To celebrate the eightieth anniversary of the establishment of The Australian Boys Choir the combined forces of the Institute presented an ambitious concert of stunningly forward looking material. This was challenging material written by contemporary Australian composers – challenging for the performers, but works of great audience appeal in a wide range of styles.
There were pieces rich in onomatopoeia, presenting sounds of the natural world and of human action, pieces rich in reference to our colonial past, pieces based on the work of indigenous writers, and contemporary pieces integrating references to the textures of the rich heritage of choral music. Though some of these recent works, such as Do not stand at my grave and weep, by Joseph Twist, and Dance Mantra, by Ross Edwards have already strongly established themselves in the repertoire, much of the material presented is new, so the works are all listed here.
Hush: On the Death of a Bush Church, by Iain GrandageIsland Songs, by Stephen Leak
Until I Saw the Sea, by Stephen Leek on a text by Lillian Moore
Tides of Ocean, by Matthew Orlovich on a text by Victor Carell
Surefire Sea Shanties, by Timothy Mallis
I have not your Dreaming, by Paul Stanhope on a text by Margaret Glendinning
Hope There is, by Clare Maclean on a text by Oodgeroo Noonuccal
Do not stand at my grave and weep, by Joseph Twist on a text by Mary Frye
Dance Mantra, by Ross Edwards
These works were musically sophisticated and challenging – the pitch ranges, the phrases, the harmonies; but as much as anything, the articulation demands in these works made the achievements of the various ensembles on the day all the more remarkable. Balance, dynamic contrast and diction were all exemplary throughout on the day.
The main choir was supported by The Vocal Consort – a group of mature, though young, male voices furnishing the various bass and tenor parts as needed below the soprano and alto voices of the boys, but also having some of their own featured moments. Also featured were The Kelly Gang – effectively an ensemble of recent old boys, members of the choir who have maintained their interest and skills – along with the youngsters of the training choirs, making a very full stage at times. Together, this made such an effective picture of the history and the ongoing nature of the Australian Boys Choral Institute – the various age and experience levels combining to present works of contemporary composers addressing the issues of identity which this country faces at this point.
The audience’s enjoyment was obvious throughout, and it was a very full house. The Hawthorn Arts Centre houses its main concert venue in the old town hall – it is beautifully restored, and highly atmospheric.
It is clear that the Australian Boys Choral Institute is in very good hands. This was a courageous program showing deep thought about the choir, its history and future, and its place in contemporary Australia. It was also a refreshing program of new sounds to enliven our ears.
Peter Hurley reviewed Australian Sounds, presented by The Australian Boys Choir, The Vocal Consort, The Kelly Gang and the Training Choirs of The Australian Boys Choral Institute at Hawthorn Arts Centre on August 25, 2019.