CIMF / Subtle virtuosity of voices raised in song

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Canberra’s Luminescence Chamber Choir with Sydney’s The Australian Voices. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Canberra International Music Festival / Concert 20, “Far and Near”, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Sunday, May 9. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.

THERE are few more pleasurable human experiences than sitting with other people listening to beautiful voices raised in song.

So it was when Canberra’s Luminescence Chamber Choir collaborated with Sydney’s The Australian Voices to perform 11 original compositions created specifically for them, as conductor Amber Evans explained, under the covid-related theme, “Far and Near”.

The songs related both literally and figuratively to this idea so that while some composers focused on human separation, physical and emotional, one reflected on musical issues and others looked to the sea and the sky for inspiration.

The 11 composers represented in this concert were Nico Muhly, Christopher Sainsbury, Sally Whitwell, Jessica Wells, Lyle Chan, Jaret Choolun, Olivia Swift, Callum Kennedy, Alys Rayner and Blake Petersen.

First up was Canberra-raised composer Sally Whitwell’s exquisite a cappella piece “Home”, where the subtle virtuosity of the singers was heard in a humming sound that underscored soprano Veronica Milroy’s soaring treble. This underlay, which became a drone, proved to be a technique used by several of the composers.

Christopher Sainsbury’s “If I Were A Semitone” or “If I Were A Major 7” proved comprehensively that music can be funny as he made musical mischief with the idea of the spaces between tones. This song was brilliantly articulated by the ensemble, with a slightly jazzy, showbiz touch that owed something to Sainsbury‘s compositional origins.

Conductor Amber Evans steers the singers. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Blake Peterson‘s “Dream” furthered the “Far and Near” idea, while American composer Nico Muhly’s “A Great Many Things”, a simple pastoral based on a series of letters from an American mother, brought out the subtlety of the singers.

Lyle Chan’s larger narrative piece “Automne Malade” followed, with words in French and English. This was an account related to polar explorer Francis Crozier in which the singers represented the sounds of the sea through clapping.

Next was Brisbane composer Alys Rayner’s “Anthos”, a musical exploration of the space between us.

One of the most striking performances of the afternoon saw the extended ensemble scattered throughout the space at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture. Evans invited us to close our eyes to take the music of Jaret Choolun’s work, “Disclosure II”. Here, the humming became a gentle drone as she carefully steered the combined choirs’ voices towards the hubbub that concluded the work.

“The Siren’s Call” by Olivia Swift, who has been associated with both Luminescence and Australian Voices, used the human voice to create a dreamy, enticing quality that matched the associated narrative from Homer’s “Odyssey”.

Strikingly dramatic, Callum Kennedy’s “If Someone Came” performed to a Nintendo backing track, gave surprisingly full-bodied expression to a Japanese haiku by Kobayashi Issa before the even more dramatic work “Clouds” by Jessica Wells, which featured a litany of Latin names for clouds, explored in all their permutations.

In the final work, Lisa Young’s “Here We Are (So Near And Far)” a mixture of percussive syllables from classical Indian music and jazz rhythms brought this vocal concert to a satisfying conclusion.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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