ACT News


Gang-gang: Australian composers celebrate Julia Gillard in song

Latvian soprano Inessa Galante, star of this Sunday's Voices In The Forest, has a declared interest (see our picture) in the musical portrayal of heroines. It is a thrilling thought, then, that on Sunday she may sing a setting of something from After Julia.

After Julia, as this column's erudite readers will all know, is a suite of new, specially-commissioned works (some of them for voices) by major Australian composers reflecting on Julia Gillard's operatically tragic time as the first female prime minister. The work has already had its first performance, at the Eugene Goossens Hall at the ABC's Ultimo Centre. It has been broadcast to the nation by the notoriously pro-Labor ABC. How fitting, how courteous of her it will be if Inessa Galante, visiting Australia and performing in famously Labor-voting Canberra, sings something from After Julia.

Canberrans may be counting the sleeps until Voices In The Forest but we confide that we have begun to think of populist Voices In The Forest as being to fine music what populist Floriade is to true gardening. If you can only afford to go to one musical performance this weekend you might think of eschewing Voices In The Forest (where, as inevitably as death and taxes, a Pavarotti-impersonating tenor is sure to shake the leaves off the Aroboretum's trees with a rendition of Nessun Dorma) and of going instead to the Llewellyn Choir's Advent Concert.

You can take champagne to Voices In The Forest but you'll need to leave it at home for the Advent Concert for it is in the teetotal space of St Andrew's Church at Forrest. It is a "dry" venue but it is a smashing and noble venue for music (we have been to a Canberra Choral Society opera there, complete with a real witch) and the concert's' Christmassy works by Francis Poulenc (including his Gloria)  and Camille Saint-Saens (his Christmas Oratorio is the concert's star attraction) will rattle the lovely church's lovely windows.

An anonymous spokechorister for the Llewellyn Choir tells us that Poulenc and Saint-Saens were "two French tearaways".

"Poulenc (1899-1963) was a gay man who had this secret to keep from a straight-laced Parisian set. He was known for his high spirits and irreverence. The words of the Gloria are set to music of freshness and vivacity. Poulenc was criticised because it bordered on the sacrilegious; however, Poulenc's reply was, 'While writing it I had in mind those frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli with angels sticking out their tongues, and also some solemn-looking Benedictine monks that I saw playing football one day'." *


Meanwhile, Canberrans are a bit slow to turn out to a musical event not populist enough to feature a tenor singing Nessun Dorma. Last Saturday's historical inaugural use of the much-fought-over Fitters Workshop as a paid performance venue for music, featuring the Spooky Men's Chorale, attracted about 250 souls. 

The eccentric but fascinating space could probably comfortably embrace twice that number whereupon, someone there told me at the interval (if I understood her correctly) the sound might have been very different from Saturday's because there would have been more soft bodies to absorb and buffer it.

As was on Saturday the word "resonant" hardly did the place's acoustic justice. It is very different from anything else anywhere, other than perhaps the occasional well-tiled bathroom that makes Pavarottis and Galantes of us all.

On this sweltering Saturday we were invited to close our eyes so as to be able to better appreciate (without visual distractions) the sound. And, as promised, when we did this it was well-night-impossible to tell where the sound was bing produced from, such is the way the sound flowed around us and bathed us. The Fitters Workshop is a place of great musical expectations.

Perhaps the extreme heat made us cranky but we thought the Spooky Men's choice of songs and sounds (erring on the side of the sublime and dull at the expense of anything very spooky and toe-tapping) too bland and soporific to be a good test of the venue's acoustic. Highlight, though, was what was straight-facedly introduced as a 13th century Sufi prophecy chant about the heaven-sent coming of three world-changing brothers. It turned out to be, the truth emerging slowly, a 13th century chant prophesying the coming, one day, of the Bee Gees.

And while on the subject of super-duper, nothing-like-it-anywhere-else-in-the-world acoustics, over the next few days children's bands and choirs will be playing and warbling Christmassy things in the marble-upholstered Marble Foyer of Parliament House.

This is a space wasted on parliamentarians (it is a palace cast before swine), but if you have ever heard a choir sing there then you will know that this is the foyer's higher purpose. Today, Tuesday, there is a band at 9.30am and then a choir at 11.30am and all arranged around a giant giving tree seeking funds for the Aboriginal Literacy Foundation and for Lifeline.

The burqa-clad are welcome (Thank you Mr Abbott), but no thanks to the Presiding Officers, President Senator Stephen Parry and Speaker Bronwyn Bishop who will launch the giving tree appeal this morning just before the choir begins to warble.

* Saturday's Advent Concert is at 7.30pm at St Andrew's in Forrest. Tickets at the door. The Arboretum's gates swing open at 1.30pm on Sunday for the 4.45pm Voices In The Forest. Tickets from