Two years ago Josie and the Emeralds celebrated St Cecilia’s day (Nov 22) and their performance was met with a great deal of enthusiasm and the suggestion that this become a regular event. And it has. This year the celebration was held in that most inspiring of spaces, the Great Hall at the University of Sydney, and despite the competition from the Glebe markets and other Sunday afternoon fun activities, a large and appreciative crowd gathered.
St Cecilia is considered the Patron saint of music. In one of the famous icons of her, she is playing an organ. Born in C2nd CE, she was martyred – probably beheaded with a sword. Many musical compositions have been dedicated to her, and over the centuries November 22 has become a day for concerts and musical festivals, dating back to the first known celebration in France in 1570. Purcell and Handel both composed well-known works for her Feast Day, and many others have written special music also.
The program opened with music for viol da gamba consort by Draghi (Italian) and Charpentier (French), two C17th composers whose work influenced Purcell. Josie Ryan presented Draghi’s Song for St Cecilia’s Day (‘The soft complaining flute‘), and also sang Purcell’s ‘If music be the food of love‘. Pieces by Sweelinck, Scheneck, and JS Bach rounded out the C16th-C17th program.
The one contemporary piece was Shamim, a breathtakingly beautiful new composition by Brooke Green, artistic director of The Emeralds. This was its premiere and I hope I can hear it again. The program notes described it as “a textless lament for all of the children and refugees on Nauru” and it is named for Shamim, bright 17 year old refugee girl trapped more than three years on the island and slowly declining mentally and physically. No words were needed – Green’s own anguish over the situation of this young woman came through powerfully in the music played by the viol consort.
Given St Cecilia’s connection with the organ, it was fitting that the program should include the wonderful organ in the Great Hall, played by Amy Johansen, University of Sydney Organist. She opened at full throttle with Bach’s Prelude in C which was thrilling to hear. She was then joined by Josie Ryan for Handel’s ‘A Song for St Cecilia’s Day’, using the same Dryden text as Draghi had used.
A concert from Josie and The Emeralds is always an uplifting and joyful experience. The added bonus of Amy Johansen playing organ really added to the celebration of the life of St Cecilia. I’m sure she felt honoured.