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22 May 2009

Sculthorpe concerts at Canberra International Music Festival

'Sun in Me' and 'Rites of Passage' // Canberra, ACT // 07.-08.05.09

Sculthorpe concerts at Canberra International Music Festival
© Canberra International Music Festival

For Peter Sculthorpe, the importance of his connection to an Australian artistic community of visual artists, writers, composers and performers is central. He proclaims that ‘I couldn’t exist as a composer, as an individual, if it weren’t for the communal.’ In the birthday celebrations around Australia, both in concert performances of Sculthorpe’s works and the interviews and works aired on radio, it is clear that his fellow artists also value these artistic bonds highly. The composer is regarded throughout Australia with respect and affection by large audiences and by the performing arts community. Each concert in this birthday year has demonstrated the rich creative partnerships Sculthorpe is part of, and how his energy has fed Australian cultural life.

The concerts 'Sun in Me' and 'Rites of Passage' provided a window for audiences to look back at early musical influences for Sculthorpe, and forward into the potential evolution of his music. There was ample opportunity to reflect on key questions raised by the music: Is it possible to write music with a uniquely Australian voice? Can there be indigenous Australian art music? Does vocal music need to use traditional words and a recognisable text or narrative, or can sounds alone communicate the composer’s intention between performer and audience?

Concert-goers for the 'Sun in Me' evening were able to tour the National Portrait Gallery prior to the performance and view a selection of photographs and paintings documenting Sculthorpe’s life. These included several dramatic black-and-white photographs of the young composer that were evocative of the vigour and connection to landscape, qualities that have remained present in his compositions. The acoustics were good, the performance space intimate and well suited to the program designed to present a portrait in music of Peter Sculthorpe at 80.

How the Stars Were Made for didjeridu and percussion (premiere of this version performed by William Barton and Synergy) acted as an introduction to the evening's music. It created a sound world of vibration, sympathetic resonances blending the Australian Indigenous voice with Balinese scales.

Irkanda IV, arranged for quartet and played by Tinalley String Quartet, was a highlight. Written in memory of Sculthorpe’s father in 1961, the work remains a beautiful evocation of the 'remote and lonely place' created within an individual by grief. The tone of the strings blended into a distinctive textural warmth.

Sonata for Cello and Percussion, played by Gary France and David Pereira, was described by the composer as 'a double set of variations on a somewhat martial figure'. The spacious instrumentation was marked by soaring phrases, reminiscent of Korngold’s violin concerto, and supportive percussion gestures.

The Stars Turn and Sun, a Song Cycle, both for voice and piano and performed by Mina Kanaridas and Alan Hicks, demonstrated an excellent musical partnership. In The Stars Turn, Kanaridas’s controlled, pure voice merged with the piano’s dynamics, caressing the final, sustained syllable, 'Forever'.

Rites of Passage was performed in the newest concert hall in Canberra, the Fitter’s Workshop in Kingston, a converted industrial space with surprisingly good acoustics. An exuberant atmosphere prevailed as the audience received a new version of the work, originally commissioned for the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1974 and not performed since that time. Choristers from several of Canberra’s choirs, Synergy Percussion with Michael Askill, Gary France and Wyana Etherington, and the ANU School of Music Contemporary Music Ensemble combined to present a performance rewarded with a standing ovation. A rather tentative beginning by the choristers warmed up to create ethereal passages where the strings and vocal textures were beautifully interwoven, suggesting ghosts of the past blending with a contemporary vision of the future. While each soloist contributed strong performances, the most memorable contribution was that of Chloe Sinclair of Lyneham High School, whose poise and singing were unforgettable.

With a season of performances, Rites of Passage would develop greater cohesion as each of the contributing musicians would become absorbed into the identity of the work in its new 2009 incarnation. The rawness of the innovations would grow mellower with the increasing confidence of the choristers and instrumentalists. However, as the prolonged applause testified, the Canberra audience was well pleased with the resurrection of Sculthorpe’s monumental work at this special 80th birthday performance.

Event details

'Rites of passage' - AMC Calendar 8 May
'Sun in Me' - AMC Calendar 7 May

Further links

Canberra International Music Festival (http://www.cimf.org.au/)
'Something about Peter' - feature on Resonate


Dr Jennifer Gall is a Research Officer at ANU School of Music. Currently she is working on the Australian Research Council-funded project 'The Role of the Piano in the Development of Australian Culture'.


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know your music festival

Thta was a great article showcasing some of the musical formances that this country lacks in terms to define our national identity. the Rites of Passage were beautiful in their musical flair and ambition to excite.   The rawness of the innovations would grow mellower with the increasing confidence of the choristers and instrumentalists, is exactly right with a nice touch of literary flare. I posted some of my comments and photos up upon www.knowyourmusicalfestival.info where it shows you all you need to know about musical festivals. as a country we really need to show the world that Australia isn't just an obese sporting nation but a nation with creaitivity and brilliance