Sydney Conservatorium, March 29
Reviewed by Harriet Cunningham
Soprano Alison Morgan and mezzo soprano Jenny Duck-Chong founded Halcyon in 1999 to go where other singers fear to tread, into the beautiful weirdness of exploratory new music. Now it is 2014 and, fifteen years on, time to reflect on this many-hued bird.
Halcyon is a creative powerhouse for Australian (and international) new music. In particular, the last five years have seen it champion emerging composers, through performances, commissions and mentor programs. But for its fifteenth birthday Halcyon has turned to older friends, composers who have been with them from the start, to compile an exquisite collection of twenty-one new works.
Last night’s performance featured ten of these four minute offerings. Andrew Ford’s To My Excellent Lucasia, on our Friendship was a thoughtful scene-setter which pulled no punches in its technical demands of the singers. There was a spooky night scene from Jane Stanley, a watery blend of alto flute and voice from Dan Walker, and a flamboyant micro-drama from Graham Hair’s All About Anna. Nigel Butterley, Gordon Kerry and Andrew Schultz all demonstrated just how good they are at organizing sounds and words: Butterley’s gorgeous Nature Changes at the Speed of Life limited its palette to cello and soprano, while Kerry’s Music wove voices and instruments together in an almost orchestral mesh of textures. By contrast, Andrew Schultz’s deft prelude and fugue, Lake Moonrise, handed the main song to Duck-Chong and Morgan, with a choir of individual, instrumental voices underneath. A highlight, for me, was Gillian Whitehead’s setting of two poems from Dunedin artist and writer Claire Beynon. To create such a delicate arc of meaning, amplifying and reflecting on the words at every turn, but still hanging together as a cogent and very beautiful whole shows great skill. To do it in just four minutes is mastery.
The Kingfisher Project is an inspired and pragmatic approach to broadening the Australian repertoire for singer and chamber ensemble: 21 eminently do-able short works which, combined together, represent a major review of Australia vocal writing. It’s Halcyon’s birthday, but we get the present.
Edited version published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 31 March 2014, copyright Fairfax Media.