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Live review: Hurricane Transcriptions (Sydney Festival)

Live Reviews - Classical Music | Opera

Live review: Hurricane Transcriptions (Sydney Festival)

by Hallam Fulcher on January 17, 2014 (January 17, 2014) filed under Classical Music | Opera | Comment Now
Rock legends Lee Ranaldo and Mike Patton navigate new territory.

As someone slightly too young to have appreciated Sonic Youth or Faith No More in their heyday, and uninitiatiated into the world of punk noise bands of the 1980s, I was not quite sure what to expect from an evening's entertainment from rock royalty Lee Ranaldo and Mike Patton.

At this year’s Festival, director Lieven Bertels must be applauded for his boundary-pushing programming. In this case, however, with Ranaldo's new composition Hurricane Transcriptions and Luciano Berio’s 1965 opera Laborintus II performed by Sydney-based Ensemble Offspring and Song Company, he may have pushed too far. For a concert that was so well executed by its performers, I didn't find it entirely enjoyable as the works, albeit interesting, seemed largely inaccessible to the average concertgoer.

At 45 minutes long, Hurricane Transcriptions appeared to drown in sense of relentless monotony. With endless string harmonics and erratic pizzicato, the work did at least manage its intention of capturing the intensity and devastation of a violent storm. Various percussion was used to great effect throughout, most notably a giant wobble board beaten with mallets at the hurricane's violent arrival. Conductor Ronald Peelman also offered up pearls of entertainment, cutting a flamboyantly fluid figure at the podium.

A handful of Ranaldo’s songs interspersed throughout the composition provided the evening’s highlights, with Ranaldo’s no-nonsense vocals and sturdy skills as a guitarist standing as testament to his iconic status in contemporary rock music.

A rather drastic rearrangement of furniture opened the concert's second half, with two harps, a multitude of woodwind, brass and singers from the Song Company joining the stage. As the speaker in Berio’s avant-garde 1963 opera Laborintus II, Mike Patton did an exceptional job navigating the Italian libretto. A native of California, his Italian was impressively fluent, and his gravelly voice provided  a suitably emotive soundtrack to this display of operatic bizarre.

The Song Company must also be applauded for an exemplary display, with effortless scat-style singing and jarring leaps evidence of their standing as one of Australia's finest vocal ensembles. Some expert jazz drumming also shone through, with two kits placed on either side of the stage providing an entertaining bout of call and response in the opera’s latter half.