Review / Poor focus cruels Griffyn’s curious concert

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The Griffyn Ensemble, Kiri Sollis, flutes, Holly Downes, double bass, Michael Sollis, director and mandolin, Chris Stone, violin, Laura Tanata, harp, Susan Ellis, soprano. RT Photos.

THIS was the first of six different concerts the Griffyn Ensemble has scheduled over five days in four different venues whose main use is as art galleries.

It is an adventurous concept with a totally different program for each concert, but this concert suffered from a lack of focus in the programming.

The concert was themed around “Alice in Wonderland”, with much of the musical content linked by short readings from the classic children’s story. The music itself was an odd mix of modern art music, a couple of re-purposed nursery rhymes and a couple of pop songs along with a vaudeville element. It was hard to know who the concert was aimed at. Some of it seemed to be for children, while other works were much more for an adult audience.

The program included two longer works, “White Knight and Beaver” by Martin Wesley Smith and “Garden Songs” by the Chilean composer Juan Orrego Salas. These are both angular, modern pieces of music, 10 minutes or more long and without any real attractiveness in melody or rhythm. The Wesley-Smith work was bracketed by two more of his “Alice in Wonderland”-inspired pieces and Salas’ “Garden Songs” was placed next to (Griffin Ensemble artistic director) Michael Sollis’ clever “Song of Trees”.

The Griffyn Ensemble performed with its usual skill, verve and theatricality, with most of the musical heavy lifting left to bassist Holly Downes and flautist Kiri Sollis. They were joined for much of the concert by soprano Susan Ellis and guest counter-tenor Tobias Cole with some added colour from ANU Chamber Singers. The vocal work was well done, but the Chamber Singers could not quite find a calypso groove for a 1950s Harry Belafonte/Kingston Trio hit called “Zombie Jamboree”. It was hard to work out why that song was included in the program, but much of the programming for this concert was similarly confusing. Interesting and unexpected programming have long been a strong point of the Griffyn repertoire. Hopefully this was just an one-off miss.

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