Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Out of Exile

(photo by Daisy Noyes)

I have just been to a live recording of a chamber opera / music theatre work by Australian composer Helen Gifford.  The work, Exile , (after Euripides' Iphegenia in Tauris) was composed in 1985 and has never been performed.  This beautiful work has sat on a shelf for 25 years, unheard except by the composer, until David Young of Chamber Made Opera (and until recently artistic director of Aphids) 're-discovered' the work and got the project rolling.  Exile has been recorded as part of an ambitious co-production between Chamber Made Opera, Aphids and Speak Percussion to create what may be the world's first iPad opera in conjunction with new media artists Champagne Valentine (Amsterdam).

There are several reasons why all of this is worth writing about.  
Exile is a beautiful and powerful piece of music. The performance featured soprano Deborah Kayser, a phenomenal performer whose voice defies description.  The work was performed un-staged, un-costumed, in a very un-atmospheric auditorium but Kayser's performance transcended all of this.  Watching her perform was like being given glimpses of another reality, almost a sensation of something else being lived and experienced behind a curtain - not visible but none the less palpable.  The music itself was restrained and subtle and intense. As a listener I was completely transfixed.
And this work that lay unheard for 25 years is about to be transformed into something entirely new, a second incarnation - an "interactive music-video iPad application" - not something Helen would have envisaged when she wrote the piece in 1985.  I find it incredibly heartening that a composer in her 75th year can hear a premier of a work composed decades earlier and then see / hear the work take on a previously unimagined second life.  As a composer it is easy to become disillusioned when works don't get performed and sit on a shelf un-realised - this is actually quite common. The process of presenting a work in a public performance can be very involved, complex and often costly, particularly when larger groups of musicians are required. After 25 years I think I might have given up on ever hearing this piece.  How wonderful then that others, several generations younger, have had the commitment and energy to bring this beautiful work to life and to an audience.

1 comment:

  1. that's a wonderful story! i love when a live music performance gives that sense of transcendence. nothing else comes close.