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The Griffyn Ensemble’s paean to the weather

August 15, 2012

It’s pretty much a given that a Griffyn Ensemble concert will be both entertaining and challenging – and their latest concert, Cloudy With a Chance of Rain, was no exception. But this concert had an added fillip: it was unashamedly political in addressing the thorny (for some) issue of climate change. Good on the Griffyns I thought.

Before I continue though, I’ll list the current line-up:

  • Kiri Sollis (Flute, etc)
  • Matthew O’Keeffe (Clarinets)
  • Wyana O’Keeffe (Percussion – hmm, it seems there’s been another wedding amongst the Griffyns as Wyana was previously Etherington)
  • Meriel Own (Harp)
  • Susan Ellis (Soprano)
  • Michael Sollis (Director, Composer, and Mandolin, etc)

That’s six, where there was once seven. I wonder what has happened to Carly Brown, their French Horn player? Anyhow, for this concert there was a seventh – geomorphologist and ex-weather presenter, Rob Gell.

So to the concert, which was described in the program as including works “spanning geography and genre contextualised through the four seasons, from the ancient ice ages to the distant future.” It commenced with Rob Gell introducing the climate theme by talking about the ice age and leading us nicely into the first part of the concert, labeled Winter, because the concert was organised by the four seasons. It was, in fact, the four seasons without the Four Seasons! Now that’s original programming, though poor old Vivaldi probably turned in his grave!

The music itself was highly varied, as we expect from the Griffyns. The concert started with a moody, contemporary piece, “White Scenery”, by Latvian composer, Pēteris Vasks. Originally a piano piece, it had been arranged by the Griffyns for harp, mandolin, flute and vibraphone. The other wintry pieces were Debussy’s “Snow is Dancing” played on harp, and Schubert’s song “The Linden Tree”. We then moved through the seasons, hearing a mix of traditional classic, contemporary, jazz and popular music. I can’t possibly list all the pieces now (which, in addition to Europe, came from places as varied as Japan, Uruguay and the southern US) … so will move onto …

Desert south of Woomera, South Australia

Desert south of Woomera, South Australia

What I, a reader who enjoys music, particularly love about the Griffyns: there’s always a literary element to their concerts and they always credit writers in their simple but useful programs. In this concert there were songs set to works by Wilhelm Müller (“The Linden Tree”), Ruth Valadares Corrêa, Rainer Maria Rilke and Herman Hesse among others, as well as an original work inspired by Patrick White. This work, “Mirage”, was composed by the group’s director, Michael Sollis, for piccolo and glockenspiel. It was inspired, the notes say, by “Patrick White’s image of the harsh Australian desert landscape – full of emptiness, desolation, relentless heat, and an unnerving sense of ritual”. Now, if I was intrigued and impressed by how the comparatively high registers of the flute could convey the depths of winter in Vasks’ “White scenery”, I thoroughly enjoyed the piccolo’s representation of a mirage for this summer piece. The piece played out a little like a cat-and-mouse game between the two instruments, with, surprisingly for the subject matter, an element of humour. Kiri Sollis and Wyana O’Keeffe did a lovely job with what was a musically and intellectually challenging but evocative piece. It was in the Summer narration that Gell made his strongest points about climate change, sharing some now well-known but still scary data about increasing temperatures, increasing rain, and the havoc these will cause.

I would love to list all my favourite pieces from the concert, but that would be most of them. While Vivaldi, thankfully really, wasn’t there, another obvious selection was – “Summertime”. I also loved Susan Ellis’ rendition of another favourite of mine, “Autumn Leaves”. The notes describe it as a 1945 French song made famous by Edith Piaf, but I know it best in a version by the lovely Eva Cassidy.

It was a good concert. It may have had a rough spot here and there, but it had life, and it teased our minds and moved our hearts. I’ll close with some words from Wilhelm Müller’s “The Linden Tree”:

When dreaming there I carved
Some words of love upon the bark
Both joy and sorrow
Drew me to that shady spot

“Joy and sorrow” in a “shady spot”. That just about says it all.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2012 12:03 am

    The concert sounds wonderful, though I must put in a plug for Vivaldi! We have a recording of Four Seasons by the London Philharmonic that also includes all the poems Vivaldi wrote to go with it read by Patrick Stewart. It is our “holiday” music at my house since we play it on Solstices and equinoxes, but especially on winter solstice when we have our extra special dinner and celebration. I digress from your wonderful concert though, I think it brave and good they included climate change since we are learning in the US right now that it is very real and it is now upon us. Though somehow there are still ostriches – mostly politicians – who deny it. sigh.

    • August 16, 2012 11:07 am

      Oh, don’t get me wrong, I do love The Four Seasons Stefanie … but I think it was good that they didn’t do the obvious. They like to be a bit edgy.

      As for Climate Change … it’s been a very hot political potato here for a few years now but we finally got a carbon tax on 1 July and, despite predictions to the contrary, the sky hasn’t fallen in (yet). (Hmm, that’s perhaps not the right analogy in this situation!). There are still the naysayers OR those who agree it is changing but that we humans have nothing to do with it. My bottom line view is that if there’s any chance that we do have some impact (and surely we do) then, given all the other benefits of reducing/changing our energy patters, why not do what we can?

      • August 17, 2012 12:30 am

        Yes, you are right, Vivaldi would be too obvious in this case. Edgy is good 🙂

        At least you all managed to get a carbon tax passed there, we can’t even get that far. Obama is really good at talking about alternative energy but the government can’t seem to go beyond just talking about it. I do what I can but the government really needs to step up.

        • August 17, 2012 7:58 am

          Agree … It does need government commitment to make the big stuff happen. The debate here has been been pretty heated and it was a close thing to get it through. Our current parliament is rather appalling in its narrow-minded short-term thinking.

  2. August 16, 2012 5:13 am

    Oh, I do adore Summertime and Autumn Leaves! Sounds like a concert I would have enjoyed too 🙂

  3. August 16, 2012 8:53 pm

    Interesting collection of instruments. Doubt anyone falls asleep at their concerts.

    • August 16, 2012 11:29 pm

      You’re right, Phil, they don’t. It’s a fascinating collection of instruments – which is one of the things I love about the group. Of course, not all instruments play every piece. A lot of pieces are played by little subsets.

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  1. The Griffyn Ensemble (Sollis) | Reviews, reports, press (AMC) | Scoop.it

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