“I invite you to love it,” violinist Christopher Latham said as he explained the mathematical and the Masonic symbolism of the building, replete with variations on the numbers three and seven.
Architect Rosemary Willett invited us to love it, too. An expert on the work of Murdoch, who first came to Canberra in 1983 to work on new Parliament House with Mitchell, Giurgola and Thorpe, she explained how she and Latham shared a curious fascination with the intersection of mathematics and music.
Willett did not confine herself to Murdoch’s Canberra creations, which include old Parliament House, the Kingston Power Station (now the Glassworks), the Fitters’ Workshop, the Hotel Canberra (Hyatt), Hotel Kurrajong and Gorman House, and introduced the audience via a slideshow to his major public works in Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne and even Point Cook.
In some ways, it was more like a happening than a conventional recital, with the entire heritage-listed space lit in exotic colours by festival committee member Peter Trick and odorised with fragrances ranging from patchouli to jasmine to set the mood. Latham saved the most expensive perfume for the finale – a tiny bottle of “Rose Absolute” oil that had cost him $50.
As the evening progressed, the foreboding spaces of the building ceased to conjure up stern schoolteachers with canes and took on a romantic look as we progressed, for different repertoire items, through the red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue and purple classrooms, miraculously transformed into workable concert spaces, each with a fabulous view to the outside.
At one point Latham, flooded in pink, told onlookers that this colour was known to be a symbol for the Sacred Heart — more love.
But we were not distracted from our main prupose and the music was superb, featuring the talents of Latham on violin, Irish pianist Elaine Brennan Loebenstein, as well as two young luminaries – Canberra-born classical guitarist, Callum Henshaw, who recently won first prize in the IX Concurso Internacional de Guitarra Festival de Córdoba, Spain, and pianist Adam Cook, who has just won a $25,000 share in the 2012 Michael Kieran Harvey Scholarship.I caught up with Cook lurking in the lime-yellow flooded corridor, who told me he was excited to be heading to France as part of his studies and that he soon intended to audition for the Australian National Academy of Music in Melbourne.
In an evening of rare treats, some moments stand out: Cork’s fiery rendition of Bela Bartok’s “Allegro Barbara”; Henshaw’s rendition of a JS Bach solo guitar piece, Latham and Loebenstein in the last movement of Cesar Franck’s violin sonata, Cook and Loebenstein on duo pianos performing Arvo Paert’s “Hymn to a Great City”, which Latham hinted would surface again in the International Music Festival which he directs.
Without doubt the most unusual repertoire item, performed by all four musicians, was a new work by Adam Cook, “12″, played on custom-made microtonal instruments left behind from the music festival by composer Jonathan Mills.
This extraordinary feast of sound, sight and smell combined to form a unique tribute to a building we all drive past every day. Latham’s impassioned plea to undo some thoughtless renovations of yesteryear to return it to its original beauty fell on receptive ears and hearts.
How unfortunate it was, then, that a lobbyist for the “multi” (for which read musical) use of the Fitters” Workshop chose to introduce politics, with an unscheduled appeal to attend a forthcoming protest concert. Presumably she hoped we would extrapolate from the present musical use of one J S Murdoch building to the future use of another.