Following in the footsteps of the Chanticleer Singers' musical representation of South African works inspired by notions of dominant culture and marginalisation, the world première of American composer, David Plylar's Colossus traces notions of political aggression, colonial aggrandisement and imperial conquest. It also reflexively considers the futility of warfare that results in an inevitable loss of life.
Colossus, scored for a large chamber ensemble (nonet), presents an unfolding landscape where high-pitched painful, anguished exclamations intermingle with evocatively planned representations of suffering and agony. Through depicting hegemonic struggles between powerful forces and those rendered insignificant, Plylar's placing of a quietly intoned single note at the close of the work, directly after a plethora of full-scale violently structured sonic layers, provided eloquent commentary. This work is the perfect foil to the age-old misguided maxim: Dulce et decorum est, Pro partria mori.
In conductor Daniel Boico's hands, the score becomes a living artistic and musical organism, where each phrase and thematic utterance is delivered with sensitive, expressive care.
Other works on the programme included Frederic Rzewski's Coming Together, and compositions by Luigi Dallapiccola, Maurice Ravel, and Carlo Gesualdo. The KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra is to be congratulated for bringing this infrequently heard repertoire to a wider audience. Plylar, who is this orchestra's artistic and new music co-ordinator, deserves special praise for his tireless efforts and dedication to the cause of contemporary music.
Based on words penned by Sam Melville, an anti-Vietnam War/apartheid activist, Coming Together depicts the deteriorating perception of a political prisoner as the music tumults toward a cataclysmic climax.
This minimalist composition - superbly performed with tight rhythmic control and co-ordination - is probably a compositional commentary on the dictum "repeat the lie" so often used by political masters. Guest speaker Nicholas Nicolaidis' virtuoso performance where the repetitive text was presented with a kaleidoscope of articulation and declamatory variety, deserves special mention.
Dallapiccola's musical portrayal of the outsider in Piccola Musica Notturna, received a hauntingly evocative performance, where delicately sculptured phrases within a sparingly constructed atonal soundscape merged into a carefully calculated and controlled interpretation. Nicole Starr's atmospherically conceived opening on clarinet was especially memorable.
Ravel's Introduction and Allegro showcases the harp in a sophisticated, flamboyant manner that has led many to consider this to be the first concerto to display the modern harp. From her opening flourishes, brilliantly executed, Linor Steinhausen (harp) set the tone for a magnificent performance. Producing a wide palette of sounds, wonderfully shaped phrases, and carefully controlled and crafted texture, her complete mastery over the instrument was palpably evident.
This was a performance that did not disappoint. Boico's direction of the ensemble was from the top drawer where outstanding dynamic differentiation, and thematic layering toward climactic points added to the creation of a stellar performance.
A wonderful concert, well recommended for those with esoteric musical tastes.