Day Ten: Sunday May 10

Children’s Voices, Glass at the Gallery, Festival Closure

It was Mothers’ Day, and a children’s concert seemed appropriate. Indeed, I was feeling quite sentimental until the arrhythmic percussion started up on the back of my seat. Some small children were also being introduced to the notion of not talking during a concert. This was Moorambilla Voices’ first tour, and the children had endured an eleven-hour bus trip to get here. I so admire what Michelle Leonard, the director of Moorambilla Voices, has done for the primary school children of western NSW – the remotest third of the state, as she likes to say. Without the Moorambilla program, few children in the region would have even the most rudimentary music education, let alone the opportunity to perform in a choir. At their first CIMF concert the children were accompanied by some pretty cool, sophisticated musicians, but saxophonist Jim Nightingale, pianist James Huntingford, and those Festival stalwarts, the YAFF strings, were clearly enjoying the gig. And why wouldn’t they? With their sweet, serious faces turned always to their conductor, the children sang their hearts out, with clarity and dynamics. One girl performed a solo, and a group about the size of a motet choir began one song. Next, Canberra actor Duncan Driver struck the right tone as he introduced the four wind instruments – clarinet, bassoon, flute and oboe, played with verve by the ANAM wind players – and narrated Georg Dreyfus’s The Adventures of Sebastian the Fox. Duncan also set the scene for the last item on the program, Katy Abbott’s Crime Scene Investigation, with Rowan Harvey-Martin conducting the Woden Valley Youth Choir, Vocal Fry, and the Canberra Youth Orchestra. There were visual gags, and the crisp singing brought out the dark humour in the piece. It was the percussionist, incidentally, who murdered the first violinist, and the motive was revenge over a music competition. Honestly, musicians…

Philip Glass is a cultural phenomen. He seems to draw a different audience from the usual concert goers, and that was certainly my impression at yesterday’s event, which went on, in the Glass spirit, for at least forty-five minutes longer than the scheduled concert. One woman told me that she had come to Canberra especially for Glass. I admit to being at best lukewarm about him, but I applaud CIMF for giving Glass fans an opportunity to hear some of his important compositions played with such precision by Ensemble Offspring, saxophonist James Nightingale, flautist David Shaw, and keyboardists Gabi Sultana, Alister Spence and Roland Peelman. I tried to go into a trance during Two Pages but failed miserably. Instead I found myself thinking how tedious, and potentially hazardous for keyboardists, it must be to repeat the same phrase over and over and over and over. And over. There is nothing minimalist about RSI. I was thankful when the saxophone and clarinets came in and quite liked Knee Plays 1-5, with Graeme Jennings’ demanding violin solo from Einstein on the Beach. The Song Company had to make do with self-referential counting.

Moorambilla Voices, hardened performers since their debut on Saturday at Parliament House, opened Concert 24, the final event in the Festival. The rest of the program explored Jewish themes. Violinist Graeme Jennings performed the Einstein solo again. Before Nigel Butterley’s Benī Avshalōm, his powerful setting of the Absalom story for unaccompanied choir, The Song Company hummed a traditional Hebrew melody. Such ancient melodies also haunt Bloch’s Nigun, sensitively played by violinist Anne Horton, with Barbara Jane Gilby leading the ensemble of YAFF instrumentalists. Even those troupers, the Tinalley String Quartet, were taking part. The second half of the concert was a departure from previous years. Singer-songwriters Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier performed songs from their album Stories of Ghosts, which link contemporary life and stories from the Hebrew Bible. Willy did some interesting things with his slide guitar. You might have been forgiven at the end for thinking you were at a rock musical, with everyone on stage except Moorambilla Voices – I hope they were in bed – and Bree van Reyk belting out rock rhythms like your teenager, though of course very much better. And so the Festival ended rather surprisingly, with a sense of inclusiveness and joy – and a cake with candles to celebrate CIMF’s twenty-first birthday. No doubt Roland Peelman has a few more unexpected tricks up his sleeve for CIMF 2016.

Concert 22 was supported by Marjorie Lindenmayer, Concert 23 by Rosanna Hindmarsh, and Concert 24 by Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffrey and Mrs Marlena Jeffrey.

– Diana Brown