Grasslands and Aurora Orchestra at Melbourne Festival


For the Melbourne Festival, the front steps of the State Library of Victoria hosted Grasslands by Melbourne artist Linda Tegg. This ‘grand meditation on nature versus culture’  used specially grown native plants and grasses to restore the forecourt of the Library to the wilderness which would once have existed there.

The installation ‘recalls nature past and provokes reflection on the inexorable march of progress in the name of culture’. It’s a reminder of my good fortune to live on Kangaroo Island where such wildernesses are an everyday experience.

About 40% of the island is natural vegetation, much of it in national and conservation parks, and heritage areas. Many roadsides are remnants of what once was everywhere but they are subject to more and more pressure from ‘safety’ concerns and other human practices.

Our visual artists, who make up an unusually large percentage of our small population, produce sophisticated and varied art inspired by the beauty and peace they find on Kangaroo Island.

But sometimes I want more ‘culture’ than a small island population can hope to host. And the Aurora Orchestra delivered.

The orchestra’s Insomnia concert was possibly the best concert I have ever been to. It brought together exquisitely complementary works written across almost 300 years. Orchestra members came and went as needed;  when they were on stage they were present to the music.

Ivor Gurney’s Sleep and Vivaldi’s ‘La notte’ led into Brett Dean’s Pastoral symphony. I could have been on Kangaroo Island. Just like the real bush, there’s plenty of noise. Dean said, ‘ This piece is about glorious birdsong, the threat that it faces, the loss, and the soulless noise that we’re left with when they’re all gone’.

Then came Gyorgy Ligeti’s Poeme symphonique presented with thoughtfulness and love.

Metronome instructions
Metronome instructions

The 100 metronomes that perform the piece were mostly under random seats in the Melbourne Recital Hall. Instructions were on the back of the seat in front. And once the metronomes were set up interval began. Obsessives like me who had wanted to witness the piece for many years could stay for the full winding down and others could take a break.

The concert continued with ‘Blackbird’ by Lennon and McCartney, Francois Couperin and Benjamin Britten’s Nocturne, with the rich tenor voice of Allan Clayton.

Nicholas Collon and the Aurora Orchestra have ‘spent the past decade reinventing the concept of the chamber orchestra’ and on the evidence of this program have succeeded brilliantly with high calibre musicianship, adventurous programming and a care to engage the audience.

Metronomes performing Poeme symphonique by Gyorgy Ligeti
Metronomes performing Poeme symphonique by Gyorgy Ligeti

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