Against a backdrop of forests of skeletal trees lit by moonlight, falling rain, star-trails and ghostly birds, a string quartet is illuminated centre stage, arranged in a circle facing one another.
Radiating out along the four points of a cross sits the silhouetted audience, attentive in their separate compartments, their gaze channelled towards the musicians and then onwards to the projections on the far wall.
Image © Karen Hutt
The first part of a duo of complementary concerts by Argo, 'To The Earth' emphasized the introspective architecture of the historic Spring Hill Reservoir on Wickham Terrace, and used it to play out a programme of modern string pieces. The contemplative music, which was both broadly reflective of the venue, but which also had us reaching out towards an otherworldly universe, was deftly underpinned by the projections of Sloe Motion (aka Bec Todd). The evening’s string quartet comprised Brendan Joyce (violin 1), Jonny Ng (violin 2), Anna Colville (viola) and Katherine Philip (cello) from Camerata, Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra.
John Luther Adams’ 'Canticles Of The Sky' has been variously arranged for four choirs with soloists, a 45-cello orchestra (!), and string quartet. The first two movements, 'Sky With Four Suns', and 'Sky With Four Moons', draw on a polar phenomenon known as parhelia, where atmospheric conditions cause vivid illusory haloes. Interposed in the centre of the Adams, was the world premiere of Chris Perren’s 'A Luminous Moment, Unfolded', an upbeat exploration of the emotional complexity of a moment of joy – how the events of the past, this present instant, and the promise of the future – all collide to influence your appreciation of this joyous minute. From Perren, we returned to the more contemplative sounds and conclusion of 'Canticles Of The Sky', with 'Sky With Nameless Colours', and 'Sky With Endless Stars'.
Image © Karen Hutt
We then moved to Philip Glass’ String Quartet No. 5. Glass’ familiar underlying repeating rhythms, here provided largely by the cello, form an anchor and steady beat upon which the melodic elements rest. Snippets of rock-like riffs on the violins punctuate this underlying metre, building in intensity as the piece progresses and although continuing in an introspective and contemplative vein, this thoroughly enjoyable piece created a livelier outlook to the second half of the programme.
Click here for more 'To The Earth' images.
Connor D’Netto’s award-winning String Quartet No. 2 in E minor built on the increasing energy engendered by the Glass to complete the evening. There are Glass-like qualities to D’Netto’s music, which is no bad thing, however he extends his reach in a post-minimalist direction that keeps the listener engaged and guessing. In the uncanny and somewhat unsettling atmosphere of the reservoir, where one can’t help remembering that one is sitting in an underground and once watery space, this approach fits perfectly.
Image © Karen Hutt
It also worked well in the more determinedly off-world setting within the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium, where the world premiere of 'To The Sky' was played to an accompaniment of visuals projected onto the domed ceiling, the latter specially created for the event by the Planetarium curators Peter Frankland, Duncan Waldrom and Mark Rigby. Composed by Joshua Rivory, Thomas Green and Connor D’Netto, this fascinating and immensely absorbing concert featured an expanded complement of Camerata musicians, with three groups consisting of violin, viola and cello placed at three separate positions at the periphery of the room.
We lay back in the comfortable reclining seats and took in a familiar projection of the night sky and then as the music pulsed and swelled, we moved to a vividly three-dimensional view of the earth turning, crowned by the dancing lights of the Aurora Australis. With the music dipping and weaving we fell vertiginously back towards the earth from space, and began a dizzyingly fast orbit with the international space station, creating a sensation of gravity-defying weightlessness! The melding of electronica with traditional strings sat well with the move away from earth and our terra-centric view, into space and the shift to the less familiar. And all conducted from a setup reminiscent of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise!
Image © Karen Hutt
Moving out into the further reaches of the solar system, visiting moons and planets on the way, the carefully positioned strings spoke to one another hauntingly across the void of space. Onwards we travelled, beyond the solar system, through fiery nebulae, past countless galaxies, and into the furthest reaches of the universe, and the dawn of time. The effect of the seemingly weightless musical notes travelling across the cosmos was deeply moving and reflection on our transience and insignificance on this grand stage was inescapable.
Click here for more 'To The Sky' images.
These performances were yet another intensely satisfying multi-sensory offering from the uniquely talented and innovative conceptual art and musicianship of Argo. Argo’s performances are generally one-offs, so look out for their forthcoming performances, Void on 13 August at Opera Queensland studios, and Infinity on 10 September at the Queensland Art Gallery.
Previous reviews of Argo on Scenestr:
John Luther Adams, 'Canticles of the Sky'
Chris Perren, 'A Luminous Moment, Unfolded'
Philip Glass, String Quartet No. 5
Connor D’Netto, String Quartet No. 2 in E minor