Tag Archives: Stuart Greenbaum

Australian Voices: Stuart Greenbaum

Australian Voices Series
Works by Stuart Greenbaum
Melbourne Recital Centre
Curated by Jessica Fotinos
Thursday 8 May

Stuart Greenbaum’s transparent textures and unabashedly diatonic harmonies leave space for the audience to consider the poetry and art with which his works are often coupled. The timbral and rhythmic subtlety of his work lends itself to the harp, which featured in all three of the works in this concert curated by ANAM harpist Jessica Fotinos.

Nine Candles for Dark Nights for solo harp, performed with great sensitivity by Fotinos, features a meditative, wandering ostinato inflected with harmonics. Fotinos integrated the melody’s cross-rhythms into the gentle flow of the piece with absolute ease like the “bending arcs of flame” of the nine memorial candles flickering in Greenbaum’s poem.

Ross Baglin’s poems set in Four Finalities for female voice, cor anglais and harp take their cues from the refined imagism of T. S. Eliot. The catalogues of luggage, clothes, furniture, snow and flowers—including snow filling flowers!—; the ruminations on “the time / It takes a finger to decide” and the peal of bucolic church bells are put to good use by Greenbaum. The first song of the cycle, with soprano Lotte Betts-Dean throwing herself into its swelling, keening melody, could be one of the more soulful Eurovision winners. The sparing interjections of the cor anglais (David Reichelt) fit the charm of these pensive poems wonderfully and constitute some of the most captivating moments in the cycle.

The eight miniatures of Greenbaum’s Mondrian Interiors are filled with skyward gestures of weightless optimism. Startling tutti chords strike out at the audience like the Mondrian’s Red Tree while a lighter texture paints the blue sky behind. The cubist Tree (c.1913) was evoked with a minimalist canon. Echoing the bold harmonic palette of Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue, the fifth movement has the bravado and syncopation of the introduction to a 1990s morning show. The fourth movement has the conciliatory tone of the end of a children’s movie from the same decade with its swooning, edgeless chords resembling the pastels of Composition in Oval with Colour Planes.

While communicating directly and succinctly (with the help of a spirited execution by the performers), Greenbaum’s painting of his points of inspiration can come across as overly simplistic. I wonder how Greenbaum’s engagement with his subjects extends both him and his listeners beyond their existing musical comfort zones and into the unknown.


Partial Durations is a Matthew Lorenzon/RealTime joint project.

Petrichor, Garden of Joy and Sorrow

Petrichor Trio (at the Abbotsford Convent), photo by Jessica King
Petrichor Trio (at the Abbotsford Convent), photo by Jessica King

Petrichor Trio
Conduit Arts
Rowan Hamwood (flute)
Alexina Hawkins (viola)
Jessica Fotinos (harp)
Wednesday 22 May

Petrichor’s recent concert at Conduit Arts found young and established composers alike asking themselves what on earth to do with a harp. Petrichor’s “take no prisoners” style of performance charged the small space of Conduit Arts with an atmosphere of absolute concentration.

Julius Millar’s Two Pieces for Flute, Viola and Harp contrasted a soundscape haunted with apparitions of clusters and string tremoli with a rhythmic piece based around a “ticking” harp ostinato. Sometimes the viola would join the harp in a hocket figure, or soar away on a legato line. Well-developed counterpoint between the flute and viola provided a moment of intense interest that then exploded into a spectacular cacophony on all three instruments.

Barry Conyngham’s Streams cast the harp in a similar role, as the pulsing accompaniment to contrapuntal play between the harp and viola. Conyngham transitions fluidly between such textures and layered trills with swelling dynamics and glorious open chords cut short by the idiomatic harpistic string-clang, which has to be heard to be believed (and if you go to harp concerts, will be believed more often than you wish).

Evan Lawson’s Skinnis for Flute, Viola and Harp (now on its second outing) was the only piece to utilise the harp’s majestic glissandi and full, ringing chords. These kitschy effects were welcome after the crystal-clear articulation and motoric effects of the “bean-counting harp.”

Sofia Gubaidulina’s The Garden of Joy and Sorrow canvassed all of these possibilities for combining flute, viola and harp, then developed many more through a series of vignettes punctuated by spoken German phrases. A particularly fascinating sound was an extremely fast phrase on viola, played with a very fast bow to produce a “squeaky” sound like a tape on fast-forward, above a machine-gun tattoo on the harp with paper woven between the strings.

The program also included a series of solo works including Gordon Kerry’s Antiphon for viola, Salvatore Sciarrino’s Canzona di Ringraziamento for flute and Suart Greenbaum’s Church at Domburg for harp. In all three cases the skill and conviction of these ANAM-trained musicians was in evidence.