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A performance highlight of the year

“Collective Memory” at the National Museum. Photo Martin Ollman

MUSIC / “Collective Memory”, CSO Chamber Players. At The National Museum of Australia, July 28. Reviewed by TONY MAGEE.

IN one of the performance highlights of the year, CSO Chamber Players excelled in delivering a program of contemporary Australian music with passion, conviction, great feeling and emotion with seven of their finest musicians plus poet, composer and rapper Rhyan Clapham aka DOBBY and poet Andrew Cox.

Harry Sdraulig (born 1992) composed “Speak” in 2018. Doreen Cumming on violin, Edward Neeman on piano, Kiri Sollis on flute, Patrick Suthers on cello and the very welcome return of veteran clarinettist Alan Vivian took to the stage and began the piece with haunting and evocative motifs before morphing into a complex web of musical conversation.

There were moments of drama contrasted with quiet contemplation, then furious and intense playing. The musicians played superbly, skilfully depicting the language and communication the piece evokes.

First Nations’ Yuin woman Brenda Gifford (born 1968) composed “Baju/Footprints” in 2017. Arranged for piano, flute, violin, cello and snare drum (with the snare turned off) by Jessica Wells, the piece offered melodic stylishly played jazz phrases from the piano followed by lively flute and violin passages in fifths.

There was a South American rhythmic flavour to the piece, which tells of the footsteps we each take, reminding us that we should tread lightly on Mother Earth and take care of her.

Yorta Yorta woman Deborah Cheetham is a noted soprano, composer and educator and has been a leader and pioneer in the Australian arts landscape for more than 25 years.

Her piece “Bungaree”, scored for string quartet, saw the addition of Pip Thomson playing second violin. Bungaree (1775-1830) was an Aboriginal Australian whose colourful and hugely productive and influential life is very much worth reading about. He spent his final years ceremonially welcoming ships to Australia and educating white settlers about Aboriginal culture.

With the faintest of gentle musical whispers from the two violins and viola, Suthers on cello joined with beautiful bold melodic contrasts. Intonation and articulation from the players were all first rate.

A perfectly programmed spoken interlude came next with three poems written and read by Filipino/Australian poet Andrew Cox. Spoken from the heart, these deeply personal pieces explore the dialogue and ongoing learning between First Nations people and colonial Australia.

Born in 1971 in Jerusalem and calling Australia home since 2008, composer Yitzhak Yedid’s “Lament, In Memoriam of Ora Boasson-Horev” was originally conceived for herself to play on double bass, which she did until her untimely death from cancer.

Yedid rearranged the piece for solo viola in 2017 and it was Lucy Carrigy-Ryan who took up the challenge, making use of the full range of her instrument, particularly showcasing the high register, which is rarely heard on the viola. Her performance was lyrical, reflective and heartfelt, leaving the audience breathless at the conclusion – such was the effect of this engaging and deeply personal work.

Identifying as a Filipino and Aboriginal musician, rapper, composer, producer and drummer Rhyan Clapham closed the program with the world premiere and CSO commission, “Memory, History, Power” composed in 2022. 

Scored for piano, flute, cello, clarinet and spoken voice, Clapham told his powerful story of the feelings of conflict, frustration and also hope for future resolution, speaking with conviction, intensity and deep sincerity. Beginning with gentler thoughts and reflections from printed notes, he later dispensed with these and poured his heart out in a lengthy and animated rap over a Spanish-influenced accompaniment from the musicians. 

Perfectly timed in sections, the spoken rap held tight with the changing accompaniment ending with a superbly and perfectly timed resolution.

The large audience erupted in a standing ovation, bringing to a close this outstanding concert where music draws inspiration from the footprint of culture, how we know the people around us and the landscapes we inhabit.

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