26 October 2010

Peter Sculthorpe
Peter Sculthorpe

Australia's most revered composer, Peter Sculthorpe, is not one to shirk his feelings when it comes to the natural world and the perils of climate change.

The National Living Treasure, now 81, has written many acclaimed pieces over the decades on the need for care and caution in protecting the nation's landscapes and fauna and flora. And the theme of his latest commission is no less pointed.

His String Sonata No 5 is unapologetically a heart-felt expression of worry about climate change and the future of a fragile planet.

The Sonata was especially written for The Con's pioneering 101 Compositions for 100 Years project. It will have its world premiere - performed by The Con ChamberOrchestra conducted by Maestro Imre Pallo - in the Verbrugghen Hall on Friday night.

Sculthorpe is an Australian Marquee composer for the 101 project and as part of that role has been in residence at The Con throughout October.

The work is in five movements: Prelude; A Land Singing; A Dying Land; A Lost Land and Postlude. It addresses the plight of the globe, using Australia as a metaphor.

In keeping with many of his scores, Sculthorpe applies sound pitches to situations and identities. A low 'E' always represents Eternity. 'D' stands for Death and 'A' for Australia. 'C', is God, the god or gods of all religions.

"The need for the preservation of our inheritance is all-important to me, especially the preservation of our very planet," comments Emeritus Professor Sculthorpe.

"But in writing music about my concerns, I'm incapable of ending a piece in a negative way. "Prelude introduces the alternation of pitches as a recurring motif in the work. Insect sounds also appear in this movement. Cries of birds first appear in the next movement, A Land Singing, which is based upon an energetic indigenous chant known as Windmill.

"This is juxtaposed with episodes that contain suggestions of didgeridoo patterns. These patterns give rise to the somewhat impassioned thematic material of A Dying Land.

"A Lost Land is the emotional heart of the work. Its desolate outer parts embrace a section that follows the contours of a nostalgic Torres Strait Island song, Waiye. There are no references to the didgeridoo or to birds in this movement.

"These return in Postlude, which presents two statements of 'O God, our help in ages past'. Sung on national days of mourning and regularly in Aboriginal communities, this hymn provides the comfort of hope for the future."

Sculthorpe says his father gave him his caring for the world of the outdoors, while his mother nurtured the inner world of his imagination.

"I remember the excitement I had when she introduced me to the poetry of Wordsworth. I suspect thatit helped shape the pantheistic beliefs that I've held for most of my life. These beliefs later drew me to Japanese culture and Shintoism, the most pantheistic of all religions.

"Many of my works include bird-song. This probably stems from childhood fishing trips. While Ihaven't used calls of ducks, I've often used an Indigenous melody, Djilile. It means whistling-duck on a billabong."

Sculthorpe points to the program note he wrote for his 1988 orchestral piece Earth Cry to give resonance to the messaging in his String Sonata No 5.

"It begins: 'We lack of a common cause and the self-interest of many has drained much of our energy. A bogus national identity has obscured the true breadth of our cultureā€¦'

"The work addresses the idea that we need to attune ourselves to this continent and listen to the cry of the earth, as Aborigines have done for many thousands of years."

Dean and Principal, Professor Kim Walker, said: "The Conservatorium is honoured that Peter has served as the 2010 Marquee composer. This work in particular focuses on the larger human spirit, our environment and the natural gifts which surround us so abundantly in Australia.

"The 101 project is about setting up the future for music, and Peter is a prime example as the artist as a citizen, a cultural ambassador truly affecting public policy and education."

Under the 101 program, a broad range of international and national composers of renown are being commissioned, year-on-year, as well as an array of upcoming and talented local composers from around Australia.

Those selected have helped shaped music in the past 100 years and are considered most likely to shape music in the next 100 years.

The new works aim to embrace classical through to modern and span all genres - orchestra, modern music ensemble, choirs, percussion ensemble, opera, big band; and involve all 43 musical instruments and voice taught at the Conservatorium.

Part of the scheme's objective is to reinforce The Con, the University of Sydney, Sydney and Australia as centres of excellence and innovation in the world of contemporary music.

It is the centrepiece of the build-up to The Con's centenary in 2015 and is co-sponsored by Ars Musica Australia and its founder Father Arthur Bridge.

Contact: Mick Le Moignan

Phone: 02 9351 1385

Email: 5d1c27225f0902225f3b05582e3406242e514555314c293444775807