A wonderful new enterprise from the innovative Sirius Chamber Ensemble is their ‘Meet the Composer’ series. Christine Draeger and Paul Smith were the two featured composers in the 2014 project. It is rare now for an unfunded music group to be able to promote a concert wholly of new Australian works and for this alone Sirius is to be commended. Indeed, there was much to pleased about in this concert with excellent performances from the soloists and the ensemble.
Featured composer: Christine Draeger
Christine Draeger is one of the most important flute players in Australia having been a member for 25 years of the Seymour Group (later named the Sonic Art Ensemble) and having performed with several of our major orchestras. In this concert we heard works that were a bit flute biased but that is to be expected. Melissa Coleman expertly performed the most substantial of these, the Two Fires Suite (2005) for solo flute, inspired by 5 poems from the pen of Judith Wright. Exploring a wide range of emotions and styles Draeger allowed the texts to influence her music and for one who knows the whole kit and caboodle of contemporary woodwind techniques this work, as with her other compositions, was free of gimmicks and had an immediate appeal to the listener.
Aubade (2011) for flute and piano was a fine choice to open the concert with its hints of Aaron Copland and a spaciousness in its expression. Into Forever (2013) for oboe and piano was over so fast and I am sure it warrants an expansion as I felt it has much to offer. Lovely playing from oboist Alex Fontaine and pianist Claire Howard Race.
Banana (1996) for wind quintet was comic and short and I felt it could have easily been a soundtrack to a black and white TV cartoon from the ‘fifties. Fun!
For me the work from Draeger with the most intrigue was the Variations on a Patriotic Love Song (2014) commissioned by Melissa Coleman for the Sirius Chamber Ensemble and receiving its premiere. Based on a theme by her great, great uncle Carl Wilhelm Draeger, the modern day Draeger does homage with a finely crafted a set of variations for wind quintet, my personal favourites being the one with the bird-song racket and the hymn tune like finale with its hints of Brahmsian flavours.
Christine Draeger is a composer who obviously enjoys the process of writing music accessible to the widest audience and she does so with a thorough understanding of her chosen instruments.
Featured composer: Paul Smith
I Dream of Purple Lakes (2012) and Chasing Cherry Blossoms (2013) by Paul Smith brought a major tone colour change to the concert as both works had voice and in these performances the composer was most fortunate to have strong performances from soprano Taryn Srhoj and mezzo Jermaine Chau.
In I Dream of Purple Lakes Smith uses the Schubert Shepherd on the Rock instrument group of soprano, clarinet and piano. Though only quite short this work delivered at a leisurely pace becoming dramatic and here the performers, Srhoj, clarinettist Ian Sykes and pianist Claire Howard Race were fine interpreters.
The two singers were beautifully matched and appropriately powerful in Chasing Cherry Blossoms. It is a delight to hear such young singers taking on new works with such enthusiasm and expressiveness. Again quite short at about 5 minutes, Smith delivers music that is slightly affected by the American minimalist school with hints of Bizet in the vocal writing.
The major work by duration and scope was Smith’s The Death of Baldr (2014) and commissioned by Ian Sykes for the Sirius Chamber Ensemble. In 7 distinct sections this is a modern day tone poem based on Norse mythology. Again minimalism takes front and centre in much of the ensemble writing but in the second movement it was put to good use invoking the sounds of a speeding train entering and exiting a long tunnel. I know this is seriously outside Norse mythological times but that is what I summoned up in my imagination as it was unfolding. This music was a delight and I only wished that it would be developed to be about three times longer.
For me the most successful movement of this work was the flute solo where the composer displayed a commanding sense of shape and direction and again it was beautifully played by Melissa Coleman. And I must mention the polished solo playing of Ian Sykes, clarinet and pianist Claire Howard Race.
Mention must also be made of the other ensemble instrumentalists for their committed playing, hornist Julia Zeltzer, bassoonist Alison Evans and cellist Ezmi Pepper.
A theme in this concert from both composers was activism, with ecological, social and equality issues, but for the listener the music must stand on its own and the response from the good-sized audience was testament that the composers had succeeded.
At Glebe Justice Centre, September 21, 2014.