Tag Archives: Mark-Anthony Turnage

Metropolis: Thomas Adès, Shadows

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Thomas Adès, image courtesy of the Melbourne Recital Centre

Thomas Adès
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Shadows
Metropolis New Music Festival
20 April

Bringing jazz-inspired works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Thomas Adès together with the sensitivity and virtuosity of cellist Steven Isserlis, the final concert in the Metropolis New Music Festival celebrated contemporary compositional finesse.

Adès opened the concert conducting Niccolò Castiglioni’s Inverno In-ver. The wintry dance suite combines post-tonal transformations with the icy orchestral colours of celesta, woodwind, chimes and glockenspiel to create tableaux of racing snow and frosty stillness. Whereas some performers will complain that the results of some contemporary works do not warrant their difficulty, Castiglioni and Adès’ music may be compared in the dazzling surface-effects produced in their complexity.

A case in point being Adès’ jazz-era burlesques for orchestra from the opera Powder Her Face. Dripping with gritty sensuality, the excerpts harkened back not so much to the foxtrots and tangos of the 1930s, but to the sophisticated, self-aware, Weimar-era opera of Ernst Krenek and Kurt Weill.

Mark-Anthony Turnage draws on later jazz styles in his tour de force for cello, Kai. Confronting the audience with a deafening wood-clap, Kai proceeds to seduce them with a homage to the romantic cello concerto. A muted trumpet introduces the piece’s theme like a distant bugle call announcing the arrival of the jazz-cavalry. Each time the refrain returns on cello it is more desperate. It is a struggle for the cello to be heard above the ensemble, leading the cellist ever closer to the bridge with an ever-heavier bow and a correspondingly hyper-emotional sound. Then the shredding begins. Isserlis covers the cello, hair and all, like a 1980s speed-metal guitar guru.

Isserlis channeled a different kind of virtuosity for four of György Kurtág’s Signs, Games and Messages, repeating each descending mode or two-note phrase as though it were a completely new thought. At times scarcely audible, the meditative whisper of the cello was almost drowned out by the hall’s creaking light fixtures.

Cybec finalist Lachlan Skipworth conjures a “solar drama” (to use a phrase of the Australian Mallarmé scholar Gardner Davies) out of the orchestra in Afterglow. Like the dying rays of the sun, a fanfare on tuba announces shimmering string colours, which build and dissipate in a dense crescendo. The chaos leaves behind a more transparent texture with a lyrical oboe line. Harp and piano can faintly be heard moving across the orchestral surface. It is as though the tuba has dipped behind the horizon of the strings and risen again as a silver moon, lighting the path of two wanderers.

What the Shadows programme gained in stylistic dexterity it lost in innovation. It is remarkable that the most contemporary-sounding work on the programme was by Castiglioni, a dead composer. By contrast, the rest of the works (Kurtág’s Signs, Games and Messages excepted) presented reworkings of bygone styles for the orchestra and large ensembles. Many works in the smaller Metropolis concerts gave a stronger sense of being not just “current” but “contemporary.”

Forest Collective, Shared Sounds

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Forest Collective
Abbotsford Convent
7 April 2013

For their 2013 season the multi-arts Forest Collective bring chamber music, visual art, theatre and opera to the sprawling Abbotsford Convent. Opening the season is Shared Sounds, a juxtaposition of established and emerging British and Australian composers. Alongside this explicit rationale is the concert’s implicit exploration of the organic and the elemental.

Stephanie Osztreicher transformed the peeling walls of the convent’s Industrial School into a tulgey wood of ladders, music stands, paper flowers and projections as the evening’s autumn storm rolled overhead. Travelling to the concert, the rising smell of “petrichor” (meaning “dry earth,” a term coined by Australian scientists to describe the smell of rain after a dry spell) was an olfactory prelude to the rain-themed music of the Forest Collective’s ensemble in residence of the same name (Jess Fotinos, harp, Alexina Hawkins, viola, Rowan Hamwood, flute).

Fotinos and Daniel Todd (tenor) opened the concert with the spiritual transformations of St. Narcissus into tree, fish, girl and dancer in Britten’s Canticle No. 5 for tenor and harp. Britten’s evocative harp writing was juxtaposed with May Lyon’s own mercurial word painting in A Dream Within a Dream, based on a poem by Edgar Allen Poe.

The ritual continued with Benjamin Harrison’s improvisation for solo trumpet, a masterful exploration of whistling wind, echoing brays and muted flatulence.

A sequence of chamber works by Barry Conyngham, Conyngham’s teacher Toru Takemitsu, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Johanna Selleck and Evan Lawson highlighted the strength of the “collective” as an ensemble, corralled and conducted by Lawson. A highlight for me was Turnage’s Three Farewells for flute, clarinet, harp and string quartet. Lush harmonies and timbres filled the concrete chamber before clearing for a pointed and intimate encounter with Hawkins’ viola solo, with grumbling accompaniment from Ayrlie Lane’s cello.

While not quite the “interactive chamber music experience” promised by the season program, Shared Sounds plunges the audience into a rich atmosphere of water, wind and trees deserving of the collective’s name. The program also demonstrated a continuing interest among young composers in finding new effects and manners of working with text within an extended-tonal style.