THERE was never going to be any mystery about what we’d see in the 2019 Canberra International Music Festival if director Roland Peelman had anything to do with it – it was always going to […]
CONCERTS rarely come as unique as this one. The performers were narrator William Yang, Ensemble Offspring, The Song Company, plus Luminescence Chamber Singers all conducted by Roland Peelman.
Canberra International Music Festival outdid itself with this concert. The inspiration for the 18 works created is the “Harvest of Endurance”. It’s a 50-metre-long scroll of 18 panels, which embodies a visual story of Chinese association and emigration to Australia.
Yang began the concert with a short history of the Chinese in Australia. For each piece that was played, its image on the scroll was shown on a large screen above the players, and the scroll was also on display nearby. Several pieces were instrumental only, some just for voice and others a combination of the two. Yang narrated the story of the scroll between works.
Soon into the concert, the work titled “Anti-Chinese Violence – Lambing Flat Riots”, written by Vincent Plush, another narrator stepped up and gave us a dramatic reading of a text that was about the anti-Chinese sentiment of the time. This theatrical and forceful work included foot stomping, which seemed to indicate the anti-Chinese marching over the Chinese miners.
Ruth Lee Martin, composed her work “A Safe Haven – Isolated and Homesick” after the panel titled “The Return of Cheng Ho Sixth Voyage”. It was a soft, sad song, sung by both groups, to a text by Alan Gould.
“The Rise of Merchants – Market Gardens and Musicians”, by Anne Boyd, was a Chinese-inspired piece full of colour and variation. The concert had to be stopped for a moment after this work due to a medical issue with an audience member.
Next was a percussion driven piece by Erik Griswold, titled “Vendors and Cooks – Laundries and Factories”, based on a traditional Sichuan Street song. Claire Edwards, director of Ensemble Offspring on percussion made this work come alive with her wonderful playing.
During the concert a piece of recorded music was played, a Chinese song of the revolution. It seemed at least one person in the audience knew this song and appeared startled upon hearing it.
Stephen Cronin’s work, “Opium – Revolution in China”, after the panel titled “Opium”, moved the audience with its transcending sound that was created so effectively by the cello and bowed xylophone.
A piece that swayed between a contemporary feel and an African American spiritual song, titled “Developing the North – Riverboat trade”, by Stephen Leek came next. This choral composition was exceptionally beautiful and plaintive.
Gerard Brophy’s work, “Sostenuto”, for violin and piano created a haunting atmosphere with its bell-like tolling on the piano, as the violin slid through the sparse tones left ringing through the air by the echoing piano.
The next piece started with what I thought was our national anthem, and after a few bars, it became more recognisable. It was a playful and creative rendition of “Advance Australia Fair” by Julian Yu, titled “Colombo Pan and Multiculturalism”.
The final work by Caroline Szeto, titled “Maai Maai” after the panel, “Australia’s Bicentenary – Towards the Future” performed by all groups was a strong finish to a diverse and original concert.