Bravo ... bravo ... bravissimo! A Tasmanian Requiem ... is possibly the most significant piece of art to emerge from this island since colonization.
It is also extraordinarily beautiful. From the delicacy of the Island Brass Quintet as it melds with the voices in ways that at times appear to create a whole new instrument, to the singers - each one wielding vocal qualities and genres as if they were the tools of an alchemist, which at times, conductor Gary Wain appeared to be, bridging aeons between his baton and his percussion.
The voices of Earth, Palawa, and the chorus sing a story of origin and then of the fierce cultural forces that culminate in the tragic conflicts between the first people and the colonists. Such was the coherence between the music, the visuals and the message, that several times I felt tears springing unbidden - even before I was able to peruse the lyrics over Sunday breakfast.
Having lived for decades connected to both Native Hawaiian and Native American culture, I have found that living with the anger of those indigenous people was preferable to the ‘inescapable sadness that hangs in quiet gullies’ in Tasmania. (quote: Frances Butler, producer/writer)
It has been frustratingly obvious that the economic woes of this extraordinarily rich island are rooted in the denied shame and guilt that lie at the foundations of a society built upon the blood of the original inhabitants. This artist collective has successfully created a ceremonial event that has the potential to assist in bringing peace to this land and amongst the cultures dwelling here. I felt for the first time that it might be possible for this unique island to flourish once again. Repetition is key to the telling of stories to heal ancient wounds, so one can only hope that this work becomes integral to Tasmanian culture and is performed regularly.
At the NSW conservatorium in the early 1970’s, Peter Sculthorpe was the most memorable lecturer, inspiring my interest in modern composers, most of whom were overly fond of intellectualising sound at the expense of the heart. The concept of a ‘female composer’ receiving due respect was still something of a rumour in Australia. Much has changed in 40 years, but I found myself walking up Cameron street after the show glowing with pride for Helen Thomson who has composed a 21st century work of great passion and heartfelt beauty. I told my husband that I want to see a subsidised free performance of this work every year in a large public space on Invasion Day. His response, as an R and B rocker from Midwestern USA underlined how accessible is this piece: “It needs to be at the Opera House…and on film and is there a CD out yet because those sounds were amazing! They are still haunting my ears.”
A Tasmanian Requiem acknowledges the pain of two cultures torn hideously apart and then dares to weave threads of compassion between them. The tragedy and complexity are magnificently expressed in this inspired collaborative work of genius.
*jj earthschild is a musician, a composer, a poet and a writer. Having written for journals and papers in odd parts of the planet, she has recently published her first book ‘Meetings with Remarkable Animals’ (available at Fullers as of tomorrow!)...although there are a few others hidden under her desk. After living a most disreputable life on the edge and sometimes off it, she now teaches sound and voice to small groups and lives peacefully with her husband and her cat Q T Pi in Tasmania.