Stargazers (Canberra Symphony Orchestra Chamber Ensemble)

In the premiere of their Australian series for 2022, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Chamber Ensemble set off on a musical journey in a concert titled astronomers.

Replacing the orchestra’s conductor Jessica Cottis, who is caught up in travel delays due to COVID-19, Carlo Antonioli, Cybec’s assistant conductor at the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, conducted the CSO Chamber Together.

Flutist Kiri Sollis performing at the Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s Stargazing concert, April 2022. Photo © Martin Ollman.

Opening of the concert with a sparkling interpretation of Richard Meale Coruscations (1971) was Edward Neeman on piano. This piece sparkled and shimmered through sudden choppy notes up and down the keyboard. In between, a group of robust dissonant chords created a vibrant soundscape, and all done without a score.

Neeman is a player with complex and rare abilities. His performance style is unique. It has an elusive sound that brings out the idiomatic piano sound coveted by pianists around the world, and it’s mesmerizing to watch. Under his fingers, this piece sparkled with a thousand lights through a dynamic and fiery performance.

Next was String Quartet No. 2 in E minor (2015) by Connor D’Netto. With a sotto voce start, the string players—Kirsten Williams on violin, Doreen Cumming on violin, Lucy Carrigy-Ryan on viola, and Patrick Suthers on cello—created an ambient space-like sound.

The piece built on slightly dissonant tones, before a repetitive phrase in the viola, while the first violin floated above, with a haunting cello line below. There were rapid changes in expression, but this was due to a theme of air and lightness; like a breath. Sometimes it echoed the sounds of Sculthorpe and Glass, and it was so wonderfully performed.

In the beginning, fun, might just be the best title for a piece of music of all time. Written by composer and ANU School of Music Associate Professor Christopher Sainsbury, this CSO commission came to life in its world premiere.

This chamber piece for string quartet and marimba, in which a symmetry of compositional styles reflects the order, perhaps of the universe, sounded sparse and intentionally spatial. Several themes intertwine in this delicate piece. The first violin offered an innocent melody to pleasure; it contained a bit of everything. The composer, who was there, ran to the front to receive the applause.

by Brenda Gifford Mungala (Clouds) (2018) came next. Mungala is an extraordinarily delicate and captivating work for bass flute, clap sticks and shells in a bag which, when stirred, sound like water flowing over rocks. If there ever was an instrument that best represents floating clouds, it’s the sound of a drifting, airy flute. With Kiri Sollis on flute and Veronica Bailey on percussion, like a call to heaven, the music reached highs and lows.

Solis created the sound of the wind through his flute, while other effects altered the tone of his instrument. The acoustic quality of the National Museum of Australia’s atrium proved useful in echoing the sound of the clap-stick. This kind of music can take the listener to another place, a dream place.

Le compositeur Christopher Sainsbury salue les applaudissements après la première de son œuvre <i>In the beginning, fun</i> in the Canberra Symphony Orchestra Stargazing concert, April 2022. ” width=”2560″ height=”1709″ srcset=” -scaled.jpg 2560w,×200.jpg 300w, /04/Z5R_1912-1024×684.jpg 1024w,×513.jpg 768w, /uploads/2022/04/Z5R_1912-1536×1026.jpg 1536w,×1367.jpg 2048w” sizes=”(max-width: 2560px ) 100vw, 2560px”/></p>
<p id=Composer Christopher Sainsbury acknowledges the applause after the premiere of his work At first fun in the Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s Stargazing concert, April 2022. Photo © Martin Ollman.

For marimba, flute and clarinet, Nardi Simpson’s stars and birds (2020) is a beautifully clear tonal piece, full of play and flutter like the sulphur-crested cockatoo and a wedge-tailed eagle it depicts. But as Simpson says, “It’s really about traditions, birth and death and relationships.” Then, in this story, the birds turn into stars.

With Sollis on flute, Rachel Best Allen on clarinet, and Bailey on percussion, this atmospheric and playful work swayed and chirped, the music demonstrating a great understanding of the capabilities of these instruments. It was a sensual and luminous piece, with sound filling the room.

In another world first and CSO commission, Adelaide composer Jakub Jankowski To the waters above (2022), closed the concert. Prior to leading the ensemble, Antonioli spoke of the need to perform and promote the music of living Australian composers. Not only does this give new composers the chance to work on and develop their music, but it also gives hope to future composers.

Depicting the night sky through music can seem like a challenge for any composer, but Jankowski pulled it off. Through multiple sound effects, players brought this room to life. The mood and effect seemed to be the narrative, much like the night sky itself. Sounds that could have been a star opening were heard, and a rain stick created an earthy effect.

This piece twirled and made an ethereal statement. It ended with each player picking up and twisting a rain stick to slowly and almost silently end this mesmerizing concert.

More information about the Canberra Symphony Orchestra 2022 season can be found at their website.

About Roy B. Westling

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