Sometimes we go to concerts to hear a particular performer. Sometimes we go to hear a specific work. Sometimes we go to listen to an extended reflection on a fascinating sound world. Indies and Idols, the ACO’s latest program touring nationally, is the latter.

Richard Tognetti Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra

The ‘Indies’ in the title are Bryce Dessner, Sufjan Stevens and Jonny Greenwood, three composers writing music variously described as ‘crossover’, ‘indie classical’ and ‘undefinable’. The name doesn’t matter. It’s the sound, using the dramatic push and pull of film scores, the ear-catching pop of indierock, all informed by classical music and, in particular, the pre- and post-war modernism of Polish composers Witold Lutosławski, Krzysztof Penderecki and Karol Szymanowski. The works run together almost seamlessly, different voices speaking to each other across time and space with remarkable coherence.

The concert opens with a tense and twitchy run at Lutosławski’s Overture for Strings, setting the scene for the Australian premiere of Bryce Dessner’s impressive and compelling suite, Reponse Lutosławski. This deserves to become a core work in the ACO’s repertoire.

Sufjan Stevens’ Suite from Run Rabbit Run began as a purely electronic album and, as the composer himself admits, its arrangement into a string ensemble work at the hands of orchestrator Michael Atkinson has transformed it into a dazzler. Add in the ACO’s lucid, energising performance and it becomes a real showstopper in a concert of showstoppers.

At the heart of the program is the opening movement from Penderecki’s suite of three pieces in Baroque style. Aria is a little piece of string perfection, given an immaculate performance by the ensemble. But we all know that achieving perfection is a rare and random phenomenon. The works before and after this still moment embrace the jagged edges of string sound: the dissonant, the wild, the messy. In Bryce Dessner’s Response Lutosławski, for example, the metallic tang of bow stick on string adds overtones and instability. In the same way, Jonny Greenwood’s Suite from There Will Be Blood calls for gruff and violent gestures as he evokes the menacing sense of rampaging ambition in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 film about the Californian oil-fields, echoing the gestures explored in Penderecki’s String Quartet No 1.

The final work is a Tognetti arrangement of Szymanowski’s String Quartet No 2, Op. 56, written in 1927, which makes it the oldest work on the program. In the tense opening bars, with an uncomfortable melody floating over a nervous motor rhythm, Szymanowski lays the groundwork for the language of a new genre: the film score. Tognetti’s arrangement preserves the crystalline structures and emotional punch of the original and the band play it with gripping elan.


Indies & Idols tours nationally until June 29

Tickets