Review / More musical challenges breaking new ground

Music / “Venus and the Arch Twilight”, The Griffyn Ensemble. At  Belconnen Arts Centre, September 2. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE

WELL, here they go again – those Griffyns and their imaginative music in interesting settings, challenging the mind, and breaking new ground.

Such it was in the fifth of the Griffyn Ensemble’s “Six Curious Concerts” series.

The concert title itself was intriguing, but I think I’ve got it sussed. The ensemble played selections from “Northern Lights”, which director, Michael Sollis, composed only a couple of years ago while sojourning in Scandinavia. And through the twilight arch of those musical lights we observed a Canberra sunset and the inevitable appearance of the evening star, linked to extraordinary artworks by Dianne Firth, all inspired by poetry.

Firth’s very engaging textiles exhibition, “Poetry and Place”, is showing currently at the Belconnen Arts Centre and responds to poetry written about Canberra nature and landscapes during last year’s Poetry on the Move Festival.

“Northern Lights” is a very programmatic work of quite a few movements, usually relatively short, and all evoking various aspects of Sollis’ impressions of the Arctic Circle.  For this concert, 10  movements were presented.  Sollis introduced each and linked them to Firth’s art.

The Griffyn Ensemble played these often quite abstract pieces with a strong sense of connection.  Balance between the players was generally excellent although, at times, the harp overpowered the group and Sollis’ little mandolin often was lost in the soundscape.

One of the pieces, “Ephemeral”, imagines the permanent twilight in the Arctic Circle seeming almost to make time itself stand still.  The players brilliantly created a mood that was ethereal, almost mystical, even spiritual, and very moving, to the point where Sollis himself had to wipe away a tear.

Another was “Song of the whale”.  It was easy to imagine a calm, windless ocean, with a slow, gentle swell caressing the horizon.  Underneath, but occasionally breaking the surface without so much as a ripple, is a pod of those majestic, graceful giants of the deep.  Violinist, Chris Stone, emulated their whale songs perfectly.

Sollis’ inspiration for the final piece “Celestial sunlight”, came from his view from his homeward-bound plane.  He hadn’t seen much of the sun during his stay in the north, but as the plane gave him a higher view of the horizon, he saw a glimpse of the sun, whose imposing power took him by surprise.  It certainly inspired him to write a powerful finale to his very impressive work.

The unlikely connections the Griffyn Ensemble made in this program worked perfectly.  Context established and links created, the ensemble led the audience on a very thought-provoking, musically inspiring journey that brought poetry, art and the environment itself to life.

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