Looking back

15 years after we started Halcyon, we've decided it would be interesting to look back.  The years have been filled with performances, workshops, recordings and collaborations and on this page we're going to explore some of the highlights in the coming months.  For more detailed information on our performing history, click on the right hand links.  For our recordings page, click here.

Halcyon has been performing programs since 1998.  One of the interesting things about being a group directed by two singers with no 'core ensemble' is that each program is quite distinct, the ensemble determined by the works selected rather than the artists.  This means we have been able to work with a fantastic range of freelance musicians, conductors and ensembles, some for only a program or two, but many who have been alongside us for years.  See our artists here. Our thanks to all these artists who have helped create such memorable performances. 

   

Concert archive (1998-2012)

How it all began

Alison and Jenny first crossed paths working under the same singing teacher.  Our first gig together was performing Bach cantatas, directed by Winsome Evans, at Sydney University where Jenny was completing her degree.  We enjoyed singing together so much we would often meet to sing duos together just for fun. Our shared love of chamber music led to the idea of creating an ensemble dedicated to small scale performances of twentieth century vocal music with the very innovative title of MUSIC FOR VOICES AND INSTRUMENTS!

 

 Our first joint photo shoot from 1992, around the time we began doing joint creative projects together. 

The first concert

We wanted to make a strong impression with our first performance, something people would remember and would get us on the map.  Being young and full of bravado we approached the eminent Sydney Alpha Ensemble, who agreed to co-present a program of vocal chamber music with us alongside emerging conductor and colleague Antony Walker.  And so on February 14, 1998 we presented our very first program at SCEGGS Great Hall, Darlinghurst.  This wonderfully ambitious program featured Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children, Berio's Folksongs, Delage's Quatre poèmes hindous and Ravel's Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé.  The players included 15-year-old schoolgirl, Jane Sheldon, who studied under Alison for the next ten years and has become a close colleague and friend. 

The night itself was memorable and the culmination of many months planning for us as novice entrepreneurs, singers and roadies!  We mustered an audience of around 250 people (thanks certainly in part to Alpha's own loyal following) which is no mean feat in new music circles anyway but even more amazing given that the Song Company were also performing Stockhausen's Stimmung on the same evening!  The ABC recorded this performance and has recorded and broadcast many programs since. 

 

 

 

 

A ticket from our first concert

2001

After spending a while recovering from our first splash, we staged our first concert series in 2001 at St Andrew's Cathedral, featuring three distinctive programs and engaging different personnel for each program.  We pulled together a formidable team of artists including harpist Marshall McGuire and Halcyon veterans Sally Whitwell, Geoffrey Gartner and Nicole Forsyth.  We also presented our first collaborative concert, working alongside a newly forming group Ensemble Offspring, who have also continued to flourish over the years and many of whose members have performed with both ensembles.

Looking back, even these first programs have some of the hallmarks of current Halcyon programs  -  international rarely heard repertoire alongside existing and new Australian works, diverse styles and constantly shifting instrumentations. 

Here are some personal highlights from these early days.

Jenny says:
• Performing Gillian Whitehead's epic These Isles Your Dream for mezzo, viola and piano in Concert 1.  This was my first opportunity to get inside her music. The poem of loss by Kathleen Raine is haunting and deeply sad and the angular, yet highly melodic writing was great to get my teeth into. It was also memorable as the first piece I had done with more than a two octave range and gave me the opportunity to sing my first high A in public! 
• While all the works I performed in Concert 2 are personal favourites, working with Geoff Gartner on Ross Edward's Maninya I was a particular highlight.  It is such a wonderfully interactive marathon for duo, often working in the same tessitura with many shared pitches, and requires real teamwork to balance and support each other, let alone stay in time and in tune! But the chance to be one of true equals in the performance was something we both relished.  A joy to perform, it has since become a staple in my repertoire and we have recently completed a recording of it which will be available soon.  
• We performed our first commission, Memory by Claire Jordan, in our final concert for 2001.  Set to poems by Christina Rossetti, it featured beautifully elegant solo and duo movements.  Having music created especially for you to perform is a great thrill and privilege, as is having a living composer around to help you understand the piece. From that first commission on, we were encouraged to seek out new work whenever possible, to bring new sounds to our audience.

Alison remembers:
• Having revelled in my first experience with George Crumb in the 1998 concert, I was keen to tackle his other works, so we programmed Federico's Little Songs for Children. My very first encounter with his music at the age of eighteen was at Uni of WA, where they performed Vox Balanae. My father, who was reviewing the concert for the newspaper, was sadly unimpressed by the music (his sensibilities preferred anything pre-Stravinsky) but as I sat next to him, I was totally consumed by the unpredictability of each musical event, by the theatricality of the presentation, by this music that bore no resemblance to Tchaikovsky! That concert settled into my memory banks, to reemerge shortly after I began to sing professionally; I knew that contemporary music was going to be my thing.  
• We decided almost on a whim, to semi-stage Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs. It seemed such a natural progression for these songs to have their sense of space and time. The cathedral was the perfect spot and we did some simple, effective staging to highlight the wonderful medieval texts. I remember particularly singing The Crucifixion on my knees centre stage, and popping my head out from behind a pillar to whisper the delicious Promiscuity.
• So much amazing repertoire then followed in Concert 2 and 3. Lutyens' The Valley of Hatsu-se was my first experience of a fiendishly hard score, atonal and uncompromising, Tavener's Akhmatova Songs were big and bold and reminded me to choose within the limitations of my voice size at that time, Hui's Lacrymosa scared the hell out of me with its relentless sustained height and Schwantner's Black Anemones made me swoon with delight as I negotiated its vocal acrobatics. It was around this time too that it really struck me how many hours of work at home alone, go into the performance of a single work. And the feeling of release and relief when you get to the rehearsals and suddenly have the musical support of the ensemble and the music comes to life and becomes three dimensional, and you're with your clan. Walking on air after those first rehearsals...

NB for creative parents everywhere:
In 2001 Jenny had two children under ten and my son was 8. We were disgustingly organised, but there were moments, especially just prior to going on stage in these early days where we both had three hats on - performer, director, mother. Here's to all parents who juggle creative and family lives with a smile! We all survived beautifully.

 

 


Concert archive

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
     
     
     
     
     
    contemporary art music

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