Holley’s ‘The Goodchild Canzonas’ a fitting tribute to a great musician

by | Apr 4, 2022 | Ambassador thoughts, Brass, Composer

Lyrebird Brass | Top of the Food Chain: Bottom of the World

Monday, 28 March, 2022, Primrose Potter Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre

Presented by Melbourne Recital Centre and Lyrebird Brass

‘Lyrebird Brass’ – the name paying homage to native Melbourne icon; one of nature’s great imitators (no doubt in opposition to Aristotle’s view that proclaimed human beings as “the most imitative creature in the world”), and a songbird capable of imitating not only its sonic environment, but also vocalising contrapuntal melodies – according to the Lyrebird website is the “first professional Australian brass ensemble to feature women as core members.” Its mission statement declaring that it will “engage Australian audiences through exceptional artistry and accessible programming,” and “expand repertoire through new commissions with a particular emphasis on Australian music and works by composers from underrepresented demographics.” The constituent parts of Lyrebird Brass are Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (Melbourne University) staff members trumpeter Joel Brennan (Senior Lecturer in Music Performance at MCM), trumpeter Rosie Turner (Member of the Brass Faculty at MCM), hornist Carla Blackwood (Lecturer in Music Performance at MCM), trombonist Don Immel (Head of Orchestral Studies and Brass at MCM), and tubaist Tim Buzbee (Lecturer in Music Performance at MCM) – all extremely fine musicians, positively glowing in view of the abundance of talent and wealth of both national and international experience. What must be said at the onset is that Lyrebird Brass is a joy to listen to – its unquestionably beautiful and elegant tones sweet and mesmerizing; its turbocharged metamorphosis into fast gear delivered with conviction. Brass music, and in particular brass quintet music can appear tired and frail from the artistic perspective. This is of course not in reference to volume, or loudness (the trombone alone capable of 115 decibels), but with respect to a perceived energy of artistic expression that generally positions these compositions in the traditionally conservative, supposedly divergent or simply ordinary basket. But great musicians have the ability to transform the not so wonderful, and in this particular instance ‘Lyrebird Brass’ excelled, making the most of the new works. Having said that, there was excellence in composition on display, and in particular two works should be singled out: Catherine Likhuta’s Apex Predators and Alan Holley’s The Goodchild Canzonas.

My first contact with Ukrainian/Australian Likhuta’s music was in 2021 via a performance of her Tangle and Tear for Horn Trio by Melbourne’s Quercus Trio featuring Carla Blackwood (horn), Elizabeth Sellars (violin) and Rhodri Clarke (piano). Its original form being for violin, bass clarinet and piano, and created in 2018 as a commission for the absolutely fabulous Plexus ensemble: Monica Curro (violin), Philip Arkinstall (clarinet), and Stefan Cassomenos (piano). What I heard in Tangle and Tear is not only an affinity for brass writing, but a certain magic that one can only attribute to a composer with great character and magnetism. Creativity (the literal meaning being “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness”) is one of those great unsolved mysteries. Aristotle will say that it is “a gift from the gods,” but I personally tend to disagree with that empyrean view championed by the Romantics, and subscribe to the more reasonable proposition that credits the conditions and mechanisms of creativity to exposure and openness. The two essential ingredients go hand in hand, and therefore function in tandem. In Apex Predators I heard some of the same magic, which is of course the composer’s engaging artistic voice at play that in this instance shapes the compositional structures with an Alfred Schnittke-like verticality in juxtaposition with a John Adams-like linearity, generating music that’s a perfect match for the big screen. I will not describe the work in detail as the excerpt from the programme notes that follow articulate the experience perfectly: “Likhuta brings these creatures to life cleverly using murky colours, extreme dynamics, bitey articulations, compact harmonies and various extended techniques, to evoke stalking, lurking, snarling, snapping and pouncing. The final trumpet duet brings to mind a chaotic struggle between a predator and its prey, swirling around until the natural conclusion is reached and the prey is silenced.”

The other great work on the program – Alan Holley’s The Goodchild Canzonas – was commissioned by Sydneysiders Paul and Yvette Goodchild, and the two movements presented on this program (Lyrebird and Dulwich Ayre) intended as a set of four canzonas for the now late Paul Goodchild, who sadly passed away from terminal cancer the day following its ‘work in progress’ world premiere. Paul was no less than a national treasure; his professional artistic life encapsulating ten years as section trumpet followed by another thirty years as associate principal trumpet of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Holley was not only a long-time collaborator of Paul’s but also a long-time friend, conducting a concert with the world-acclaimed virtuoso at Sydney University’s Great Hall as early as 1984, and composing this piece for Paul in the hope that he might one day recover from his illness to finally play the complete work. The soft and gentles tones of this music are therefore intentional and appropriate in the absolute for a personal tribute to a trumpet legend that Holley graciously respects with unconditional warmth and tenderness. It is a godsend that the exquisite tones of Paul Goodchild live on in immaculate CD recordings such as the publicly disseminated Holley’s Doppler’s Web – featuring his Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra performed by Goodchild together with Sydney Symphony Orchestra conducted by Simone Young. The Goodchild Canzonas evokes a sentimentality that can only be described as a ‘sensitivity of consciousness’ – a sensitivity that feels, consummates and connects. This is perhaps the definition of true art. Composers collectively suffer tremendously from a clear disconnect between the art and the idea, with the actual ‘idea’ or concept a mere afterthought. Holley’s music does not suffer from this ailment, and he produces an art that one has no trouble in associating with not only its title, but its raison d’être. The composer writes: “For me, Lyrebird evokes the restlessness of the great mimic bird of Australia collecting sounds and songs from many different places and weaving them into a cacophonous and idiosyncratic song whilst Dulwich Ayre is more about being in a monumental structure like a large cathedral with seemingly endless space to allow sound to travel on and on and experiencing such sounds slowly drifting by.”

Other works presented in the program included Luke Styles’s Solder, Kate Neal’s Fanfare, as well as three offerings from Andrew Batterham’s Melbourne Mosaic.

Andrián Pertout, April 2022


Andrián Pertout is a freelance composer with a PhD in Composition from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (University of Melbourne). His music has been performed in over 50 countries around the world. He is currently Vice-President of the Melbourne Composers’ League (2021-); Australian delegate of the Asian Composers’ League (2007-); International coordinator, PUENTE Festival Interoceánico, Valparaíso, Chile (2019-); Member of the Editorial Board, Eurasian Music Science Journal, The State Conservatory of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, Uzbekistan (2022-); and was Visiting Professor of Composition at Aichi Prefectural University of the Arts, Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture, Japan (2019).

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