Halcyon presents The Poet's Voice
Ben Apfelbaum, Sydney Arts Guide Sept 2016
...The next piece brought a real sense of occasion to this enjoyable recital. This was the World Premiere of David Malouf’s Three Malouf Songs and it was performed in the presence of fabled author David Malouf and its composer Gordon Kerry. Both they and the audience were delighted by the performance of Duck-Chong, violinst Foster and cellist Gartner. The three songs – Stars, Rock Pools, and The Glass House Mountains had the theme of water interacting with the shoreline. Kerry created music that shimmered like water and brought out liquid motifs on the piano. Duck-Chong’s mezzo soprano beautifully amplified the glassy piano chords and string harmonies suggesting still and then suddenly shattered water surfaces. Malouf’s songs are intensely atmospheric and the performance captured this...
Read the full review here
Halcyon premiere Gordon Kerry’s delightful instrumental colours and sensitive vocals
Alan Holley, Classikon Sept 2016
It is an important cultural event when one of Australia’s leading composers has a premiere of a work performed by one of Australia’s most iconic new-music groups, Halcyon and even more so when the text is by David Malouf, one of our national living treasures. Gordon Kerry’s Three Malouf Songs is a substantial new addition to the repertoire...
Read the full review here
On Poetry and Song
Harriet Cunningham, A Cunning Blog Sept 2016
...Last night, the book opened and the words of six Australian poets came tumbling out to dance with music by six Australian composers in a concert presented by Halcyon. We had the sly, seductive lieder of Margaret Sutherland, setting words of Judith Wright; the arch and mischevious thought bubbles of Michael Leunig, set by Brett Dean; Katy Abbott Kvasnica’s pitch perfect settings of poems from Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s The Domestic Sublime; still, blinking wonder in the poetry of David Malouf, set by Gordon Kerry; and other worldly beauty in the pairing of composer Elliott Gyger and poet Ern Malley, plus Andrew Schultz’s Paradise, with words and music from the same imagination.
I’m fascinated by the range of voices that came across so clearly, with such individuality, in the words and the music. And I’m fascinated by how the two mediums met and entwined and embroidered each other...
Read the full review here
CD: Kingfisher - Songs for Halcyon - 2 reviews
Review by Vincent Plush February 2016
Kingfisher: Songs for Halcyon
The word halcyon conjures up diverse meanings. Traditionally, the halcyon days are those we remember as our best. In ornithology, the word denotes a genus of kingfishers. In Greek mythology, that fabled bird calmed the winds and waves while nesting on the sea during the calm week of the winter solstice.
No doubt all these meanings were in the minds of Sydney-based singers Jenny Duck-Chong and Alison Morgan when they formed vocal-based chamber group Halcyon 15 years ago to propagate the work of emerging and established Australian composers.
This album celebrates those glistening years, with 21 composers (six of them women, a special consideration of Halcyon’s programming) contributing short pieces, none more than six minutes long, all of them premiere recordings. The two female voices (Duck-Chong and Morgan) are front and centre of most tracks; on several occasions they are joined by an ensemble of flutes (Laura Chislett Jones), clarinets (Jason Noble), cello (Geoffrey Gartner) and percussion (William Jackson and Joshua Hill). All pieces were written or rearranged primarily for the female voices and the composers have responded with little gems that caress the ear in beauteous, rhapsodic and reflective sounds.
The recording sound is mellifluous and lucid, the liner notes comprehensive. In a sense, this is a beguiling sampler of recent Australian music and a testament to 15 years of Halcyon music-making.
This review appeared in The Australian on 20/2/16
Extracts from the review by Shamistha de Soysa, November 2015
Kingfisher – Songs for Halcyon, is a recording of 21 songs by living Australasian composers, performed by the new music ensemble Halcyon. Released on the Tall Poppies label (TP 236) last month, the project was the brainchild of Halcyon’s founders and core performers, soprano Alison Morgan and mezzo-soprano Jenny Duck-Chong, to commemorate Halcyon’s 15th anniversary and leave a lasting legacy of contemporary Australian song.
The overriding ambience of the songs is calming; the voices shimmer and flow; the word painting is graphic. The instrumental musicians vary from anchoring the music to partnering with the voices, their own special expertise and at times, abstract use of instruments add to the palette of moods and colours.
Kingfisher – Songs for Halcyon is a substantial project. It has expanded significantly the repertoire of contemporary Australian song, leaving an enduring gift for the future. As well, Halcyon has brought these songs to life, by performing and recording them, so that they may be heard and enjoyed here and now, interpreted as their creators intended.
To read the full review at Sounds Like Sydney, click here.
CDs: Waves I and II - 1 review
Extracts from the review by Gwen Bennett, November 1st, 2015
Anyone who has been to a Halcyon concert will have experienced the exquisite performances and inspired program choices of its two directors – Alison Morgan and Jenny Duck-Chong. Alison’s ethereal soprano and Jenny’s lustrous mezzo-soprano continue to delight, in combination with a number of musician colleagues chosen according to the demands of the repertoire. For many years they have been presenting quality contemporary classical vocal chamber music from around the world and have the proud record of having commissioned over forty new pieces.
Halcyon’s sustained commitment to Australian composers is evident in the project to release studio recordings of their music, with the intent that not only concert audiences should have access to these fine works. Waves I showcases two pieces – Elliott Gyger’s Petit Testament (2008) and Andrew Ford’s Willow Songs (2009); Waves II features Ross Edwards’ Maninya I (1981/6) and Dan Walker’s King Ludwig’s Swans (2004/9).
...Both CDs were expertly engineered, mixed and mastered by Daniel Brown at Trackdown Scoring Stage in Sydney between 2009 and 2012. Texts are not included with the CDs, however they are easily found on the internet.
In summary, these two CDs are top quality. They present composers and performers of distinction and the results are exemplary. May there be many more.
To read the full review at The Music Trust, click here.
Winter Moon Secrets - 1 review
Classikon Reviewed by Luke Iredale
Halcyon transported listeners to a beautiful world of autumn winds, icy hills and footsteps in the snow
‘Music inspired by a world behind closed doors‘ was the tagline for the latest project of crack contemporary vocal squad Halcyon, led by mezzo-soprano Jenny Duck-Chong. The quiet introspection and reverent naturalism of Asian poetry and culture has inspired composers for decades, and this concert transported listeners via music to a very different but desperately beautiful world of autumn winds, icy hills and footsteps in the snow.
A Ross Edwards interlude for Japanese koto (a 13-stringed flat wooden soundbox), performed with characteristic mastery by Satsuki Odamura was a fine introduction to the sound-world of this concert. The strings warmly twanged and shimmered underneath Odamura’s fingers as she gracefully moulded Edwards’ east-Asian musical inflections. The theatrical Sohmon III‘ a poetic creation of eminent Japanese composer Minoru Miki for soprano, piano and percussion was particularly vivid; soprano Alison Morgan interspersed elegant narration with elegiac vocalises as she ‘played’ all the characters in a story of courtly yet unrequited love, displaying never-less-than-remarkable vocal control amid a vibrant spectrum of precision percussion.
Jenny Duck-Chong performed Larry Sitsky’s newly-penned A Feast of Lanterns suite, the music comprising veins of dark melody deeply enveloped in clouds of thrumming instrumental colour. The mood of the work’s seven Chinese poems veered gently from iciness to luminosity, the directness of the poetry’s natural images beautifully word-painted by the two singers with as-one togetherness and captivating textual engagement.
Another entrancing composition for koto, this time by Sydney’s Rosalind Page, was the first of two pieces comprising Winter Moon Secrets’ second half. The concluding composition, Andrew Schultz’s I am writing in this book, composed specially for Halcyon in 2011, set five songs in English from the tenth-century text the Pillow Book, a diary of quirky anecdotes penned by Japanese poetess Sei Shonagon. The selections chart Shonagon’s growth as a woman’ from the singular visions of A gift of paper (‘Lingering days, holding this brush, never knowing others would see’, sung in gloriously direct homophony) to the funeral It is getting dark (‘I am old and barely live…’, set as a ghostly duet between the voices and cello). Overlapping sibilances and intense vocal patter added character to the work’s central three movements, in which powerlessness, revulsion and wonder all played compelling parts.
Notably, three of the evening’s five featured composers were present in the audience at Winter Moon Secrets – Page, Sitsky and Schultz were all able to take well-deserved bows and join the other listeners in congratulating Halcyon on crafting yet another unforgettable concert of contemporary treasures.
GIVING VOICE - 1 review
Halcyon’s Giving Voice: A beacon in Sydney’s musical culture
One of the most important and satisfying concerts in Sydney for a very long time
On leaving Halcyon’s well attended concert at St Bede’s Drummoyne on July 12 I felt quite elevated as I knew I had been at one of the most important and satisfying concerts in Sydney for a very long time. Three works, all around the 25 minute mark for voice and chamber ensemble, written by two of our elder statesmen of music, David Lumsdaine (b.1931) and Nigel Butterley (b.1935) and by one of the standout composers of his generation, Elliott Gyger (b.1968) were masterfully performed by Alison Morgan, Jenny Duck-Chong and an elite group of instrumentalists expertly conducted by Matthew Wood.
A Tree Telling of Orpheus
Lumsdaine’s ‘A Tree Telling of Orpheus‘ (1990) starts with a most beautiful and simple idea from the strings but ever so quickly one is aware that this is not music to blatantly please the listener but is rather one where the composer draws us into a world of invention and takes us on a deeply satisfying journey. Even though the vocal line rarely suggests the meaning of the text it does however live in its own joyous and ecstatic world and is treated for much of the time as another instrumental colour. The more this work unfolded the greater the depth of meaning Lumsdaine conveyed.
The only premiere of the concert was Gyger’s eight movement ‘giving voice’ (2012). He is a composer who is obviously very demanding of himself as every note sounds as if it can only be placed in that exact moment and the colours he employs make you want to listen to the next musical phrase or indeed, argument, as this is music of great intent. To a point it is also music that is demanding of the audience too, though, not all the time. The songs ‘Unfractured Light‘, ‘the stars‘ and ‘Girl Swinging‘ were soft and gentle gems. I could have listened to them over and over again. However, Gyger is more than a one trick pony as the energy in ‘News of a Baby‘, with its delightful modernist use of rhythm and harmony, sweeps the listener along at great pace.
In ‘Orphei Mysteria‘ (2008) Butterley again shows why he is so admired by his composer colleagues. His sumptuous sounds, and always at the service of the music and the text, and the way he colours each phrase at times mesmerise the listener. In ‘The Lemon Tree‘ so often I felt as if I was in a labyrinthine dream, lost but content, in a place I have always known but still marvelling at the freshness of the sounds and the direction of the art. Even though Butterley doesn’t do ‘fast’ in this work there are moments of energetic interruptions, essential to give meaning to the introspection that underlies the work.
A beacon in Sydney’s musical culture
Halcyon is a beacon in Sydney’s musical culture and again the performances were exemplary and at the service of the music. Morgan and Duck-Chong sang beautifully, pointing the texts and adding meaning with perfectly placed nuances. I must mention the excellent playing of the ensemble and it would be churlish not to mention each one – Sally Walker (flutes), Peter Smith (clarinet), Alexandre Oguey (oboes), Victoria Jacono-Gilmovich (violin), James Wannan (viola), Geoffrey Gartner (cello) and Giuseppe Zangari (guitar).
This was a deliciously old-fashioned concert where the intellect was satisfied as much as the other senses.
WOMEN'S WORK - 2 reviews
Halcyon reverses gender bias with sublime concert of women's music
May 12, 2014
Sydney Morning Herald Reviewed by Peter McCallum
Tony Abbott attracted criticism for including only one woman in his cabinet. Some of our major musical organisations, notably the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Brandenburg Orchestra, matched the Abbott standard by including just a single female composer in their concerts this year.
But not even a single Australian woman composer appears in the main subscriptions series of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Musica Viva and Opera Australia this year.
Thank goodness for Halcyon.
In Women's Work, Jenny Duck-Chong sang Kerry Andrew's witty, capricious Fruit Songs for voice and guitar (Ken Murray) with apt archness and brilliant timing. The music exploits fragmentation and nervy repetition amid sparse minimal gestures to extract playful meanings.
Only the last one, Moonlit Apples, embraces fluid phrases.
Then Alison Morgan gave us a chance to hear the superbly crafted, subtly expressive modernist atonal style of Elisabeth Lutyens in her 1965 song cycle The Valley of Hatsu-Se. Lutyens pioneered Schoenberg's revolutionary serial technique in Britain but with a language of delicate, compressed distinctiveness.
In these elusive Japanese texts, Morgan and the small instrumental ensemble matched tone and timbre with exquisite refinement.
Moya Henderson's Lovely How Lives - arranged for ensemble, soprano and mezzo soprano - takes poems by Judith Hemschemeyer that explore intersections between poets Alexander Pushkin, Emily Dickinson and Anna Akhmatova.
Hemschemeyer's words are intelligent, analytic and reflective, whereas Henderson's music is golden, glowing and fluid. The analytic narrative of the text is heard in a lush, immensely attractive and radiant sound world in which musical ideas are threaded together.
Helen Gifford's Spell Against Sorrow for voice and guitar (Duck-Chong and Murray) was bleak and despairing in the first song, while the second found liberation of sorts in a free speech-like vocal line against delicate, precisely-voiced guitar harmonies.
Rosalind Page's Hrafnsongvar (Ravensongs) for soprano (Morgan) and ensemble conducted by Elizabeth Scott captures in music a sense of intense, slumbering inner glow preserved against the spare blue cold of deep Icelandic winter.
Correction: The original version of this story said no woman composers appear in the main subscriptions series of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Musica Viva and Opera Australia this year. This should have read no "Australian" woman composers as American composer Joan Tower's work Copperwave will be included in the first of the American Brass Quintet's concerts for Musica Viva (City Recital Hall, May 19, 2014).
KINGFISHER - Songs for Halcyon - 4 reviews
Kingfisher – Songs For Halcyon: A Gift For The Present, A Legacy For The Future
Sounds Like Sydney Reviewed by Shamistha de Soysa
Celebrating a decade and a half of innovative music making and professional collaboration in 2014, vocal ensemble Halcyon presented an evening of song Kingfisher – Songs for Halcyon in association with the Australian Music Centre. Kingfisher is a ‘seminal commissioning project’ for which 21 composers were invited to compose songs for the duo, soprano Alison Morgan and mezzo-soprano Jenny Duck -Chong. read more >
Kingfisher: Songs for Halcyon
Classikon Reviewed by Alan Holley
When any music ensemble commemorates 15 years it is cause for celebration but when that group specialises in music of ‘now’ and in particular that of Australian composers it is appropriate for all to cheer and to do so with a big voice. The vocal ensemble Halcyon celebrated this milestone by premiering 21 short works, spread over two concerts, all written by local composers. read more >
Composers come to Halcyon's party but the audience gets the presents
Sydney Morning Herald March 31 2014 Reviewed by Harriet Cunningham
Kingfisher: Songs for Halcyon lets voices soar
Kingfisher: Songs For Halcyon
Sydney Morning Herald, March 17 2014 Reviewed by Peter McCallum
Halcyon is a type of Kingfisher, whose eponymous mythological forebear was credited with the power to make seas calm. Halcyon is also a Sydney-based vocal chamber music ensemble directed by Alison Morgan and Jenny Duck-Chong, which for the past 15 years has been commissioning and performing new work for voices and instruments, creating a progressive Australian vocal repertoire and a new understanding of how to write to the voice in a post-modern age. read more >
presented by the New Music Network
artshub, Monday September 9 2013
Reviewed by Paul Nolan
Two significant 21st century vocal chamber works filled out this compelling program presented by the New Music Network. Acoustics, ambient film and spatial design as well as controlled performances ensured a captivating delivery of texts. Paramount throughout the evening was a fine balance between the quartet of female vocal forces and accompaniments. read more >
A SENSE OF CONNECTION
Offbeat stunning and genius
Works from 21st century composers
North Shore Times, September 7, 2012
Halcyon's four female singers joined the Acacia Quartet to present a concert on Friday in the New Hall at Sydney Grammar School. It was devoted to five 21st-century works by living composers. read more >
Small wonders program offers big value
North Shore Times, June 8, 2012
In the cavernous New Hall at Sydney Grammar School...Halcyon presented a demanding program entitled Small Wonders. Soprano Alison Morgan, mezzo Jenny Duck-Chong, pianist Jo Allan, cellist Geoffrey Gartner and flautist Laura Chislett-Jones performed nine works by as many composers... read more >
DREAMS AND DANCES
Toe tapping fun
Performers stand and deliver
North Shore Times, September 7, 2012
Halcyon and Vox, the youth wing of Sydney Philharmonia, presented a program entitled Dreams and Dances in the Conservatorium’s Verbrugghen Hall the following night... read more >
Take nine composers and hear how magic is made
Sydney Morning Herald, November 21, 2010
HALCYON has always been defined by its sense of adventure. First Stones, then, is a natural next step in an expedition into the jungle of contemporary art music, a hands-on collaboration with nine emerging composers... read more >
LIFE ON PAPER
Versatile Schultz finds it pays to go by the book
Sydney Morning Herald, September 21, 2010
ANDREW SCHULTZ'S new work, I am writing in this book, adapts texts from The Pillow Book by 10th-century Japanese writer Sei Shonagon... read more >
WHERE THE HEART IS
From static to dynamic, and magic in between
Sydney Morning Herald, September 13, 2010
This typically thoughtful program, Where the Heart Is, drew out themes of recent Australian vocal music through elegant symmetry. read more >
blues, myth, philosophy & the land
realtime issue 99 Oct-Nov 2010
While not a program of the scale and potency of Extreme Nature (RT93) which featured big, challenging works by Australians Elliott Gyger and Nicolas Vines, Halcyon’s Where The Heart Is, is a program featuring six more Australian works, all fascinating and revealing a rich variety of practice...read more >
Delicate bites, then a main course to satisfy
Sydney Morning Herald, September 29, 2009
The first part of Halcyon's latest concert, subtitled Willow Songs, was like a whistle-stop tour of the 20th century in haiku. read more >
seeing, hearing, believing
As Chris Reid writes in his review of the Soundstream New Music Festival (P49), some music has to be seen and not just heard. read more >
RealTime issue 93 Oct-Nov 2009 pg. 52
Poetry and religious texts woven in labyrinthine cross-references
Sydney Morning Herald, August 11, 2009
THE program cover had two gorgeously coloured snails, hinting at endangered musical species beyond the concert's environmental theme... read more >
Poetry unites vocals and instrumentals
Sydney Morning Herald, October 20, 2008
COCKING a snoot at ABC Classic-FM-style canonicity, Halcyon proposed its own B-list as contenders for a new music A-team. Only time will tell.... read more >
Halcyon - Celebrating 10 Years - Anni Heino (Resonate Magazine)
Halcyon Celebrating 10 Years - Harriet Cunningham (Sydney Morning Herald)
Four Winds Festival - Harriet Cunningham (Sydney Morning Herald)
TEHILLIM - Harriet Cunningham (Sydney Morning Herald)
TEHILLIM - Steve Moffat (Manly Daily)
TEHILLIM - David Gyger (Opera-Opera)
Sirens at the Aurora Festival 2006 - John Carmody (Opera-Opera)
Star Clusters - Peter McCallum (Sydney Morning Herald)
Sirens - Clive O'Connell (The Age)
Tone Birds - David Gyger (Opera-Opera)
Tone Birds reviewed by David Vance
Close Ups - Peter McCallum (Sydney Morning Herald)
Floof! - Peter McCallum (Sydney Morning Herald)
Sirens - Joel Crotty (The Age)
Earth Jewels - Peter McCallum (Sydney Morning Herald)
Raising Sparks - Keith Gallasch (RealTime Magazine)
Raising Sparks - Peter McCallum (Sydney Morning Herald)
See all concert reviews