Skip to main content

Tour Four: Resonance

AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA. IBM Tour Four: RESONANCE. Masterpieces for String Orchestra.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra in their program RESONANCES presented five Masterpieces for String Orchestra. The concert was extremely felicitous. Beginning with a world premiere, commissioned to celebrate Richard Tognetti’s 20th Anniversary as leader of the ACO, was Peter Sculthorpe’s Chaconne. “The music is influenced by Bach.” The music was extremely beautiful and wonderfully captured in its long floating sounds by the players.

Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis was the next choice. Written“ in 1910 a perceptive critic noted something of the same quality, saying that ‘one is never quite sure whether one is listening something very old or very new’, Williams or Tallis? There is a large contingent of players, the “orchestra is divided into three – a string quartet, a tutti section and a small group of nine players that provides distant echo effects.” The opening chords of the piece are resonant with empathy, comforting emotional memories welled up, and whether it be the modal harmonies reminiscent of those school church choir days or not, the performance took me to a place of contemplative appreciation – a time of a spiritual life, less complicated than my present one – “glowing’, “radiant”, “harmony” all words to express my experience.

A long floor change and re-organisation of the orchestra for the Bela Bartok; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Bartok is a relatively recent composer to my ear. I was introduced to him by Michael Tilson-Thomas and the San Francisco Orchestra. I can remember being struck by the syncopated use of percussion and being intrigued by the contrasting ‘noises’ from the orchestra and the pulsing forward adventure of the sounds. The use of the Celesta ,magical to the ears. ”… It traces a simple journey, via sound worlds of amazing variety, from instability to resonant concord… Bartok along with colleague Zoltan Kodaly was a pioneer in recording and notating….. folk musics of Eastern Europe….. he had intensively researched Bulgarian music…. The influence on his own work can’t be overstated, particularly in his use of irregular and compound rhythms…” The music has the surprising capacity to keep one alert and engaged in the composition. Bright, perky, unpredictable, “humanist” and “sophisticated”, other words to sum up the experience of listening.

After the interval came, Iannis Xenakis and his composition Shaar. This piece was commissioned for the 1983 Testimonium Festival in Jerusalem whose theme was ”From the revealed and from the Hidden”. The piece Shaar means ‘gate’. Xenakis., a young Greek resistance fighter qualified as an engineer and found employment working for the architect Le Corbusier “while studying composition with Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Schaeffer.” His work was in an urgent reply to the barbarism of the ‘war’ culture of mankind. The piece begins with “wave –like melodies woven out of rapid, sweeping glissandos and create fleeting moments of richly resonant stability.” So powerful are the musical-sound statements that I responded with the laughter of surprised provocation. It presented a contemporary expression of string orchestration that was thrilling in its dare. The subsequent patterns of sound held the concentration with a kind of perverted fascination for me. It was a very refreshing experience- a true “Masterpiece”. Xenakis ,himself reminds us that ‘in my music there is all the agony of my youth, of the Resistance, and the aesthetic problems they posed, with the street demonstrations, or even more the occasional, mysterious , deathly sounds of those cold nights in December 1944 in Athens’ – a time of deadly resistance to the Nazi’s and then British – who tried to impose the Greek monarchy on the people in the wake of the Nazi retreat. This febrile sense of life being expressed in the music is palpable and thrilling in its affect. The engineer and architect is redolent in the composer’s sound construction.

In contrast the majesty of Richard Strauss’: Metamorphosen for 23 strings has all the deeply felt torture of a war culture in Germany that caused the creating of a music piece, that according to Michael Kennedy was ‘an emotional catharsis, a confession and an atonement’ for the composer, written in the closing period of World War II, in 1945. Inspired by poetry of Goethe which suggested that ‘ no-one can know himself….. yet must daily put to the test who he is and what he was, what he can and what he may be”. There is deep feeling expressed here and the momentous time spaces and harmonies envelop one into a place of stillness and a kind of grief. Knowing that this composition was near the end of his compositional time, I longed for the glories of the transcendent sounds of THE FOUR LAST SONGS. Alas, not to be reached, but still affecting in its playing by the ACO.

This was again a very expertly selected program and rewarding to hear. Life is well spent with Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and in this concert by many other guest artists.

Playing again 19 August, 7pm, City Recital Hall.
For more information or to book click here.