Tag Archives: Anna Clyne

Metropolis New Music Festical 2016: Syzygy Ensemble

A city shapes the people who inhabit it, as was demonstrated in an episode of the Radiolab podcast. The average speed at which people walk the streets is closely correlated to the city’s population size. Syzygy Ensemble took the transformative quality of living in close quarters as the inspiration for their “Cramped Space”  program at the Metropolis New Music Festical. Just as cramped physical spaces transform us as human beings, Syzygy Ensemble showed how artistic restrictions profoundly shape the music we create.

In Jacob Ter Veldhuis’ Tatatata cellist Blair Harris walks the virtuosic tightrope of a prerecorded voice: That of the surrealist poet Guillaume Apollinaire. The voice interjects the odd grainy “ta” as the cello plays rhythmic double-stops. The voice becomes more rhythmic as the two engage in a rapid and humorous duet. The two parts appear equal, but the cellist’s agency is limited by the prerecorded voice.

From a prerecorded duet partner to a live one, Giacinto Scelsi’s duet Ko Lho for flute and clarinet is a balletic study in dynamic and timbral precision. Swelling crescendi and decrescendi overlap in a haunting, shimmering surface. Where Harris was restricted in time by his prerecorded duet partner, the two instruments in Ko Lho are restricted in pitch-space. The swelling dynamics and tone colours of the piece are so many ways to differentiate the instruments within a tight harmonic range. Neither Ter Veldhuis nor Scelsi seem to mind their self-imposed restrictions. Both pieces end in gestures of resignation. The cello slides down into long, exhausted notes, while the flute and clarinet end luxuriating in their close harmonies.

The pianist Leigh Harrold and violinist Jenny Khafagi are tied together by John Adams’ motoric rhythms in Road Movies. Khafagi and Harrold’s rendition of this familiar piece was a tour de force of energetic precision. From the first movement, which races along like a race car driver with a death wish, to the contemplative scordatura of the second and the hectic hoedown of the final movement, the audience was completely transfixed by the Khafagi and Harrold’s unstoppable momentum.

Anna Clyne evokes the restricted space of childhood imagination in 1987. This space is not that of the supposedly unbounded imaginations of children, but our bounded memories of childhood. 1987 seems to have been a sad year for Clyne, judging by the ominous chorale for cello, violin, bass clarinet, and bass flute overlaid with the cranking and tinkling of a music box. Recordings of a fairground melt into a truly apocalyptic movement with gritty cello and bass clarinet.

Charlotte Bray’s Upflight of Butterflies continues the theme of cramped imaginary spaces by pursuing the paradox of loneliness in company. Each movement paints a bitter-sweet pair of words from the poetry of Pablo Neruda’s poetry including “Abandoned Sun,” “Trail of Light,” “White with Space” and “Dazzlement of Butterflies.” The sun is painted with flat, sustained harmonies like a cold and distant star singing to itself. The trail of light implies something leaving or being pursued, just as Laila Engle’s flute haplessly follows Harris’ meandering cello line. One would think that at least a “dazzlement of butterflies” would be unequivocally positive, but even the motoric beating of wings across the ensemble was tinged with acerbic harmonies.

Beyond Syzygy Ensemble’s characteristically thoughtful approach to the festival theme, the concert provided the opportunity to hear each individual performer’s formidable talents in a solo or duo setting, proving once again why Syzygy Ensemble are Melbourne’s most energetic and dynamic contemporary music ensemble.

Syzygy Ensemble
Cramped Space
Melbourne Recital Centre
Metropolis New Music Festival
12 May 2016

Jacob Ter Veldhuis, Tatatata; Giacinto Scelsi, Ko Lho; John Adams, Road Movies; Anna Clyne, 1987; Charlotte Bray, Upflight of Butterflies

Rubiks: Things are become new

Competing schedules, fickle venues, and piles of percussion gear: There are myriad difficulties involved in organising a contemporary music concert. It can feel like a puzzle, a riddle, or even a Rubik’s cube. This was the sentiment expressed by flautist Tamara Koehler at the beginning of the first self-organised concert by Rubiks, a group of ANAM graduates who have found time in their busy international careers to come together and perform contemporary repertoire. The organisational effort was well worth it. Six players thrilled the crowd at the Church of All Nations in Carlton—fast becoming the venue of choice for contemporary music in Melbourne—with a polished program of canonic and recent works. The theme of change and transformation underpinned the program and was expertly handled by the ensemble.

Cellist Gemma Tomlinson conjured the movement and colour of butterflies in Kaija Saariaho’s Sept papillons. Saariaho explores every possible butterfly-like gesture on the cello throughout seven miniatures. Fast trills between harmonics shimmer like iridescent wings and Tomlinson’s bow-arm seems to take flight, arcing across the strings in fast arpeggios. There are high, trilling harmonics; low, susurrating tremoli; glittering, rapid alternations between open strings and stopped notes, all in constant motion and gradated change. The performer is called upon to constantly change their bow-tone, moving from heavy, slow, gritty over-bowing to fast, light, floating bows. Tomlinson managed these transitions with astonishing precision and ease.

Samuel Smith’s Things are become new was written for Adelaide’s Soundstream collective and showcases the composer’s sensitivity to the relationship of instrumental tone colour and gesture. A medley of mallets and stick-ends thump and rattle away on the vibraphone, a trio of winds woof and huff, while the strings play swelling messe di voce. The piece is a study in transformation, requiring great commitment to bring out its kaleidoscope of techniques and timbres. Rubiks were more than up to the task, providing a spirited and dynamic rendition of the piece.

Anna Clyne’s Steelworks approaches the theme of transformation programmatically. The piece combines live performance with field recordings and interviews from the Flame Cut Steelworks, the last steelworks factory in Brooklyn. Justin Beere’s pneumatic bursts on the bass clarinet, as well as Kaylie Melville’s kick-drum and the clacking keys of the flute remind us that modern instruments are machines of the industrial revolution. The voices of steel-workers ride on top of this mechanical racket, debating the merits of change. Their voices are slowed and clipped, gestures that are affectingly imitated by the instrumentalists as the entire musical machine winds down.

An explosion of energy (definitely “with panache” as instructed by the composer) concluded the concert in the form of Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy’s Glamour Sleeper II. From the multicoloured butterflies of Saariaho’s Sept papillons to the dark bouquet of Smith’s Things are become new, the concert showcased Rubiks’ searingly-precise ensemble skills and instrumental control. Rubiks are a formidable contribution to Australia’s growing community of contemporary music makers.

Things are become new
Rubik’s Collective
Church of All Nations, Carlton
28 November 2015
Samuel Smith, Things are become new; Anna Clyne, Steelworks; Kaija Saariaho, Sept papillons; Marcus Fjellström, Odboy and Erordog Episodes 2 and 3; Donacha Dennehy, Glamour Sleeper II.