BIFEM: Zubin Kanga’s Cushion Concert for Kids

Zubin Kanga
Cushion Concert
The Bendigo Bank Theatre
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
10:30am, 5 September

What better way for the Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music to get under way than with a new music concert for kids? Pianist Zubin Kanga didn’t hold back, but gave a full-blooded new music recital including movements from George Crumb’s Makrokosmos, Helmut Lachenmann’s Guero, David Young’s graphic score Not Music Yet, Claudia Molitor’s Tango and part of George Benjamin’s Piano Figures. The result was somewhere between a social experiment and a performance art piece as forty or so children clambered around the piano, ran around the room and coloured in printouts of piano keyboards.

I would err on the side of performance art piece. The “Bendigo Bank Theatre” may not sound like much, but it is in fact an opulent nineteenth-century salon adorned with golden Masonic suns, moons and eyes. The dark wooden door frames sport squares and compasses and in the corner lurks what appears to be a marvelous old square piano (but it could just as well be some sort of ceremonial dais). With that in mind, imagine Zubin Kanga bent over a grand piano in the middle of the room, growling and strumming his way through George Crumb’s indescribably creepy “The Phantom Gondolier” while children run in circles around a square of wooden rises intended, at least symbolically, to separate the throng from the performer. On the side of a social experiment, it was great to see how children react naturally to contemporary music, even when they appear not to be paying any attention at all. When Kanga played surging, flowing lines in response to Young’s swirling graphic score the children ran around the room. When he played thumping chords they jumped on the wooden rises and when he played a loud cluster with a forearm they, not surprisingly, yelled. Interestingly, when Kanga vaulted across the piano in Molitor’s Tango, the children stayed well away, apart from one impossibly small infant who put a pause to the entire proceedings. It was nice, amid the noise, to be able to make comments in a concert without worrying about being told off. I imagine the atmospheres at eighteenth-century concerts were not dissimilar, apart from the colouring-in, though that would be a great addition to concerts everywhere.

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