The heart and the alternate reality
In an inspiring Sunday afternoon at The Concourse, the epic ferocity of a symphony orchestra in full flight, a passionate and instinctive cello soloist and a magnetic contemporary choral requiem were brought to life by Willoughby Symphony and Choir, conducted by Michelle Leonard OAM.
The Eternity concert took the audience on a ‘rhapsodic journey’ through the astounding beauty of Dvořák’s famous Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104 and Kate Moore’s Lux Aeterna: VIVID. Lux Aeterna was written in 2018 and this concert represented its Australian premiere.
In between the two were excerpts from David Basden’s Opening, Eternity, Epilogue arranged by Andrew Howes, and Dan Walker’s ‘Were all the stars to disappear or die’. Combined with a preconcert talk by Dr James Nightingale for Fine Music FM, and the program notes by Angus McPherson, Deputy Editor of Limelight Magazine, the afternoon was a date with music that both inspired and challenged the audience.
Dvořák’s cello concerto was written in the last decade of his life, with its genesis in the USA in New York at the composer’s height of fame. Initially skeptical about the ability of the cello to express his artistry, the piece has become one of the most famous in the repertoire, played by Steven Isserlis, Yo-Yo Ma and of course Jacqueline du Pre. Why is that? James Nightingale said that perhaps it’s because it requires the soloist to play for 40 minutes in a ‘virtuosic marathon’.
Young cello soloist Benett Tsai certainly mastered the marathon and more, in an outstanding and beautiful expression of Dvořák’s masterpiece. Tsai made his main stage debut at the Musica Viva Huntington Estate Music Festival and has appeared as a soloist with the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra under its Chief Conductor and Artistic Director Dr Nicholas Milton AM. Aged just 15, the youngest winner of the Fine Music National Young Virtuoso Award, Tsai brought a captivating emotional intensity to his solos and his dialogue with the orchestra was tender and at the same time assertive.
The piece demanded a huge and impressive sound from the double bass, brass and percussion sections of the orchestra, which they delivered with a softness and then blazing forte, combining with the strings to conjure up pictures of a vast and deeply emotional landscape. The spirited Czech folk melodies and the sweeping arc of romanticism made me wonder if we were on a Game of Thrones film set! Russian cellist and conductor Rostropovich is quoted in the program as saying “Every time I reach the final pages I have tears in my eyes, it is so beautiful,” and the combined forces of cello soloist and orchestra certainly delivered that intensity.
After the interval, Basden and Walker heralded the change of pace into contemporary art music, showcasing Freyja Meany’s viola. With bell-like vocal quality, countertenor Oscar Smith opened Kate Moore’s Lux Aeterna: VIVID high up behind the orchestra in the gallery of the hall in the Introit: Requiem Aeternam.
Now it was time to hear the Willoughby Symphony Choir and Moore’s piece was in expert hands with conductor Michelle Leonard, well known for her expertise in complex contemporary choral works, particularly through her award-winning Moorambilla Voices program. The choir were on fire and presented a strong and haunting performance – ranging from the sensuous to the eerily gothic.
Lux Aeterna is a requiem for chamber orchestra and choir and has five movements, with this concert presenting four of them – Introit: Requiem Aeternam, Lucidity: Eyes of Hands, Stabat Mater and Clarity: Litany of Saints and Trees which finishes with the Lux Aeterna. In Lucidity, the music overlays and cross hatches text of the Latin scientific names of mammals, bees, butterflies and song-birds. This setting comes from Moore’s inspiration at St John’s Cathedral in Den Bosch where 96 creatures are sculpted on the roof in a bestiary.
Using the choir to create a trance-like environment of ‘ritual and devotion, an invocation of souls and saints’ the overall impact is visual and aural textures like fractals dissolving in on themselves. This intensity was maintained across all movements, contrasting delightful segments of piano with moments of violent and powerful choral magnetism.
Moore describes herself as a ‘composer in sound art music’ and in reviews of her work the phrases ‘sonic chemistry’, ‘tsunami of sound’, and ‘alternate reality’ abound. Pairing this sophisticated and well-crafted musical sound painting to match the complexity and intensity of Dvořák was a brilliant piece of programming.
Moore was born in the UK, studied in Australia and moved to the Netherlands with residencies in the USA. She is a creative in electronics and collaborative forms of music making. If you can hear James Nightingale’s talk, which was recorded by Fine Music FM, you will learn a lot about this extraordinary artist and her fascination with the natural world. I will leave the last word with Moore: ‘I felt that through the music, I could channel their voice, the voice of The Creatures who are crying out in times of climate change.’