Review / Exceptional concert from one of the finest composers

Music / “Dombrovskis – Journeys into the Wild”, by Moya Henderson. The Acacia Quartet. At the National Library of Australia, February 28. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY

The Arcacia Quartet performing at the National Library. Photo by Peter Hislop

The Canberra International Music Festival (CIMF) got off to an early start this year with an exceptional concert of music from one of Australia’s finest composers, Moya Henderson at the National Library of Australia (NLA).

As artistic director of the CIMF, Roland Peelman stated in his opening address, some of Henderson’s music had eluded him over the years, but the same could be said for the most of us. Based on what was heard in this concert, we have all been missing out on some fine, exciting and sumptuous sounds from a composer with more diversity and heritage than most others.

In the world premiere of Henderson’s Dombrovskis Quartet, performed by Lisa Stewart, violin; Myee Clohessy, violin; Stefan Duwe, viola and Anna Martin-Scrase on cello, who make up the Acacia Quartet, played with such clarity it was as if they had been playing Henderson’s music for most of their lives.

This quartet was inspired by the photography of Peter Dombrovskis, whose exhibition is in its final days at the NLA. We also heard in this all Henderson concert, three other pieces spanning more than 30 years of this composer’s passionate music.

Composer Moya Henderson at the National Library performance of her work.

The CIMF always offer well-thought-out programming, and to fit within this age of disruption, they split the three movements of the Dombrovskis Quartet between Henderson’s other pieces; it blended surprisingly well.

The first movement of the quartet with its sad and brooding expression spoke about three of Dombrovskis iconic photos, “Morning Mist”, “Rock Island Bend” and “Franklin River”. This evocative music was performed in the library foyer and the reverberation from the ample space was surprisingly clear and focused.

In “Verklärung: Ecstatic Exercises for solo cello”, that reverberation played a substantial part in echoing the warm tone colour of the music and showed off the skills of a highly accomplished composer who knows how to write for the cello. We heard only the first movement of this well titled and intensely lyrical music.

In the second movement of the quartet, the emphasis was on playfulness with some beautiful tonal writing. The intimate and yet complex sounds of a string quartet were given full exposure throughout this movement, which was written after four photos.

Wilderness Pieces” 1988/2013 for violin and piano, played by Stewart and Peelman was in three movements. It was written for student performers, and was full of that lyrical and mellow style of Henderson’s chamber music

The restless final movement of the quartet contained a tribute to the victims of the Orlando nightclub massacre in 2016. This influence showed how composers are shaped by emotional events, and how the actions of humans seep into their music; it was a darker contrast than the first two movements, but a fascinating quartet throughout.

 In “Kudikynah Cave” for string quartet, which was written after what Henderson describes as her most significant adventure of her life, rafting the Franklin River in 1986, this music painted a picture of sunsets, fireflies, caves and a sublime nature. The Acacia Quartet played everything with assurance and vitality; bringing together a small selection of Henderson’s world-class music.


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