Music Festival: Warm timbres in Arboretum concert

Canberra International Music Festival “Sounding the Arboretum” At the National Arboretum, May 13. Reviewed by Judith Crispin

 

Cellist David Pereira performs at the Arboretum. Photo by Judith Crispin

Cellist David Pereira performs at the Arboretum. Photo by Judith Crispin

AN enthusiastic audience braved yesterday’s cold and rain to attend a “wood-themed” concert at the stunning new Arboretum.

Huddled on the windy deck, we were treated to panoramic views over the lake and forests while the architects of these extraordinary buildings spoke about the project that had brought them into the company of arborists.

As David Pereira played Terry Riley’s “Dorian Strings” in front of floor-to-ceiling glass, the audience was led over the grass to the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion, the elegant, shell-like structure rising above Tuggeranong Parkway.

Inside, Timothy Constable performed music from Bach’s “Partita in E Major for violin”, transcribed for xylophone – a confident performance characterised by plenty of rubato.

Back in the main building, with heavy rain competing for attention, the concert continued with Alan Vivien’s majestic performance of Stravinsky’s “Three Pieces for Clarinet”.

Negotiating difficult additive rhythms and sharply contrasted dynamics, Vivien maintained a song-like legato and admirable agility in the clarion register.

His performance was followed by a talk by local violin-maker Hugh Withycombe, who explained the importance of wood choice upon musical timbre and proposed that the Arboretum plant a Pernambuco forest, the wood used to make violin bows.  This seems a sensible suggestion!

Other notable performances were given by the highly virtuosic Ji Won Kim (playing Milstein’s Paganini transcription) and Canberra’s favourite percussionist Gary France with DRUMatix. Performing two versions of Cage’s “Amores 3”, the first on traditional Japanese ebony wood-blocks and the second on marine ply log-drums, France and company effectively demonstrated the influence of wood on instrumental sonorities.

Watching these young percussionists become animated by the joy of playing was an infectious experience, in stark contrast to the bluster and grey just outside those magnificent windows. Their version of Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood” had the audience tapping their feet along with the players.

It should surprise no-one that the most breathtaking performances of the concert were delivered by the poetic David Pereira. Playing his own composition, “Black Mountain Views”, for solo cello, Pereira balanced his signature legato with tasteful sul ponticello and the occasional left handed pizzicato. His rendition of Carl Vine’s “Inner World”, for cello and CD generated audible gasps from the audience. Moving from impossibly virtuosic double and triple stops to elegant Erhu-like tones, senza vibrato, Pereira effortlessly navigated the labyrinth of an avant garde work made even more complex by electroacoustics.

It was a brave and impressive end to a very pleasant afternoon in the capital’s new Arboretum. Whoever came up with the idea of combining beautiful music with beautiful architecture during the Canberra International Music Festival should be commended – it was a great success and I hope to see more concerts like this in future.

Judith Crispin is a composer, writer, photographer and director of Manning Clark House

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