10 March 2020

An intimate night of healing music at the National Portrait Gallery

| Ian Bushnell
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CSO Concert Master Kirsten Williams

CSO Concert Master Kirsten Williams will direct the CSO Chamber Orchestra. Photo: CSO.

Music will transform the Gordon Darling Hall in the National Portrait Gallery into a sacred healing space on Thursday when the year’s first Australian Series concert takes place under the banner Love Kindness and Decency.

After a summer of pain and now the anxiety created by the looming threat of coronavirus, they are sentiments worth keeping in mind.

Canberra Symphony Orchestra Concert Master and violinist Kirsten Williams will direct the CSO Chamber Orchestra in an intimate program of Australian music, including two new compositions.

Prolific young Sydney composer Cyrus Meurant’s uplifting new work, When I stand before thee at the day’s end (2020), was written for Ms Williams in this role, something she is thrilled about, particularly as her passion is the healing capacity of music.

The other new work is from another young Sydney-based composer, Ella Macens. Series curator Matthew Hindson said her Superimposition (2015) represented, for him, more of a collective response to trauma.

Ms Williams says the therapeutic effects of music can range from simply calming to emotional release to even working at a deeper, cellular level, something hospitals are discovering more and more.

“When music is created for the sole purpose of healing there is an intention behind that, so sound becomes a conduit of consciousness,” she said.

“The frequency of the notes being played couple with the intention behind it, because I believe there is a frequency of our thoughts. If you think positively you tend to feel better. When there is this coupling of the intention plus the frequency of the notes themselves, then you have a resonant healing effect.”

For some years she played to babies in the high dependency and intensive care unit at Westmead Children’s Hospital. She says the effects were quite extraordinary.

She would play extremely softly at the tempo of the heartbeat, and staff found the babies heart rate would come down, their breathing would slow and sleep would come more easily.

“There was not one parent who would turn around and say what on earth is a violinist doing here,” Ms Williams said. “It helped create, in what is a traumatic situation for staff, parents and babies, a sense of calm.”

At the other end of life’s spectrum, music can also have profound effects for the aged, who may suffer dementia.

Ms Williams has her own personal experience of this with her father, whom she visited recently.

“He doesn’t recognise us any more sadly, but my sister put on a CD I made specifically for healing, and he started smiling as soon as it started,” she said. ”He looked at me, his face changed completely, you could see the recognition in his eyes.”

 Composer Ella Macens

Composer Ella Macens’ work Superimposition will be a world premier. Photo: Darwin Gomez.

Three other works on the program were written for the Hush Foundation, which creates calming music for children’s hospitals and other stressful environments, and in these cases the composers were working with young people dealing with mental health challenges.

Then there will be Peter Sculthorpe’s Third Sonata for Strings Jabiru Dreaming (2011), Movement Two, and Paul Stanhope’s Nephesh for string nonet (2015).

Ms Williams says it will be an incredibly special night, and the CSO’s Australian Series provides a great opportunity for the public to hear new work from our own composers and performers.

“This is what we need to continue to do, because there are so many composers that really need to have that forum to have their music expressed, and us as performers to bring that out, and not only experience it ourselves but bring it to the public,” she said.

Region Media‘s Genevieve Jacobs will moderate a pre-concert conversation with Cyrus Meurant and Ella Macens from 5:30 pm in the Liangis Theatre at the Portrait Gallery, no registration required.

The night also includes an after-hours viewing of this year’s National Portrait Prizes after the concert.

Australian Series
Gordon Darling Hall, National Portrait Gallery, Thursday, 12 March, 6:30 pm

Kirsten Williams Director
CSO Chamber Orchestra

Tickets $30 – $59

Rachel BRUERVILLE – Dancing on Tiptoes (2017)
Stuart GREENBAUM – The Rotation of the Earth (2017)
Natalie NICOLAS – We Won’t Let You Down (2017)
From Hush Vol. 18 Collective Wisdom

Cyrus MEURANT – When I stand before thee at the day’s end (2020) New Ars Musica Australis commission

Peter SCULTHORPE AO OBE – Third Sonata for Strings Jabiru Dreaming (2011), Movement Two

Ella MACENS – Superimposition (2015) World premiere

Paul STANHOPE – Nephesh for string nonet (2015).

To learn more go to the CSO website.

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