Inspiring concert of moving poetry

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Katie Noonan with the ASQ.

Music / “The Glad Tomorrow” Katie Noonan & the Australian String Quartet. At Canberra Theatre Centre, November 9. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY

KNOWN for the extraordinary quality of her voice and her amazing vocal range, Katie Noonan’s abilities as a producer and songwriter were seen in this concert and they are just as impressive. 

On the back of her new album “The Glad Tomorrow”, Noonan and the Australian String Quartet (ASQ) are on a national tour playing and singing out the poetry of First Nations icon Oodgeroo Noonuccal. Noonan commissioned 10 Australian contemporary composers to create a song cycle based on Oodgeroo’s poetry.

This unique combination of Noonan’s voice, the ASQ, the poems of Oodgeroo Noonuccal and 10 Australian composers is a musical creation that portrays the intimacy and power of poetry. And this is not just any poetry. Oodgeroo’s poems have moved and changed generations while giving voice to the struggle for indigenous rights and justice.

Oodgeroo’s great-granddaughter, Kaleenah Edwards spoke each poem in language before the song. Her voice echoed strongly and emotionally with the power of Oodgeroo’s timeless words.

In “The Curlew Cried” composed by Thomas Green; Noonan’s voice, which occasionally steps into operatic territory was the fifth instrument in this concert of unique music. The pieces blended styles of dark and light tones through dynamic rhythmic variations.

The driving forceful music of “Son of Mine” composed by Richard Tognetti, had the ASQ attacking their instruments in dynamic style while Noonan’s vocal acrobatics played out in between. But, in a flash, the music changed to a smooth, yet underneath, an agitated character that showed much instrumental dexterity. It swung and plucked its way to a highly original finish.

Concluding the first half, the “String Quartet” No. 2 in E minor, by Connor D’Netto. This piece left the audience in an agitated and excited state as the fast-paced music swelled to a stirring climax.

Beginning where they left off, with a string quartet, the ASQ performed Peter Sculthorpe “Jabiru Dreaming”. This is a work that sings and sounds of the country near Kakadu in the Northern Territory.

“Tree Grave” by Elena Kats-Chernin was a lyrical, sad song that had some of the most touching music of the night. While at times it drifted off into a cabaret-style, this added to the depth and beauty of the piece.

Another Connor D’Netto work, this one titled “Dawn Wail for the Dead”, sounded like each instrument was talking to one another through to the voice of Noonan. This had an inimitable story to tell, and it did it mysteriously and softly.

Finishing off with “A Song of Hope” by Katie Noonan. This dreamy work, which was enchantingly composed by Noonan, expressed the weight and optimism of Oodgeroo’s words perfectly.

Other composers were, Iain Grandage, William Barton, David Hirschfelder, Robert Davidson and Carl Vine. 

After taking their bows, the group walked off, but the stage remained dark. The audience was about to hear an encore, “Maranoa Lullaby” by Peter Sculthorpe. This short work was based on an Aboriginal melody from the Maranoa district in Queensland. It softly closed the night on this special concert of stimulating music combined with the words from an inspirational woman, Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

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