The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (ABO) produces and presents truly magical programs and on Saturday night May 7, 2016 at Melbourne the artistry and vitality of the ABO, together with over 130 sublime voices dazzled the audience with a virtuosic display.
All art is not only about what you see, but also about what makes others see and importantly feel, and this program with its combined power of voices and a fine orchestra should not be missed.
The splendid voices of children 8 to 17 years old combined with the mature voices of the Brandenburg Choir did as promised; left the audience feeling as if they had witnessed a life-changing event, one that celebrates the abundance of life we share through our rich and extraordinary inheritance in music.
Artistic Director Paul Dyer was clearly happy with his decision to support the emergence of Brandenburg ‘young voices’, who may join the mature choir in the future.
He revealed just how with creative imagination you can infuse an audience with a sense of heroism and great energy, while securing the confidence of a faithful by entertaining everyone royally with a style of music that in my lifetime, has moved from more familiar sacred spaces to the secular world of entertainment.
Singing in choir ‘as one voice’ came about when the early Christian church fathers recognized the power of music to instill faith and hope, especially in relation to worship.
Many of the works presented reflected the sincere and devout spiritual feeling humans were searching for when they sang about what they were feeling, in some cases long before they were able to speak their thoughts.
During the first half of the program in the splendid Elizabeth Murdoch Recital Hall the young voices resonated superbly as with fully rounded sounds they impressively exploited the effects of a musical canon and the splendid acoustic of its grand space.
They began by offering the audience a profound welcome with their truly splendid singing of contemporary Sydney composer Lyn William’s superb Alleluia. This exclamation of joy historically used to express thanks, praise to God, relief, welcome or gratitude was so well received, it was evident that the evening was off to a great start.
This was followed by two melodies formerly composed to reverberate off faceted stone arcades and to linger long in lofty places. The anonymous Gaudete from Piae Cantiones represented a new style of music that emerged from medieval songs of praise, meant to provide the listener with ‘moral uplift’.
Composed at a time when the aim of music was to reflect the glory of heaven, it was also a foretaste of better things to come, it was followed in turn by a Gregorian chant, named for Pope Gregory 1 although there is no documentary evidence to support he invented it.
By the time of the papacy of Gregory 1 (590-604) there was a distinct appreciation of fine singing and a genuine regard for the beautiful voice. Over several centuries chant produced a wonderful sense of community and expressed musically the joy and sentiment of a sacred ceremony.
However truly glorious church music for many ended with the death of the one man, who was renowned for having composed ‘perfection’ – Italian composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c.1525–1594).
The mature Brandenburg Choir’s sublime performance of Alma Redemptoris Mater, one of his true gems revealed why such music has the power to inform, inspire and ignite people ‘who have fallen..to… strive to rise again’.
The choir embraced the sacred art of singing, ennobling and moving our spirits and souls metaphorically from the earthly realm we inhabit high into the subliminal heavens above. They sent the audience soaring, marveling at the purity of sound that can be achieved when two or more melodies of equal importance to those around it, interact splendidly with each other to create such truly glorious harmony.
Then so we did not get above ourselves too much, Paul Dyer sent us crashing back down to earth by following it up with the bawdy quite lewd ditty Matona Mia Cara by Franco-Flemish composer Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594) performed with mirth by four soloists, Amy Moore soprano, Max Riebl alto, Paul Sutton tenor and Ben Caulkwell stepping in for Alexander Knight bass.
The children followed with two uplifting, heartfelt compositions by British composer, conductor, editor, arranger and record producer John Rutter (b.1945), the first – What Sweeter Music, followed by For The Beauty of the Earth, America’s favourite Thanksgiving hymn.
Consistently the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Brandenburg Choir for years now under the baton and gentle urging of its formidable director Paul Dyer AO, has enriched our Australian way of life by choosing music from the ‘musical landscape’ of the Baroque period of music in European history, which informs much of our arts and cultural heritage.
The musical style during the Baroque (1600 – 1750) remarkably featured a melodic line supported by an harmonic accompaniment that gave impetus to the new and relatively simple homophony, by ‘fleshing out the harmony and providing rhythmic contrast’.
This style is evident throughout British based German superstar composer of his day Georg Friderich Handel’s simply splendid Hallelujah Chorus.
From his masterwork The Messiah, this is one of Handel’s 20 such oratorios although the only one concerned with the Christian faith.
Today it still awes listeners some 250 and more years after the composer’s death when performed annually and traditionally at Easter, or when the rousing Hallelujah chorus brightens up Xmas.
When I was growing up singing in choirs both sacred and secular, the audience always stood as a mark of respect during a performance of the Hallelujah Chorus. It was a tradition started by King George I in England which endured for hundreds of years before dying out in my lifetime with so much angst towards the church as a body, but not towards the music.
As wonderfully demonstrated by the combined choirs of the Brandenburg, the work is and remains sublime and I found it hard to resist the temptation to join in, having sung this work so many times in choir myself.
I am always amazed at its power to continue to not only engage my emotions, but also to give me a feeling way beyond self. It is transporting and never fails to inspire reverence as an expression on earth if you like, of the heavenly banquet to come, one that is always on offer to everyone.
Then it was time for interval and a great change in mood; Mozart’s Requiem the famous composition he was working on when the enlightenment musical genius suddenly and so tragically died in 1791 aged 35.
Finally finished by Franz Süssmayr an occasional student, copyist and family friend, Mozart’s Mass for the dead today reminds us all about the losses sustained in time of war, which are not only a tragedy for our own country but for all mankind and his work has come to symbolize the importance of reconciliation.
Those who have enjoyed the insightful 1984 film Amadeus directed by Milos Forman about the life of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) would have felt happy to hear this wonderful music, which featured so much within the score.
Having it brought to life on stage by an orchestra playing period instruments not only adds so much to our listening pleasure but also provides us with a mood of authenticity; of how the music sounded in Mozart’s day.
Aided by the sublime acoustic of the Elizabeth Murdoch recital hall, replacing a salon whose proportions were also based on evolving ‘sacred architecture’, only helped to make it more real.
There were many highlights; the Introit, Tuba Mirum, Rex tremendae and a stunning Confutatis, which would definitely silence all the ‘accursed’ while ensuring all our hearts became contrite.
While a solemn choice on the eve of Mother’s Day, it was a reminder to us all of the extraordinary gifts we share many of which were left to us by the great composers and reveals how important music is in offering everyone ‘hope’.
If the ‘the aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance’* then with Mozart’s Requiem: 100 voices, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra indeed was triumphant.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
*Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle (384BC-322BC)