Reviews

CITY NEWS
June 2021

Burden of Truth
"Highly textured harmonies that defy description"

"...The Song Company, featuring The Oriana Chorale directed by Dan Walker, performed new and older works in the Albert Hall last night. They were Transiens, by Antony Pitts, a new 25-part choral motet, three short works and for the 50th anniversary of Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, by Gavin Bryars, a choral version that was a world première... The choir’s volume and sound quality were quite magnificent, and all dressed in jet black, visually stunning... ...the transcendental and deeply moving Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, by Gavin Bryars, began. This incredible piece never fails to move anyone who hears it. Like with the original version, in this choral form, as new sections came in, so did the groups of singers. Moving around the hall, small groups of singers came in and out, creating a striking spatial effect. This aspect of the singing was not just well thought-out, it added so much to the performance aspect of the concert. As this work builds and builds, it cuts deeper into the listener. With Pitts conducting, he gave movement directions for the groups and drew an expressive warmth from every singer. The highly textured harmonies in this piece were astounding... it was a truly astounding experience. Transiens, a world première by Pitts, is based on the music of the Eton Choirbook. Inspired by a road trip from Uluru to Kakadu early in 2020, this work started with almost no break from the last. It seemed to be purposely connected... in 25 parts, crossed a lot of polyphonic territory. The glorious sound of this large choir came into their own during this work. While a contemporary piece, it held an ancient sound... So full, rich and complex was this piece that it probably should be considered a major new Australian choral work. Well done to Antony Pitts and to every singer... this was a concert of the highest quality. The standing ovation proving that it was." (Rob Kennedy)

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SYDNEY ARTS GUIDE
May 2021

Burden of Truth
"An Extraordinary Achievement"

"The Sydney iteration of Burden of Truth is a collaboration between The Song Company and VOX, a young adults’ chamber choir under the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, as well as with the teenage singers of the Conservatorium High School, The Song Company’s Education Partner. Consequently, this is a very youthful concert... These fresh and supple, highly trained voices combined in gorgeous, lush harmonies as they gave the world premiere run of Pitts’ own work, Transiens, as well as a new a cappella arrangement of Gavin Bryars’ famous Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet... Fitted out with funky steel scaffolding, the venue’s juxtaposition of the old and the new is, in fact, perfectly suited to The Song Company’s ‘menu’. The hors d’oeuvre was a traditional four-part hymn by James M. Black, His Love Never Failed Me Yet, sung in simple and lovely four-part harmony by the Song Company singers, who surprised the audience by starting the concert behind us... This intriguing use of the space, in the manner of a chapel, was only just beginning. The singers began processing as if up to the altar, humming the plainchant melody Jesus autem transiens (our amuse-bouche course for the afternoon), as they were joined by dozens more singers from the Conservatorium and Vox, all pouring into the venue from the side doors. Once at the ‘altar’, they broke into full monophonic voice. Pitts’ conducting was precise and the singers tightly synchronised; no easy feat with [the] chant’s often ambiguous rhythm. Perhaps spellbound with the reverent atmosphere, the audience did not applaud. Our salad course, to continue the metaphor, was William Byrd’s 1605 motet Ave verum corpus. At the first notes, my husband (himself a long-time choral singer) sank back into his chair with a happy sigh, mouthing along with the words. It was truly a wonderful, rich performance of this immortal polyphonic work... Our main course, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, started almost imperceptibly softly with the fade-in of the looped recording. With his quavering voice, worn by age, rough sleeping and hard living, the unknown ‘co-composer’ of this work seemed for a moment to be an unexpected interloper from the streets of Darlinghurst. Over and over, trapped in poverty and in time, he sang his semi-garbled version of Black’s hymn, while the trained singers gradually built up a complex array of ever-changing, overlapping words and harmonies around it. Pitts provided expert direction, not only in the swirl of song but also in the complex choreography, as singers continually created small choirs, then shifted around slowly to disband and form new ones... Our dessert course was a triptych in 25 voice-parts... Transiens is a monumental new work, profoundly influenced by Renaissance sacred choral music in general and, of course, by Robert Wylkynson’s canonic treatment of Jesus autem transiens in particular. In its antiphonal use of small choirs (with more dynamic vocal placement throughout), there is a definite relationship to Tallis’s Spem in alium here: not surprising when one reads in Pitts’ bio that he has also composed the work XL, a 40-voice-part companion piece to Spem, which, also in 40 parts, is beloved by ambitious choristers everywhere. Rich with chiaroscuro and the tension between chaos and order, sometimes almost schizophrenic in its imitative polyphony, sometimes a glorious wash of sound like waves rolling over the audience, Transiens is a significant new addition to the Australian choral repertory. Pitts should be extremely proud, not only of the composition, but also of the multiple young collaborating choirs and the remarkably unified sound he has achieved with them. All this happily exists on a new album, recorded in isolation during Covid and available now on Bandcamp and as a limited edition vinyl recording. What an extraordinary achievement for The Song Company, to have completed this project during what is surely one of history’s most difficult periods to be a singer... I highly recommend that Canberra-based lovers of choral music, especially Christian sacred music, attend the final concert on the 10th of June." (Holly Champion)

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CLASSIKON
May 2021

Burden of Truth
"Ecstatic reveries from The Song Company"

"This was no mere choral performance – this was a moving experience that vibrated through body and soul.... I am referring to The Song Company’s Burden of Truth, performed in the iconic Cell Block Theatre at the National Art School, Darlinghurst (Sydney)... Antony Pitts introduced a program which treats us to two world premières, describing how the continuing repetition of refrains lead us through a changing landscape of emotion and how the structure of the program forms an overall arch... The choristers continually repositioned themselves on the stage into different groups to give different vocal balances for the audience to hear. The effect was transporting as individual voices rang out from different parts of the stage. Then there was silence, into which came the lone voice of a homeless old man singing... This was the recording Gavin Bryars used in a repeated loop, accompanied by evolving orchestral harmonies fifty years ago. He developed a new a cappella version for The Song Company, which was very moving. Their voices intertwined with the recording, while they moved around the stage and their exquisite harmonies evolved with each repetition, giving the effect constant change over the old man’s repeated refrain. This transitioned into Transiens, based on Wylkynson’s melody we heard earlier and beautifully developed by Antony Pitts into a complex series of canons and harmonies and sung by twice the number of voices. This was written as a companion piece to Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, during an inspiring trip to Central Australia and Kakadu in 2020. The choristers still moved around as they sang, standing in a semi-circle at times, or in sections to form a triptych, where the central core sang the original canon, with the outer parts singing the twelve phrases sung by the Apostles to make up the Creed... These vocal ensembles sang with exquisite perfection, transporting the listeners to ecstatic reveries as the music became increasingly complex and intense. When they finished, Antony Pitts held the silence and eventually turned around to face the audience to much earned applause. I heard several comments of ‘mesmerising’ from nearby audience members. A wonderful experience indeed! Canberra residents are privileged to have a chance to hear the final performance of this beautiful concert on June 10." (Heidi Hereth)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
June 2021

Burden of Truth
★★★★ "Complex rhythms hypnotise while cult classic shines"

"The Song Company’s Burden of Truth program with guest singers from the Conservatorium High School, Sydney Philharmonia VOX and The SongCo Chorale was built around the première of a new version for a cappella singers of Gavin Bryars’s cult classic Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet and a specially written companion piece Transiens... It captures a purely private moment of spontaneous un-self-conscious music making – untrained yet true – and the setting here against trained singers created a carefully moulded background of subtly shifting balance and a listener experience of still reflectiveness... Transiens subjected the intervals and contour of Wylkynson’s original to bewildering proliferation like a mantra that takes the listener to new levels of awareness and transcendence..." (Peter McCallum)

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SYDNEY ARTS GUIDE
May 2021

Burden of Truth

"...It was a full house in the Cell Block Theatre of the National Art School in Darlinghurst, an historic building made of thick stone. The inside is hollowed out but traces of broken stone left in the walls shows where the stairways and storeys above used to be. Looking up towards the roof there are rows of small windows over what would have been each morbid door, still featuring their iron bars of gaol cells. Yet the space was warm and friendly on the ground floor with comfortable chairs, coloured back lighting for the performance space reaching up to the rafters, and many happy faces. The gathering was for The Song Company, a high class vocal ensemble founded more than 30 years ago attracting professional singers from around Australia. Under the Artistic Direction of Antony Pitts they have expanded their repertoire broadly with works from 9th century music through to the most contemporary. Joining The Song Company for this performance, padding out the works to give a lush, full sound, were the students of the Sydney Conservatorium High School, Members of the Sydney Philharmonia VOX and The SongCo Chorale, a collection of singers from The Song Company workshops. Pitts opened the concert with an introduction. What better way to grab the imagination of the audience than with a clear picturesque scene. He spoke of composer Gavin Bryars working in London about 50 years ago... Working their way forward from the back of the room, the singers enveloped the audience with their beautifully pitched tones, then drew together for a short, single part Renaissance styled melody. Silence fell and the homeless man’s voice began his loop. A slightly shaky voice with unrelenting strength of spirit behind it. It felt like, no matter how hard life can be, this man held true to his faith in Jesus. Gradually the singers joined his song. The soundscape constantly changed and flowed like watching the Northern Lights. Subtle shifts, solos peaking over the other voices, then fading back to the group. It drew a tear to the eye, thinking about what an amazing tribute this is, so subtle and sympathetic, to a man whose name is not recorded. A man ignored by busy people on the streets of London who died before he could hear this incredible piece Bryars worked around his simple hymn. With so many singers there was room to move them around the stage breaking up and re-forming new groups, new patterns, there was always something new to see. The more sweetly they sang the more clear a picture came forth of this poverty-stricken man, forever with a smile on his face backed with the support of a massive choir of angels. Just beautiful. The audience loved it... The second major work was by Pitts himself. Two years ago he introduced to Australian audiences a life-size facsimile of the amazing Eton Choirbook compiled between 1490 and 1502... Pitts has developed one of the works beyond its original score... The tempo was perfect. Enough to have the singers moving to the beat but still spacious enough to keep it airy and etheric, slowly drawing together then splitting and changing shape. It made the perfect companion to the earlier work. In fact, the concert was produced in a unique, holistic way. Usually choral groups put on a program of several works which may relate to each other in a linear fashion but, this concert was the next level up. It encompassed ideas and visions experienced throughout the concert, revisiting, summarising, turning back, turning forward. Somehow the concert was easy to see as a complete work which only an artistic genius with visionary talent could put together. The audience was mesmerised and stayed silent a long time afterward before bursting into enthusiastic applause at the close. Well done, The Song Company! A memorable concert... If you don’t have the chance to get there and see them in person, you can buy the album of the music either as a digital download or a vinyl record... It’s a great way to support your local artists and keep Arts alive in Australia. Can’t wait to see what they next have planned." (Annabelle Drumm)

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LIMELIGHT
May 2021

Burden of Truth
★★★★ "The concert from The Song Company, which features a new arrangement of Gavin Bryars' minimalist classic, Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, is fascinating acoustically and visually."

"In the company of song, we traverse an engaging a cappella program, Burden of Truth, which includes two world premières inspired by original works from the past. Its central concept is a phrase that is repeated in patterns of varying complexity and frequency. Artistic Director Antony Pitts directs the 10 core voices of The Song Company, expanded to include noted guests, further augmented by emerging voices from Sydney’s Conservatorium High School, Sydney Philharmonia VOX and The SongCo Chorale. The concert’s title plays on words, referring to the verities of contemporary life as well as to the musical meaning of the word “burden” which describes a repeated section or “chorus”, particularly in Medieval and Renaissance times... The power of Burden of Truth is that it evades tedium and engages by embedding repetition in an ever-changing context of multiple lines and harmonies. It builds fervour, devotion and texture, like meditating with chant or mantra, focusing on a single notion to the exclusion of other distractions to reach a higher plane, perhaps even an altered state of being. The ensemble opens with James Black’s His Love Never Failed Me Yet... The Song Company presents it in a more traditional style of a ringing chorale, beginning off-stage, surrounding the audience in rich columns of harmony... The familiar strains of William Byrd’s four-part motet Ave verum corpus, are perfectly executed by the core ensemble. A piece which is moving in its plangent simplicity, Byrd’s masterpiece is amenable to singers of all levels, and so creates an opportunity to bridge the old and the new, and for these sophisticated singers to showcase their musicianship, milking the complex devices of the writing with polyphonic perfection. The ensemble moves seamlessly to the world premiere of Gavin Bryars’ re-arrangement of Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. Bryars’ piece grows from acoustic out-takes of a 1971 documentary on homeless people in London. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the piece is a bespoke setting, reflecting a lengthy collaboration between ensemble and composer. The 32 voices sing around the loop of a homeless man crooning the title phrase in a voice that is frail, yet rings with the power of conviction. The hummed opening bars swell imperceptibly to entries from different configurations of voices, signalled by Pitts and underscored by the ‘choralography’ of the singers. The piece builds in intensity through various iterations rising to a glistening soprano descant. The lower voices fade as the sopranos, ethereal in their simplicity, accompany the old man on his loop – an unwitting soloist, immortalised and endlessly re-incarnated in this piece. The power of repetition recurs in Transiens (2020), which Antony Pitts has composed from the fragment of Wylkynson’s melody (composed in the early 1500s)... during a road trip in outback Australia. In it, I hear the sounds of the landscape – the flocks of birds, the sunrise over a red horizon, unforgiving mountains and dusty sweeping plains; individual parts make their point through the impossibly rich tapestry. Playing with innovative configurations and rapturous repetition, the final part of this triptych sees the voices separated into two flanks of upper and lower registers with the solo ensemble centred between them. The piece reaches its transcendental conclusion, ignited by sparks from the high sopranos, pulsating variations in rhythm, thick cluster harmonies and a reprise of Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. Burden of Truth is a challenging program, ably realised by the expanded company of experienced and emerging singers. The blend of voices, musicianship and elements of ensemble, with the added challenge of moving around the stage is faultless. Fascinating acoustically and visually, we see the attainment of purity through music." (Shamistha de Soysa)

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CLASSIC MELBOURNE
May 2021

Burden of Truth

"Antony Pitts directed the combined forces of The Song Company and The Choir of Trinity College in the comfortable amphitheatrical surrounds of St Michael’s Uniting Church, Collins Street, Melbourne. The program tours to Sydney (May 28 & 29) and Canberra (June 10), where other partner ensembles join The Song Company. “There will be much repetition, but there will be much joy” was the conductor’s introductory message. But this concert was also notable for its wonderful programming and fine singing – an a cappella feast... The program brilliantly drew together many ideas related to chorus and repetition, and yes, even truth. In a hugely satisfying way the program itself was a piece of contrapuntal construction – multiple and transformed appearances of the same theme or motive... The twelve-voice Song Company began proceedings with a sturdily confident performance of James M Black’s gospel hymn His Love Never Failed Me Yet... A superbly balanced rendition of William Byrd’s Ave verum corpus was included... As choristers seamlessly rearranged and regrouped we prepared for world premiere performances of the major works... Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet first appeared in 1971... A barely heard loop of the old man’s singing began faintly, but as it grew the choir began to support it, providing wordless harmonies to the texture. I was transported back to the first time I heard this work... In the new setting, as the old man’s tremulous tune seemingly endlessly repeats, the a cappella voices accompany, harmonise and embellish the phrases. Gradually voices in counterpoint expand into the space: humming becomes vowels, lengthen into words, become phrases in canon, become riffs on phrases taken up by newer smaller groups which have formed. The aural counterpoint is impressively mirrored in the visual reforming of smaller into larger groups and vice versa... Most impressively, the choir maintained its musical and physical dignity as it moved; we revelled in pitch and rhythmic accuracy throughout, even during the more complex regroupings... The choreography itself thus became a sort of counterpoint. Combined, the visual and musical effect was mesmerising. What did I love? Some thrilling moments of soaring descanty sopranos; a lovely duet between individual voices; moments of rich Grainger-like harmonies; the inspired use of space as singers moved from sanctuary to gallery in lines or groups; the final wind-down into a vocal quintet then to a single voice in the sanctuary as the rest of the choir spread itself wordlessly like angelic sentinels in the galleries. Overwhelmingly, I had a recollected sense of the enormous pleasure of voices singing together. I was moved as a real sense of joy flooded the amphitheatre, the old man’s voice continuing as a cantus firmus while the shifting groupings and vocal textures grew and evolved. One felt that the full glory of choral singing was being revealed. As a companion piece to the Bryars work, Antony Pitts’s Transiens is an outstanding accomplishment... The outer two sections of Transiens revealed themselves to be a fantasia on a series of canons, which, like the Wylkynson original, focus on the twelve phrases of a much older confession of faith – the Apostles’ Creed... The evolving textures created by the counterpoint and the resulting harmonies again reinforced the joy of singing for its own sake... Trinity and Song Company voices joined here in exultant and heavenly song – a rich paean... Thereafter, entrancing moments of vocal expression – melismas, very high notes, cheeky rhythms, “odd” notes in chords, the men’s voices suddenly singing disjunctively, and even solo voices. Finally and movingly, towards the end, as if in homage to Gavin Bryars’s old man of simple faith, the full choir reminded us in unison of the melody of his burden, Jesus’ blood never failed me yet... The “repetition” to which were alerted at the beginning of the concert turned out to be the source of this concert’s many joys. In Transiens Antony Pitts has developed nine notes of a chant into a creation of “infinite variety”, and we feel at one with all the life forms in the universe. Even such a thing as the melody of a simple confession of faith can be reworked by a composer and fine voices into something “sufficient, beautiful, even glorious”. Pitts conducted his piece with authority, marshalling his charges confidently, giving clear cues for the complex music and associated movements. In full voice the choirs’ combined sound was generous and exciting... I left with overwhelming gratitude for the musical art which makes for the glorious out of simplicity..." (Bruce Macrae)

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LIMELIGHT
April 2021

Byrd Underground
★★★★★ "Celestial sounds from underground as The Song Company delivers an expert and enlightening performance in Tudor polyphony"

"The Song Company has its Byrd decidedly in hand for its presentation of Byrd Underground, a collection of motets from late 16th century Elizabethan England. Taken from the five partbooks of Robert Dow... Artistic Director of The Song Company, Antony Pitts explains in his welcome why these partbooks are so special: these scores contain just one part each, not the full stave (often with piano reduction accompaniment) to which today’s choral singers are accustomed. Each partbooking ensemble singer must rely on their own musical navigational skills. As well, there are no bar lines, so tactus must be communicated; the scansion, where the text is written to match the notes has yet to come into use; accidentals are not always written. More than a salon concert, this is a sophisticated learning exercise for the performers, who have the opportunity to hone their already considerable skills in musicianship and to study from the original sources to deliver the ‘most authentic possible’ interpretation of this repertoire in an expert and enlightening performance of Tudor polyphony... Most of the program is sung by The Song Company’s superb Ensemble Artists mezzo-soprano Janine Harris, tenor Ethan Taylor, bass Hayden Barrington and Pitts directing and singing, with Elias Wilson, Vocalization Scholar. Principal Artists Roberta Diamond, Amy Moore and Associate Artist Edward Elias swell the ensemble to eight for the jolly round Hey down, sing ye now after me (Anonymous) and stay for White’s Exaudiat te... Harris sings soprano, demonstrating her exceptional range, precision, clarity and even tone. Barrington achieves a rich and grounded bass; Taylor is a promising tenor. However, it is hard not to be especially impressed by Wilson whose musicality and glowing voice are a very welcome addition to the ensemble. These are voices to watch. The interplay between Harris and Wilson in Parsons’ O Bone Jesu is exquisitely light and agile. The quintet of singers is positioned at the heart of the crypt, facing each other across the centre to heighten the antiphonal effect. The ensemble of eight completes the circle, surrounded by a spellbound audience... This circle of singers has added significance in the absence of dynamic markings, phrasing and rehearsal notes in the scores, as they rely on gestures, eye contact and empathy to achieve a seamless blend and congruity in phrasing, articulation and dynamics. Endings are in perfect agreement and diction is clear... Credit is due to the very sensitive audience. Too transfixed to applause between items, the sound is allowed to distil through the silence and reverberate through the chambers of the crypt, maintaining the serenity of the mood amongst both audience and singers..." (Shamistha de Soysa)

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SOUNDS LIKE SYDNEY
March 2021

Dances of Passion

"The Song Company has long held a special position in the arts landscape of Australia. They have toured widely and brought the Australian public concerts of great variety and invention and this concert featuring their emerging or Ensemble Artists is no exception. Mentored by the Associate Artistic Director, Francis Greep the group of four young singers come from diverse backgrounds. Soprano Roberta Diamond [Principal Artist] has a fine list of credits in early music in the UK; mezzo-soprano Janine Harris has a strong choral music history; tenor Ethan Taylor has music theatre experience and training; baritone Hayden Barrington’s background is operatic. Together they form a vocally disparate but musically committed ensemble. The program offers an appealing blend of music by Granados, Juliana Hall and Brahms in three contrasting composing styles and eras, brought together by common themes of love and the human condition. The audience is introduced to each singer individually through cameo solo songs from the cycle by Enrique Granados inspired by Goya paintings, Tonadillas (first performed in Spain in 1913). The passions of the working people are laid bare in these beautiful miniatures. Roberta Diamond was most at home in these songs, luxuriating in the language and her silvery edged tone well suited to the flashes of Latin emotion and quixotic mood changes. She was dressed to suit in red and black with a touch of Spanish sensualism in her serpentine movements. Mezzo-soprano Janine Harris brought some lovely dynamics and phrasing to her songs, and captured the desolation of the rejected lover well in her delivery... A highlight of this programme was contemporary American composer Juliana Hall’s cycle for vocal quartet Fables for a Prince (1989). After hearing the solo voices, it was a pleasure to hear them come together as an ensemble. The demanding music was impressively memorised and the sometimes overly complicated stage movements added extra challenges... The whole concert has been ambitiously “dramatised’ by director Robert Macfarlane... Musically there was much to admire from pianists and vocalists alike in this inventive and musically diverse programme featuring four fine young singers and two accomplished pianists. This sort of project does much to develop performance skills beyond the traditional stand and deliver. Audiences can look forward to hearing more beautiful singing from them in future with the Song Company’s expanded programming." (Victoria Watson)

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THEATRE TRAVELS / 1000 REVIEWS
March 2021

Dances of Passion

"Director, Robert Macfarlane, took on a huge task of bringing together three, seemingly unalike, compositions. The The over-arching message – that life is classroom lessons focus on life and love, was delivered in a stunning university lecture hall... Roberta Diamond (soprano) was convincing in her portrayal of a sensual, young Spanish woman who, while exuding the confident exterior of a temptress, struggles to come to terms with a partner’s philandering ways and turn fiery emotions into ones of intrinsic self-love. Vocally, she was very comfortable, capturing the raw and earthy sensuality of Granados’s writing. Her luscious, silvery tone was clear in all registers. Most impressive were her dazzling top notes and her ability to seamlessly throw in a messa di voce or two. Such technical skill is no easy feat. Her years of dedication and training to the artform was highlighted with resounding success... The big work, Juliana Hall’s Fables for a Prince, was the highlight of the evening. There was a perfect confluence of sound amongst the singers. The quartet sounded much more attuned to each other in this work, perhaps because the chorus stood together towering over their “prop”, Antony Pitts. However, the voice that captured attention (in the best way possible) was that of mezzo-soprano, Janine Harris. Her mellow and velvety tone and impeccable dramatisation in the first song “To His Royal Highness the Dauphin” captured the eerie concept of greed in our modern world. Furthermore, she and Taylor hilariously exemplified good and evil physicalised through animals. The quartet’s rendition of Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltzer Op 52 perfectly conveyed the exuberance of love through the lens of the natural elements, including rivers and the gleam of sunlight... Harris and Diamond’s voices exquisitely blended in the main female duet of the evening, “Wie des Abends schöne Röte”. With the resonant, placed tone of the soprano and the luscious undertone of the mezzo, it was a sumptuous experience for the senses. Taylor was the centre of attention for his chuckle-worthy depiction of a baby bird in “Ein Kleiner, hübscher Vogel”. A huge congratulations to the instrumentalists, pianists Antony Pitts and Francis Greep, who, with precision and finesse, complemented the singers, keeping the messages around life and love rollicking along. Dances of Passion was a nuanced, captivating and highly professional concert. The Song Company have, once again, outdone themselves!" (Priscilla Issa)

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CLASSIKON
March 2021

Dances of Passion
"The Song Company’s effervescent artists dance with passion"

"The scene was set for a lively evening’s entertainment by the enthusiastic housekeeping ‘presentation’ from the show’s Production Manager Sarah Elise Thompson which received applause from a full-house audience, unfettered by masks and eagerly anticipating a live performance after months of COVID restrictions. The introduction by Musical Director Francis Greep set out what was to be an innovative and unexpected approach to song, ‘especially for developing voices’, the title ‘Dances of Passion’, already signalling an emphasis on more than voices and piano. The Director, Robert Macfarlane, used the idea of a classroom setting where the young ‘students’ could explore the expression of love and other emotions, through the songs of Brahms, Granados and Juliana Hall. Artistic Director Antony Pitts was on stage in the role of a ‘mature age’ – and silent – student, seemingly bewildered by the lively interplay of his four young classmates, while the foursome provided interesting and diverting dramatisation of the songs. Their voices shone individually as well as blending well in solo, duet, trio and four-part songs. As they moved around the stage, playing out Granados’ love dilemmas, dramatising Hall’s moralising tales for the Dauphin and dancing to the depictions of nature in Brahms’ waltzes, their youthful voices remained clear and enticing. On the whole their rendering of Spanish and German was authentic, the original and translation texts in the program were also appreciated... Tenor Ethan Taylor was able to draw on his extensive background in performing in musical theatre, soprano Roberta Diamond acted naturally, and the other singers joined in with enthusiasm. Vocally Roberta Diamond (Principal Artist with the Song Company and also the Spanish language coach) was in fine voice and, as might be expected, was a dominating presence in ensembles. The other three singers are the ‘Emerging Artists’ and judging by these performances they have secure musical futures. Baritone Hayden Barrington, in particular, displayed a clear and powerful voice. Mezzo Janine Harris was a little reserved at the beginning but her voice blossomed as the set of songs went on. Tenor Ethan Taylor sang with a very attractive tone. Francis Greep, who was responsible for the piano accompaniments for the whole concert, deserves a special mention here for his beautifully sensitive playing. Fables For A Prince by contemporary American composer Juliana Hall was the next bracket of songs: 6 settings of la Fontaine translated by Marianne Moore. The texts were intended as cautionary and instructive tales for the young Dauphin and Juliana Hall has set them in an interesting and approachable style: quite modern, but still tonal and singable. The staging for this revolved around the mute presence on stage of Antony Pitts who variously represented the young Dauphin and some of the animal characters (the poor over-burdened donkey from Fable 4: The Horse and the Ass was a highlight). Antony Pitts then joined Francis Greep for the piano four-hands accompaniment of the Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzer Opus 52 (1868)... The quartet performed these songs with considerable verve, with a lot of singing while waltzing – no small feat! – and some attempts to depict the stories of the songs, for example, as birds in No. 6 Ein kleiner, hübscher Vogel. Sarah Elise Thompson’s fabulous lighting showed off the Cell Block Theatre to its best advantage and compensated in some measure for the rather stark staging of piano, black chairs, paper shopping bags and plain clothes. Roberta Diamond enlivened the stage with a nod to costume, her bright red ensemble and black fringed top lightly evoking a Spanish dancer..." (Clive Lane)

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LIMELIGHT
March 2021

Dances of Passion
★★★ "A fantastical, cathartic, escapist experience"

"How do you sing a dance of passion? The Song Company shows us how in Dances of Passion, a semi-staged production of music by Granados, Juliana Hall and Brahms, weaving together passion (not the Lenten kind), song, dance and drama. Principal Artist, soprano Roberta Diamond, with Ensemble Artists mezzo-soprano Janine Harris, tenor Ethan Taylor and baritone Hayden Barrington are joined by Associate Artistic Director Francis Greep at the piano and Artistic Director Antony Pitts as non-singing actor and pianist, in a production directed by Robert Macfarlane, performed to a comfortingly full house. Greep’s introduction set the context for the performance. Dances of Passion has been curated for the developing voices of the ensemble giving them the opportunity to sing in different languages, styles, in solo and ensemble and to explore the words and emotions beyond the music... In staging this, Macfarlane takes us to a present day ‘school of life’ where the singers are young students, discovering themselves and the ensuing complexities. Pitts acts as the life-coach supporting his young charges through a range of emotions and experiences. A diffident tenor is besotted with his impervious soprano and an intense rivalry builds between soprano and mezzo-soprano for the affections of the handsome baritone. It is heartening to see the pianist recruited to the drama. Taylor opens with a light and lyrical song of reminiscence, La maja de Goya, Barrington’s El majo olvidado is beautifully controlled and sensitively performed, Diamond gives a coquettish rendition of El majo timido, while Harris’s El mirar de la Maja is exceptionally polished. Contemporary American composer Juliana Hall’s Fables for a Prince is an engaging collection of six songs for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, and piano, set to fables by 17th century poet Jean de La Fontaine, with English translations by Marianne Moore. This is indeed a magical song cycle with its evocative piano score performed with sensitive support by Greep... The performers tell their tales well through excellent diction and emotion. Song and drama remain steadfast through some tricky, unaccompanied harmonic shifts. Brahms’ Liebeslieder Walzes Op. 52a are pure joy and express the many moods of three-quarter time, with words by Brahms’ favourite poet, Georg Friedrich Daumer. Pitts and Greep play the four-handed piano accompaniment, as the ensemble waltzes, rages and imitates nature through the 18 cameos... The singers perform with great focus and stamina. Diamond’s ringing soprano tones are better developed and at times outweigh the other voices. Harris’ rounded mezzo-soprano is best suited to the Brahms. Taylor is a promising tenor, and Barrington is a powerful and charismatic baritone. The ensemble is cohesive but more fragmented when moving about the stage... Dances of Passion is a fantastical, cathartic, escapist experience. That The Song Company is not only performing but running a development program as well, is to be lauded. The musical values of Dances of Passion and its strong vocal performances alone, adroitly carry the production." (Shamistha de Soysa)

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NIGHT WRITES
March 2021

Dances of Passion

"The classroom is a powerful space for its connections to knowledge, growth, and freedom. In Dances of Passion, the Song Company uses the classroom as an arena for youthful innocence, or ignorance, and the students’ engagement with critical lessons on life and love in three composers’ works. Director Robert Macfarlane received the brief for a dramatised performance of three quite different composers across three centuries and he decided to spin a narrative that centred the fresh youthfulness of the four performers as students learning about themselves and each other through song. With Musical Direction from Francis Greep as well as piano with Antony Pitts, Dances of Passion moves through lovers’ quarrels on the streets of Madrid to French fables reimagined by Juliana Hall and all the way back to 19th century Germany and the seemingly supernatural connection between the heart and nature... The first piece showed off the singers’ technical skill but the second piece Fables for a Prince composed by Juliana Hall with lyrics from Marianne Moore’s translation of Jean de la Fontaine, allows the performers’ personalities to shine for a more rounded experience. Across the six songs, the students use their mature aged peer as a prop to act out a series of fables about flattery, greed, selfishness, and optimism. In particular the first song titled “To His Royal Highness the Dauphin” took on an eerie quality of the four singers forming a fairy chorus with distorted cadence and intimidating grandeur. This tone continued even as they adopted the physicality of foxes, crows, chickens, and horses... It was in the final piece that the fun and beauty of the performers’ talents culminated in a silly, joyous ode to life and love. Liebeslieder Waltzer Opus 52 composed by Johannes Brahms with lyrics from Polydora by Georg Friedrich Daumer is a Romantic series of songs connecting soaring feelings of love with natural phenomena like the wind, rivers, and sunsets. Here, the singers continued to act out the lyrics but with a more abstract interpretation that was light and childlike. Stand-out songs from this cycle included the gendered duets of “O die Frauen, o die Frauen” with the disparity in Barrington and Taylor’s ranges evening out into clear harmony and “Wie des Abends schöne Röte” which was a dramatic and romantic meeting between Diamond and Harris’s voices. “Ein kleiner, hübscher Vogel” was a crowd favourite for its upbeat rhythm and Taylor’s depiction of a small bird feeding and in flight. Then, other songs like “Nein, es ist nicht auszukommen” and “Ein dunkeler Schacht ist Liebe” added a darker colouring to the quartet’s emotional range, rounding out the performance as a complete demonstration of their skills. Overall, the program provided a wide variety of opportunity to explore the singers’ ranges from Barrington’s deep drama, to Diamond’s crystalline tone, and from Harris’s emotionality to Taylor’s impressive adaptability. The added dramatisation then increases the audience’s ability to connect with the music and its themes and narratives, especially when sung in foreign languages. Dances of Passion was about the many joys available in life and love and the pleasure to be taken in singing about them."

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CLASSIKON
December 2020

Messiah, Part I
"Hallelujah for The Song Company"

"...Little did I realise the next Messiah I would see would be performed live online by just 12 singers, a string quartet, piano and chamber organ... I’m not sure how much more intimate you could get, but I put my preconceptions aside last night the 9th of December, and I was very pleasantly surprised. From the familiar opening chord, this time picked out by a single cello accompanied by chamber organ, I was captured. Watching this... on Melbourne Digital Concert Hall, thanks to the magic of the sound and camera artists at work on the sidelines, I was able to experience the joy of hearing some of Australia’s finest singers just gathered around the chamber organ and piano. It felt familiar and relaxed and there were many smiles cast around the room as the concert progressed. It was performed at The Song Company’s home in Sydney’s recently revitalised Walsh Bay Arts precinct which houses a group of prestigious companies including Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Dance Company, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Gondwana Choirs, Bell Shakespeare, Australian Chamber Orchestra and Australian Theatre for Young People. The buildings have been designed as a contemporary interpretation of the original gantries reflecting the precinct’s former industrial heritage and the new development includes performance spaces, one of which was put to good use for this unique Messiah. Having no external audience allowed the performers to be turned inwards towards each other... so that we hear the separate solos split across the parts with seamless transitions into the choruses. In his notes Pitts hopes that we the audience will be able to hear details that we’ve never heard before, and of course, he was right. Each performer, singers and musicians alike, being soloists in their own right, added their personal ornamentation and unique interpretation of this classic work. With so many extraordinary soloists working together it is extremely hard to call out individuals from this group of performers so I will just mention them all and say bravi tutti! This was a thoroughly enjoyable night in (and yes, I’ll admit, I did sing along with every chorus in my living room, plus some of the arias too, after all it’s not every night you get to sing with Taryn Fiebig right?!" (Pepe Newton)

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REVIEWS BY JUDITH
December 2020

Messiah, Part I

"The Song Company’s clever virtual presentation of Handel’s Messiah is an example of how to make the most of challenging circumstances. The unconventional delivery method also appears to have created an opportunity to suspend other norms, encouraging a lively atmosphere of unruffled excellence for this traditional and well-loved work... Aware of the tradition for many music-lovers to sing Messiah in the approach to Christmas, scores and vocal guide tracks are also provided to help the audience rehearse and participate in the performances... ‘Comfort Ye’. Here the audience was reminded of the importance of this Isaiah text, warmly and delicately sung as it was by the accomplished Koen van Stade. I like to think that it was selected by Charles Jennens as the first text in the work for a reason, in so far that the Messiah should be first seen as a comfort to the people... It was however, with some surprise that I soon heard the solo pass to another tenor partway through the recitative! This was the first time I had seen this approach. Ethan Taylor closed this movement with verve, passing the baton to a third tenor (Dan Walker) for a delightful rendition of the famed aria ‘Ev’ry Valley Shall Be Exalted’. While this rotation required some digestion, it well suited the egalitarian ethos of the chamber group to share the spoils and also provided an intriguing opportunity to pair varied vocal qualities with the text and musical material... Acoustically, the room had been carefully arranged to amplify a talented, if bony, instrumental ensemble largely drawn from the acclaimed Bach Akademie Australia. This comprised of one player per part on first and second violin, viola, cello with pianist Francis Greep and led admirably from the chamber organ by the Song Company’s Artistic Director Antony Pitts. Considering the much larger ensembles often anticipated by Messiah audiences, drawing such an effective and engaging sound demonstrated considerable skill and taste on behalf of all in the sextet... Notable among soloists was Andrew O’Connor’s robust bass, which created an exciting pairing with Janine Harris in the sixth movement ‘But who may abide?’ In doing so, The Song Company have demonstrated both historical knowledge understanding and flair in their approach. While the version used today was written for a male alto voice, this ominous Malachi text was originally set by Handel for the bass voice before undergoing significant revision. Further innovation included combining both the compound and common time variants of ‘Rejoice Greatly’, sung... by sopranos Anna Sändstrom & Amy Moore in a complementary way to show the beauty of each. Taryn Fiebig threw her considerable talents into the bonus soprano aria for this programme, which normally serves as the penultimate movement of the work- ‘If God Be for Us’. With her imposing presence the text was powerfully conveyed... it is ensemble singing which earns The Song Company its justifiable fame and the best reason for any potential listener to commit to this presentation. It is simply glorious. The informal presentation lent itself to a wonderfully free expression without affectation. Rather than stifling them as some choral conductors do, Antony Pitts has sensibly given the reins over to these twelve fine singers, who have returned the conductor’s trust with interest. In these choruses, vocal elements balanced beautifully with the instrumental group, who despite their small size rose to match the singers. The seventh movement ‘And He Shall Purify’ perhaps best demonstrated the immense capability of the Song Company ensemble; rendering with clarity both the filigree and the subtler and deeply satisfying harmonic substance of this fugue. It does prompt a difficult choice for the listener. Aware of the music community’s love for this work, The Song Company have made vocal guide tracks and scores available to sing along... In this disrupted Christmas season, The Song Company should be commended for recognising the importance of the tradition surrounding the work. However, this is well beyond the suburban ‘People’s Messiah’ and warrants a careful listening. The Song Company’s virtual Messiah is an innovative opportunity to see a group of Australia’s finest singers sing a beloved work with deep familiarity, effortless style and boundless affection." (Lachlan McIntyre)

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LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE
December 2020

Book of Travelers
"Two vastly different song cycles sung with nuance and flare by two very capable young singers in an intimate recital"

"...Book of Travelers presented by two of The Song Company’s Ensemble Artists, baritone Hayden Barrington and tenor Ethan Taylor, accompanied by Associate Artistic Director Francis Greep on piano, bookended the vast history of song cycles with Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte and Gabriel Kahane’s Book of Travelers. The concept of the evening was very clever. The juxtaposition of the prototypical An die ferne Geliebte with the contemporary Book of Travelers brought out interesting colours in both works. The evening also gave the two young singers an opportunity to flex their vocal prowess, a rare chance in 2020. An die ferne Geliebte, considered the first proper song cycle, is a collection of poems about love, written in an early-romantic style. Book of Travelers is an American odyssey, based on conversations that Kahane had on trains whilst traveling in the wake of the Trump election in 2016... Filled with an earnest manner and crisp vocal lines, Barrington navigated through the higher and lower registers of his voice with ease. His vocal freedom reflected the youthful attitude of the well-trodden text... Barrington also sang with admirable German diction, clearly making use of the different colours in the text in each song... Taylor brought a bright tenor to the piece, relishing the opportunity to bring sustained high notes, a strong falsetto, and clean phrases to the piece... the final songs of the cycle, October 1, 1939/Port of Hamburg and Singing with a Stranger, were both performed with considered nuance and a free voice that brought the cycle to a profoundly moving and graceful conclusion. Taylor clearly delivered a deeply considered understanding of the dense cycle, if at times hindered slightly by an overwrought interpretation. Throughout both cycles, Greep displayed an excellent connection with the singers, shifting from the romantic Beethoven to the polyrhythms of the Kahane with master control... Providing a more traditionally American theatre sound to end the evening, Barrington performed the pieces with the same earnest manner of the Beethoven. He moved through the higher end of his voice with clarity and a few moments shifting into a bright falsetto... The evening presented two incredibly capable young singers, giving them both the ability to delve into complicated and vastly different repertoire... it was a showcase of intricate vocal repertoire sung with nuance and flare." (Michael Kaufmann)

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CLASSIKON
November 2020

Circle of Virtue
"Dramatic ecstatic production by The Song Company"

"Holding the Medieval trumpet he was later to use in the Symphonia Antony Pitts (Artistic Director of The Song Company and Musical Director and Music Editor of this performance) introduced Hildegard von Bingen’s visionary work, Circle of Virtue, heartily welcoming the LIVE audience in the first of two sold-out concerts in Sydney. Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179) was a Benedictine Abbess and renowned visionary, theologian, physician, poet and one of the earliest composers known to us by name... Antony Pitts commented that she probably wrote parts for individual nuns she knew personally, taking into consideration their distinctive voices and personalities. The women, representing the Virtues and Souls sang in Hildegard’s typical plainchant with beautiful harmonies and ethereal sounds. The production in the Cell Block Theatre was extraordinary! Leonie Cambage (Design and Original Concept) achieved this with a minimum of props and the use of hand-held, colour-enhancing lighting to focus on the singers and action, reflecting Hildegard’s luminary visions. Symbolism was adroitly employed with gold foil, which reflected brightly when illuminated and crackled when it moved... These visions are described in Hildegard’s enchanting plainchant, beautifully performed by members of The Song Company. The ethereal singing contrasted with the writhing snarls, grunts and shouting of the Devil as he tried to seduce (at first successfully) the Soul. When the dishevelled, penitent Soul, Anima, is healed by the Virtues, the Devil fails with his seductive taunts and is vanquished. With a golden rope around his neck, he is dragged off snarling, down the aisle through the audience... This was a thoroughly enthralling experience with superb singing throughout. It is a tribute to The Song Company that a composition nearly nine hundred years old could appear so fresh and modern. The enthusiastic applause at the end indicated that this opinion was shared by the rest of the audience." (Heidi Hereth)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
November 2020

Circle of Virtue
"The Devil doesn't always have the best tunes"

"Ordo Virtutum is a morality play by the twelfth-century composer, poet and Benedictine Abbess, Hildegard of Bingen, and preserved today in the Wiesbaden Codex in the eponymous German city. The earliest surviving such work, it tells the story of a soul tempted by earthly pleasure, tormented by the devil and rescued by the Virtues... Contrary to Luther’s subsequent epithet, the devil gets no music, with Hildegaard’s characteristically melismatic plainchant preserved for the devout and the repentant. Leonie Cambage designed simple staging for Music Director Antony Pitts’ sensitive reworking of the plainchant from original sources with added accompanying drones and occasional rudimentary polyphony. Jessica O’Donoghue was regal in voice and stature as Humility, the queen of the virtues, while Roberta Diamond sang with shapely colour and pure line as the Soul. Josie Ryan, Janine Harris and Pip Dracakis sang the Virtues with posed clarity and Koen van Stade was a rebarbative Devil who seemed to enjoy himself immensely..." (Peter McCallum)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
November 2020

Esperar, Sentir, Morir
★★★★

"Roberta Diamond returned with baroque harpist Hannah Lane the following afternoon for an enchanting and enlightening program exploring sensuous piquant Renaissance and Baroque music from the musical melting pot that was Iberian Peninsula and its influence around Europe. Diamond sang with an attractively flexible, subtly shaded voice, shaping lines effortlessly and naturally. In songs like seventeenth-century composer Jose Marin’s No piense Menguilla ya she created a flexible smooth sense of line, opening out with natural colour. Lane is a carefully attentive musician, matching the clarity of the harp sound against the voice with balanced finesse and projecting solos with simple clarity." (Peter McCallum)

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CANBERRA CITYNEWS
October 2020

Esperar, Sentir, Morir
"Sublime evening of memorable music"

"...The program explored music of the Iberian Peninsula and its influence throughout Europe. Many were romantic works exploring emotions associated with the joy of love and the pain of its loss. Traditional melodies from the Sephardic diaspora were intertwined with theatre music from the Spanish Golden Age and popular compositions that travelled around the world. Soprano Roberta Diamond specialises in the interpretation of medieval, renaissance and baroque music and has enjoyed a busy international career. Hannah Lane, on baroque triple harp, performs regularly with many leading ensembles throughout Australia and Europe. The combination of these two artists produced a sublime evening of memorable music. The concert commenced with Diamond singing a cappella off stage before making her entrance. The sweetness and clarity of her voice was astounding as she sang this haunting 13th century love song by Martim Codax. She and Lane then presented a large program of songs from across the centuries by many composers as well as traditional Sephardic melodies of great beauty. That most of these were unfamiliar works simply added to the enjoyment. Lane also performed several works solo on the baroque triple harp. The harp has three parallel rows of strings instead of the more common single row. The pensiveness of Ancor che col partire(Even with leaving) by Antonio de Cabezón from the 16th century was especially beautiful. Amongst the highlights of the songs sung by Diamond and accompanied by Lane were Sé que me muero (I know I’m dying) by Jean-Baptiste Lully and the haunting Aura tiema, amorosa (Tender, loving breeze) by Juan Francisco Gòmez, both from the 17th century... ...the audience was clearly charmed by these superb artists and their excellent program." (Len Power)

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LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE
March 2020

Adelaide Festival: 150 Psalms – Powerlessness
"The Song Company proves adept across styles in this spiritually uplifting concert"
★★★★★

"...Adelaide Festival’s Artistic Directors Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy decided to mount the momentous event... So across three days the city was able to experience 150 psalms set by 150 composers from the late middle ages to the present... The Song Company, under the leadership of Antony Pitts, provided a varied program extending from the early Renaissance of Ockeghem and Josquin to Britten and our near-contemporary Sven-David Sandström. The choir and its members were presented in numerous ways from its full 14 members [including organist Anthony Hunt] to more intimate groups wherein individual lines of counterpoint could shine and be presented with the utmost clarity of musical purpose and diction. The choir proved to be equally adept in the wide range of musical styles presented in this spiritually uplifting concert... Performed at the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation’s temple at Glenside, this was theatre in the round, with the audience seated on two levels. Throughout the selection, The Song Company singers continually altered their number and often their positions within the hall itself (for the concluding Josquin setting, several basses and altos headed upstairs to add gravitas to the piece)... The venue proved to be an ideal one – not only in regards to its structure but also due to its strong and ancient spiritual ties to the texts themselves, the décor proving equally appropriate – a modern temple for an ancient faith and belief system." (Brett Allen-Bayes)

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LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE
March 2020

Adelaide Festival: 150 Psalms – Celebration of Life
"The final program in 150 Psalms demonstrated the excellence, precision and mastery of all singers involved."
★★★★★

"Festivals provide the ideal opportunity to stage events and during my decades of attendance, certain large-scale events stand out – Ashkenazy’s Beethoven cycle with the Philharmonia Orchestra, Peter Schreier’s traversal of Schubert’s named song cycles as well as pianists Andras Schiff’s traversal of The Well-Tempered Clavier... In the Festival’s 60th year, there is another momentous event to add to this list – the traversal of all 150 psalms in musical settings which date from the late middle ages to the present. These rich spoils have been judiciously divided between a quartet of the world’s finest chamber choirs, from Europe and Australia... Closing off the cycle, the only non-Psalmic setting was the ethereal, audacious marvel of English Renaissance composition, the 40-part motet, Spem in Alium, which brought together all four choirs who had partaken in this gargantuan task – Netherlands Chamber Choir, The Tallis Scholars, The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir, and Australia’s The Song Company. The four choirs were here divided into groups of 10 which perhaps detracted from the aural experience of this marvellous piece where choristers are normally placed in eight groups of five. However, this did not detract from the excellence, precision and mastery of all singers involved." (Brett Allen-Bayes)

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DAILY REVIEW
March 2020

Adelaide Festival: 150 Psalms – Leadership
★★★★★

" 150 Psalms, a choral presentation of 12 themed concerts performed over four days, is one of the centrepieces of the 2020 Adelaide Festival as it celebrates its 60th year... The Adelaide event is its fourth version, featuring The Netherlands Chamber Choir, The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir, The Tallis Scholars and, from Australia, The Song Company... Under conductor, Antony Pitts, The Song Company, founded in 1984... immediately captivates the full and appreciative pews at Pilgrim Church... they quickly confirm the view that this is the country’s pre-eminent choir and a cappella ensemble... The final items – from the 18th century, William Boyce’s Psalm 99, The Lord is King, be the people never so impatient and the Robert White (1538-1574) setting in Latin of Psalm 20, reveal the strength and beauty of The Song Company’s prodigious vocal talents – the final “amen” enthralling even the non-religious in the audience, even the lost and gone before. It has been a splendid recital..." (Murray Bramwell)

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GLAM ADELAIDE
March 2020

Adelaide Festival: 150 Psalms – Celebration of Life
"transcendent"
★★★★★

"The remarkable 150 Psalms project concluded last night with a glorious performance celebrating life by the Netherlands Chamber Choir... The brilliant finale was a setting of Thomas Tallis’s 40 part motet with all four choirs coming together to present a ‘vast tapestry of sound, [a] monumental feat of mental prowess’... The audience showed their delight by applauding for three curtain calls for the choirs and their conductors: Netherlands Chamber Choir and Peter Dijkstra; The Tallis Scholars and Peter Phillips; The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir and Grete Pederson; and The Song Company with Antony Pitts. This ambitious project of presenting 150 Psalms by 150 composers was an original idea, inspired by an Amsterdam exhibition about the psalms, of Tido Visser, the Managing Director of the Netherlands Chamber Choir. Adelaide is the fourth city to present 150 Psalms following Utrecht, New York, and Brussels. Visser notes in the program’s introduction: ‘That’s the magic of choral singing; it connects us, it unifies us. And if there is one thing we need in this world, it’s precisely that’." (Jan Kershaw)

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THE COURIER
February 2020

Cries of Justice
"'Cries of Justice' fly straight to the heart"

"The Song Company's performance in the Art Gallery of Ballarat last Monday evening went straight to the heart of the relationship of music and humanity... Importantly, the precise realisation by the singers of the intentions of the various composers in shaping the text, phrasing and harmonies perfectly delivered the aesthetic intentions alongside the narrative... The exquisite writing was matched by the virtuosic singing, with a fine balance between parts and a commitment to the text... The work of artistic director/conductor Antony Pitts displayed positive results at every level." (Bronislaw Sozanski)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
February 2020

Cries of Justice
"Serene harmonies in a tranquil sea"
★★★½

"The Song Company’s Cries of Justice concert, heard in the iridescently resonant acoustic of St Mary’s Cathedral Crypt, canvassed 3000 years of the Psalms of David with particular focus on the peerless, serenity of Renaissance polyphony... If this is the music of paradise, it seems to live up to the hype." (Peter McCallum)

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THE COURIER
November 2019

Nineteen to the Dozen
"New and old tackled by superb ensemble"

"At the Art Gallery of Ballarat last week The Song Company presented an extraordinary program which summarized the outstanding musicianship and the imagination that has always been a part of this superb ensemble. Conductor Antony Pitts deserves much credit for the virtuoso singing and the dramatic presentation. The program title Nineteen to the Dozen refers to the nineteen contemporary Australian composers (actually twenty, with one shared contribution) whose commissioned works were combined with works of major composers representing the twelfth to the twentieth centuries. The kaleidoscope of vocal and body percussion techniques employed, with all the new works being wordless, were performed with precision, commitment and occasionally humour. The challenge of creating these new and very different sounds was confidently approached, giving each bracket a sense of shape and direction. Importantly, the new works sat appropriately between the music of Bach, Purcell, Stravinsky and the other composers from the past... The mellow vocalise, with exotic harmonies, exhibited in works by Josephine Gibson and Lyle Chan contrasted with more extreme techniques from Colin Black, whose work included a game of Rock, Paper, and Scissors. One of the more developed pieces was the dramatic work of Chris Williams. The standing ovation from the audience suggests the new was not such a shock." (Bronislaw Sozanski)

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FEVER PITCH MAGAZINE
November 2019

Nineteen to the Dozen

"On the 1st November, chamber vocal ensemble The Song Company presented Nineteen to the Dozen at the Melbourne Recital Centre... The eight members of The Song Company displayed a steely resolve and a level of concentration that would be incredibly hard to maintain with the more unstructured pieces. And of course, they possessed a beautiful blend of voices, one which particularly touched this listener with the more traditional choral fragments, such as a stunning Locus Iste (Bruckner) and O virtus Sapientiae (Hildegard of Bingen). The vocal abilities of the female section of the ensemble particularly impressed, featuring a powerhouse, at times operatic soprano voice from Amy Moore and full-bodied mezzo warmth from Stephanie Dillon. The Song Company are clearly a sharply talented and forward-thinking vocal group, and one to certainly watch out for in the classical and cross-over scene in Melbourne. I look forward to seeing what they present in 2020." (Stella Joseph-Jarecki)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
October 2019

Nineteen to the Dozen
"Serene truth and quiet beauty"
★★★★½

"The Song Company’s Nineteen to the Dozen project was a wild and wonderful ride through the landscape of Australian contemporary music punctuated by venerable European milestones. The 70-minute continuous performance contained 21 new Australian works each without a title or words, each showing a distinctive fresh voice. Colin Black hushed the audience with "Sh" sounds and closed with disjointed chords; Sonya Holowell evoked joyous magpie-like calls; Alice Chance made mellifluous motives; Sarah Elise Thompson alternated mellifluous purity from female then male singers; Elizabeth Sheppard mixed smooth and cracked voices; Owen Elsley explored hesitant chords; Aristea Mellos repeated and extended triads; Natalie Maschmeyer emerged ethereally from Machaut; Stephen Adams mixed ticking and chantlike ideas; Bernie Van Tiel worked in warm close harmony; Gordon Hamilton set phrases in surround sound; Chris Williams floated after Byrd, ending iridescently, Felicity Wilcox evoked disjointed irrational dreams; Sally Whitwell used Shostakovich’s motto; Matthew Hindson explored rhythmic Swingle-like phonemes; Josephine Gibson created sweet simplicity; Lyle Chan mixed hymns and frogs; Naomi Crellin created virtuosic vocal exercises evoking opera and cabaret; and Dan Walker made remarkable Bulgarian closed throat sounds. Bach and Stravinsky weren’t bad either." (Peter McCallum)

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CITY NEWS
October 2019

Nineteen to the Dozen
"Enchanting concert from the entertaining Song Company"

"THE current Australian compositional landscape is filled with innovative and expressive composers. For this series of eight concerts, The Song Company commissioned 19 composers from across Australia to voice their talents... It began with the singers shushing the audience in a theatrical performance while walking around the nave as though they were ushering in something special; they were. Back on stage, the singers began their song and sound making. Then, from up in the choir stalls, soprano Anna Sandström sang out a tender solo melody. As they performed pieces, the emphasis was not just on effect, but also on intricate sounds. At times, the singers who placed themselves around the church created a surround sound spatial effect. Pitts, sometimes conducted and other times the singers led themselves, which added character to this unique performance. Throughout the wordless contemporary pieces, they performed distinctive vocal effects through solos, duos, and quartets, all in a wide range of dynamic vocal colours. The blending of ancient songs and contemporary pieces worked seamlessly. The styles, while different, the tones, the subtleties and the quality of the singing shone through in every work... Eight singers of this quality can range from a booming sound to the softest syllable hushed sotto voce, and they did. In one piece there was Beatboxing and body slapping. In others, there was whistling, vocal percussion, mouth clicking, clapping and various other sound effects... Some pieces were so intricately crafted that with all the sounds, movements and effects, it seemed like there were more than just eight singers performing. A few songs were quite hilarious and produced great comical effect. The Song Company never fails to entertain. But this time, they did much more, they enchanted. This was a concert of much more than beautiful singing. It was a show that proved Australia is lucky to have such an exceptional vocal group." (Rob Kennedy)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
September 2019

Tallis, Hope and Crown
"Reborn Song Company sparkles in a busy classical calendar – Too much Tallis is barely enough"
★★★★★

"The newly-resurrected Song Company’s Tallis, Hope and Crown concert on Friday in St Mary’s Crypt with students from the Conservatorium High School and [Sydney Conservatorium of Music] Chamber Choir* showed too much Tallis is scarcely enough. They framed rich treasures from the English Renaissance and early Baroque from Dunstable to Purcell with not one but two performances of Tallis’s glorious 40-part motet, Spem in alium – the first with the performers placed around the audience and the second with the performers in the centre. This music slows the pulse to its own spiritual pace and one could have listened to it 40 more times." (Peter McCallum)

*and singers from Sydney Philharmonia Choirs Vox, Sydney Chamber Choir, and beyond... read more...

CITY NEWS
October 2019

Winterreise
"Trepidation misplaced as song cycle triumphs"

"HAVING only heard Schubert’s “Winterreise” song cycle sung with the male voice, this performance by soprano, Susannah Lawergren, was approached with great interest and a little trepidation... The challenge for a female singer is to find a valid interpretation that an audience can accept and relate to. Susannah Lawergren chose to sing of the loss of a child. ...while the words in the poems are occasionally at odds with this interpretation, it resonated so strongly that it worked extremely well. Singing the cycle entirely from memory – a major feat in itself – Lawergren added considerable depth to her performance with the well-thought out use of a scarf, a leafless tree branch and spare movement to create a believable character for this journey. Her singing of the cycle was superb throughout. Her beautifully clear soprano, accurate pronunciation of the German text and the emotional range and pace of her performance resulted in an extraordinarily moving and memorable experience of this great work. The playing of the accompanying pianist is equally important to the success of any performance of this work... Bradley Gilchrist gave a brilliant performance of this cycle from start to finish. These consummate performers gave the audience a musical experience that was exceptional. The thunderous applause from the audience at the end of the concert was well-deserved."

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CLASSIKON
September 2019

Mind Over Matter
"The Song Company's Mind Over Matter was a unique and explosive chamber comic opera with strong performances"

"...I had absolutely no idea what to expect... the only thing I was sure of was that my companion and I were in for a unique experience! ...The cast took their places in a semi-circle on stage. Faces painted white and bodies clad in 80s power suits in pink, turquoise, check, and iridescent green sequins, they performed hits by Joe Jackson, a-ha, and Tears for Fears in glorious five-part harmony. This part of the show still had elements of a recital, but with a sense of fun and physical looseness, especially Antony when he led the ensemble in an a cappella rendition of a-ha’s Take On Me. If tunes like Mad World weren’t so engrained in our collective consciousness, these arrangements could almost pass for Renaissance motets, especially with countertenor Max Riebl’s pure voice soaring over the top. Max was then centre-stage to perform Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill, and his captivating voice resonated throughout the auditorium... The Prelude and Fugue [ Dance of Redeemed Creation], composed by Antony, was an overture of sorts before the action began. You could hear the Baroque form infused with elements of boogie woogie and modern harmony, yet it was tense and virtuosic nonetheless, creating a foreboding feeling of technology about to run amok... The intensity and pace of Mind Over Matter’s allegorical tale of “the consequences of humanity’s actions and the role of technology” was well-matched by Antony’s through-composed chamber opera: its frenetic music was constantly in motion, all the while with the four-hand piano part unrelenting... overall, Mind Over Matter was a unique and explosive show with strong performances from all cast members, especially Pip Dracakis, whose performance of a BABEL-infected Mabel was very convincing... After The Song Company’s challenges of late, Mind Over Matter cemented it as a force with which to be reckoned; unafraid to be bold and make a point." (Phillipa van Helden)

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LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE
September 2019

Mind Over Matter
"Delightful takes on 1980s pop songs bookend an almost nonsensical chamber opera."

"The Song Company has eclectic tastes and ambitions. Later this year they perform a concert of English Renaissance choral works, and another featuring 19 newly-commissioned songs by Australian composers. Currently the Company, which has a new lease on life after a significant donor intervened... is presenting this program of 1980s pop songs book-ending the titular chamber opera, Mind Over Matter... With luxuriant hair and white suit reminiscent of a mature Bryan Ferry (Roxy Music’s former frontman), The Song Company’s Artistic Director, Antony Pitts, provided piano accompaniment for a vocal quintet for the first song, Joe Jackson’s Steppin’ Out. He then joined them for an a cappella interpretation of a-ha’s Take On Me, before conducting a more complex arrangement of Tears for Fears’ Mad World, which was reminiscent of Gary Jules... Dressed in over-sized, mostly loud suits typical of the 80s, the singers were Ethan Taylor, whose pure tenor shone in brief leading parts, sopranos Anna Sandström and Pip Dracakis, baritone Nathan Lay and countertenor Max Riebl. The latter performed a fourth song solo with Pitts on piano. Like the program’s other retro hits, Kate Bush’s poignant Running Up That Hill is quality pop to begin with, but here, the minimalist arrangement and Riebl’s exquisite, expressive voice put through a slight reverb effect, made it one of the best musical experiences I’ve had all year. After this spine-tingling peak, the program stalled as Mind Over Matter, which Pitts wrote in 1993 for European Chamber Opera, waxed nonsensical about artificial intelligence, human identity and relationships. It began interestingly enough with Pitts’ solo piano prelude, which perhaps suggests a stream of data merged with the New York bustle and jazz of Gershwin. He was then joined by Maggie Chen for the busy piano-for-four hands score... Lay (the boss disguised as a guard) made his biggest impact toward the end as a calm voice of reason that hinted at German lieder gravitas thanks to his warm, controlled baritone. We quickly plunged back into farce, however, as the previously rarely seen Dracakis (Mabel) appeared after the show’s only costume change, sporting a shimmering jumpsuit and zapping the other characters senseless with an unseen force – she had been taken over by the sentient supercomputer..." (Patricia Maunder)

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CITY NEWS
August 2019

Mind Over Matter
"’80s pop hits star in Song Company mashup"

"...Pushing their own boundaries, which are far and wide, The Song Company brought a somewhat futuristic metamorphosis of musical styles together for its latest show, Mind Over Matter... The performers/singers were Anna Sandström, Pip Dracakis, Max Riebl, Ethan Taylor, Nathan Lay, Maggie Chen, and Antony Pitts who wrote the musical, sang, directed and played the piano. The glittering and multi-coloured clothes matched the eclectic music and story... Steppin’ Out, by Joe Jackson began the show, then a personal favourite of this reviewer, Take On Me by the much-underrated Norwegian group a-ha and then Mad World by Tears for Fears, all sung in a Song Company style. And, yes, they have their own style, which is a beauty. In fine countertenor voice, Riebl in his first appearance with The Song Company, played the part of Professor Karl Rime. He performed a haunting version of Running Up That Hill, by Kate Bush. He captured the strength and passion of the song even though it didn’t have that pulsating thump of the drums that fills the original version... There was a lot in this show. Such as sections of body clapping, twirling at twisting stage props, streamers, smoke and colourful stage lights. They all added to the surreal context. Essentially a comic opera, it’s a play that takes place centred around two elevator lifts on either side of the stage where occupants travelled to some place for some reason. The players were convincing, and all acted well and with conviction, but the singing was the star of the show... This is a 75-minute entertaining and singable show with good production values and unique tonal music from Pitts. It’s also a show that any Dadaist would adore." (Rob Kennedy)

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CUT COMMON
August 2019

Mind Over Matter
"A retrofuturist vision from Antony Pitts"

"... The Song Company​’s Mind Over Matter, which is set to tour seven Australian cities, was a really, truly, very, very interesting way to get back in the game... ...although I’m usually ambivalent about going in blind, I’m glad I did so here. It’s hard to imagine “expecting” something so aesthetically unique, dramaturgically engaging, and musically polished! Sleekly and colourfully dressed by costume designer Isabel Hudson for the program’s centrepiece, the five singers and Antony Pitts​ (on piano and conducting) opened with some zesty arrangements of ‘80s hits including Steppin’ Out, Take On Me, Mad World, and Kate Bush’s beautiful Running Up That Hill, which countertenor Max Riebl​ lilted through with great sensitivity. The Take On Me arrangement leaned into the song’s weirdly discontinuous structure, while the Mad World arrangement very effectively extended the disturbed (and clichéd) emotions of the original into harmonic dissonances a bit more pressing and appropriate for 2019. Excepting an arrangement of Wang Chung’s Dance Hall Days, which served as the program’s finale and had a more easy and joyful character, these ‘80s hits were served with a stiff pathos that really suited the retrofuturist aesthetic of Pitts’s Mind Over Matter, a comic chamber opera in which steely office workers in a near-future cyber-corporation contend with threats of viruses, rogue AI, and one another. They work in a 127-storey tower with only two lifts; surely you’d imagine the lifts being an important dramatic constraint. So important, in fact, that the two lifts were played as characters by Maggie Chen​ and Pitts, who on piano four hands would now and then interject with announcements of “going, going up!” and “down, going down!”. All the ensuing lift-related comedy really tied together Pitts’ frenetic, tech-anxiety-fuelled score... There was plenty to watch, and even though I fell well behind the narrative, there was dramatic, vocal, and pianistic talent in spades to keep me thoroughly entertained. This is not to mention the really, truly, very, very much superb lighting design from Ben Brockman, which shrouded much of the show in what felt like screen-lit cyber-chiaroscuro. This is a hugely compelling program... I do think audiences will come away from this program with piqued interest in how matter and mind cannot truthfully be wrested apart. Just watch Chen and Pitts’ fingers on the keys for proof! Or, for that matter (so to speak), hear Anna Ladychester Sandstrom​, Pip Dracakis​, Ethan Taylor​, Nathan Lay, and Riebl’s exceptional larynxes!" (Mark Bosch)

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CUT COMMON
April 2019

Arvo Pärt: Passio

"... Passio is through-composed, with no separate movements, and a typical performance lasts about 75 minutes without interval. It is a very different experience to sitting through a Bach Passion: there are no big arias, recitatives, choruses or chorales; rather, the story unfolds through dialogue between instrumentalists (organ, violin, oboe, cello, and bassoon), soloists (Evangelist Quartet, Christus and Pilatus), SATB choir, and intense silence. Pärt’s unusual score is meditative and beautiful, and requires commitment and concentration from all involved, including audience. There is no opportunity to sit back and enjoy the familiarity of a da capo aria; one must pay close attention to the Latin text in order to keep up with the action. On 12 April, [The] Song Company, directed by Antony Pitts, joined with Melbourne’s Trinity College Choir and a selection of Melbourne’s finest musicians to bring us Pärt’s riveting setting of the Passion of Christ according to St John. Trinity College Choir director Christopher Watson performed the role of Pilatus, and young bass-baritone Andrew O’Connor gave voice to Christus. As a whole, the performance was tense and meticulous, and, for its chant-like music and sparse instrumentation, gave the impression of an ancient ritual retold through a series of tableaus. O’Connor was a standout as Christus. Set behind the musicians, and directly facing the conductor, his voice reverberated through the lofty church as if disembodied, or perhaps even emanating from a place not of this world. This contrasted with the other soloists, who were placed ahead of the instrumentalists, and the choir, situated closest to the audience. By positioning the musicians so, some voices were more present, others (presumably intentionally) less so. One such ‘present’ voice was Christopher Watson’s as Pilatus. Raised higher than his colleagues, he sang from the pulpit, and his lovely tenor rang out clearly and sometimes piercingly, as the text called for it. The Evangelist Quartet navigated this seemingly challenging music with exceptional precision, and impressive dynamic control. The final line, ‘et inclinator capite tradidit spiritum’, sung on a repeated, unison A, was chillingly quiet, but still clearly audible — almost a whisper. Susannah Lawergren and Anna Fraser were superb as the female representatives in the quartet, and at moments one imagined that the two embodied a weeping Mary, standing by the cross of Jesus. Their male counterparts Owen Elsley and Lucian Fischer too deserve a mention for their equally strong performances. Trinity College Choir, comprising young University of Melbourne undergraduates, was superb; and the two choral excerpts bookending Passio were sung with fervor, passion, and accuracy. The concluding Qui passus es pro nobis, miserere nobis was so loud, so intense, that the sound was almost too much for that hollow space, and rang out long after the choristers sang their final note. With great intent, conductor Antony Pitts directed singers, ensemble, and organ, from which he elicited a fluid, coherent sound. There’s no doubt that conducting a full performance of Passio is a marathon effort, but Pitts maintained complete, uninterrupted (and hugely impressive) control for the entire 75-minute duration. Sitting through this performance was an incredible experience, and one that will surely remain in the minds of those present for some time. Pärt’s music, while restrained, is both powerful and moving, especially when in the hands of such fine performers." (Alexandra Mathew)

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CITY NEWS
July 2019

Songs Before Sleep
"Fine future for the swansong singer"

"...The Song Company has started new life, even sprouting a new arm, SongCo SOLO, in which individual members of the main ensemble get to perform solo recitals, including curating their own programs. Ironically, this recital was bass baritone Andrew O’Connor’s swansong... Founded on charming settings by Richard Rodney Bennett of six nursery rhymes, such as Wee Willie Winkie and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, collectively called Songs Before Sleep, this recital posed dreamtime songs, nightmarish songs, and a song, by Australian composer, Iain Grandage, evocative of the endless expanse of flat WA deserts, with another about where the Blackwood River, in WA, meets the confluence of the Indian and Southern Oceans... O’Connor’s rich warm bass baritone voice has an interesting, almost harmonic, 'edge' to it giving it uncommon power and crispness, but never ear-piercing. He has excellent control of his light vibrato, coupled with captivating expression (including facially), all underscored by an incredible and effortless range for his vocal register. Never once did he miss a pitch, even in impossible intervals, and his timing was impeccable. Supported brilliantly at the piano by Anna Rutkowska-Schock, from Poland, and fellow Sandgroper, Alex McCracken, playing clarinet in the Grandage songs, Andrew O’Connor showed conclusively that his future in his new art song career is well and truly assured." (Clinton White)

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PERFORMING ARTSHUB
April 2019

Arvo Pärt: Passio
"This collaborative performance by Trinity College Choir and The Song Company demonstrates mature innovation."
★★★★½

"...The choir is comprised of students of the College, and The Song Company, performing the parts of Christus, Pilatus, and the Evangelist Quartet, describes its members as ‘vocal adventurers and cultural ambassadors’, telling and re-telling new and ancient stories. Passio is a particularly modern reissue, and, in the confident, emotive hands of British conductor Antony Pitts feels mesmeric and significant... There is an exquisite delicateness to Passio, even when John O’Donnell’s organ booms from the gallery overhead to underscore the textured, fine-wine bass of Andrew O’Connor’s Jesus singing ‘Regnum meum non est de hoc mundo’, and whether or not one does believe, it seems His kingdom is truly not of this world... this collaborative performance by Trinity College Choir and The Song Company demonstrates mature innovation, consummate musicianship, and the potential for exciting things to come from both companies." (Anna Westbrook)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
April 2019

Bach, Sorrow and Joy

"...The Choir of St Mary's Cathedral and The Song Company joined forces in superbly resonant chambers of the terrazzo-floored, stone-arched St Mary's crypt for music of Bach, both as arranger and composer. A highlight was The Song Company's Swingle-style vocal rendition of the final incomplete quadruple fugue from Bach's Art of Fugue. In Jesu meine Freude, the St Mary's boys choir and the Song Company combined with nicely balanced textures in the numbers embellishing the work's eponymous chorale. The first half, Bach's arrangement of Pergolesi's Stabat mater as the cantata Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, BWV 1083, featured richly balanced duos and beautifully projected solos from Susannah Lawergren and Anna Fraser..." (Peter McCallum)

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LIMELIGHT
February 2019

Treble Helix Unlocked
"The Song Company delves deep into the Eton Choirbook in vibrant performances with an edge of danger."

"The Song Company’s ten singers were humming a chant melody as they walked – processed, even – into the Sydney Opera House’s Utzon Room for the company’s latest concert... The melody – soon given the words 'Jesus autem transiens' – plunged the audience into the medieval sound world of Treble Helix Unlocked: The Eton Choirbook at the crossroads of the Renaissance... With the singers standing close around facsimiles on just a few music stands, seeking to recreate the conditions in which the Choirbook’s original singers may have read those pages, the concert opened with Walter Lambe’s Nesciens Mater. The choir brought a lean yet vibrantly alive sound, and clear diction, to the music – and in the intimate Utzon Room it felt as though the audience, too, were huddled around the manuscript... Dan Walker brought a clean, articulate tenor to the Evangelist in Richard Davy’s St Matthew Passion, the first Passion setting in musical history by a named composer, his solo narration contrasting the denser polyphony of the spoken lines – the crowd’s cries of 'Barrabam' and 'Crucifigatur' particularly thrilling. While the Utzon Room’s close quarters make any real pianissimos difficult to pull off, the stripped-back texture as bass Andrew O’Connor sung his 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' ('My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?') was quite moving. The highlight of the program, however, was John Browne’s Stabat mater dolorosa, the singers drawing a ringing sound from the music’s weaving lines in a deft thematic shift from the Passion’s description of the women watching from afar to Christ’s mother at the foot of the cross. The contrasting timbres of soprano (Roberta Diamond) and bass (O’Connor) in the 'Quis non potest contristari' (Who could not sorrow with her) were beautiful, while the blooming word-painting of the 'Stabat mater rubens rosa' ('The mother stood, a reddening rose') and the powerful 'Plebs tunc canit clamorosa' ('The crowd roared cacophonously') were exquisite. The concert’s finale saw the return of Jesus autem transiens, Robert Wylkynson’s canonic setting of the Apostles Creed... the parts accumulating to create an impenetrable, seething – yet ultimately resplendent – wall of sound. Treble Helix Unlocked was an ambitious program (last year’s Byrd-Round-Table, drawing on the Dow Partbooks, was 'nursery slopes' in comparison, Pitts quipped) and while there was an edge of danger to performances in which much is decided in the moment and communicated with hand gestures, it made for a rewarding performance..." (Angus McPherson)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
February 2019

Treble Helix Unlocked
"Sweet polyphony with an original twist"
★★★★½

"...With its project last year of singing from the 16th century Dow Partbooks from Oxford and with this current program from the Eton Choirbook, The Song Company has demonstrated that, far from sterile antiquarianism, this is a richly rewarding way of exploring precious remnants of a musical tradition the English Reformation tried to destroy. The close listening partbook reading requires the singers to rediscover the natural rhythmic flexibility and vivid natural balance in these superbly crafted aural tapestries. The Eton Choirbook originally contained three pieces from the 15th century of which 64 survive, some only in fragments. Walter Lambe's Nesciens Mater highlighted the richer harmonic world English composers cultivated when compared with their European contemporaries, while in the Magnificat by William of Stratford, the danger of singing without the safety net of the modern bar line became good-humouredly manifest. Richard Davy's St Matthew Passion was an early example of the dramatisation of evangelist, crowd and Christ personas familiar from Bach's later passions, while John Browne's Stabat mater dolorosa mixed 14th and 15th century characteristics in a contrapuntal masterpiece. The virtuosic conclusion was Robert Wylkynson's canon Jesus autem transiens..." (Peter McCallum)

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THE COURIER
February 2019

Treble Helix Unlocked
"Difficult but poised, The Song Company takes on musical challenges"

"The concert presented by The Song Company in the Art Gallery of Ballarat last week brought together superb singing and an exciting choice of program. The Eton Choirbook, from around the sixteenth century, contains strikingly glorious vocal polyphony, with The Song Company, directed by Antony Pitts, making a serious attempt to recreate what may have occurred in performance during this period. Nesciens Mater by Walter Lambe demonstrated immediately the precision and technical polish that was to be a feature of the entire concert. The blending and balance of sound was exquisite. The alternate use of male and female choirs in William Startford’s Magnificat shone a light on the strength of each group... The most complex and challenging work on the program, John Browne’s Stabat Mater dolorosa, featured not only intense polyphony exceptionally realized but exotic tonal colours created by the perfectly poised part singing. The Credo in Deum of Robert Wylkynson, a perfect conclusion, showed again the wisdom behind the program. The emotive and spiritual power of the earlier works was rounded off with a simple statement of faith." (Bronislaw Sozanski)

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PERFORMING ARTS HUB
February 2019

Treble Helix Unlocked
"More divine than human"
★★★★

"The Song Company and its director Antony Pitts are to be highly commended for this opening tour in their 2019 season with a program of five works from the Eton Choirbook, comprising three large, luxuriously illuminated volumes, one of the few documents of sacred Latin music to survive the Reformation, even though it is incomplete... The 25 selected composers were the finest of their generation... In an effort to be as close as possible to the performance practice of the period The Song Company chose to perform around a facsimile of this treasured resource provided by Oxford University’s Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music. The Choir at Eton comprised seven or so men and ten boy trebles. They all read from a single large score in parchment with red and black notation, without bar lines and with each part separately inscribed... With no full score and each voice type only having access to its own part or 'thread', the resultant miraculous music is like hearing an exquisite sonic tapestry woven in real time. Antony Pitts had the beguiling task of conducting from one part while simultaneously scanning the others as necessary... The singing on the whole for this first performance in the tour was excellent and nearly note perfect... Dan Walker’s intonation of the incomplete St Matthew Passion by Richard Davy was a joy to hear, with his firm understanding of style, powerful rhetoric and near perfect pronunciation of Latin. But the outstanding highlight of the program was John Browne’s exquisite setting in six parts of Stabat mater dolorosa, and the final ‘Amen’ with its intricate cross relations reached a point of near ecstasy. Here is a rare opportunity to savour this remarkable repertoire that was once described as 'more divine than human'. Don’t miss out." (David Barmby)

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STAGE WHISPERS
January 2019

Sydney Festival | Sydney Chamber Opera | The Song Company

"The high-concept and difficult work La Passion de Simone has been described as at the cutting edge of the operatic form. Written by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho as a meditation on the life of French philosopher Simone Weil, it consists of a solo singer Jane Sheldon with the backing of a 19-piece orchestra and four vocalists. It’s fitting that it’s staged at the Sydney Festival, where new ideas can be shown to limited, adventurous audiences... The four singers from the wonderful Song Company sit with the orchestra..." (Peter Gotting)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
January 2019

Sydney Festival | Sydney Chamber Opera | The Song Company
" La Passion de Simone brings soulful beauty to the void"
★★★★½

" La Passion de Simone is a cantata-like meditation by distinguished Finish composer Kaija Saariaho with text by Amin Maalouf​, on the life and writings of activist and philosopher Simone Weil, presented here as a quasi-operatic theatrical installation of luminous asceticism directed by Imara Savage. After engagement with the Spanish Civil War, Weil, a secular Jew, converted to Christianity, leaving France with her family during World War II and working with the French Resistance from London. She died aged 34 after contracting tuberculosis but then refusing to eat more than she thought her French compatriots were receiving under German occupation. The work presents her thought as mystic love in the face of barbarism... Soprano Jane Sheldon delivered the solo vocal line with a fluid sound of glowing pristine beauty and transcendent iridescence... The Song Company sang the woven complexity of the chorus part with gleaming clarity, blending with Sheldon in shades of subtle radiance..." (Peter McCallum)

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REVIEWS FOR THE 2018 SEASON  IMAGIN'D CORNERS

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
December 2018

Byrd-Round-Table
Hamlet
Treble Helix Unlocked
"Year in Review: Brahms and Kosky cap off majestic 2018"

"The year's major operatic event was Brett Dean's Hamlet at the Adelaide Festival swirling with nebulous wisps and deep subconscious resonance in a production by Neil Armfield that brought Shakespeare's inner theatre memorably to the operatic stage... Those who missed The Song Company's superb exploration of Tudor polyphony, Byrd-Round-Table earlier this year, can sample their luminous approach to this music in a presentation of music from the Eton Choirbook in the Utzon Room in February [2019]..." (Peter McCallum)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
December 2018

Ross Edwards at 75
"French twist to celebrations"
★★★★

"French composer Gabriel Fauré, fin-de-siecle genius of haunting melody and harmonic sensibility, might not be the first composer to spring to mind to celebrate the birthday of the 75 years young Australian Ross Edwards. Yet, as The Song Company's birthday concert showed, juxtaposition of difference can be an effective way of drawing out meaning and significance. The program interlaced the movements of a chamber arrangement of Fauré's Requiem by David Hill for singers, violin (Veronique Serret), cello (Paul Stender), harp (Genevieve Lang) and organ (Brett McKern), with music by Edwards ranging from a 1967 Carol, Fader of Hevene, to a specially commissioned work, De Spiritu Sancto (2018). Harpist Genevieve Lang provided a sensitively delicate floating prelude In Edwards' The Harp and the Moon (2008), followed by the Sanctus from Edwards' Mass of the Dreaming, which, in a transition section, introduced chant-like phrases which found echoes in the opening of Fauré's work immediately afterwards. Conductor Antony Pitts' tempi throughout Fauré's Requiem were unrushed, while Hill's arrangement was transparent to the point of sparseness, using the organ for foundational accompaniment with the harp adding glistening colour (as Fauré himself did in the original 1888 version) and preserving the violin solo of the Sanctus, which Serret played with radiant clarity. Susannah Lawergren sang the Pie Jesu with smooth, natural purity. Crux Australia from Edwards' Southern Cross Chants evoked the rhythmic world of Australian Indigenous music to juxtapose Edwards' distinctive musical spirituality with Fauré's deeply human take on the forms of the Catholic church. After the expanded return of Fauré's opening Requiem music, Edwards' Sacred Kingfisher Psalms re-introduced his characteristic dance-like energy with the harp providing the metallic burst for the final note normally played by one of the singers on the tam-tam. Andrew O'Connor sang the baritone solo in Fauré's Libera Me with smooth line and rich tonal complexity, leading into another harp flourish which led off Edwards' De Spiritu Sancto like a shooting star..." (Peter McCallum)

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LIMELIGHT
November 2018

The Song Company LIVE: In illo tempore
"An appealing mix of ancient and modern from one of our finest"
★★★★

"Taken from performances in the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney..., The Song Company’s latest disc is a three-part exploration of the Easter story using a thoughtful blend of Renaissance polyphony and contemporary works. At the core of the program is Monteverdi’s Missa In Illo Tempore, along with the motet by Gombert which gives the mass its name.... Between these movements of intricate polyphony come a number of contrasts. Thou Wast Present As On This Day by The Song Company's Artistic Director Antony Pitts appears with increasing intensity in each section of the program: Tomb, Hades, and Throne. The composer’s stark but striking use of harmony and texture works well in this context. Elliott Gyger’s Creator Alme Siderum and Alice Chance’s And the Lord said, Fiat Lux provide effective Australian counterpoint to older styles, the latter showcasing the upper voices. An anonymous 15th-century Credo sung by the lower voices adds clarity of texture, while Byrd’s O Salutaris Hostia delights with its spicy dissonances. William Mundy’s In Aeternum provides a fittingly serene conclusion to a richly absorbing program. Delivered with appealing beauty of blend, rock-solid intonation and great empathy of style, this program confirms the important contribution The Song Company makes to our national musical landscape..." (Tony Way)

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CITY NEWS
November 2018

One-Equal-Music

The Song Company triumphs over difficult works

"Described as a vocal symphony, One-Equal-Music is something of a requiem to the World War I fallen... a collection of music by composers as diverse as Rachmaninov or Stravinsky and Australians Ella Macens, Ruth McCall, or Ross Edwards. Between them, and there are others, they have composed settings of poetry by authors as diverse as the 12th-century Hildegard von Bingen and 20th-century Welsh poet Dylan Thomas or Australia’s Douglas Muecke... Musically, One-Equal-Music is a banquet of diverse rhythms, harmonies, and melodies. There are weird sounds and sweet ones, high-pitched screeches and calming pianissimos, monophonic plainchant and up to eight-part polyphony sung to complex rhythms. Perhaps the most poignant piece was a setting by young composer (and tenor in The Song Company), Owen Elsley of Dylan Thomas’ poem, And Death Shall Have No Dominion.. Here the music was very much at one with the poem, the overall theme of the entire 'symphony' reflected in its words: 'Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again'. This was... a concert to challenge the intellect, affirm the heroes of World War I, put everyday life into perspective and make the finite infinite... The Song Company, its eight members singing a cappella, delivered on all the diversities of the music and the lyrics brilliantly. Exquisite tone, superb balance, precise control and beautiful expression were the hallmarks of their very fine performance. They thoroughly deserved the almost capacity audience’s enthusiastic reception." (Clinton White)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
September 2018

Four-Colour-Season
"Colourful journey around time's circle"

"The printed program of The Song Company's latest tour Four-Colour-Season is not a list but a series of concentric circles tracing the calendar for Bundjalung, Kaurna and Western peoples. The performance begins in the present – in our case pre-spring – and moves through a complete cycle of culturally interleaved seasonal representations in dance from Karul Projects and in music from The Song Company. The music combined some familiar Australian music – Martin Wesley-Smith's Who stopped the rain?, Peter Sculthorpe's Autumn Song, and Ross Edwards' Crux Australis, with music by the respective Artistic Directors (Antony Pitts for The Song Company and Thomas E.S. Kelly for Karul Projects), music by newer voices, punctuated by coy vocal parodies of excerpts of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. Alice Chance's Precious Colours (Pallah-Pallah) exuded warm tonal freshness while the dancers created an intimate evocation of budding life. The dance by Thomas E.S. Kelly and Taree Sansbury was quietly intimate in its narrative combining movements from Indigenous and modern dance traditions with totemic symbols and gentle evocations of nature from mosquitoes to whales. This is an imaginative and joyously intercultural exploration of time's eternal circle." (Peter McCallum)

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CLASSIKON
September 2018

Four-Colour-Season
"Around the Sun with The Song Company"

"...this concert will need a different mindset, an interpretation that travels beyond traditional Western music programming. We are in the world of layers, of interplay, where song, movement and dance interconnect. The program reflects the Western and the Indigenous seasons from Kaurna and Bundjalung, in turn reflecting the dancers from Thomas E.S. Kelly’s Karul Projects that trace the course of the Earth’s jorney around the sun. Karul Projects is NAISDA graduates Thomas E.S. Kelly, a Bundjalun, Wiradjuri, Ni-Vanuatu dancer and Taree Sainsbury, a Kaurna, Narungga and Ngarrindjeri artist... Underlying the circle of seasons is a scat or vocal soundscape rendering of Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons, with the ‘greatest hits’ picked out and explored as segues between the pieces. Without breaks between each song, as the two dancers interpreted and reflected each piece, the program melted from one vocal journey into another. Emerging Australian composers were strongly represented, with Alice Chance’s Precious Colours (Pallah Pallah) broken up into a beautiful canon, delicately balanced against Francis Poulenc’s Un soir de niege, and Patrick Baker’s abstraction Winter Warragin finishing with the singers on the floor. And always Vivaldi, underpinning the program and the reference point to come back to. We are treated to a cycle that includes Australian composers, Ross Edwards, Peter Sculthorpe and Patrick Baker, interspersed with Antony Pitts’ and Thomas E.S. Kelly’s own compositions placed into the contemporary landscape... Insects feature, with Vivaldi at times presented as an insect orchestra, amidst much face slapping from mosquites and the sound of flies taking you beyond the city urbanscape into the dry land of Australia. Out from behind their music stands came an ensemble made up of both experienced and emerging singers, with the lush sound of soprano Chloe Lankshear, mezzo Stephanie Dillon and Young Artist finalist Philippa Dracakis sharing the stage with the always gorgeous Andrew O’Connor, always enchanting Mark Donnolly and the clarity of composer singer Owen Elsley. The entire ensemble of singers, conductor, and dancers comes together for body percussion and movement incorporated into the performance... It’s a brave expression of the new path The Song Company is travelling on, and one beautifully expressed in the repertoire of this storytelling concert..." (Lliane Clarke)

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LOUD MOUTH
September 2018

The Song Company LIVE: In illo tempore
"A masterpiece of programming with a very fine performance of Monteverdi’s great Missa In illo tempore at its heart"

"...Concert programmes transferred to recording don’t necessarily make the best of sense, but that is absolutely not the case here, so tightly is it constructed. The spine of it, broken up to form a thread through each of three brackets, is Monteverdi’s great Missa In illo tempore. Monteverdi hoped with this Mass to present his credentials as a composer of ‘conservative’ music to Pope Paul V in the same publication as his more radical Vespers and, juxtaposed as it is here with contemporary music, The Song Company makes a fine case for the reappraisal of this work as every bit as ‘modern’ as the Vespers... Precisely how Beethovenian Monteverdi is in this work struck me with impressive force in The Song Company’s reading. They are particularly fine in the larger movements (the Gloria and Credo)... by sheer dynamism of attack and incision of motivic definition. This is a really insightful performance... The Song Company gives a performance of In illo tempore that makes much of the sonic splendour of his [Gombert's] idiom. ...At the other end of the spectrum is Mundy’s In aeternum, which ends the CD (and ended the concert performances) in a simplified Eton Choirbook-style of which The Song Company is content to make the kind of mellifluous sound one wishes would go on forever. A turn of interesting programming pitted Gyger’s Creator alme siderum against a fellow hymn setting (Byrd’s Christe qui lux), revealing surprising congruities, a mark of the fine programming of the whole disc. ...The Song Company has entered a new phase of its existence with the appointment of Antony Pitts as its director. This CD bodes well for the direction he is taking the ensemble." (John Weretka)

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THEATRE NOW
August 2018

Madrigalesque: Le Parole

"The Song Company is comprised of highly qualified singers with impressive CVs. The singers we were treated to listen to include: Susannah Lawergren – Soprano; Owen Elsley – Tenor; Mark Donnelly – Baritone; Andrew O’Connor – Bass, and Jessica O’Donoghue – Mezzo-Soprano. The program was comprised of pieces by: Giaches de Wert (1535–1596); Anders Edenroth (b.1963); Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672); Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643); John Cage (1912–1992), Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (1566–1613, ...and Gordon Hamilton (b.1982). ...Complexity of sound was achieved by five unique voices and the way they could hold their notes to make beautiful chords was astounding. In fact, the music was heavenly secular, soothing, calming, relaxing and like anaesthetic antidote for the hustle and bustle of our busy lives. One of the singers told us of how influential these madrigals had been for Baroque music, which arose soon after. We were even given an Italian lesson... The sustained sung chords crossed over seamlessly into amusing contemporary works. Initialise by Gordon Hamilton, was hilarious being made up of hundreds of acronyms such as DIY, FBI, IOU, PVC, GST, XPT and so on. The dress and the posture of the group were immaculate. The engagement they achieved through eye contact and smiles indicated they could feel our joy. Beautiful pauses and then an extraordinary ending left us satisfied and yet ready for more. As a first-timer to such an event, I look forward to my next chance to see such inspiring and stimulating music. " (David Manuell)

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THE AUSTRALIAN
August 2018

The Song Company LIVE: In illo tempore
★★★★½

"With this impressive new recording, the 11th from our leading ensemble of six unaccompanied voices, The Song Company announces a new series of recordings drawn from live performances. In this instance, it was captured in the crypt below St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney in April 2016. The recording extends the ensemble’s signature identity developed by Roland Peelman in his 25-year stewardship of the ensemble... with music drawn from the polyphony of leading 16th-century composers (Claudio Monteverdi, Nicolas Gombert, William Byrd, and William Mundy) interlaced with that of contemporary composers: Australians Elliott Gyger and Alice Chance, and The Song Company’s Artistic Director Antony Pitts... ...the Australian works are woven into a larger fabric almost seamlessly. The contemporary astringencies create a tinge of striking colour to the prevailing euphony of 16th-century counterpoint. The bridge across centuries is well constructed: the textures and counterpoint of earlier eras are echoed in Gyger’s impassioned chorale, the slow build of Chance’s undulating chants and the many-hued word-painting of the three short pieces by Pitts. Overall, the 15 tracks of this album provide a rich and satisfying experience that is part musical and part mystical, in an almost religious sense." (Vincent Plush)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
July 2018

The Song Company LIVE: In illo tempore
★★★★½

"A time. A place. Another world. The Song Company's latest album was recorded live in the Crypt of St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney. Standing in a circle, facing inwards, the group's six choristers explore Easter via Monteverdi's Missa​ In illo​ tempore, interlaced with other vocal meditations, old and new, on the liturgy. Thus the eerie directness of William Byrd (1540-1623) makes way for a rich tangle of notes, hanging on in the air like ghosts, from Elliott Gyger (1968-), and harmonious chords veer off into to chromaticism in Monteverdi​ and Pitts. It is intoxicating stuff: in the Cathedral's stone crypt voices ring on long after the singers have finished, lending layers of organic polyphony to the artifice of the composer. Music director Antony Pitts and his ensemble sculpt the moving air with superb finesse, and sound engineers Bob Scott and Ross A'hern​ shepherd it into an immersive​, uncannily clear surround sound. I challenge anyone to distinguish the intricacies of recording and to disentangle the divinely entwined polyphonics. But, honestly, that's not the point: just put on your headphones, close your eyes, and imagine yourself tumbling through time and space." (Harriet Cunningham)

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CLASSIC MELBOURNE
June 2018

True-Love-Story

"Antony Pitts seems to be one of those exceptional musicians gifted with musical talent, a spirit of adventure and enormous energy. As Artistic Director of The Song Company, one of his multiple roles in the Melbourne International Singers Festival was to direct The Song Company’s fascinating presentation, True-Love-Story ...such was the exceptional quality of the singing... Because of the full sound and variety of vocal textures produced by the eight singers, it was sometimes difficult to believe that everything was sung a cappella... In particular, Antony Pitts made convincing shifts between enthusiastic announcer and lovelorn poet/composer, reciting much of Machaut’s poetry from memory... such a buoyantly energetic reading that it sounded fresh right to the very last note... This was a virtuoso performance without one weak link. Roberta Diamond (Péronnelle) and Chloe Lankshear (The Messenger) both possess pure, resonant soprano voices and lively personalities. Philippa Dracakis (Péronnelle’s sister) and Carmel de Jager (Lady Hope – where would Courtly Love be without Hope?) both made fine contributions as soloists and members of the ensemble, as did the male trio: Owen Elsley, Mark Donnelly and Andrew O’Connor. Jonathon Welch, School of Hard Knocks, and other organisers of the Melbourne International Singers Festival deserve a big Bravo! for inviting Antony Pitts and The Song Company to this celebration of vocal music." (Heather Leviston)

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CITY NEWS
June 2018

True-Love-Story
"Love most elegant and intelligent"

"It is rare to see dramatic musical productions in Australia that also succeed as theatre... The Song Company’s most recent offering 'The True Story Of Guillaume De Machaut & Péronnelle d’Armentières' dispels the argument that singers can’t act. Every element of this work, the singing, acting, semi-staging and sets, were equally compelling. The Song Company has produced a beautiful program, with meticulous historical notes and facsimiles of images... Everything about this production is restrained, intelligent and elegant... Artistic Director and light baritone Antony Pitts, in the role of Guillaume de Machaut, was just as convincing an actor as a singer. His character created a sense of intimacy with the audience, a feeling of being allowed into a personal diary. Where the ensemble required direction, Pitts slipped easily into the role of conductor, never disturbing the drama. In the role of Péronnelle d’Armentières, Roberta Diamond presented floating top notes and a consistency of tone across the range. There is a lot of talk, in this work, of Péronnelle’s beauty and “goodness” and Diamond’s character embodied that without ever seeming weak or ineffectual. The Song Company’s attention to detail permeated every aspect of their performance. Totally unaccompanied throughout... the eight voices saturated the Street Theatre. The ensemble demonstrated subtle understanding of 14th century modal counterpoint, through artful control of weighted passing notes, delayed suspensions and terraced dynamics. Elongated pauses and ritardando underscored the importance of cadence and white space. As an ensemble, The Song Company produced melisma as weightless as violin jeté and the same cedar tones as gut-stringed instruments or wooden recorders. The Song Company evokes Machaut’s love affair with gentle dramaturgy and impeccable musical technique, breathing new life into a 14th century love story." (Judith Crispin)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
June 2018

True-Love-Story
"A passionate affair beautifully explored"

"Displaying its trademark ability to inform and delight, The Song Company's latest program is a semi-theatrical exploration of the legacy of one of the greatest poets and composer of the so-called Ars Nova (New Art), Guillaume de Machaut... This program, in medieval French and English directed by Leonie Cambage, followed a largely epistolary love affair between the aging Machaut and the younger poet Peronelle d'Armentieres, recorded in a lavishly illustrated book of poems, letters, songs and pictures, Le Voir Dit – the True Story... There was one actual meeting, albeit chaperoned, in which Peronne coyly gives her lover "the key to her treasure". The doleful Ballade Ploures dames (Weep ladies) set the style with characteristic cadences and melodic features of the period followed by poems and solo songs by both Peronne and Machaut. The ballade Nes que on porroit (Just as no one can number the stars) captures Machaut at his most memorably tuneful, while the Ballade Quant Theseus/Ne quier veoir, using the characteristic medieval complexity of two simultaneous texts, ...with the additional parts ...sung in Swingle-style vocalisations to create a sonic tapestry of buoyant vitality and richness ...[The] Song Company rekindled a 700-year-old passion with affection, vividness and enchantment." (Peter McCallum)

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LIVING ARTS CANBERRA
June 2018

True-Love-Story
"The incomparable Song Company with True Love Story"

"The Song Company is truly an experience somewhere between salon and theatre. We feel so close to the performers and Antony Pitts encourages us in, and yet they are definitely on stage and in role throughout their performance. True-Love-Story is their latest offering, the story of Guillaume de Machaut and Péronelle d’Armentières, told in their words from letters and poetry of the 14th century. With minimal set, The Song Company evokes the story of the ups and downs of this romance between an ageing Machaut and the much younger object of his affections. This is a work of 9000 lines, Le Livre du Voir Dit – just how true we cannot tell. Suffice it to say that the audience believes what it sees and is moved to chuckle, empathise and wonder in equal measure as Director Antony Pitts ably leads his singers through this tale. The excellent (free) program provides ample background and explanation to guide the audience through the work despite the language challenge of 14th century French. The 2018 program is entitled Imagin’d Corners and The Song Company cleverly takes us places we might never have ventured without their help."

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THE COURIER
March 2018

Byrd-Round-Table

"The Song Company has been one of Australia’s elite vocal ensembles for many years. Drawing on an expansive repertoire, with historically informed early music readings, the group has maintained the highest standards for vocal performance. At the Art Gallery of Ballarat... The singers sat around a dinner table, practising and realising part singing, while artistic director/singer Antony Pitts outlined the narrative. The dinner party atmosphere was extended to the audience, who participated in the 5-part singing of Robert Parson’s Ave Maria, with the assistance of The Song Company members judiciously placed in the audience. The Lamentations of Robert White (1538-1574) was the largest work, forming the dramatic highpoint. While the parts have equal status in this music, and this was perfectly realised, Robert Macfarlane, as Robert Dow, played the leading role very well as singer and actor. Bass Andrew O’Connor, as William Mundy, laid the perfect foundation for this complex and harmonically rich music. From the opening Hey down, down, sing ye now after me (Anon.) to the final Christe qui lux es (Byrd) The Song Company performed with pinpoint accuracy and perfect balance, allowing the great music to speak clearly and with emotion." (Bronislaw Sozanski)

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CITY NEWS
March 2018

Byrd-Round-Table
"Charm and delight in recital ‘lecture’"

"The Song Company has again charmed and delighted with a performance as much an illustrated lecture as a recital. That is not to suggest it was dry and uninteresting, quite the opposite. The ensemble’s artistic director Antony Pitts kept up a running commentary throughout the performance that illuminated what would otherwise be a wonderfully obscure aspect of late 16th-century English music-making. The Dow Partbooks are five books compiled by Robert Dow, a musician living in Oxford in the 1580s. Each of the five books contains one of five parts (soprano, alto etcetera) for more than 130 pieces... The singing was flawless, the presentation imaginative and entertaining. For one piece, where the parts were printed in the program, the singers were distributed around the church and the audience invited to sing along, at least those who could follow Elizabethan sheet music. The concert finished with another work by William Byrd, Christe qui lux es... This was hauntingly beautiful and a memorable way to finish the concert." (Graham McDonald)

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AUSTRALIAN STAGE
March 2018

– Adelaide Festival: Hamlet

"...Michael Tippett famously said that to set a text you must first 'break the back of the poetry'. I have never seen this done more effectively than in this opera... Brett Dean (whose idea this may have been in the first place) expands this multidimensionally, particularly in his use of the chorus, vividly sung by the State Opera Chorus and The Song Company. Not only do they sing on- and off-stage, as in most 19th century opera, but from the auditorium and in the orchestra pit. Having them sing from the auditorium, fortissimo, compels complicity in the action by the audience; having them as part of the orchestra involves their text, or vocal sound, in the instrumental tissue of the music. The orchestra is of course where the emotional depth of the work is expanded – that’s what Wagner does, but he didn’t think of putting singers there. While the stage singers are singing something else, the chorus takes up these repeated fragments of text, not, as in Greek tragedy, commenting of the action but deepening its psychological intensity..." (Nicholas Routley)

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LIMELIGHT
March 2018

– Adelaide Festival: Hamlet

"...Brett Dean’s 2017 opera Hamlet, directed by Armfield, is a thrilling Festival opening event and an important moment for Australian opera... The State Opera Chorus under Chorus Master Brett Weymark and The Song Company swell the vocal ranks and sing admirably. All up, an intense and intensely rewarding production." (Jo Litson)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
February 2018

Byrd-Round-Table
★★★★½ "Parts add up to a magnificent whole"

"While Sydney has been enjoying the beach, The Song Company, under the imaginative direction of Artistic Director, Antony Pitts, has spent the summer rediscovering the art of singing from renaissance partbooks, using the rich collection of Tudor music copied in Oxford in the 1580s by Robert Dow... This exploration of the high polyphonic craft of William Byrd and Robert White and some lesser known contemporaries provided a range of musically persuasive answers... The most substantial music was White's magnificent Lamentations of Jeremiah, a set of six glorious Tudor polyphonic tapestries, both expressive and serene. The Song Company created utterly absorbing listening and one was disappointed when it ended. Comparably rich was Byrd's Ne irascaris, a masterpiece of polyphonic art that, in the clear, resonant acoustic of the Yellow House Gallery, drew the listener into the texture's interior to create sensuous vividness... The Dow Partbooks also contain instrumental numbers, and in works by Byrd, Richard Farrant, and Nicholas Strogers, soprano Anna Fraser and tenor Robert Macfarlane sang solos while the lower voices imitated instrumental articulation... One left with ancient musical textures echoing in one's head with freshness, immediacy and joy." (Peter McCallum)

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THE ADVERTISER
February 2018

Byrd-Round-Table
& a selection from
The Arrow of Song &
Dreamers of the Day
"Gripping, exciting performance"

"The centrepiece of the justly-famed Song Company’s Byrd–Round–Table program, focused on the Tudor period, was Robert White’s sublime Lamentations for five voices. One of the finest of a number of celebrated settings of these mournful texts from the biblical book... With solo voices, all of considerable distinction, ...a really stunning emphasis on the superbly crafted individual lines, each plaint exquisitely brought out. The filled carafe and winecups alluded to the domestic setting in which much music was performed in those far off days... [in the second half] all were instantly converted at the gripping, exciting performance of Reich’s Clapping Music, and even Cage’s ingenious speech quartet Story from Living Room Music. Jazzy numbers nestled comfortably alongside a vocalization of a section of Bach’s Art of Fugue, which segued seamlessly into the Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen’s ingenious Bats’ Ultrasound (to a text by Les Murray, no less). Ruth McCall’s splendid arrangement of Waltzing Matilda was a great encore." (Peter Burdon)

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REVIEWS FOR THE 2017 SEASON  THE ATTRACTION OF OPPOSITES

AUSTRALIAN STAGE
November 2017

Lully Lulla

"Six songsters – three male, three female – consort in concert to present Christmas carolling as a medieval nativity narrative in The Song Company’s swansong for this year, Lully Lulla. Stock Yule tunes like Silent Night and Away in a Manger are passed over for Christmas canticle ranging from anonymous 15th-century compositions to contemporary pieces from local composers including Calvin Bowman, Brian Kogler, and David Hood. According to the programme notes, Lully Lulla comes from the refrain of a Coventry Carol, transcribed, arranged or possibly composed by Thomas Mordycke in 1591 as part of a mediaeval mystery play in which the chilling tale of Herod’s jealous rage is set against the bittersweet lullaby. Dialogue is provided from the Pageant of the Shearman and Tailors and Herod’s horridness is given true hiss the villain rendition, even though the preview audience were too polite do so! Woven into this programme of medieval, Renaissance and 19th century lyric and music is David Hood’s The Shearer’s Wife, creating a song line between the events of two thousand years ago and the musical celebrations of those events through the millennia, to this place, here and now. The programme makes joyously informed and liberal use of both The Naxos Book of Carols and The Patmos Book of Carols utilises pertinent William Byrd compositions to bring both acts to conclusion – A Carowle for Christmas Day for Act 1 and, appropriately, Lullaby, My Sweet Little Baby to end Act 2, and the evening. Lully Lulla is contemplative carolling, not the glitz and tinsel borne from Victoriana, with chirpy children and winter wonderland motifs. Artistic director, conductor and character actor, Antony Pitts and his seasoned singers bring a much more coruscating view of the Christmas story, like the medieval mystery plays, a mix of entertainment and edification. Abundant in joy and hope, Lully Lulla nevertheless does not flinch from the themes of asylum seekers and refugees, innocents and perpetrators. An edifying antidote to the mush and slush of Carols by Candlelight." (Richard Cotter)

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LIMELIGHT
December 2017

Lully Lulla
"An enthralling evening of song that found a richer dimension to standard carol fare."

"Joe Geia’s wonderfully evocative exploration of Indigenous identity Yil Lull, sandwiched between Byrd’s 16th-century Lullaby and local composer Brian Kogler’s Pie Jesu, encapsulated the wide-ranging emotional scope of The Song Company’s Lully Lulla. A thoughtful programme that explored themes of dispossession, grief and violence, Lully Lulla never felt just edifying, with the six singers – three women and three men – along with conductor Antony Pitts providing just enough lightness of touch to make it go down a treat. Instead of a straight recital, here they presented English and Australian carols both old and new, stitched together in a kind of medieval nativity narrative through spoken dialogue from The Pageant of the Company of Shearman and Tailors. As always, the singers produced a rich, full sound that belied the handful of people onstage, shifting from moods of sorrow to joy to playfulness at the drop of a hat. While their spoken dialogue was more well-drilled than spontaneously realised or lived in, the beauty and freshness they brought to old favourites such as Byrd’s A Carowle for Christmas Day more than made up for it. Highlights included Brian Kogler’s fabulously jaunty Gaudete, which saw the singers finding a propulsive, almost elastic way with the thudding rhythms while maintaining a warm, liquid sound. More impressive still was the deep repose of Antony Pitts’... Miryam’s Lullaby, taken from The Patmos Book of Carols. With the haunting refrain of “behold… a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed”, the women’s voices unfurled with ever-increasing intensity, finding different colours and intentions for the repetition of “Yeshua, my Yeshua”. The three female vocalists – soprano Chloe Lankshear, soprano Anna Fraser, and mezzo Hannah Fraser – also brought this stillness to the anguish of Thomas Mawdycke’s Coventry Carol, which famously depicts the Massacre of the Innocents, with a haunting blend achieved with the male singers (tenor Richard Black, baritone Mark Donnelly, and bass-baritone Andrew O’Connor) and a beautiful solo contribution from Donnelly. Here they were ably led by Pitts, who brought forth an account steeped in sorrow yet remarkably cogent. Meanwhile, The Angel Gabriel from The Patmos Book of Carols found the singers plumbing near-sepulchral colours, nimbly navigating the trickier-than-it appears vocal lines with ease. They brought this same dexterity to Pitts’... For unto us a Child is born, now finding a beautiful, shimmering tone that suffused their words with both mystery and joy. The women in particular found a sympathetic unity, seeming to speak rather than sing as one... Other highlights of the evening must include bass-baritone Andrew O’Connor’s lovely Yil Lull, who combined exemplary diction with the sweetest of sounds. The evening came to a close with Kogler’s Pie Jesu, with the singers producing a soft glow as they exited the church one by one." (Justine Nguyen)

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AUSTRALIAN STAGE
September 2017

Monteverdi 450: Vespers
The Song Company, St Mary's Cathedral Choir Sydney, Santa Sabina Chamber Choir, & Orchestra of the Antipodes

"What a truly wonderful performance! As soon as I heard that Australia’s national vocal ensemble was teaming up with its most exciting early music orchestra, I resolved not to miss it. And my expectations were more than fulfilled. Monteverdi’s Vespers was described in the advance publicity as having some of the most 'goosebumptastic' choruses of the past 400 years. While wincing slightly at the neologism, I agree with the sentiment. Thomas Wilson, the conductor of the St Mary's cathedral choir, interpreted these choruses, settings of the psalms which form the architectural backbone of the work, with appropriately Italianate verve, and although some of the coloratura got lost in the cathedral's vast acoustic, the choruses shone like living pillars striding through the nave of this majestic building. The reverberation time of this place is about four seconds, so when pieces finished loud the sound seemed to last until it was absorbed into the stone. ...in the Gloria of the Magnificat, where the echo tenors, displayed so effectively in the concerto Audi coelum, are unexpectedly accompanied by plainsong, thus linking the two most disparate elements of the entire piece. In these, Richard Butler's clear, sunny tenor was echoed with perfect sympathy for the acoustic of the cathedral by Richard Black. Indeed one of the features of this performance was the way in which the cavernous multiple spaces of the cathedral were utilised. At first it looked like a standard performance, but soon various members of The Song Company appeared in the pulpit – Amy Moore and Anna Fraser sang the exquisite Pulchra es there, with almost unearthly, meltingly perfect, blend. As the music became more and more diverse, the performers began to depart from the crossing, and sing or play from the choir and the side aisles, like the three tenors and their continuo instruments in the concerto Duo Seraphim. This piece starts with one of the most staggeringly beautiful chain of suspensions even in Monteverdi, and the three voices involved, separated by several tens of metres from each other and yet still holding it perfectly together, sounded indeed as if they were singing from the heavens. By the end this monumental work there was so much rearrangement of the singers and players around the cathedral that the whole work seemed to make an organic connection with the space in which it was performed, the resulting constant state of flux imbuing the architecture of the music and the building with life. ...this was one of the best performances of this work I have ever heard... spinetinglicious." (Nicholas Routley)

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CANBERRA CITYNEWS
September 2017

Dreamers of the Day
"In entertaining and dramatic company"

"Dreams and time were the central themes of this the fourth program of The Song Company’s 2017 season, and it left its mark. Beginning in almost total darkness, and counterintuitively to the title of the first work by Australian composer Alice Chance, And the Lord said, Fiat Lux (let there be light), this stirring and emotional work, which was played on tape and recorded in the Crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, set the tone for this inventive and entertaining concert. The singers on the night were Anna Fraser, soprano, Alexandria Siegers, alto, Robert Macfarlane, tenor and Andrew O’Connor, bass. Antony Pitts conducted, and he is the director and a composer. Out of the darkness the singers entered the stage and began an arrangement of G.F. Handel’s The People that Walked in Darkness, this was followed by another arrangement of Handel’s Zadok the Priest opening chorus... Steve Reich’s Clapping Music is exactly what its title suggests. Set to a short, broken eight-note rhythm and clapped by the soprano and the conductor, added to the inventiveness of the concert, but was it music? ...The main work of the night was by the conductor Antony Pitts. He describes his composition as a mini-poperetta, which even encompassed an arrangement of J.S. Bach’s Sleepers, Awake!, towards the end of Pitts’s work, which is titled Anna’s Rapid Eye Movement with tape. It begins with the soprano racing on to the stage and talking on a mobile phone to someone called Sophie. Soon she began to sing her words, and then the other performers came in singing, with props. There was a suitcase, a manuscript and a rolled up poster. The poster plays a key part in this show, and this poster is included in the 2018 Song Company season program. The players sang and talked and the tenor walked around the audience as he sung and performed. The final section where Anna awakes is set to the recording of people clapping and then the singers join in clapping until the audience realises that it’s the end and they join in. There was a lot in this work and at times with the taped music and sounds going on it was quite cacophonous and repetitive, but ultimately entertaining and dramatic. For the final two works, the players stood front and centre stage and performed Wem in Leidenstagen by Friedrich Filitz and O Sacrum Convivium by Olivier Messiaen, both were stunning and ended this show of dreams and time." (Rob Kennedy)

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TIMEOUT
August 2017

Dreamers of the Day
"One of Australia's premier choral ensembles present an eclectic program that ranges from the Baroque to Steve Reich"

"If listening to a big choir singing Handel is like taking your ears on scenic bus trip, a concert by The Song Company is more like a curated jaunt around the CBD in a Ferrari. Just their six amazingly agile and skilful voices can collectively handle anything their Artistic Director – conductor and composer Antony Pitts – puts on their music stands, and that’s often some of the most challenging and interesting classical and contemporary concert music you’ll ever hear performed live. This line-up – spanning from Handel’s 1727 coronation anthem to Steve Reich’s 1972 Clapping Music – seems to aim at a nothing less than a transcendental experience for the listener."

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CLASSIKON
August 2017

Dreamers of the Day
"Song Company’s Dreamers of the Day was non-stop entertainment"

"The concert, or maybe a more accurate description, the entertainment Dreamers of the Day presented by The Song Company is a 75 minute near non-stop journey through bits and pieces of music from Handel and Bach to the present day... The longest work... was Anna’s Rapid Eye Movement by the musical director of The Song Company, Antony Pitts. A tape recording with pianos, percussion and additional voices created a foundation on which he could float his dramatic ideas Pitts wrote vocal lines as diverse as Schoenbergesque Sprechstimme to simple church hymn-like melodic fragments to convey his musical argument. It seems that he is steeped in many musical traditions from period English music of the 1920’s and 1930’s to the music of Philip Glass and the ‘soundtrack’ had a relentless minimalist feel to it. Pitts was most fortunate to have soprano Anna Fraser as the protagonist in this work. She was magnificent vocally and in the conveying of the dramatic pathos embedded in the text of the work. Indeed, the other Song Company performers in this current production, Alexandria Siegers, Robert Macfarlane, and Andrew O’Connor brought great enthusiasm and deep musicality to this work..." (Alan Holley)

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CANBERRA CITYNEWS
June 2017

Forward & Bach
"Pitts gives Bach a shake up"

"It's risky business mixing very old music, especially when it’s Bach’s, with very new. It’s even riskier having the audacity to write new music settings for Martin Luther’s 500-year-old words, previously set by masters like Bach. But in a recital that told a story of rising out of the depths, finding friends, building a mighty fortress and, finally answering the call home to heaven, Australian [British] musician, conductor and composer, Antony Pitts, and his Song Company gave the risk a pretty solid shake up. In a program of chorales and hymn settings by Australian composers, Paul Stanhope, Andrew Batt-Rawden, Ella Macens, Brett McKern, and Matthew Hindson, alongside English composers Jeremy Thurlow and Paul Ritchie, and juxtaposed to music by Luther and Bach, The Song Company gave a performance of exquisite balance, tonal quality and expression. Such was the atmosphere and marvellous music-making of this group, the hushed audience barely dared even to breathe. But the audience itself did get a chance to sing, in the final verse of... Luther’s... well-known hymn, “A Mighty Fortress”. The rhythm was slightly different to that used today, but the tune was familiar and audience sang it with gusto... ...A highlight was the plainchant, “Veni Redemptor Gentium”, performed by the group’s two tenors, standing on either side of the stage. Even placed so far apart they achieved extraordinary balance and timing with a tone that floated through and filled the cavernous space of Wesley Uniting Church. It was a most moving performance. Bach had the last say, with his motet “Komm, Jesu, komm”. It was a farewell, even a good riddance, to the world, the protagonist’s work completed. But it was good riddance from neither The Song Company nor the audience. The Song Company gave a very fine recital. Four curtain calls prove it." (Clinton White)

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A CUNNING BLOG
June 2017

Forward & Bach

"...The Song Company’s latest tour, Forward & Bach, takes three of Bach’s Motets as pillars around which to arrange a clutch of new works commissioned from five Australian composers all starting, like Bach, from the chorale melodies of Martin Luther. The result is five works which duck and weave through the rich baggage of the liturgy, five highly individual voices which add new layers to an ongoing tradition. Matthew Hindson embraces the broad theme of musical limitations most overtly. His Saviour of the Heathens, dedicated to outgoing Chair of The Song Company, Penny Le Couteur, experiments with a musical algorithm as groundwork for a spare, slightly ghostly meditation. Paul Stanhope’s De profundis is a more muscular work, carving out great chunks of vocal sound interspersed with passages using the mathematical transformations of Bach and before to create a slick and fascinating mini-drama. In Ein Feste Burg Brett McKern also references the tricks and tools of baroque counterpoint, but then, starting with a slippery basso continuo, subverts their assumed predictability, sliding into new sound worlds. Ella Macens’ Stāvi Stīvi, Ozoliņ and Andrew Batt-Rawden’s Out of the Deep step a little further from the tree. Although they both start from Martin Luther’s “Out of the Deep I Cry to thee”, Macens adopts a new text, adapted from a Latvian folk verse. Stāvi Stīvi, Ozoliņ describes a great oak tree which stands, unflinching, accepting, as a great storm threatens, arrives, then passes, leaving the tree still there. First developed at the Gondwana National Choral School earlier this year [led by Paul Stanhope and Antony Pitts], it is an exquisite, assured piece of choral writing which reveals an exciting new voice. By contrast, Andrew Batt-Rawden’s Out of the Deep is perhaps the least assured, but that’s not to say it’s any less effective. Batt-Rawden comes to the text as an outsider, a non-believer, and a contemporary sound artist living in a relentlessly chilling modern world. As such, he strips away the comforting homophonies and predictable patterns, winding long, tense, strung out melodies and frantic cries into a strange, beautiful and deeply personal new thing... Of course, none of this could work without the performers. The Song Company, along with guests Tobias Cole, Richard Butler, Jessica O’Donoghue, Neal Peres Da Costa, and Daniel Yeadon, dive fearlessly into new musical realms and deal with the intricacies of Bach with commitment and intelligence. Meanwhile, Antony Pitts directs with a calm, ‘less is more’ approach to the mind-boggling complexities, exuding faith in the skill and wisdom of his extraordinary team of musicians." (Harriet Cunningham)

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CANBERRA CITYNEWS
May 2017

– CANBERRA INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL | Taking Flight – An International Showcase
"Magic amid the distracting airport melee"

"The Song Company wisely encouraged their audience to gather around them as they stood in a circle to perform some stunning vocal pyrotechnics, delighting with a lovely arrangement of “Sakura, Sakura”, followed by compositions by Arvo Part, William Cornysh, Adrian Self and Antony Pitts." (Bill Stephens)

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LIMELIGHT
May 2017

– CANBERRA INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL | Why do the Nations?

"The concert opened with great promise: choristers processing down the centre aisle of the Fitters’ Workshop, pausing at various points to sing a verse by Thomas Tallis. The Tallis text – “Why fum’th in sight?” – hoisted a war-torn banner proclaiming the thesis of this extraordinary programme: perplexity and confusion at the age-old conundrum – why do the nations continue to rage so furiously together? Moving onto the stage, the choristers embarked on an affecting piece by Andrew Ford, Waiting for the Barbarians, to a very conflict-driven text by CP Cavafy. Its multiple lines and inner voices were delivered with persuasive panache by the choristers and the new director of The Song Company, Antony Pitts..." (Vincent Plush)

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CANBERRA CITYNEWS
May 2017

– CANBERRA INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL | Why do the Nations?
"Exceptional performances gild enjoyable concert"

Questions were asked. There was Thomas Tallis’ song, Why fum’th in sight?. There were lots in Andrew Ford’s Waiting for the Barbarians, like “[Why do] politicians sit there and do nothing?”. Handel’s question, “Why do the nations so furiously rage together?” was posed. And they all were linked across six centuries. Thomas Tallis’s song got a very finely controlled, tuned, and balanced rendition by The Song Company, The Australian Voices, and Luminescence Chamber Singers, singing a cappella and very ably conducted by The Song Company’s Artistic Director, Antony Pitts. It was so good it morphed seamlessly from 16th century Tallis to Ford’s complex and at times atonal song, an early 20th century Greek poem about the people capitulating to the barbarians, translated, modernised, and set to 21st century music." (Clinton White)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
March 2017

Sticks & Stones
★★★★ "Uncommon optimism inspired by conflict and loss"

"Two expressions of optimism, thinly connected by more than 70 years of conflict, emerged from last week's music... The Song Company under Artistic Director Antony Pitts began their concert in the Yellow House singing from a downstairs gallery giving their blooming clarity and balance in Purcell's Remember not, Lord, our offences, an edge of lonely distance that set the tone for the texts of exile that followed. In Egyptian composer Sheikh Imam's If the sun drowns to a poetic text by Ahmed Fouad Negm, and in love songs based on medieval texts, Oday Al Khatib's voice had an attractive silvery edge that rose at peak moments to touching iridescent intensity. Rahil / Bordeaux and Sodfa by Ramzi Aburdewan, who founded the Al Kamandjati music school in Ramallah where Oday studied, provided mellifluous opportunities for collaboration between Oday and the Company, while the contrapuntal richness of Tallis's Lamentations and his glorious Suscipe quaeso, Domine were sung with polyphony of lucid vividness. The concert ended with a version of Allegri's Miserere in which the famous top C - one of the most popular misreadings in the history of music - was restored to something plausibly close to the original performance convention." (Peter McCallum)

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CANBERRA CITYNEWS
March 2017

Sticks & Stones
"A concert of exceptional beauty"

"The confluence of two quite different vocal traditions produced a concert of exceptional beauty in the austere surroundings of the Wesley Church in Barton. The Song Company, singers very much in the western style of harmony and polyphony, were joined by Palestinian singer Oday Al Khatib from a contrasting tradition of modal melody and rhythm... The concert was a mix of renaissance and baroque church music by Henry Purcell, Thomas Tallis and Gregorio Allegri interspersed with songs in Arabic by Oday al Khatib... The opening Purcell motet was sung with the choir off to the side in the choir stalls, out of sight of the audience in the nave. They moved to the stage for another short work by Tallis followed by Al Khatib entering from the back singing solo. Simple but effective theatrics and superb singing. The two major western works were Tallis’ The Lamentations of Jeremiah and the well-known Miserere by Allegri. The Lamentations were split into two, separated by two Palestinian songs and a total joy to hear... He [Oday Al Khatib] is one of those singers who you feel simply privileged to have heard and a concert that will linger in the memory." (Graham McDonald)

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A CUNNING BLOG
March 2017

Passio
"St Mary's Passion"

"In a bold collaboration The Song Company, the Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral and Omega Ensemble have come together to perform Arvo Part’s Passio, his setting of the St John Passion... this was a mesmerising performance which felt much shorter than its 75 minute duration. The Evangelist Quartet — The Song Company’s Richard Black, Mark Donnelly, Anna Fraser and Susannah Lawergren — carried the narrative, along with the quartet of orchestral instruments... After a tentative start, they tuned in to the tintinnabuli with an impressive consistency. Nothing stuck out. Nothing jarred. It was just enduringly fascinating. In the role of Jesus, Andrew O’Connor, The Song Company’s resident bass, had few words, but the scoring and his rich, even tone made every line count. As Pilate, Richard Butler, who is Principal Lay Clerk at St Mary’s, cut through the crowd with his crisp, acid responses. Meanwhile, the contrast between the well-drilled ranks of the Choir of St Mary’s and the blood-curdling sound they made as they yelled “Crucify” was one of the dramatic coups of the evening... The four members of the Omega Ensemble found their way through the labyrinthine score with unfussy style, and David Drury drew power and glory and strangeness out of the cathedral’s organ... Congratulations are due to everyone who made this happen... Congratulations in particular on the work of The Song Company’s Artistic Director, Antony Pitts, not just in holding the performance together but also for his specialist knowledge, intricate understanding, and commitment to bringing this work to Australia." (Harriet Cunningham)

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LIMELIGHT
February 2017

Accidental Plans
"The Song Company delivers a strange yet compelling ‘kind-of-opera’ about an unusual musical life."

"Against the blank white walls of the Yellow House, The Song Company – artists dressed in white – performed a preview of Accidental Plans, a musical journey through the life, work and death of one of the stranger musical personalities of the 20th century, English composer Cornelius Cardew. The ‘kind-of-opera’ was created with guest artist designer and writer Adrian Self. The story is told by five singers – led by Artistic Director Antony Pitts from the keyboard – through a series of chapters mingling Cardew’s words and works with those of other composers, and it begins with Cardew’s death... Baritone Mark Donnelly is Cornelius Cardew, emerging periodically from the ensemble’s sound as soloist and protagonist with a penetrating timbre... The Song Company’s vocal flexibility and inventiveness is on display throughout the performance – a particular highlight was a kind of rhythmic riffing on philosophers, drawing attention to the textural sound of the names Lichtenstein, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida. Accidental Plans presents the fascinating life of a man who wanders through many significant musical and political movements of the 20th century, who seems to cling desperately to the next ideology (or father figure?) before becoming disenchanted and moving on..." (Angus McPherson)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
February 2017

Accidental Plans
★★★★ "Maxim Vengerov and Accidental Plans reviews: Two sides to the classical canon"

"Season openers by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and The Song Company brought canonical works of Western classical music and 1960s counter-cultural revolution into thought provoking juxtaposition last week... The Song Company by contrast, set out to smash the social contract (to borrow the title of one song) that allows art music its protected aesthetic space in a neo-liberal world. Their program, Accidental Plans under artistic director Antony Pitts, with guest artist Adrian Self, explored the stylistic development of English composer Cornelius Cardew, whose music was introduced to Sydney in the 1970s by the late David Ahern. Cardew's progress from Canterbury Cathedral choirboy, to avant-garde disciple of Stockhausen, to founder of the Scratch Orchestra, a vehicle for free creative improvisation for musicians and non-musicians, to Maoist and post-Maoist revolutionary is chronicled in an evening that is engaging, intriguing and provoking. Though Cardew would have rejected such a musical narrative around his life, The Song Company wove a thought-provoking tale through the demanding complexity of Stockhausen, the harmonic richness of Miles Davis and the anarchy of Cage and Cardew." (Peter McCallum)

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A CUNNING BLOG
February 2017

Accidental Plans
"The Impossible Cor"

"...There’s not much that can defeat The Song Company. This tight knit group can sing, act and, most important, think their way around pretty much anything you can throw at them... The performances are, as you’d expect from The Song Company, wild and wonderful. They’re all fine singers but, more than that, they are sound artists. Something like Steve Reich’s ‘voicetruments’. Plus they occupy the stage with a highly tuned awareness of the interplay between themselves and the audience. No shy genius hiding behind a score here. It makes for a very intense experience: the music is beautiful but discombobulating, nothing is predictable, and the threat of audience participation hangs in the air. You’re never quite sure whether you are being entertained, educated or are in fact the subject of a covert scientific experiment. As a way of portraying this curious artist I found it superbly effective... We knew we were in safe hands, safe voices, with The Song Company. I did, however get glimpses into Cardew’s relentless questioning, his moments of High Nihilism, and it was a scary place. Scary but necessary, because asking questions is what art is all about, and that’s why The Song Company is one of the bravest ensembles around. " (Harriet Cunningham)

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CLASSIKON
February 2017

Accidental Plans
"engaged the audience from beginning to end"

"Listening to The Song Company in the Yellow House, Potts Point was for many in the audience a trip back in time... Short works by Karlheinz Stockhausen, La Monte Young, John Cage and William Walton were interspersed with snippets of Cardew’s music – mostly simple in approach and also, mostly political in content. His most known works are meant to be approachable by both performers and audience... Singing the ‘role’ of Cardew baritone Mark Donnelly was suitably sensitive and at times dramatic. He brought a gravitas to the character that led the audience into the world of this disturbed individual... All the singers gave finely tuned performances – crystal clear soprano lines from Anna Fraser and Susannah Lawergren were beautifully matched by the insightful singing of Richard Black and Andrew O’Connor. Artistic Director Antony Pitts skilfully contributed from the electric keyboard – such a ‘60’s and ‘70’s instrument. " (Alan Holley)

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REVIEWS FOR THE 2016 SEASON  INTO SOMETHING...

HUNTER PROFESSIONAL ARTS
July/August 2016

– A Strange Eventful History

"The Song Company's Shakespearean offering at the Conservatorium last month was an epic.  The brilliant bonding of Shakespearean quotations matched with music evocative of the era created an eloquent and inspiring experience.  This was achieved by using the seven ages of man as the link and balance for the narrator, Gary Watt, an English Shakespearean actor who came especially for this Song Company series. Antony Pitts, the new Artistic Director of The Song Company, has delivered a concert to be long remembered in the best tradition of this illustrious a cappella group.  Even the program was a work of art produced on a sepia long sheet in the manner of the times."


THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
May 2016

– Metropolis New Music Festival 2016 Cityscapes

"...Sydney's The Song Company interleaved this Americana with Jannequin​'s mid-Renaissance Les cris de Paris, Gibbons' Jacobean-era The Cryes of London, and was responsible for the night's real new music: Berio's 40-year-old update Cries of London. The group, expanded to eight voices under new director Antony Pitts, gave character-rich interpretations of all three a cappella works but excelled in the Berio: unflappably fluent, sensibly shading in their dynamics, spellbindingly confident in negotiating the composer's rasping dissonances." (Clive O'Connell)


PARTIAL DURATIONS
May 2016

– Metropolis New Music Festival 2016 Cityscapes

"For their second Metropolis concert, the MSO teamed up with The Song Company to take us from sweeping urban vistas right down into the streets of renaissance Paris and London... With the MSO ranged expectantly on stage, The Song Company burst into Clément Janequin’s sixteenth-century setting of Parisian street cries. Singing from the gallery high above the audience, the cries of Paris rang out with an eerie clarity, like ghosts haunting the MRC. This haunting effect was even stronger in Orlando Gibbons’ The Cryes of London as the ensemble hummed a viol consort accompaniment. Weaving street cries into polyphonic music was a popular renaissance trope suggesting an awareness of the correlation between the multiple independent lines of polyphonic music and renaissance rationality and individualism. The cries are also a snapshot of the unique problems of urban life, including how to feed such a large concentration of people and how to control the rats and mice that accompany people wherever they go. Luciano Berio updated the trope with atonal polyphony in his The Cries of London in 1974. The Song Company’s lucid and nuanced performance of this modern masterpiece was by far the highlight of the evening..." (Matthew Lorenzon)

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classikON
April 2016

– In Tempore Paschali
"From the first intake of breath the exquisite vocal machine of Song Company overawed"

"...I was yet again overawed by the exquisite vocal machine that is Song Company. If the ensemble was a car, it definitely would be a Ferrari! As In Tempore Paschali unfolded, exploring the Easter story with music old and new, the audience were enchanted and seduced by the possibilities of the voice - at once reverent, distant, sombre, joyful and spiritual. The 'filigree detail of each individual vocal part' was brought alive by Susannah Lawergren, Anna Fraser, Hannah Fraser, Richard Black, Mark Donnelly and Andrew O’Connor. ...Artistic Director Antony Pitts created a concert in three parts exploring the subjects of Tomb, Hades and Throne. Into this musical setting was interwoven some of the most beautiful, intricate and intimate hymns, psalms, a capella Mass parts, plainchants and motets. Clever artistic direction placed Australian composers in amongst the ancient greats - I particularly loved the way Alice Chance’s stunning Fiat Lux by the three glamorous female singers of Song Company, followed a Credo by ‘Anonymous’ (1469) for the four male voices, including Antony Pitts himself. The intimate and crisp acoustics of the Independent Theatre were perfect for a concert of such beauty and spirituality. Extensive, educative and detailed program notes explained the historic musical journey we were on and the definition of polyphony - 'the combination of apparently independent voice parts into a harmonious whole', adding it was 'one of the noblest inventions of the human mind'. A big claim, but in the hands of Song Company, we were true believers!" (Lliane Clarke)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
April 2016

– In Tempore Paschali
"a concert of rare and transcendent beauty"

"...it was Monteverdi's Missa In illo tempore and Gombert's motet that formed the central thread of the three parts of The Song Company's radiant presentation in the acoustically miraculous crypt of St Mary's Cathedral under their new artistic director, Antony Pitts. Standing in a circle on the terrazzo floor under the central vault, the building amplified and echoed the interweaving lines with iridescent resonance, building to a peak of intensity in the elaborate counterpoint that closes the Gloria and Credo of the mass that was quite magical... Pitts' music expanded classic polyphonic vocal textures to incorporate modern harmonies within a broadly consonant framework and an original and sensitive understanding of the voice. As new director, Pitts continues and honours The Song Company's special expertise in the glories of the Renaissance under previous director Roland Peelman, while also bringing a distinct and cogent personal perspective. This was a concert of rare and transcendent beauty." (Peter McCallum)

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LIMELIGHT
March 2016

– In Tempore Paschali
"A three-part polyphonic soothing of the soul for Easter"

"...Given the holy location, the superb singing and the well thought out programme, it was quite a success. The concert was divided into three parts, representing three aspects of Easter: Tomb, Hades and Throne. The sections ran onto one another without applause, maintaining the sense of gravitas and mystery, connected only by a few thespian readings of poems by polymath Pitts himself. Each section incorporated a movement from Monteverdi’s Missa In illo tempore, using and exploring themes and motifs from works by Gombert which in turn featured in the programme. Each section also worked in Thou wast present as on this day from Pitts’ Requiem for the Time of the End. The unifying element was the fluidity of time, the connection between past, present and future and, of course, the musical thread of polyphony that can arouse a sense of the eternal in the hands of a dexterous composer. The singing throughout was precise and unforced, the vocalists taking advantage of the Crypt’s natural amplification. Pitts’s direction from within a circular arrangement ensured a tight relationship between vocalists, as well a democracy of the six singers..." (Andrew Luboski)

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
February 2016

– Bach & Forward
"Antony Pitts delivers perfect new chapter"

"...As composer, conductor and new artistic director of The Song Company Antony Pitts explains, there is something reassuringly solid about Bach's music. His scores are complex and technically challenging, but they unfurl with a sense of unbending certainty. Have faith and it will all work out in the end. Perhaps this is why the beginning of this, the ensemble's first concert in 2016, has proved so delicious. One voice, gradually joined by other voices from unseen figures around the hall, singing an unadorned melody. From silence, to one, to many, it felt like the perfect opening to a new chapter... ...One of the highlights was Brahms' Warum ist das Licht gegeben, an intensely emotional, harmonically volatile series of verses, in which the eight voices blended with mahogany warmth... ...However, the main event was Bach, and Pitts drew a fastidious, cogent and very beautiful performance of three motets from these fine performers. This is virtuoso ensemble singing: eight individual voices, all moving independently, often in different directions, at speed and at the extremes of the singers' registers and dynamic ranges. It's hard to imagine a better performance... ...The new chapter reads well." (Harriet Cunningham)

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AUSTRALIAN STAGE
February 2016

– Bach & Forward

"...What a fascinating program. The Song Company, under the musical direction of their new leader Antony Pitts, sang three Bach motets alongside choral music from the 19th century which specifically reflected Bach’s influence... this was seriously interesting programming... This was one of two extraordinary feats in this concert; the other being a Swingle-singers like rendering by the singers of the eight-part Contrapunctus from The Art of Fugue, a reminder of the staggering virtuosity of which The Song Company is capable... The performance of such a program was a tour de force, showing us once again what a brilliant outfit The Song Company is, and whetting the appetite for further concerts under their new director. What will they think of next?" (Nicholas Routley)

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