Southern Cross Soloists take us on a captivating journey around the world

by | Jun 3, 2024 | Ambassador thoughts, Chamber Groups, Orchestras, Premiere, Strings

Southern Cross Soloists | Perfumes of the East

Sunday June 2, 2024, QPAC, Brisbane, QLD

Southern Cross Soloists took audiences on a captivating journey around the world on Sunday afternoon, showcasing chamber music gems from home and afar. 

Brisbane’s cultural centre was buzzing this weekend with patrons attending the annual Brisbane Writers Festival held at the State Library, and concerts at QPAC.  Amid a busy week volunteering at the Writers Festival, I found time to duck across to the concert hall and watch Southern Cross Soloists’ Perfumes of the East

Before the concert began, Southern Cross Soloists’ acting artistic director Ashley Smith, announced that pianist Konstantin Shamray was unwell and unable to perform, resulting in some last minute changes to the program. Luckily, the ensemble had some Mozart pieces that they’d prepared earlier ready to go. 

SXS has also recently announced a change in leadership, farewelling their long-standing artistic director and core oboist Tania Frazer. Tania has led the ensemble for 14 years, showing dedication and commitment. She will be sorely missed!

Sunday’s concert featured SXS members Ashley Smith (clarinet), Nick Mooney (French Horn),  James Wannan (viola), and guest associate artists David Silva (flute), Andre Duthoit (cello), Courtenay Cleary (violin), Dusan Walkowizc (double bass), Mia Huang (piano), and Laura Biemmi (oboe). They were joined by featured soloists Nina Korbe (soprano), Amalia Hall (violin), and SXS artist in residence Chris Williams (didgeridoo).

sxs perfumes of the east 2 6 24 0002The concert began with the World Premiere of a new piece, composed by Stephen Leek in collaboration with Chris Williams. Commissioned specifically for the ensemble as part of their Didgeridoo Commissioning Project, this piece featured Wakka Wakka soprano Nina Korbe and Wakka Wakka didgeridoo player Chris Williams. Juwoon, Tu, Ngyin’anga (Country, Heart, Life) combined Indigenous words, sounds, and songs together with modern European instruments. The piece was inspired by the landscape of the Wakka Wakka country, with its rivers, hills, rainforests, and waterfalls. It used fragments of a traditional song Chris learnt from his grandmother, now sung by Nina in a glowing golden dress. 

From this distinctly Australian soundworld, we then travelled across the seas to Spain, for Mozart’s Don Giovanni Overture. This dramatic and lively overture foreshadows the coming light and dark themes in the opera. The arrangement we heard on Sunday was well-suited to the small ensemble.     

Staying in Spain, we then heard Ravel’s Vocalise-etude en forme de Habanera. Originally written for piano and voice, this piece has been rearranged for chamber ensemble. As an etude (or study) it was designed to be technically challenging for the performers, but Southern Cross Soloists made it look effortless.  

We then headed to Greece, for Ravel’s Cinq melodies populaires grecques (5 Popular Greek Songs). Nina took the spotlight, accompanied by the ensemble. Across the five movements, this piece told a story of a bright morning, a wedding, a moment of quiet reflection, then a merry party. I was captivated by Nina’s voice and loved every minute.  

Then we were transported to Russia, with Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Nightingale and the Rose. Featuring Amalia and Courtenay, accompanied by the larger ensemble, this enchanting piece told a story of a nightingale falling in love with a rose. 

sxs perfumes of the east 2 6 24 0024

Next, we travelled to Italy for Vivaldi’s Concerto for Viola d’amore, featuring violist James Wannan, accompanied by Amalia, Courtenay and Andre. James performed on a baroque instrument, known as the viola d’amore (viola of love) with seven strings. From the bright first movement, the piece moved into a more lyrical second movement, before building to a rapid climax. I loved watching James’ performance, as he certainly seemed to be enjoying himself. 

To finish, we visited Austria with Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A Major. This featured Ashley Smith on clarinet accompanied by string quartet comprised of James, Amalia, Courtenay and Andre. This gave Ashley a moment to shine, showcasing his snake-charming clarinet. 

In all, Perfumes of the East was a thoroughly enjoyable concert that demonstrated not only the ensemble’s exquisite skill but also their adaptability with last-minute changes. I particularly enjoyed Nina’s and Chris’ performances and hope to see more collaborations with First Nations artists in classical music in the future. 

Photo credit: Darren Thomas

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