On a gorgeous spring afternoon, fifty music lovers settled into an art gallery on leafy Riley Street to celebrate the 60th birthday of composer Alan Holley, one of Sydney’s best-loved music figures.
Music and musicians representing Alan’s 40 years of composing
A delightful concert program of Alan’s work was the main event, drawn from music and musicians representing his 40 years at the forefront of the Australian music scene. Almost all the selections were for solo instruments and were written with these particular performers in mind, playing to each musician’s unique skills and revealing in their favourite sound-worlds. It made for a wonderfully close bond between the composer, performer and audience at this concert, as these ordinarily clearly demarcated boundaries were dissolved. This music was for the musicians, for us, and for Alan himself.
Works unified by birdsong
The unifying theme of the seven programmed compositions was birdsong, just one element of the natural beauty of the Australia landscape which suffuses Alan’s music. Flautist Christine Draeger’s performance of ‘Summer Bird‘ (1995) was sprightly and summery, with crystalline birdcalls and subtle melodiousness draped over an elegant rhythmic framework. Draeger’s earthy hues made fine use of the Gallery’s resonant acoustic, and in the stormy, bucolic ‘August‘ (2002) she evoked chattering birds and sighing winter winds in her syrupy phrasing, subtle dynamic contrasts and liquid tremolo.
Clarinettist Richard Rourke demonstrated captivating phrase control and lightness of touch in ‘Zoastra‘ (1991, inspired by a ceramic sculpture), and brought an articulate personality to ‘The birds will sing them off‘ (2012), playing with a shimmering tone that was at turns desolate and distinct, beautifully illustrating the lapping of waves on a ship in Sydney harbour circa 1788.
‘Concorno‘ (2010) for solo horn, was for this reviewer the concert’s highlight, being as it was in the hands of the incomparable Rob Johnson. Johnson gently teased out languid melodic possibilities from the diminished intervals of Holley’s writing with a virtuosity that was never short of stunning, producing a sound that was so three-dimensional you could almost touch it.
The evening’s only new work, ‘Take Flight‘, written for violinist Stan Kornel and cellist Christopher Pidcock, was, in the words of the musicians, a ‘scary piece’, consisting of 14 unbound pages of Rubik’s Cube-like music which they’d received only nine days previously. Any concerns were put to bed immediately; the composition was hugely satisfying and beautifully performed, crafted from a melange of rich major-7th chords and flurries of circular chromatic gestures.
The dazzling trumpet-work of Paul Goodchild in ‘Ornothologia‘ (2010) summed up this short and sweet birthday concert with a breathtaking display of musicianship. Crisp birdsong pealed brightly across the gallery floor, with Goodchild’s intensity and playfulness never masking the melodicism at the heart of Alan Holley’s music.
Watters Gallery, East Sydney
Saturday, October 11, 2014