Every age in our human evolution embraces three concepts, the gradually dying or long ago past, the all-new and exciting flourishing present and the future, which hopefully offers promise.
The opening night of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s Ottoman Baroque concert, masterminded by its elated artistic director Paul Dyer, was held in Sydney at the City Recital Hall Angel Place on Tuesday 22nd October 2014.
The audience was taken on a well-considered narrated journey in music and dance style from France to Germany, from Italy to Spain, ending up in the exotic climes of multi-cultural Constantinople, or modern day Istanbul.
The concert was an exotic blending of different musical styles, celebrating 25 years of achievement for the orchestra. Paul Dyer at the beginning, and again after interval the narrator of the evening Alan Maddox, both invited us all to leave the hall silently after the Whirling Dervishes performance, which would be the finale of the evening.
This meant we would be. and were left to quietly contemplate and consider the beauty of what we had both seen and heard in an extraordinary unique concert of performance art of the sublime kind.
It also offered up a timely lesson about respect for all cultures and their sacred beliefs.
Commencing our journey at the court of King Louis XIV in France at Versailles, where his favourite musician Jean Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) reigned supreme, we started the night with a lively rendition by the orchestra of the ‘Marche pour la cérémonie des Turcs’.
I would like to single out all the musicians individually and say well done to each. They are talented, very gifted and they all played with great artistry.
Under Dyer’s direction and as one, they all truly shone on this very special night, which was truly a whirlwind feast for all the senses.
From the ethical conception of ancient music, to the rise of chant during the Christian liturgy and on to the emboldening structure of ‘classical’ music in the west, music gradually became part of the world’s intellectual estate.
It emerged from the cult of the beautiful, to embrace lyrical and spiritual poetry, eventually taking on the realms of the sacred, which ensured it gained a theological, philosophical and scientific foundation to build upon.
Leaving the sound of just one voice known as ‘chant’ behind and taking on the many sounds of Polyphony, meant that a layering of musical textures became a characteristic integral to the west, distinguishing its musical style from that of all other cultures.
During our so-called ‘age of enlightenment’ it moved out of the exclusivity of the sacred arena becoming an important aspect of a secular one and associated with enjoyment.
The resonating sounds of this Australian Brandenburg Orchestra concert were stylish, ornamental, sometimes lively, very thought provoking, often contemplative and deeply moving. The added joy of having dancers on stage, provided yet another feast for the senses of which the audience was appreciative.
The opening piece of music was one of my favourite pieces of the uplifting joyous early Baroque style; the ‘Marche pour la cérémonie des Turcs’, a truly delicious confection.
First presented in 1670, this was truly the perfect opening piece, lively and magically performed. It was originally composed by Jean Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) at the King’s request for Les bourgeois Gentilhomme, an opera-ballet written by King Louis XIV’s favourite actor and playwright Moliere.
It was not about imitating pure or even real Turkish sounds, but was an evocation of what Lully and his colleagues decided was a style of exotic eastern sounds that their audiences would enjoy.
The next work by Marin Marais (1656-1728), was an ABO commissioned interpretation of Sonnerie de Sainte Geneviéve du Mont-de-Paris. The original music was superbly re-imagined by youthful Sydney based Australian composer Alice Chance and performed stunningly by the orchestra.
The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra gloriously resonated the sensational sounds of church bells throughout via their strings, flutes and the oboe. It was all achieved so picturesquely, that we could easily see the scene as well as hear sweet sounds of music, all just too lovely for words.
The audience responded, as they should both wildly and enthusiastically.
Marin Marais is widely recognized in the musical world as not only one of the most popular of the early eighteenth century French composers, but also as one of the most admired because he influenced many other musicians and composers. His music certainly deserves to be celebrated more often.
German composer Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) exhibited both self-confidence and productivity in a prolific career during which he wrote both sacred and secular music. He drew inspiration from just about every national genre and style for his Overture-Suite in B-flat major ‘Les Nations’.
Brimming with élan, the ABO interpreted his delightful piece from that suite entitled Les Turcs, with dynamic and rhythmic subtleties that heightened the festive dance element with great style.
A highlight of the night for me was the exquisite performance of Allegri’s superb masterpiece of music the truly sublime Miserere by the Brandenburg choir.
Composed by Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652) in 1638 for the papal choir to perform, this wonderful piece of music was once considered far too dangerous for mere mortal ears.
It was considered only suitable for select clergy who were part of Roman Catholic liturgy in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.
They were striving just like their Sufi colleagues, to reach for, and attain, perfection.
This extraordinarily beautiful composition of music was breathtaking, the singers attaining a quite unique sound, one that definitely had an impact on all there.
Performed by two select choirs of four and five singers each, plus a quartet of extraordinary Gregorian chanters, they sang a Capella, (without accompaniment).
The trio were conducted quietly and sparingly by Paul Dyer and their glorious voices blended beautifully and were also extremely ethereal.
They quite literally transported the audience to a place where time stood still and the hairs on the back of your neck and arms stood up.
When the Miserere was sung originally, it took place in a sacred space,The Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo’s great masterpiece of ceiling painting and the end altar wall rendered between 1508- 1512, provides one of the greatest examples of the High Renaissance art form we still have.
The combination of visual and performance art could not have failed to have ensure that the experience for everyone was a rich encounter of the most unique and special kind.
It is important to note however, during the mass all ‘ornamentation’ that could would be removed from the altar and surrounds. The clergy were seeking to create an atmosphere of austerity as much as it was possible.
A young Mozart and his father were invited by the Pope when Wolfgang Amadeus was only 12 years of age to take mass at the Vatican. This is when the young genius performed one of the miracles he became renowned for; hearing Allegri’s music and writing it down.
Accurately, we are unsure?
Perhaps it is reasonable to assume that he may have made some improvements pertinent to both his times and character, at least as far as we know.
Western composers during the so-called classical period in England and Europe when Mozart was composing, were using the musical scale that emboldened sopranos to achieve the previously thought impossible, hitting the high notes of C and E.
The Miserere as reinvigorated by Mozart and other interpreters afterward, has given sopranos an amazing opportunity to show off now for over two centuries now, whatever their gender.
It’s a work exploring grace, beauty and transparent harmony. It is a lovely lacework of music at the essence of enlightenment spirit.
During my lifetime each time I have heard it performed has been with a young boy soprano achieving the impossible. Interestingly they seemingly display a lack of fear, pertinent perhaps to young male choristers on the verge of a brilliant music career.
On the night in Sydney while still capably achieving the high notes of the Miserere I was disappointed slightly our lovely female soprano seemed tentative.
The performance made me revisit the most sublime live Miserere performance I have heard, one completely ‘off the cuff’.
It was witnessed when standing on the excavated 1st century Roman Road in the under-croft beneath York Minster Cathedral in England.
While looking at the early foundations of the great towering Gothic style Cathedral above me, and marveling quietly at the medieval stonemasons engineering abilities, the youthful choir of young male choristers upstairs began rehearsing – the soloist’s voice ringing out clearly. It was all too glorious for words.
In true eighteenth century style, certainly not a practice in the sacred atmosphere of a Christian church, the modern day secular audience for the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra also went completely wild for the Miserere on opening night.
Then followed a Fandango by Italian artist Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805). This came complete with the spirited and superbly strutting Castanet player Yioda Wilson.
She was truly wonderful and the piece entirely marvelous. The musicians faces were shining as they were completely energized as they ended their participation in this landmark concert on a high note.
Interval gave everyone a chance to regroup and to wax lyrically to each other about the concert. I talked to a number of people who were literally ‘raving’.
After interval the mood changed as we entered the magical atmosphere of the music that emerged from the classical Greek World and Age of the Ottoman Empire to survive until today.
Modern day Istanbul like Australia, is a home to many cultures that in the main happily co-exist, including those who descend from ancient Greece. They continue to live alongside and respect the Mevlevi Order, whose dancers whirl in remembrance of God as part of their Islamic faith.
From 1500 until 1832 the Hellenic world was integral to the Ottoman Empire, and while predominantly Christian and Greek speaking, its wealthy merchants helped their countrymen retain and celebrate their own identity, while providing a pivotal administrative role for the Ottomans who embraced Islam.
It’s reasonable to assume however, that over the three hundred year period they each inspired the other and gradually gained each other’s respect, which is to be applauded as a role model today.
The five instrumentalists from the Greek world playing oud, lyra, and saz string instruments filed onto the stage, taking their place on a platform at the rear and immediately regaling us with the reality of seductive eastern sounds so unlike the European ideal.
They first played the Karsilamas a Turkish word meaning ‘face to face’, a folk dance popular during Byzantine times in Constantinople.
This music originally emerged from ‘Thrace’, a term used by the ancient Greeks to refer to the territory north of Thessaly, settled by a group of ancient Indo-European people – the Thracians.
It was rich, effusive, wonderfully alluring.
Thrace was region without boundaries and other regions such as Alexander the Great’s Macedonia and Scythia were added to its mix at a later date. It also spread throughout the northern provinces of Greece, including some Aegean islands such as Cyprus and islands west of Turkey,
Since Word War II when a revival of its patriotism became vitally important to Greek people, the music and this delightful dance has been performed in flowing free form and lively style, as it was accomplished by the dancers, who gradually emerged onto the stage performing with great confidence.
The second dance performed was the Hasapiko, which transformed into a faster version the Hasaposervikos, better known by my generation as the ‘Zorba the Greek’ dance, performed so wonderfully in the 1964 movie of the same name.
The audience loved it and them too.
Then came the time for quiet and to encounter the Turkish musicians and their enduring style of ‘classical music’.
It has a strong association with Islamic mysticism or Sufism established by Persian Sufi poet Rumi (d. 1273), the Mevlana or master who gave the order, or fraternity of Muslim mystics its name.
Whirling for the Sufi men and their musicians who performed that night so reverently and respectfully, has become an ancient ritual movement taking its dancers on a journey to an inner life to exist on the highest possible spiritual plane.
Thanks Paul Dyer to you, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and your many behind the scene teams who have helped to make it possible, and memorable.
We were indeed all privileged to be there.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014
Melbourne Recital Centre
Sat 6 Dec 5pm
Sat 6 Dec 7pm
Robert Blackwood Hall
Sunday 7th December
City Recital Hall Angel Place
Matinee Sat 13 Dec 5pm
Evening Sat 13 Dec 7pm
Wed 17 Dec 7pm
Sydney Church Concerts
Photographs with thanks to
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