PERTH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA – SOUNDS AND WAVES
B SHED, FREMANTLE
Photos by Daniel Carson | dcimages.org
If Perth Symphony Orchestra (PSO) had a middle name it would be, Ambition. Now celebrating their 10th year of bringing orchestral music to the masses, what we have in PSO is a talented and emboldened collective of musicians, ably led by a very hands-on CEO in Bourby Webster, that is unafraid to break whatever rules and conventions of orchestral music might remain in the 21st Century. If we had to put a tag line to their vision, it might be something along the lines of, bringing posh music to the proles, but even that doesn’t really capture all of what PSO do, because they’ll play all sorts, as was only too evident at their Sounds and Waves performance last night.
This was a bare bones, almost gonzo approach to orchestral music. It was as raw and ‘look at me’ as you could get in some ways, but it also was highly polished and, most importantly, highly entertaining.
Sounds and Waves is an ambitious performance piece that brings together uniquely West Australian stories about life on, in and under the sea with a range of music, including old standards from the likes of Vivaldi and the slightly more recent Gershwin; world premieres, like British-Australian composer, Sean Tinnion’s, ‘Ocean Whispers’; and drawing from the compositions of contemporary musicians John Butler and Katie Noonan. Immediately, tonight’s performance stretched the boundaries of what we understand by ‘classical’ music. More often associated with the vaunted concert halls and elaborately gilded performance spaces of yesteryear, this performance was held right at the water’s edge inside the cavernous, steel-beamed industrial space of Fremantle’s B Shed. They’d even parked up the Leeuwin II tall ship right outside the entrance to the venue to add to the ambience. Everything about the location and venue told us we were in for something different.
And that’s just what we got.
In developing Sounds and Waves PSO recorded the stories of six West Australians whose lives and careers are inextricably linked to the ocean:
Lesley Meaney was the first woman to swim the Rottnest Channel in 1969.
Peter Dudding has spent a life at sea as a Merchant Captain.
John Longley was a member of the crew of Australia II that won the America’s Cup in 1983.
Charitha Pattiaratchi is a Professor at UWA Oceans Institute and has dedicated his life to uncovering the mysteries of the ocean, including being part of the search for the missing MH370 flight.
Mark ‘Hillsy’ Hills is a lifetime surfer who shares the influence Yallingup beach has had on his life.
Ian Scott is a lifetime member of Surf Life Saving WA.
Each had their own tales to tell — dramatic, humorous, engaging — all of them deeply personal. The audio was cut into bite sized chunks, designed to appeal to the attention span of any Millennials in the audience, of which there were many, along with children of primary school age, their older siblings, their parents, old people like me, and some even older folk.
Likewise, the music was presented in easily digestible packets, not so long that it outstayed its welcome, but not so fragmented that it didn’t hold meaning. Sounds and Waves is a balance of spoken word performances (pre-recorded) and accompanying music that helps the audience make whatever pictures they were moved to envision as they mulled over the words they had just heard.
As a meditative piece of art, Sounds and Waves laps beautifully at the shores of our unique relationship with the ocean. Performed deep in Tim Winton’s heartland, I half expected the reclusive author to make an appearance and share some salty tales of his own experiences with the deep. Last night was that sort of night, one where anything could happen.
As to the music, what we got was PSO forming and reforming right in front of our very eyes. Personnel and instrumentation were arranged as needed for the interpretation of each piece, so one moment we’d be watching and listening to a string ensemble, the next we’d be engaging with a woodwind and brass combo, or a solo guitarist, and, for the final coup de grace, the whole orchestra. The music was sublime, the musicians at the top of their game.
In between the musical performances, while the audience was listening to each spoken word piece, PSO roadies were deftly getting set up for the next musical interlude, going at it right in front of our eyes, but as unobtrusive as a quietly rising tide — you didn’t really know they were there until they were gone.
The staging of Sounds and Waves added to the magic of the event. This was a bare bones, almost gonzo approach to orchestral music. It was as raw and ‘look at me’ as you could get in some ways, but it also was highly polished and, most importantly, highly entertaining.
Hopefully this will be the first of a series of such performances that brings together our social history with PSO’s rule- and groundbreaking approach to classical music. I felt that, last night, they’d only just begun, there was plenty more left to do and I, for one, would like to see where they take it.
Perth Symphony Orchestra played:
George Gershwin, Lullaby
Malcolm Arnold, Three Shanties
Ross Edwards, Water Spirit Song
Nigel Westlake, Ocean Sun Fish
Antonio Vivaldi, Tempesta Di Mare
John Butler, Ocean
Sean Tinnion, Ocean Whispers (world premiere)
Ross Edwards, Laughing Moon
Katie Noonan, The Surfer
Rebecca Erin Smith, Clepsydra (ocean topography, original works)
Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Sinfonia Pacifica