CIMF review / When quirky meets originality


CONCERT 22 at the CIMF also titled Barbara Blackman’s Festival Blessing saw the pairing of French composer Erik Satie and Komitas Vardapet, Armenian priest and composer; it was a perfect match of quirkiness and originality.

Barbara Blackman was scheduled to be in conversation with Andrew Ford after this concert, but due to ill health, the CIMF composer-in-residence Mary Finsterer replaced Ms Blackman.

With an image of Erik Satie drawn by Pablo Picasso projected on to the large screen in the Fairfax Theatre of the NGA, pianist Keiko Shichijo began to play the first of Satie’s “Gnossiennes”. The ever-wandering sounds of Satie set the tone for a concert of sensitive and unpredictable music.

Much of Satie’s music begins and ends while not in a home key, this adds to the fascination of his eternally mysterious creations. Shichijo is totally in tune with the music of Satie. There are no flashy dynamic movements in Shichijo’s performances; she sits at home and comfortable in Satie’s music. While having sheet music at hand, it is not the focus for Shichijo, this is music she knows and plays so effectively.


Armenian composer and priest Komitas Vardapet is not well known, but the pairing of his music with that of Satie made for a perfect alignment in musical language. Vardapet’s “Six Dances” were written in Paris in 1906; while not in the style of Satie, they retain a musicality that can see the two composers perfectly paired in a concert. These works sound crisp and new today; they bounce around in an unusual style, similar to Satie, but with Vardapet’s unique musical voice.

This music is not what many people might think of as dance inspired, because of their Armenian heritage and the individual characteristics of the composer, but they are full of life and movement. Shichijo clearly knows these pieces, and she created a wonderful rendition of their unique quality.

“Socrate” by Satie is a piece in three movements for voice and piano. The voice was Kate Howden, mezzo-soprano, with Shichijo on piano. This intimate setting was much more lyrical and dramatic than Satie’s “Gnossiennes”, but still with that Satie charm.

The songs spoke from Plato’s Symposium. While they contain words of everyday conversation, there is much tender insight into the workings of people and aspects of how nature is so connected to humans. The songs are like the telling of a tale but without a dramatic narrative.

Howden’s even and mellow voice for this concert fitted the music and the account of this sad tale. This is music that does not bellow out its statement; it is introspective and delicate and it is Plato’s subtle telling of the loss of a friend and fellow philosopher Socrates. The performances of Keiko Shichijo and Kate Howden mirrored one another in style and sensitivity; they created a distinctive partnership.

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