Left – Deborah Cheetham
Looking forward to the celebration of a monumental day in the history of our great contemporary society – Reconciliation Week and the National Reconciliation Concert. Melbourne Town Hall is abuzz with people of all ages, and the front-of-house staff are happy giving directions. There is not a glass of wine or grumble in sight. The strange thing that initially bursts the bubble of anticipation of being privy to the celebration of togetherness with a cavalcade of celebrating Indigenous artists, is the absence of Indigenous people onstage and in the audience.
The opening address comes from a figure that holds great gravitas, and humility, dwarfed by the large Monash University Orchestra conducted by Fabian Russell, present onstage. It is Aunty Winifred Bridges, Elder from the Wurundjeri Tribe. Aunty has much to say and speaks with great consideration and without pretense. She delivers a warm welcome and is clearly full of wisdom, authenticity and passion but looks out of place and self-conscious in her beanie, and in shadow.
Following the address is Kakadu by Peter Sculthorpe. Kakadu is the German word for cockatoo, and the piece predominantly featured a rapid and heavy vibrato from the string section, which conjured the replication of the wings of the cockatoo. The score is dry, arid and lush all at the same time. The timpani providing the storming volatile thunder that paints a great picture of the Kakadu landscape.
The second piece is heralded by a voice only describable as longing, grieving, soul bound, and spiritually connected to the elemental world. This is the voice of William Barton. Kalkadunga composed by Matthew Hindson based on the song that William Barton wrote at fifteen, became an instant highlight simply by the injection of the richness of William Barton's vocal and didgeridoo – an extension of his voice. The piece, which contains five sections: Warrior Spirit 1, Songman Entrance (Barton's song recitation), Bleached Bones, Warrior Spirit II and The Spirit of Kalkadunga, brought together a story of love and pain, featuring the natural sound effects of the trees of the Aussie bush – literally.
In honour of the three rounds of applause after Kalkadunga, Barton takes the stage, with the orchestra watching and waiting for a well-earned interval, for an improvised solo contemporary didgeridoo piece. Barton uses his pointer finger to tap out additional beats, incorporating the rhythmic beat box of Tone Loc's Funky Cold Medina, the running man, and the moonwalk, whilst announcing how cool he is, and exploring the deep familiar earthen tones within the instrument. The man is a master, funny, generous, humble and warm. In comparison with the expanse of the orchestra behind him, Barton, one-man and a 'Didge', threatened to draw comparisons between the luxury of an orchestra against doing what he could do alone, and with more emotional weight and humour.
After interval, the audiences were treated to the beautiful presence of the Yorta Yorta soprano Deborah Cheetham, director of Short Black Opera and composer of Pecan Summer, composed whilst Ms Cheetham was in receipt of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board of the Arts Council of Australia two-year fellowship. Unfortunately for the audience, the treat of hearing Cheetham sing was limited to a softly-directed imbalanced excerpt, due to the placement and volume of the microphones inside the high-ceilinged hall.
Act III Federation Square from the opera Pecan Summer, written by Ms Cheetham, was nothing short of sensational, punctuated by the giant organ backdrop blazing in red light. Backed by the Monash University singers, the moment became exhaustingly moving and profoundly powerful, and with great volume despite Cheetham still being inaudible. The lyric simply 'This is a miracle' interspersed with the 2008 delivery of the apology by Kevin Rudd to the Indigenous People of Australia had audience members silently weeping, and many faces taut, holding onto the intense grief, yet jubilation and joy that the work's sentiment communicated. In comparison to the Richard Strauss works that preceded interval, Act III Federation Square from Pecan Summer was appropriate, proclamatory and heartfelt, leaving the feeling that reconciliation had occurred, and is still being celebrated.
Monash University Academy of Performing Arts (MAPA)
National Reconciliation Concert
Conductor: Fabian Russell
Venue: Melbourne Town Hall
Dates: 2.30pm, 27 May 2012
Tickets: FREE (bookings essential)
Bookings: www.monash.edu/mapa | 9905 1111