Adelaide’s Soundstream New Music Festival was set in motion with a thrilling program themed Acoustic Architecture at the ABC Studio 520 last night. Lit by Bluebottle’s Geoff Cobham and his team, Studio 520 provided excellent acoustics and atmospheric space for the sound architecture of old and recent new music by both established international and upcoming Australian composers. The program was introduced by Julie Howard and Julian Day, and broadcast live by ABC Radio.

The first concert of the festival, entitled ‘The Visionaries’, drew on the musical creativity of Rodion Schedrin, Howard Bashaw, George Antheil, Andrew Wiering and Katia Tiutiunnik. The program took the audience on an inward journey of exhilarating and entertaining self-discovery. Schedrin’s ‘Hommage à Chopin’ (2005) triggered their intellectual curiosity; Wiering’s ‘Vortex’ (2006) shook their sensations, while Bashaw’s third movement from ‘Minimalisms 11’ (2005) propelled them to the subtlety of peaceful reflection. Thus prepared, the second half prompted the spectators to serious self-review: first, with Tiutiunnik’s modern representation of the ego in ‘To The Enemy’ (2005), and then with the monumental dissection of modern world in Antheil’s ‘Ballet Mécanique’ (instrumental version from 1952-53). Artfully curated by Gabriella Smart, this tour de force was performed with passion by some of the best Australian musicians.

The Australian premiere of Schedrin’s ‘Hommage à Chopin’ for four pianos blends past and modern expressivity of a unique landscape - that of Schedrin’s internal dialogue with his idol Frederic Chopin; Schedrin is a pianist. Based on the principle of contrast, the work persistently refers to Chopin’s Prelude No. 20 in C minor Op. 28, either on its own or within the texture of Schedrin’s own compositional idiom. Refined, clean brushes of sound are juxtaposed with rustic rhythms which exist together in a substratum of exquisite virtuosity; in this performance, brilliantly delivered by pianists Anna Goldsworhty, Gabriella Smart, Deborah Ng and Jonathan Heng.

Similarly to the columns in Antonio Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the four individual instruments branch out of and unify into a stream of earthy resonance. Light designs on the blue wall of the studio responded to the pulsating heart of the piece and complemented the impressive anatomy of the four open pianos, positioned in a flower figure in the centre of the stage.

Celestial geometry was the inspiration of the next piece in the program. Wiering’s ‘Vortex’ builds up the frenzy of a primitive blast through bold strokes of animal skin, plastic, copper, steel, bamboo, wood and felt. Having been taken by surprise, about 200 people in the studio (specialists, children and mere music fans) wowed in awe at the end of the piece.

The third movement of Bashaw’s ‘Minimalisms 11’ was delivered with technical luminosity and interpretative depth by Gabriella Smart. The apparent external simplicity in this piece is based on subtle shifts in melodic, rhythmic and dynamic shapes which are difficult to execute. Smart succeeded to produce 13 minutes of pure bliss. The meditative mood was visually represented by a single blue stream of light.

Tiutiunnik has provided an unusual setting of Eva Salzman’s poem ‘To The Enemy’. Despite using a formal exordium and recitative elements, the composer has strayed away from orthodox vocal composition by choosing the unusual accompanying sounds of percussion instruments and a surprising text rendition. This world premiere was delivered by beautifully dressed Sidonie Henbest (voice), Andrew Wiering (percussion) and Nick Parnell (percussion).

The last piece in the program brought the house down. Antheil’s ‘Ballet Mécanique’ is a masterpiece comparable to those monumental buildings you see once and never forget for the rest of your life. Even though the influence of Stravinsky is very obvious, the work speaks a universal language and communicates universal themes. The ordered chaos of its structure simulates human existence in its dynamic, brutal and slightly clumsy appearances. The tone is serious and comic, self-critiquing and self-mocking, yet incredibly amusing and thought-provoking. Roland Peelman led the orchestra of four pianos, an extensive percussion section, including sound recordings of plane propellers and the like, with mathematical precision and zest.

Being novel, new music sounds fresh to the bored classical music connoisseur and attracts new audiences. It can be intellectual, emotional, beautiful, mesmerising, ugly, comic, and, most of all, FUN! Don’t take my word for it, listen to the ABC recording online or if you happen to be in Adelaide, don’t miss the next three concerts.

Soundstream: Adelaide New Music Festival

Venue: Studio 520, ABC Studios, 85 North East Road, Collinswood SA
Date/Time: Thursday 26 August 2010, 7.30pm
Tickets: $55 - $15

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