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THE Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s collaboration with National Portrait Gallery kicked off in fine style last night in Gordon Darling Hall, a space which was judged by both curator Matthew Hindson and the instrumentalists, Melbourne quintet Arcadia Winds, to be close to perfect.It was, we heard in an evening almost as full of talk as music, an innovative concept, combining visual art and music. Those in attendance who had not already seen the NPG’s “The Popular Pet Show” exhibition based around companion animals, (a surprisingly large proportion of the audience) were treated to a free viewing of the show after the concert.
If you thought about it, NPG director Angus Trumble told the audience, there was much in common between the visual arts and film music. But it was of course music we had come to enjoy, with five young musicians from Melbourne bringing their instruments from the usual back of the orchestra right close to listeners.
First up was a lively 4.5 minute piece by Hindson himself, “Light Music”, Movement 1, “Strobe”. Taken from a larger work for woodwind quintet, it is “light” in two senses, one in the mischievous tone of the work as he plays around with octaves and the other because Hindson is exploring the way light is used in our society.
This was followed by Paul Stanhope’s “Dawn Interlude”, a sorrowful and melancholy piece performed with quiet authority from behind-the-scenes by Rachel Shaw.
Well-fitting Hindson’s intention of exposing our music-lovers to the varied new Australian music available for performance – he estimated that we have hundreds of active composers – the quintet performed the pictorial work “To Ash From Embers” commissioned from 19-year-old composer Gabrielle Vici by Musica Viva. Vici’s pictorial work seemed to conjure more the liveliness of flames, smoke and sparks than the finality of ash and was suited to the energetic style of the quintet.
The centrepiece of the evening was “Animalia”, the work commissioned for this series from ANU composition lecturer Natalie Williams in response to the gallery’s “Popular Pet Show”, based on a visit to the exhibition last December.
Consisting of four movements based on works by Kristin Headlam and the Culliton sisters Lucy and Anna, it variously conjured up the poignancy of parting with one’s companion pet in the morning, the “wayward waltz” that one sees in dogs around dinner-time, five sheep characters portrayed by Lucy Culliton matching the “five sheepish faces” of the quintet players, who showed all signs enjoying being sheepish, and the athleticism of a circus dog. It was a pity that none of the artists was present to respond to this expressive and amusing work.
Very different in tone was Paul Dean’s “Jasper and Charlie”, his musical take on the opening section of Craig Silvey’s novel “Jasper Jones”, now the subject of a movie directed by Rachel Perkins. Dean, a distinguished woodwind player himself, had been a mentor to all the members of the quintet at the Australian National Academy of Music where they met, and his sensitivity to the needs of wind instrumentalists was to the fore, but most notably in the scope he offered bassoon player Matthew Kneale. This violent, challenging work was in marked contrast to everything else on the program.
The evening concluded with “Echoes and Lines”, a new work by Lachlan Skipworth that, having been premiered at the Perth Festival on February 18, just missed out on joining Williams’s composition as a world premiere. It had, we heard, been described by the composer as being about echoes and lines, a truth which reverberated around the Gordon Darling Hall in a triumphant conclusion to an evening of Australian music.