Photographer – Greg Schwark
Contemporary classical music adds to the mix of cutting edge new music in Australia in a profound way; as a high art genre it articulates Australia’s cultural make up and the epoch but also feeds into other art forms such as film, theatre, dance, and opera through to various media. Pianist Gabriella Smart has been championing contemporary classical music with various initiatives: playing and premiering the music, enabling musicians and ensembles to perform new works, and commissioning new work by Australian composers. She has fed her passion and energy into the Soundstream Festival (2009 and 2010) and, since 2012, into the Soundstream Collective Ensemble that promotes new classical music and young Australian composers.
Fresh from winning this year’s Creative Partnerships Award of the 2013 APRA/AMCOS Australian Music Centre Art Music Awards, the Soundstream Inaugural Lieder Recital was a celebration and acknowledgement of the contribution of the numerous philanthropists and supporters of Gabriella Smart’s ideal and work. The backdrop of the alluring heritage listed Urrbrae House created an atmosphere of historical importance, while the cocktail featured exquisite wines by Soundstream sponsor Simon Hackett from Maclaren Vale.
The programmed repertoire explored the beautiful marriage of word and tone in seminal works from the western canon, juxtaposing four very different compositional languages. The premiere of Sally Whitwell’s four songs was the culmination amongst the famous Wesendonck-Lieder by Richard Wagner, well-known songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff and Benjamin Britten’s influential song cycle On the Island. It is always a thrill to experience fresh off the page music that no one has heard before.
In this endeavour Gabriella Smart chose to showcase the talent of Australian soprano Lisa Harper-Brown, renowned for premiering Graeme Koehne’s The Ringtone Cycle with the Seraphim Trio and a champion of new Australian classical vocal music in her own right. Lisa Harper-Brown’s voice is arresting, rich and smooth throughout the range, and her warm way of engaging with the audience captivating.
Close reading and intimate interpretation of both poetry and music produced subtle nuances of phrasing, tempo and dynamics. This sonic experience was enhanced by Harper-Brown’s ability to deliver the verse with clarity and precision in the different languages, all of them demanding in a different way.
The restrained eroticism of Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder, the sweeping heartfelt vocal and pianistic eruptions of Rachmaninoff’s music and Britten’s clever apposition of piano and vocal lines contextualised the emerging new compositional idiom of Sally Whitwell. Whitwell is noted for her solo piano albums of film music and music by Philip Glass. Her songs present a blend of a filmic and frivolously pianistic accompaniment coupled with vocal phrasing that is indebted very much to the influence of Benjamin Britten. Her tenderness of affection for the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley in Some world far from ours, Christina Rosetti in Warm where snowflakes lie, and Michael Rosen in Flatworm’s heaven – a train song, creates exciting expressions of insight, intellectual commentary and wit. The enthralling In the deep heart’s core closed the performances for the evening.
The festivities included short speeches from up-and-coming Australian composers Sebastian Phlox and Jesse Budel. Phlox is a winner of the 2012 SANMF: National Young Composers Award, while Budel has been involved in Soundstream also as a conductor and assistant artistic director. Both described how the Soundstream Collective has reassured their creativity and established structures for the performance and conception of new classical music in Australia. The proceeds from the benefit concert are going towards future commissions of Australian contemporary classical music by the Soundstream Collective.
Soundstream Inaugural Lieder Recital
Venue: Urrbrae House, University of Adelaide
Date: September 25, 2013
Written by Daniela Kaleva, University of South Australia