In a year of musical tributes to the Anzacs, the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Reflections on Gallipoli set the bar high and will inevitably be a point of comparison for all other such concerts. Not that there will be many like it. For a start, there was not just one, but two premieres of works by Carl Vine, and an imaginative program that included compositions from “the other side”, the Turkish culture providing a wealth of music rarely heard.
Director Neil Armfield and deviser Nigel Jamieson deserve praise for the inclusive concept of the young men who were forced to be enemies, yet had so much in common – and even reached out to each other across the lines. This vision was enhanced by the almost-continuous video projections at the back of the stage, the work of Sean Bacon, video designer, and lighting designer Matthew Cox. The battle scenes were grim in their honesty, but even more affecting were the stills of young men (including in uniforms of the opposing forces) that came at the end.
But what of the music? A look at the program shows how diverse it was – and yet it was almost seamless in its performance (especially without the distraction of applause until the end of each half). Director of the ACO, Richard Tognetti, was of course closely involved in shaping the program, a high point even for this imaginative orchestra.
BARTÓK String Quartet No.2: Allegro molto capriccioso
KELLY Elegy for strings “In Memoriam Rupert Brooke”
SARISÖZEN (arr. Meurant) Ҫanakkale Turkusu
VINE Soliloquy (world premiere)
TRADITIONAL (arr. Meurant) Ceddin Deden
ELGAR Sospiri, Op.70
KODALLI Adagio for String Orchestra
MEHVEŞ HANIM (arr. Meurant) Kaçsam Bırakıp Senden Uzak Yollara Gitsem
TRADITIONAL (arr. Meurant) Nihavend Longa
VINE Our Sons (world premiere)
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS The Lark Ascending
Continuity owed much to the two actors, Yalin Ozucelik and Nathaniel Dean, with their intermittent, authentic accounts of life – and death – at Gallipoli. Soprano Taryn Fiebig was faultless, whether singing Vine’s music or Turkish folksongs, a strong element of keening in her voice (in a style typical of the neighbouring Balkans) in the lament, Kaçsam Bırakıp Senden Uzak Yollara Gitsem (“If I left you and ran away on far away roads”). This was just one example of music that spoke to the human experience of war, rather than its nationalistic bombast. It underscored the concept articulated throughout the performance that music and art lies at the heart of society, and can be a meeting point when all else has broken down.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra was on secure ground with the Bartok, and the context of the concert lent another level of emotion to works such as the Elgar, and the lesser-known Adagio for String Orchestra by the 20th century Turkish composer, Nevit Kodalli. Tognetti steered his orchestra through the wailing sound of the strings as the pace became more urgent, and the mood was one of grief, evocative of the sorrows of war. By contrast the ACO was transformed into a sonorous band for the traditional Turkish songs.
Taryn Fiebig’s finest moment came with her well-articulated and deeply felt rendition of Vine’s Our Sons, the plaintive music set to Ataturk’s legendary words: “the Johnnies and the Mehmets … lie side by side here in this country of ours.” It was a sentiment that lay at the heart of Reflections on Gallipoli, with the composer doing justice to the power of the words.
After such sorrow, where could this concert go? To Vaughan Williams and his work The Lark Ascending, written in 1914, just before World War 1 broke out. Being a work that was of the times, it was both ironic and symbolic of hope. The ACO performed it without sentimentality, but with great strength as Tognetti concentrated on the extended violin solo. Whether it was because of all the music that had gone before, the power of the images on screen, or the aptness of this work to close the concert, Tognetti’s performance seemed simply inspired. As was this concert.
Picture by Jamie Williams: Richard Tognetti performs The Lark Ascending
Suzanne Yanko reviewed the ACO’s performance at Hamer Hall on March 16.