This music CD is accompanied by a booklet of poems, the music and the poetry each carrying equal weight in the resulting artistic product. Developed collaboratively over some years, the music is a collection of compositions that were either written in response to certain poems or to which poets responded with poems. The compositions are by Zephyr members, and some of Australia’s most prominent poets are featured, as well as Mexican-American author Gary Soto (http://www.garysoto.com/). The CD demonstrates how music and poetry can stimulate the creation of the other.
The CD opens with Zephyr violinist Belinda Gehlert’s serene “Ewens Ponds,” which was the inspiration behind Adelaide poet and writer Rob Walker’s poem “Reflecting.” Walker’s brief work suggests both senses of the word ‘reflect’—the mirror image and the thoughtful response. Beginning wistfully, the music develops a stepping rhythm based on repeated statements and is embellished in its voicing and sonority as it progresses. The music triggers a quietly reflective, as in thoughtful, state of mind, finally circling back to the opening theme.
The anthology also includes Walker’s poem “Taisho Pond and Mt Takedake, Japanese Alps,” describing a volcano reflected in a nearby pond whose surface is so still the reflection appears more real than the reality, a comment on human subjectivity. But the pond is silting up—beauty is transient.
The CD title, A Rain from the Shadows, is a line from Australia-based Iraqi journalist and teacher Yahia Al-Samawy’s beautiful poem “Four Loaves from the Heart’s Oven,” whose third stanza is thus:
I built in my imagination
And a playground with swings
And I embroidered the deserts
With fountains that played in orange groves
And when I fell asleep at the window of my prayers
I saw my tent was an orchard
And I a cloud that poured down onto the wild wastes
A rain from the shadows
Al-Samawy’s collaboration with Zephyr elicited two compositions by Zephyr cellist Hilary Kleinig. Kleinig’s music, as with much of that on the CD, opens with a simple statement that builds in complexity through restatement, elaborate voicing and variations. Typically, Zephyr compositions are carefully measured, texturally lush and firmly tonal. Though accessible, they do not lack charm or appeal, the engaging tunes lingering in the mind. Zephyr has established its own unique and special genre of string quartet music.
Assembled through an interactive process rather than around a connecting theme, this diverse anthology comprises poetry of depth and power. Prize-winning poet and children’s author Gary Soto’s “The Space” inspired Kleinig’s work of the same name, which is slow, restrained and poignant. Prolific Australian playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer was prompted to write “Because My Dreams” on hearing violinist Emily Tulloch’s “Skyroads” and Nicki Bloom wrote “Draggers” in response to Tulloch’s "Air,” which includes whistling. The steady rhythm of Belinda Gehlert’s “Dirt” is taken up in the ABC’s Poetica presenter Mike Ladd’s haunting evocation of a long distance road trip on the Plenty Highway in Central Australia, a “battered, holy ground” of immense cultural significance (Dirt, Mike Ladd). And Gehlert’s “Shearwaters,” inspired by another Rob Walker poem, evokes birds slowly swooping at sunset, momentarily hinting at Vaughan Williams’ “Lark Ascending.” The music that is inspired by the poems is not intended to be programmatic. The poetry and music complement each other, rather than trying to meld. Listener-readers can approach the material as they wish.
The recording is beautifully mixed and produced. I was at CD launch at the Wheatsheaf Hotel, Adelaide, one of Zephyr’s regular venues. Strings usually don’t sound as good amplified through a PA, especially on a hot night with the air-conditioning running, but the large audience was enchanted. Barbara Coddington’s design for the CD cover is itself an artwork, suggesting a well-worn book, painted over and full of personal history, adding another dimension to the CD’s concept.
Zephyr has always been concerned with accessibility to wider audiences and theirs typically range beyond the traditional classical music audience. Renowned for its exploratory collaborations, Zephyr often works with visual artists and writers as well as musicians and composers in all genres and this CD represents a significant artistic development for the ensemble.
Excerpt from Yahia Al-Samawy’s “Four Loaves from the Heart’s Oven” reproduced with permission of Zephyr Quartet.
We have 3 copies of A Rain from the Shadows to give away courtesy of Zephyr Quartet.
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