17 May 2018

The joy of sax: Portrait Gallery concert promises a sonic experience

| Ian Bushnell
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The Sydney Conservatorium of Music Saxophone Orchestra will perform at the National Portrait Gallery on Thursday night. Photos: Supplied.

The National Portrait Gallery and its ‘wall of sound’ will host a rare performance tonight (Thursday 17 May) when a 12-strong saxophone ensemble presents an hour of Australian music, including a world premiere from Canberra-based composer, Natalie Williams.

The 6.30 pm performance is the first Australian Series concert for 2018, a creative collaboration by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and the NPG.

Portraits at an Exhibition will feature one hour of Australian compositions voiced by the unusual yet powerful tones of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Saxophone Orchestra.

The ensemble of 12 saxophones – soprano, tenor, alto and bass – will play the works of established composers such as Elena Kats-Chernin and premiere newly commissioned Australian works.

Williams, whose work for the inaugural Australian Series concert last year stole the show, says her work, Arcana, is a piece about the “hidden, the secret and the withheld, music about the unknown stories behind people’s experiences and unique life journeys.”

She promises a dynamic and emotional listening experience, that puts the audience literally at its centre.

“I’m putting the audience in the middle, putting the 12 players around the outside of the audience and I’ve written the music in ways that the melody kind of jumps back and forth across the audience,” she said.

“It will be very unique concert experience for them.”

Contributing to that experience will be the venue itself, with the NPG foyer providing a very reflective, echoing space due to the hard surfaces of glass and concrete in the building.

“The sound is beautiful but very, very deep and resonant,” Williams said.

Natalie Williams’ work Arcana will be performed for the very first time at the National Portrait Gallery.

Arcana has three movements and she has split the saxophone sax ‘choir’ in different ways for each movement which Williams says creates a special or sonic experience for the audience.

“It’s a nice way to explore the sound of the saxophone. I was looking for a unique way to do that beyond a series of chords, looking to be inventive with the music in this special way,” she said.

At the heart of Williams’ composition is emotion – “emotion is what I do.”

“I like to provide an emotional experience that they connect with in their own way,” she said.

“If I can move people and take people on a sonic journey that’s what I really want to reach, their emotions and memories.”

Williams is a distinguished composer whose work has been commissioned and performed by international ensembles and orchestras. Her orchestral works have received critical acclaim including the premiere of her first symphony Our Don by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in 2014, a multimedia tribute to Sir Donald Bradman.

NPG curator and compere Dr Matthew Hindson said: “The National Photographic Portrait prize showcases individuals and groups within both typical and unusual environments. In much the same way, the first concert of the Australian Series explores portraiture from a musical perspective.”

This concert is part one of three in the Australian Series which is committed to showcasing high-quality Australian music and instrumentalists in collaboration with the finest portraiture art in the country.

For more information and tickets, click here or call CSO Direct on 6262 6772.

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