On Monday evening 16th March, 2015 at 6pm, in the intimate surroundings of the Salon at the Melbourne Recital Centre, local heroes PLEXUS, a trio of brilliant and versatile musicians including Philip Arkinstall on clarinet, Monica Curro on violin and Stefan Cassomenos on piano, presented a stunning program of contemporary works by women composers.
In a race to establish their credentials, the first piece they presented was DASH (2001) by Pulitzer Prize winning American composer Jennifer Higdon, whose works demand a high-octane performance and they excelled.
Dash (2001) revealed the musician’s virtuosity and all shone as they stunned the audience for their sold out performance in the extraordinary acoustical Salon at the Melbourne Recital Centre.
PLEXUS blinded everyone with their illuminating light as they showcased the composer’s work and their own virtuosity both as individual musicians and collectively.
In a dazzling display exposing their talent, experience, expression and understanding of the works, PLEXUS plunged us headlong into a frenetic journey that while a few minutes long, superbly articulated and explored with great clarity, the vast cultural landscape of the sounds of contemporary society.
It may have lasted just a few minutes, five to be exact, but it was intense, breathtaking and memorable.
WOW! What a tour de force PLEXUS are. This relatively new chamber ensemble was founded on a promise of commissioning Australian and International composers and premiering their works.
This is a vision that is not only rare, but also one to be applauded, as they give back to the musical world that has nurtured their own very considerable talents.
PLEXUS shone the spotlight on the extremely challenging compositions of five youthful Australian composers, four of whom were in attendance to take a well-earned bow.
Compositions by Jennifer Higdon, Natalie Bartsch, Lisa Cheney, Sally Greenaway, Maria Grenfell and Sally Whitwell represented a new age that has dawned in contemporary musical style.
It is one that is engaging both audiences and musicians alike, while establishing a new standard of renowned excellence.
Breathless is how I felt listening to the collective talents of this exceptional trio as they interpreted the emotive works of an extraordinary group of visionary women.
The performance PLEXUS gave on this night not only revealed the devotion they have to music and the works they were playing, but also provided a rare insight up close and personal of how three hearts can combine as one to express the very best of humanity, of who we are and can be.
Sally Whitwell’s work The Web (2015) was a world premiere.
She showcased a huge range of human emotions from angst to an appealing sublime and although fleeting, instant snapshot of idyllic charm.
Sally is an award winning pianist herself, as well as a conductor, composer and educator who is also a vocal advocate for classical music by women composers.
Technical perfection and individuality of interpretation is a gift the performer presents to the composer.
During this concert this happened continually, while PLEXUS honoured the significant and culturally relevant works they were performing.
Must say I loved the combination of piano, clarinet and violin.
How well they go together while standing apart.
You can hear them all individually while together they seduce you with ‘mellifluous sound’.
Violinist Monica Curro played superbly.
She is a core member and a regular soloist with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
She is also the only Australian to be invited in 2009 to play in the World Orchestra for Peace, which performed around the world for three years.
It is no wonder when you encounter the lightness of her touch, the sweetness of sound as she draws her bow slowly or as you are swept along on the frenetic energy of her playing as she interprets passages that demand she give her all while touching on the essential aspects of the composition.
Stefan Cassomenos on piano is a powerhouse performer, a superlative artist.
He successfully transmitted his understanding of the ideas each composer was expressing by rendering their works in an outstanding interpretation that shed light on both the composition and his virtuoso playing.
He helped the audience to experience and perhaps break down former musical boundaries in their imagination while opening up our minds to the possibilities of exploring new sounds.
He did this with vitality and relevance, as well as with an assured charm as he grasped the author’s style and reflected its intent.
Philip Arkinstall was playing one of my favourite instruments the clarinet, whose warmth of tone seduces eternally.
He proved the point that while an individual’s performance can shine brightly it is only truly illuminated by the light ‘emanating from a composer’s ideas’.
He invests his heart and soul into his playing and it shows.
His assured phrasing, marvellous breath control and sheer brilliance allow him to reveal what we cannot see, the finest shading of both rhythm and sound.
You can tell he loves playing ‘en chamber’, enjoying both the simplicity and complexity of his chosen art as it applies to performance that while challenging ensures you embrace new ideas through his powerful technique.
In such a performance as this one the audience can learn how to appreciate that while performance styles change with the taste and mood of our times, they are about each performer bringing their individual qualities to the composer’s works if they are to have an impact.
When their combined talents is infused, as in the case of this trio, into a multi layered content of harmonic combinations, the presentation then becomes a significant celebration of creativity as indeed it did.
Into the Light (2015) by Nat Bartsch, a Melbourne-based jazz pianist composer was a world premiere dedicated to the women who served in World War 1.
Must say I loved this work, especially when in my imagination I entered a sun filled meadow of sound where the glorious playing from the piano overlayed with sweet generosity by the violin and underpinned with the sweet sonorous sounds of the clarinet reached a point were it became truly sublime.
There was a purity about its clarity that transcended time and place, bringing the best of the past into the present and forecasting the future of music.
Then came No Distant Place by Lisa Cheney, which inspired by a poem by Derek Bourne-Jones.
It had been dedicated to the bravery of the distinguished army nurse Rachel Pratt.
In World War 1 Amy Pratt dressed the wounds of Turkish prisoners and looked after patients suffering horrendous injuries and afflictions such as gangrene from frostbite and dysentery.
She became one of seven women awarded the Military Medal for ‘bravery under fire’.
Two movements of expressive power played superbly by Plexus left us all in awe of the composer’s ability to provide an emotive impression of ‘immeasurable eternity’ through an affecting surge of discordant emotional energy.
Quietude another world premiere from Sally Greenaway explored the poem Bombardment…
…The fifth day there came a hush;
We left our holes
And looked above the wreckage of the earth
To where the white clouds moved in silent lines
Across the untroubled blue
Fragility, beauty and the futility of war were expressed by the composer in this very special work.
The Salon resonated with exquisite sounds that filled this sacred space and lingered long in its lofty places.
The clarinet and violin moved quietly and slowly to the corners of the cube like room where they echoed the glorious playing by Stefan Cassomenos on the piano, as he crossed all boundaries of virtuoso expression. Breathtaking.
The final work Voyage (2015) by Maria Grenfell was expansive, effusive and energetic as the trio engaged and projected a whole new melodic language in musical style.
They realized the ideas and images of the work that started at infinity, took us on a voyage and then delivered us back to infinity.
The players of PLEXUS commitment to the ongoing development and growth of the performance arts is commendable.
Women music composers in the main did not have a look in for centuries and were highly restricted with what they could do, especially in the context of imagining great works in music
Thank heaven’s the world has changed and while it has been a hard road between then and now in paying tribute to the sacrifices made by pioneering ANZAC women through music.
In the foyer after the show there was an air of great excitement as the crowd lingered to give their personal congratulations to the performers when they emerged.
This is one of the pluses of attending concerts in the Salon at the Melbourne Recital Centre, as the artists nearly invariably always emerge to interact with their supporters afterwards. It makes for a happy encounter of the musical kind.
PLEXUS packed a powerful punch as they delivered a challenging, diverse and very distinguished concert of works by 21st century women composers.
They inhabited the imagination of each, expressing the essence of their artistically significant and aesthetically pleasing works. It was very well done and I for one felt entirely privileged to be there.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015