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The Sonata Project — Bernadette Harvey

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by Gypsy Rose (subscribe)
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A magical piece of piano sonata
Image by Craig Wall

Bernadette Harvey, together with the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, presented a magical and mesmerising piano recital with two acts, featuring a rich and large body of new serious solo piano sonatas by Australian Composers (Aristea Mellos, Melody Eotvos, Jane Stanley, and Ross Edwards).

The Sonata Project was a re-creation of the vitality of the 19th-century luxurious salon concerts. The backdrop featured spectacular floral creations and props, adding to the elegance to the recital.

The questions - Is piano sonata relevant to the music of the 21st century? Why are so few piano sonatas written by female composers? and What is the future of classical piano music? - were all explored by Harvey through the premiere of four new works in a setting of Lisztian opulence.

She performed the four new works with elegance and splendour. It was a moving performance and certainly a new approach to classical music.

Image by Craig Wall

Act I featured piano sonata by Aristea Mellos and Melody Eotvos. All three movements from Mellos (We Ate the Stars, Cardinal Spada's Gallery and Vanishing Point) functioned as Mellos' memories from her Rome holiday.

We Ate the Stars recalled a party she attended one summer evening overlooking the Pantheon, with the sounds of guitar duos, Mendelssohn four hands and Puccini arias accompanying the night air. There were choirs singing rounds, aromas from nearby bakeries and boisterous Italian students who were copiously drinking and smoking. Mellos felt strangely removed from the scene.

Cardinal Spada's Gallery recollected a sombre, claustrophobic excursion to the Galleries Spada, a palazzo filled with a disturbing collection of artworks spanning from Antiquity to the 18th-Century. It included grotesque assembly of deformed children, crucified martyrs and gory biblical scenes.

Image by Craig Wall

Vanishing Point was the most abstract of the three movements. Cast in quasi Rondo form, it pondered perception of scale and the disorienting effect it can give on one's sense of self.

The Demoiselle D'Ys and Verite Cachee were two movements from Melody Eotvos. Her first movement was inspired by The King in Yellow, a book of short ghost stories by Robert Chambers in which the king's dark presence is always felt, but never materialises.

In The Demoiselle D'Ys Philip, an American visiting Brittany for a hunting expedition, loses his way and encounters Jeanne D'Ys who invites him to her castle. They become close despite Philip's observations that this world is disorienting. As they longingly embrace one another, Philip is attacked and bitten by a snake which renders him unconscious. He wakes once again in 'his' world (reality) and shortly stumbles across a grave marked: Jeanne D'Ys- died in her youth for love of Philip, A Stranger, AD 1573. Atop the gravestone lays a woman's glove, still warm to touch.

Act II featured movements from Jane Stanley: Prelude I and II, and Postlude.

The invitation to compose a piano sonata posed an intriguing challenge for Stanley. She developed gestural archetypes which involved building the piece with a catalogue of distinctly contrasting units and working a 'sculptural' way to arrive at a finished form.

Image by Craig Wall

The longest movement (II) was perhaps the most traditional in the sense that it was possible to perceive an overall arch shape and the varied return of gestural elements to evoke recapitulation. They were blasted out, thunderous and prophetic in nature.

The third movement was contemplative and atmospheric as it harnessed the piano's capacity to filter and manipulate resonance, especially through the sophisticated use of all three pedals. The central climax emerged from soft to loud with insistent, rapid, irregular repeated middle-registrar note.

Ross Edwards two movements were Sea Star Movements: Distant and Dreamy and Sprightly. They made up Sea Star Fantasy which was inspired by one of the most beautiful plainsongs honouring the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the Sea, Ava Maris Stella ('Hail Star of the Sea').

Image by Craig Wall

For Edwards, Blessed Virgin Mary is revered as a symbol of the universal Earth mother, nurturer and protector of the environment and the piece expressed the joy of life, positivity, and the love of beauty's nature.

Fragments of the chant were woven into the texture of Sea Star Fantasy. The first movement was dreamlike, gentle and whimsical, while the second distilled the sounds of the natural environment and then sprung into an exuberant, rhythmically compelling sprightly dance before plunging into the heart of a tropical rainforest, alive with clamorous birdsong and brilliant colours. Then there were quiet moments and chant returned before the movement reached its passionate climax.

All movements were perfectly executed and beautifully presented. It was brilliant to watch and hear, and absolutely, mesmerisingly superb!

The event was held with the support of:
My Violet, (floral arrangements)
Lara Merrett (artist/backdrop works)
Lynne Bradley Interiors (design and styling)
Designer Rugs
Koskela (furniture)
Stylecraft Home (props)
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*Gypsy Rose was invited as a guest
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Why? A solo piano recital of new large-scale Australian works
When: 11 November 2017: From 7pm
Where: Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Verbrugghen Hall, 1 Conservatorium Rd, Sydney
Cost: Adults: $50pp, Concession: $35pp, Students: $15pp
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