With COVID continuing to have an impact on our lives in different ways, but particularly affecting gathering together in one place, and moving inter-state, we have created a 2021 season that is as nimble and transformative in a positive way as the virus is negatively.
Three MAINSTAGE shows across the season from May to November, each reaching deep into the heart: BURDEN OF TRUTH, ARMS OF LOVE, and SONGS FROM THE HEART. A 50th anniversary rebirth of Gavin Bryars’s classic Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet; a matching of a Baroque masterpiece by Buxtehude with a new Australian vocal symphony by Chris Williams; and a brand-new creative collaboration with Indigenous composers Elizabeth Sheppard and Sonya Holowell.
Starting the season this year is our Ensemble Artist program with two contrasting SALON programs, one full of stagecraft and the rhythm of the dance, the other an intimate reconnection with the vocal music of the Renaissance: Dances of Passion and Byrd Underground.
SongCo LAB returns to Sydney after Easter with masterclasses, workshops, ensemble rehearsals, and individual coaching.
As we move into uncertain times, some things become more certain and necessary than ever. For those of us who live in Australia, engaging with the past and present experience of our First Nations hosts is the meaningful way forward into the future. Here at The Song Company we have been fortunate to be able to work alongside Indigenous artists and musicians over many years, from William Barton to dance company Karul Projects.
Artistic Director Antony Pitts’s first season back in 2016 was called Into Something..., which was a fragment of a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest where one who has been ship-wrecked on a foreign shore undergoes a “sea-change into something rich and strange”. Five years later, as The Song Company embarks on another chapter steering Australia’s national vocal ensemble through uncertain waters, we are heading INTO THE HEART.
Antony’s own literal physical journey in 2020 from Uluru, at the heart of the continent, northwards to Kakadu and the Darwinian coast, was also a spiritual journey into the heart, and one of the pieces of art that came directly from that road trip is a 25-part choral motet called Transiens, which we already have recorded and now plan to tour in May/June 2021 as part of our rescheduled MAINSTAGE program, Burden of Truth.
Burden of Truth also features the world première live performances of Gavin Bryars’s minimalist classic Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet in a new entirely a cappella version. 50 years ago in 1971, Gavin was struck by the tape loop of a homeless person singing a fragment of a hymn tune, and added his own harmonies and instrumentation to create a hypnotic and moving piece that has gained almost a cult following around the world. Our performances will vary from venue to venue, but is designed to be able to incorporate audiovisual elements and local singers in a way that makes this iconic piece more relevant than ever.
Following our second quarter MAINSTAGE tour of Burden of Truth, where we will also collaborate where we can with local choirs, we move on to another long-awaited MAINSTAGE project for the third quarter of 2021, Arms of Love. Featuring a Baroque masterwork by Buxtehude, Membra Jesu Nostri, interleaved with a brand-new commission by Australian composer Chris Williams, already completed for us in 2020 and eagerly awaiting first workshops and rehearsals! Arms of Love is not just about combining much-loved old and unique new music, but also about bringing together dancer & choreographer Thomas E.S. Kelly from contemporary Indigenous dance company Karul Projects with the left-field theatrical direction of Robert Macfarlane, who will also be singing tenor in a vocal quintet of our Principal and Guest Artists.
Our season culminates with a special MAINSTAGE project for seven singers working together with Elizabeth Sheppard and Sonya Holowell, Indigenous composers who are both also singers. We will be telling you more about this project across the year, but suffice it to say for now that it’s directly inspired by the principles underlying the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
Our first quarter of 2021 focuses on two programs with our Ensemble Artists, Dances of Passion – from dancetastic Brahms to lovesick Granados – curated and led by Associate Artistic Director, Francis Greep; and Byrd Underground (also available in private homes under the soubriquet Turning the Table) – and Antony takes the ensemble back to the rich treasures of English Renaissance partbooks featuring golden polyphony by Thomas Tallis, Robert Parsons, and William Byrd.
We also have ambitious plans to reunite our Principal and Ensemble Artists in Messiah, Parts II & III with another intimate SALON interpretation, this time, we hope, in front of a live audience as well as on our digital platform.
In the first half of the year we’re scheduling new performances of Close-Up recitals with our Principal Artists, some of which never happened at all in 2020, and some of which never got to the places they were meant to: Koen van Stade in Dichterliebe Reimagined, Amy Moore in Chant d’amour et de mort, and in new recital programs by Chloe Lankshear and Jessica O'Donoghue, Modern Maiden and Rise Up.