Adelaide Festival – Brasslands: Clogs

Clogs. Image supplied.
Clogs. Image supplied.

Clogs (featuring Padma Newsome,  Aaron and Bryce Dessner) is a concert of new music featuring three Australian premieres, which should have been better attended, and perhaps more clearly promoted.

It certainly needed more than a single sheet as an excuse for a program. Nevertheless, a Festival is the perfect vehicle for presenting an experimental work such as this.

The first half presented ten pieces titled Stick Music by Australian composer Padma Newsome, a member of Clogs, the quartet which joined the Adelaide Art Orchestra in this anthology. Its gentle opening unison in the strings, reminiscent of Gregorian Chant, morphed into shimmering and rhythmical additions from the quartet’s viola, guitar (Dessner) and percussion. Other explorations included playing instruments in unusual ways, improvisation, and the introduction of the Trinidad steel drum, with a range of tuned and untuned percussion.

Calming sustained discords accompanying repeated figures and rhythms evoked Philip Glass and John Adams; bassoon and orchestra exchanged a melody in several different keys at once; the steel drum accompanied complexities of inter-twining unrelated lines which went their separate ways. The soulful ‘Copland’s Folly’ was more Newsome than Copland, and the rhythmical “2:3:5” gave a clear indication that there is a place for the unique contribution of the steel drum in the regular orchestra.

There was a little table organ piece for the right hand which was little more than an improvisation by a lady in a hat at the village church harmonium, and a meditative, simple melody passed between the bassoon and the piano.

The second half belonged to the orchestra. Bryce Dessner’s ‘Lachrimae’, with its idiosyncratic sustained discords and rapid fugue, squeezing to a soft unison finish, explored some new dimensions of the capacities of string music, while Newsome’s ‘Macdonnell variations’ evoked his origins around Alice Springs.

David Lang’s ‘WED’ and the ‘Years of the Dragon, Lord and Boar’ by Sufjan Stevens were well-managed by the Adelaide Art Orchestra, ably held together by Timothy Sexton, a seasoned exponent of new works and difficult rhythms. In spite of his clear and meticulous direction, this music demands some more solidity and maturity of ensemble than this small orchestra of young, albeit competent musicians could assemble. However, they managed the difficult and varied scores with verve and attentiveness.

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