Reviews/Music/Perth Festival

Oh! What an extraordinary experience

6 March 2023

Bassist and composer Linda May Han Oh is at the peak of her powers, drawing an equally impressive array of talent to perform her new work, Ephemeral Echoes. Bourby Webster is in awe.

Ephemeral Echoes, Linda May Han Oh
Perth Concert Hall, 5 March 2023

I am in awe of Linda May Han Oh. I saw a sneak preview of her concert Ephemeral Echoes where she made a double bass solo sound like a full orchestra and explained how she juggles travelling the world with a two-year-old and perform, compose and produce at the top of her game – wow!

I am also in awe because she just won a Grammy and she does all this while maintaining a teaching role at the prestigious Berkley School of Music in the United States.

I am most in awe, however, because she’s a superlative musician whose performance for the closing weekend of Perth Festival is the most extraordinary work of self-expression, beauty and technical skill.

Six musicians spread across the stage playing various instruments - percussion, double bass and piano.  In the shadows below the audience watch Linda May Han Oh's performance of Ephemeral Echoes for Perth Festival.
A sextet of the highest calibre in Linda May Han Oh’s ‘Ephemeral Echoes’. Photo: Corey James

With International Women’s Day upon us, Björk’s Cornucopia and Oh’s Ephemeral Echoes show the power of extraordinary women nailing it musically, delivering a strong message about our planet, the human experience and our need for self-expression. All while producing extraordinary artistic endeavours in collaboration with Western Australian-based musicians.

The concert is part of a series conceived by Australian recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey, called Finding Our Voice – a initiative to create eight works of art music performed across Australia – and Lacey is on stage to introduce the performance.

Raised in Perth (Boorloo) and based in New York, Oh and her husband, breathtakingly gifted pianist Fabian Almazan, are joined by four hand-picked locals – percussionists Genevieve Wilkins, Iain Robbie and Steve Richter and jazz drumming legend Ben Vanderwal – to create a sextet of the highest calibre. Lighting designer Lucy Birkinshaw contributes an evocative visual element.

The performance is in no way a platform for Oh to show off her insane playing chops, even though she does throughout. This is a true ensemble performance, with every member a solo voice. Vanderwal sets the pace with a brilliant jazz-feel drum solo in Strangers Once: A Handshake. The mood quickly changes in Firefly with delicately and precisely bowed tuned percussion notes sparkling in a dark cave while in conversation with sustained bowed notes on the double bass. Shafts of light feature each musician as they play in turn, mimicking fireflies in full glory – a stunning “dedication to an endangered species” notes Oh.

Musician Linda May Han Oh on stage playing the double bass.
Linda May Han Oh playing the double bass in ‘Ephemeral Echoes’. Photo: Corey James

Creativity comes to the fore in Phoebus Cartel, where cut-glass lightbulbs are played by each percussionist – a poignant commentary on planned obsolescence where a lightbulb company designed its product to last only 1000 hours in order to increase demand. This is an aural feast of texture, melody, and rhythm as the six musicians move together in a pulsing and energetic work.

Each piece has its own character and style, melding jazz, classical, experimental and other genres seamlessly to evoke the most extraordinary soundscapes. Throughout the concert different elements hold the diverse audience’s attention, from a recorded crying baby to wordless vocals sung beautifully by Oh.

In Strangers No More: Embrace, rhythm is at the fore with cross rhythms, polyrhythms – heck, even my classically trained brain doesn’t know what some of the techniques are called – driving the music. The technical and musical accomplishment of the performance is awe-inspiring.

The concert ends with Oh on the electric bass in Aurora with Birkinshaw’s sweeping lighting design creating an immersive experience.

She may be the smallest person on the stage, with a gentle voice and diminutive appearance, but Oh is a towering force of creativity and expression. Linda May Han Oh’s music is decisive and full of conviction about things that matter to her – and resonate with us all.

This work must be heard again. Awesome indeed.

Pictured top: Linda May Han Oh on electric bass. Photo: Corey James

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Author —
Bourby Webster

Bourby Webster is the director of North Street Music – a creative production and artist development company. She is also the founder of Perth Symphony Orchestra. She is a graduate of Oxford University, the Royal College of Music and has an MBA from UWA. She is a professional violist, entrepreneur, concert promoter and producer. She can’t even look at a playground as she suffers chronic motion sickness.

Past Articles

  • Masterful soloists lift the mood

    WASO’s latest program promises intensity but Bourby Webster is surprised by its sense of optimism – and fun. So much so, she could do it all again.

  • Sure hands touch the heart

    Pianist Garrick Ohlsson has been wowing audiences around the world for almost 60 years and this concert is no exception. Bourby Webster savours every moment. 

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