Posts tagged Liam Flenady
Stars, not far off - New songs by Liam Flenady

Wallace_Stevens On Friday night Kupka’s Piano will premiere my new work Stars, not far off - a cycle of six songs, settings of ‘Six significant landscapes’ (1916) by American poet Wallace Stevens.

This excites me, as it represents the first successful vocal composition of my output. Successful in a couple of senses: in the melodiousness of the lines, in the setting of the texts, in the interrelation of the voice and the instruments. It has been a great experience talking through the ideas and expression with Tabatha McFadyen and with the instrumentalists, and hearing the pieces come to life. They are sounding fantastic.

It was not an easy piece to write, and took me two months longer than expected - the poor performers only having received the sixth song less than two weeks ago.

American composer Elliott Carter once said to his student David Schiff that you can’t set Wallace Stevens to music, because his poems lack the requisite drama. Maybe this is why the work was so difficult to compose. It is true Stevens' poems are often metaphysical meditations with no narrative or psychodrama, and these songs are no exception. But one thing that struck me when reading the poems over and over was that, despite their stillness, there was always an implied dramatic movement, albeit a subtle one. In each poem you can always find an internal logic of development in the conceptual framework and imagery as well as a formal and rhythmic logic to the diction and phrasing. It is a matter of bringing this movement and difference to the surface while remaining true to the equal measures of stillness and unity in the poems.

Another aspect that I wanted to explore - in fact, perhaps the main reason for choosing these to set - was the fact that the poems were written by an American poet about China. (Stevens, an 'oriental art' enthusiast, wrote the poems in response to six Chinese landscape paintings, hence the title). It is becoming clear that the economic, political, and cultural relationship Australia has to both China and America (and the tensions that come from this) will be an important part of what it is to be Australian across the first half of the 21st century. These songs therefore try to incorporate signifiers of typical orientalist fantasy - gongs, pentatonics, glissandi, tranquillity, etc - at the same time as trying to have a kind of American busyness, sassiness and worldly nonchalance.

Through this contradiction, I hope the songs to be representative of something properly Australian.

I hope you can come listen to Kupka’s Piano and Tabatha bring these songs into the world on Friday night.


Six Significant Landscapes

I An old man sits In the shadow of a pine tree In China. He sees larkspur, Blue and white, At the edge of the shadow, Move in the wind. His beard moves in the wind. The pine tree moves in the wind. Thus water flows Over weeds.

II The night is of the colour Of a woman's arm: Night, the female, Obscure, Fragrant and supple, Conceals herself. A pool shines, Like a bracelet Shaken in a dance.

III I measure myself Against a tall tree. I find that I am much taller, For I reach right up to the sun, With my eye; And I reach to the shore of the sea With my ear. Nevertheless, I dislike The way ants crawl In and out of my shadow.

IV When my dream was near the moon, The white folds of its gown Filled with yellow light. The soles of its feet Grew red. Its hair filled With certain blue crystallizations From stars, Not far off.

V Not all the knives of the lamp-posts, Nor the chisels of the long streets, Nor the mallets of the domes And high towers, Can carve What one star can carve, Shining through the grape-leaves.

VI Rationalists, wearing square hats, Think, in square rooms, Looking at the floor, Looking at the ceiling. They confine themselves To right-angled triangles. If they tried rhomboids, Cones, waving lines, ellipses -- As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon -- Rationalists would wear sombreros.

Teasers for our upcoming Asia concert!

The first concert of our "peripatetic" four-part series at the Judith Wright Centre is rapidly approaching! So where in the world is Kupka's Piano? Asia! Asia email image

Join us on Friday 8 March at 7.30pm in the intimate Music Rehearsal Room at the Judy for a trip across the islands and countries of Asia and hear the play of Eastern and Western influences in composers from Malaysia, Japan, China, Korea, and of course Australia. Tickets are available here.

Wang Lu (pictured) is an exciting young Chinese composer, her music having been played by the likes of Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris. Her quintet From the Distant Plains II explores the sounds of Mongolian mouth harp and throat singing alongside playful Messiaen-esque passages. AUSTRALIAN PREMIERE. Hear some of Wang Lu's music here.

Japan's most celebrated composer of the 20th century, Toru Takemitsu, was himself strongly influenced by French music. Distance de fée for violin and piano expands on the musical language of Debussy and Messiaen, Europeans who were in turn looking eastward for inspiration.

With a minimum of musical material, Korean composer Isang Yun explores the expressive potential of the bass flute in his fourth of five etudes for the flute family. The low and hollow tone of the instrument along with techniques such as vocalisation, fluttertongue and pitch bending are reminiscent of the sounds of the Daegeum, a large bamboo flute with a buzzing membrane.

Young Australian-Taiwanese composer Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh is becoming increasingly recognised within Australia and around the world for her ability to create beautiful and enticing sounds, as well as the numerous cultural resonances that she is able to synthesise. Her piece Towards the Beginning, commissioned for Encounters III at the Queensland Conservatorium in 2010, combines a suppleness of gesture and a light sound palette that sounds at once familiar and unfamiliar. Visit Annie's blog here.

Born in 1955, Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa studied with Isang Yun as well as spending formative years in Berlin. His music draws as much upon the grand traditions of European art music, from Bach to Beethoven and from Nono to Lachenmann, as it does the traditional art musics of Japan, in particular gagaku and ancient court music. Edi, a work for solo clarinet, was composed in 2009 and shows off our clarinettist Macarthur Clough’s virtuosity but also his musical sensibilities.

Unlike many of his fellow graduates from the Central Conservatory of Beijing from the late 70s and early 80s (Tan Dun, Chen Yi, Zhou Long), Guo Wenjing decided to remain in China. While this has meant less fame in the West, Wenjing has gained some notoriety for his bold uncompromising theatricality and his idiosyncratic approach to his Sichuan heritage. Wenjing’s Parade is a scintillating work of coordination between three percussionists producing a myriad of sounds from just six gongs.

Chong Kee Yong is Malaysia’s leading composer. His music is unashamedly experimental and at the same time lyrical. His Chinese and multicultural Malaysian heritage enriches the Western Modernist language that he has mastered. The piano fragment Time Flows demonstrates the composer’s exciting combination of spiritual stillness and modern complexity. AUSTRALIAN PREMIERE. Visit Chong Kee Yong's website here.

Peter Sculthorpe represents a true Australian voice all the more for the fact that he dedicated much of his life to understanding and integrating music from our neighbouring Asian cultures into his own composition. The meditative stillness, use of pentatonic scales, and the eerie whistling in the solo violin piece Alone show how effective this Australian-Asian synthesis can be.

Newly commissioned for this concert, Liam Flenady’s Stars, not far off is a setting for soprano and small ensemble Wallace Stevens’ early cycle of poems Six significant landscapes, itself a response to some pieces of Chinese Landscape painting that the poet saw. The composer writes: “I was interested in the idea of an Australian setting a poem by and American about Chinese paintings. Australia’s recent history and future is in part determined by our shared political, economic and cultural links with both China and America - two global superpowers. The poems themselves, however, were what got me. Brilliant and short, they are almost haikus. Elliott Carter once said that it is impossible to set Stevens to music, since his poetry contains no drama. I think this is untrue, you have to find the subtle drama within the often very still poems, and bring it towards the surface… although not all the way.” WORLD PREMIERE. Visit Liam's blog here.

KUPKA'S PIANO's Upcoming March Performances - ‘A new sun rises: Modernist music in Asia’

Kupka's Piano is very excited to announce the repertoire for our two concerts in March entitled ‘A new sun rises: Modernist music in Asia’. Be sure to come along and hear

Wang Lu's From the Distant Plains II (2010) Australian premiere Guo Wenjing's Parade (2003) Toru Takemitsu's Distance de fée (1951) Isang Yun's Etude IV (1974) Chong Kee Yong's Time Flows (2007) Peter Sculthorpe's Alone (1976) Toshio Hosokawa's Edi (2009) Annie Hui-Hsin Hseih's Towards the Beginning (2010) Liam Flenady's Stars, not far off (2013) World premiere

7:30pm, March 8, 2013 at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane 1pm, March 14, 2013 at the Nickson Room, University of Queensland, Brisbane

Purchase tickets here.

See you there!