Kingfisher – Songs For Halcyon: A Gift For The Present, A Legacy For The Future


The recording, Kingfisher  – Songs for Halcyon is now available on the Tall Poppies label. Below is our review of a concert performance of some of the songs from the recording from April 2014

Celebrating a decade and a half of innovative music making and professional collaboration in 2014, Halcyon presented an evening of song Kingfisher  – Songs for Halcyon in association with the Australian Music Centre. Kingfisher is a ‘seminal commissioning project’ for which 22 composers were invited to compose songs for the duo, soprano Alison Morgan and mezzo-soprano Jenny Duck -Chong.

The project is all the more personal as the composers selected have worked closely with the duo over the years. As a result, they are well acquainted with the voices and styles of the singers.

The 22 songs of this bespoke project were performed over two evenings. The second of these was last weekend. Although Halcyon has collaborated with numerous other singers and instrumentalists over the years, on this occasion it was flautist Laura Chislett-Jones, cellist Geoffrey Gartner, clarinettist Jason Noble and percussionist William Jackson who shared the stage with the duo.

It was indeed a historic occasion as several of the project’s composers – Andrew Ford, Andrew Schultz, Nigel Butterley, Gordon Kerry and Dan Walker – were all in attendance to hear their works come to life.

The 10 songs presented on this second evening, a mix of solos and duets,  took around an hour to perform, each with pre-recorded insights from its composer, describing not just the song, its text and inspiration but the writer’s unique relationship with the performers.

As a collection, it was bold and visionary.  The songs represented vocal writing at many levels – the voice in solo or as an instrument in an ensemble;  percussive or melismatic; experimental or  conventional; or, as Graham Hair observed in his introduction, presenting “the beauty and elegance of the voice with the virtuosity of the instruments.”

Dan Walker’s The Mystic Blue showcased the lower tones, writing for mezzo-soprano, alto flute and percussion; the soprano voice was celebrated in Sharon Calcraft’s technically adventurous Verthamende, Schillernde, Blitzernde, the only song with a non-English text;  the singers and percussionist created a beautifully tranquil and shimmering  calm with Gillian Whitehead’s All One Water ; Rosalind Page’s a capella duet Aquila’s Wing might just have been the audience favourite vying with the jazzy syncopation of Andrew Schultz’s  Lake Moonrise.

The singers – dressed to complement in shades of kingfisher blue – are masters of their craft.  Halcyon’s sense of ensemble is watertight.  Phrasing, dynamics and the other  minute details of an accomplished performance were achieved with perfect musicianship and synchronicity. Comprehensive programme notes with text, artist and composer biographies complemented the performances and fleshed out the stories behind them.

Kingfisher – Songs for Halcyon is a substantial gift for the present and a legacy for the future. During the year, the ensemble will be recording selected songs from the project. Hopefully the songs will also be published and accessible to more performers and a wider audience.

As composer Sharon Calcraft said in her recorded introduction, “Floreat Halcyon!”

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

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