BY CHLOE SANGER
50th Birthday Concert
University of Melbourne, 16 July
A full time artist’s life is inevitably filled with a mixture of commissions and passion projects, and often the balance is difficult to strike. To remain afloat as a composer, the many necessary jobs and commissions may overtake the importance of one’s personal pursuits, often to leave them unfinished or unheard.
Australian/New Zealand composer Alan Griffiths has enjoyed a career spanning about 30 years, which have consisted of dozens of commissions from commercial works to feature films. However, he celebrated his 50th birthday with a concert featuring the compositions that mean the most to him. This included world premieres of some recent chamber works, and a full performance of his new solo piano album Introspection. The line-up for this concert was world class, featuring multi award winning violinist Zoe Freisberg and cellist Gemma Tomlinson, and internationally recognised pianist and Young Steinway Artist Nicholas Young.
The opening work, Etude, was composed in 2004 originally for the erhu, but aptly interpreted by Freisberg – she emulated the bright tone, wide, steady vibrato and earthy glissandi for which the Chinese string instrument is famous. It was certainly a highlight of the concert, as was the following piece, an unfinished trio, Lullaby Lost; dedicated to Griffiths’ brother Michael, who passed away in early 2016. The piece began with dark, foreboding melody, played unison by Freisberg and Tomlinson and minimally backed by Young. When the piece lightened in tone, the violin and cello lines drifted further and further apart, losing touch with each other in both melodic material and range. A hopeful final section was cut short by a long silence, then a singular high note drawn out by Freisberg with simplicity and feeling. As an outsider in a concert hall filled largely with family and friends, the feelings of loss were palpable. I looked around the room and the audience, including myself, were visibly moved by such a personal and excellently delivered elegy.
Introspection is a solo piano album pieced together from Griffiths’ compositions that he’d written over the years, in between composition jobs. Griffiths never intended to curate an album from these compositions but at the concert, Young noted how nicely these pieces work as a song cycle. Introspection is not in chronological order – in some areas, the pieces flow into one another; in others, there is distinct contrast and departure from musical material. Griffiths’ piano music is largely influenced by big names of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Elgar and especially Rachmaninov. But there were also pieces influenced by the likes of Gershwin and Herrmann, jazz and cinema composers from the 20th Century.
Reverie I, II and III, three works interspersed in the program, were outstanding examples of the great compositional balance of virtuosity, simplicity, fragility and drama that Griffiths achieves in Introspection. This is not an easy task for solo piano music. Young performed Introspection with full commitment as a satisfying communicator of the works.
Young said he believes Introspection is a remarkable exploration of a living composer’s life and personality, something that he considered a great honour to be part of. Personally, it was a pleasure as a young musician to celebrate an Australian/New Zealand composer, hearing the works that did not represent a career, but rather the individual behind it.
Nicholas Young will perform Griffiths’ Introspection again this year in rural Victoria.