Magical musicians weave wondrous textures

22 August 2023

Beautiful threads of music making are drawn together to create a simply wonderful concert experience, writes Emma Jayakumar. 

Silk, Metal, Wood, Musica Viva 
Perth Concert Hall, 21 August 2023 

There is something for everyone in this concert, presented on a chilly Monday evening. It’s not my favourite day or night of the week, but I am so thankful I am here. Silk, Metal, Wood is one of those rare occasions where creative programming produces an arresting experience encompassing a world of harmony, style and musicianship.  

Our players are ferociously talented, the kind of musicians who make it look easy, and aren’t afraid to wear their musical hearts on their metaphorical sleeves.  

Matthew Marshall’s elegant and simple lighting design spotlights Jean-Guihen Queyras as he begins one of the most recognisable pieces of Western art music, Bach’s first prelude from the Cello Suite no. 1 in G Major. He plays the entire suite from Prelude to Gigue, while his colleagues sit either side of him in darkness.  

Jean-Guihen Queyras is masterful on cello. Photo: Annelise Maurer

Queyras’ playing is masterful, intimate and unafraid to explore rubato and, at times, a whisper-quiet dynamic. The suite sounds like an old friend to him; it’s special to hear such a familiar piece played so uniquely.  

As Bach finishes, the spotlight recedes and alights on koto master Satsuki Odamura, who echoes Queyras’ final cello note and plunges into the world of the pentatonic scale, instantly transporting us harmonically from West to East. Remarkably, it doesn’t sound jarring at all; in fact, it’s a fantastic palate refresher.  

Odamura plays the Yatsuhashi Kengyō piece Midare (Disorder) from the 17th century in a physically and sonorously engaging way. She moves up and down the strings with precision and care, at times seated and others standing, manipulating pitch with her left hand and plucking with a full right hand of silver plectrums.  

Odamura’s performance is theatrical and graceful, moving seamlessly into Jakub Jankowski’s jaw-droppingly good 21st century composition Eclogue, which is hands down the best new commission I have heard in a long time. With Odamura joined by Queyras and young Australian James Morley on cello, this piece is a fantastic exploration of timbre and musicianship from all three players.  

Ghost-like, pitch-bending and oscillating patterns give way to multiple cello extended bowing techniques, scraping, brushing and bowing of the larger koto. It’s brutal and stirring at the climax and thrilling to witness. The forceful instrumental playing gives way to miniature bird song, small devices delicately twisted between fingers producing highly realistic bird and insect-like noises into darkness. Fantastic! 

Cellist James Morley performs in ‘Silk, Metal, Wood’. Photo: Annelise Maurer

After interval, Odamura returns for a mesmerising performance of the melodic and gentle Letter from a Stranger’s Childhood (Robin Williamson). This larger style koto is warmly sonorous and played without plectrums and at times strummed harp-like, always with beautiful attention to feeling and dynamic.  

Queyras produces a no less unique and disarming take on Britten’s Cello Suite no. 1. Far removed from Bach in harmony and style perhaps, it’s nonetheless easy to draw comparisons between the exploration of an inner world each piece provokes. The Frenchman is an astonishing musician in his sincerity of approach and the way he shapes a phrase – I could quite simply listen to him forever.  

The cellists pair up for the last treat of the evening, the shiny Belle Epoque pearl of the Offenbach Duo for Two Cellos in B-flat Major. After the harmonically adventurous middle works, a return to deliciously melodic tonality feels like a big warm hug. It’s more gorgeous playing, a wonderful duet of intelligence, with both artists clearly revelling in each other’s company and Morley proving a worthy match for his partner.  

Silk, Metal, Wood is a delightful concert that will stand out in my mind for some time.  

Vision String Quartet, Musica Viva’s next concert, is at Perth Concert Hall on 2 October 2023.

Pictured top: Koto master Satsuki Odamura performs with theatre and grace. Photo: Annelise Maurer

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Author —
Emma Jayakumar

Emma Jayakumar is an Australian composer and librettist whose recent major works include commissions for West Australian Opera, the ABC, Darwin Symphony Orchestra, Awesome Arts, West Australian Ballet and Music Book. Emma is an advocate for accessible works for young audiences, as well as new music celebrating diverse Australian voices.

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