Singers aim for the stars

24 March 2021

Offering audiences a fresh experience of classical music is both daring and necessary. Bourby Webster finds The Giovanni Consort’s season opener exciting and a little uncomfortable.

“Rebuild – Choral Music Under the Stars”, The Giovanni Consort ·
Scitech Planetarium, 20 March 2021 ·

I am a huge fan of The Giovanni Consort – they are singers who take risks, try new things, surprise, delight and inspire. Therefore, it was with anticipation that I arrived at the Scitech Planetarium for “Rebuild”, their first concert of 2021.

Artistic Director Hugh Lydon explained the theme of the concert was in response to the bush fires in early 2020 and the song texts echoed this theme of renewal, rebuilding, and rebirth.

As the eight-singer ensemble took their place under the enormous screen, the lights dimmed to almost complete darkness and within seconds we were in outer space, faced with the most remarkable vision of earth and the universe.

My initial fear that the acoustic was going to be challenging was allayed from subtle yet effective amplification.

For the first five minutes or so I watched in awe. I was enthralled by my journey through outer space, staring at planet Earth from afar, seeing continents flickering with red splashes representing the fires burning across the world with the wonderfully homogenous voices of the ensemble, beautifully blended, every breath and consonant in sync, creating feelings of both helplessness and hope.

However, from around the fifteen-minute mark, things started to get a little challenging. Beautiful works by familiar composers such as Tallis, Monteverdi, Palestrina and Byrd were interspersed by music from lesser-known composers: da Victoria, Bassano, da Viadana and Esquivel, all of which involved detailed counterpoint where all eight voices work independently and overlap, interweave and are intricately intertwined. It became increasingly hard to focus on the voices as the visual stimulus was so great. Taken independently, both would have been rich, deep, moving experiences, but superimposed over one another it was almost uncomfortable.

By the 30-minute mark into this 50-minute concert, my eyes were firmly closed, and I took the time to truly focus on the sound the ensemble produced: rich, controlled, nuanced and beautifully balanced. The lower voices provided a steady foundation upon which the middle and upper voices could weave, ebb and flow with the bass voices of David Buckley, Thomas Freiberg and Hugh Lydon stand-out for their subtle yet wonderfully blended sound. The inner parts showed vocal maturity in knowing when to soar and when to support. The sopranos showed their skill, virtuosity and endurance particularly in the closing Cantate Domino by Monteverdi. Renaissance choral music is dense with notes and requires incredible stamina in a concert like this and the ensemble didn’t falter.

Giving audiences a new experience in a unique setting with a visual guide and theme through which to provide an access point to this hugely beautiful but highly challenging music, is both exciting, daring and necessary. On this occasion the stimuli proved too intense: it was overwhelming – a sentiment echoed by other audience members I canvassed on my way out. However, patrons would also have walked away having experienced something both awe-inspiring and thought-provoking.

The Giovanni Consort should be applauded for their daring and imagination, and I hope they will continue to take risks like they have with “Rebuild”. Their loyal fans will follow – and no doubt grow – as they bring choral music to a wider audience.

The Giovanni Consort’s next performance is “Rejuvenate”, 7 – 8 May at The Glass Box.

Pictured top: The singers from The Giovanni Consort. Photo supplied from a performance at Government House Ballroom in 2020.

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Author —
Bourby Webster

Bourby Webster is the Founder and CEO of Perth Symphony Orchestra one of WA’s newest and fastest growing arts companies. She is a graduate of Oxford University in Music and the Royal College of Music and is a professional violist, lecturer, presenter, and producer. She can’t even look at a playground as she suffers chronic motion sickness.

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