Day Nine: Saturday May 9

Movers and Shakers and Double Quartet

It’s not often I get to sit next to a composer for the Australian première of her work. I asked Kate Moore, CIMF composer-in-residence, how she feels just before a new piece of hers is to be performed. She’s only human, so of course it’s much as we might imagine: clawing nerves and trepidation, because her creation is now out of her hands, but when it goes well, as ‘Velvet’ for cello and piano so obviously did yesterday, it’s an exhilarating experience, ‘addictive’. Roland Peelman performed the piano part as if he were playing with light, and Geoffrey Gartner, a fine and very intense cellist, brought out the folds and shadows and melodic floatiness in ‘Velvet’. It closed gently with soothing broken chords, and both composer and audience were happy. There was another composer in the audience, Brian Howard, whose work ‘Full Fathom Five’ was given its world première. Just as ‘Velvet’ took its starting point from the depictions of rich cloth, ‘Full Fathom Five’, written for a ‘sinfonietta’ of fifteen instruments, was inspired by Blue Poles. It was a big sound, with plenty of brass and percussion. Everything seemed to be bursting out at once, as in the Pollock painting. In memory of Peter Sculthorpe, who died last year, CIMF presented the Australian première of ‘Island Songs’ for saxophone and ensemble’. The sound Amy Dickson produced on both her saxophones was rich and rounded, but also plangent in lament. She really is a virtuoso. Roland Peelman had rounded up every stray Festival string player for ‘Shaker Loops’ for strings, including both quartets and the YAFF strings. The piece made tricky rhythmic demands of the players. John Adams knows how to build tension while executing a few clever fiddles with harmony. I got quite anxious at one point, what with the universe accelerating so fast. But we did not implode, none of the strings lost their way, harmony was not abandoned, and it all ended calmly.

What happens when two string quartets with quite different personalities come together for a performance? If they’re Tinalley and the New Zealand String Quartet, they deliver an exuberant Mendelssohn Octet for strings (Opus 20) and bring the audience to its feet. Before that, however, Tinalley played some nicely phrased Schubert (the ‘Quartettsatz’ D. 703), and in sharp stylistic contrast, the New Zealanders gave us Rachmaninov in a dancing mood (Romance and Scherzo for string quartet). Roland Peelman introduced the Australian première of Jack Body’s piece, Cries: A Border Town, which uses text inspired by Walter Benjamin’s doomed attempt in 1940 to acquire a visa to cross into Spain and his subsequent suicide. Sadly it is the New Zealand composer’s last work, for he was admitted to the hospice just over a week ago. To the paramedics who drove him there he is reported to have said, “I’m in transit”. It was a moving performance, the stark words sung with great precision by The Song Company. In Andrew Ford’s ‘Common Ground’ for two string quartets, the two cellists sat side by side in the centre, with the other players forming a half circle. The cellos seemed to me to hold the work together. Ford teased us occasionally with melody. ‘Common Ground’ was also a poignant work, which is no doubt why the artistic director put the Octet on last to cheer us all up. By the way, if you’re interested in the secret life of string quartets, the friendly cellist from the New Zealand String Quartet told me that Vikram Seth got it pretty well right in his novel An Equal Music.

Concert 19 was supported by Meredith Hinchliffe, and Concert 21 by Christopher and Rieteke Chenoweth and Robin Gibson. Andrew Ford’s ‘Common Ground’ was commissioned by Barbara Blackman for CIMF 2015.

Diana Brown

And a reminder: Those who missed Julie Hotchin's pre-concert talk on Hildegard of Bingen and the Order of Virtues can now download the text of her talk from here.