Whispering Gums: The Griffyns launch 2014

You have to be hardy to be a follower (or subscriber) of Canberra’s chamber group the Griffyn Ensemble, about whom I’ve written several times before. Take, for example, the opening concert of their 2014 season. It was held at the National Library of Australia to coincide with the Mapping Our World exhibition. We started in the foyer on the ground floor – sitting on the few scattered seats or on the marble stairs that lead to the mezzanine floor, or standing. We then moved to the conference room on the fourth floor. With only two lifts (elevators) available, the attendants opened the doors to the stairs, which several of us took, not realising where we were heading. Four floors later we emerged, some puffing more than others, to be met by vivacious soprano, Susan Ellis, singing to us as she gave us our programs. We found our seats and settled in for what we hoped would be an entertaining evening. We were not disappointed – but then, have we ever been?

This year’s theme is Fairy Tales but, as before, the theme is broadly defined. The Lost Mapmakeris described in the season booklet as follows:

A mapmaker, trapped outside reality, is trying to draw her way back into the world. Incomplete maps of Australia allow the lost mapmaker, who is only able to communicate through pen and ink, to create an alternative version of reality.

Quartet performing John Gage's A story

Our and the mapmaker’s journey started in the foyer with visual artist Annika Romeyn drawing on an easel while four of the Griffyns sat in a circle, performing the second movement from John Gage’s Living Room Music. The work is a percussion and speech quartet, and the second movement, appropriately title “A story”, involves the players presenting a percussive rhythmic reading of words from Gertrude Stein’s The World is Round: “Once upon a time the world was round and you could go on it around and around.” Words are repeated, round-like, emulating the meaning of the piece. It was an effective, lively opening to the concert, and certainly got us ready to be told a story or two.

Once upstairs the ensemble performed a varied program, ranging from a movingly rendered traditional song by John Dowland, “In darkness let me dwell”, to pieces by popular musicians Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys (“Our prayer”) and Roger Waters and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd (“Comfortably Numb”). It included works by contemporary American composers Lou Harrison (“Song” and “The Clay’s Quintet”), Charles Dodge (“The Waves”) and John Kennedy (“Eagle Poem”). The performance concluded with “Attica” by another American composer, Frederic Rzewski, using words by Sam Melville who was killed in the 1971 Attica Prison Riots. As always, the music challenged us musically and conceptually, but that’s why, I think, most of us love Griffyn Ensemble concerts. We meet new composers or new arrangements of works well-known to us, and we meet them in unusual settings, physical and contextual.

While the ensemble performed, Annika Romeyn drew, using pen, brush and ink on paper that was projected onto a screen. Her drawings took us on a journey through half-made maps, via mythological beings (such as dragons) and gods (such as Aeolus the wind god), a tall ship and a mariner’s compass. It was dynamic, with images being reworked, transformed, as the music moved on. Occasionally, the drawings were replaced by words, devised by author Katie Taylor. “I must name what I see” reminded us of the early explorers and “This country was known before I came” made a pointed reference to “terra nullius”. The Griffyns do not shy from politics.

This year’s ensemble has a new look. Two original members, percussionist Wyana and clarinettist Matthew O’Keeffe, have, sadly, decided that new parenthood and being resident in Melbourne make it too hard for them to continue. We’ll miss them. But, their replacements, double bassist Holly Downes and violinist Christ Stone, both from the folk chamber group, The String Contingent, are looking good. Meriel Owen, the current harpist, was replaced for this concert by the ensemble’s original harpist, Laura Tanata. I still remember a haunting  piece featuring Tanata and flautist Kiri Sollis, some years ago, so was delighted to see Tanata again.

Musical director Michael Sollis is a talented jack-of-all-trades – performer, conductor, composer, arranger, and administrator/entrepreneur. He has an eye for opportunities around town that will work with the ensemble’s ethos and is keen to encourage collaboration with other artists/creators. This shows not only in the venues they perform in, and the variety of music they play, but in associated aspects such as the printed program. Not for them a set format. This program was presented as a scroll, complete with red seal. Visually beautiful, it needed attention to work it out – which I managed when the lights came up during intermission. What did I say about the Griffyns demanding much of their followers!

I haven’t said much about the playing, which is a bit silly given I’m writing about a concert. There was, I think, more whole-ensemble work in this concert and it worked, though the solo and small group pieces have often provided highlights in the past. The new players have slotted in easily, the new instrument mix is possibly more natural than the old, and I do like a double bass! But I will miss Matthew’s clarinet and Wyana’s engaging personality and percussion work. Life, however, moves on – and now we must wait until August for the next concert in the season.

You can hear other versions of some of the music on You Tube:

PS I should mention the concert’s supporting act – a new thing for this season. It was Canberra’s new young group, the Telopea Trio, who gorgeously played pieces by Beethoven, Haydn, Piazzola and Dvorak.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2014 11:15 am

    This sounds wonderful! I love the premise of the story, making another reality from partial maps. I’m fascinated by the ancient and medieval maps that drew their world from different perspectives of what was most important to them. And a lovely idea to have the audience go on a journey — even if it included the equivalent of mountain climbing! I haven’t heard Griffyn Ensemble, but I’m off to listen to the links you provided. Thanks, WG.

    • February 24, 2014 2:19 pm

      A pleasure Robyn. Unfortunately the links aren’t to their versions, but they give you a sense of the diversity of this group. I think you can also find a version of Attica on You Tube.

  2. February 24, 2014 4:30 pm

    Sounds completely fascinating. And who says Canberra doesn’t get culture! 😉

  3. Carol Booth PERMALINK
    February 24, 2014 5:44 pm

    Sounds wonderful

  4. February 25, 2014 5:00 am

    The Griffyns are back! What a wonderful evening by the sound of it. Your posts about their concerts never fail to fascinate me. I don’t think we have anything similar going here in my area and I wish we did!

    • February 25, 2014 8:17 am

      Thanks Stefanie … I always feel a bit of a fraud writing them as I have no musical training at all and not a finely tuned ear, but I love music.

      • March 9, 2014 6:58 pm

        Please don’t feel like a fraud Whispering Gums! We truly value our audience’s opinions and we enjoy reading your concert reviews. They are detailed, thoroughly researched and give us informative feedback from a music lover which is very important! As an ensemble member, I think I speak for all of us in thanking you for your continued attendance to our concerts and for taking the extra time afterwards to write your concert reviews. We really appreciate them!

        • March 9, 2014 9:40 pm

          Oh Susan, that’s really nice of you to say. Thank you. I’m sure you can tell that I really love the Griffyns!

  5. acommonreaderuk PERMALINK
    February 26, 2014 5:57 am

    Quite astonishing – what a concert that is. The Dowland is the only one I know. John Cage? If they make his music palatable they’ve done a good job. You’ve written an engaging article here and it makes me wish I could have gone along.

    • February 26, 2014 9:06 am

      Yes, John Cage! They often play obscure music, some more challenging to our ears than others but always with such heart and responsiveness to the audience that you can’t not enjoy it.

Whispering Gums: Griffyn explores Water with the Swine

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink
(from The rime of the ancient mariner bySamuel Taylor Coleridge)

I suppose it could be seen as clichéd to hear these words in a concert called “Water” but when the performers are the Griffyn Ensemble, cliché would be the furthest word from your mind.

“Water” was the last performance in the Water into Swine Festival, 28 March to 5 April, which was the result of an “exchange” between Canberra’s Griffyn Ensemble and Sweden’s Peärls Before Swïne Experience. The Swïne (“The Peärls are the music”, they say) specialise in performing new music and are consequently a good match for the Griffyns with their eclectic and open-minded approach to music.

This concert was a little different to previous Griffyn concerts we’ve attended. Firstly, of course, the Griffyn performers were supplemented by four Swedes; and secondly, the concert programming, perhaps because of the exchange, was a little looser. There was a theme – water – but the connections were, let us say, more fluid! And the program was, I think, a little less diverse, a little less eclectic. I love that they dare to program, as they did in Behind Bars,Johnny Cash next to Theodorakis next to Messaien next to new or lesser-known composers.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy “Water” – because I certainly did – or that it wasn’t eclectic – because it was. It just felt less so!

One of the things I enjoy about the Griffyn Ensemble that I may not have mentioned before is the balance they strike between formal professionalism and something more informal and intimate. Their performances mimic how I think chamber music was originally performed:

Because of its intimate nature, chamber music has been described as “the music of friends.” For more than 200 years, chamber music was played primarily by amateur musicians in their homes, and even today, when most chamber music performance has migrated from the home to the concert hall, many musicians, amateur and professional, still play chamber music for their own pleasure. Playing chamber music requires special skills, both musical and social, that differ from the skills required for playing solo or symphonic works. (from Wikipedia)

This, a sense of intimacy and joy, is what the Griffyn Ensemble manages to achieve – and it is special to be part of it. So, for example, “Water” incorporated a piece – Sloop John B – which was sung by five young boys led by soprano Susan Ellis and featuring young William (Will) Duff (from Behind Bars) who confidently held a second part against, at times, not only the main part sung by the other boys but other instrumental activity behind him. Also, we were addressed, naturally, conversationally, by Australian sailor Kanga Birtles who has circumnavigated the world solo. He spoke of the perils and joys of sailing, of trade winds and being on the water. His words supported the concert’s loosely defined motif which was to do with the old windjammers sailing from Europe to Australia. This motif was conveyed through Swedish pieces played by the Swïne, and pieces from Madagascar (courtesy Ravel), West Indies, Australia and the United States, played by various combinations of the two groups.

Griffyn Ensemble, Belconnen Arts Centre

The most powerful piece of the first half was Robert Erickson‘s Pacific Sirens performed by the full ensemble (piano, flute, harp, violin, cello, guitar, mandolin, percussion, voice – with recorded sound effects). It was an evocative and eerie piece that confirmed my preference for terra firma! I also enjoyed the world premiere of Australian composer Marián Budoš’ Clepsydra which, apparently, means water-clock. It’s a lovely piece with some jazzy elements to it.

While the first half focused primarily on the sea, the second half looked at water from various angles. One piece was the first movement of New Zealand composer Gareth Farr’s Taheke, which is Maori for waterfall. It was performed gorgeously by Kiri Sollis (flute) and Meriel Owen (harp). Flute and harp is a combination I usually enjoy. This half also featured the world premiere of Griffyn Ensemble director Michael Sollis’ Water into swine. Played by the Swïne (violin, cello, piano, flute), it also included vocalisations representing the dripping of water. As violinist George Kentros suggested, “there’s a hole in the bucket”. Playing their instruments while simultaneously vocalising (except for the flautist of course) looked pretty tricky but the players achieved it with a good deal of aplomb!

The Birtles family reappeared in the second half via a reading, by Susan Ellis, of some excerpts from Kanga’s mother (and Kiri Sollis’ grandmother) Dora Birtles’ journal Northwest by Northabout the trip she did in 1932 in a cutter from Sydney via New Guinea to Singapore. The reading was illustrated by Michael Sollis’ piece, Scenes from Ballad of a Highlands Man, which was performed surround-sound style with Michael and Kiri Sollis playing a traditional flute-like instrument from behind the audience.

I’ve mentioned only a few pieces played during the evening. We also saw Susan Ellis finger-clickin’ and barefootin’ around the “stage” to Alex Wilder‘s Sea Fugue Mama and heard, interspersed through the concert, the three movements of Swedish composer Klas Torstensson‘s Pocket size Violin Concerto, which challenged us with its mix of discordant and lyrical sounds and which was performed with confidence and enthusiasm by the group for which it was written.

Once again I thoroughly enjoyed the Griffyns. They always manage to put on a concert which appeals to a concert-goer like me, that is, one who is a reader-who-likes-music, who likes to think about what the music means, the stories it is telling, the emotions it is conveying. This concert, with its many watery atmospheres, gave me plenty to think about.

Other versions of some of the pieces:

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2013 5:07 am

    I know I should comment on the Griffyn Ensemble, but the truth is that that poem now always makes me think of Max in SeaChange, and Laura and Max getting stuck on that little rowboat, and my heart feels broken and hopeful all at once. xo

    • April 7, 2013 9:04 am

      The thing about the Griffyns is that they can take you in multiple directions … And yours is a watery one leading to emotional ones. I reckon they’d be pleased.

  2. April 7, 2013 6:11 pm

    Sounds very beautiful and challenging. Meanwhile over here my daughter sang a soprano solo in a round and scrolled church in Padua!

    • April 7, 2013 7:02 pm

      That’s it Catherine – beautiful and challenging. And good for your daughter. I bet she was wonderful. I haven’t been to Padua, but it’s on my list.

  3. April 9, 2013 3:14 am

    Wow, what a great evening! I like the sound of the variety the Griffyns offer, it isn’t just sitting in silent darkness listening to music but a whole experience. I imagine the must be sold out all the time and hard to get tickets for.

    • April 9, 2013 7:59 am

      It is a whole experience, Stefanie, which I love … I’m not sure that they always sell out, because they are a unique group, but they get good audiences and I think this last concert did and up being close to capacity. They have their groupies, of which we are two!

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Whispering Gums: Illicit Passions of Griffyns

Ha! That got you in didn’t it? Or, didn’t it? It’s been a while since I wrote about a music event. That’s not because I haven’t been to any but because I’m no expert and prefer not to put that on show too often. However, the Griffyn Ensemble is a young, talented ensemble and deserve, I think, to be recognised, encouraged and promoted – and so here I am again, talking about a musical evening.

I have written about the ensemblebefore but, just to recap, it is a small chamber ensemble which likes to push chamber music into unexpected directions. That includes composing and/or arranging music themselves, premiering the works of other contemporary composers, playing non-chamber music in a more-or-less chamber setting and, sometimes, even, playing chamber music. The concert we attended this weekend was titled Illicit Passions:

From Baroque to Rock ‘n Roll, The Griffyn Ensemble returns with inflamed desires and rapture, performing music exploring the sordid side of love with songs inspired by carnal lust, women of the night and tortured romance, and featuring stories from Ancient Greece to a surreal future. (from the programme)

Sounds a bit like the kitchen-sink, doesn’t it? And, in some senses it was, but this is a group that likes to take its audience “on a journey” rather than, as their musical director Michael Sollis said at the concert, “just playing pieces”.

The ensemble currently comprises:

  • Michael Sollis, Musical director and composer
  • Kiri Sollis, Flute (etc)
  • Matthew O’Keeffe, Clarinet (etc)
  • Wyana Etherington, Percussionist
  • Carly Brown, French Horn
  • Meriel Owen, Harp
  • Susan Ellis, Soprano

Because it is such an eclectic group of musicians, their concerts tend to provide opportunities to showcase individuals though solo and small group performances. And so at this concert we had, for example, Meriel Owen premiering, on the celesta, an intriguing piece composed by Sollis, titled “Letter to a Greek Nymph”; Kiri Sollis and Meriel Owen playing Debussy’s sublime“Prelude à l’après d’un faune”; Matthew O’Keeffe and Kiri Sollis playing a gorgeous rendition of “Send in the clowns“; and Susan Ellis singing, from the back of the room, a heart-rending a capella interpretation of Tori Amos‘ “Me and a gun“. There were also some very entertaining rounds of 18th century drinking songs sung by Michael Sollis, Wyana Etherington and Meriel Owen, and a whole lot more music, ranging from Beethoven to The Police! The concert concluded with a mesmerising (and unfamiliar to me) arrangement of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” sung by Ellis, accompanied by Etherington.

The programming was a little odd – but entertaining for all that. I’m not sure how “Forever Young” fits into the theme of “illicit passions” but it could I suppose suggest the “surreal future” referred to in the programme notes. The programme sequencing took us on a bit of a wild ride in which the connections were not always completely clear. But – and this is a big but – the performers played (and sang) beautifully and I do like music programming that’s innovative, that challenges we audiences to think about what we’re hearing and why. There’s joy in this ensemble – even when the music is sombre.

Silver moon upon the deep dark sky,
Through the vast night pierce your rays.
(From “Song to the moon”, by Antonin Dvorak)

… sang Ellis, early in the second half. Some 30 minutes or so later, we went out into the dark sky, gladdened that we have such an ensemble in our town.


15 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2011 10:15 pm

    This sounds as though it was wonderful. I love evenings of eclectic music from small ensembles such as this and we are very fortunate where I live because we have half a dozen venues where we can hear such performances regularly. In fact, we’re soon to get another one, because the local University is in the middle of building a new concert hall which will open in about eighteen months time. I’m so glad you enjoyed this and I refuse to be envious because I so many opportunities of my own to enjoy similar pleasures.

    • April 3, 2011 11:10 pm

      Oh good, my aim wasn’t to make you envious so I’m glad you are refusing that pull. University towns usually have a healthy cultural life so I’m not surprised you have your own opportunities. I wish I could get to more … but last month was stellar with 3 different experiences: a chamber music concert featuring Andreas Scholl, a gospel choir performance with a visiting American conductor, and a local jazz group. I love such variety. This month has started off well …

      • April 5, 2011 2:53 am

        Oh, I heard Scholl in ‘Saul’ two or three years ago. He was magnificent!

        • April 5, 2011 7:55 pm

          Yes, he’s wonderful. We first saw him in 2006 and he sang a variety of songs including some English folk songs. I bought the folk songs CD, Wayfaring stranger I think it is called, and it is one of my favourite CDs. Saul would have been wonderful. This concert was Purcell and Handel (but not Saul).

  2. April 4, 2011 6:13 am

    Damn I thought you’d taken the leap to the dark side.

    On the music front (since we are having a chat), I just bought Eminem’s Recovery. The Xplicit version, naturally.

  3. April 4, 2011 4:54 pm

    I’m so glad you had a lovely time! I know I would’ve loved this, so hopefully you enjoyed it enough for the both of us 🙂

  4. April 7, 2011 2:22 am

    This sounds like a lovely evening with such an interesting variety of music. I have never heard of a celesta, so thanks for teaching me something new 🙂

    • April 7, 2011 8:22 am

      Thanks Stefanie. I continually gobsmacked by the new instruments that keep coming out of the woodwork … I’d heard of a celeste/celesta before but if you’d asked me what it was I’d have been hardpressed. It has a very unusual sound.

  5. April 7, 2011 3:59 am

    Re. I do like music programming that’s innovative

    Back in January we spent a day at the local county’s annual bluegrass festival, and the organisation, the programming, was so smart, that it gave this small-scale event a depth and largeness that it could easily not have had. There were amateur bands (the local banjo pickin’ collective, the nearby we-meet-in-Joe’s-garage-one-a-week fiddling troupe) and professional bands, and the professional bands might have been chosen for the contrasts between them — this was where the cleverness was — because I came away feeling that I’d had a rounded view of what bluegrass was, and might be, from just five groups of musicians. There was a family band singing religious harmonies, there was a physically vigourous band that finished its set with a bluegrass version of an ’80s pop song, there was a band of ancient farmers so stiff in the joints that they planted themselves in front of the microphones with the help of canes and afterwards barely moved a thing but their hands and heads, one group fast and heartless, another group slow and sentimental, one group with a fiddle, another group with no fiddle, one group with a washtub bass, the rest with no washtub bass. A beautiful balancing act from whatever person or committee was responsible for that line-up.

    • April 7, 2011 8:29 am

      That sounds wonderful – and the sort of mix I enjoy at the National Folk Festival (only a few weeks ago – and I love it). Have we discussed this before? The bluegrass brothers from Melbourne: We saw them at the NFF last year and they were wonderful.

      PS I’d love to have seen the ancient farmers! Unadulterated traditional bluegrass would be a bit much after a while I think but a concert like the one you describe would be very appealing.

      • April 26, 2011 3:27 am

        I think you’re right — I’ve probably mentioned it before. (If I did, did I mention that the banjo-playing farmer had no front teeth?) I would love to see bluegrass from Melbourne. I was angling after the local blues group Collard Greens and Gravy for a while but somehow managed to miss them every time they had a show.

        The only thing that got a bit much was the jokes. I don’t know if there’s some kind of silent law that forces bluegrass musicians to pull out hoary one-liners but oh man, I wished they’d stop.

        • April 26, 2011 2:54 pm

          Yes, I’ve heard of Collard Greens and Gravy but I don’t think I’ve heard them. The jokes… that does seem to go with some folkie musicians, not just bluegrass, but fortunately I didn’t come across too many one-liners this year. But then again I didn’t see much bluegrass this year for some reason. Saw a great blues guitarist though, Fiona Boyes. Some good stories but not hoary one-liners.

Whispering Gums: Introducing the Griffyn Ensemble

The Griffyn Ensemble is an exciting chamber music ensemble based right here in our (that is downunder’s) national capital. The ensemble is named, in a fun wordplay, after Walter Burley Griffin, Canberra’s designer, and the mythical beast (the griffin, gryffin, or gryphon).

The group  was founded in December 2006 and its members are mostly, I believe, graduates of the ANU’s School of Music. It has had various make-ups over time including violin, viola and cello, but it currently comprises:

  • Kiri Sollis – Flute
  • Matthew O’Keeffe – Clarinet
  • Carly Brown – Horn
  • Laura Tanata – Harp
  • Wyana Etherington – Percussion
  • Susan Ellis – Soprano
  • Michael Sollis – Musical director and composer

Fascinating line-up eh? And the result is that they play some rather fascinating music – which focuses on the 20th and 21st centuries. The music, for those of us who have not had a lot of exposure to more contemporary classical music, can be a little obscure. But that’s fine with me, because I like to be introduced to more modern works as well as hear the old favourites, just as I love to read classic novels alongside the latest literary release.

Tales from Heaven and Hell

We’ve heard members of the ensemble a couple of times before, but on Saturday night we went to a concert performed by the current full ensemble at the lovely, new-ish Belconnen Arts Centre. It was a challenging but also enthralling program*:

  • Madrigals Book III (1969), by George Crumb (Soprano, harp, percussion)
  • Perelandra Piccolo Concerto (2010), by Michael Sollis (the full ensemble, with Kiri Sollis featuring on piccolo)
  • A Dybbuk Suite (1995), by The Klezmatics (the full ensemble)
  • Good Night (1989), by Henryk Mikolaj Górecki (Soprano, alto flute, harp, three tam tams)

I was intrigued by Crumb’s Madrigals which comprises three very short accompanied (though that word doesn’t do justice to the harp and percussion) vocal pieces of a style that was unlike anything I’ve heard before. The lyrics are drawn from Federico Garcia Lorca. All I can say is that it was a nicely controlled and expressive performance by the three musicians involved. Sollis’Perelandra Piccolo Concerto is a 4-movement piece inspired by CS Lewis‘ novel Perelandra – and featured, of course, the piccolo. The novel, which I haven’t read, tells the story of Elwin Ransom, who is sent to Perelandra (Venus) to prevent the Fall of a new Adam and Eve. The piece includes spoken text, effectively read by soprano Ellis. I must say that the piccolo is not my favourite instrument – particularly as a major solo instrument – as I tend to like something a little more mellow (like, say, the alto-flute in the last piece) but Kiri Sollis (the composer’s wife) did play it with both verve and skill. All in all a work that made you think while entertaining you at the same time.

However, it was probably the second half of the concert that moved me the most. I think this is because the first half had a more intellectual appeal – my brain had to work to enjoy it – while the second half appealed more to the emotions. A Dybbuk Suite contains all that paradoxical joy and melancholy that you tend to find in klezmer music and I found my foot tapping at times. Lovely.Good Night, on the other hand, mostly comprises a mystical, moody dialogue between harp and alto-flute with some voice and percussion near the end. It was quite mesmerising: Kiri Sollis and Laura Tanata seemed perfectly attuned to each other and played the piece at a controlled and measured pace. It quietly but gorgeously concluded what was a truly delightful concert.

(*This is not a formal music review – that is not my skill as I’ve said before – but simply my lay music-goer’s response to the concert)

14 Comments leave one →
  1. July 27, 2010 5:46 pm

    I like the inclusion of a harp…

    • July 27, 2010 7:15 pm

      Yes, I do too. There’s something about harps isn’t there. Flute and harp are a lovely combination too – I have a CD of Japanese melodies using flute and harp and it’s gorgeous.

      • July 28, 2010 9:58 am

        Out of curiosity: is it a koto, or a non-Japanese harp?

  2. July 28, 2010 3:38 pm

    No, DKS, not the koto but the normal harp. This is the CD – – though mine has a different cover. It’s Jean-Pierre Rampal and Lily Laskine (died 1988).

    • July 28, 2010 6:48 pm

      Excellent, thanks. I hadn’t heard of it, but those samples are nicely serene. I keep forgetting about harps, and then one of them heaves into view and I say to myself, “Oh, yah, that’s right, I like those things.” The last time I came across a harp was, I think, on the Rough Guide to Scottish Folk, and Wendy Stewart, a terrific folk harpist, was doing interesting things with Gary West, who was on pipes. A strange combination (one instrument all-sweet, the other all-sour, and then they threw in a snare drum, because everybody’s bagpipe-harp combo needs a snare drum), but they made it work.

  3. July 28, 2010 5:08 pm

    Sounds a very pleasant evening. I’m familiar with klezmer music being a bit of a squeezbox struggler myself. Gorecki – I only know his major works, not this one. Nice review

    • July 28, 2010 7:16 pm

      Tom: Thanks … I think it’s an example of how to do a music review without really doing a music review!

      Tom and DKS: My introduction to klezmer has been through the National Folk Festival primarily – where you get to hear the odd squeezebox and also a range of folk harps. Every year at the festival we seen to come up against yet another instrument that we hadn’t heard of before plus, of course, the old favourites.

      DKS: You may have missed my review of The Harp Consort a couple of months ago. Just in case you are interested, here’s a link: As you have probably gathered, I like those things too!

      • July 29, 2010 9:52 am

        I tried looking them (the Consort) up on youtube, but there’s more footage of a woman talking about the Consort than the Consort itself. Do you listen to koras much? I think you’d like them, if you don’t already.

  4. July 29, 2010 10:25 am

    DKS…I’m sorry you didn’t find much of them playing. I guess if you couldn’t find better I wouldn’t do better. No, I don’t listen to koras much, though have seen them at the folk festival. I do like them – tend to like a lot of the “folk-y” string instruments but it’s hard to hear them except in specialist venues isn’t it? (Must admit I had to look kora up as I tend to forget the names of a lot of the instruments I’ve heard OR remember the name and forget which one is which!)

    • July 29, 2010 7:11 pm

      True: they’re around, but you have to be either lucky or watchful to come across the things in person. Or at Womadelaide; I think they’ve had at least one kora player there each year for the past couple of years. Two years ago it was Toumani Diabate and the entire Symmetric Orchestra, which was a buzz. They’re much easier to find on CD.

      • July 30, 2010 12:06 am

        I plan to get to Womadelaide one of these days, though fortunately we do get a bit of world music at the NFF (as I think we’ve discussed before, haven’t we). I haven’t heard of the Symmetric Orchestra.

  5. July 30, 2010 9:07 pm

    Back in March, I think — I think? — when I posted about W. over at Pykk. The Symmetric is Diabate’s West African musical ensemble. One of the benefits of being internationally known is that you get to put together your own team of crack players who zoom around the stages of the world like musical Supermen, upholding the honour of the Mande Empire. I think he has one of their tracks on his myspace:

    • July 30, 2010 9:37 pm

      Oh, thanks DKS, I did read some of your Womadelaide posts didn’t I? But it’s hard to remember names that you haven’t experienced – at least for me! I’ll check out the MySpace link.

Southern Sky

What happens when Mt Stromlo and Aboriginal mythology collide with an Estonian composer? In the last 1990s Estonian composer/astronomer Urmas Sisask visited Australia to compose Southern Sky based on the southern constellations.

Sisask spent much time at Mt Strolmo Observatory (before it burnt down) and other observatories across Australia whilst also observing many Aboriginal rituals around the country. What resulted was a piece of music for every constellation in the sky with a connection to Aboriginal mythology.

Joined by astronomer Fred Watson, well known from his appearances on ABC Radio, the Griffyn Ensemble will perform the Australian premiere of Southern Sky, a decade after it was written in Australia. This special event will be held at the source of Sisask’s inspiration at Mt Stromlo Observatory and features celestial music, Aboriginal myth, and the story of the stars.

Friday March 30 2012, Mt Stromlo Observatory, Canberra 7:30pm
Saturday March 31 2012, Gasworks Studio Theatre, Melbourne 8pm
Sunday April 1 2012, Discovery Science and Technology Centre, Bendigo 5pm
With special guest, astronomer Fred Watson

Friday November 15 2013, Mt Stromlo Observatory, Canberra 8pm

You can read a blog article about the concert here.

A live performance was recorded for ABC Classic FM for Sunday Live in March, 2013

Chapter Two – The Three Futurists

Sat 23 Aug 7pm; Sun 24 August 2pm
Belconnen Arts Centre

Science – Do you believe? Can you have faith? The Griffyn Ensemble and choreographer Liz Lea will take you on an epic journey evoking mechanical progress, ancient prophecy, and an Orwellian future, to ask the question – who do you trust?

The Griffyn Ensemble’s annual National Science Week program features music by George Antheil, Jacob Tel Veldhuis, Ancient Greek poets, Radiohead, and Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein. What better way to celebrate National Science Week than to ask the fundamental question:

Do you believe?

(For tickets and memberships, click here)

(see map below)
118 Emu Bank
Belconnen ACT 2615

On street parking, and at the adjacent Westfields.

Supported by ACT Government


Chapter Three – House on Fire

Sat 13 Sept 2pm; Sun 14 Sept 2pm
National Gallery of Australia

Discover your place and identity in Arthur Boyd’s surreal Australian-like wilderness with Clancy The Cockatoo. The Griffyn Ensemble team up with Canberra pop-duo The Cashews to tell the story of Clancy with House On Fire – a new program of original music composed by The Griffyn Ensemble and The Cashews, in association with The National Gallery of Australia. Rock out to Griffyn’s very first concept-album styled concert!

(For tickets and memberships, click here)

Supported by ACT Government

The Griffyn Ensemble

Described as “akin to a religious experience” (The Australian), and “Canberra’s premier chamber ensemble” (CityNews), The Griffyn Ensemble are a theatrical chamber ensemble, who break down the barriers of genre and recontextualise music from around the world – whether it’s Mexican avant-gardist Silvestre Revueltas; legendary songwriter Burt Bacharach; folk hero Mikis Theodorakis; and other living composers across Australia and around the world.

The Griffyn Ensemble are a sextet of composer/director (Michael Sollis), soprano (Susan Ellis), double bass (Holly Downes), harp (Meriel Owen), violin (Chris Stone), and flute (Kiri Sollis).  Past programs have included Island Universes: classical music inspired by Australia’s closest neighbours in Melanesia; Behind Bars: an installation in Old Melbourne Gaol with music written by composers in prisons and concentration camps; and Cloudy With A Chance of Rain: part weather-forecast, part-concert.

The Griffyn Ensemble are noted collaborators, and have worked with scientists such as astronomer Fred Watson, geomorphologist and weatherman Rob Gell, visual artist Annika Romeyn to create theatrical programs of chamber music. In 2013 Griffyn launched their inaugural festival with Swedish ensemble the peärls before swïne experience, staging 8 new music events in 10 days across Canberra.

Griffyn have been broadcast on ABC Classic FM, toured for Musica Viva In Schools, and were shortlisted for a 2008 Australian Classical Music Award.  Since 2006, Griffyn have performed over 80 Australian premieres and over 15 world premieres, and their Canberra concert series regularly sells out.

Winter Solstice

Fri June 20 6pm
National Library of Australia

White like black, like light and like darkness, connect literature, music, art, spirituality and science.

Cultures around the world have been observing the winter solstice for thousands of years. Join us to celebrate the universal wonders of light and dark and their resonances through contemporary art, music and poetry specially created for the Luminous World – Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection exhibition.

This special event features Rhys Muldoon reading the poetry of John Kinsella,  performances by the Griffyn Ensemble as well as storytelling and scientific discussion of celestial events.In association with Wesfarmers Ltd, Musica Viva Australia and The Brassey Hotel Canberra.

Michael Sollis

As director of Griffyn, Michael has an incredible knack for applying his passion for pretty much anything (and everything) to musical form: From Rugby League to astronomy; Melanesian society to American popular culture; and economic theory to his home town of Canberra.  It will thus be of little surprise that Michael’s background is in composition (with works performed by ensembles across Australia and the world) and anthropology (a published researcher in the interdisciplinary area of composition-anthropologist-linguistics). You will also see Michael play a host of plucked string instruments in a Griffyn concert (bouzoukis, mandolins, guitars), as well as Griffyn performing many of his own compositions.

Michael has lectured in tertiary composition at the Australian National University School of Music, and has made presentations on youth musical advocacy in places as far flung as Jinan (China), Istanbul (Turkey), and Tallinn (Estonia).  The local Rugby League community is also a big part of Michael’s life, having played and coached for the Gungahlin Bulls in the Canberra Raiders Cup.  You can find out more about Michael’s music and activity at his website here.  Michael is also Artistic Director, Education for Musica Viva Australia.