‘Into His Countenance’

 If music be the food of life then call me a glutton.

Music has formed a continuous thread throughout my life and will always continue to do so. It lifts, it transports; it makes one forget and it makes one dream. It inspires tears, laughter, joy…expresses sorrow and all those intangible things in between – music is perhaps the most evocative medium we have.

To me composers seem to live their lives in phases. And what better way to celebrate a composers phase or two, or three…than to capture them on CD. One of my fave composers, Australian Phillip Wilcher, has recently seen a selection of his works to date released on CD to celebrate his big Five-O and I have had the pleasure of listening to this recording featuring some of the works which have formed a path for this man to the present day.

‘Into his Countenance’ is now released and is a fitting birthday present for a composer who writes music that is just made to be remembered.  I often think that Phillip’s music is a combination of past and present…melodic (an absolute necessity in music in my opinion); romantic, edgy, impressionistic – Dali painted for the ‘eye’, Phillip ‘paints’ for the ear…

And when this is all combined with interpretation by the most astute of musicians – people who not only champion Phillip’s works but are also dear friends – you have quite simply, a gem. It is all here; the composer’s joy and irrepressible humour – deep insight and personal sadness.

Tolmie Tune written for, and performed by, the wonderfully gifted oboist Rachel Tolmie; a musical joke – proof that composers are not all seriousness – but very often playful and fun. What I love about this piece is that it shows us, that in Rachel’s hands, the oboe is not just the ‘plaintive’ voice of the orchestra we all know and love…it can be childlike, witty and even naughty. Here the oboist is the comedian and is joined in the fun by the versatile pianist John Martinwho get’s the last laugh…?

‘A Rose in Water’: Phillip’s own gift to his beloved mentor Miriam Hyde on her 90th birthday and beautifully played by Jeanell Carrigan.  Few pianist’s have the gift of that ‘sympathetic touch’ with their instrument as Jeanell does. Few musicians can truly convey exactly what the composer felt when they wrote a particular piece – this is never more evident than in ‘One Tuesday in September’ . Written following the events of 9/11,  the piece describes the composer’s reaction to that devastating event.

‘Into His Countenance’ is the title piece and surely the most personal work for the composer to date; written in the weeks following his mother’s death, and played by the inspired choice of flute and string orchestra, Phillip tells us of the journey of one woman’s soul towards ‘the countenance of God’. Not a final journey by any means – the soul is finite, we will never know just where a soul begins but we do know that it never ends.

The melody, played so beautifully by flautist Amanda Muir, has a floating quality which conveys sensitively the transition the soul makes as it becomes part of another time and place; it is a journey we are all part of eventually and with the strings of the Bourbaki Ensemble the music revisits a time when the pain of letting go, combined with the discovery of something so deeply spiritual, inspired a determination to honour his mother’s life. What better way to do this than through music…

There is so much to enjoy on this CD; music that is fresh, vibrant and very Wilcher. Of course behind every composer is a publisher and Publications by Wirripang provide that vital encouragement and support to it’s artists. This particular CD release (along with the composer) has been lovingly nurtured by Phillip’s publishers Anne and Brennan Keats. In an industry where composers can be regarded as little more than manufacturers, Anne and Brennan, through their care for the composer as a person, have earned the same respect and affection from their composers that they, in turn, afford them. 

And last, but never least, the excellent recording itself; recorded and edited by Peter Bell, his work gives us the wonderful finished product and and is a fine example of his skills.

So what kind of birthday cake do you give a person whose life revolves around notes and key signatures?…I happen to know that Phillip has a leaning towards lemon meringue pie 🙂

I spoke about phases earlier on. One wonders, if present recording technology was available centuries ago, how ‘Mozart at Ten’  or ‘Beethoven – My Romantic Period’  would have been like to capture on CD…we will never know, but one thing is sure – ‘Phillip at 50’  provides plenty for him to be well proud of.

15 Responses to “‘Into His Countenance’”

  1. Phillip Wilcher says:

    Dear Wendy: More than the Blake quote above, do I love the T. S Eliot. I’ll keep Alex in my thoughts and prayers. Love to you!

  2. author says:

    So glad I caught your reply in good time Phillip – thanks. I can certainly see where you get your strength from 😉
    If only you could bottle it and sell it eh…?
    I wonder what the next stage of evolution actually is – I call this earthly one the ‘awareness’ stage. Maybe in the next stage we gain a sensory perception that is beyond our comprehension in this life…?
    Something to look forward to anyway 🙂
    Love to you as always and take care.

  3. Phillip Wilcher says:

    Love to you too Wendy. Perhaps every stage of whatever life we are is an “awareness”. I love that thought of being aware. Trust me though, I still have my frail days but in that frailty there is a strength to be found like in the subtle turns of phrase in a Chopin mazurka. I suppose we each have our own belief systems and that a feeling can only be truly measured by the belief in which it is held. My personal belief is that there can be no ceasing to be. My creativity has strengthened that notion because my creativity reacquaints me with the child I was once was. That child is still here. I think our respective stages of evolution are different. I certainly do believe there is some greater force or energy at work in the world and when our days are done and it comes our time to leave, we simply become a part of that energy. We go to the place from where all ideas come. Perhaps even we become the idea for another person’s creative endeavour. Way leads on to way…….it is what led Alex here and it is what will lead him further. Perhaps even the only answer is that there is no real answer.

    • author says:

      Wonderful perspective Phillip. I do hope Alex reads your reply and draws strength for whatever it is that is troubling him – I can sense that this person is being drawn towards a turning point in his life and how amazing that he found his way to this particular article? incredible, and I hope he returns and shares a little more how his experience has brought him here and where he is going.
      I too feel the forces which drive us through this life are immortal and carry us into another ‘dimension’ of being, I am fascinated to know if awareness is part of it in a form unknown to us here in this life. I think it has to be!

  4. Blessings to you Martin. I read your comment.
    Thank you for the kind words. I carry those two quotes in my wallet with me. Thanks to you now, I have a third : the van Gogh.
    Thank you again – take care.

    • author says:

      Yes, the van Gogh quote is just so fitting and says it all really. Where would we be without such wisdom to inspire us? Martin is fave of mine here, he always has something to say which makes me think. Take care both of you 🙂

  5. I appreciate that David! I do feel a kindred spirit in you – we are on the same page! Although sometimes it doesn’t feel as though my music does “start with me”. I remember once reading about how once, a famous actor (let’s say Sir Alec Guiness, perhaps – I can’t recall) attended a performance of Othello – Olivier in the lead role. On this particular night, Olivier’s performance was something else again! On going backstage to congratulate Olivier, the actor was found to be in a rage, yelling and pulling his hair out. “But what’s wrong?” asked Guiness…”that was the most extraordinary performance I have ever seen!!” Olivier snapped back : “Yes, yes, I know – I just don’t know how I did it!” Not that I’m anything to be compared to such greatness, but I don’t always know how I do what I do or from where ideas come. Other times I do. I can perhaps be a little too self effacing at times. Franz Holford instilled in me the belief that music comes first – we serve it. My wonderful friend and mentor Miriam Hyde did likewise. I can’t begin to justly tell you what a blessing she was in my life.Her generoisty and goodwill was golden. She saw everything I wrote – offered advice when I needed it, praise when something was worth it and gave of her time at times when physically she was not able. Once she wrote me from her sick bed that she was to ill to write me about a new work and would come back to me in due course!

    There are times when I wonder how things come about. I think sometimes music “happens” to us – yes??

    Two quotes that are by my side at all time hint at aims, origins and destinations:

    From Blake:

    “To see a world in a grain of sand
    And heaven in a wild flower,
    Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
    And eternity in an hour”

    This I try to achieve through music.

    From T.S.Elliot:

    “We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time”

    This for me says we are here to remember who we truly are.

    I so look forward to achieving more goals and keeping everyone in the fold. Despite life’s hardships – and we can all give thanks for them, believe me – I love it!

    Oh – by the way Wendy – there’s a lemon meringue pie in my fridge! It’s the flavour of B minor – the hint of lemon comes from the A#!!


  6. David says:

    Hi Wendy,

    Thanks for your kind comments about the CD. It was a delight to conduct Phillip’s music with Rachel and Amanda providing the solos, and with many old (and some new) friends in the orchestra. I think the result is something we can all be proud of.

    And thanks too for your remarks Phillip – just don’t forget that it all starts with *you*! Other people could have conducted, performed, recorded this music but without you there wouldn’t be any music in the first place. Warmest regards and congratulations,


  7. author says:

    Phillip it was a pleasure writing about this recording and of course an even greater one having the music to listen to; from the first track it has something special and personal about it – the combination of emotion, the camaraderie and the tangible spirit of your dear Mum there throughout it all.

    The Monty Python team recorded a song called ‘decomposing composers’… 🙂

  8. ….and to Amanda too a huge thank you! I’m a little tired through lack of sleep – I knew I’d unintentionally someone out of our “family”….my brain is decomposing at the moment! Sleep sometimes comes slow…poco a poco rall….

  9. I am overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity of spirit and kind comments. I see/hear “Into His Countenance” as a collaborative effort – it’s not my CD but ours. Without Wirripang, Anne, Brennan, Rachel, John, Jeanell, David and the Bourbaki Ensemble, Peter and all concerned, my music would remain silent. Without you Wendy, it would be without a forum. You are all a part of the fabric of its sound and more than that, you have helped me to honour a promise to my mother. I’m in debt to you all…but believe me, the best from my pen is yet to come. So, the sincerest thanks to you all for being a part of my life – I feel so blessed.

  10. author says:

    One of the occupational hazards I suppose 🙂

    I agree with you Peter, and thanks for sharing that with us. Your work has highlighted the quality of the music and performers all round. Well done!

  11. Peter Bell says:

    I agree the Philip’s music is lovely, I recorded and edited part of the CD. It took longer than it should of, as I, from time to time, was caught up in the music and just listened instead of editing. Thank you Philip for such wonderful music.


  12. author says:

    Hi Anne!

    My pleasure entirely, Phillip’s music is always a joy to write about – as well as listen to of course. But nice to know that there are people, as yourselves, who look after these people who give us so much in the way of music and enjoyment.

    Thanks for dropping by 🙂

  13. Anne Keats says:

    Thank you for such a wonderful review of Phillip Wilcher’s Birthday CD “Into His Countenance”. Such lovely words and it is nice to receive the appreciation.
    With warm wishes

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