info I contact
editorial schedule
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive


Leonard Bernstein's Mass, 2012 International Arts Adelaide Festival Leonard Bernstein's Mass, 2012 International Arts Adelaide Festival
photo Tony Lewis

leonard bernstein’s mass

In 1971, legendary US conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein responded to Jackie Kennedy’s commission to write a work celebrating the opening of the Kennedy Centre and marking a decade since the President’s assassination, with Mass. It’s a unique composition that acknowledges the Kennedys’ Catholicism, reveals Bernstein’s interest in both theological and political issues and addresses the ultimate question of faith in an absurd world.

Leonard Bernsteins' Mass, 2012 International Arts Adelaide Festival Leonard Bernsteins' Mass, 2012 International Arts Adelaide Festival
photo Tony Lewis
Mass combines music theatre and dance with a traditional Catholic mass and the social and philosophical issues Bernstein raised remain relevant 40 years after the controversial work’s premiere. Set in the street and presenting the Catholic mass as concept, rite and musical form for consideration rather than for participation, Mass critiques organised religion and the Vietnam War and includes readings from letters by imprisoned draft evaders. Blending orchestra, rock band, singers, dancers, actors and multiple choirs, including children, into a cross-media mix, it implicitly proposes a cross-community bridge and captures the 1960s Zeitgeist. Its experimental nature—at the time, rock and classical music were engaged in a cold war that epitomised the conflict between establishment and counterculture—defies musical categorisation, as it links particular musical styles to specific characters or elements of the plot.

Mass is an interesting choice as an Adelaide Festival flagship, combining large-scale performance, experimentation (not uniformly well received at the time) and a recapitulation of issues relating to faith, the Catholic Church and political protest. The performance by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, soloists and choirs under Kristian Järvi was excellent and Jubilant Sykes was outstanding in the pivotal role of the Celebrant who experiences his own crisis of faith precipitated by his parishioners’ alienation, before a child’s strength of belief finally triggers a Kierkegaardian leap of faith amongst the crowd.

richard chew’s instructions for an imaginary man

Instructions for an Imaginary Man Instructions for an Imaginary Man
courtesy the artists
In 1943, Polish writer and resistance member Jerzy Ficowski wrote, “It was exactly eleven/ steps from wall to wall/ in the Pawiak prison/ from to from to/ wall wall wall wall/ and eleven and back again.” Adelaide composer Richard Chew’s Instructions for an Imaginary Man muses on the experience of prison, and questions the nature and impact of imprisonment and its relationship to structures of power and control.

Instructions for an Imaginary Man takes place in the long-disused Old Adelaide Gaol, in a corridor accessing rows of cells, with a scrim separating the audience from the performance area that represents a cell, and with the musicians positioned behind a second scrim at the far end of the corridor. Videos of cell interiors and an actor-prisoner are projected onto the scrims as the performance progresses. The same actor mimes imprisonment, depicting the loneliness and mental breakdown associated with confinement, forcing the audience to remember the gaol’s former uses. Chew set the poetry of Verlaine, Behan, Rilke and others, including political prisoners and former hostages, to his own music, which is for soprano and baritone accompanied by piano, strings and clarinet. Fine performances and clever design make this a strong work. Staging theatrical and musical events in disused prisons is not new, but in this case is highly evocative

australian art orchestra’s miles davis, prince of darkness

Australian Art Orchestra Australian Art Orchestra
courtesy the artists
Musically, the Australian Art Orchestra’s concert Miles Davis, Prince of Darkness, was the festival standout. A tribute to jazz trumpeter Davis (1926-1991), the AAO concert runs chronologically: the first half commences with selections from Birth of the Cool (1948-9) progressing to Gil Evans’ arrangement for Davis of the second movement of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez (1961) in which Davis’ trumpet took the guitar role; followed by festival director and AAO leader Paul Grabowsky’s arrangement of Davis’ Black Comedy (1968). Trumpeter Phillip Slater is wonderful in the Concierto. Superbly arranged, these performances render the quintessential Davis style through the AAO’s distinctive sound and approach.

But it was the second half of this concert that really got things moving with Anthony Pateras’ high energy Ontetradecagon. Knowing that Davis’ late work, particularly his On the Corner album (1972) was influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pateras pays homage to the experimentalism of both Davis and Stockhausen by exploring the conjunction of jazz improvisation and experimental music. AAO members were located in six groups around the auditorium—on stage, on either side, at the back and on the balcony—with Pateras strategically positioning himself in the centre aisle facing the stage. Pateras uses a Revox B77 to replay fragments of On the Corner and process elements of the live performance, while the AAO play from Pateras’ score which is orchestrated from On the Corner pitch elements and structured to allow improvisation. The spatialisation immerses the listener—I felt as if I were inside Davis’ and Stockhausen’s minds simultaneously. Paradoxically, the absence of a driving jazz rhythm brings out the ethereal feel of Davis’, as well as Stockhausen’s music. Ontetradecagon extends the language of both composers into multiple, layered ensemble playing, and in the program notes, Pateras acknowledges Varèse, Xenakis and Luigi Nono in the concept.

Australian Art Orchestra Australian Art Orchestra
photo Tobias Titz
As David Toop notes in Ocean of Sound (Serpent’s Tail, London, 1995), record producer Teo Macero mixed Miles Davis’ late albums from long recordings of live takes, and a different mix would have produced a different result, the composition in effect emerging from the mixing. Remixing Davis is thus not only appropriate but anticipated, with Pateras now the producer. At various moments, both trumpeter Scott Tinkler and Pateras appear to be conducting, and the scattered AAO ensembles cohere into a tightly unified whole. Pateras adroitly adds sound samples from the onstage trio of Erkki Veltheim (electric violin), Vanessa Tomlinson (percussion) and Tinkler. Tinkler’s dazzling trumpet solo quotes characteristic Davis motifs, though Ontetradecagon is more about Davis’ musical exploration and development than his own trumpet playing. It’s especially about saturating the audience in challenging sound.

The final piece in the AAO concert was a fabulous reworking of Davis’ Black Satin by AAO bassist Philip Rex, who for this piece performed at a laptop. Black Satin is also from the 1972 On the Corner sessions, and this rendition updates Black Satin’s eclectic, danceable drum ’n’ bass flavour to incorporate today’s electronics and club style. A mirror ball above our heads completes the ambience! This AAO concert was a knockout, and Grabowsky’s program essay is insightful, reinterpreting Miles Davis’ work to confirm and extend its innovations.

zephyr string quartet’s MICROMacro

Jo Kerlogue, MICROMacro, Zephyr Quartet Jo Kerlogue, MICROMacro, Zephyr Quartet
photo Belinda Humphris
In the Adelaide Fringe, at a pub noted as a folk and blues venue, Adelaide’s Zephyr string quartet gave us MICROMacro, in which they performed their own compositions while artist Jo Kerlogue painted on the freshly paper-covered walls and floor and even a table in the auditorium. Zephyr and Kerlogue look for synthesis between notated music and spontaneous art—an emerging trend combining music with visual art as performance, a form of visual improv where the artists’ creative flow is nakedly exposed. Periodically, the musicians would change position in front of audience tables, though the sound source, the PA, remained fixed, creating a feeling of disembodiment and teasing the listener’s sense of how vision and sound combine.

shifting musical spaces

There are four different concepts of theatre at work in these festival works. Chew’s choice of location especially charges his work and provides its foundation. Musical languages are combined and redeveloped and there are contrasting approaches to improvisation. Of the same era as Bernstein’s Mass, Miles Davis’ On the Corner is taken in new directions by Grabowsky, Pateras and Rex. Chew and Bernstein critically address social issues, particularly political imprisonment, and the power of their works derives partly from the essential nature of human speech. While Zephyr shows how visual art might respond to music, Pateras addresses the raw power of sound through its sonic references, timbres, textures and performance, and the music of Bernstein and Chew seeks out the soul. These performances collectively show how music engages the mind, heart and body simultaneously.

2012 Adelaide International Arts Festival: MASS, Leonard Bernstein, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra conductor Kristjan Järvi, director Andy Packer, chorus director Carl Crossin, scenic designer Geoff Cobham, lighting designer Mark Pennington, featuring Jubilant Sykes, Absolute Trio, Adelaide Festival Chorus and Children’s Choir, State Opera of South Australia in association with Adelaide Festival Centre, March 10; Instructions for an Imaginary Man, composer, Richard Chew, mezzo soprano Cheryl Pickering, baritone Nigel Cliffe, actor Graeme Rose, pianist Richard Chew, violins Jacqui Carias and Laura Evans, viola Teagan Short, cello Jillian Visser, clarinets Alexander Loakin, producer Cheryl Pickering for Various People, designer Bec Francis, lighting, projection Nic Mollison, Old Adelaide Gaol, March 9; Australian Art Orchestra, Miles Davis, Prince of Darkness, led by Paul Grabowsky, composer Anthony Pateras, arrangements Eugene Ball, Paul Grabowsky, Philip Rex, Adelaide Town Hall, March 15

Adelaide Fringe: Zephyr Quartet and Jo Kerlogue, MICROMacro, Wheatsheaf Hotel, February 25;;

This article originally appeared as part of RealTime's online e-dition April 24

RealTime issue #109 June-July 2012 pg. 12

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

Back to top