The final Marais Project Concert for 2014 was performed at the Recital Hall West, Sydney Conservatorium where the viola da gamba was celebrated in an eclectic range of contexts under the guidance of Jenny Erikson, Founder and Director of the Project.
Re-imaginings [v] = to imagine or anew, especially: to form a new conception … was the theme that underpinned the program. To re-imagine the viola da gamba in an inventive array of settings. From French composer and viol player Marin Marais (1656-1728) to current improvisations by contemporary composers and interpreters, marvellous music was very successfully explored in this mesmerizing concert.
The viola da gamba is one of a family of bowed, fretted and stringed musical instruments that was most popular in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Jenny Eriksson is widely recognized as one of Australia’s best known and most versatile viola da gambists. When Jenny walked on stage she illuminated the Recital Hall with a radiant smile and set the scene with her own passionate anticipation.
The Marais Project Rei-imaginings concert opened with the Suite in E minor from Pieces de viole, book 5, 1725 by Marais. Jenny was joined by Raymond Harvey celebrated harpsichord player and the chemistry, rapport and respect between both was engaging.
The harpsichord was also widely played in Renaissance and Baroque music.
I was immediately transported to another era the soothing enchantment of a less cluttered time was echoed in the musical sounds created by the two period instruments.
The wistful notes and rich depth of the bow across the viola da gamba were complemented by the distinctly sharper sounds of the harpsichord. The tradition of music of a former age was produced and exalted with clarity of purpose and intentional authenticity.
Jenny introduced composer Paul Cutlan who graciously explained that the confidence and faith of his musical friends had enticed him into composing a second piece of music for the two instruments.
He was delighted to have the opportunity to explore more deeply the sonority of the seven stringed instrument. He expressed what a privilege it was to compose and he hopped the audience would enjoy.
I always find it a delight to observe the warmth between musicians and composer. It adds a very intimate dimension to attending a live concert and invites the audience to make personal connections.
Spinning Forth – a suite for viola da gamba and harpsichord was a world premiere for Paul Cutlan’s [1964- ] composition. Prelude the first movement was a gently flowing minimalist tumble of frolicking notes richly textured by Jenny’s playing of the viola da gamba.
The second movement began with a more reflective edge and the music of the harpsichord confidently strutted along.
A dialogue of muted conversation between the instruments and solo sections for each of the instruments clearly defined this section of the composition.
The third movement shivered with excitement and delivered a rustic mood of the past that surged strongly with the emphatic playing of the gamba by Jenny.
Next Matt McMahon the composer of Country And introduced his Piano Solo suggesting that he played it solo because he didn’t know where the music would take him as it was influenced by the different venues he performed in.
His composition and playing was lyrical intense and exquisitely executed. A country narrative that meandered through rural tranquility with a peaceful pace was embedded in the music.
The call of pastoral scenery was woven sensitively through the composition and images tumbled off Matt’s agile fingers. A beautiful restraint with balanced ebb and flow was etched across the structure of the piece.
The harmony and wonder of the composition connected with my own childhood in the country.
Then Matt informed the audience he had originally started writing one piece for piano and viola da gamba but ended up with two compositions. At Carna was inspired by his visit to Ireland last year.
An expressive piano introduced the work and then was partnered by the rich melodious sound of the electric viola da gamba.
This is a seven string electrical version of the traditional viola da gamba.
The folk tales of place and people seemed to sing in this striking piece of music. The depth and quality of sound from Jenny’s playing balanced the notes of Matt’s fine delicate piano performance. Each note explored crevices of the location and unfolded a landscape of picturesque beauty, ancient culture and tradition.
Next Jenny introduced with pride and warm humour her son Siebe Pogson [1992- ] composer of Dark Dreaming.
The trio of piano, electric viola da gamba and electric bass guitar played with passion.
According to Siebe the composition explored “the idea of a man trapped in a terrible dream he couldn’t get out of, so much so he began to perceive the dream as a reality”.
A magic was worked through collaboration and an innovative composition.
The animated playing by Siebe and the complete immersion of the musicians in the piece and their performance created an unusual and satisfying sound.
Matt McMahon had a second world premier with his composition For Thomas Wyatt written for the electric viola da gamba with piano and bass guitar.
This lingering, lilting work was reminiscent of a spiritual awakening. The musicians played with tenderness and deep commitment, a thread of grief spun to pay homage to a generous heart.
Steve Hunter [1960- ] composed Three Rivers and this was arranged by Matt McMahon for piano, viola da gamba, bass guitar and tenor saxophone. A warm jazz sound, smooth and easy listening that felt expansive and embracing pervaded the work.
The piano had me floating freely in the rivers of musical notes that cascaded and caressed the landscape.
The final performance Zawi [ode to Joe Zawinul] was composed by Guy Strazz [1955- ] and arranged by Matt McMahon for viola da gamba, piano, saxophone and guitar.
I found the instruments spoke to each other, involved in a syncopated dialogue of rolling notes, swirls and smoky smoothness building a bubbling rhythm and a very satisfying listening experience.
The audience was rewarded with an encore Funky Souls written by Siebe Pogson.
The music took us straight on a journey down the road of blues.
The fabulous piano playing was accentuated with the sounds of the gamba. It was totally captivating and pure enjoyment with a funky, creative musical theme throughout.
What a musical feast and memorable world premieres!
Rose Niland, Special Features NSW, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014