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Canberra Today 14°/17° | Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Guitarists with a world of musical expression

Matt Withers, left, and Callum Henshaw. Photo: Rob Kennedy

Music / “Here & Now”, Matt Withers and Callum Henshaw. At Wesley Music Centre, November 4. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

A CONCERT of new music commissions and arrangements for guitar duo was a rare but much welcomed event.

Local guitarists Matt Withers and Callum Henshaw do much more than just play the guitar. They teach, both are entrepreneurs and passionate advocates for the guitar, with Withers having set up an annual prize for new guitar works and both are part of the group Guitar Trek.

Opening the concert as a support act, the ANU Pre-Tertiary Guitar Quartet are part of the Developing Musicians Program at the ANU Open School of Music. They were Sam Roberts, Torran Murray, Jordan Iglesias and Ishan Biddle. They performed the “Sonata K. 380”, by Domenico Scarlatti arr. Andrew Forrest, and the “Libertango” by Astor Piazzolla arr. Nobuyuki Hirakura.

ANU Pre-Tertiary Guitar Quartet. Photo: Rob Kennedy

Watching their scores intently, these young players gained invaluable live performance time. Their stage presence and connection with an audience will grow as they gain experience. For now, it is their music that tells their story. It was an enjoyable one.

For the main show, the duo began with a World Premiere by Elena Kats-Chernin, “Tango”. A cool and laidback tango it was. Is there nothing that Kats-Chernin can’t do? My favourite Australian composer, Kats-Chernin’s music is full of rhythm and life, as was this piece.

With the composer introducing her work, “Snowy River Lullaby”, Naomi Dodd admitted this was her first work written for guitar. A relaxed piece, tonal with a delicious melody and wonderful harmonies. It showed great authority for a first piece. It sounds like Dodd will be a composer to keep an ear open for.

The next two works, both transcriptions, was the sort of music the performers grew up with. First, “If I Could Start Today Again” by Paul Kelly, arr. Matt Withers. The laconic music of Paul Kelly was evident in this setting. With great sensitivity, the pair performed this profound musical story.

Then, “Stuff and Nonsense”, by Tim Finn, arr. Callum Henshaw. Its story was well known through its many radio plays. It too flowed with a gentle tale of a life of simple things.

Another lullaby with a title that spoke of a determined child, “Grizzlepot” by Nat Bartsch, arr. Matt Withers. The setting of this work was the perfect remedy to sooth a child, but in fact, it could have rocked anyone to sleep.

A more complex and spiritual work was “Acacia”, a world premiere by Natasha “Aksuna” Lin.  It showed a unique voice. The different phrases on each instrument combined well. An introspective short work that spoke of a composer with great insight into classical guitar music.

Written for his daughter, “Emily’s Song”, by Ross Edwards, arr. Zoo Guitar Duo, added to the child-in-music theme of the concert. It spoke of a new world or seeing the world through new eyes. Its delicate nature told of a loving father.

Through an open ear on the changing environment, the final work in the concert, “Hanging in the Balance”, a world premiere by Richard Charlton, experimented with unusual techniques. But there was nothing unusual about the quality of the music. This composer knows the guitar as well as he knows composition. It was an entertaining and smart work performed by two engaging and elegant performers who have a world of musical expression between them.

 

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