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Gavin Bryars Ensemble


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It is a privilege to have someone of Gavin Bryars’ international esteem here as composer-in-residence for the Adelaide Festival.

While he has been to Australia twice before, this is the first time his Ensemble has performed in Adelaide.

Bryars is described as “one of the most influential, significant, important and prolific” contemporary composers.  His work covers an expansive musical field from jazz and improvisation, to sound installations, operas, orchestral works, madrigals and lauda, and the songs of Tom Waits. Festival artistic director David Sefton describes him as “one of the great living composers”.

Bryars began his impressive musical career as a jazz player in the 1960s, and still those jazz notes keep bubbling to the fore.  He’s now 72 and still performing and composing.  His touring calendar this year takes him to festivals and events in the UK, Europe and the US, as well as this visit to Adelaide.

This program at Elder Hall focused on his lauda and madrigals, with a light sprinkling of love songs. Bryars played double bass for most of the performance, with a brief appearance at the piano for Lauda con sordino.  He was joined on stage by his long-time collaborator James Woodrow on guitars, Nick Cooper on cello, and Morgan Goff and Imants Larsens on viola, with vocalists John Potter and Peyee Chen.

The players were all very smooth and the performance had an extremely relaxed feel.  While there were some interesting variations – a bit of jazz pizzicato here, a nod to Pete Townshend there – the overwhelming tone was low and dark.  It felt a little sacred but not quite religious.

For me, the outstanding performer of the night was not Bryars (although his music was the star, of course) but the superb soprano Peyee Chen.  What a voice!  And such clarity and precision. I would happily listen to her all night long.

“Always feeling full of love when performing with the Gavin Bryars Ensemble” tweeted Peyee Chen immediately following the performance.  The feeling is mutual, Ms Chen!

Gavin Bryars Ensemble with Guests performs tonight (March 4) at Elder Hall. Bryars will also conduct the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet and selected orchestral works at the Adelaide Town Hall on Thursday (March 5).

Click here for more 2015 Adelaide Festival reviews and stories.


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