BY CHRISTOPHER LEON
Silence (Dark Mofo)
Tamara-Anna Cislowska (piano), Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra strings
Federation Concert Hall, 28 June
Not clapping during classical music movements is generally accepted as common practice. But when I arrived at the TSO players’ performance of Silence, curated by Rainer Jozeps, I wasn’t expecting a ban on clapping after pieces all together. And as strange as the concept of not clapping after a performance may seem, it was entirely appropriate for the evening’s event.
The program featured Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Elgar’s Sospiri, and, of course, the lonely John Cage’s 4’33”; each work evoking a feeling of reminiscence through their slow and emotional paces. All pieces were preceded by a minute of silence, accompanied by a quote projected onto a screen above the stage, reflecting the theme of silence. Despite the one-minute pauses between pieces and the delicate dynamics of some of the works, the gale-force winds outside the venue demanded to be heard.
The scaled-down performance set-up of solo piano and strings was small in comparison to the size of the concert hall. However, the sound produced by the musicians was full and incredibly dynamic.
The evening began with Adagio for Strings, setting the ambience that would remain throughout the performance. The hustle and shuffling of the audience seemed to fade away, as the strings began their sorrowful ascent that inspired complete captivation. At the conclusion of Barber’s work, it was entirely necessary to take a minute to pause and reflect, whether on the musical experience itself, or the images and sensations the music evoked.
I sat there reminiscing about the last few notes of the work for what seemed like a short while, before the next quote faded in and out of existence on the screen and the musicians began their performance: Peteris Vasks’ The Fruit of Silence. The piece is usually performed with choir, but the strings took over the melancholy melody while pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska played a beautiful and fragile role.
As if the audience wasn’t already awash with a mood of introspective philosophising, Elgar’s Sospiri was sure to tranquilize drifting minds. The emotive high strings fuelled by sadness and solemnity made the intimate performance sound exponentially grander. The visceral atmosphere of the outside blowing winds added a unique layer of tension to the piece, not allowing the listener to refrain from listening, or to stop being involved in the performance, for even a moment.
Following Elgar came Joseph Schwantner’s Veiled Autumn, a piano piece with slow, patient movements. The notes were left lingering as the listeners sat still and silent, drawn in by the dynamic playing of Cislowska.
My favourite work of the evening was the performance of Takashi Yoshimatsu’s And Birds are Still…; the complex and repetitive violin lines creating a unique and beautiful texture in which I found myself becoming lost with every new direction.
However, I was left feeling slightly cheated after the Yoshimatsu, as Arvo Part’s Fur Alina became the subject of focus. The pieces’ drawn-out solo piano lines lingered almost painfully to the point of disengagement. The piece perhaps would have been better suited toward the beginning of the performance – as Yoshimatsu’s swirl of notes and rising and falling harmonies left me wanting more of the same.
The performance concluded with that oh-so-famous piece John Cage’s 4’33”. However, it felt more like 6’33” with the one-minute silence before and after the performance. I almost found myself chuckling as, somewhere, a member of the audience spluttered an indiscriminate bodily function – just as the pianist closed the lid to signal the end of the piece.
By experiencing the Dark Mofo performance of Silence, I learnt that when all is still, less really can be more, and that silence can have its own unique musical voice.
Image: Dark Mofo/Lusy Productions 2017. Courtesy Dark Mofo, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.