Day Six: Wednesday May 6

New music for strings, old drama for voices

I took my seat in the Shine Dome for the third Sounds on Site concert with few expectations other than my unchallenged faith in Roland Peelman. The New Zealand String Quartet, plus violinists Barbara Jane Gilby and Lerida Williams, Kyle Daniel on double bass and YAFF string players, were on the upperlevel behind the audience and barely visible. The quartet played first, leading us gently towards abstraction with Ross Harris’s work, ‘Variation 25 for string quartet’. Claire Edwardes, that energetic and down-to-earthpercussionist, was on the floor in front of us with her marimba. In Martin Wesley-Smith’s 1982 work ‘For marimba and tape’, she played lively cat and mouse with a taped accompaniment composed on an early computer. ‘Strung Out’, the spookily seductive Roger Smalley piece, was played last,  following Professor Craig Savage’s brave attempt to enlighten us about string theory. I had the curious sensation of sitting in a very comfortable spaceship that was moving through music and time. The physicist’s talk was fascinating: just don’t ask me to reproduce it. The fact that I listened calmly and didn’t get my usual wobbles over black holes and theoretical hidden dimensions and whether the world is made of lines rather than points and all that disorienting stuff is probably thanks to the music that preceded the professor. John Psathas’s composition, ‘Unbridled, Manos Breathes the Voice of Life into Kartsigar’, soothed with lovely echoes of traditional Greek music and Middle-Eastern harmonies. Regardless of the tension between gravity and quantum mechanics, music will go on.

The Fitters’ Workshop, illuminated with candles and fairy lights, came into its own last night with Hildegard von Bingen’s Ordo Virtutum. Before the much-anticipated performance, historian Julie Hotchin spoke about Hildegard’s life and ideas as well as The Order of the Virtues, considered to be the first morality play. Hildegard believed that music had the power to transform the soul, to turn the heart towards heaven. (To read the text of Julie’s talk, click here.) I don’t know about heaven, but our hearts were turned towards the glorious singing from The Song Company and the young singers who came from around the country, even from Hawaii, to take part in this special event. Anna Fraser as Anima, the Soul, took us on a journey from good intentions, through temptation and losing her way, to penitence. The Devil, apparently, doesn’t have the best tunes; he speaks but does not sing in Hildegard’s drama of the Soul’s struggle. He was played by Clive Birch, whom I’ve enjoyed in many Song Company concerts over the years. My son describes him as ‘fully sick’, and indeed he was. Dressed in a hoodie and speaking a kind of spiv Latin, he leapt about like a pantomime character, even mocking the poor organist, Roland Peelman.Two of the Virtues had to drag him away. It turns out, however, that the Virtues are on our side. Pay them heed, or at least most of them.

Concert 14 was dedicated to the memory of renowned scientist Professor Michael Raupach and was supported by Dianne and Brian Anderson. Concert 15 was supported by Jim and Peronelle Windeyer.

– Diana Brown