Review: Magical music amid the stars

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“Southern Sky”
Composed by Urmas Sisask, arranged by Michael Sollis, for the Griffyn Ensemble, at Mt Stromlo Observatory, March 31.

One hundred and sixty lucky Canberrans crammed into the ruins of Mt Stromlo Observatory for a unique performance.

There was more than a bit of serendipity in the fact that the eccentric Estonian composer and amateur astronomer, Urmas Sisask, had visited Mt Stromlo about 15 years ago and on that basis wrote the second of his “Starry Sky” piano cycles.

By chance, the Australian astronomer Fred Watson and the director of the Griffyn ensemble, Michael Sollis, met Sisask in Estonia last year and a collaboration followed.

This was a ravishing night under the stars, with Watson offering an erudite yet entertaining account of the constellations, many barely visible to the naked eye. The circular ruins of the observatory made a fine amphitheatre for Sisask’s music, completely rearranged by Sollis for flute, clarinet, horn, percussion, harp, soprano, guitar and mandolin.

This accessible music, which began with a magpie-like flute, followed unfamiliar constellations – the delicate winglike sounds of “Musca – liberation”, the constellation named after the fly, the quivering sounds of “Circinus Brownian Movement” and “Reticulum – Eternity – Fading into Eternity”, where percussionist Wyuna O’Keeffe and soprano Susan Ellis evoked the sense of the rapidly-expanding universe in sounds almost too subtle to hear.

Ninety minutes of magical music and astronomy passed in a nanosecond. Where else but in Canberra could this have happened?

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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