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CIMF / Larry and Luigi and a world of music

Mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean performs at Albert Hall. Photo: Peter Hislop
Canberra International Music festival / Concert 7, Larry and Luigi. At Albert Hall, May 3. Reviewed by DANTE COSTA.
 
The Canberra International Music Festival’s seventh concert presented an illuminating program encompassing a rich history of music by two prolific composers hailing from opposite sides of the globe: none other than Luigi Nono and Canberra’s very own Larry Sitsky.  
Cultural exchange and the journey of the composers’ lived experience – which is at the very core of their oeuvre – was very much at the heart of this concert presented in partnership with the Italian embassy and presented by Andrew Ford.
These are composers whose music is very much tactile, ever evolving and adapting to social and political conditions as well as their own lived experiences. Nono, having lived majority of his life in Venice living through the ruptures facing 20th century Europe, and Sitsky who – having migrated from a young age through multiple countries in his life – recounts a story of mass migration and complex transcultural influences.
Exploring the music of these two extraordinary composers were mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean, clarinettist Jason Noble, percussionist Niki Johnson, violinist Victoria Bihun, cellist Freya Schack-Arnott and CIMF artistic director Roland Peelman on piano.
La Fabbrica Illuminata (1964) – embracing a political polemic, which is typical of Nono’s work – is dedicated to the workers of the Italsider factory plants in Genoa and exposes the dehumanisation and brutality of industrialisation.
It is at times a very confronting work, but it is within these moments of intensity and ensuing silences where the nuance of this avant-garde piece is most impactful.  The solo voice – mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean – standing in the centre of the room is accompanied by a four-channel soundscape including speakers each positioned in a separate corner of the hall. This audible and visual juxtaposition highlights the fragility and isolation of the lone human voice which is a political demonstration as much as it is hopeful and optimistic.
The soundscape is created by fragments of the text that is both spoken and sung. Betts-Dean’s execution of the work was absolutely stunning and precise, tackling the disjunct melody with considerable dynamic contrasts and projection.
The second piece, Zuqerq for Clarinet and Bongos (1984) by Larry Sitsky was performed by Noble and Johnson evoked various folk elements. The last movement had a particularly enjoyable run for clarinet in which Noble swift fingers and varying articulation added interest and nuance. Both Noble and Johnson presented a lively and responsive performance of the piece that was both pleasurable to listen to as well as watch.
The final piece of the program, A Feast of Lanterns (2015) by Sitsky was presented by Betts-Dean along with Bihun, Schack-Arnott and Peelman. Based on 6th dynasty Chinese texts, the piece had many traditional Asian influences met with more modern textures.
The curious coupling of the gong and strings against the piano at times made for a very atmospheric sound. The sound pallet was diverse as it was explorative, mixing various pitched and non-pitched percussion with piano and strings providing the backboard for the voice.
There were movements, which were lyrical and legato and others with rhythmic almost even spectral sounds. The ensemble and musicianship were tight, each individual incredibly responsive to one another, weaving together the rich tapestry of sounds and musical genres.

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