Ahead of Halcyon’s concert, In Nature, on Saturday 12th October, classikON’s Phillipa spoke to Halcyon’s Artistic Director, co-founder and mezzo-soprano, Jenny Duck-Chong about nature and poetry as artistic inspiration, the importance of supporting new music, and the unique soundscapes In Nature will evoke.
classikON: Why do you think it is that composers throughout history, and still today, turn to nature as their inspiration?
Jenny: Nature is an enduring source of inspiration for artists – poets, painters and composers alike. Contemplating the natural world can calm us, it can energise us and it can help us see ourselves more clearly. Like music itself, nature speaks to us deeply beyond the need for words. And it displays itself in infinite variety – just like the music on our program!
Tell us about how the unique combination of instruments and performers featured in this concert came about.
The unusual ensemble for In Nature really grew from Andrew Ford’s new song cycle. The work, for mezzo soprano, flute, cello, guitar, percussion and tabla, is at the heart of the program. Though I have enjoyed working with many of these instruments before, it has been my first chance to work alongside the wonderful colours of the tabla in this piece and I have to thank Andrew for giving us all the chance to experience this.
From this starting point, I found other works that drew on natural themes. I also wanted to highlight smaller subsets from this ensemble and so there are works for solo voice and voice and instrument duos alongside the larger works. But the wonderful thing about small chamber music like this is that, even in the largest of ensemble pieces, every note and instrumental colour matters and contributes something significant to the sound palette.
Aside from the element of nature and the natural, are there other similarities between the pieces in the program?
Poetry is at the heart of many of the pieces on Saturday’s program. I am endlessly fascinated by the way composers respond to their chosen texts and poems, and this concert is no exception. Then there are the varied ways they treat text: some exploit every nuance of the language and meaning, others fragment and blur the words for the purposes of exploring sound as much as meaning. And still others rely on wordless moments – whether for quiet reflection or as a heart-felt cry. In fact, Elena Kats-Chernin’s work, Moondust, features no text for the singer as she wanted to give me the chance to be truly one of the instruments in the ensemble.
Why is it important to you and Halcyon to commission, premiere and perform new works from Australia and around the globe?
When Alison Morgan and I founded Halcyon over twenty years ago, as singers who wanted to explore the world of contemporary chamber music, we discovered there was an enormous amount of fantastic new work out there. Bringing this rarely heard music to our audiences was one of the key reasons we formed the ensemble and we foraged in libraries, music centres and through various national and international networks to discover these gems.
We also knew it was important to continue to add to this repertoire and have set about commissioning new work and also introducing international composers to our Australian audiences. And Saturday’s concert is no exception, with four world premieres and two Australian premieres on the program.
But the premiere tally is not the goal. Curating a concert is about connecting themes and how pieces resonate or interact with each other, and provoke an audience to think and engage. It’s also about relationships that develop between performers and composers; connections that form through shared experiences. And it’s about finding wonderful music to share with new audiences, whether created right here at home or drawn from the other side of the world.
Ahead of Halcyon’s performance of In Nature, you can read more about some of the specific pieces in the program here. On Saturday 12th October at 8pm in Summer Hill, step out of the everyday and join Halcyon In Nature. This unique program is not to be missed!