Halcyon and Vox Dream and Dance into the 21st century

 When the voices of Halcyon get together with the voices of Vox, you can expect a vision of the future. This weekend they collaborate in a programme called Dreams and Dances in which the focus is very definitely on the ‘here and now’ as well as on ‘what’s next’.

Halcyon is Australia’s premiere new music vocal ensemble, created by soprano Alison Morgan and mezzo-soprano Jenny Duck-Chong. For Dreams and Dances they’re joined by tenor Andrei Laptev and bass Clive Birch. Vox is the passionate and fearsomely talented 40 strong choir of 16-26 year olds, conducted by Elizabeth Scott, that sings under the umbrella of the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs.

Halcyon's Alison Morgan, soprano (L) and Jenny Duck-Chong, mezzo-soprano (R)

Speaking of the special considerations in engaging young singers with new music, Alison Morgan comments that she sensed apprehension when the scores for the concerts were first distributed. She acknowledges that the music is challenging, adding  “We  know they’re a bunch of clever, really good singers. They are up to this. We threw down the gauntlet and they rose to the challenge”.

She believes the apprehension began to dissipate once the younger singers began to hear the music and sing it. “They have had to learn extended vocal techniques like whispering, glissandi, and alternating quickly between different ways of producing sound” she explains.

Central to the programme is a work by living Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, Nuits, adieux. Saariaho has pioneered the use of electronics in music whilst also integrating new techniques and timbres into her writing. She has studied at IRCAM (The Institute for the Research and Co-ordination of Acoustic Music) in Paris and has composed music for Gidon Kremer, Karita Mattila and Dawn Upshaw. Her accolades include the Grawemeyer Award in 2003, the Prix d’Italia and the 2008 American Composer of the Year Award.

Nuits, adieux was first composed for vocal quartet and electronics. At the request of The Joyful Company of Singers, she transcribed the electronic parts for mixed choir. For Dreams and Dances the parts fall quite naturally with the solo quartet performed by Halcyon and friends, and Vox instrumentalising with their voices. Alison Morgan describes the work saying ” The Saariaho is an a capella work led by the soloists. The choir and soloists do very different things so the choir needs to be very secure in what they’re singing”.

Other works in the programme are by Sydney composer Elliot Gyger and the UK’s Kerry Andrew – “A beautiful Celtic piece, in which the choir does their usual clever thing and sings from memory. These are a couple of quite ambitious works that go beyond the 20th century material they might be familiar with”.

Percussionist Claire Edwardes, the featured solo artist will perform Gerard Brophy’s Coil  (1996) for solo vibraphone and the Four Basho Haiku for soprano and vibraphone by Jorge Vidales.

Dreams and Dances includes music by Arvo Part, Katy Abbott, Ross Edwards’ Dawn Mantras and Dan Walker’s Litany of Earth and Sky.

See http://soundslikesydney.com.au/shows/halcyon-and-vox-dreams-and-dances/7230.html for concert details

Shamistha de Soysa for Sounds Like Sydney



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