Fiore | Something New – An Australian Commission-Fest
November 19, 2023, St John’s Anglican Church, Camberwell, Melbourne
In the radiant spirit of artistic exploration, Fiore embarked on a daring endeavour titled ‘Something New – An Australian Commission-Fest’ this Sunday at St John’s Anglican Church in Melbourne. It started almost a year ago with a seed of an idea planted by accomplished composer Alan Holley, and unfolded into a full concert of new works presented by the vocal quartet, featuring the dynamic talents of Monika Harris, Alex Ritter, Anish Nair, and Lachlan McDonald.
Thrilled by Holley’s initial proposition to Fiore to perform his set of newly commissioned secular carols, Fiore expanded their horizons by adding to the project and commissioning an array of rising Australian composers to make up the concert which was pulsating with the freshness and vibrancy of newly minted works.
The performance commenced with Alex Ritter’s sublime countertenor entry, reminiscent of ancient chants, seamlessly transitioning into the modern chordal structure of Daniel Riley’s ‘Voici le printemps.’ Riley, a Victorian composer now based in Canada, showcased a fusion of styles that echoed through the hallowed walls of St John’s.
The centrepiece of the performance was a collection of secular carols by Alan Holley, music that beautifully adorned the poetry of Mark Tredinnick. Advent/ure: an Advent Overture, mirroring the ebb and flow of nature, captivated the audience with sophisticated harmonies that darted back and forth like schools of fish under the ever-hungry gaze of seabirds.
Alan and Mark’s carols are a symphony of birdsong. In the ethereal Carol of the Rattling Reeds a chorus of birds converge, harmonising their voices as the veil of dusk descends. Holley’s artistic brush, laden with repeated syllables and chittering calls, dances in vibrant strokes against the canvas of the composition, while wider choral tones depict a glorious sunset deepening into darkness.
Lily Flynn’s composition, Stand by, an ode to her sisters and mother – unfolded as a transcendent night with family, capturing the essence of a conversation in music, set against the backdrop of a ‘shady bat-blanket silhouetting the sky’. Her intimate knowledge of voice, cultivated at the Melbourne Conservatorium, brought forth soft, generous, and heartfelt melodies.
Lydia Gardiner’s environmental allegory Parable, a collaboration with poet Kit Kelen, delved into the dichotomy of Earth’s beauty and the relentless march of progress. Gardiner’s composition, starting slow and swelling to a beseeching tone, served as a poignant reminder of the stakes at hand.
Juliana Kay’s musical mantra I am Humbled was a melodic exploration inspired by her well-travelled grandfather’s wildly interesting life – an harmonious blend of melodic lines and dancing harmonies that encapsulated the humility gleaned from life’s varied experiences.
Southwards, a creation by Joshua Adams collaborating with poet Caitlyn Stone, painted a sonic landscape of birds bursting into the sky against a smudged landscape. ‘The hunch, the push, the spiralling up, the crying out’. A vivid portrayal of the natural beauty south of Perth.
In the latter part of the performance, Alan Holley’s compositional prowess continued to shine, particularly in his last two works, Carol of the Dead and Carol of the Living. Carol of the Dead unfolds with the countertenor voice singing a distinctly Australian melody, a magpie song, that resonated with familiarity. The poignant text, a touching tribute to those who have departed, becomes a heartfelt plea to ensure their lives endure through our reflections and actions. It’s a beautiful narrative, urging us to glean wisdom from the past and allowing the legacy of the departed to flourish in our collective consciousness. Truly, a moving testament to the power of music to evoke emotion and provoke contemplation.
This concert marked the recently formed Fiore’s most ambitious project to date. All the compositions, diverse in their origins and influences, shared a common thread of reflecting upon nature. Despite the varying ages and experiences of the composers, a discernible unity prevailed, showcasing the richness of Australian vocal chamber music.
The quartet, with their impeccable blend and tonal mastery, navigated the intricate complexities of art music with finesse. Each piece, though distinct, contributed to a cohesive narrative and an atmosphere of reflection. I am keen to hear more from all of these composers who, aside from Holley, were unknown to me until this performance (I am glad of the wonders of technology which enabled me to watch this concert from Sydney).
As the final song lingered one line stayed with me, “None of us will last, but something will:”, I feel that the legacy of Australian vocal chamber music will be not only preserved by Fiore, but expansively enriched. Alleluia!