The Birds Conference (Camerata Chamber Orchestra, QPAC and Brisbane Festival)

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Presented by Camerata in collaboration with the Queensland Performing Arts Center (QPAC) and the Brisbane Festival, The bird conference centers on the 12th century epic poem of the same name by the Persian mystic and poet, Attar of Nishapur. It is an allegorical story of love, faith and humanity’s search for courage, offering both a sense of loss but also hope for the future. This multidimensional artistic work provided a holistic dimension to Camerata’s normal concert programming. In addition, it was a perfect choice for festival dishes, augmenting a powerful musical score with spoken text and visual illustrations, as well as design and lighting elements.

The bird conference. Photo courtesy of Camerata

The concert began with Mendelssohn’s glorious Sinfonia No 10 in B minor presented as an overture, with both the Adagio and Allegro components included in one powerful movement. Beginning slowly and gently, the majestic delivery of the Adagio section was well paced by the orchestra, producing a beautiful repetitive melody in the upper strings. As the mood and tempos changed to a much faster beat, the movement shifted to the major key. This produced powerful bows from the violins, which then calmed down in a calmer finish to end the section. The Allegro ignited with a strong and dominant playing of darker strings, basses and cellos, followed by violas taking up the theme with great force, adding depth and richness to the score. Followed by ever faster recapitulations of the main ascending theme, and interspersed with a delicate second theme, the violins first played the pianissimo, but moved on to a noisy coda played at a frantic pace by the orchestra. Well managed and exceptionally well played, the Mendelssohns provided an impressive start to the evening.

The bird conference tells the story of the birds of the world who come together in a difficult time to discuss their future and are then led by the wise hoopoe to find their king. Many die or fall by the wayside during the journey and finally only 30 remain, who discover, looking in a lake at their own reflection, that they are in fact the king themselves.

The work consists of spoken texts and music, accompanied by projected illustrations. There were five spoken parts of a text written by The New York Times author and illustrator, Peter Sis, based on the poem by Attar Nishapur. Actor Liz Buchanan gave this allegorical tale a wonderful read, managing to find a voice for each of the birds and characters such as Kaf Mountain, while vividly portraying the Seven Valleys over which the birds pass. She contributed enormously to the success of the work with her beautiful vocal performance.

Sis was also the creator of the exquisite and impressive illustrations. These included beautiful birds, as well as delicate Middle Eastern watercolors depicting many landscapes. They have demonstrated too poignantly the path taken by the story towards truth and self-discovery. To make it a multimedia presentation, elements such as a projection of birds on the back wall and a wind chime of floating birds, imaginatively lit by Richard ‘Zak’ Harrison, with a branch arrangement created by the floral artist, Caroline de Lore.

Camerata The Birds Conference

Liz Buchanan plays The bird conference with Camerata. Photo provided

The famous American composer, Lembit Beecher, originally designed The bird conference sheet music for string orchestra A Far Cry, writing individual lines for 18 string soloists. This was imitated in this reading. Two movements that intertwine around the spoken text demonstrated the power of Beecher’s music, leaving an indelible impression on the listener. At first, individual musical lines appeared haphazardly across the orchestra’s separate string sections, reminding us of birds settling on branches at dusk. Sawing the bows on the ropes looked like chattering or squarks, and even wing beating. The first movement calmed down as the birds perched. The two-part second movement, after the birds had exhaustively flown over seven different valleys and run out in numbers, was both more melodic and cohesive, with shimmering violins and excellent reception solos from each section. orchestral. It ended on a clearly defined hoarse note, with players rubbing sandpaper to convey the end of the journey to the birds. It was a magical finale.

Surrounding this book were two sections of Vaughan Williams’ ever popular The ascending lark, performed on solo violin by artistic director Brendan Joyce. Even though Vaughan Williams’ music is so different in style and texture from Beecher’s, the sections flowed seamlessly without any obvious stylistic issues.

Vaughan Williams’ wonderfully evocative work, with all the hallmarks of the composer’s fiery and thoughtful style, clearly expresses the spirit of a lark taking flight, singing in the hedges and fields of his native England. The first section, the Andante Sostenuto, I saw Joyce play the smallest whisper of the fluttering lark sound with the utterly lovely violin pianissimo. With poignant orchestral support from the strings and featuring five excellent wind instrumentalists, Joyce’s violin soared high above the orchestra, her lark seemingly oblivious to the tranquil country sounds of nature below. He offered exceptionally fine cadences, his technically powerful and beautifully played interpretation. Part 2, the Allegretto tranquillo, started gently with a beautiful clarinet solo and lyrical and colorful music from the woodwinds and reception of the violins. Joyce outdid himself once again, the mere whisper of the lark’s voice on the violin delivering ethereal and haunting final notes to bring the concert to an astonishing conclusion.


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