“We are slowed down sound and light waves, a walking bundle of frequencies tuned into the cosmos. We are souls dressed up in sacred biochemical garments and our bodies are the instruments through which our souls play their music”.
Conceived as a response to our present-day ecological crisis and also inspired by Claudio Monteverdi’s wonderful Vespero della Beata Vergine (1610), Vespers for Mother Earth abounds with symbols of day and night ranging from the manifest to the subliminal. It may be seen as either a swansong for humankind, or the hope of a new beginning – the renewal of an eternal cycle which restores the feminine (night) principle after an often devastating ascendancy of the masculine (day).
The work is divided into seven major sections:
1. To Invoke the Morning. A shaman with a bamboo flute (shakuhachi) ceremoniously breathes light and life into the void of night in a solo which loosely parodies the sacred meditational music (hokyoku) performed by Zen monks in their quest for enlightenment.
2. Aria: Flame of the Sun. Inward contemplation gradually yields to riotous morning birdsong from a didjeridu, out of which emerges a soprano voice with harp accompaniment. The ecstatic text, sung in Latin, is by the 12th century Rhineland mystic Hildegard von Bingen: O most noble greenness, rooted in the sun, shining in dazzling serenity in a sphere that no earthly being can comprehend. You are encircled in the arms of divine mysteries. You blush like the dawn and burn like a flame of the sun.
3. Bird and Flower Chants is divided into two parts: The Joy of Life - a ritualised response to the cheerful chatter of parrots and cockatoos, their names chanted in the Cadigal language - dissolves into A Dream of Wildflowers as the morning unfolds.
4. Zenith. The strange stillness of solar noon, benign at first, rises to shrill intensity as maximum energy is released from the midday sun – a scorching heat foreboding the impact of global warming on living organisms.
5. Orison. A ruminative, sometimes unquiet cello yearns for a sublime realm beyond the fragmented temporal world.
6. Canticle of the Earth: a celebration of the universal dance of life.
7. O Magnum Mysterium. As darkness descends a scientist probes beyond rational and geopolitical in contemplation of the night sky.
Commissioned by The Judith Neilson Institute