II. The Dance of Life and Death
IV. The Promised Land
It seems to me that in a divided society, music must inevitably play its part in the public discourse on such matters as fairness, tolerance, national identity, the way we view our history, and the mysteries of the unseen world. My fifth symphony, like the others, reflects my experience of looking at today’s world from an Australian perspective and is in part an instinctual response to the political and spiritual climate of the times.
There are four interconnected movements, some of whose titles make obvious reference to present-day Australia using symbols which, although universal, are loosely modelled on Tibetan Buddhist visualisations. Within this framework my own essential language is always present: deep drones from the earth and the air full of birdsong. There are references to musical cultures of East Asia, pre-Renaissance Europe (plainchant) and other works of mine, all of which interplay with fresh material appropriate to the context.
1. Healing. Calm, loving, yet sorrowful. Two Buddhist visualisations produce a light shower of sunlit rain and a stream flowing through an acacia forest. They generate an unexpected welling up of fervour.
2. The Dance of Life and Death. A wild female deity festooned with human skulls dances naked on a corpse. She wields a scimitar with which to hack away all conceptual ideas. Unfettered instinct is at play here – the unpredictable life force represented by such universal images as the dancing Hindu goddess Kali and the frenzied Dionysian Maenads of Greek mythology – symbols of both the fecundity and destructive power of Mother Nature. Pounding drum rhythms invite us to break free and energize ourselves in the ecstatic world of the senses.
3. Crossing. A calm voyage across a lagoon: a waking dream that is no doubt deeply symbolic. The destination, heralded by exultant birdsong, can only be the Promised Land.
4. The Promised Land. A vision of wholeness and creative fulfilment, yet inevitably raising such contentious spiritual and political issues as land ownership and dispossession. Pointing towards a future of genuine reconciliation, fresh young voices sing David Malouf’s luminous, subtle words: the fragile, mysterious vision of a virginal land waiting to fulfil its promise as a mature society unified by commonality while embracing diversity.
Symphony No. 5 – The Promised Land was commissioned for the Sydney Symphony and the Sydney Children’s Choir by Symphony Australia and the Australia Council with generous assistance from Renata and Andrew Kaldor, to whom the work is jointly dedicated. The world premiere was given in the Sydney Opera House on 18 October 2006 by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Sydney Children’s Choir (director Lyn Williams). The performance was conducted by David Porcelijn.