Brett Dean’s New Cantata Is “Mind-Blowing”

Earlier this week, on 24 September, on the other side of the world, a momentous event took place.

Brett Dean’s new evolution cantata, In this brief moment received its world premiere, performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas Collon at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. Performing with the orchestra were soloists, soprano Jennifer France and countertenor Patrick Terry with the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus and the Hallé Choir. This 45-minute piece will tour to Hamburg, Lyon, Sydney and Madrid. The Hamburg premiere is planned for February 2023 with the British choirs from the premiere performing alongside the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra conducted by Alan Gilbert. The French and Australian premieres, follow in 2024.

Explaining the description, ‘Evolution Cantata’ Dean says it is “inscribed in a long history of cantatas hovering between the sacred and the profane, engaging with questions of being and becoming, origins and destinations” adding that it is “neither history lesson nor manifesto, but a love song and a lament for our world.”

For the text, Brett Dean has teamed up with esteemed director, administrator, producer and librettist Matthew Jocelyn who collaborated with Dean on the highly acclaimed opera Hamlet. Explaining how the work germinated and developed, they say “The Origins of Species by Charles Darwin served as our starting point and remains at the core of In this brief moment, an alternative perspective to the biblical concept of creation as celebrated in Haydn’s Die Schöpfung, for example, also referenced in this work. But Bernie Krause’s The Great Animal Orchestra also helped us to shape an evolutionary sound chart, from ‘geophony’ to ‘biophony’ to ‘androphony’, a categorization we loosely adopted as our own three-part structure.”

In this brief moment, completed in 2019, is written in three movements for a symphonic orchestra, two choruses and two soloists comprising a lyric soprano and a countertenor. It also contains a pre-recorded track of Sir John Tomlinson reading Darwin. The piece spans 4.5 billion years of history, from the formation of planet Earth, through various stages of creation, extinction and evolution until man appears, in this “brief moment in the history of the world when human life seems to have developed agency over its own future and perhaps even over that of the planet itself.”

Awarded 4 star ratings by both The Guardian and The Times, The Guardian’s Rian Evans describes the performance as “quite a mind-blowing affair.” Rebecca Franks of The Times says “It is chilling and thrilling, like watching a tooth-and-claw David Attenborough documentary.”


Image Bettina Stoess

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