Reviews, News and Commentary

Force of Nature: a concert celebrating our birdlife

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Auckland Arts Festival

Force of Nature

Auckland Concert Chamber

March 17

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Writing in the Guardian this week the Australian journalist Rebecca Shaw wrote that, “One thing they don’t tell you is that New Zealanders absolutely love talking about their birds. Every time I’ve been at a gathering of three or more people, they have started talking about the birds at some point.”

The sold-out concert “Force of Nature” at the Auckland Concert Chamber affirmed that notion and such was the interest that they might well have filled the Auckland Town Hall.

The concert was a celebration of 100 years of Forest & Bird with several composers and performers collaborating to create original music to highlight conservation concerns. The instruments were used to create the sounds or ambience of wildlife and in  particular the birds, utilising the shrill high-pitched sounds of the strings and woodwinds.

Ron Thorne opened the concert with his composition “Te Manawa o Raukatauri” referring to both breath and the flute of the legendary Atua Hine Raukatauri  who is the Goddess of Flutes and the personification of Music. In Māori legend, Hine Raukatauri is the casemoth who lives in her elongated cocoon and the Pūtōrino is a traditional flute in the shape of the casemoth’s home.

His flute sounds keened through the darkened concert chamber as though of giant birds  calling from a distant forest. Then as he ascending to the stage his hand movements mimicked the beat of a birds wing, his flute merging with the sound of his voice and the hum of breath.

After the opening work the other eight pieces were in the chamber music mode as well as including some taonga puoro. The NZTrio members, Ashley Brown (cello) , Amalia Hall (violin) and Somi Kim (piano) provides the backbone to the concert performing in half of the concert pieces joined by Kathryn Moorhead (flute and piccolo) , Peter Scholes (Clarinets), and Yoshiko Tsuruta (percussion).

Andrew Perkins’ composition “Nga Manu o te Ngahere” (Birds of the Forest) was played by Brown, Scholes and Moorhead capturing the sounds of the koauau, kiwi, kakapo tui korimakoruru and pango pango, Above the performers loomed a large projected image of a tui which helped give a sense of these birds whose sounds were conveyed by an ethereal flute and chirping cello along with an atmosphere of light and colour  provided by a bright tingling cawing music which traced the day from dawn to dusk.

The NZTrio played Patrick Shepherds  “He Awa Whiria” (The Braided River) accompanied by images of scudding clouds, alpine scenes and a river plain. Their playing initially seemed fitful and erratic matching the movement of the clouds. Then the music became more urgent  and dramatic highlighting the forces of the rain, snow and river and seemed particularly relevant in the wake of the recent storms.

Later they played Miriama Young’s “Place of Echo” where they provided the sharp sounds, spreading through the forest, backgrounded by the mummering of Thorne’s taonga puoro.

With Salina Fishers “Toroa” (Albatross) Thorne augmented his breathing with a conch while Amelia Hall tried to produce sounds by blowing through the sound holes of her violin.   They provided  the high-pitched sounds of  taonga puoro and high keyed sounds of the violin, the one heavy and throaty, the other wispy and light,  the two instruments providing a strange sense of communication.

With Thorne’s composition “Toroa me te Tohora” Hall, Brown and Thorne played like an experimental group pushing the instruments to create new and novel sounds with Thorne hitting stones, Hall rubbing the neck of her violin and Brown beating on the cellos stings and bowing across the instrument’s end spike. Their collective sounds  expressed a sense of an uneasy  mythic narrative.  

Janet Jennings’ “Urban Lives : Longfin Eels and Long-Tailed Bats” featured an innovative soundscape creating images of movement  form and colour mirroring a diverse ecosystem with many exotic sounds, notably Kathryn Moorhead’s clarinet and piccolo.

This was a landmark concert demonstrating the abilities of our contemporary composers to use music in developing awareness and understanding of environmental issues.

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By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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