Metropolis New Music Festival
Melbourne Recital Centre
May 5

CONCLUDING this year's much-expanded Metropolis series from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, guests from Chicago - eighth blackbird - provided the core personnel for an airing of Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians.

Saturday night's all-but-packed out concert also featured an Australian work.

Catherine Sullivan's Vidova Gora - Svitanje has the character of a tone poem, depicting sunrise over a mountain range on a Croatian island.

In contrast to its companion pieces, this amiable work opts for lyricism, shows a deft hand at manipulating a chamber orchestra, and wins the listener through its approachability and the interest-sustaining presence of a narrative arc.

Alaskan-based composer John Luther Adams combines a full-strength orchestra with electronic sounds in Dark Waves, which also paints a sort of scene from nature, albeit one that is both daunting and exhilarating.

The performance under conductor Timothy Weiss made an impressive impact, the sombre currents of tide and undertow coming across with visceral power, inevitably suggesting the bleakness of a sub-Arctic region and the ocean's unremitting menace in a masterly exhibition of skill, as bleak as Sibelius' Tapiola in its emotional impact.

Reich's 1976 score is a work that only its composer could love. Four pianos, a battery of marimbas and xylophones, two strings, a brace of clarinets, with four female voices for that vital human touch, all contributed to a relentless basic rhythmic pulse with the usual subtle variations in texture and chord construction.

The performance was a tribute to the players' stamina, as well as that of an enthusiastic audience.