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Students tune into the blazing history of the Garden Palace

5 September 2016
In celebration of 200 years of Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden

A group of young composers from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music are collaborating with Kaldor Public Art Projects and Sydney-based Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones on a vast sculpture and sound installation barrangal dyara (skin and bones) that recalls Sydney’s Garden Palace for the 200th birthday celebrations of the Royal Botanic Garden.

Con student composers contributing to Barrangal dyara (L-R): Mimi Kind, Fenn Idle, Amina Salihbegovic and David Reaston. Absent from photo: Elizabeth Jigalin.

Con student composers contributing to Barrangal dyara (L-R): Mimi Kind, Fenn Idle, Amina Salihbegovic and David Reaston. Absent from photo: Elizabeth Jigalin.

The University of Sydney music students have been working on a creative sonic performance, Echoes of the Garden Palace, which pays tribute to the 19th century Imperial building before it was tragically burnt to the ground in 1882.

Five students have composed instrumental pieces inspired by the palace’s cultural history, architectural wonder, the European music composers of the time and Jonathan Jones’ artwork. Together they will deliver a one-off music performance at the Rose Garden Pavilion in the gardens on 23 September.

Dr Damien Ricketson, Chair of Composition and Music Technology at the Con, who has mentored the students taking part in public art project, said: “The gardens are dear to students of the Con. It is where they hang-out, gossip and practice their instruments when they can’t find a room in the music castle. Few, however, have any inkling of the layers of history sitting right on their doorstep.

“For much of the year the student composers have been working with Jonathan Jones and the Kaldor Public Art Projects team to peel back the rich history of the site to create an innovative instrumental and vocal performance that recalls its cultural significance.

“Many have taken active listening walks through the gardens to observe the everyday sounds, while simultaneously rummaging through the history of the palace that hosted the first European-Australian compositions and performances.

“Students have drawn inspiration from the architecture of the building itself, as well as the music-making that once took place within its walls,” said Dr Ricketson.

Mimi Kind playing Construction by Amina Salihbegovic.

Mimi Kind playing Construction by Amina Salihbegovic.

Amina Salihbegovic’s percussion performance called Construction incorporates raw building materials that were used to create the magnificent Sydney palace. From the earthy scraping of bricks and corrugated iron to the delicate sounds of dropped Kangaroo-grass seeds that were once the Indigenous grass of the region, the musicians will symbolically deconstruct the palace as they perform a semi-improvised work.

Mimi Kind’s Along the lines of the Garden Palace will see two singing flautists, who play and sing simultaneously as if retracing the blueprint of the building design. The sound of the flutes with intercepting voices will create a curious sonic interpretation of the shape of the building.

David Reaston’s Garden Belles re-imagines the music of Italian-born Paolo Giorza who was music director of the Sydney International Exhibition in the Garden Palace from 1879 to 1880. The instrumental piece is modelled on musical gestures from Giorza’s Belles of Australia Waltz, following the contours of the original work while improvising their own melodies to a stopwatch.

Elizabeth Jigalin’s vocal performance That Sound Afar also deconstructs the sounds of Giorza’s Cantata, performed at the opening ceremony of the Sydney International Exhibition in 1879. Four roaming vocalists revive sounds of the Cantata by bringing broken sounds of the past into the new urban soundscape of the gardens.

Fenn Idle pays tribute to the Eastern Suburbs Brass Band whose instruments perished in the fire. Three trombonists will play a series of fragments, beginning with a fanfare to quote the colonial music of the 1800s, before moving into darker material corrupted by the memory of the devastating event.