FIRST REVIEWS FOR 2017 SEASON THE ATTRACTION OF OPPOSITES

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
March 2017

Sticks & Stones
**** "Uncommon optimism inspired by conflict and loss"

"Two expressions of optimism, thinly connected by more than 70 years of conflict, emerged from last week's music... The Song Company under Artistic Director Antony Pitts began their concert in the Yellow House singing from a downstairs gallery giving their blooming clarity and balance in Purcell's Remember not, Lord, our offences, an edge of lonely distance that set the tone for the texts of exile that followed. In Egyptian composer Sheikh Imam's If the sun drowns to a poetic text by Ahmed Fouad Negm, and in love songs based on medieval texts, Oday Al Khatib's voice had an attractive silvery edge that rose at peak moments to touching iridescent intensity. Rahil / Bordeaux and Sodfa by Ramzi Aburdewan, who founded the Al Kamandjati music school in Ramallah where Oday studied, provided mellifluous opportunities for collaboration between Oday and the Company, while the contrapuntal richness of Tallis's Lamentations and his glorious Suscipe quaeso, Domine were sung with polyphony of lucid vividness. The concert ended with a version of Allegri's Miserere in which the famous top C - one of the most popular misreadings in the history of music - was restored to something plausibly close to the original performance convention." (Peter McCallum) 

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CANBERRA CITYNEWS
March 2017

Sticks & Stones
"A concert of exceptional beauty"

"The confluence of two quite different vocal traditions produced a concert of exceptional beauty in the austere surroundings of the Wesley Church in Barton. The Song Company, singers very much in the western style of harmony and polyphony, were joined by Palestinian singer Oday Al Khatib from a contrasting tradition of modal melody and rhythm... The concert was a mix of renaissance and baroque church music by Henry Purcell, Thomas Tallis and Gregorio Allegri interspersed with songs in Arabic by Oday al Khatib... The opening Purcell motet was sung with the choir off to the side in the choir stalls, out of sight of the audience in the nave. They moved to the stage for another short work by Tallis followed by Al Khatib entering from the back singing solo. Simple but effective theatrics and superb singing. The two major western works were Tallis’ The Lamentations of Jeremiah and the well-known Miserere by Allegri. The Lamentations were split into two, separated by two Palestinian songs and a total joy to hear... He [Oday Al Khatib] is one of those singers who you feel simply privileged to have heard and a concert that will linger in the memory." (Graham McDonald) 

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A CUNNING BLOG
March 2017

Passio
"St Mary's Passion"

"In a bold collaboration The Song Company, the Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral and Omega Ensemble have come together to perform Arvo Part’s Passio, his setting of the St John Passion... this was a mesmerising performance which felt much shorter than its 75 minute duration. The Evangelist Quartet — The Song Company’s Richard Black, Mark Donnelly, Anna Fraser and Susannah Lawergren — carried the narrative, along with the quartet of orchestral instruments... After a tentative start, they tuned in to the tintinnabuli with an impressive consistency. Nothing stuck out. Nothing jarred. It was just enduringly fascinating. In the role of Jesus, Andrew O’Connor, The Song Company’s resident bass, had few words, but the scoring and his rich, even tone made every line count. As Pilate, Richard Butler, who is Principal Lay Clerk at St Mary’s, cut through the crowd with his crisp, acid responses. Meanwhile, the contrast between the well-drilled ranks of the Choir of St Mary’s and the blood-curdling sound they made as they yelled “Crucify” was one of the dramatic coups of the evening... The four members of the Omega Ensemble found their way through the labyrinthine score with unfussy style, and David Drury drew power and glory and strangeness out of the cathedral’s organ... Congratulations are due to everyone who made this happen... Congratulations in particular on the work of The Song Company’s Artistic Director, Antony Pitts, not just in holding the performance together but also for his specialist knowledge, intricate understanding, and commitment to bringing this work to Australia." (Harriet Cunningham) 

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LIMELIGHT
February 2017

Accidental Plans
"The Song Company delivers a strange yet compelling ‘kind-of-opera’ about an unusual musical life."

"Against the blank white walls of the Yellow House, The Song Company – artists dressed in white – performed a preview of Accidental Plans, a musical journey through the life, work and death of one of the stranger musical personalities of the 20th century, English composer Cornelius Cardew. The ‘kind-of-opera’ was created with guest artist designer and writer Adrian Self. The story is told by five singers – led by Artistic Director Antony Pitts from the keyboard – through a series of chapters mingling Cardew’s words and works with those of other composers, and it begins with Cardew’s death... Baritone Mark Donnelly is Cornelius Cardew, emerging periodically from the ensemble’s sound as soloist and protagonist with a penetrating timbre... The Song Company’s vocal flexibility and inventiveness is on display throughout the performance – a particular highlight was a kind of rhythmic riffing on philosophers, drawing attention to the textural sound of the names Lichtenstein, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida. Accidental Plans presents the fascinating life of a man who wanders through many significant musical and political movements of the 20th century, who seems to cling desperately to the next ideology (or father figure?) before becoming disenchanted and moving on..." (Angus McPherson)

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SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
February 2017

Accidental Plans
**** "Maxim Vengerov and Accidental Plans reviews: Two sides to the classical canon"

"Season openers by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and The Song Company brought canonical works of Western classical music and 1960s counter-cultural revolution into thought provoking juxtaposition last week... The Song Company by contrast, set out to smash the social contract (to borrow the title of one song) that allows art music its protected aesthetic space in a neo-liberal world. Their program, Accidental Plans under artistic director Antony Pitts, with guest artist Adrian Self, explored the stylistic development of English composer Cornelius Cardew, whose music was introduced to Sydney in the 1970s by the late David Ahern. Cardew's progress from Canterbury Cathedral choirboy, to avant-garde disciple of Stockhausen, to founder of the Scratch Orchestra, a vehicle for free creative improvisation for musicians and non-musicians, to Maoist and post-Maoist revolutionary is chronicled in an evening that is engaging, intriguing and provoking. Though Cardew would have rejected such a musical narrative around his life, The Song Company wove a thought-provoking tale through the demanding complexity of Stockhausen, the harmonic richness of Miles Davis and the anarchy of Cage and Cardew." (Peter McCallum) 

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A CUNNING BLOG
February 2017

Accidental Plans
"The Impossible Cor"

"...There’s not much that can defeat The Song Company. This tight knit group can sing, act and, most important, think their way around pretty much anything you can throw at them... The performances are, as you’d expect from The Song Company, wild and wonderful. They’re all fine singers but, more than that, they are sound artists. Something like Steve Reich’s ‘voicetruments’. Plus they occupy the stage with a highly tuned awareness of the interplay between themselves and the audience. No shy genius hiding behind a score here. It makes for a very intense experience: the music is beautiful but discombobulating, nothing is predictable, and the threat of audience participation hangs in the air. You’re never quite sure whether you are being entertained, educated or are in fact the subject of a covert scientific experiment. As a way of portraying this curious artist I found it superbly effective... We knew we were in safe hands, safe voices, with The Song Company. I did, however get glimpses into Cardew’s relentless questioning, his moments of High Nihilism, and it was a scary place. Scary but necessary, because asking questions is what art is all about, and that’s why The Song Company is one of the bravest ensembles around. " (Harriet Cunningham) 

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CLASSIKON
February 2017

Accidental Plans
"engaged the audience from beginning to end"

"Listening to The Song Company in the Yellow House, Potts Point was for many in the audience a trip back in time... Short works by Karlheinz Stockhausen, La Monte Young, John Cage and William Walton were interspersed with snippets of Cardew’s music – mostly simple in approach and also, mostly political in content. His most known works are meant to be approachable by both performers and audience... Singing the ‘role’ of Cardew baritone Mark Donnelly was suitably sensitive and at times dramatic. He brought a gravitas to the character that led the audience into the world of this disturbed individual... All the singers gave finely tuned performances – crystal clear soprano lines from Anna Fraser and Susannah Lawergren were beautifully matched by the insightful singing of Richard Black and Andrew O’Connor. Artistic Director Antony Pitts skilfully contributed from the electric keyboard – such a ‘60’s and ‘70’s instrument. " (Alan Holley) 

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THE SONG COMPANY RECEIVED SUPERLATIVE REVIEWS FOR ITS 2016 SEASON INTO SOMETHING...


HUNTER PROFESSIONAL ARTS
July/August 2016

– A Strange Eventful History

"The Song Company's Shakespearean offering at the Conservatorium last month was an epic.  The brilliant bonding of Shakespearean quotations matched with music evocative of the era created an eloquent and inspiring experience.  This was achieved by using the seven ages of man as the link and balance for the narrator, Gary Watt, an English Shakespearean actor who came especially for this Song Company series.  Antony Pitts, the new Artistic Director of The Song Company, has delivered a concert to be long remembered in the best tradition of this illustrious a cappella group.  Even the program was a work of art produced on a sepia long sheet in the manner of the times."

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
May 2016

– Metropolis New Music Festival 2016 Cityscapes

"...Sydney's The Song Company interleaved this Americana with Jannequin​'s mid-Renaissance Les cris de Paris, Gibbons' Jacobean-era The Cryes of London, and was responsible for the night's real new music: Berio's 40-year-old update Cries of London. The group, expanded to eight voices under new director Antony Pitts, gave character-rich interpretations of all three a cappella works but excelled in the Berio: unflappably fluent, sensibly shading in their dynamics, spellbindingly confident in negotiating the composer's rasping dissonances." (Clive O'Connell) 

PARTIAL DURATIONS
May 2016

– Metropolis New Music Festival 2016 Cityscapes

"For their second Metropolis concert, the MSO teamed up with The Song Company to take us from sweeping urban vistas right down into the streets of renaissance Paris and London... With the MSO ranged expectantly on stage, The Song Company burst into Clément Janequin’s sixteenth-century setting of Parisian street cries. Singing from the gallery high above the audience, the cries of Paris rang out with an eerie clarity, like ghosts haunting the MRC. This haunting effect was even stronger in Orlando Gibbons’ The Cryes of London as the ensemble hummed a viol consort accompaniment. Weaving street cries into polyphonic music was a popular renaissance trope suggesting an awareness of the correlation between the multiple independent lines of polyphonic music and renaissance rationality and individualism. The cries are also a snapshot of the unique problems of urban life, including how to feed such a large concentration of people and how to control the rats and mice that accompany people wherever they go. Luciano Berio updated the trope with atonal polyphony in his The Cries of London in 1974. The Song Company’s lucid and nuanced performance of this modern masterpiece was by far the highlight of the evening..." (Matthew Lorenzon) 

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classikON
April 2016

– In Tempore Paschali
"From the first intake of breath the exquisite vocal machine of Song Company overawed"

"...I was yet again overawed by the exquisite vocal machine that is Song Company. If the ensemble was a car, it definitely would be a Ferrari! As In Tempore Paschali unfolded, exploring the Easter story with music old and new, the audience were enchanted and seduced by the possibilities of the voice - at once reverent, distant, sombre, joyful and spiritual. The 'filigree detail of each individual vocal part' was brought alive by Susannah Lawergren, Anna Fraser, Hannah Fraser, Richard Black, Mark Donnelly and Andrew O’Connor. ...Artistic Director Antony Pitts created a concert in three parts exploring the subjects of Tomb, Hades and Throne. Into this musical setting was interwoven some of the most beautiful, intricate and intimate hymns, psalms, a capella Mass parts, plainchants and motets. Clever artistic direction placed Australian composers in amongst the ancient greats - I particularly loved the way Alice Chance’s stunning Fiat Lux by the three glamorous female singers of Song Company, followed a Credo by ‘Anonymous’ (1469) for the four male voices, including Antony Pitts himself. The intimate and crisp acoustics of the Independent Theatre were perfect for a concert of such beauty and spirituality. Extensive, educative and detailed program notes explained the historic musical journey we were on and the definition of polyphony - 'the combination of apparently independent voice parts into a harmonious whole', adding it was 'one of the noblest inventions of the human mind'. A big claim, but in the hands of Song Company, we were true believers!" (Lliane Clarke) 

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SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
April 2016

– In Tempore Paschali
"a concert of rare and transcendent beauty"

"...it was Monteverdi's Missa In illo tempore and Gombert's motet that formed the central thread of the three parts of The Song Company's radiant presentation in the acoustically miraculous crypt of St Mary's Cathedral under their new artistic director, Antony Pitts. Standing in a circle on the terrazzo floor under the central vault, the building amplified and echoed the interweaving lines with iridescent resonance, building to a peak of intensity in the elaborate counterpoint that closes the Gloria and Credo of the mass that was quite magical... Pitts' music expanded classic polyphonic vocal textures to incorporate modern harmonies within a broadly consonant framework and an original and sensitive understanding of the voice. As new director, Pitts continues and honours The Song Company's special expertise in the glories of the Renaissance under previous director Roland Peelman, while also bringing a distinct and cogent personal perspective. This was a concert of rare and transcendent beauty." (Peter McCallum) 

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LIMELIGHT
March 2016

– In Tempore Paschali
"A three-part polyphonic soothing of the soul for Easter"

"...Given the holy location, the superb singing and the well thought out programme, it was quite a success. The concert was divided into three parts, representing three aspects of Easter: Tomb, Hades and Throne. The sections ran onto one another without applause, maintaining the sense of gravitas and mystery, connected only by a few thespian readings of poems by polymath Pitts himself. Each section incorporated a movement from Monteverdi’s Missa In illo tempore, using and exploring themes and motifs from works by Gombert which in turn featured in the programme. Each section also worked in Thou wast present as on this day from Pitts’ Requiem for the Time of the End. The unifying element was the fluidity of time, the connection between past, present and future and, of course, the musical thread of polyphony that can arouse a sense of the eternal in the hands of a dexterous composer. The singing throughout was precise and unforced, the vocalists taking advantage of the Crypt’s natural amplification. Pitts’s direction from within a circular arrangement ensured a tight relationship between vocalists, as well a democracy of the six singers..." (Andrew Luboski) 

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SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
February 2016

– Bach & Forward
"Antony Pitts delivers perfect new chapter"

"...As composer, conductor and new artistic director of The Song Company Antony Pitts explains, there is something reassuringly solid about Bach's music. His scores are complex and technically challenging, but they unfurl with a sense of unbending certainty. Have faith and it will all work out in the end. Perhaps this is why the beginning of this, the ensemble's first concert in 2016, has proved so delicious. One voice, gradually joined by other voices from unseen figures around the hall, singing an unadorned melody. From silence, to one, to many, it felt like the perfect opening to a new chapter... ...One of the highlights was Brahms' Warum ist das Licht gegeben, an intensely emotional, harmonically volatile series of verses, in which the eight voices blended with mahogany warmth... ...However, the main event was Bach, and Pitts drew a fastidious, cogent and very beautiful performance of three motets from these fine performers. This is virtuoso ensemble singing: eight individual voices, all moving independently, often in different directions, at speed and at the extremes of the singers' registers and dynamic ranges. It's hard to imagine a better performance... ...The new chapter reads well." (Harriet Cunningham) 

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AUSTRALIAN STAGE
February 2016

– Bach & Forward

"...What a fascinating program. The Song Company, under the musical direction of their new leader Antony Pitts, sang three Bach motets alongside choral music from the 19th century which specifically reflected Bach’s influence... this was seriously interesting programming... This was one of two extraordinary feats in this concert; the other being a Swingle-singers like rendering by the singers of the eight-part Contrapunctus from The Art of Fugue, a reminder the staggering virtuosity of which The Song Company is capable... The performance of such a program was a tour de force, showing us once again what a brilliant outfit The Song Company is, and whetting the appetite for further concerts under their new director. What will they think of next?" (Nicholas Routley) 

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