Lismore City Hall on the first night of November, with a diverse crowd shuffling into the theatre – what can we expect to experience with Katie Noonan and the Australian String Quartet? I love this part of any show: checking out the crowd (as if this is an indicator of what to expect!) and taking up our seats, waiting to see what will unfold.
The house is packed and the lights dim, with “Uncle Roy’s Welcome to Country and NORPA acknowledging past, present and future” more poignant this time around, with the performance we are about to witness, embracing spoken word, written word, strings and soprano: enough emotional erectness to fill my wine glass with tears of overwhelming joy. Too much for a review intro? I think not! You just had to be there.
For those of us who were there, down to every man, woman and child, this was a performance that will linger long into our lives. To hear Kaleenah Edwards read out her Great Grandmother, Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s poems, in the Jandai language, was a privilege and an honour. To then hear Katie Noonan sing the English translations (translated by Oodgeroo’s Grandson, Joshua Walker) was pure enlightenment. Add to this the Australian String Quartet (what they can do with strings is beyond my concept) rendering each poem into music, was musical genius. Storytelling with a twist – a combination of talents that transported the audience, looking around at the rapt faces; quiet and listening to every nuance, not wanting to miss one word or note or inflection!
With each poem a new delivery (every poem a different composer) full of heartfelt emotion on every level. Katie’s ethereal voice becomes another instrument in itself. Operatic cross-over with cello (Sharon Grigoryan, amazing), viola (Stephen King, your name fits your style), and Dale Barltrop and Francesca Hiew, both violinists, carrying us up the valley, down the rapids, across the open spaces and chasing perfection. By the sound of the packed audience’ applause, they arrived!
Katie thanks the crowd and wishes that this crowd could travel with them on their extended The Glad Tomorrow tour: Katie, the crowd is with you all the way, and all that sail with you!
Intermission and when we return, a composition by Peter Sculthorpe, (‘Jabiru Dreaming’) showcasing the Australian String Quartet with a pure instrumental exploration of sound; evocative and urgent; tempo and tenacity, culminating in what sounded like evening birdsong. The audience cheered and whistled, almost a standing ovation mid-song; by and large, totally gobsmacked!
How can a string quartet manipulate sounds to create a bucolic scene in the minds (and ears) of the entire audience? Magic, just magic! Enter Katie, ‘Tree Grave’, operatic wistfulness and full of longing, singing strings, so lyrical and poignant – a marriage of voice and instruments, truly sublime, with sounds of the wind through the trees; birdsong in the morning and evening; wind on the water and a dragonfly landing on a leaf – so evocative of nature’s timing.
My partner (ex school teacher) tells me that they studied Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s poems (then known by the name Kath Walker) at school, which made my heart sing. Everyone should have the opportunity to engage in such a rich culture and such beautiful poetry. To hear it spoken by Oodgeroo’s Great Granddaughter – Kaleenah Edwards, was a rare treat for too few.
From the poem, ‘Balance’, short, but a taste-tempter for those who have yet to hear/read such pearls: “Spin a coin: Life or death. Next of kin to death is life, and life to death. Light comes before dark. In life we wait the birth of death.”
Praise goes to Katie Noonan, who “commissioned ten stellar Australian contemporary composers to create a song cycle based on the uniquely Australian poetry of Queenslander, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, to be performed by the brilliant ASQ.” To quote: “Katie and the ASQ will be performing pieces written for them by Carl Vine, Elena Kats Chernin, Richard Tognetti, Iain Grandage, David Hirschfelder as well as Queensland composers Thomas Green, Robert Davidson, Connor D’Netto, William Barton and Katie herself. The Glad Tomorrow project brings together four distinct worlds. Contemporary Australian and Queensland Composers, the searing poetry of Oodgeroo Noonuccal, ASQ, and Katie Noonan’s unique voice and innate musicality.”
For this reviewer, Noonuccal’s poetry (beautiful in native tongue and a privilege to hear) will remain with me for a lifetime: the music marriage of Katie Noonan’s voice with the Australian String Quartet, singing the words of hope, well, bravo to all!
More Oodgeroo: “Night’s nearly over, and though long the climb, new rights will greet us, new mateship meet us, and joy complete us in our new Dream Time. To our fathers’ fathers the pain, the sorrow; to our children’s children the glad tomorrow.” Let it be so, please.
Katie Noonan and the Australian String Quartet
The Glad Tomorrow
Venue: Lismore City Hall | 1 Bounty St, Lismore NSW
Dates: 1 November 2019
Visit asq.com.au for dates/details