3MBS is certainly making its mark in creating annual festivals for Melbourne musicians. This year’s second Music, She Wrote festival again brought an alluring mix of (mostly female) performers into the historic and atmospheric setting of Chapter House, for a celebration of female composers throughout history. Much credit goes to director Katie Yap, who designed a varied three-night program exploring the theme of resilience, the essential life-force for any composer’s journey.
There couldn’t have been a better choice than fabulous flautist Eliza Shephard to open the Festival’s RESTORE concert with her own composition Don’t Knock, Smash. Her confident, passionate personality danced with her outstanding musicianship as she moved with vibrant and dynamic energy on centre stage. Here is a colourful and creative Australian musician, who will surely inspire today’s women to wear a bright red dress, be seen, heard and compose music. In Chicago, composer and flautist Janice Misurell-Mitchell, like Shephard, is also a one-woman hurricane. Her innovative and longer work Sometimes the City Is Silent called for advanced flute techniques – breath attacks, split tones, flutter tonguing, pitch bends and dives, use of the voice and jaunty, quirky, hip-swinging city rhythms. For bass flute and pre-recorded electronics, Eve Beglarian’s I Will Not Be Sad in This World was spell-binding, colourful and tonally very beautiful in this historic venue. Voices of Australia by French composer Sophie Lacaze, and Amy Beth Kirsten’s Pirouette on a Moon Sliver captured the outer environment of society today – city or bush environment – with pre-recorded accompaniment.
Following interval, the six voices of The Consort of Melbourne delivered a fine performance of eleven very beautiful a capella works by selected women composers across the centuries who were described as “writing against the odds” – the celebrated Hildegard von Bingen, Renaissance women Raffaela and Vittoria Aleotti, then Fanny Mendelssohn, with a longer and languishing work by Clara Schumann, and a closing solemn piece, Shadow, by Australia’s Alice Chance – evocative and meaningful in the soft illumination of Chapter House.
Celebrating baroque and folk musicians, the second evening, titled RENEW featured the baroque harpist Hannah Lane, who performed five solo Anonymous pieces alternating with gorgeous vocal works by some of Italy’s best known and prolific composers: Barbara Strozzi, Francesca Campana and Lucretia Vizana. The well-loved voice of soprano Chloe Lankshear added pure gold to the melismatic, perfect pitch and tone of these poetic vocal settings, but differentiation between Italian and Latin texts was less distinctive. It has been suggested famously by Virginia Woolf that the ubiquitous ANON writers of so many poems or small musical works throughout history were women, but I feel that having a proliferation of small compositions in our society is still common today. The challenge of writing substantial and lengthy compositions which can be seen as significant and performed regularly is surely a problem for both women and men today. Are miniatures becoming the norm? Tonight, unfortunately, a broken harp string and lengthy tuning of that instrument took some time and focus away from this concert. There seemed to be no Plan B to keep the music flowing for the audience.
With live music now well out of a two year pause, it seems in 2022 concert designs are including an excessive amount of information about concerts, context, history, with perhaps too much repetition from program notes, presenters, directors, and then more information from performers keen to talk about their pieces. Audiences come to hear live music. Tonight, Music She Wrote was in danger of becoming Words She Spoke. At interval we welcomed very fresh refreshment, with a choice of envigorating non-alcoholic wines – pear and blood orange being quite delicious.
Scandinavian folk music duo Big Fiddle, Little Fiddle took us to a fascinating world of raw and timeless string playing, earthy traditional melodies stretched and woven, harmonic lines swapped between Louise Godwin’s cello and Jessica Foot’s Hardingfele (Norwegian fiddle). This traditional stringed instrument, played like a violin, with sympathetic understrings, warmed us with the colourful sounds of Northern Scandinavia with hints of Celtic flavours. There was a demonstration of renewed spirit and freedom from our barefoot fiddler as the duo’s creative arrangements of contemporary jigs, polska dance forms and varied time signatures displayed high energy and joy. The waltz melody of Jessica’s piece A Cake in the Post developed modal lyricism and lovely pizzicato bass lines, while the final Witches Reel by Melbourne’s Louisa Wise brought much animation and surprising cackles to this entertaining close.
For the third night of Music, She Wrote: REBEL, the Festival String Quartet brought us some highly powerful music making. Violinists Kyla Matsuura-Miller and Emma Hunt, with Katie Yap (viola) and Elina Faskhi (cello) fully demonstrated the power of women in music today. Florence Price’s set of piano pieces Thumbnail Sketches of a Day in the Life of a Washerwoman, arranged by Elaine Fine, opened the concert, her rich chords and touches of jazz rhythms in A Gay Moment contrasting with the esoteric and spiritual aura of Hilary Kleinig’s Cockatoos. Elena Kats-Chernin’s Blue Silence is a sophisticated work, its recurring haunting and hypnotic, bare six-note theme holding us in wonderment. Lies You Can Believe In by Missy Mazzoli brought excitement, passion, force and energy into the room, its accented rhythms and pulses bringing strong applause. Best known among Grazyna Bacewicz’ seven String Quartets, No 4 by this highly prolific Polish composer featured for the Festival’s finale. The musicians tonight were highly responsive to the dramatic mood changes, with fluctuating rises and falls in dynamics and tempos, striking chords and clear exchanges of melodic conversation.
We hope this wonderfully curated 3MBS Festival becomes an annual celebration.
Julie McErlain reviewed the series of concerts comprising “Music, She Wrote”: RESTORE – RENEW – REBEL, presented by 3MBS and performed at Alpha 60, Chapter House, Flinders Lane, Melbourne on April 6 – 8, 2022.