“Into His Countenance” – enjoy.

November 10th, 2008

A while back I raved here about the birthday release of a CD celebrating the music of Australian composer Phillip Wilcher and now Phillip has generously shared the title piece from the CD with the music loving public on YouTube.

Follow the link and just sit back, close your eyes and indulge your senses – but don’t fall out of your chair!

‘Into His Countenance’

June 20th, 2008

 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.

Can music be visual as well as aural? The Messiaen experience

January 28th, 2008

Nothing annoys me more than musical or artistic snobbery. Those who oppose the the artist’s right to freedom of expression; well, not actually oppose but denigrate the form which an artist uses to portray what he/she see’s, hear’s, and feel’s. It seems that too many people have a comfort zone and when presented with the alternative to their idea of the norm they are immediately insecure and defensive.

Many great artists have lived in the face of public criticism, had scorn poured over their work and even inspired riots by their very uniqueness. Think Stravinsky back in 1913 when premiered his Rites of Spring – this jagged and edgy masterpiece was revolutionary – the  and choreography were considered barbaric and sexual and caused the audience to grow more uneasy by the minute during the first performance. A riot eventually ensued with the police being called in; this was in Paris of all places, a city where, even in 1913, the unconventional was accepted and alternative lifestyles the norm.

Olivier Messiaen was a composer of extraordinary music and is the focus of a Festival in his honour in London very soon. Messiaen, like Mozart almost 200 years earlier, did not just hear music in his mind, it was a physical experience to him. Messiaen saw music in forms and colours not with his eyes but in his head. He drew his influence from geological formations, from wildlife; each shade of colour from the strongest to the weakest representing the highest to the lowest octaves. Through such sensory perception he gave us such masterpieces as La Transfiguration and the lush Turangalila. It takes a certain musician to interpret these works and bring them to life; pianists such as the iconic Messiaen-ist Australian  pianist Micheal Keiran Harvey; and Mark Rowan-Hull, abstract artist and pianist, who will perform Messiaen’s works at the Festival: both have the ability to tap into the visions that Messiaen experienced as he composed his works and bring them to life for us. Rowan-Hull particularly will link the visual art of Messiaen with his music…what a treat for the senses. You know what? I wonder what would have been the result of a collaboration between Messiaen and Vincent van Gogh – both masters of the visual art of colour and form…we will never know, but I always wonder.

Brave, fantastic, daring, confronting and brilliant. Who needs a comfort zone when you have all this?

Mark Rowan-Hull. Gives sight to Messiaen’s sounds.

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