‘Imaginative, thoughtful’ concert evokes Hanging Rock

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IF you saw Peter Weir’s 1976 mystery drama film, “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, or read Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel of the same name, from which the film was adapted, the world premiere performance of Michael Sollis’ composition “Hanging Rock Cello Sonata” would have taken you straight back there as if it were yesterday.

Composer Michael Sollis
Composer Michael Sollis
Sollis’ 4-movement piece, written in early morning hours during 2011, is as scary and mysterious as the story. It is full of violence intertwined with a certain false sense of security. It creates a feeling of uncertainty, wondering perhaps if the picnickers were transported off to some far galaxy or if it was a time warp or just a bad dream. It is a quite confronting work that captures the listener into an inescapable expectation that the unexpected will be upon them without them even realising it.

The concert did not feature the Griffyns themselves, but special guest artists Ashley Hribar (piano) and Rachel Johnston (cello) and was themed on the Tom Roberts blockbuster exhibition currently showing at the NGA.

The program comprised five works, including Sollis’ piece, with special interludes between each. The interludes, written and played by the musicians, created beautifully themed accompaniment to projected images of Roberts paintings along with poetry and silent movie footage from the early 20th century. The films centred on a railway line disappearing behind a train, taking us on a journey from Melbourne streets, through the countryside and, finally, to quintessentially Australian rural settings.

The thoughtful programming of the featured works began with Peter Sculthorpe’s “Tailitnama Song”, evoking indigenous themes of animals and landscape.

Little known or appreciated composer, Roy Agnew, came next with his “Sonata Legend: Capricornia”, played just on the piano. Hribar acquitted the demands of this piece with very assured playing and expression fully laden with emotion. Even so, I thought his playing technique in this piece and throughout the concert a little stiff. A tad more fluidity would add an extra dimension to what otherwise was a very fine performance from this talented pianist.

After Sollis’ piece and an interlude came another Sculthorpe work, “Djilile”, which featured a beautiful cello line, which Johnston played superbly, as she did throughout the entire concert.

Another interlude and then “Poem II” by Canberra musician, Sally Greenaway. This perhaps was the most melodic on the program and is the middle piece in a set of three. It’s as beautiful as it is simple, but chock full of emotion and expression. It was a fitting end to an imaginative, thoughtful concert that engaged the audience on many levels.

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