor above the busy streets of New York was apparently seriously considered. The image of those lumbering yet noble vehicles docking to mooring masts atop skyscrapers as wind eddies tussled them around was the inspiration for this movement.
3. God’s Voice Weapon - A weapon that beams voices into people’s heads sounds like science fiction. However, the technology exists. When microwaves are beamed in short pulses, they can trigger the body’s auditory receptors in the same way that normal sound waves do. However, the huge amount of radiation actually ends up melting the brain before anyone actually gets to hear anything (including the voice of god). The music here is frenetic, dissonant and designed to get under your skin.
4. Panacea - is a supposed remedy to cure all diseases and even prolong life. Apparently, with all the advances in genetics, a panacea could exist within our lifetime. My initial reaction to this was “at what cost?”. The music in this movement reflects the potential dire side effects that could come from such a “miracle cure”.
5. Space Elevator - is a proposed structure that extends from Earth way out beyond the atmosphere into space. The structure itself is basically a cable that remains taut due to the rotation of the Earth. Vehicles can climb the cable without the need for rocket propulsion. This movement is built around a repeating sequence of three chords that slowly contract in length. One hand travels cosmically fast, whilst the other is celestially slow. The piece ends with a series of punctuated, rapid-fire bass notes that resonate in the higher frequencies using the technique of silently depressing the keys in the upper register.
6. Rocket Belt - Developed in the fifties, the rocket belt could fly a soldier a disappointingly short 120 meters and had no real way of performing a controlled landing should the rocket engine fail. Additionally, the pilot needed to wear thermal resistant clothing and a crash helmet with hearing protection due to the insanely loud volumes generated by the rocket. This movement was inspired by the less successful flights in which the pilot seems to be performing an awkward and quite precarious dance to get off the ground – not to mention the landing.
7. Hyperloop - is a theoretical low-pressure tunnel that will be able to ferry cargo and passengers over large distances at very high speeds. The system is very efficient due to low friction and wind resistance. There is even a pipe dream to build one between North America and Europe. I imagined my tunnel to be the middle octave of the piano. The movement begins with tapping and after a while, individual notes start to sound before a rapid musical pattern enters. Finally, toward the end, the performer “breaks through” the silent middle octave, allowing the notes to sound and the tunnel is complete.
Featured non-Australian music: Enno Poppe, Sondheim, Gershwin
Featured Australian Works
|flex for AR (solo piano) by Chris Dench|
— performed by Alex Raineri
|Intended Inventions (solo piano) (2017) by James Ledger|
— performed by Alex Raineri
- Performer Alex Raineri
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