Commissioned for Amy Dickson, David Robertson, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Colin Currie with funds provided by Renata Kaldor, Andrew Kaldor.
Composing this double concerto presented me with an exciting challenge: the need to satisfy the virtuosic requirements of two very extraordinary soloists, saxophonist Amy Dickson and percussionist Colin Currie, while at the same time preserving the substance and direction my music has taken over many years. As ever, it brims over with shapes and patterns which have inadvertently acquired the status of symbols, derived from the ecosphere as well as from myth and ritual of diverse cultures. Absorbed and distilled into my own language, they present an Australian composer’s perspective on the world.
A cycle of eleven large sections is unified by the related themes of renewal and wholeness. Fragments of the very beautiful Marian chant Ave Maris Stella are transformed in many ways, suggesting, together with a subtle dialogue of frogs, the mystery, fragility and continuous evolution of life and the interconnectedness of all things, however seemingly remote.
1. Cosmogony The performance begins in near darkness with a shamanic figure enacting an age-old ritual of renewal by drumming the universe into being. In the background, the outline of the cosmos emerges accompanied by deep orchestral drones and birth pangs. The sounds of living organisms begin to be heard: small creatures chirp and twitter and an exchange between frogs is punctuated by menacing shrieks and growls, with more and more voices joining in until the texture has become a seething, chaotic mass.
2. Consecration Dance The shaman now acts decisively. He initiates a pounding ritual dance based on the rhythm of his opening drum (djembe) solo to sacralise his creation.
3. Sacred Waters The dance yields abruptly to a serene atmosphere and a mysterious presence – the Earth Spirit 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.
4. Interplay I Saxophone follows marimba in a genial quasi-canonic sequence accompanied by the full orchestra: a simple three-part song form with a dramatic central episode.
5. To the Morning Star A wistful serenade to the morning star develops into a slow, graceful dance which later becomes turbulent.
6. Interplay II A quirky dance derived from the plainsong, characterised by rapid changes of instrumentation and texture and featuring the Egyptian riq – a traditional Arabic tambourine.
7. Evening Star and Interplay III Calmly contemplative at first, then impassioned and supplicatory as it draws on material from the Agnus Dei of my Mass of the Dreaming before the vibraphone initiates a dance to evoke a glistening night sky.
8. Cantilena of the Moon A graceful, flowing dance, in which the saxophone is accompanied by the celesta’s delicate tracery.
9. The Cycle Renewed The final sequence is a group of three dances initiated by a return to the drum rhythms which summoned and sanctified the creation. Here, they are assigned to the saxophone. A vigorous celebratory dance follows, leading to a reflective central one.
10. Benediction Material from the Benedictus of my Mass of the Dreaming is transformed into a dance accompanied by Aboriginal clapping sticks. After a further dance-like brass episode, the reflective opening material returns, this time with marimba and clapping sticks.
11. Transcendental Dance To conclude, a joyful explosion of divine cosmic play, transcendental in its power to unite opposites and embrace all things, and derived from the ancient Hindu concept of Leela, in which spontaneous, blissful freedom is expressed in dance.
Frog and Star Cycle was premiered in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House on 7 July 2016. The soloists were Amy Dickson, alto saxophone, and Colin Currie, percussion. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Lothar Koenigs.
Once again, special thanks are due to Renata and Andrew Kaldor, who for the fifth time have given me an opportunity to compose for the Sydney Symphony, the orchestra I grew up with and with which I’ve enjoyed a long and fruitful association. Frog and Star Cycle was composed for Amy Dickson, Colin Currie and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.