The Harvest of Endurance: A Scroll and a Concert — CIMF 2017

The Harvest of Endurance: A Scroll and a Concert — CIMF 2017
 William Yang photographed by Peter Hislop

Concerts rarely come as unique as this one

The performers were William Yang Narrator, Ensemble Offspring, The Song Company, plus Luminescence Chamber Singers all conducted by Roland Peelman.

Canberra International Music Festival outdid itself with this concert. The inspiration for the 18 works created is the “Harvest of Endurance.”It’s a 50-metre-long scroll of 18 panels, which embodies a visual story of Chinese association and emigration to Australia.

Yang began the concert with a short history of the Chinese in Australia. For each piece played, its image on the scroll was shown on a large screen above the players. The scroll was also on display nearby. Several pieces were instrumental only, some just for voice and others a combination of the two. Yang narrated the story of the scroll between works.

The Anti-Chinese sentiment of the time

Soon into the concert, the work titled “Anti-Chinese violence - Lambing Flat riots”, written by Vincent Plush, another narrator stepped up and gave us a dramatic reading of a text that was about the Anti-Chinese sentiment of the time. This theatrical and forceful work included foot stomping, which seemed to indicate the Anti-Chinese marching over the Chinese miners.

Ruth Lee Martin, composed her work “A safe haven - Isolated and homesick” after the panel titled “The Return of Cheng Ho Sixth Voyage”. It was a soft, sad song, sung by both groups, to a text by Alan Gould.

“The rise of merchants - Market gardens and musicians”, by Anne Boyd, was a Chinese inspired piece full of colour and variation.  The concert had to be stopped for a moment after this work due to a medical issue with an audience member.

Next a percussion driven piece by Erik Griswold

The Harvest of Endurance: A Scroll and a Concert — CIMF 2017
 Claire Edwards photographed by Peter Hislop

This work titled “Vendors and cooks – Laundries and factories”, based on a traditional Sichuan Street song. Claire Edwards, director of Ensemble Offspring on percussion made this work come alive with her wonderful playing.

A song of the revolution

During the concert, they played a piece of recorded music, a Chinese song of the revolution.  It seemed at least one person in the audience knew this song and appeared startled upon hearing it.

Stephen Cronin’s work, “Opium – Revolution in China”, after the panel titled “Opium”, moved the audience with its transcending sound that was created so effectively by the cello and bowed xylophone.

A piece that swayed between a contemporary feel and an African-American spiritual song, titled “Developing the North – Riverboat trade”, by Stephen Leek came next. This choral composition was exceptionally beautiful and plaintive.

Gerard Brophy’s work, “Sostenuto”, for violin and piano created a haunting atmosphere with its bell-like tolling on the piano, as the violin slid through the sparse tones left ringing through the air by the echoing piano.

Our national anthem?

The next piece started with what I thought was our national anthem, and after a few bars, it became more recognisable. It was a playful and creative rendition of Advance Australia Fair by Julian Yu, titled “Colombo Pan and Multiculturalism”.

The final work by Caroline Szeto, titled “Maai Maai” after the panel, “Australia’s Bicentenary – towards the future” performed by all groups was a strong finish to a diverse and original concert.

The Harvest of Endurance: A Scroll and a Concert — CIMF 2017
 Photo by Peter Hislop
This review first appeared in CityNews