In the historic Montsalvat in the hills just out of Melbourne two concerts of 19 new works were presented by the Melbourne Composers’ League in just one day. The MCL is a rarity in Australia – a group of composers who band together to present new music with a focus on composers from Victoria. Appropriate then that the concert was held in the grounds of the important mid-20th century artist colony, a place devoted to communal artistic endeavours.
Encompassing composers of differing professional development, MCL concerts can be varied but all surely offer up a few gems. There was no theme in the selection for this one day mini festival and the music presented was a cross section from some of the members. And still it ran like clockwork due to the sterling efforts of co-curators Johanna Selleck (composer/flautist) and Colin McKellar.
Trumpeter Harriet Channon flew down from Sydney to perform four unaccompanied premieres. In Heat for Hattie by Eve Duncan and Haydn Reeder’s Takeover, Channon effortlessly tamed the often demanding and at times dramatic writing for solo trumpet. La variazione enigmatica by Andrian Pertout seems at first to be a work comfortable in its intellectual approach but as this miniature unfolds it becomes quite mesmerising. Surely it is a work that will receive many more performances. Here, and in The sky is brass by Alan Holley (me), Harriet Channon proved herself to be a wonderful champion of this new repertoire.
Another performer who brought deep insight to the music was pianist Danae Killian. In Birth Music by Colin McKellar, a work that starts with clear musical lines over rather open harmonies, Killian uncovered rich piano sonorities inherent in the score. In The Necessity of Mary by Susan Frykberg, Killian handled all technical challenges with consummate ease. She is a composers’ performer, one who is at the service of the music.
Melbourne flute legend Peter Sheridan was astonishing as he ripped through Johanna Selleck’s Deja Vu for solo alto flute with flair and a gorgeous tone. He was also part of the all star performer trio in Michael Kieran Harvey’s Toccata DNA. Composer and Sheridan were joined by the ever so hard working percussionist Peter Neville – balletic as he traversed the setup. A load of fun this jazz influenced high energy work with millions of notes was a great concert finisher.
Livia Judge was the solo flautist in her own Cobblestone – music that channelled Irish folk music with an additional sheen of glistening harmonics. Anne Gilby was delightful in Piece for Solo Oboe by Peter Tahourdin. The Beauty of Now for violin and piano by Caerwen Martin opened as if it should be performed at night – sustained piano notes on which the violinist floats a gossamer line. Possibly a little long for the content but most pleasant. Special mention goes to the Acacia Gold Wind Quintet- Selleck, Gilby, clarinet Tim Garlick, horn Tom Campbell and bassonist Sara Rafferton for their excellent playing.
Paul Moulatlet’s Pax Fictus for solo piano is dark and dense music, brooding and even in its softer passages it is unnerving. I look forward to hearing it again soon. Epressive playing from pianist Rosa Scaffidi.
Three works involved electronics. Howard Dillon’s Below Silence is an exploration of abstract sounds that made me think I was in a choir of high pitched insects while Hydra 2 by Ros Bandt is a perfectly constructed semi-improvised interactive work for the tarhu and electronics. Made by the great Australian luthier Peter Biffen the tarhu is a long necked lutelike instrument. Pertout’s Here and Now for bass flute and electronics was for me the major work in this mini festival. Sheridan explored the deep sounds, the deep emotions beautifully and he draws out of the score music that takes the listener to another place – one where time itself seems to take a long breath.
This was a cultural day that many more people in Melbourne’s music community could support. Long may the MCL Elbow Room concerts thrive.
Melbourne Composers’ League | Sunday September 30, 2018 | Montsalvat, Eltham, VIC