Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Festival of Voices Opening Night Concert

St David’s Cathedral, Hobart Thursday July 9 2009

There is something about the human voice that makes it a truly compelling instrument to listen to. We all have it, but some people use it with a skill and finesse that utterly eludes others. Yet for a few days every year, the Festival of Voices enables singers with skill to improve and learn from world-class teachers, while those of us who save their singing for the shower are encouraged to overcome inhibition and belt out a tune.

The opening night of the festival was a grand introduction to the talents of performers featured throughout the four-day programme. Held in St David’s Cathedral on the frostiest of nights, the church made an excellent venue: its ornate interior lent appropriate grandeur, while the high vaulted ceiling allowed voices to soar before bouncing back down to the packed audience.

Malcolm Dalglish, American choral composer and director, was accompanied on Hammer Dulcimer by percussionist Peter Jacob and the sweet tones of the Young Voices of Melbourne.

There is something so beguiling about the open face of a person who is high on oxygen and working their diaphragm like an athlete. Multiplied by the dozens of choristers and soloists that evening, this made for much joy.

The choice of music varied from traditional choral by Brahms, opera by Offenbach and Bizet, to modern gospel and folk. The accompanists achieved that fine balance of exemplary musicianship without overpowering the singers.

Perhaps the only incongruity came in the form of a laptop offering the accompaniment of a gospel choir to Grammy award winning singer-songwriter, director and producer, Myron Butler and partner Tymberlin. At times it threatened to drown out their dexterous and soulful voices, but I expect it is too much to ask for the entire choir to be present.

On show were the developing talents of singers ranging from the young members of the Gondwana Chorale, the Exaudi Youth Choir and the 60th Intervarsity Festival Choir, whose position at the rear of the church had a haunting effect.

Indigenous Darwin-based singer/songwriter Shellie Morris snuggled in down and alone with her guitar on stage, offering a small taste of the dynamism of her performances promised for later in the festival.

The grand finale was the premier performance of a work commissioned by the Festival of Voices. Hear My Song, by young composer Ben van Tienan, was realised with members of five choirs lining the cathedral. UK chorister Mike Brewer conducted singers and musicians from the altar, while Van Tienan led those in the rear, glancing over their shoulders to keep pace with each other. The effect filled every crevice of the building with an awesome combination of tones and registers that made the solar plexus pound.

It was a great opening night to a festival that matures with every year.

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