Live review: A Portrait of Meredith Monk

And Rubiks announces the Pythia Prize winner...



75 Years: A Portrait of Meredith Monk
Rubiks Collective
Melbourne Recital Centre, 23 October

What’d you miss?

  • A celebration of the “queen of interdisciplinary art and New York minimalism”
  • Tear-jerking interpretations of Monk
  • The announcement of the Pythia Prize winner


One of Australia’s most exciting contemporary music ensembles, Rubiks Collective, is also carving its name as a champion of women’s music. To mark the occasion of her 75th birthday, Rubiks honours Meredith Monk: the undisputed queen of interdisciplinary art and New York minimalism. In a retrospective celebration of her diverse musical output, Rubiks and Invenio Singers join forces to realise the innovative vocal textures for which Monk’s music is renowned.

In the opening Backlight (2015), we enjoy the rare chance to hear winds and low strings achieve Monk’s breathy, ethereal aesthetic. As the only non-vocal work on the program, Backlight gives the instrumentalists space to showcase their high level of skill and control – particularly in the second movement, where descending lines alternating between consonance and dissonance explore the idea of shade and light. A gradually ascending duet by guest musicians Ben Opie (oboe) and Justin Beere (clarinet) provides a brief moment of contrast, and their impeccable unison seems to send a shiver down the spine of the audience.

Masks, an a cappella excerpt from Monk’s 2002 opera Mercy, introduces the Invenio Singers, who are captivating in their execution of her trademark wordless singing and percussive vocal sounds. Invenio founder Gian Slater and Rubiks pianist Jacob Abela pay tribute to Monk in a tender arrangement of Gotham Lullaby, one of her most beloved vocal works. Full of the intimate, primal and somewhat confronting sounds that define the voice of Monk, my first thought is to question whether anyone else should attempt to perform this song, but I am soon convinced by Slater’s raw, appropriately tear-jerking interpretation.

As well as exquisite writing for the lower range of the harp (performed by Melina Van Leeuwen) and Tamara Kohler’s fearless execution of extended piccolo solos, Realm Variations (2012) showcases an impressive interchangeability between voices and instruments. Rather than functioning as a separate group, Invenio is now fully integrated into the ensemble texture, allowing material from the low male voices to shift seamlessly over to the bassoon, and patterns from the inner female voices to transform into a constant string accompaniment. In Urban March (2002), Rubiks percussionist Kaylie Melville steals the show with an extravagant solo at the end of the highly rhythmic ensemble piece.

Furthering their commitment to gender parity in contemporary music, the evening also announces Samantha Wolf as winner of Rubiks’ inaugural Pythia Prize (a new commission project designed to address the under-representation of self-identifying female composers in Australia). Rubiks will collaborate with the Melbourne-based artist on a new work for performance in both Australia and Germany, as part of their first international tour in July 2018.

Images supplied.

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