I had the pleasure hearing the Australia Ensemble’s latest concert, Raising Sparks. What an inspiring concert to hear! The evening opened with a luscious 20th century program, followed by Raising Sparks – a newer work by James MacMillan for mezzo soprano and the full Australia Ensemble.
Beautiful layers of sound to create a rich, unified sound
First on the program was Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro which is a personal favourite of mine. As a player myself, I know how tricky the opening of this piece can be – it is crucial the entries are absolutely precise to capture the delicacy of this opening. In capturing those harmonies as beautifully as they did, I was drawn into the moment instantly which I sensed was also felt by the entire audience. On a technical note, I’ve seen this piece performed before however in a different lay out. The Australia Ensemble still had the harp in the centre as I have seen before (I don’t believe you could change that given how central the harp is to the piece) but surrounding it, had the string quartet slightly separated with the flute and clarinet in the middle however slightly behind. I really took note of this layout because I felt it brought the ensemble closer together. The interaction between the players was therefore able to be more intimate and as a result the ensemble blended incredibly well, building up beautiful layers of sound to create a rich, unified sound.
Rich cello line, played by Julian Smiles
Next on the program was Arnold Bax’s Harp Quintet. This was another beautifully executed work which truly expressed the nostalgia described in the program notes to this piece. The feeling of melancholy and tension rolled through out the work and here I was particularly drawn to the rich cello line, played by Julian Smiles.
Unisons between Dimity on violin and Julian on cello were absolutely perfect
Third on the program was Gabriel Faure’s Piano Trio. Once again the resonant sounds of the cello enticed in the opening, the complexity of sound added to by a shimmer from the violin. The beauty of this work was in its simplicity as it easily moved through a “perpetual evolution”. The unisons between Dimity on violin and Julian on cello were absolutely perfect to the point I was almost not sure who was playing!
The sacred nature of Raising Sparks
After the interval came James MacMillan’s work Raising Sparks for mezzo soprano and mixed octet. In addition to being a successful conductor, MacMillan is an international conductor, conducting his own works, contemporary works as well as standard repertoire. His compositions are inspired by his celtic heritage, his political views and his Catholic beliefs. This work in particular draws on the mysticism of the Jewish Hasidim. Further, this work is set to poetry by Michael Symmons Roberts who is also interested in Jewish mysticism as well as book The Light in the Eyes by Menahem Nahum (Rabbi). Nahum focuses in this book on two main concepts: zimzum where God holds back on his power and light to create something other than himself, and Shevira where God shoes the light of creation into this space. Narhum is active in Chermobyl which Roberts also draws on.
Listening, one really gets the sense of Raising Sparks being of a sacred nature.
Fiona Campbell (mezzo soprano), opened the work with an unaccompanied solo line – she has an extremely resonant voice which lured me along with the audience, into this piece. This was joined by the lower strings. As the piece progressed, I found myself continually drawn into the various intriguing sound scapes and almost as soon as I’d settled into the sound, I’d be quickly pulled back by contrasting sharp sounds from the clarinets that cut abruptly through the ensemble.
Love to hear new works and this was no exception, it had some truly beautiful moments
I always love to hear new works and this work was no exception. It truly had some beautiful moments. I feel the audience were also intrigued by this work but perhaps showed more enthusiasm for the 20th century based pieces earlier in the program. I believe it can sometimes take some time for newer works to really “settle” as a work that is “comfortable” for most audiences to digest. This work may or may not have the same connotations for some but personally, I could really connect to this work right from those opening notes. From my perspective, this is what makes a great performance – when I can be engaged throughout and still be thinking about it even a few days later.
Australia Ensemble: Raising Sparks | UNSW | 14 March 2015