9-15 June
Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and online


The Song Company's second program Songs of Rosa Mystica, led by Guest Music Director Jack Symonds, is a program of contemporary masterworks for unaccompanied voices. From Elliott Gyger's mighty 1994 work "Ficta", through excepts of Benjamin Britten's "A.M.D.G". and works by Tippett, Saariaho and Symonds himself, The Song Company will challenge your perception of what the human voice is capable.

"This is extreme singing!"
— Jessica O'Donoghue (Mezzo-soprano, The Song Company)

Would you like to read more? Read our blog post on Songs of Rosa Mystica.



Susannah Lawergren, Amy Moore, Jessica O'Donoghue, Timothy Reynolds, Simon Lobelson and Andrew O'Connor


Jack Symonds


Ben Carey, Sound Designer


Elliott Gyger, Benjamin Britten, Jack Symonds, Michael Tippett, Kaija Saariaho

Elliott Gyger:  Ficta
Benjamin Britten:  A.M.D.G. Ad majorem Dei Gloriam (excerpts)
    - Rosa Mystica
    - God's Grandeur
    - O Deus, Ego Amo Te
Jack Symonds:  Fire-featuring heaven (World Premiere)
Michael Tippett:  The Windhover
Kaija Saariaho:  Tag des Jahrs



This program represents what I love about vocal music: the unique ability of the human voice to illuminate poetry and text in completely fresh and imaginative ways. It is built around two of my favourite living composers, the Australian Elliott Gyger and Kaija Saariaho from Finland. They each have an instantly identifiable approach to the voice in harmony. Saariaho weaves a hallucinatory spell from her complex, resonant chords (aided here by subtle electronic transformations), coloring the vivid poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin in a way no previous composer imagined. Far from the usual German Romantic tradition encountered with this writer, Saariaho finds a very French sensuality in his gnomic words. 

Elliott Gyger's Ficta is, quite simply, one of the most virtuosic things I've ever encountered for six unaccompanied voices to perform. An early work by this major Australian composer written while he was in-residency with The Song Company in 1994 (and performed only once until now!), Gyger sets a 15th century text describing the 'rules' for writing musica ficta alongside the text from the 'Prize Song' from Wagner's Meistersinger (an opera where the rules of songwriting is debated at great length!) and a poem by Ern Malley about the 15h century artist Dürer. This three-dimensional melding of texts about art creates an intricately layered piece where every singer inhabits a different refracted stylistic 'tick' from the history of vocal music... all in under 20 minutes! Elliott's music demands much of performers and audience but is some of the most rewarding I've experienced – I can't wait for the thrill of presenting it to audiences this year. Give yourself over to this masterful interweaving of music and history by an Australian legend. 

Finally, a sequence of music illustrating the quirky genius of Gerard Manly Hopkins, the great 19th century English visionary, iconoclastic virtuoso poet who bent the sounds of the English language to his unique poetic take on nature, God, and humanity’s relationship with them both. Far in advance of many twentieth century poets who conducted similar experiments on the form of words, Hopkins supercharged language with a unique pattern of accents, rhythms, rhymes and collisions of sounds that I find musically irresistible.

The content and expression for which he is most known is a kind of radiant, ecstatic positivity uniting the wonders of the natural world to our divine perception of it. Benjamin Britten's A.M.D.G and his great contemporary Michael Tippett's The Windhover illustrate this with rhythmic verve and spectacular, pinpoint madrigal technique. 


Elliott writes in 2023: In the second half of 1993 I had an amazing opportunity to work with the Song Company as Musician-in-Residence.  I led rehearsals on repertoire ranging from Monteverdi madrigals and jazz standards to Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia and brand-new Australian works, joined the group at an intensive music camp for Queensland high school students, and heard them sing in such diverse contexts as corporate events, student workshops, commercial recording sessions, new music festivals and fundraising dinners.  I came away with powerful impressions of a madly frenetic pace and workload, and the ensemble’s wholehearted embrace of sharply contrasting musical and vocal styles in quick succession. 

Ficta, written for the ensemble’s tenth birthday the following year, essentially sets out to capture these experiences in a single piece.  The title is a Latin word meaning false or feigned, derived from a Medieval music theory term, but referring here primarily to the singers’ chameleon-like ability to assume a new style or character at the drop of a hat; at times each performer adopts their own solo persona, with genre associations including high Baroque, bel canto and nightclub crooner. The score’s wild proliferation of energy and detail led the singers for the premiere to decide that henceforth they would rate every piece by degree of difficulty on a “Ficta scale”, with Ficta itself scoring a perfect ten …  


Text: Gerard Hopkins

A.M.D.G stands for ‘Ad maiorem Dei gloriam’ (‘to the greater glory of God’), and is used by the poet Gerald Manley Hopkins in several of the manuscripts that Britten examined when setting these texts.

The set of seven songs has a curious history. Originally intended for publication as Britten’s Op.17, it was withheld – but the exact reason is not clear. The songs were intended for performance by a quartet Peter Pears was due to set up in London in 1939, named the ‘Round Table Singers’, but because of the Second World War, Britten and Pears did not get back and A.M.D.G. was shelved. Britten never returned to it, and although individual songs were programmed and sometimes performed, the full set did not see performance until 1984 and publication until 1989. (Good Morning Britten)

Listen to the work performed by NOTUS: Indiana University Contemporary Vocal Ensemble


World premiere performances

Text: Gerard Manly Hopkins Spelt from "Sibyl’s Leaves"

Jack Symonds writes: Hopkins's late poem Spelt from is an apocalyptic vision of heaven and hell, containing bleak ruminations on the likely fate of most of humanity: a desolate Dies Irae. As I was setting this poem, I found the words seeming to grind against each other, warping and buckling under the intense pressure of Hopkins’s dark ruminations. I have sought to amplify the linear arrangement of words in the poem by drawing out the correspondences of vowel/consonant sounds and language forms. Six voices often form an unruly, heterophonic unison that is further augmented by live electronics which take the percussive points of vocal contact in Hopkins to their logical extreme. I have attempted to give Hopkins’s vision ‘linear form’ in time by distorting the natural rhythm of his sonnet, attempting a three-dimensional representation of the ‘inner sound’ of the poem itself. These are the first performances of my work.


Madrigal on a poem by Gerard Manly Hopkins

Summary from Wikipedia: "Sir Michael Tippett was a prominent English composer during and after WWII, often compared to Benjamin Britten. His best-known works include A Child of Our Time, Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli, and The Midsummer Marriage. Tippett's style evolved from lyrical to experimental and was influenced by jazz and blues. He was a pacifist and underwent psychoanalysis to come to terms with his homosexuality. Tippett was an advocate of music education and worked as a broadcaster and music writer. Although honored in his lifetime, critical judgement of his legacy has been uneven, with more praise given to his earlier works." Read full article here


Text: Friedrich Hölderlin

Jack Symonds writes: Saariaho weaves a hallucinatory spell from her complex, resonant chords (aided here by subtle electronic transformations), colouring the vivid poetry of Hölderlin in a way no previous composer imagined. Far from the usual German Romantic tradition encountered with this writer, Saariaho finds a very French sensuality in his gnomic words. 

Tour Details


Wheelchair Access

Dates & Times

Sydney – The Neilson, Pier 2/3 (ACO) Walsh Bay Friday 9 June - 7pm
Sydney – The Neilson, Pier 2/3 (ACO), Walsh Bay Sunday 11 June - 3pm
Canberra – Gandel Hall, National Gallery of Australia Wednesday 14 June - 7pm
Melbourne – Athenaeum Theatre Thursday 15 June - 7pm
Digital Broadcast – Australian Digital Concert Hall Thursday 15 June - 7pm

You might also be interested in...