Life Stories


Life StoriesLeft - Sara Macliver. Photo Bridget Elliot

The exquisite beauty and regal nature of the Government House Ballroom was an apt setting for Life Stories; the first of four Chamber Music Concerts as part of the 2011 Perth International Arts Festival. The two pieces were charming, contemporary music pieces showcasing some of Perth’s finest musical talent.


The program consisted of two pieces, the world premiere of Blackwood by Iain Grandage, and Dutch composer Louis Andriessen’s Dances. The vivacious and fabulous Sara Macliver was the soloist in both pieces.

Blackwood is a song cycle based on poems by Kevin Gillam. The poems track the course of the Blackwood River in south-west WA from its beginning to ocean end. It is a uniquely West Australian piece, yet the music is transportable to anywhere as it evokes feelings of growth, love, travel and loneliness. With piano, clarinet and soprano, it is an elegant, transcendent piece.

Two impressive paintings of the Blackwood River were located either side of the grand piano. Painter Brendon Darby has his studio on the banks of the Blackwood, and the paintings were the perfect accompaniment to the music and offered a further visual element to draw the audience to the river.

Although it was hard to understand the words Macliver was singing (from the high pitch plus the constant passages rather than a lack of clarity), the expression and depth was there in the tone. As well, the words of Gilliam’s poetry are works of art in themselves.

“Some nights there are no words,
just an undressing,
a gradual nakedness

the Blackwood ripples, swarms
and we breathe it in,
us born-agains lying sweet and fragile
by its side, “


The three musicians brought this new composition to life. Graeme Gilling on Piano was the solid undertone and current throughout, whilst Allan Meyer on Clarinet was the birdsong and nature of the piece, as Sara Macliver brought the river world alive with her exquisite voice. I could easily picture myself floating down the Blackwood River watching nature go by.

Dances, written in the early 1990’s by Dutch composer Louis Andriessen, was performed by the new chamber music ensemble Etica. Lead by Conductor and Cellist Jon Tooby and comprised of leading West Australian instrumentalists, the groups aim is to perform works by established 20th and 21st century composers.

Again with Sara Macliver as the soloist, with words taken from Joan Grants 1937 novel Winged Pharaoh, this piece was a darker, more rhythmic piece than Blackwood. It came as no surprise to read that it was originally written for choreography in 1991, as it had a dance like quality. Indeed, it would be terrific to see the piece with dancers.

The work lent heavily on percussion (principally the xylophone), amplified harp and piano, with the strings adding depth and tone. Etica were a tight bunch ably conducted by Tooby. I felt the piece dragged in the middle, but it may have been more because I was getting hot (having the air conditioner off during the concert, meant the temperature rose quickly in the sold out ballroom). None the less, it was a suitable complement to Blackwood, and showcased the great talent we have in WA.


Perth International Arts Festival and Tura New Music Present
Life Stories

Venue: Government House Ballroom | St. Georges Terrace, Perth
Date: Sun 13 Feb 2011
Duration: 1hr 30min including interval
Tickets: $47.50 - $41
Bookings: SOLD OUT




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