On a rainy evening in November, down an alleyway off Sydney road, a concert of new Australian music was presented at Tempo Rubato, under the banner of New Music Sounds Good. Tempo Rubato is a new chamber music venue complete with a bar and a fabulously industrial, no-frills, appropriately Brunswick vibe. It was my first time attending the venue, and its black box theatre atmosphere created a clean backdrop for all kinds of music.
The concert was organised by composer Chris Healey, who enlisted a team of collaborators: fellow composers Sam Colcheedas and Luke Severn, and the performing talents of Adam McMillan on piano, Andrew Baird on flute, Luke Severn on cello, and the Invictus String Quartet (Rebecca Wang and Nyssa Sanguansri on violin, Jin Long on viola and Annika Cho on cello).
All of the pieces could be described as ‘new’, with the majority of them being written this year. The oldest piece was the opening number for solo flute, Richard Meale’s Melisande, written in 1998. This piece was performed with elegant and fluid phrasing by Andrew, who managed to craft a story through many fast-paced melismatic passages, and foster moments of dramatic tension.
The second piece was Cello Sonata No. 2 (2019), written by Chris and performed by Adam and Luke. The lyrical melodic lines of the first movement showcased the dark, caramel-y tone and expansive warmth of Luke’s cello. Adam played with agility and nuance on the piano, and there was great communication between the two musicians. The following three movements provided a contrast in mood, with a lush and filmic second movement, a gently undulating third movement (the interplay between the piano and cello reminding me at times of the rocking of sea waves) and a sprightly, energetic fourth movement with a rousing finale.
Next up was Sam Colcheedas’ piece ‘Aromatic Fantasy’ for String Quartet in F Sharp (2019), played by Invictus Quartet. Before the piece was presented, we heard a short summary of its inspiration: memories triggered by scents, which can create a feeling of ‘euphoric nostalgia’. Sam’s bio in the concert program cited musical influences such as Sergei Rachmaninov, Sergei Prokofiev and Erich Korngold. So it made sense that the piece was melodic and stunningly evocative. The quartet produced a wonderful sound and played with disciplined communication.
After a short interval we heard Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano (2019), a second piece composed by Chris (played by Andrew, Luke and Adam). The trio was dedicated to the memory of William Von Witt, a friend of Chris’ who tragically died in an accident. The two movements were entitled The Day’s Long Journey Towards Dusk and Adagio- Towards Peace, with Chris describing the trio as a ‘time-lapse in musical form’. The three musicians were very well balanced as they crafted a range of tonal colours and rhythmic shapes. The final movement played with the agile brightness of the flute contrasted against the stormy darkness of the cello.
The concert concluded with Luke Severn’s piece When the World was Young, for piano and cello. There were moments of quiet tenderness in the piece, as well as more tempestuous and extravagant passages, which called to mind an almost Russian sensibility.
It was such an exciting experience to see young musicians play new music by emerging Australian composers. When you hear an instrumentalist play a phrase with sophisticated artistic intent or triumph over a particularly virtuosic passage, it’s fabulous to know the composer is in the audience and that you are witnessing such a fresh collaboration.
I hope more of these concerts take place in the future, and that we hear much more from these composers and musicians.