We expected that our December concert, Poetic Inspirations, would be the highlight of the SUGC choral year – it was, after all, the grand finale to a solid rehearsal and performance calendar and so should have a certain flourish and panache.
What we may not have anticipated was the intensity of the performance itself, the sheer thrill of performing an entirely new contemporary work – indeed the world premiere – by a talented composer whom we call our own, and the outpouring of enthusiasm from the audience in a sold out concert hall.
It’s not many composers, conductors, choirs or musicians who can boast a standing ovation for a performance that is completely unfamiliar to its audience. The usual concert would be a program of lovely, but perhaps familiar, music by a reasonably well known composer; and so the resulting clapping decibel would reflect the audience’s verdict based on their previous experience of past renditions. Was it better or worse than the time you heard it sung by another choir, played by finer musicians or directed by a sprightlier conductor? But this was not possible this time, as we were all in for something entirely new.
Set to poetry by the little known Australian poet Christopher Brennan, this original opus, Songs of the Heart, is a tour de force by Australian composer Christopher Bowen OAM. A highly regarded conductor, musical director and mentor, Christopher is an original and passionate composer who has no fear in drawing out the complex emotions of Brennan’s poetry, and in doing so also shows more than a little of his own character and vulnerability. And there is a generous dose of Christopher’s wry sense of humour and whimsy thrown in for good measure.
Songs of the Heart is a musical rollercoaster of glorious proportions! In as much as each poem tells a story, Christopher’s music brings each poem to technicolour life.
There was the thunderously complex orchestration of My Heart Was Wandering in the Sands, calm resignation and acceptance of I am So Deep in Day, happy playfulness and adventure in It Is So Long Ago and in I am Shut out of Mine Own Heart, longing for a lost love taking us from gentle pining to the hopefulness of spring and back again. And is there a terrifying, spirited magic in They Stole the Children in their Sleep as our prince tries to find his stolen princess?
Everyone in the Verbruggen Hall at the Conservatorium of Music was swept up and away from beginning to end. To say the audience loved it is an understatement – and they showed their appreciation with riotous applause and a standing ovation.
This positive response was evident throughout the evening as the audience enjoyed a rich musical program. The SUGC Chamber Choir delivered a haunting calmness in an earlier work of Christopher’s, Sweet Silence After Bells, and the orchestra moved through an exquisitely luscious performance of Danses Sacrée at Profane and Prélude à l’Après Midid’un Faune by Debussy. In the second half of the program the Choir performed a stirring rendition of Stanford’s seafaring choral work Songs of the Fleet. A rousing Jerusalem was the finale and prompted calls for an encore, in which the audience enthusiastically joined in.
A selection of audience reviews, received in person and via email in the days following the concert, included:
“We felt very privileged to be involved in the first ever hearing of (Songs of the Heart). The spell binding orchestration was almost overwhelming in its power and its plumbing of the heights and depths of emotion. A truly memorable day!”
“It was really thrilling”
“A glorious concert … Christopher’s work was the best … beautiful harmonies. The choir obviously enjoyed singing it as much as the audience enjoyed hearing it. Sweet Silence After Bells was magical.”
“Christopher Bowen you really did it … complex, emotional and magnificent. Congratulations!”
“As a conductor and composer, Christopher Bowen reminds me of Lennie Berstein.”
“Fabulous music making!”
“Wonderful night! It was a privilege to be in the audience.”
“Christopher’s compositions were stunning … such a great ability to compose in a wide variety of styles with a beautiful blend of tones.”
“Loved Songs of the Heart. Brilliant composition … superb music, animated and precise conducting. Great choral and orchestral sound and discipline. (It was) much appreciated by us and Marie Bashir whom we know.”
“The orchestra was spectacular, the choir fantastic. Christopher Bowen’s music still haunts me.”
“The Chamber Choir must rate as one of the best.”
“Sweet Silence after Bells (is) a work of art. Congratulations (on a) a unique and memorable performance.”
“This was my first concert … and I didn’t know what to expect. Loved the Christopher Bowen music and I’ll come to the next concert.”
For more information on the 2012 concert series, please go to the SUGC website where you can download the 2012 Schedule and Subscription form.