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Desert Sea : SATB choir and percussion

by Luke Byrne (2015)

Work Overview

Original program note from "To Be Sung on Water" concert for which Desert Sea was commissioned by Sydney Philharmonia Choirs:

I have always been fascinated by Lake Eyre, the "great lake" of Australia that is (mostly) completely dry. It occupies a unique place in our cultural geography and imagination, and before the discovery of Uluru it was the symbolic centre of our continent, the "dead heart". In the last few years Lake Eyre has been in flood and yielded almost hallucinatory photos, but I wanted to capture both of its characters. One day, hopefully soon, I'll actually get there.

A huge influence on this work was the award-winning photography of Peter Elfes, who I serendipitously met in the Royal Botanic Gardens at the time Desert Sea was premiered nearby at the Sydney Opera House. The language of explorers like Charles Sturt and writers like DH Lawrence have found their way into the text of this piece, but it was these unearthly, almost unbelievable photos that lent the music its character.

Work Details

Year: 2015

Instrumentation: SATB choir (with divisi), percussion (1 player: frame or ocean drum with timpani mallets).

Duration: 6 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Commission note: Commissioned by Sydney Philharmonia Choirs.. Commissioned for the "to be sung on water" concert program with SPC Chamber Singers.

First performance: by Sydney Philharmonia Chamber Singers, Brett Weymark, Luke Byrne at To be sung on water (Sydney Opera House, Utzon Room) on 21 Nov 2015

The composer notes:
When composing a piece about water to fit in a program of Northern Hemisphere lakes, seas and rivers, I consciously chose a musical language of spare harmony and texture to reflect Australian's very different relationship to water than our ancestors from various wetter parts of the world, from Scotland to Vietnam.

The composer notes the following styles, genres, influences, etc associated with this work:
Every piece I have composed that relates to the sea or ocean has been influenced by Debussy's "La Mer", particularly the first movement.


Desert Sea

Performances of this work

1 Feb 2020: at Choral Concert: Balsis (Latvia) + VOX + Inner West Voices (St Stephen's Church, Newtown). Featuring Balsis Youth Choir, Inner West Voices, Vox, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs.

13 Nov 2016: at Petra: Synergy and Vox (Riverside Theatres, Parramatta). Featuring Vox, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Synergy Percussion, Elizabeth Scott.

11 Nov 2016: at Petra: Synergy and Vox (The Independent Theatre). Featuring Vox, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Synergy Percussion, Elizabeth Scott.

21 Nov 2015: at To be sung on water (Sydney Opera House, Utzon Room). Featuring Luke Byrne, Brett Weymark, Sydney Philharmonia Chamber Singers.

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