The Red TreeLeft - Gondwana Voices

The Red Tree
is a directed exploration of the human condition, showing realities not normally seen. A multifaceted collaboration between the Australian Chamber Orchestra, author and artist Shaun Tan, composer Michael Yezerski and Lyn Williams’ Gondwana Voices, it incorporates two of Shaun Tan’s books, The Arrival and The Red Tree.

Beginning with Shostakovich String Quartet No.15 in E-flat minor Op.144, its’ bleakness and haunting beauty, the perfect companion to Shaun Tan’s book, The Arrival. Consisting of six Adagios, we are taken on an unusual musical journey that is lonely, beautiful and delicate.

Shaun Tan’s sepia toned imagery is projected cinematically, as single images initially and then united in a grid like formation, reminiscent of a comic book. Each image depicts and builds on one man’s journey, as he leaves his wife and child behind to find a better life in an unknown country.

The continuous flow of fleeting images accompanied by the austere and beautiful melodies, signals the constantly changing trip via boat, to the new country. 

The performative response of the violinists is a dramatic embellishment and signals the immigrants’ arrival in the new city of promise.

The potent wretchedness of the music confuses the mix. Sweet and delicate, one moment. The next, thunderous, roaring its melodies. The emotional landscape produced by the combination of the music and the images was quite a lot to take in and kept me haunted. The intensity however, perfectly encompassed the bleak realities facing the new arrivals. 

In the second half we are led on a journey into the inner realms of a little girl facing a world that is a “deaf machine without sense or reason.” Symbiotically paired with illustrations and text, The Red Tree Libretto is a strange, but intriguing combination of ACO, Gondwana Voices and the tribal beat of a drum.

Beginning in her bedroom, we are shown her depressive response “when darkness overcomes you” signalled by the motif of black leaves. The trumpet heralds its way into the menagerie of the child-like woman’s bleak imagination. As she ventures forth into her darkness, the journey becomes an intriguing adventure. She finds herself sailing through great storms and darkness. Tan’s mythical imagery comes to life as we battle the dark alongside of her. Finally, she returns home to a find a glorious red tree in her bedroom. She appears content.

This mix of strange and incessant influences launched its attack relentlessly. While at other times, the cherubic sounds of the Gondwana Voices provides a perfect compliment to the strings, a reminder that light too is present as we journey. 

This bold and stunningly rich collaboration is a credit to all involved. The combination of music, image and voice enticingly complex, chaotic and beautiful.

The ending was exquisite. The silence it brought mesmerising.

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Llewellyn Hall, Canberra Saturday 12 July 8pm | Bookings 1800 444 444
The Arts Centre, Hamer Hall, Melbourne Sunday 13 July 2.30pm & Monday 14 July 8pm | Bookings 1300 136 166
City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney Tuesday 15 July 8pm, Wednesday 16 July 7pm & Saturday 19 July 8pm | Bookings 1800 444 444
Sydney Opera House Concert Hall Sunday 20 July 2.30pm | Bookings 02 9250 7777
QPAC Concert Hall, Brisbane Monday 21 July 8pm | Bookings 136 246

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