What a refreshing and beautiful atmosphere was created in Athenaeum 2 by composer Nat Bartsch’s solo piano performance of her captivating, most gentle and serene compositions. She chose selections from the two highly acclaimed and well-loved albums, both ABC releases, both nominated for an ARIA award – Forever More (Best Jazz Album, 2020) and this year, Hope (Best Classical Album 2021).
While pregnant with her first child, Will, Bartsch was drawn to exploring the elements of music that are so therapeutic for both children and adults, and was inspired to compose a set of instrumental “lullabies”, artistically drawn from her knowledge and love of classical, jazz and contemporary genres. This program was a most honest, pure and engaging presentation, especially being a celebration of the piano as a rich source of tonal beauty, and an eternal fascination for humans of all ages. “Hope and Lullabies” – what a most relevant and valuable musical experience these unique pieces are able to offer in a world where tension, questioning, noise, speed and anxiety have become the norm. In the words of the composer, central elements of the traditional lullaby were connected to music therapy – “repetition, simple melody and harmony, soft sounds, tempos similar to a mother’s heartbeat. I kept coming back to my goal – to make an album that would not only soothe a baby, but an adult.” These lullabies have been streamed over four million times across the world, soothing, calming, touching, needed, applauded.
Very impressionistic was the introductory short relaxation, Breathing In And Out, a descriptive exercise with small, low beginnings, gentle patterns ascending from low to high, growing in confidence and colour. No child or audience member could have resisted the engagement. For Guy Smiley, Bartsch imitated the colours of a toy piano, with a gentle metallic shine given to a free, spatial, high lyrical melody, with her left hand providing her favourite device, hypnotic rocking ostinato patterns.
Speaking to the audience, Bartsch spoke of the influences along her compositional path, the neo-classicists such as Max Richter, and her long experience in improvising, studying and playing jazz, which could be felt in exploratory, non-symmetrical melodies and polytonal, lush chords. So calm and quietly secure were the gentle rhythms of softly blanketed and varied ostinato patterns, we were able to become lost in the melodic patterns that floated in a borderland between keys. The dozen beautifully created pieces from the collections Forever and No Time At All ended with the appropriately titled piece, Emerging. Our quest for freedom felt quietly assured, with rising exploratory melodies, fuller textures, subtle harmonic relationships and Debussy-like gliding chords.
Bartsch has created an “essential service” where the beauty and simplicity of rhythm and uniquely designed and exquisite lyrical melodic patterns make her contemporary piano lullabies a rare and welcome experience. Thoughtfully written with a highly economical and concise language, these pieces will grow with new colours added in her future ensemble performances as we hear more of her distinct and special voice. Tonight’s music certainly gave us starry skies and a taste of dreamland.
Julie McErlain reviewed “Hope and Lullabies”, performed by composer Nat Bartsch, and live-streamed from Athenaeum 2 by Melbourne Digital Concert Hall on October 27, 2021.