Tag Archives: Peter de Jager

2016BIFEM: Peter de Jager, Marathon (1)

Review by Bec Scully

Greek mathematical geniuses are no stranger to history: Euclid of the distance and Pythagoras of the triangle, to start with. Using his own 20th-Century mathematical genius to create musical structures of a completely other aesthetic dimension, Iannis Xenakis, expanded the rhythmic and musical conceptual capacities of countless musicians. He consolidated hitherto untethered art processes of music and architecture, allowing composers to see that they may follow the same conceptual paths as mathematicians.

But Xenakis was famously fired as a student by Honegger for his creations which he claimed ‘weren’t music’. A prodigious architect for Le Corbusier, Xenakis entered the post-WWII scene of Paris music with his power to realise majestic physical structures of beauty, and sheer will to apply these musically foreign processes to sound structures. The great Messiaen saw something quite different in Xenakis’ untrained potential, and in what has to be the most hilarious doctoral thesis defence ever given, instead of grilling Xenakis on the canon, Messiaen began by insisting Xenakis himself was a giant figure in music for creating a new system while Xenakis sincerely attempted to defend a position of modesty.

Xenakis saw beauty in line and not just in the simplistic pitch/time functions of the original Cartesian planes we call staves. He took our parameters of slow-fast, soft-loud, short-long and high-pitch-low-pitch and brought to our equal attention those we tend not to think of in such explicit terms: disorder-order, resonance-decay, density (musical events per second)-emptiness until musical events become complex multi-dimensional systems normally only comfortably contemplated by physicists. But today Xenakis’ multidimensional musical algorithms are the mental test for contemporary musicians.

The parameter of disorder-to-order is the most pertinent in this music as it reflects Xenakis’ deep sense of cultural and social responsibility in his art. He believed that artistic forms created environments for political structures, and that without allowances for random events and aggregations, if the standard deviation is too low in music, could amount to an expression of totalitarianism. Therefore the keyboard works build upon scaffolds of unpredictability, in places literally unplayable in all prescribed dimensions meaning that the performer’s choice as to how best realise the ideal is integral to the works. In 2008 Daniel Grossman realised these same works that de Jager explores but used computer MIDI programming and so missed Xenakis’ concept entirely in terms of both political ideals, closing off the potential for Xenakis’ intended transformation of the performer.

Peter de Jager’s choice to perform these 5 works shows artistic integrity, mental might, and chops, chops, chops. He played 2 marathon concerts of the same program and I, like others in the audience, attended the first and returned for the second. In Evryali, de Jager’s Dous, lasseir lines were fluid and sweeping, a complete other world to the chopping, rhythmic play of the opening, leading to the most beautiful execution of the sparse, pointillistic 7 bars, each note created with unique astral intensity and placement. De Jager creates uncannily clear contrapuntal journeys via the expansive block chords, remaining true to close, lower-register voicing, eliciting the most captivatingly secure and organically transfigured syncopations.

De Jager’s Khoaï is high drama for the left hand, with digital beep codes in the upper register for the right, both conveyed without tainting and impressively unreactive to each other. The thumping of the harpsichord’s pedals lends the piece the quality of a censored organ’s foot manual, determined to be heard regardless. The expansions of register with increasingly drastic changes of tone were spine-tingling. Wild polyrhythms with both dynamic and timbral short leashes made de Jager a musical lion tamer. After the landmark bar’s silence, the sextuplets, quintuplet and nested triplets and duplets are hair-raisingly energised. A spectacularly expectation-thwarting ending of an exponential-like reduction of musical density and energy drops seemingly towards silence only to be interrupted by a final shattering resonance. Returning to the piano timbre for Mists brings us back to the expansive resonances that evoke the title of the piece. Beginning with a juicy B-flat bass line repeated only twice, enough for de Jager to convey a moment of the jazz idiom with weight and placement for our ears to sink into. The first phrase ends with a tense resonant cluster, and in the second the resonance-structure seemingly hovers over the piano, vividly realised with angelic tone-colour.

Naama, far from the nebula of Mists, hits out with clear lines of time marking and a gradual increase in intensity, tempered by skipping rhythms. The insistent metallic power chords lead from a controlled robotic waltz, to ironic anthem, and then return. De Jager pounds the low register to the limit and gives serious anchorage to frenetic rhythms. This motif then leads to cascading right hand passages.

For the final work, the epic Herma, de Jager uses a sensitive touch and a tempo that allows the space to breathe. He employs formal rigour and thematic pitch sets, with weighted meaningful legato contrasting with the stamping resonances of the final grandly integrated super-pitch-set. De Jager chokes the final chord and springs away from the keyboard so abruptly that these musical models keep pounding away in the listeners’ minds long after the rounds and rounds of standing ovations and cheers and whoops subside.

Alternating between piano and harpsichord was perhaps a kindness to the marathan-related-risk of audience timbral saturation, and the instrument swap every piece is testament to Peter de Jager’s physical dexterity and adaptability. The symmetrical programming of the works seemed a little classically formed but I guess a stochastic method could still result in this same form. But this wouldn’t bother Messiaen… I happily promulgate the event of the local bird-life resonantly chirping accompaniment to de Jager’s performance of Mists as a cheeky, symbolic nod of approval from Messiaen.

Peter de Jager
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
Bendigo Trades Hall
3 September 2016
Iannis Xenakis, Evryali, Khoaï, Mists, Naama, Herma

Metropolis: Speak Percussion, Between Two Parts there is an Intermission of a Hundred Thousand Years

Alexander Garsden's Messages to Erice I & II. Photo by Sarah Walker.
Alexander Garsden’s Messages to Erice I & II. Photo by Sarah Walker.

The title of Speak Percussion’s opening concert sets a playful tone for this year’s Metropolis New Music Festival. The joke was driven home to me when I heard the announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, Between Two Parts there is an Intermission of a Hundred Thousand Years by Speak Percussion will begin in Elisabeth Murdoch Hall … .” I imagine this title came up during rehearsals, as the ensemble worked out how to switch between the three pieces, each with a different seating arrangement or in a different space entirely. Ultimately there was no such intermission. The ushers herded a willing audience around the building, leaving just enough time to consider the three composers’ distinct responses to the festival’s theme: Music and the moving image.

Speak Percussion’s artistic director Eugene Ughetti chose the composers Peter de Jager, Alexander Garsden and Jeanette Little because they are each at a pivotal moment in their careers. Each composer can comfortably forgo the term “emerging” in their biographies, though they are still “young” composers. They inhabit a no-man’s land between the important but largely unpaid opportunities open to students and the networks of commissioners of established composers.  Speak Percussion’s commissions, supported by the Australia Council for the Arts, showed each composer settling into and refining their individual style.

Peter de Jager, Fractured Timelines

Peter de Jager’s Fractured Timelines. Photo by Sarah Walker.

The audience took their seats on the stage of the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall for Peter de Jager’s Fractured Timelines. The gleaming keyboard percussion instruments of Peter Neville, Matthias Schack-Arnott and Eugene Ughetti formed three sides of a square around De Jager’s piano, with each performer facing inward towards each other. So intimately close were the audience to the performers that they could follow the coordinating glances of the performers and hear the pedals of the instruments moving. Though designed to project sound out into the auditorium, the stage made an excellent chamber music setting, equalising the natural volume of each instrument.

Fractured Timelines is a multi-modal, gestural romp to heaven and back. The piece is structured as a triptych with two roughly inverted movements separated by their “collision.” The first movement moves from ethereal and whimsical arpeggios and melodies down to a rumbling nether-world with highlights of damped cymbals. Instead of avoiding recognisable thematic, tonal and modal materials, De Jager crams Fractured Timelines full of them. Speak Percussion clearly enjoyed shaping the piece’s cellular themes and different instrumental configurations, including many duo and trio passages, shared lines and runs passed between instruments. The third movement moves in the opposite direction, from the dark to the light and back again, ending with a fabulous rolling ostinato in the bass registers of the vibraphone, marimba and piano. The second movement seems less the “collision” of the two exterior movements than its aftermath. Instead of the arching development of the exterior movements, De Jager presents juxtaposed fragments of thematic material, including funereal, plodding piano chords and a whimsical vibraphone solo (I haven’t heard Ughetti play like that for, well, ever). With his thematic riches and multi-modal language, De Jager is like a modern-day Messiaen without god. Like Messiaen, De Jager gives the themes in his scores short descriptions. In De Jager’s case, these descriptions (including “creepy mountain path” and “briar”) are drawn less from sacred imagery than his life-long experience playing video games. Commander Keen is still his favourite.

Alexander Garsden, Messages to Erice I & II

The audience retired to the stalls of the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall for Garsden’s beautiful new work Messages to Erice I & II. Four large tam-tams were arrayed along the front of the stage and lit from below by yellow-gold spot lights. Each tam-tam is fitted with a transducer (like a speaker without the cone). Garsden has made recordings of each individual tam-tam. In the live performance, he manipulates these recordings and plays them back through the instrument via the transducer. The four tam-tams stand there like bronze breastplates, or altars, their mysterious sounds emanating not just toward the audience, but filling the high ceiling of the hall with shimmering, insect-like buzzing and clear, brassy tones. The lights suddenly change to a silvery-blue as the second movement (or “process”) of the piece begins. Here the sound signals are further processed, creating an alien sound world of “washboard” vibrations and fierce roaring. Garsden motivated the festival’s theme in several ways. The algorithmic relationship between the sound-processing of the different tam-tams is related to the relationships of the characters in Víctor Erice’s 1973 film El Spíritu del Colmena. The piece furthermore makes use of recordings, which can be considered moving “sound images.” Most strikingly, the performance itself was a moving cinematic gesture.

Jeanette Little, No Optic

Jeanette Little's No Optic. Photo by Sarah Walker.
Jeanette Little’s No Optic. Photo by Sarah Walker.

Once ushered into the Salon, we were treated to Jeanette Little’s No Optic for four percussionists and live electronics. The piece is accompanied by a video work by the Russian video artist Sasha Litvintseva. The video features a screenshot of somebody exploring high-resolution Google Maps images of various metropolises. In a reference to online and CCTV surveillance, copies of the screenshots are then dragged onto the screen, producing a multiplicity of staggered images. Scrolling cascades of images of roads and cars pass over the screen. The layering process is repeated with a video of somebody taking a photo with a smartphone. I appreciated that this was a video made almost entirely (if not actually entirely) without a camera. The moving image is now omnipresent, with almost every possible setting and activity recorded and uploaded into the cloud (or into some server farm in a desert). However, I was more amused than scared by the “electronic panopticon” (as it was described in the programme). This may be due to Little’s score, which aimed to conjure mixed feelings of “intimacy, discomfort, anxiety and opportunity.” The four percussionists, Ughetti, Kaylie Melville, Anna Camara and Matthias Schack-Arnott, stood behind four almost identical batteries of metal percussion. They produced beds of sound, like the high-pitched rattling of skewers on metal pipes. At other points the ensemble signalled important transitions. For instance, tiled videos of the interiors of trains give way to a single long-range shot of a city with a train passing through it in the distance. The performers stop suddenly, the resonance of car suspension springs ringing out into the calm. The pre-recorded materials, including loud dance music or a sacred classical-era aria, highlighted the omnipresence of recorded sound in our lives as well as recorded images.

Composers often regret the lack of opportunities available to them after their first student commissions. By commissioning three confident young composers, Speak Percussion has brought three fascinating and valuable new works into existence. This year’s Metropolis festival is full of such adventurous and intimate programmes by local and international new music stars. Be sure to grab a ticket or three.

Speak Percussion
Between Two Parts there is an Intermission of a Hundred Thousand Years
Melbourne Recital Centre
Metropolis New Music Festival
4 May 2015

Peter de Jager, Fractured Timelines; Alexander Garsden, Messages to Erice I & II; Jeanette Little, No Optic.

Flooding in the Garden: Benjamin Anderson’s “Mixed Mediums” and Forest Collective’s “The Mingled Yarn”

Carolyn Connors and Jenny Barnes in Youphonium. Photo Meghan Scerri.

For three balmy nights the Forest Collective filled the Abbotsford Convent with film, dance and music. The inaugural Flooding in the Garden festival included improvised extended vocals by Jenny Barnes and Carolyn Connors, dance by Elanor Webber, pop-elf William Elm and an independent film series also curated by Webber. The florid programme also included a series of contemporary notated works as part of Forest Collective’s own multi-disciplinary concert and Benjamin Anderson’s bass trombone recital Mixed Mediums.

texture of it
Elanor Webber’s The Texture of It. Photo Meghan Scerri

Moving between the distressed art-deco rooms of the Convent, each new medium was an unexpected delight. William Elm festooned the Rosina Auditorium with fairy lights and lamps for his set of puckish accordion duets. The breathtaking physicality of Webber’s The Texture of It exploded in the Chapel. The venue was lit from inside and outside the building, recreating lighting effects from different times of the day. Rays of afternoon light streamed in through the stained-glass windows, nocturnal lamp-light lit the contorted bodies of the dancers and a diffuse morning glow filled the space. An ensemble including Benjamin Harrison, Rob McDonald and Jennifer Mills performed instrumental textures in tight coordination with the dancers, leaving one guessing where composition left off and improvisation began. Later that night Webber transformed the hall into the Chapel of the Independent Film, with a series of experimental and cine-dance films exploring shape, colour and texture.

Mixed Mediums

mixed mediumsIn Benjamin Anderson’s recital, the audience was confronted with a projection of the movie-star face of General MacArthur and a recording of his 1962 speech to the Corp of Cadets. MacArthur declared the dawn of a “new age”: the space age. So too was it a new age for Australia, one defined by the move away from our traditional British defenders and towards tighter military ties with the United States. Perhaps no moment exemplified this shift more than MacArthur fleeing the Philippines to Australia in 1942. A plaque at a disused railway platform in the miniscule South Australian town of Terowie marks the spot where he famously claimed he would return to the Philippines. He quickly assumed control of the Australian Forces as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the South-West Pacific Area, setting up his base in Brisbane. So, this digression argues, we have at least some reason to project this speech in a hall in Melbourne today. Anderson walks in dressed in a military parade uniform and begins playing Robert Erickson’s General Speech. Erickson transcribes MacArthur’s speech for the bass trombone, focussing mainly on the pitch of MacArthur’s voice (admittedly he has to exaggerate, MacArthur’s delivery being fairly monotone). There are scored coughs and sips of water, the only relief from what is a fairly dull setting of the text. The piece was composed in 1969 and I can imagine composers today, with their greater familiarity with extended techniques, would make a more inventive transcription. It would be good to hear several different transcriptions of the speech by different composers, or perhaps transcriptions of a more recent speech by an Australian politician. As the musicologist Linda Kouvaras explored in a recent paper at the Musicological Society of Australia’s annual conference, Youtube is already rife with this sort of musical play. With General Speech, Anderson established a theme of the concert: the bass trombone as caricature. Anderson is a tall young performer with loads of character, making him the ideal performer for these works.

The parodic bass trombone reached its zenith with Andrew Aronowicz’s The Physiology of Taste. Here the bass trombone is the nineteenth-century gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin as he slurps and degustates his way through his famous treatise The Physiology of Taste. The first movement, “The pleasures of the initial tasting,” consists aptly of tentative, pattering little bursts occasionally punctuated by a sucking smack of the lips. Everything about this movement is about the lips and the tip of the tongue. The second movement, “Relishing the Texture and Composition of the Delicacies” explores longer tones of different timbres, from the purest high note to the instrument’s flatulent bass. It was at this point in the concert that I questioned why I ever go to concerts by established ensembles, younger performers being often more inventive, daring and downright humourous. The third movement, “The Savours,” presents the four tastes: salty, sour, bitter and sweet. Anderson brilliantly executed the dry, shaking, stabbing “puh puh puh” of salt; a puckered and wheezing sourness (exaggerated by a nasal double mute); the cracklingly-low bitterness of espresso coffee (as Brillat-Savarin writes of Melbourne’s favourite way to make coffee: “I have also tried to make coffee in a high pressure boiling apparatus; all I obtained however was a fluid intensely bitter, and strong enough to take the skin from the throat of a Cossack.”). Aronowicz’s depiction of sweetness attempted to reflect “every refinement of temptation” with which, Brillat-Savarin writes, we must use to convince the diner, who has already satisfied their hunger, to indulge. The final movement, “The Irrepressible Urge to Gorge,” represented Brillat-Savarin’s least favourite diner, one who cannot resist overeating and getting drunk. Anderson played higher and louder in between great big gulping sounds. I imagined the waiter in the Monty Python scene (“but it is wafer-thin”) as Anderson finished with a series of tiny toots and then a burp.

In Charles MacInnes’ cirque, “stuck in traffic, an out of work clown tweets about his daily annoyances to a growing audience hungry for the next distraction and amusement.” The impression I got from Anderson’s repeated checking of his phone and restless fidgeting was more of a music student struggling to get down to their daily practice (or perhaps a PhD student writing reviews instead of their thesis).

Character pieces were only one facet of Anderson’s immense programme. Wuorinen’s trio for bass trombone, tuba and double bass ranges between low, pulsing phrases and lyrical episodes exploring the instruments’ baritone registers. The brighter double bass played by Miranda Hill cut through the mellower brass with agile lines. It is a transparent and self-contained chamber work out of place, perhaps welcomely-so, in this character-driven programme.

Elliott Hughes’ Underdogs, with regrets is about iterations of forms, inspired by Jasper Johns’ exhibition “Regrets,” in which he recreated a photograph in multiple mediums. Hughes repeated gestures inspired by Charles Mingus with several different mutes and musical variations. It was not unlike the way one mulls over and replays regrettable moments in different lights. The piece uses subtle and tasteful uses of electronics. The spatialisation of captured trombone sounds expanded slowly over the duration of the piece, subtly producing a chorus of distant-sounding, growling and erupting brass.

Martijn Padding’s Schumann’s Last Procession for bass trombone and harp slowly takes apart a loping, bluesy duet where the two instruments also play a kick drum and a hihat. The piece devolves until all that is left is the percussion and a low, drawn-out note from the trombone. I only learned afterward of the programme: the walks Schumann was allowed to take to the statue of Beethoven in Bonn while he was receiving brutal, experimental treatments at Endenich, Europe’s first psychiatric hospital.

Peter De Jager’s Timescales for solo trombone and lighting design is comfortably dense. I quite liked the choice of hyper-real purple, green and blue lighting for different moments in the piece, not unlike an updated version of Scriabin’s colour organ. In another Scriabin-esque gesture, the piece presents three formal levels depicting cosmic, human and atomic time scales, from drawn-out modal pitches to expressive harmonies to chromatic interjections. In terms of pitch and rhythmic material it was by far the most complex piece on the programme and well deserving (if not requiring) another listen.

The bass trombone rarely receives a whole recital unto itself, though as one audience member mentioned after the show: “I didn’t know what to expect, then I realised it was a music recital.” As the title “Mixed Mediums” further suggests, Anderson’s programme encompassed so much more. Costume, lighting, performative elements and even food (petit fours representing the four flavours were served at interval) contributed to this series of new works by young composers, keeping the audience thinking for the duration of the concert.

The Mingled Yarn

The Mingled Yarn. Photo Meghan Scerri
The Mingled Yarn. Photo Meghan Scerri

The mixed-medium theme continued with Forest Collective’s theatre-and-music programme The Mingled Yarn. The five contemporary soliloquies based by Samuel Yeo inspired by characters from Shakespeare’s plays were in turns powerful (Sam Lavery’s Caesar) and hilarious (Julia Lamb’s Juliet). Musically, the Forest Collective took a little time to get their ear in. Was this because of the abrupt beginning, where Lawson walked in and immediately started conducting? It was a clever, informal gesture in the streaming afternoon light of the backstage area of the Rosina Auditorium, but intonation issues plagued William Byrd’s “Kyrie” from the Mass for Three Voices, which was played by violin, viola and cello with occasional humming from the vocalists in the style of John McCaughey. By the time of Evan Lawson’s Winter Canticle, however, the ensemble was focussed and responding well to Lawson’s energetic and inspired conducting. the piece is a reworking of previous material, taking the emotional structure of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale as a formal basis. An introductory episode of drones and vocalises gives way to an astounding rhythmic explosion. The three vocalists declare “Winter!” as febrile string phrases scurry about. The voices speak and whisper phrases from the play in an emotional polyphony, accompanied by energetic scrubbing in the strings. Lawson has learnt well from his twentieth-century heroes including Britten and Vaughan Williams; even at its  dynamic peak the ensemble is always colourful, transparent and mobile. Throughout the concert, the three female vocalists each had their time to shine. Christine Storey’s performance of Flow my Tears was a true interpretation, with an expressive reading of the text and appropriate tempo and use of vibrato. Stefanie Dingnis’ rendition of My Thoughts are Wing’d presented an uncommonly clear and sensitive voice, while Rosemary Ball’s Chant D’Ariel by Arthur Honegger was a tour de force.

The Flooding in the Garden Festival is an excellent way to spend some warm late-spring nights in Melbourne. While the diversity of the programme is appreciated, perhaps the organisation is currently a bit diffuse. A single schedule and map of the Convent would have made planning one’s evenings easier. Here’s hoping this was the first of many.

Flooding in the Garden Festival
Abbotsford Convent
11–13 December, 2014

Arianna on a Bridge of Stars

Peter de Jager is among the most versatile and virtuosic young Australian pianists, as much at home in a baroque ensemble as he is playing one of Chris Dench’s more difficult works. De Jager is also an imaginative composer, a skill that he showcased in the concert Arianna on a Bridge of Stars by contrasting two brand new works with compositions by Brett Dean and Claudio Monteverdi.

The audience was first serenaded by the French horn of Georgia Ioakimidis-MacDougall, a prolific young performer who is currently completing her fellowship with the Australian National Academy of Music. In the solo horn piece Arianna Meandering, fragments of Monteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna pass through convoluted chromatic territory, displacing the audience from the MRC salon to another realm. It was an excellent preparation for Dean’s captivating Night Window, which celebrated its twentieth birthday last year. A remarkable aspect of the concert was that the vintage Dean sounded characteristic of De Jager’s spiky, muscular repertoire, while the De Jager sounded like one of Dean’s more moderate contemporary works! Like Carter’s Night Fantasies and Richard Meale’s Incredible Floridas, Night Windows has an unmistakable creative optimism that shines through the musical bureaucracy. Why would someone move on from that? The performance was, of course, the day of Gough Whitlam’s death and I couldn’t help getting a little emotional about the lack of creative vision in both politics and music today. We now find ourselves more in the condition of the piece’s fourth episode, where a bunch of quibbling, nibbling little lines eat away at the piece’s integrity. Towards the end of the piece, a descending line in the bass clarinet and viola reflects one of the most recognisable baroque gestures of mourning and loss. It was a well-placed segue, as Hana Crisp proceeded to sing the Lamento d’Arianna, the only surviving fragment from Monteverdi’s second opera L’Arianna.

The finale was De Jager’s extended work Model Universes. To help follow the piece, De Jager provided the audience with a sheet of notational fragments grouped into five categories: architecture, cosmos, nature, machine and city. Each motif had an evocative label like “serene polygon birds trace arcs through a pearly sky,” “a sculpture forest of towering monoliths,” and my favourite, “wandering the universe on a bridge of stars, passing fountain-like galaxies, each a spray of mint and lime.” Now, it is not impossible that De Jager actually swims in a 256-colour sea-punk sonic fantasy. An apocryphal story: Somebody turns to De Jager and says “I can’t find a harmony for this line.” De Jager responds “you can turn it off?” But some of De Jager’s ideas struggled to convince. I certainly do not have a permanently-harmonising chorus in my head, but I felt that the relationship between the voice and the ensemble suffered from too many long vocal lines over fast-moving instrumental material. The voice rarely joined the fray, leaving it commenting from one side of the room. Or perhaps, continuing the bad-photoshop theme, the voice was awkwardly superimposed over the electric-blue background. On my sheet, I have written ticks all over the “nature” section, in particular the ecstatic polyphony of quaver triplets and crotchet downward glissandi. The gloss reads “a frothing, teeming membrane of cells, splitting, merging, mutating, and eventually bursting after an ambush by an army of phages. The joyful dance of life spirals on.”

Arianna on a Bridge of Stars
The Melbourne Recital Centre
21 October, 2014
Programme: Peter de Jager, Arianna Meandering (WP); Brett Dean, Night Window; Monteverdi, Lamento d’Arianna; Peter de Jager, Model Universes (WP).

Kim Tan, Lizzy Welsh, et al. : Oscillations

Kim Tan, Lizzy Welsh, Peter de Jager and Alexander Garsden
Northcote Uniting Church
13 December

Kim Tan and Lizzy Welsh’s new duo explores contemporary music on baroque instruments. Baroque violin and flute is a magical combination, with the brightness of the former complementing the mellow tones of the latter. In their first concert, Tan and Welsh team up with virtuoso keyboardist Peter de Jager and composer Alexander Garsden for an exchange between diverse sound worlds.

Peter de Jager’s Prelude explores baroque gesture in the semi-improvised form of a Prelude. The trio of harpsichord, violin and flute begin in a state of gestural unison, with De Jager playing dense trills in the middle of the keyboard. Within this sparkling, rumbling cloud of sound the violin natters away with snatches of diatonic melodic fragments, while the dark flute plays a warbling ostinato. The violin gestures become more protracted as the piece progresses, with arpeggios and repetitive string crossings. The harpsichord also becomes more individuated, with chords and recognisable ornaments. Occasionally the flute and violin take leave of the trio texture for an episode in imitation, riffing on murmurs and double-dotted passages. De Jager progresses around the harpsichord, taking a grand tour of its registers, manuals and stops. The violin and flute are given a similarly thorough working-through, with moments for sautillé bowing and playing from the fingerboard to the bridge. Tan’s control of the baroque flute provided a broad, warm sonority sadly absent from Australian contemporary music. Hopefully many commissions will follow.

Two works by Clarence Barlow utilised modern instruments, but brought them into contact with drones and improvisations on limited rhythmic and modal resources inspired by Classical Indian music. In Until … Version 7, a guitarist plays a pattern of harmonics in an improvised rhythm and order, while an accompanying electronic drone rises imperceptibly in pitch. Garsden maintained a sense of line in each variation, keeping the audience rapt throughout the entire performance. In this way the audience were able to register the magical effect of the changing harmony of the accompanying drone, which gradually introduced complex harmonic beats to different parts of the guitar’s pattern. Until … Version 8 also uses variations on given sets of pitches and rhythms for a solo instrument, but this time for piccolo (played by Tan). The piccolo and electronic parts combine to produce difference tones in the listener, which at times take on striking melodic independence.

Alexander Garsden’s Law II for baroque violin had its second outing at the Oscillations concert. The piece is at once an accomplished exploration of spectralist compositional techniques and a sinisterly theatrical work. Garsden builds a bewildering electronic track out of analogue synthesis and granulated baroque violin. The teeming soundscape of insect-like chirps projects a Heart of Darkness-like horror as the baroque violin enters doing what it does best: bow sound. The piece proceeds in a series of electroacoustic builds and instrumental responses, with the violin becoming more violent as the piece progresses, until the violin is positively attacked with the side of the bow.

Oscillations presented two contrasting lines between baroque and contemporary music. One the one hand, sound, including timbre and temperament. This perspective resonates with our everyday rapport with baroque music. The early music industry today is in part a set of recording practices highlighting “instrument sound”. After two and a half centuries of equal temperament the range of temperaments used in the baroque is also an entirely appropriate point of fascination. On the other hand, notation, including form and gesture. De Jager’s Prelude was particularly representative of this second line. Many baroque pieces were not written for specific instruments and the refinement of notation and practice in continuo playing ushered in new forms and styles that were only secondarily cemented in a particular instrumental tone colour. This line seems more closely aligned with serial and then complexist composition. It will be interesting to see how these different lines are developed in Tan and Welsh’s future concerts.

Ida Duelund, Winterreise (album launch)

Winterreise by Ida Duelund, Chamber Made Opera Records
Winterreise by Ida Duelund, Chamber Made Opera Records

Winterreise (album launch)
Ida Duelund
Peter de Jager
A living room in Williamstown
Chamber Made Opera Records
Saturday 25 May

A supermoon hung in the seaside gloaming as I inexpertly navigated the streets of Williamstown. Getting a little lost is all part of the Chamber Made Opera experience. In the company’s successful Living Room Opera series, the audience is given the address of a household venue somewhere in Melbourne, hoping that the door they knock on hides the host, audience and performers they are looking for and not a family preparing dinner. Chamber Made Opera’s new record label is taking a similar approach, eschewing the trappings of bar or concert-hall launches for an intimate engagement with performers in a suburban living room. Though the autumnal ramble towards last Saturday’s coastal home was far from the lonely winter’s journey depicted in Franz Schubert’s Winterreise song cycle, the experience lent a heightened sense of strangeness and discovery proper to Schubert’s subject.

Gathered around cheese platters with cups of mulled wine, we were not to hear Ida Duelund’s unique interpretation of Schubert for voice and double bass before pianist Peter de Jager treated us to Bach’s Toccata in F# minor, Schubert’s Impromptu in Gb major and Australia-based composer Chris Dench’s E330. Jager’s sensitive articulation of polyphonic voices adds fresh depth and interest to works as well-known as Schubert’s Impromptu. Appropriate for an evening dedicated to the erring soul, all three works performed by Jager pitted a wandering, arpeggiated accompaniment against a searching prinicpal line. Dench’s E330 (from the opera We based on the novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin) strikingly contrasts a Scriabin-like Fantasy with a faux-serial study. In We, the piece is played by a character in a strictly regulated, utilitarian dystopia to demonstrate the difference between Scriabin’s hyper-emotional music and the coolly-formulated music of the One State. Both parts are marvelous constructions on their own, but gain value in their juxtaposition. The icy, crystal-clear vistas and balance between the principal and accompanying voices in the latter half of E330 comes as an epiphany, but only after the Scriabinesque turmoil.

Ida Duelund in Another Lament, 2011. Photo by Paul Dunn
Ida Duelund in Another Lament, 2011. Photo by Paul Dunn

Duelund intoned the first falling notes of Gute Nacht a capella as the night turned black and ship lights passed by outside. Wedged in an opening between two rooms, she performed to one, then to the other audience, accompanying her seraphic voice with bowed and pizzicato double bass. Duelund’s interpretation of Schubert is an intimate rediscovery of counterpoint, at times dissonant, at others of the purest, open intervals. Missing from the launch was Jethro Woodward’s electronic manipulation of the double bass, which accompanied Duelund in the first outing of her Winterreise programme in 2011. Woodward’s subtle atmospheric support is reproduced to great effect on the album itself, available online through Chamber Made Records. What was lost in Woodward’s absence was more than compensated for by some of Duelund’s new compositions, mostly sung in Danish, which show her wandering contrapuntal style extended to new extremes, with an extended vocal range, daring leaps and completely exposed singing against semitones and quartertones in the bass. Like Schubert’s wanderer, Duelund’s voice always returns to some sort of home, though never that from which it sets out, creating a challenging, unnerving, but ultimately rounded experience.

If Ida Duelund does not become a stratospherically famous avant-garde pop star then it will be by no fault of her own. We can blame the market, or the public, or any number of extraneous circumstances, but the counterpoint of Duelund’s seraphic voice and searching double bass confronts, confuses and finally wins one over in a way that is utterly unique today.

RealTime has three copies of Ida Duelund’s Winterreise to give away courtesy of Chamber Made Opera Records. Details here.