Canberra International Music Festival / Concert 4, “Harim”. At the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, May 1. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD
THE initial publicity for this concert suggested a link to Islamic Sufi music. Sufis are a meditative sect who use music and dance in various forms to bring themselves to an ecstatic state of worship.
From the Mevlevi – the Whirling Dervishes – of Turkey to the Qawwali singers of Pakistan, Sufi music has a rich and varied place in the Islamic world.
Instead we were presented with music played on handpans and the world premiere on a work commissioned by the festival to showcase the contraforte, an improved version of a bass bassoon.
Handpans are two metal domes around 60cm across which have been fitted together, so they look like a flattened version of a Weber barbecue. Various-sized dimples are beaten into the domes, with each dimple producing a different note. They have been developed in recent years as a more transportable version of Caribbean steel drums and played with techniques adapted from Indian percussionists. The result is a pleasant bonging sound over an octave or so range combined with a percussive slap.
The performer was Baran Yildiz, a Turkish Australia musician who played with fluidity and confidence. He had four of these instruments in a variety of scales and pitches and they are played in an intimate way resting on the player’s thighs. They seem to work best in more rhythmic pieces where the percussive part of the sound underpins the melodies, and at times there seemed to be more going on than two hands could generate.
The second half of the concert was the premiere of “Sentinel”, by Brian Howard, the composer-in-residence at this year’s festival.
As mentioned before. it was written to showcase the sound of the contraforte, a marvellous example of the woodwind builder’s art, which was played delightfully by Noriko Shimada and accompanied by an augmented Ensemble Offspring.
Unfortunately, this is a truly appalling piece of music, devoid of any vestige of humour or humanity. Two extended solo sections for the contraforte were pleasant enough, but the rest was just horrid. The musicians in turn looked puzzled or bemused and the applause at the end was, at best, polite.