Nineteen to the Dozen

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki

On the 1st November, chamber vocal ensemble The Song Company presented Nineteen to the Dozen at the Melbourne Recital Centre. In their words, this concert presented a “tapestry of 20 compact untitled commissions from 19 Australian composers, playlisted against fragmented miniatures from each of the last 12 centuries.” Each individual fragment was about 2 minutes long.

The program was stylistically a mixed bag. I think it is worth mentioning that the listening experience might have been enhanced if there wasn’t quite as much rapid-fire aural stimulation packed into the program. The downside of having so many commissions, and running straight through the program from start to finish, was that it was hard to fully absorb any of the pieces as an audience member, particularly as they were so brief.

The Song Company rehearsing Nineteen to the Dozen at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Image supplied.

However, I would like to acknowledge that it is a great thing for a local group to commission so many new works by Australian composers. It would be fantastic to perhaps see a program by The Song Company where they commission three or four composers to write ten minute pieces, which would give the compositions space to breathe (both for the composers themselves in writing the pieces and for the audience members in listening to them).

It was interesting to note that a number of the commissioned vignettes were in a similar sound world, featuring experimentation with soundscapes and vocal effects, such as intentional vocal fry, trills, almost machine-esque noises and vocalisations on particular pitches. The risk with this particular style of overtly modern vocal music is that after a certain point it can sound like arbitrarily ‘weird’ noise for the sake of it, particularly if the piece finishes without building to a climax or experimenting with levels in dynamics and tone.

However, a number of the commissions managed to experiment with the limits of the human voice. To name a handful, offerings from Sally Whitwell, Felicity Wilcox, Josephine Gibson and Matthew Hindson retained a contemporary edge while having a distinct artistic vision for their two-minute pieces.

The Song Company performing Nineteen to the Dozen in Sydney. Image supplied.

The eight members of The Song Company displayed a steely resolve and a level of concentration that would be incredibly hard to maintain with the more unstructured pieces. And of course, they possessed a beautiful blend of voices, one which particularly touched this listener with the more traditional choral fragments, such as a stunning Locus Iste (Bruckner) and O virtus Sapientiae (Hildegard of Bingen). The vocal abilities of the female section of the ensemble particularly impressed, featuring a powerhouse, at times operatic soprano voice from Amy Moore and full-bodied mezzo warmth from Stephanie Dillon.

The Song Company are clearly a sharply talented and forward-thinking vocal group, and one to certainly watch out for in the classical and cross-over scene in Melbourne. I look forward to seeing what they present in 2020.

On that topic:

In March 2020, The Song Company will be collaborating and performing with The Tallis Scholars from England, the Netherlands Chamber Choir (Nederlands Kamerkoor) and the Norwegian Soloists’ Choir (Det Norske Solistkor) as part of a series of concerts under the banner of 150 Psalms.  

An excerpt from the Adelaide Festival website:

Over four days, in four sacred spaces and one secular space, 12 concerts will encompass all 150 psalms in musical settings by 150 different composers spanning 10 centuries of choral tradition. From Gregorian chant to Ockeghem, from Monteverdi to Bach, from Brahms to Britten and beyond. Many Australian premieres, and world premieres of newly commissioned works by Elena Kats-Chernin, Clare Maclean, Cathy Milliken and Kate Moore. In the final concert all the voices converge in the Adelaide Town Hall for Tallis’ mighty motet in 40 individual parts, Spem in alium.

Find out more here

The Song Company’s Facebook page can be found here

The Song Company’s official website can be found here

Nineteen to the Dozen featured the vocal talents of:

Anna Sandström- soprano

Amy Moore- soprano

Stephanie Dillon- alto

Jessica O’Donoghue- alto

Dan Walker- tenor

Koen van Stade- tenor

Hayden Barrington- bass

Thomas Flint – bass

Conducted by: Antony Pitts

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