Music contemplates our land and sky

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Deborah Cheetham. Photo: Martin Ollman.

Music / “Sharing the Sky”, Canberra Symphony Orchestra, 2021 Australian Series. April 8. National Museum of Australia. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

CONDUCTOR Jessica Cottis led the first Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Australian Series for 2021 with a world premiere and music that contemplated the vast beauty of our land and sky.

From behind the audience, soprano and composer Deborah Cheetham began the night by sounding out a message on clap sticks, then moved to the front and sung in language a powerful piece.

After Cheetham’s opening address, Brenda Gifford’s “Miriwa” (Sky), was performed by the CSO Chamber Players and sung in the Dhurga language of the Yuin people by Cheetham. This ethereal and haunting work, emotionally strong, echoed gloriously through the atrium in the National Museum of Australia.

Jessica Cottis. Photo: Martin Ollman.

Peggy Polias’ work “The Moon” explores the phases of the moon in nine short movements. It floated sinuously with music of a clear tonal construction. This soft, gentle composition covered a wide spectrum of colours and had an expert touch for such a young composer. Bravo.

“Rush” by Matthew Hindson is said to be inspired by the music of Felix Mendelssohn. Played by oboe and string quartet, this quite melodious and repetitive work was full of fresh and eclectic rhythms. Its texture was dense but offered many individual and group tonal colours that shone through. The quality playing from all was strongly acknowledged by the audience.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg”, by Moya Henderson AM, was a world premiere and CSO commission that celebrates the life and work of this Supreme Court of America judge, wife, mother and women’s advocate.

Kirsten Williams Moya Henderson, Deborah Cheetham. Photo: Martin Ollman.

In a tightly woven structure of lively dynamic sounds, this work crossed much musical territory. It’s a restless piece, just like Ginsburg herself who fought for change and improvement all her life. Inside this music, there’s a lightness and gentleness that draws a strong conclusion through its unique style. I could hear the connections between Ginsburg’s life and the author of this work, Moya Henderson.

Deborah Cheetham AO, wrote “Song for Dulka Warngiid”, in multiple movements, as she says, “seamlessly blended”. It is written in response to the 2007 artwork “Dulka Warngiid” (Land of All). The music captures the sections of the original painting and the seven Kayaldild language speaker artists who created it. The artwork is a conceptual vision of Bentinck Island in Queensland. The piece was written for flutes, clarinets, violin, cello, piano and soprano.

The subtlety and ingenuity in this work were extraordinary. And to make it even better, Cheetham singing her songs added that special touch. The individual voices from the piano to the flute added their unique sounds, but it all blended to make an extra-special experience for the large audience, and this lucky reviewer.

If this is an example of Cheetham’s programming for the 2021 CSO Australian Series, I can’t wait to hear the rest.

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