Quentin Grant and Raymond Chapman Smith

The Firm Concert Archive: Reviews 1996 - 2002

Concert 1: Apr 8th 2002

Rare quality of voice raised

EMMA Horwood, Matthew Rutty, Ben Whitthall and Alan McKie are the one-voice-to-a-part Ensemble lona which, with its close relation Syntony, is taking acappella singing towards new dimensions of subtlety and colour in this city.

It's a rarefied art form and they consistently produced blend and balance of a rare quality during this all-vocal concert promoted by the Firm - a group comprising some of Adelaide's best composers whose music made up the major portion of the program.

Leavening the fare were Josquin's glacial Ave Maria, Obrecht's richly textured Ave, Regina Caelorum and the colourful imagery of Schubert's Chorus of Angels. Ensemble lona sang all of these with a level of vocal cohesion and texture worthy of a much bigger ensemble yet with empathetic expressive features only a small group could engender.

A healthy difference of opinion was evident in each of the three works generated by the Firm. Although all showed skilled craftsmanship in their handling of voices, there was clearly no follow-my-leader here. David Kotlowy's Dharma Paths reflected the Buddhist aphorisms of its text with gently repetitive rhythms and melodies derived from Indian origins. Raymond Chapman Smith's Sub Specie Aeternitatis demonstrated astonishing facility with 18th century counterpoint as it moved beyond pastiche into original utterance.

Only Quentin Grant's Lullaby adopted romantic gestures with its unsettling mix of Brittenesque harmonies and angular lines mirroring the disturbing quality of its text.

- Rodney Smith, The Advertiser

Concert 3: Jun 24th 2002

Surprises amid the muse and music

THESE days, one no longer has the traditional chronological program to act as a template for determining what worked well and why. This concert certainly worked extremely well. There was a certain ebb and flow about the order of pieces which was hard to fathom but satisfying, nevertheless. And if the hand of 19th and 20th century Vienna occasionally seemed a trifle pervasive, there were plenty of surprises too.

David Kotlowy's Three Pieces in Pali was one such, following straight after Raymond Chapman Smith's Mödling Dances, a set of 12 short solo piano pieces resulting from the composer's intense love affair with the music of the early Viennese serialists.

Kotlowy's aphoristic phrases in Three Pieces found soprano Tessa Miller at her most subtly persuasive. Pianist Stefan Ammer was at his most succinct and controlled as he plucked bell-like sonorities from the insides of the piano in contrast to Ammer's chant-like musings across a static landscape. Earlier, both had spanned the dramatic intensity of Schubert's Das sie hiergewesen and the laughter through tears of his Lachen und Weinen with the sure-footedness only musical experience brings.

Likewise, they revelled in the luscious harmonies of Mahler's Friedrich Ruckert songs and the immediacy of Graeme Koehne's Three Poems of Byron, with its opulently romantic language style. Chapman Smith's Mödling Dances could not have been more contrasted and Ammer, a classical pianist to his fingertips, showed how the balance and precision of these pieces can create just as potent and alluring a musical treat.

- Rodney Smith, The Advertiser

Concert 4: Jul 22nd 2002

Fine artistry

THEY are a disciplined lot, the small group of composers who comprise The Firm. Homework for the July concert was to write a string quartet or trio, possibly the most rigorous - because it is the most exposed - of all musical categories.

Lucky for The Firm and for us, players of the calibre of the Langbein String Quartet - Michael Milton, Christopher Moore, Juris Ezergailis and Sarah Denbigh - are able and willing to match the creators' sweat, toil and artistry with their own.

Three works took their leads from poetry. David Kotlowy's Moon, perse and String Trio no 3 by Quentin S.D. Grant had their first airings, and both passed the acid test. Vague wisps floated off the strings across the face of the moon, reflecting the indefinables of space and time in Dogen's 13th century poetry. Grant aimed for a less direct reference to his expressionist text by Georg Trakl, indicating brutality but stopping short of total alienation.

Also premiering was The Fields of Sorrow, written in 1955 by Brenton Langbein, the Adelaide-born violinist who inspired the young composers. Ironically, only since his death in 1993 have his composing aspirations become known and his works performed.

Soprano par excellence Tessa Miller joined the quartet for a superbly crafted cycle of three songs.

- Elizabeth Silsbury, The Advertiser

Paradise lost as Milton goes

AFTER six years as the toast of Adelaide's concert life, Nicholas Milton makes his exit from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in December to pursue his conducting career in Europe.

And what a tough job it's going to be to replace him. The ASO concertmaster has been the force behind the orchestra's rise in standard and profile. This year he was also elevated to associate conductor and, given his skills on the podium, one wonders whether the ASO should promote him to the vacant chief conductorship — due to be filled by December.

Milton will also be missed for his thorough commitment to chamber music. Violinist with Sydney's Macquarie Trio, he also directs the Langbein String Quartet, established last year, which mainly presents new music by Adelaide composer collective the Firm. Sadly, Milton bowed out of this concert by the Langbein String Quartet unannounced. His absence showed, too; some of the quartet's gloss and authority was missing.

But such is the calibre of the other players — brother Michael Milton swapping places to be first violinist, Christopher Moore guesting as second, violist Juris Ezergailis and cellist Sarah Denbigh — that the performances were still highly engaging. David Kotlowy's new, highly spare Moon, perse, with its slowly overlapping bow-strokes and use of harmonics, was delivered with a faultless, chilled precision. The only problem was that its quiet, meditative intensity felt wrong at the beginning of the program when the audience was not yet settled.

More effective was Quentin Grant's vivid, emotionally laden new String Trio No 3, inspired by the expressionist poetry of Georg Trakl. Grant impresses with the depth of his work and his ability to bring clarity of mood to his compositions. This one is outstanding: deeply etched with dark, anguished atonal gestures sounding like a throwback to early serialism, it is a work of strong appeal.

Complementing the Grant was the brevity and lyrical expressiveness of the late Brenton Langbein's The Fields of Sorrow, with soprano Tessa Miller, and Raymond Chapman Smith's economical String Trio No 2 (1998). The latter emanated an ethereal beauty through its highly disciplined contrapuntal methods and gently contrasting moods.

Soon the ASO begins trialling candidates for its concertmaster position, starting with Jun Yi Ma in August. The search is expected to continue into next year.

- Graham Strahle, The Australian

… Then back to the home grown. The Firm keeps up a spirited series of concerts of new and old music in Pilgrim Church on (selected) Mondays. Appreciable and appreciated new works by Q.S.D. Grant and Raymond Chapman Smith surfaced (July 22) in their last concert - can they be encouraged to encore at least part of the novelties? - and at their next (August 19) Anna Goldsworthy returns to play Beethoven's Diabelli Variations on Pilgrim Church's well-cared for Steinway. Bravo!

- Graham Strahle, The Adelaide Review

Concert 6: Sep 16th 2002

Trio delivers knockout debut

VIOLINIST Michael Milton, cellist Cameron Waters and pianist Leigh Harrold already meld impressively as a cohesive, well-balanced trio - and this was their debut concert. In poised performances of music by Schubert, Lacaze and members of the concert's promoter, The Firm, their playing was always empathetic, their interpretive intentions always crystal-clear. Adelaide certainly has room for a group with ensemble skills of this calibre willing to promote today's composers.

Much of the evening's music was reminiscent and a good deal of it was influenced by The Firm's posthumous composer-in-residence for 2002, Franz Schubert. Quentin S.D. Grant's Disappearance featured all these things and a good deal besides.

A densely written, post-impressionist soundscape brought its strongly drawn imagery into relief - and there were moments of telling poignancy within its elaborate construction.

By contrast, the Adagio dolente movement from John Polglase's Trio No 4 used economy of means to evoke an equally reminiscent atmosphere in which bell-like sonorities revolved in mobile fashion with slow, immutable insistency.

It was hard to distinguish Raymond Chapman Smith's intentions from those of his dedicatee, Franz Schubert, whose language he employed with striking facility in his Piano Trio No 4. Did those characteristically Schubertian gestures mean what they have always meant or was Chapman Smith saying something new with them? Here was food for thought.

Without disrespect to Chapman Smith, however, the real thing was a knockout when it came. The Settembrini Trio ended the concert in fine fashion with an imposing performance of Schubert's majestically proportioned Notturno Op Posth 148.

- Rodney Smith, The Advertiser

RAYMOND CHAPMAN-SMITH - SA composer honoured

The Classical Music Awards, presented by the Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA) and the Australian Music Centre, are Australia's premier awards for new classical music.

This year the award for the best composition by a South Australian composer was awarded to Raymond Chapman-Smith for his Piano Trio #4, performed by music ensemble The Firm during one of their concerts in 2003.

The national awards acknowledge outstanding achievement in the composition and performance of pieces by Australian composers. The panel commended Piano Trio #4 as 'outstanding in the sophistication of its craft, drawing from a deep understanding of the traditional chamber music repertoire and a highly individual personal aesthetic'.

- ArtState, the Magazine of ArtsSA, Issue 27, Spring 2003

Concert 7: Oct 14th 2002

… Meanwhile that other force in town, The Firm, only keeps getting better. Nicholas Milton and his ASO colleagues in the Langbein String Quartet gave possibly their finest concert so far of works by the trench-coated foursome of Kotlowy, Chapman Smith, Polglase and Grant.

The concert saw all composers moving in ever more distinctive directions, Kotlowy into clean-cut rhythmic attractiveness and structural contrasts in Renga, Chapman Smith into a more visually based, heightened expressive vein in String Quartet No. 5, Polglase into a more direct, even luscious flowing simplicity in the fourth movement of his String Quartet No. 3, and Grant into a welcoming world of Schubertian-like personal responses, affinities and bonhomie in his Three Pieces on Themes of Schubert.

- Graham Strahle, The Adelaide Review

Winter in Leipzig, Felix Mendelssohn

Concert 2: Jul 30th 2001

Firm grasp of musical nuances

THIS concert presented by Adelaide's musical gang of four, aka the Firm, highlighted both the strengths and weaknesses of new music in contemporary Australian culture.

On the one hand, you have a group of very serious artists, each pursuing quite individual paths, grouped together more by happenstance than ideology.

They have managed one of the most difficult tasks confronting a composer - to persuade very good musicians to take their music seriously and perform it.

Performers respond best to new music when being paid to play, and therein lies the Firm's other great achievement - persuading funding bodies to part with cash. Despite all this, and the best of intentions, their music remains marginalised, and the audience at this concert restricted to the familiar ghetto of friends, loved ones and the few dozen people apparently genuinely interested in new concert music in the classical tradition.

How long can the Firm keep it up before they go limp in the face of public apathy? It's really just a small example of the dilemma facing all concert music - how to reignite the link between music and the lives people lead, connecting it to a vital heritage without lapsing into reactionary traditionalism.

The Seraphim Trio's Anna Goldsworthy, Helen Ayres and Tim Nankervis, are excellent young musicians. Their sparkling performance of Beethoven's first piano trio left that in no doubt. They played works by three of the four partners in the Firm: a characteristically restrained, quietly obsessive trio by Raymond Chapman Smith, and intense and dramatic Phantasie by John Polglase, and an intriguing, quirky and expressionistic Fantasie by Quentin Grant.

Works by Schoenberg - the program was conceived as a tribute to the Viennese master and was performed recently by this trio in Vienna - his pupil Webern, and the rival claimant to the invention of dodecaphony, the enigmatic Josef Hauer, completed the evening.

- Stephen Whittington, The Advertiser

Playing Beethoven and Schoenberg to audiences in Vienna sounds like entering the lion's den, but when the Seraphim Trio performed there in June reaction was apparently highly positive. One could see perfectly well why, in -. their repeat concert presented by The Firm. They are players of exceptional poise and intelligence. Their Schoenberg, Webern and Hauer is pristine in its neatness, highly coloured and often luxuriantly rich in expression. And their performances of new works by Raymond Chapman Smith (his Piano Trio No. 3), John Polglase (Phantasie) and Quentin Grant (Fantasia), all of which shared qualities of great technical refinement and sophistication, were no less compelling. In Beethoven's Piano Trio in E flat, Op. 1 no 1, Seraphim played at a level that reminded me of Trio di Parma at last year's Barossa Festival - superb was the word.

- Graham Strahle, The Adelaide Review

Concert 4: Sep 18th 2001

Bringers of harmony

THIS most delightful of the Firm's 2001 concert series was devoted to the human voice. The composers seemed to have abandoned their confronting styles and fallen under the spell of a cappella vocal quartet.

Singers Emma Horwood, Matthew Rutty, Ben Whittall and Alan McKie were unfailing with their splendidly cohesive yet translucent vocal texture.

Quentin S.D. Grant's Hymn to the Night adopted the simplest approach to word setting for the six or so verses of Von Hardenberg's poetry. Disarmingly diatonic harmonies added a gentle, almost guileless effect to this thoughtful composition.

David Kotlowy's fragmented, suspended, deeply contemplative Dharma-Gate Dharani slowed all sense of busy music making as the four singers, stationed quadraphonically, intoned into the silence.

Raymond Chapman Smith's Psalm sets Paul Celan's words in the original German drawing obliquely on material from Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw. This developmental music, restless and resigned by turns was polished to a mirror finish in its deft, focused handling of sonorities, words and formal structure.

- Rodney Smith, The Advertiser

Seeking an antidote

DESPITE REPORTS TO the contrary, an overpoweringly sublime Parsifal didn't entirely manage to suppress all other musical activity in this town. Little pockets of resistance held out in various quarters of the city - and offered refuge for all those who, like Mark Twain, have a problem with Wagner's last opera ("The first act of the three occupied three hours, and I enjoyed that in spite of the singing").

One intriguing little pocket of resistance is The Firm. They're a four-member composer collective made up of John Polglase, Quentin Grant, Raymond Chapman Smith and David Kotlowy. Not that their company name should be taken as indicating some sort of secret compact that dictates their work. They are not identifiable by any single style, they don't represent any 'school': indeed their compositions don't sound at all similar. But there seems to be an underlying commonality about their purpose and what they stand for: an outright rejection of 'new music' as banal intellectualism and a re-acquaintance, via figures from Haydn and Beethoven to Schoenberg, with the classical Viennese tradition. So they'll often have these composers scattered through their programs, like old friends.

Of the four, John Polglase is the one for whom musical language is all about an unfolding of form, in the way that nineteenth-century figures such as Brahms approach form. He is a highly accomplished composer in the string medium, whether string quartet or larger chamber strings. From the audience reaction, I know I was not alone in admiring greatly his Seven Bagatelles for String Quartet and his Phantasie for piano trio. The first, played with gorgeous refinement by the Langbein String Quartet comprising the ASO's Nicholas Milton and Michael Milton (violins), Juris Ezergailis (viola) and Sarah Denbigh (cello) was wonderful in its expressive breadth, formal integration and consummate handling of materials. There was also in places, such as in the seventh bagatelle, a new side of Polglase I'd not heard before, and perhaps offering signposts to the future: his facility with freshly simple methods and an appealing directness of language.

Quentin Grant stands alone in the 'gang of four' in his imaginative free flow of ideas and in his highly individual, quixotic-visionary expressive nature. Hymns to the Night, performed in The Firm's most recent concert, was a remarkable and exquisite piece of music, imbued with a spiritual kind of romanticism (with text by Friedrich von Hardenberg). It was instinctive in its lyricism and skilfully set for the four fine voices of Emma Horwood, Matthew Rutty, Ben Whittall and Alan McKie - who make up the newly formed Ensemble Iona. Other outstanding pieces of his, which saw his melodic vein move in yet further directions, were the Schoenbergian Fantasie for piano trio and Second String Quartet, performed in earlier Firm concerts: the former was quixotic, sometimes dreamlike and constantly drawing in new ideas, while the latter possessed a Viennese grace marked by an enigmatic, roaming melodic invention of almost Schubertian songfulness.

Though in other respects they occupy unrelated universes, Raymond Chapman Smith and David Kotlowy share an equal concern for disciplined, minimalist processes. Simple, aphoristic and crystalline in its outlines was Raymond Chapman Smith's Piano Trio No. 3, a piece I really enjoyed (especially with the Seraphim Trio's superlative playing): constructionally clear and reminiscent of the pointillistic sound world of Schoenberg in the 1910s, it was a delicately poised, expressive composition offering subtle rewards for the listener like his triple-verse Psalm in this concert. The listening process is entirely different with Kotlowy's music He uses incredibly thin, slowly changing textures to produce an atmosphere of immense quietude, as in Ascending Afterglow for string quartet or his new Zen-inspired Dharma-Gate Dharani for voices. I find his pieces depend very much on one's frame of mind at the time: if one is in a receptive mood, his music approaches something profoundly meditative in its silently moving stillness. With music that includes Brenton Langbein and Beethoven, the Langbein String Quartet returns for one more Firm concert on 22 October. Not to be missed by anyone seeking an antidote to the insidious bums-on-seats commercialisation of the concert experience and for all who value performances of exceptional quality.

- Graham Strahle, The Adelaide Review

Concert 1: Jul 17th 2000

Intensity firms up

Intensity was evident in every piece presented in this concert by The Firm but the result was a bit overwhelming – like a musical meal that is too one-sided: all red meat.

It was just too much of a good thing and some lighter fare would have been welcome. To be fair, the audience responded well to the challenge, as did the players of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. As usual, Nicholas Milton led from the front in terms of commitment to this formidable program and with some gritty violin playing.

There was a mixture of the old and the new from the local composers. The oldest piece, by Brenton Langbein, drew the most enthusiastic response. His Duo for Violin and Viola, composed in 1959, still sounded very fresh and persuasive. What was most evident was a keen sense of the music’s dramatic pacing.

Quentin Grant probably made the most of the small instrumental combinations that were on display, although the “water stick” stole the show in David Kotlowy's work.

Two trios by Raymond Chapman Smith demonstrated how clearly focused he has remained on his stylistic path, where the landscape has undergone only subtle changes over the years. But in listening to a piece from John Polglase, dating from six years ago, it’s noticeable that his approach has become more structurally transparent and easier to follow.

People can look forward to a distinct change of pace in a program of vocal music to be presented by The Firm at its next concert on Monday, August 21. This should make for a satisfying complement to the more abstract strategies of chamber music.

- Tom Sankey, The Advertiser

Concert 2: Aug 21st 2000

JUST WHEN it seems that the first requirement to be a composer is that you must be dead, along comes a series of concerts that serves as a reminder of one thing that Adelaide does especially well. Four leading ASO players have got together to form a new string quartet, the Langbein String Quartet (named after the late Brenton Langbein) that dedicates itself to playing music by Adelaide composers. Judged by their superb inaugural concert, they are set to make serious waves, as one might well expect from a combination of Adelaide's adopted musical son, Nicholas Milton, and his brother Michael Milton, Juris Ezergailis and Sarah Denbigh.

The music, which included voice, came from a nucleus of composers who call themselves the Firm and seemed to be charting new territory in lyrical invention.

Soprano Tessa Miller was poised and outstanding in the haiku-inspired songs of David Kotlowy, in the epigrammatic sensitivity of Raymond Chapman Smith's Rilke songs, and in the expressive sweep of song cycles by Quentin Grant and John Polglase. And Nathalie Williams's lovely, fragrant Dream Pedlary was sung with communicative relish by Keith Hempton. New music is rarely so friendly or enjoyable.

It may be that no other city in the country serves its own composers so well. Look out for up-coming concerts in the Firm's current series: at $12 their ticket prices are amazingly good value.

- Graham Strahle, The Adelaide Review

Concert 3: Sep 25th 2000

Traditional mavericks

THIS was a fascinating evening of music by four of Adelaide's most thoughtful composers. We are not talking about young tyros here: Raymond Chapman Smith, Quentin Grant, David Kotlowy and John Polglase have been writing music for decades. They collectively call themselves The Firm, which has a legalistic, establishment ring to it. But they are, in various ways, mavericks, not towing any particular ideological or aesthetic line, other than a commitment to making music the way they want to.

Resisting the seductive lure of technology, they put together good old-fashioned concerts on good old-fashioned instruments. As a result, in audience terms, they fall into limbo - traditional concert audiences are scared of new music but younger audiences aren't very interested in traditional concerts.

Four very different creative personalities emerged from this program. Quentin Grant is the romantic, even his title Elegy on the death of Robert Schumann suggests as much. Like much of Grant's music, it is sombre, dark and soul-searching, a meditation on mortality. The string writing is luscious, with an expressive solo line beautifully rendered by Margaret Blades.

John Polglase and Raymond Chapman Smith are resolutely abstract, but in quite different ways. Their titles - Concertino and Sinfonia respectively - have a neo-classical air. But while the Polglase work, which is immaculately crafted, seems to concern itself with formal and structural procedures, Chapman Smith, although revealing a formidable intelligence, appeared to be more directly concerned with sound.

Concertino gave the players a considerable challenge, and the rhythmic cohesion of the fast movements was less than perfect. However, the slow movements were impressively played. In contrast, Sinfonia made modest technical demands, which allowed the players scope to explore the intricately fashioned music.

Finally, David Kotlowy's blossom drift demonstrated beautiful effects can result from extremely simple procedures - something he has worked hard for. The extreme fragility of much of his music reminds the listener of the evanescence of life. But unlike Grant, Kotlowy is not gripped by angst over it - he accepts it as he accepts the ephemeral nature of sound itself.

- Stephen Whittington, The Advertiser

Concert 4: Oct 9th 2000

Short and eloquent

They say good things come in small packages and this short, to-the-point recital without interval was just that. Despite the inclusion of much new music, there were no verbal explanations either. Pianist Anna Goldsworthy let her fingers do the talking, and they proved quite eloquent enough.

Raymond Chapman Smith’s Ciclus, a model of Webernesque introspection with occasional outbursts of controlled fury, maintained a remarkably concentrated level of intensity throughout all 20 variations

Furthermore, everything was revealed in stark clarity so that its mirror images, palindromes and continuous regeneration of material absorbed and held the listener as if it were Bach. This was accomplished and powerful writing.

By contrast, Quentin S.D. Grant’s languorously romantic The Misty Hill took its cue from 19th century piano tone-pictures, its generous canvas replete with pianistic gestures, its delicate, reflective images occasionally energised by Bartokian interjections. The sense of regret permeating its sepia colours proved a potent element and left a lasting impression.

Encircling these two major new works, Goldsworthy placed five Bach preludes and fugues. Her approach was pianistically romantic without an excess of hyperbole and there was real stature in her interpretations, elegance in her sound and absolute security in her technique. The result was true listening pleasure. That she could move from this music to the 20th century and back again with such ease was an achievement in itself.

- Rodney Smith, The Advertiser

Concert Series Review 2000

IT GAVE BIRTH to Adelaide's newest ensemble, the Langbein String Quartet, and drew to a conclusion with fine pianistic contributions by Anna Goldsworthy and Leigh Harrold. Most of all however, the Firm's concert series this year was illuminated by an exceptional level of musicianship from Nicholas Milton and his ASO colleagues. The Firm admittedly don't make life easy for musicians, but when you've got some of Adelaide's top performing talent at your disposal, new music is a breeze - almost, anyway.

The most technically demanding work but one that brought outstanding rewards was John Polglase's Concertino for Strings: excitingly gritty, dark and intense, it found a natural, fluent voice in the 15-string medium. Other series highlights were his expressively Brahmsian Piano Quartet and Quentin Grant's highly ' imaginative piano cycle The Misty Hill. For their simplicity, Raymond Chapman Smith's concisely wrought Chateau de Muzot songs were impressive, and in a very different way David Kotlowy's aeolian harp-like, infinitely restful Blossom Drift. All were superbly performed.

- Graham Strahle, The Adelaide Review

Castle of Chillon, Felix Mendelssohn

Concert 1: Winter, Jun 4th 1997

Fine performers whose luck was out

UNPRETENTIOUS small concerts like this depend very much on the quirks of fate for audience numbers and, on this occasion, fate was not kind.

Doubtless, the four Adelaide based composers who are the driving force behind this and future planned concerts will shoulder the disappointment.

Yet their work deserved better.

John Polglase was not represented in this program but Raymond Chapman Smith, David Kotlowy and Quentin Grant presented quite major pieces for soprano and piano.

All three contemporary works showed a level of sophisticated utterance which was a far cry from the sharp corners and almost calculated ugliness of some earlier efforts. Raymond Chapman Smith's Aus Lichtzwang sets three poems of Paul Celan in an atmospheric, suspenseful manner, cleverly maintaining momentum within a fairly static sound environment which links the poems and provides a sense of unity throughout.

David Kotlowy's Sappho gave us Webern to Chapman Smith's Schoenberg, its sparse lines and mobile-like repetition contrasting sharply with any sonic richness which had preceded it. Soprano Tessa Miller showed tremendous control as her vocal line emerged from David Lockett's deliciously delicate web of piano sounds. Quentin Grant obligingly completed the analogy with the Alban Berg-like lyricism of his two works La Ciel and Light, both overtly romantic with warmly reflective textures and some deftly handled word setting.

Throughout, Miller and Lockett proved empathetic partners and admirably restrained interpreters.

Their Brahms and Schubert brackets which flanked the contemporary items were models of informed performance practice.

- Rodney Smith, The Advertiser

Concert 1: May 27th 1996

Strictly business — serious business

THIS concert was serious business. Only vestigial traces remained of the fun flirtation with American styles of the '80s indulged in previously by our younger South Australian composers.

Four of our strongest composing representatives presented us this time with darkly clad chromatic explorations, some of which less-informed listeners might have mistaken for products of European Serialism. But there were two other vital elements. Each of the four has developed a totally different approach within this style and each now speaks with an authority and polish unthinkable 10 years ago.

David Kotlowy's Empyreal Traces took the form of a meditatively delicate sonic mobile, using violin, cello and vibraphone to good effect, while the fluid chromaticism and closely knit mirror images of Raymond Chapman Smith's Three Trios was expressed in a satisfyingly transparent texture.

Juris Ezergailis deftly handled the cumulative construction of John Polglase's Solo Viola, which moves effortlessly and impressively from darkness to light, and the driving forceful final section of Quentin Grant's String Trio No 2 contrasted starkly with the evocative second section, sending off plenty of emotional sparks along the way.

The performances were in the capable hands of string trio Margaret Blades, Juris Ezergailis and Jaqueline Curiel, together with percussionist Steven Peterka, all seasoned avant-garde performers.

- Rodney Smith, The Advertiser


CHAMBER Music Concert 1 is not a title likely to attract huge crowds, but the small audience that braved the cheerless, lecturehall atmosphere of the Hartley Room and turned out for last Monday's new music concert were well rewarded.

The core ensemble was a first-class string trio, lacking a collective name but consisting of Margaret Blades on violin, Juris Ezergailis on viola and Jaqueline Curiel on cello. For the first item they were joined by percussionist Steven Peterka, playing bowed vibraphone to make a quartet of quiet, intense sounds in Empyreal Traces by David Kotlowy, which explores subtle changes in timbre by presenting similar material in many different configurations.

Traces is right — never rising much above pianissimo, the piece is cool and still, and though its whispers had problems with both the heating system and passing traffic, none of its 20 minutes or so was boring — the audience was rapt and utterly silent.

Raymond Chapman Smith has taken his time to find an authentic personal voice, but Three Trios (String Trio No 4) marks a new confidence, partly because it dares to be austere. In 13 short but rigorously disciplined sections arranged in three groups, the music develops in structured and concise counterpoint with no concessions and no special string effects like double stopping — even pizzicato is banned.

Dull and academic one might think, but far from it, and the trio played with the impeccable intonation and clear voice leading that such music must have. The most extrovert work in the program was called simply Solo Viola, written for Ezergailis by John Polglase and splendidly played by that good violist. A real party piece, it begins quietly enough with the instrument muted — for rather too long, I thought, and it was like a sound released from prison when the mute came off.

As party pieces should, it gets increasingly fast, loud and virtuosic, finishing in a fine flurry of double-stopped energy. A welcome addition to the still-slim viola repertoire, it also gives Ezergailis an excellent personal vehicle for his fine technique.

The evening ended with another, and again quite different, look at string trio possibilities, surprisingly different from those of the quartet. String Trio No 2 by Quentin Grant is in three distinct movements, each exploring a particular effect. This is a lively, very listenable score and, as with the other pieces, given a sensitive, accurate reading by the players.

Other concerts will follow in this series, the next featuring music for voice and keyboards and, although a group title is being deliberately avoided, some clear identity might help bring people in to what is clearly a serious and responsible approach to new-music presentation, backed by the South Australian Department for the Arts and Cultural Development, and good on them.

The four composers represented are all entering their middle creative years, with good ideas and sound techniques, and it was a special pleasure to hear their pieces properly rehearsed and well-presented by performers who were clearly in total rapport with what they were playing.

- Tristram Cary, The Australian

Concert 2: Jul 15th 1996

Confrontations and reconciliation

While some contemporary music concerts can be confrontational affairs, the concert given in the Hartley Concert Room on Monday went a long way towards reconciliation. The audience was treated to a number of works by Adelaide composers.

The Eight Preludes for Piano, by Raymond Chapman Smith were a good opening for the concert, creating a contemplative mood. I’d heard these pieces before but this performance by Gabriella Smart was more relaxed and assured. I liked the way in which emotion was distilled from logic, particularly in No 4. Even more enjoyable were his settings of poems by Paul Celan.

Normally I’d be wary of an Australian setting poems in another language, but I think the tough music that Chapman Smith used worked extremely well with German texts. It was also here that Tessa Miller gave her best vocal performance, perhaps because of the dramatic material. The other vocal works were more contemplative. The pieces by Quentin Grant were settings of poems by Cesare Pavese. The first was marked by a restrained vocal line which only occasionally strayed from the simple accompaniment, while the second adopted a freer approach.

Two songs by David Kotlowy used the composer’s own texts and here Miller and accompanist Anna Goldsworthy managed to structure clearly the delicate sentiments of the words. Both Grant and Kotlowy used a prepared piano in their instrumental works. The Postlude, by Kotlowy, was the most daring of his set.

Grant’s Torn Flight for violin and prepared piano was arguably the most adventurous piece, but the performance seemed to lack a degree of emotional certainty.

- Tom Sankey, The Advertiser

Concert 4: Dec 15th 1996

String quartet hits challenging high note

THE audience was treated to a satisfying climax to this year's series of chamber music concerts featuring contemporary Adelaide composers. The intimate venue at the Art Gallery was ideal for this sort of fare, although at times the acoustics seemed a bit harsh.

The string quartet is a most demanding medium, with a long tradition. The four musicians, Michael Milton (violin), Hilary Bruer-Jones (violin), Juris Ezergailis (viola) and Jaqueline Curiel (cello), are regular members of the ASO and although not a full-time chamber ensemble, they showed sympathy with the medium. Four new compositions outside the standard repertoire would have represented quite a challenge for them, but there was rarely a sense of strain.

The quartet by Quentin Grant reflected an awareness of the past. It was often a dark work, with the melodies given to the first violin frequenting the lower registers of the instrument. The melodies themselves were intense but well shaped. The independence of the various parts was best demonstrated in several of the dialogues between the first violin and the cello. The final movement was certainly the most rhythmically inviting using a simple five-note motif.

Raymond Chapman Smith's quartet showed a familiarity with composers such as Schoenberg and Webern, particularly in the angular second movement. The third movement was the most striking, with a wild scherzo framing more traditional dance melodies. Throughout the quartet, there was evidence of a keen interest in counterpoint. X-patterns, by David Kotlowy, seemed least affected by past traditions. It used tiny interlaced patterns that seemed difficult for the players to grasp at first. The spiky opening gradually blossomed into a more smooth fabric. Some discomfort returned at the end when the opening material reappeared.

In the first of Three Pieces for String Quartet by John Polglase, a repeating ostinato surprisingly turns into a lyrical outburst. This lively movement was the most expressive piece and the quartet seemed quite at home here. The second movement was much more reflective, with melodic lines that allowed for some exquisite orations by the cello and second violin, while the third movement provided a bright, sparkling finale.

- Tom Sankey, The Advertiser

Versatile performers inspire with compositions of force

TWO modestly attended concerts about a week apart, one featuring works for piano and the other consisting of string quartets, showed that interesting and sometimes innovative things are stirring in the heads of South Australia's younger composers…

… The Art Gallery of South Australia's auditorium is a new concert venue in an old, handsome building and, although stark decoratively and over-bright in sound, it is intimate and comfortable, and should prove popular for small-scale occasions.

Chamber Music Concert 4 concentrated on new string quartets and four Adelaide Symphony Orchestra players made an ensemble of such high quality that they should consider doing more of this — they played difficult music confidently and accurately.

Quentin Grant's three-movement work was more intense (even tragic) than usual for this composer, but brought out some wonderfully rich sonorities, often using mutes in an imaginative way.

Raymond Chapman Smith offered four movements of wide striding, tricky and tersely expressed counterpoint, of which the third was an exquisite little Scherzo and Trio.

David Kotlowy's single movement x patterns developed fragmentary material into a fascinating, almost hypnotic texture in its brief six minutes, neatly exploiting the various possible interpretations of the letter x.

The concert ended with three separate and quite different quartet movements by John Polglase, including a passionate, declamatory Adagio and witty but almost angry scurries and stabbings of notes, and the buzz of swarming bees in the final Sonata scherzando.

Though presenting as a group in this year's series of concerts, these maturing composers have individual voices as well as varying acceptance.

But they are all talented and interesting writers whose work deserves to be known more widely, and any of these pieces would be good material for what must be many thousands of string quartets around the world. Maybe a case for Internet score distribution?

- Tristram Cary, The Australian