In Victory Over the Sun, a reworking of Russian composer Mikhail Matyushin’s 1913 futurist opera, SCO and performance and installation artist Justene Williams collaborated to create a contemporary production of a work which librettist Pierce Wilcox has laughingly described as “a strange project even by our standards”. The production sold out and received excellent reviews.
Jason Catlett in Time Outpraised it as “beautiful, exotic and thought-provoking….one of – if not the – best things at the Biennale of Sydney”. Wilcox’s impressive libretto was filled with “well-chosen anachronisms and neologisms” and composer Huw Belling produced “an inspired and intriguing” score via an imaginative archaeological investigation of Matyushin’s original.
The production, which included a “spectacular” video by Justene Williams, managed to convey “not just some of the original author’s concept of the future, but also many reflections of other forward-looking fantasies over the ensuing century” and resulted in “a glorious procession of artistic imagination across a century of thought”.
Real Time’s Keith Gallasch wrote that from the original text, designs and a fragment of the score, visual artist Justene Williams and Sydney Chamber Opera had fashioned a largely new work “brimming over with invention, anarchic fervour and a sense of artistic, if not political, transformation.” He praised the scale and sweep of the production. “This contemporary Victory Over the Sun sings, dances and moves to an engrossingly propulsive keyboard-led score from a tight ensemble seated in a circle at one end of the traverse staging, an integral visual component of the work.” Huw Belling’s new score for the work was challenging yet engaging, sustaining the impulse of the original, Mitchell Riley’s “huge vocal swoops” were utterly impressive, and Kazimir Malevich’s original costume designs were realised by Justene Williams “with a wonderful mix of fidelity and invention”.
Huw’s work Bourrée Echo was premiered around Australia in May-June by cellist Richard Narroway as part of his project to tour Bach’s Cello Suite and new works in response by Australian composers.
Bourrée Echo carries the program note:
Meditating on the acoustic possibilities of certain gestures, Bourrée echo draws a large orbit around Bach’s third cello suite Bourrées: Bach’s material is present, but only in the distance, like a star viewed from its last planet.
Richard made a recording of the work at Old Melbourne Gaol (the death-mask of Ned Kelly features in the background):
The Breath Between Us composed by Huw for string trio and an instrument of the same name (above) created by Artist Anita Larkin was premiered on April 14 by Jack Symonds, Mitchell Riley, Emily Irvine and members of the Australia Piano Quartet.
Sarabande – Invented in Hell, an orchestral work part of the same suite as Nahashpremiered at the Sheldonian Theatre on the 9th of March at 8:00pm with the Oxford University Philharmonia under Huw’s baton. Huw also conducted Copland’s Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra (Soloist: Daniel Mort). Other works in the concert under the baton of Jacob Swindells included Borodin Symphony No.2 and Strauss Serenade in E-flat Major, Op.7.
The program note reads
“Sarabande – Invented in Hell, is a tongue-in-cheek take on the form of its name. The title is taken from Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes’s alleged quip about the diabolical nature of the dance. In Sarabande dotted gestures (short-long short-long) form a seedling that is times rendered in miniature: a squeaky gate in the woodwinds; or as brutalist concrete in the lower brass and strings.
From this battle of characters emerges a ‘Sarabande’ melody designed to resemble (but not directly quote) the baroque. It quickly distends into an ungainly beast as thick polyphony overpowers the regal texture. We find ourselves unbalanced by a rollercoaster topography of dotted gestures overlapping at competing speeds, but we escape back into melody – now transformed with middle-eastern echoes and punctuated by woodwind filigree.
Rabelaisian ecstasy is short lived as the dance collapses under its own momentum. The wigged courtier, who found himself a whirling dervish, finally breaks a leg.”