controlled abandon

matthew lorenzon: plight of the peacock

“PEACOCKS ARE VAIN AND STUPID,” CONDUCTOR SIMON CHARLES EXPLAINED. “AT MONTSALVAT ONE KEPT ON COMING INTO THE GREAT HALL AND STARING AT HIMSELF IN THE MIRROR.” THE RECENT PERFORMANCE, FEATURING FOUR PIECES COMPOSED DURING CHARLES’ RESIDENCY AT THE VICTORIAN ARTIST COLONY, WAS UNDERSCORED BY A LESSON FROM THE PEACOCK: YOU CAN MAKE SERIOUS MUSIC, BUT YOU ALSO HAVE TO MAKE FUN OF YOURSELF. THIS DID NOT MEAN THAT THE ENSEMBLE, FEATURING AVIVA ENDEAN ON CLARINETS, MATTHEW HORSLEY ON PERCUSSION, KIM TAN ON FLUTES AND RYAN WILLIAMS ON RECORDERS, SHIED AWAY FROM FULL-BLOODED ‘SERIOUS’ MUSIC, TO WHICH THE FIRST HALF OF THE CONCERT WAS DEDICATED.

Tan opened the concert by sending Toru Takemitsu’s “Air” darting about the lofty spaces of Richmond Uniting Church. The solo flute meditation on air in and outside the body requires the performer to turn breath into wind, imitating a gust one minute and a gale the next. Maintaining intonation and rhythmic precision amidst the composition’s swelling melodic zephyrs, Tan delivered the impossibility of controlled abandon.

“Air” set the impressionist tone for the rest of the first half, sitting comfortably alongside the light tone colour of Charles’ “White Simplex” for bass recorder, bass clarinet and percussion. The overblown, underblown and plosive attacks on the deep instruments sounded as though you were wandering past a drain pipe and heard, far below, some peculiar machines having a secret conversation.

The machines were brought to light for Charles’ percussion piece “Matcham’s Junk.” Charles carves, or threads, a delicate miniature from the barely perceptible sounds of springs, tiny stones and grating pipes, fittingly sourced from the backyard collection of the late jeweller, sculptor and former resident of Montsalvat, Matcham Skipper.

Open ocean provided the program for Liza Lim’s solo clarinet work “Sonorous Body” inspired by the text from her opera The Navigator: “Horizon and water/ Could never be lovers/ Horizon adores only distance/ Sonorous water/ Searching for its sonorous body.”

Lim paints a horizon of undulating microtonal lines, broken only by key clatter and pops and slaps like water on the side of a boat. Endean on clarinet gave expression to the horizon’s infinite desire for distance through her fearsome dynamic range, from the piece’s ear-splitting climax to the barely audible, bubbling double trills at its conclusion.

The second half of the program featured theatrical works that tested the peacock’s composure with both humour and challenging political themes. Matthew Horsely’s “Murdering Creek Rd” was inspired by the composer’s night time visit to the scene of a premeditated massacre of Indigenous Gubbi Gubbi people by white cattlemen in the 1860s. In the first movement the performers call forth chaotic screams from their instruments before breaking into fragments of Australian folk song. Manically waving a lagerphone, Horsely may be conjuring a lawless, unstable, early colonial Australia. He may also be making a humbling parody of contemporary music in the face of an issue that it can only address with difficulty. The second movement asks, “whether the ghosts can be appeased and the land made whole again.” This time, Horsely draws from the Pentecostal musical tradition of New York saxophonist Albert Ayler, with a nod to an account of the massacre that suggests it occurred immediately after a church service. The work does not attempt to answer conflicts arising from its engagement with the historical moment, with Horsely conceding that, “the only answer we receive is the percussive equivocation of the pobblebonk frogs.”

Horsley’s rendition of Greek born French composer Georges Aperghis’ “Le Corps à Corps” saw the solo percussionist careening around the church on an office chair. Horsley played a commentator, narrating the car-cum-chariot race at breakneck speed while accompanying himself on a Persian zarb.

The concert concluded with Charles’ “LOL On My Face,” featuring the disturbing juxtaposition of a dirge-like canon exercise played on alto flute, bass recorder, clarinet and crotales and a vocalist retching and croaking “Shut up, Shut the fuck up!” Humorous, yes, but also strangely beautiful. Providing experiences from sublime to ridiculous, Plight of the Peacock both strutted and laughed with pride.

Plight of the Peacock, conductor Simon Charles, clarinets Aviva Endean, percussion Matthew Horsley, flutes Kim Tan, recorders Ryan Williams, Richmond Uniting Church, Melbourne, May 6

RealTime issue #103 June-July 2011 pg. 39

© Matthew Lorenzon; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

14 June 2011
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