Ziggy and Miles Johnston

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Published: 28th February, 2018

In their “celebration of the past, present and future of Australian guitar music” Ziggy and Miles Johnston shared the music that inspired them to become a formidable guitar duo.They have found a further source of inspiration in the Grigorian brothers. Slava Grigorian in particular has provided practical as well as artistic support by acting as Producer for the younger brothers’ 2014 recording, Recollections. A strong sense of shared endeavour is evident both in this relationship and within the wider Australian classical guitar community.

The “past” component of their program was comprised of works by Phillip Houghton, an important guitarist/composer who died unexpectedly last year. Of the four composers represented in this program, he and Richard Charlton are known to a host of aspiring guitarists via their presence on the national AMEB syllabus. Their works also appear regularly in recitals and on CDs by leading Australian guitarists. Both are noted for their originality and inventive exploration of the guitar’s sound palette. What is more, their music is accessible and enjoyable, particularly when played with the fluidity that results from the technical mastery displayed by this young duo.

Opening the program, the gentle chords that began Houghton’s Wave Radiance focused listeners’ attention on detail. Deceptively simple, the waves ebbed and flowed in shifting colours and textures. Appearing relaxed and assured, the two young guitarists began a recital marked by the kind of coordination that comes from a strong rapport, an almost telepathic communication of each other’s musical intention. Any eye contact seemed a natural part of their connection.

Two works for solo guitar by Houghton formed the middle part of the program. Miles Johnston performed the first movement of Stele (premiered by John Williams in 1990), sensitively contrasting the gentler opening and closing passages with darker middle sections. Ziggy Johnston gave an atmospheric reading of God of the Northern Forest, with its tolling evocation of anvil strokes echoing through the forests of Eltham’s Montsalvat, the home of Houghton’s teacher Sebastian Jorgensen.

More sounds of the forest could be heard in the final work: Nigel Westlake’s Songs from the Forest, where episodes of rolling melodic line are interspersed with urgent slapping of wood and an evocation of wind soughing through the trees. The other voice from the “present”, Charlton’s, came in the form of Refractions, Spiral Ellipses and, later in a generous three-item encore, his very appealing Romanza. Charlton’s music has been called “accessible”, which, while true, does not really reflect his range of creativity and the demands placed on the skills of its performers.

Jessop Maticevski-Shumak’s voice has been increasingly active. A close friend of the brothers since they were students at the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School studying guitar together, his Please Do Not Feed The Fish headed up their CD. His latest collaboration with the duo, Bergträume (Mountain Dreams), began with a delicate web of rhythmic taps interrupted by a rumble that led to more heartbeat taps and a dreamscape of effects and allusions. These included jagged mountain outlines, a boisterous fragment of a German slap dance and a final fade to a just perceptible pianissimo. It is a picturesque work, which the duo performed with precision and clarity.

Although now only 22 and 19 respectively, Ziggy and Miles Johnston’s immersion in guitar playing began at the age of four. Their many years of dedicated application have resulted in an array of successes in local, national and international competitions. This recital was further confirmation that these highly talented brothers have a very bright future ahead of them. It was also a reminder that classical guitar music in Australia is thriving and shares that future.

As part of the series Australian Impressions, Ziggy and Miles Johnston played at the Melbourne Recital Centre Salon on February 26, 2018.