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MUSIC OF THE NATURAL WORLD: BIRDSONG

MUSIC OF THE NATURAL WORLD: BIRDSONG

Pianist Coady Green of Duo Eclettico explores the musical vibrancy of birdsong.

Coady Green is one half of Duo Eclettico, a unique pairing of piano and saxophone with fellow musician Justin Kenealy. This year the duo explores repertoire on the natural world, and the intrinsic relationship between nature and humankind with works by Australian composers Ross Edwards, Jane Hammond, and Nicholas Russoniello and international masters Olivier Messiaen (France), Takashi Yoshimatsu (Japan), and William Albright (USA). 

The selected works by Edwards, Hammond, Russoniello, Messiaen and Yoshimatsu utilise birdsong in a variety of ways. Birdsong is the singing or calling of birds. The sounds that birds produce can be categorised into two  classes: calls and songs. A call is usually a short and simple vocalisation that signals flight or danger. A song tends to be a long and complex vocalisation produced during a breeding season. 

Here Coady shares why he's fascinated with birdsong and why Duo Eclettico has chosen to explore music of the natural world as a central theme in their 2020 series.

Birdsong has been something that I have been fascinated by since I was a teenager, and I spent several years learning huge swathes of the solo piano music of Olivier Messiaen, including sections from his Catalogue d’Oiseaux

Both Justin and I felt drawn to doing a series of recitals this year with works that express messages on nature, partly as a response to the ever-growing concerns over climate change. Discussing this theme, we found a large variety of music for saxophone and piano which centres on the natural world. 

We’re dedicated to performing new and existing works by Australian composers, and we are always excited to showcase international music that audiences may be unfamiliar with. The three Australian works we're performing at Melbourne Recital Centre this year, including one new commission, are all inspired by the natural world and contain many environmental messages. 

Vivid landscapes, vibrant sounds

We believe that there is a particular uniqueness of colour in Australian music that is not found elsewhere in the world. This is often inspired by the stunning individuality of Australian flora, fauna and landscapes where colours are so vivid and you can hear some of the most unusual and exciting sounds and rhythms from the natural world. 

A newly-commissioned work by local Melbourne composer Dr. Jane Hammond, specifically written for our program will be presented as a world-premiere performance next to Takashi Yoshimatsu’s Fuzzy Bird Sonata. Hammond’s work is a deeply personal statement on the ongoing effects of human behavior and climate change on the environment expressed as a tribute to Messiaen – a piece based around the sad dwindling of the local Regent Honeyeater, a species endemic to South Eastern Australia, and one of many Australian native bird species to be currently critically endangered. 

Regent Honeyeater

The piece is an elegy to this bird and other native bird species in Victoria. The short movements are based upon the late sketches of Messiaen in his Petite esquisses d’oiseaux, and are interspersed with poetry and statements from local conservationists.

Where nature and humankind intertwine

Japan’s renowned Takashi Yoshimatsu has composed works that feature programmatic representations of birds and juxtapose their natural habitat with the world of modern humankind for decades. 

Like Messiaen before him, birds and their songs act as one of the most important sources of inspiration for Yoshimatsu. He refers to birds as the greatest ‘melody makers’, the motion of their wings and their movements whilst on the ground becoming intricate sources for a variety of rhythms, and their very lifestyles becoming a profound mode of musical expression. 

His prolific output is peppered with titles such as the Concerto for Saxophone, Piano and Orchestra Cyber Bird, his Marimba Concerto Bird Rhythmics, and his 6th Symphony Birds and Angels. His music often contains long passages beautifully coloured by birdsong. His famous Fuzzy Bird Sonata for alto saxophone and piano, presented in our first program at the Centre, has three movements Run Bird, Sing Bird, Fly Bird and constitutes a central part of Yoshimatsu’s ‘bird series’. Yoshimatsu’s very virtuosic bird runs and flies between various musical styles, including classical, folk and jazz. 

Yoshimatsu uses a variety of extended techniques on the saxophone to create his ornithological effects, including ‘slap tongue’ (the bird walking around), breath sound and key slaps (wings fluttering), portamenti (bird singing soulfully) and use of ostinato rhythms and brilliant altissimo (bird taking off into flight).

These two works will be presented alongside Messiaen’s student William Albright’s monumental Sonata for Saxophone and Piano - a work that through use of traditional Baroque and modern jazz techniques, specifically unites two different instruments and two different periods into a piece dedicated to the poignancy of human feeling and understanding. The Albright Sonata, whilst being a staple of the saxophone and piano repertoire internationally since its conception in 1984, has until now not been performed in Australia. 

Celebrating nature, its beauty and complexity

The works by Messiaen, Russoniello and Edwards in our program all use birdsong in celebratory ways, with Edwards utilising it in an extended piece that also acts as a message about the healing qualities of nature and the need for nature itself to be looked after as a precious and central part of our lives. 

Olivier Messiaen’s love for and fascination with the song of birds dominated his music, becoming a central part of his musical language. One of his final works, the exquisite Petites esquisses d’oiseaux (Small Sketches of Birds) for solo piano is followed by Australian saxophonist Nicholas Russoniello’s haunting, birdsong-inspired Dawn Searching. 

In the final work on the program, Full Moon Dances, Ross Edwards depicts the universal Moon Goddess incarnate, source of plant life and protector of the environment, performing a series of ritual healing ceremonies. The work brings to a close two programs devoted to nature and the complex, difficult relationship between the natural world and mankind that needs to be nurtured and cultivated with great care.

Discover more about Duo Eclettico in concert:

Run, Sing, Fly
Monday 18 May

Takashi Yoshimatsu, Fuzzy Bird Sonata
Jane Hammond, New Work
William Albright, Sonata for alto saxophone and piano

Full Moon Dances
Monday 9 November

Olivier Messiaen, Petite esquisses d’oiseaux
Nicholas Russoniello, Dawn Searching
Ross Edwards, Full Moon Dances

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