For over twenty years the annual Metropolis New Music Festival has showcased exemplary Australian and international contemporary music in Melbourne.
This year’s festival theme “new sounds on ancient instruments” took the concept of original new music up a notch, as musicians and audience alike were reacquainted with instruments rarely seen in orchestral environments. The oud (a North African stringed instrument similar to the lute), the harpsichord (a keyboard that was prominent in the Renaissance and Baroque eras) and the recorder were showcased in a diverse program that leapt between the Baroque period to the present.
This unique program wove a coherent thread between classical Baroque music and experimental contemporary music through pieces that exploited the qualities of the featured instruments, while highlighting recognisable compositional techniques employed across the ages.
György Ligeti Passacaglia Ungherese for harpsichord
Johann Sebastian Bach Harpsichord Concerto No. 6 in F, BWV 1057
Ade Vincent The Secret Motion of Things
Willem Jeths Recorder Concerto (Australian premiere)
Connor D’Netto Singular Movement
Antonio Vivaldi Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.3 No.6, RV356
Anna Meredith Origami Songs
This year’s Metropolis festival was all about the selected “old” instruments. The familiar music of Bach and Vivaldi were refreshingly reinterpreted by talented instrumentalists Mahan Esihanfa (harpsichord), Erik Bosgraaf (recorder) and Joseph Tawadros (oud), while the potential of these traditional instruments were pushed to the limit in a sumptuous feast of contemporary arrangements, including new compositions by emerging Australian composers Ade Vincent and Connor D’Netto.
The concert opened with Legeti’s bold and repetitive composition for the harpsichord, which accentuated the unique timbre of this elegant instrument. Esfahani’s precise technique delivered a perfectly even tempo, producing an electronic sound from the instrument that gave it a modern flavour. This opening piece was a fantastic opportunity to appreciate the qualities of the harpsichord, as its delicate pitches could be somewhat lost against the sonorous recorder and full string ensemble in the subsequent pieces.
Bosgraaf’s virtuosity with the recorder was amply displayed through his spectacular and energetic performance. In the hands of this master, surprisingly sophisticated music and rich sounds flowed from a humble instrument that many of us remember from our childhood school music classes. Bosgraaf exuded a lively presence on stage, so much so that the recorder appeared to morph with his tall, slender physique and come to life with every breath and movement.
A variety of recorders were showcased in the different pieces, exhibiting the mellow and expressive sound qualities of this deceptively simple instrument. Amazingly, the sound of one recorder carried clearly over the entire musical ensemble, delivering the harmonious melodies of Bach and Vivaldi’s energetic rhythms. But it was Jeths’ Recorder Concerto and Meredith’s Origami Songs that xploited the instrument’s unique tonal range.
The high-pitched accent notes in Jeths’ work demonstrated the powerful sounds possible from this instrument, while Meredith’s composition utilised a range of recorders (sometimes played concurrently by Borsgraaf) to exploit its tonal qualities. Having witnessed the wonders of this instrument, it is tempting to pull out the forgotten school recorder from the bottom of the drawer.
When proud-bearded Joseph Tawadros stepped onto the stage in his fez with his beautiful oud, there was excited anticipation through the audience for something exotic and unique. This was almost guaranteed in a program that features the oud in a Vivaldi concerto! The colourful sounds and textures of this traditional folk instrument was a perfect medium for Vivaldi’s music. With its different cultural origin and visual qualities, the oud added a modern, cross-cultural layer of interpretation of a familiar classical piece.
In addition to this extensive program, two Arabic music influenced encore pieces further cemented this year’s Metropolis concert theme. Tawadros and Bosgraaf performed a spirited rendition of Give or Take (from Tawadros’ album The Hour of Separation 2010), later joined by Legeti in an original oud-record-harpsichord composition which brought the concert to a rapturous close.
Visibly enjoyed by the musicians on stage and the audience alike, the encore captured the joy of the evening’s performance in a microcosm. 2017’s Metropolis New Music Festival was a triumph that reclaimed traditional musical textures and movements, while reshaping them in exciting new ways. The bold programming reflected the dialogue between contemporary and classical Baroque repertoires, allowing the audience to recognise similar rhythmic structures employed across these musical genres. This concert revealed a multi-temporal, multicultural musical tapestry that showcased why Melbourne’s Metropolis festival resonates year after year.