Heads Up / Music

Heads Up: Astra’s final concert for 2012, 5 pm Sunday 8 December

What: Lux Aeterna: ad Astra

Who: Astra final concert for 2012

When: 5 pm Sunday 8 December

Where: Sacred Heart Church, corner Rathdowne and Pelham Streets, Carlton.

By Nicholas M Tolhurst

Astra Chamber Music marks the Christmas season with a celebration of light, but light in a time of impending darkness.

To quote from the Astra website:

… in the spectacular acoustics of the Sacred Heart Church, [this concert] brings together compositions from both periphery and centre of Western music in themes of both requiem and incarnation. In a year of much death and destruction in Syria, the Philippines and elsewhere, texts of the “hovering dead” (Hebbel) stand alongside the seasonal narrative of the birth of a child in poor circumstances, shortly to flee to another country. On Australia’s own turf, a sick new-born baby seeking refuge from Burma is kept separate from his imprisoned parents and the nation’s leader describes it as “what happens when people come to Australia illegally by boat.”

Director John McCaughey has again carefully curated a performance of works that reflect on each other musically and textually and provide us with an unparalleled opportunity to reflect within ourselves on the ill-thought (and unthinkable) capacity we have for inflicting despair on our very own selves. Why do we keep on like this?

The message of Christian hope is ‘in the midst of death—life’ and on 8 December you can rally to the cry ‘in the midst of darkness—light’. Astra is presenting a Lux Aeterna bonanza with György Ligeti’s, Lux Aeterna (1966) for 16-part choir and Romanian composer Dan Dediu’s, Lux Aeterna (1996) a concerto for mezzo-soprano and choir. Also from Dediu, a first Australian performance of his O Magnum Mysterium (2013) for 6-part choir.

The vastly underrated and under-performed (in all senses) Max Reger, will be heard with his Hebbel Requiem Op. 144b (1914) for solo bass-baritone, choir and ensemble. McCaughey’s capacity to arrange high-romantic orchestral works for small bands is legendary and always provides powerful insights into the workings of composers like Brahms, Liszt and Reger that the more ‘Wagnerian’ full performances frequently obscure. There is a tendency to dismiss Reger as Brahms with the Wagner and Bach stops full out, but Reger’s dense textures and remarkable contrapuntal writing will astound if they are set free by an intelligent reading.

Also on the program are Ruth Crawford-Seeger’s, Chants (1931) for female chorus with solo soprano and alto and her Diaphonic Suites Nos. 1 & 2 (1930), solo flute, bassoon and cello. It is difficult to credit that these works are now more than 80 years old and that American art could have once been so hopefully modern.

Rounding out the celebrations are Heitor Villa Lobos’, Preasepe (The Manger) (1952) for solo mezzo-soprano and choir and Thomas Tallis’, O nata lux and Te lucis (1575) vespers and hymns for 5-part choir.

Importantly, whatever your tastes in the music, this concert is an opportunity to experience the extraordinary solo work of Elizabeth Campbell (mezzo soprano), Jerzy Kozlowski (bass-baritone), Catrina Seiffert (soprano), Mardi McSullea (flute), Elise Millman (bassoon), and Alister Barker (cello).

And of course the virtuosic Astra Choir (disclosure I am singing in it) conducted by John McCaughey.

Bookings at http://www.trybooking.com/DYZP

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