Halcyon’s Giving Voice: A beacon in Sydney’s musical culture

by | Jul 16, 2014 | Ambassador thoughts

One of the most important and satisfying concerts in Sydney for a very long time

On leaving Halcyon’s well attended concert at St Bede’s Drummoyne on July 12 I felt quite elevated as I knew I had been at one of the most important and satisfying concerts in Sydney for a very long time. Three works, all around the 25 minute mark for voice and chamber ensemble, written by two of our elder statesmen of music, David Lumsdaine (b.1931) and Nigel Butterley (b.1935) and by one of the standout composers of his generation, Elliott Gyger (b.1968) were masterfully performed by Alison Morgan, Jenny Duck-Chong and an elite group of instrumentalists expertly conducted by Matthew Wood.

A Tree Telling of Orpheus

Lumsdaine’s ‘A Tree Telling of Orpheus‘ (1990) starts with a most beautiful and simple idea from the strings but ever so quickly one is aware that this is not music to blatantly please the listener but is rather one where the composer draws us into a world of invention and takes us on a deeply satisfying journey. Even though the vocal line rarely suggests the meaning of the text it does however live in its own joyous and ecstatic world and is treated for much of the time as another instrumental colour. The more this work unfolded the greater the depth of meaning Lumsdaine conveyed.

Giving Voice

The only premiere of the concert was Gyger’s eight movement ‘giving voice’ (2012). He is a composer who is obviously very demanding of himself as every note sounds as if it can only be placed in that exact moment and the colours he employs make you want to listen to the next musical phrase or indeed, argument, as this is music of great intent. To a point it is also music that is demanding of the audience too, though, not all the time. The songs ‘Unfractured Light‘, ‘the stars‘ and ‘Girl Swinging‘ were soft and gentle gems. I could have listened to them over and over again. However, Gyger is more than a one trick pony as the energy in ‘News of a Baby‘, with its delightful modernist use of rhythm and harmony, sweeps the listener along at great pace.

Orphei Mysteria

In ‘Orphei Mysteria‘ (2008) Butterley again shows why he is so admired by his composer colleagues. His sumptuous sounds, and always at the service of the music and the text, and the way he colours each phrase at times mesmerise the listener. In ‘The Lemon Tree‘ so often I felt as if I was in a labyrinthine dream, lost but content, in a place I have always known but still marvelling at the freshness of the sounds and the direction of the art. Even though Butterley doesn’t do ‘fast’ in this work there are moments of energetic interruptions, essential to give meaning to the introspection that underlies the work.

A beacon in Sydney’s musical culture

Halcyon is a beacon in Sydney’s musical culture and again the performances were exemplary and at the service of the music. Morgan and Duck-Chong sang beautifully, pointing the texts and adding meaning with perfectly placed nuances. I must mention the excellent playing of the ensemble and it would be churlish not to mention each one – Sally Walker (flutes), Peter Smith (clarinet), Alexandre Oguey (oboes), Victoria Jacono-Gilmovich (violin), James Wannan (viola), Geoffrey Gartner (cello) and Giuseppe Zangari (guitar).

This was a deliciously old-fashioned concert where the intellect was satisfied as much as the other senses.

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About The Author

Alan Holley

Alan has been composing works that have been regularly performed and broadcast in Australia since the mid-1970s and over the past 25 years his music has become increasingly well-known in America and Europe. His trumpet concerto Doppler’s Web (2005) and A Line of Stars (2007) were commissioned and performed in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. His music is published by EMI Australia, Allans and Kookaburra Music and recordings of his music have been released on numerous labels.

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