Music / “Nineteen to the Dozen”, The Song Company. Wesley Uniting Church, Manuka. October 25. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY
THE current Australian compositional landscape is filled with innovative and expressive composers. For this series of eight concerts, The Song Company commissioned 19 composers from across Australia to voice their talents.
The performers in “Nineteen to the Dozen” were, Anna Sandström, Amy Moore, Stephanie Dillon, Jessica O’Donoghue, Dan Walker, Koen van Stade, Hayden Barrington, Thomas Flint and conducting the artistic director Antony Pitts.
The challenge for the composers was ”to fill a segment of time with sounds that draw on the rich heritage of The Song Company’s first 35 years and look forward to the countless possibilities of the human voice – using the 163 symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet and beyond”. This concert also included songs from across history.
The composers were, Alice Chance, Aristea Mellos, Bernie Van Tiel & Rex Le, Chris Williams, Colin Black, Dan Walker, Elizabeth Sheppard, Felicity Wilcox, Gordon Hamilton, Josephine Gibson, Lyle Chan, Matthew Hindson, Naomi Crellin, Natalie Maschmeyer, Owen Elsley, Sally Whitwell, Sarah Elise Thompson, Sonya Holowell, and Stephen Adams. Plus, Kassiani, Anonymous, Guido d’Arezzo, Hildegard of Bingen, Adam de la Halle, Guillaume de Machaut, John Dunstaple, William Byrd, Henry Purcell, JS Bach, Anton Bruckner, and Igor Stravinsky.
It began with the singers shushing the audience in a theatrical performance while walking around the nave as though they were ushering in something special; they were. Back on stage, the singers began their song and sound making. Then, from up in the choir stalls, soprano Anna Sandström sang out a tender solo melody.
As they performed pieces, the emphasis was not just on effect, but also on intricate sounds. At times, the singers who placed themselves around the church created a surround sound spatial effect. Pitts, sometimes conducted and other times the singers led themselves, which added character to this unique performance.
Throughout the wordless contemporary pieces, they performed distinctive vocal effects through solos, duos, and quartets, all in a wide range of dynamic vocal colours. The blending of ancient songs and contemporary pieces worked seamlessly. The styles, while different, the tones, the subtleties and the quality of the singing shone through in every work.
Then there was the volume. Eight singers of this quality can range from a booming sound to the softest syllable hushed sotto voce, and they did. In one piece there was Beatboxing and body slapping. In others, there was whistling, vocal percussion, mouth clicking, clapping and various other sound effects. This all added to the diversity and fusing of styles through the songs.
Some pieces were so intricately crafted that with all the sounds, movements and effects, it seemed like there were more than just eight singers performing. A few songs were quite hilarious and produced great comical effect. The Song Company never fails to entertain. But this time, they did much more, they enchanted. This was a concert of much more than beautiful singing. It was a show that proved Australia is lucky to have such an exceptional vocal group.