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Joyous celebration of Australian music

The CSO Chamber Players. Photo: Martin Ollman

Music / “Stargazers”, Canberra Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players. At the National Museum of Australia, April 7. Reviewed by TONY MAGEE

IN preparing and performing this concert, the CSO has brought together a small ensemble of its finest musicians and delivered a joyous celebration of Australian composers and their music.

Guest pianist Edward Neeman opened the evening playing Richard Meale’s “Coruscations”, a work filled with intensity and drama contrasted with delicate tonal shadings, exploring the full range of the piano.

Displaying a dazzling technique, he played with conviction and panache, clearly savouring all that was on offer, which was extensive, in the writing and expressive opportunities this piece invites.

Composed in 2015, the then 21-year-old Connor D’Netto’s “String Quartet No 2 in E minor” is thought by many to evoke “the contours of the Australian landscape”, something which he denies, but is more than happy for listeners to ponder!

Led by Kirsten Williams on 1st violin and joined by Doreen Cumming (violin), Lucy Carrigy-Ryan (viola) and Patrick Suthers (cello), the quartet established a gentle, wistful opening, almost a prelude before a storm, later taken over by pizzicato over a solid-bowed cello foundation. In the second movement the players climaxed into an intense, dynamic wash of furious playing with an abrupt climactic conclusion.

In a world premiere and commissioned by the CSO, “In the Beginning, Fun” scored for string quartet plus marimba was composed by Christopher Sainsbury in 2021, who was also in the audience.

Sainsbury’s unusual vision for this piece – God having some fun and a playful romp in creating the universe – presented significant challenges for the players in attempting to put this unusual premise across musically.

Certainly, the pizzicato cello lines overlaid with marimba splashes contrasted with gentle melodic phrases from the first violin as an opening, had a playful, almost comic quality, later joined by the other strings. It was definitely interesting listening.

Using the medium of music to express her Yuin culture, First Nations composer Brenda Gifford’s piece “Mungala” (Clouds) is scored for alto flute, Aboriginal clapping sticks and a specially made percussion instrument of dried bean pods.

Kiri Sollis on flute. Photo: Martin Ollman

Played by Kiri Sollis, the wafting, almost haunting flute lines definitely evoked images of clouds, large and small, dramatically set against blue skies.

Nardi Simpson is a Yuwaalaraay storyteller from NSW. Her work, “Of Stars and Birds” was one of the most captivating pieces on the program. Rachel Best-Allen on clarinet, Veronica Bailey on vibraphone and Kiri Sollis on flute opened with individual musical contributions before coming together in a complex polyphonic wash of sound before gently releasing into fluttering bird-like symbolism.

The piece is a musical realisation of a significant Yuwaalaraay story ending in the creation of the Southern Cross, with birds weaving the story into our dreaming state as well as our conscious state.

The concert closed with Jakub Jankowski’s “To the Waters Above”. Composed this year as a CSO commission, the piece saw the full ensemble of players come together under the direction of guest conductor Carlo Antonioli, assistant conductor to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

“The Waters Above” is a reference to the stars in our galaxy and highlights some of the vast differences in viewing them between city settings where the images are blurred and hidden by city lights, and countryside viewing where the clarity is enormous.

Opening with twinkling melodic phrases from piano and percussion, the scene was set, searching upwards as more instruments joined in, creating a mixture of star images, sometimes obscured by clouds moving past.

Antonioli gently gestured each measure and entrance point for the players, seemingly observing a moving, almost divine respect for the night sky and all its mystery and wonder.

In celebrating the diversity and uniqueness of Australian music, Canberra Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players delivered an elevating and fascinating journey through a myriad of mediums, dreams, stories and textures, to which the capacity audience in the Gandel Atrium erupted in enthusiastic applause.

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