‘Epic Sounds’ was magnificent.
In a world premiere, Queensland Symphony Orchestra (QSO), along with William Barton, showcased their newest work ‘Epic Sounds’, which celebrated nature and Mother Earth in a perfect crossover of symphony and didgeridoo. There were three symphonies included in the show, namely Barton’s composition entitled Apii Thatini Mu Murtu (‘to sing and carry a coolamon on country together), Overture to La Forza Del Destino by Verde and finally, Symphony no.5 by Sibelius.
Beginning the show came a beautiful Welcome to Country, delivered in detail and deep-meaning by Tommy Coghill. He took time to explain his family history and his role in the Indigenous community, as well as the way in which Queensland and Country are viewed by First Nations people. Given the magnitude of Barton’s composition, it felt incredibly important to have such a heartfelt and genuine introduction. Coghill concluded this with a magical welcome song, expertly played on the didgeridoo. This short performance was filled with passion and love, preparing the audience for what was to come.
The first performance of the evening was introduced by William Barton, a highly esteemed musician and soloist. Barton spoke passionately of his work with the QSO and how his composition was inspired by the concepts of a lullaby, singing to country and to Mother Earth. He explained it was a celebration of mothers in all their wonderful forms, and this was expressed explicitly from the very beginning of the performance. Staging and lighting choices were thoughtful, allowing the audience a full view of the orchestra and filling the grandiose QPAC Concert Hall. Lights were warm, and the stage setup was grand, perfectly framing each musician and capturing the intimate nature of Barton’s work.
Barton’s composition had a magical quality to it, one that was simultaneously joyous and seamless. There was a smooth, weightless mixture of symphonic sounds and the unique pulse of the didgeridoo that celebrated nature took many in the audience on an auditory adventure. With epic highs and mystical lows, Barton’s composition created the illusion that time had stood still for this world premiere and the audience was encouraged to completely surrender to the unique and welcoming sounds. It was truly thrilling to be in the room with powerful art and storytelling through music.
QSO performed with their usual perfect timing, operating as one unit with the sharpness and confidence of a lifetime’s achievement. Conductor Benjamin Northey led with balance, focus and elegance; his passion and love for orchestral music were clearly displayed. His energy ushered in a sense of stillness from the audience so rare to see in the modern world, and which, in turn, invoked a multitude of emotional reactions. ‘Epic Sounds’ was not just a performance, it was an event – a moment in time.
Barton’s awe-inspiring command of the didgeridoo, and his ability to take the audience through each wave of the piece, was mesmerising. His addition of vocals was hauntingly beautiful and remarkably fitting for the composition. Barton and the QSO managed a harmonious balance throughout the piece, in which the didgeridoo and the orchestra never overshadow one another. Rather they sound as though they had always existed in synchronicity. This togetherness, which no doubt takes a wealth of knowledge and talent to achieve, created a very powerful and transfixing sound.
At the conclusion of Apii Thatini Mu Murtu, most of the audience responded with a standing ovation that continued on for several minutes. The sheer amount of love, adoration and respect that could be seen between William Barton and conductor Benjamin Northey was a testament to the work that has gone into creating this masterpiece.
As if this world premiere were not special enough, the evening was made even more poignant by harpist Jill Atkinson. After 47 years with the QSO, Epic Sounds was Jill’s final performance as the QSO’s principal harpist. Concertmaster Warwick Adeney made a delightful speech about Jill’s career with the orchestra. Jill made a short but charming speech in between symphony 1 and 2 in which she described the complexity of playing the harp amongst a symphony orchestra, thanked her loved ones and most notably shared the quote, ‘’We are so lucky to have a life making music’’.
Finally, the evening ended with the third and final symphony, a Sibelius composition entitled Symphony no.5 written in 1915. This contained the well known ‘Swan Theme’ and told of anxiety, resilience and triumph. Conductor Benjamin Northey explained this composition with clarity, passion and depth so that every audience member could appreciate the piece in its entirety. Epic Sounds appeared as though all the greats of music had combined to create a mastery of opulence and a soundtrack of historical proportions.
The Queensland Symphony Orchestra played two sell-out shows on 26 June 2021. This performance can be seen again on ABC Classic on 11 July 2021. For more information, visit QSO’s website or follow the abundance of work by William Barton on Barton’s website.