Over the weekend two very unique vocal ensembles joined in harmony for an intimate preview of a new work by awarded young Australian composer Andrew Howse and Sydney newcomer Kezia Yap. The two ensembles, The Song Company and Leichhardt Espresso Chorus, were brought together in Dubbo by Michelle Leonard, Artistic Director of the celebrated Moorambilla Voices for the ‘Voices’ annual gala concert. For many years both ensembles have played different roles in mentoring and supporting the Moorambilla project and have grown to become friends and collaborators. Being in the same place at the same time presented a wonderful opportunity to share their latest collaboration with a regional audience prior to the mainstage Sydney performance in Leichhardt in October.
‘Callan Park’ takes us on a journey through the history of the Inner West’s iconic green space of the same name. Both composers featured in this concert were also in Dubbo on Sunday and gave the audience a short introduction to their individual narratives on Callan Park, setting the scene for the music to come. Leonard mentioned that this idea will be extended in the Sydney performance where she will host a conversation with local experts on the park’s interesting and chequered history.
Yap, a recent Sydney Conservatorium graduate began the journey in the present with her new work ‘Green Mosaic’, written for Espresso Chorus and pianist Benjamin Burton. It’s an evocative description of dappled sunlight and tessellating shades of green, full of peace and joy.
Andrew Howes piece ‘From Hell to Heaven’ followed. This piece draws more deeply on Callan Park’s history and introduces us to characters whose lives were intimately linked to it; Louisa Lawson (suffragette, business woman and mother to Henry Lawson) and George McQuay (an unknown soldier) who both spent time recovering at the Callan Park Hospital for the Insane. Lawson was herself a talented poet and Howse uses her verse, newspaper articles and historical text to great effect to narrate his story.
Song Company were just stunning, navigating the difficult, intricate harmonies and time signatures with aplomb and great depth of expression, and baritone Mark Donnelly’s spoken text transported the audience to another time and place, at times gut-wrenchingly sad and at others joyous. Espresso Chorus (or least a small chamber group of their touring choristers) supported the Song Company well, with soundscapes and full choral harmonies – a sound performance which they clearly enjoyed, showing emotional engagement with both the music and soloists. Benjamin Burton added his musical talent into the mix with piano lines that required deft treatment and a keen sense of the sometimes raw emotionality of the narrative.
This preview showed clearly that the Sydney performance of Callan Park looks to be a remarkable experience of musical storytelling well worth attending.
Find out more about the performance on Sunday October 23, midday to 4pm, in Leichhardt.