An afternoon of music from Scotland and Australia in the beautiful surroundings of National Trust mansion Barwon Park is the next concert for Melbourne’s Team of Pianists (TOP), on Sunday May 1. On this occasion the pianists are represented by Robert Chamberlain while guest Icon Trio comprises soprano Justine Anderson, mezzo-soprano Vivien Hamilton and alto Jeannie Marsh.
Chamberlain comments that the Scottish theme makes a very interesting thread for a recital, especially in a part of Victoria which was settled (or invaded) by mainly English-speaking Europeans. “We know a lot about the Irish heritage from 19th century Australia, [but] it is interesting to explore the Scottish aspects,” he says.
“I am particularly happy to be performing with Icon Trio,” says Chamberlain. “The Scottish dialect or language is particularly interesting. Normally as a vocal accompanist we either speak or understand quite a bit of the language which the singer sings, but with some of the songs in Scottish or Gaelic there is extra challenge and interest in trying to work out what is being said and then finding out what it really means!”
Chamberlain speaks from experience, having recorded with Jeannie Marsh, “some delightful songs by Australian composer Esther Rofe on the CD Harvest – Music of John Tallis, Esther Rofe and Dorian Le Galliene ( Vox Australis VAST030-2) “.
But what of his piano solos in this program?
“The piano solos I will play are by Peter Maxwell Davies (born 1934, died in March this year) and by Percy Grainger – Three Scottish Folk Songs edited by Ronald Stevenson”, says Chamberlain. “Percy Grainger was a great arranger of all sorts of music, and in these settings he turned his attention to folksongs from Scotland. Firstly with ‘Will ye gang to the Hielands Leezie Lindsay?’ (trans. ‘Will you go to the Highlands, Lizzy Lindsay?’)”
“The melody is a lowland variant of a Gaelic type of melody, and the text was contributed by Robert Burns. ‘Mo Ninghean Dhu’ means in Scots Gaelic ‘my dark-haired maiden’ and this arrangement of this slow melody has a typically Grainger rich chordal texture, while the final folk song ‘O gin I were where the Gadie rins’ (‘O if only I were where Gadie – a burn or stream in Aberdeenshire – runs’) uses a tune known as The Hessian’s March and Grainger’s settings evoke a fife and drum band”.
Peter Maxwell Davies lived on the Orkney Islands, part of Scotland, from the 1970s. “His music is often complex and exciting,” says Chamberlain. “I have performed his virtuosic Hymnos (1967) for clarinet and piano on a couple of occasions. With its elbow, fist and arm clusters, complex rhythms, glittering textures and extremes of range, Stevie’s Ferry to Hoy (“for Annie Bevan to play on the piano”) is compact, approachable and evocative. Hoy is one of the islands in the Orkney archipelago and Maxwell Davies evokes the gentle rocking of the water in ‘Calm Water’, rising turbulence in ‘Choppy Seas’ and finally the ‘Safe Landing’.”
Icon Trio’s Jeannie Marsh agrees that the program is infused with a sense of history. “Scotland and Australia share many connections, especially in the Western District of Victoria, home to Barwon Park”, she says.
“This program brings together music and words from both countries, from many eras: Scottish favourites such as Skye Boat Song, Charlie is my Darlin’, Ye Banks and Braes, poems of Robert Burns; songs by Scottish composers such as James MacMillan, Thea Musgrave, Judith Weir; piano solos by Peter Maxwell Davies, Percy Grainger; and new Scots Haiku trios commissioned by Icon Trio from Melbourne composers.”
An unexpected element in the concert, the Scots Haiku are set to music and sung by unaccompanied female vocal trio. In 2012, singer Vivien Hamilton made a surprising discovery in Edinburgh: a book of Scots Haiku by Scottish poet Bruce Leeming. Marsh comments: “These delightful miniatures draw upon the Japanese haiku tradition: fleeting moments from Scottish places and Scottish lives are captured in tiny poems.” They are written in Lallans Scots, the language of Robert Burns, (Auld Lang Syne) with English translations:
Twa weans vizzy the lift
Two children study the sky
Marsh says “Icon Trio was drawn to the musical possibilities of these poems, and asked Melbourne composers (including Johanna Selleck, May Lyon, Christine McCombe) to set them to music. The results will be heard in this concert: playful, serene, spooky poems (drinking whiskey with friends, moonlight on a loch, swirling sea fog); wide variety of musical styles; rich and warm sounds of three classical female voices (interweaving, giggling, soaring, celebrating, mourning…)”
ABOUT THE PERFORMERS:
Icon Trio was formed in 2011 to create the visual art/vocal music event VoxPix. The singers bring decades of experience in new Australian music, opera, early music, cabaret, concerts and festivals, in Australia and beyond. In 2014 Icon Trio performed their Scots Haiku at the Art Gallery of Ballarat Scottish exhibition Auld Lang Syne, and at the Scottish Fling at Melbourne Immigration Museum.
Team of Pianists partner Robert Chamberlain is in demand as a soloist and chamber musician, adjudicator, and teacher. He is on the piano faculty at Monash University, and has performed and recorded extensively in Australia and internationally.
DETAILS AND BOOKINGS:
(i) Enjoy the splendour of the historic Barwon Park at Winchelsea, Victoria, an authentic bluestone mansion and stables set in a sweeping rural landscape. Concertgoers are invited to afternoon tea plus the chance to view this fascinating mansion. In particular look out for portraits of Thomas and Elizabeth Austin, whose story is told by the National Trust …
Elizabeth Austin was born in England in 1821 and came to Australia in 1841. Four years later she married Thomas Austin and became involved in local churches and charities. After her husband’s death in 1871 she increased her philanthropic ventures and by the end of the nineteenth century was recognised as one of the Victoria’s leading benefactors.
Mrs Austin is best remembered for contributing to the establishment of the Austin Homes for Women in Geelong and the Hospital for Incurables (later the Austin Hospital) in Heidelberg. She died in 1910 and The Argus Newspaper remembered her for bringing “into existence one of Victoria’s most useful hospitals —the Austin Hospital”.
Unfortunately, English-born Thomas Austin, who arrived in Australia in 1831, is remembered with less affection. This is because in 1859 he brought 24 rabbits to breed as game for his shooting parties. Although welcomed at the time, Austin is now blamed for introducing this serious pest to Australia!
(ii) The article From Edinburgh to Barwon Park represents the second in a series of collaborations between Team of Pianists and Classic Melbourne.