Ross Edwards introduces his new double concerto for saxophonist Amy Dickson and percussionist Colin Currie.

Work Frog and Star Cycle
Composer Ross Edwards
Scored for Saxophone, percussion and symphony orchestra
Commissioned by Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Premiere July 7, 2016
Performers Amy Dickson, Colin Currie, SSO/Lothar Koenigs

My essential point of reference in a lifetime of making music has been the natural environment, whose myriad voices, shapes, patterns and drones have influenced everything I’ve composed and provided a ground for the inclusion of diverse cultural material relating to the earth. During this time, the study of ‘ecomusicology’ was born and has grown into a movement that aims to help us redefine our relationship with the environment. The need to restore music’s traditional function as an agent of healing and sustainability has preoccupied me for many years as the ravages of climate change and environmental degradation continue.

Frog and Star Cycle, like my Full Moon Dances and Bird Spirit Dreaming, fulfils the requirements of a concerto – in this case a double concerto – to display the soloist’s virtuosity, but it also has elements of ritual and pantomime. The soloists are assigned specific roles: one is a shaman, a magic activator and healer with access to the spirit world; the other is Mother Earth herself, a personification of nature who protects and nurtures all living things. Shamans and goddesses are, of course, universal. The shaman is associated here with a drum – and frog – while the goddess is depicted through fragments and transformations of the beautiful mediaeval Marian hymn Ave Maris Stella (Hail Star of the Sea). Frog and star, earth and heaven, are thus united, and with a variety of cultural allusion, as well as symbols from myth and ritual, they point to the mystery, fragility and evolution of life, and the interconnectedness of all things. Absorbed and distilled into my own language, they represent an Australian composer’s perspective on the world.

Amy Dickson

A cycle of 11 large sections is initiated by the shaman’s drum, re-enacting the universal ritual of renewal, while the cosmos gradually takes shape accompanied by deep orchestral birth pangs. Living organisms become audible: small creatures chirp and twitter, and an exchange between frogs is punctuated by menacing shrieks and growls, more and more voices joining until the texture has become a seething, chaotic mass. A pounding ritual dance seals and sacralises the creation, yielding abruptly to a serene atmosphere and a mysterious presence – the Earth Mother incarnate – in preparation for a cleansing ceremony. The saxophone performs a sinuously evolving melodic line accompanied by bells and gongs, becoming increasingly complex until it resembles a warbling of magpies.

The pantomime continues as a sequence of dances, contemplations and duets celebrating the earth and serenading moon and stars, until there’s a joyful explosion of divine cosmic play, transcendental in its power to unite opposites and embrace all things, and in accord with the ancient Hindu concept of Lila, in which spontaneous, blissful freedom is expressed in dance.

The Sydney Symphony premieres Frog and Star Cycle on July 7