Award-winning classical music album combines two worlds

8 October 2012

William Barton on Kalkadungu country. [Image: Allan Chawner]
William Barton on Kalkadungu country. [Image: Allan Chawner]

The winner of this year's ARIA for Best Classical Album is a collaboration between leading Aboriginal musician William Barton and Matthew Hindson, an Associate Professor at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Didjeridu player Barton was born in Mount Isa, where his uncle, an elder of the Waanyi, Lardil and Kalkadungu tribes of western Queensland, taught him to play the instrument. At the age of 17 he performed his first classical concert with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

His ARIA-winning CD, Kalkadungu, celebrates the history of Barton's tribe. The music premiered at the Sydney Opera House in 2008, and was released this year by ABC Classics: "It fuses the explosive power of the full orchestra with the prophetic voice of the didjeridu, exploring the shifting relationships between opposing cultures, and the transition of traditional songlines between past, present and future," said ABC Classics.

Barton and Hindson - a composer famous for incorporating influences from popular and heavy metal music - co-wrote the CD's 25-minute title track. Peter Sculthorpe, a renowned composer and Emeritus Professor at the Conservatorium, also composed for the CD.

"Mere words can't begin to describe the noise made by William Barton in full flow," says reviewer Graham Rickson. "It's a sonorous, low roar that sets your stomach wobbling, made more startling by the array of harmonics and overtones which buzz around over the top. There's also Barton's sheer technique, circular breathing allowing him to sustain notes for improbable lengths."

Barton's connection with the University of Sydney dates back to 2001 when he began collaborating with Peter Sculthorpe, then a professor at the Conservatorium. In 2008 he travelled as part a 13-member Sydney Conservatorium of Music ensemble to Beijing to perform at the pre-Olympic music festival, Musicathlon.

Barton has also performed with Conservatorium staff and student musicians in a number of ensemble pieces, including his own composition, Birdsong at Dusk, for string quartet and didjeridu. In 2010 the University of Sydney awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Music.

"This is a groundbreaking recording from one of Australia's best Indigenous musicians," Hindson said. The collaboration "is indicative of the quality of innovative Australian music" being produced at the Conservatorium, and "which is making a significant impact on the national and international scene".

Kalkadungu is performed William Barton, Delmae Barton, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, The Queensland Orchestra, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Adelaide Chamber Singers and Southern Cross Soloists.

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