Bach: On Random with Oliver Mann and Mick Turner

Live music on shuffle



Bach: On Random
Oliver Mann, Mick Turner, co-presented with Australian Bach Society
XO Studios, Brunswick East, 29 April


Bach: On Random was a concert curated by bass baritone Oliver Mann, featuring two Bach cantatas and original solo works by guitarist Mick Turner (Dirty Three). The programming was inspired by the concept of the shuffle function on a music player – the two performances were in no way musically linked, but curated with the intention of exposing audiences to new music.

Mann’s own personal music listening taste was the main influence in the musical cohesion of the program. Having collaborated with Mick Turner in the past for Melbourne and Sydney arts festivals, Mann’s choice to include Turner in the bill was not ‘random’ in the true sense of the word, but rather a reflection of his own diverse music listening experiences. The cantatas – Ich habe genug and Der friede sei mit dir – performed by Mann and accompanied by members of the Melbourne Baroque Orchestra (dubbed ‘The Oliver Mann Consort’ by comedian and MC Alan Brough), performed the works with absolute commitment and ease.

Mann’s vocal performance was strong and maintained a good balance between Baroque technique and his own personal expression. The highlight performance from the ensemble was the part of the obbligato oboe in the first movement of Ich habe genug, performed by Kirsten Barry of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. The highly detailed melody of the oboe part in this cantata is, like many soli of the time, a result of imitating improvisation. Barry possessed the skill to make the solo sound completely her own, the ornamentation fitting in amongst the ensemble’s accompaniment so naturally that it was not obvious her part was performed note for note.

Mick Turner’s two performances were beautiful and fleeting. Whilst Turner’s current projects often include full soundscapes created through loops and effects, this set was stripped back, using just an octave pedal. Mick’s two performances, lasting for around five minutes each, were sparse, soulful, improvised. They were over before we knew it, and a welcome contrast to the highly decorated and gothic cantatas.

In terms of programming, the difference in running time between the two acts was jarring. Personally, I wanted Turner to play for a longer time in order to give balance to the evening, and it left me unsatisfied. However, curating a balanced program would not have been consistent with the concept of ‘random’ – so in this respect, it was still a success.

There were a lot of dichotomies at play in this concert. A converted warehouse studio in upper East Brunswick, filled with chairs borrowed from the church around the corner; the Baroque strings and bows and Turner’s Telecaster; Alan Brough’s light-hearted introduction, and the cantata’s gothic lyrical material. These contradictions all at once strengthened the theme and provided a beautiful glimpse into the possibilities of modern and innovative programming.


Image supplied. Credit: Paul Philipson.

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