Wednesday, March 9, 2022

TUMBLING LIKE STARS - AVE - Australian Vocal Ensemble

Directed by Katie Noonan

 Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse.

 Performance on 6th March reviewed by Bill Stephens

 Formed by multi-award winning vocalist, Katie Noonan, to satisfy her own yearning to sing with other people, Australian Vocal Ensemble, AVE was created in 2021. Choosing some of the finest vocalists in the country for her associates, the a capella ensemble consists of Noonan herself, mezzo-soprano, Fiona Campbell, tenor, Andrew Goodwin and bass-baritone Andrew O’Connor.

 Having formed the group Noonan has set some lofty ambitions for it. She wants to champion new Australian works, engage with First Nation peoples, and have community engagement in every concert. One of her first decisions was to commission 12 new works from composers including of Richard Tognetti, Ian Grandage and Canberran, Stephen Leek, set to the writings by David Malouf.

 This first Canberra concert by the ensemble, which drew a large appreciative audience to the Canberra Playhouse, was ostensibly to introduce the group to Canberra audiences as well as promote their first CD, “Tumbling like Stars” which features some of these compositions.

 True to her ambition to engage with First Nation peoples, the concert commenced with a jovial welcome to country from Auntie Violet. Later, towards the end of the program, the ensemble performed a charming arrangement of the J. S. Bach chorale “Straf’ mich nicht in deinem Zorn”, sung in the language of the Gubbi Gubbi, Noongar and Gadigal peoples.

 Presented in a relaxed atmosphere, with the various members of the ensemble taking turns in introducing the items and occasionally engaging directly with the audience, the concert commenced with Stephen Leek’s specially commissioned piece, “Stars”, which contained the lyric which provided the title of the program.

 From the 12 specially commissioned new Australian works, compositions by Jessica Wells, Anne Cawrse, Isaac Hurren, Thomas Green, Robert Davidson and Alice Humphries were also performed, interspersed with three classical pieces; two in arrangements by Andrew Goodwin; J.S Bach’s “Jesu Mein Freude” and “Tu Del  Ciel by G.F. Handel.

 The program concluded on a reflective note with the John 14.27, “Peace I Leave With You”, also arranged by Goodwin for his father’s funeral.

 As expected, given the reputations of these singers, the singing throughout was exquisite, the commissioned works interesting, but, as is sadly becoming the norm, there were no printed programs available. This was unfortunate because despite the best efforts of the individual ensemble members with their introductions, it was often difficult to catch the names and titles of the compositions. As some of these works were quite complex as the concert progress, the items began to run together, making it hard to distinguish one from the other. 

 How much more enjoyable the concert would have been had the audience been able to access information about the composers, and the artists performing, while they listened to their compositions.

 I discovered next day that all this information, including lyrics, was available in an excellent digital program, which had possibly been emailed to ticket purchasers.  However I didn’t notice anyone referring to one during the concert. Given that the performance was one of largely new works, this was a shame, because, unless they purchased the CD on sale after the concert, most of the audience will retain little memory of these works, or their composers, once they left the theatre.


                                           Photo by Peter Hislop 

This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.