BIFEM: Golden Fur

Golden Fur
The Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
The Old Fire Station
3:30pm, Sunday 17 September

After the marathons of Friday and Saturday, the concerts at BIFEM on Sunday all seemed a little more light-hearted. This was even the case for Melbourne’s Golden Fur, a trio of incredibly talented performers from Melbourne (now based in California) who are not known for their levity. They had all previously performed at the festival. Cellist Judith Hamann performed a solo recital late on Friday; pianist James Rushford performed Henning Christiansen’s organ work Eurasienstab: Fluxorum Organum at the Sacred Heart Cathedral and two of his compositions were showcased on Saturday; and clarinettist Samuel Dunscombe was the engineer for the reboot of Manoury’s Pluton.

The concert began with Dunscombe in a state of grace. Having not seen Dunscombe perform for some years now, the control he brought to Chikako Morishita’s solo bass clarinet piece Skin, Gelatin, Soot was breathtaking. The piece ranges widely amongst the instrument’s extended techniques, from barely audible breath to “dinosaur” clarinet. It ends with an enigmatic poem in Japanese with as many interpretations as the score itself which, ranging across three staves, requires split-second decisions by the performer.

Rushford and Hamann took everybody by surprise with the concert’s second piece, Ivan Wyschnegradsky’s Méditation sur deux thèmes de la Journée de l’existence. The piece was composed in 1918–19 (that is, well before Barraqué’s Sonate pour violon seul, which I had previously said was the oldest piece in the festival). Hearing the piano’s romantic introduction was like ordering a jam sandwich from the school canteen and biting into Vegemite (I will never forgive you, canteen lady). I will, however, forgive Golden Fur, because the taste this time was wonderful. The composer had an epiphany in 1917 and decided to compose a work that would send the entire world into a mystical rapture. The Méditation forms one study toward the final piece, exploring semi- quarter- third- and sixth-tones. Despite the avant-garde pedigree it is gorgeously kitsch and provided an excellent point of contrast to the rest of the works in the festival. It was interesting, having been listening for so many different things throughout BIFEM, to suddenly feel myself “switch” into romantic cello-mode and find myself listening for bow changes, shifts, long phrases and the like (all of which Hamann executed superbly). From a programming perspective, the piece had the nice effect of inverting the practice of major ensembles to include one modern piece in the middle of an otherwise direly-conservative programme. It would be great if everyone played predominantly new music but still kept some older repertoire on the back-burner.

The surprises continued with Pateras’ Nekkersdaal Eden. The piece begins in the usual Golden Fur fashion of barely-audible bow sound, but is broken after a minute by a deafening squawk of static. I had barely noticed Dunscombe standing at the back of the stage with his laptop half-hidden behind a music stand. Every time he reached for the touchpad the audience would flinch, until he finally did trigger the horrible noise again, and again.

You can listen back to the concert as part of New Music Up Late on ABC Classic FM.

Partial Durations is a Matthew Lorenzon/RealTime joint project.

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