The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace

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Published: 22nd August, 2016

The Heidelberg Choral Society in partnership with the Ivanhoe Grammar School and Orchestra, together with soloists Stephanie Gibson (soprano), Roxane Hislop (mezzo soprano), Douglas Kelly (tenor) and Raphael Wong (baritone) conducted by Peter Bandy performed two dramatic choral works. Firstly, the world premiere of When the Bugle Calls, by Australian composer, Nicholas Buc (pictured), winner of the inaugural Fellowship of Australian Composers Award and, secondly, The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, by Karl Jenkins, which premiered in London in 2000, and is now considered a classical music phenomenon and performed regularly around the world.

This performance was a very special one for the Heidelberg Choral Society and Orchestra community because it was the world premiere performance of their first commissioned piece by Nicholas Buc, a Melbournian now based in New York, well known for his arrangements for television and film and internationally acclaimed artists such as Tina Arena, The Whitlams, Passenger, Stu Larsen and Swiss folk rock group 77 Bombay Street. Buc has also worked on all five seasons of The Voice Australia and has appeared with all of the major Australian symphony orchestras as well as other orchestras in the southern hemisphere. His compositions include an hour-long cantata mass for the centenary of the death of Mary MacKillop in 2009, and 2008 saw the premiere of his Requiem Concordia, commissioned by Concordis Chamber Choir to mark their 10th-anniversary.

The Heidelberg Choral Society and Orchestra should be very proud of their commission though we are told it was composed over two days, extraordinary given the gravity of the material. Local author, poet and chorister Leigh Hay, former ASG may Gibbs Netcote Writer-in-Residence and author of 4 books wrote the libretto and it was a particular treat to congratulate her when she took her bow on stage. This piece was close to her own personal experience having endured the long wait for her own husband to be at Moorabbin airport for his return on leave from the Vietnam War.

The Heidelberg Choral Society and Orchestra are well known for their excellent tri- annual concert of sacred and secular choral works and they did not disappoint. The orchestra was terrific with very fine conducting by Peter Bandy. Particularly fine were the accompanying solo artists, violins, drums and double basses.

The emphasis for both the commissioned piece and the main performance piece by Karl Jenkins was the First World War; the so-called “war to end all wars”. I was reminded by my companion that everyday this horror is occurring around the world and to “sanctify” the horror is somehow obscene. However, how do we make sense of it and how do we recover other than to make art and pray?

Jenkins’ piece draws from the 15th Century Catholic Latin Mass to take us through the horrors of war, with driving staccato violins, relentless in setting the rhythm ascending ever to a tremendous boom-boom, highly evocative of the sheer terror of the fighting scene. Jenkins’ piece is a sophisticated composition and to experience it performed by this fine orchestra and choir in the magnificent Recital Hall with its splendid acoustics was a treat indeed. Well done, and may this be the first of many commissions this highly talented orchestra and choral society make.

The performance was accompanied by the Cameras at War Exhibition presented by the Heidelberg Choral Society in partnership with Ivanhoe Grammar, featuring photographs from the Somme by Jack and Bert Griton, 1916 and only unearthed in 2007 in a biscuit tin on the outskirts of Bendigo. This is a remarkable historic record and a very fine reminder of the need for a call for peace.