Monday, April 19, 2010

A city needs a composer

Dean Stevenson and the Arco Set
Friday April 16
Peacock Theatre

Presented by the Salamanca Arts Centre and Dean Stevenson

by Stephenie Cahalan

A city needs a composer to write its story in music. Be it the story of a suburban kitchen or a streetscape, a composer writes stories with music, like a photographer tells a story using light. They are like the playwrights that make work for local actors; the tailors that bespoke clothes of a place, era and climate or poets who capture the colours that cross their path.

From the perspective of a non-musician, the thing that seems to mark a composer is that they think beyond the instrument they are playing , to the layers of a composition that provide a platform for the talents of other musicians.

Dean Stevenson achieved this with the Arco Set, a group of young, skilled, local musicians who played on Friday night at the Peacock Theatre. The evening offered a repertoire of works written for both Stevenson as solo performer, the band and the Cloud Suite written for the small orchestra. There was something about the Peacock's intimate setting and the collection of strings that took me back ten years to a show by My Friend the Chocolate Cake. Like David Bridie, Stevenson neatly combined casual guitar with conventional orchestral arrangements to make music that was utterly original and captivating to the audience.

Stevenson's vocals were a unique feature in their various forms, while David Wilson’s steel guitar was a nice contrast to the resonant double bass played by Hamish Houston. It was this kind of variety in the performance that made it really interesting to listen to. I am not having a dig here — describing something as ‘interesting’ is not always a compliment. But lots of new compositions may be different and enormous fun for the performers, but don’t hold the audience’s attention simply because they are just not that compelling.

The Peacock Theatre continues to be a testimony to the fact that size does not matter, and it was a great venue for this chamber-sized orchestra. Beautifully lit by a hotch-potch of lamps, possibly swiped off every desk in the Arts Centre, it lent to the feeling of being part of an intimate lounge room performance. Perhaps the only let down was that there were numbers in which it was difficult to hear Stevenson's vocals over the strings; a problem in the songs where the narrative was a significant feature of the piece.

It might be altruism that leads Stevenson to write music for other musicians and give them something endemic to play, or it might just be selfishness drawing in other performers to enhance his own work. I don't really believe it is the latter, and for me the motive doesn’t matter because the outcome is wonderful.

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