West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Spirit Ground (Ross Edwards)
Perth Concert Hall
March 11, 2011
We first heard Ross Edwards as we drove down Stirling Highway to a dinosaur show in Fremantle on a perfect Saturday morning in the autumn of 1990. It was the third movement of Maninyas II, and its rising, ecstatic beauty will be part of our family's soundtrack forever; our daughter calling out “Mum! Dad! Dinosaurs! Dinosaurs!” in the back seat; her parents yelling “Shut up, Lily, we’re trying to listen to this amazing music!” in the front. Those were the days.
A couple of years later we were in the Concert Hall for the premiere of his Da Pacem Domine, dedicated to the dying conductor Stuart Challender and shot through with a greater foreboding brought on by the first Gulf War: how prophetic it seems now. Some years later, when I was asked to produce a visual history of Australians at war for the hour of last darkness before the Dawn Service at the State War Memorial in Perth, it was the only music I ever considered to accompany it – grave, pregnant with a deep hope, respectful in its quiet spaces but full of emotion, universal but unmistakably, powerfully Australian. If Kenneth Slessor’s Beach Burial is the great Australian war poem, Da Pacem Domine is its great war hymn.
Years pass, and we, and the world, heard his Dawn Mantras, like a dream sung from the wings of the Sydney Opera House by didgeridoo and children’s choir to usher in the new century. Those lovely cadences, that singular Australian-ness, again.
And now we were back in the Concert Hall, this time for another Edwards' premiere, his short Spirit Ground for violin and orchestra. Edwards told us from the stage before the piece that it describes the relationship between Australia’s two cultures, our sky-oriented young northern spirituality, our old, deep, earth-calling one. Margaret Blades, who we’d seen the previous week having fun as a rock star fiddler with Tim Minchin in the park, was back in territory she has a real knack for, working Edwards’s violin meditation up to the firmament and back down to earth again with swooping style. It wasn’t a ground-breaking piece – often a re-stating of that palate he has painted with so gorgeously before, with its shades of Vaughn Williams and Copland and broad brush-strokes of insects and gamelan. But, at 68, he’s entitled to look back a little and, in so doing, he’s delivered an honest acquittal of his commission from Geoff Stearns and a worthy addition to the West Australian Symphony Orchestra's Song Book.
There were other fine moments in this concert; the two glorious second movements, Adante from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony alone are worth the price of any admission, and I enjoyed Brett Dean’s Ampitheatre, which opened the show, with its scratchy tension, like an orchestral introduction to Ganggajang’s Sound of Then.
But it was our Australian living treasure Ross Edwards we came for, and, as always, he delivered.
I’m just a fan: Neville Cohn has a much more authoritative and considered view in his review in The West link here . Many thanks to WASO for the kind invitation to the concert.