Arts Review

From My Homeland

From My Homeland Presented by Camerata

25th May-26th May 2023

Concert Hall, QPAC and Empire Theatres, Toowoomba

Dr Gemma Regan


A unique and momentous tribute to Australia


Queensland’s premier chamber orchestra Camerata flooded the QPAC concert hall with an Australian soundscape of the From My Homeland concert. It was an eclectic mix of melodies and poetry by esteemed Australian composers, all resonating with the essence of Australia.


Camerata was founded in 1987 by Elizabeth Morgan AM as Camerata of St John’s for students to learn and experience the wonders of a chamber orchestra. It has since flourished to become an internationally acclaimed orchestra, recording albums and winning awards, celebrating a decade as the Company-In-Residence at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. Fruitful collaborations and touring commissions with Opera Queensland, Queensland Ballet and The Queensland Music Festival have helped to firmly ensconce Camerata as an innovative and much sought-after orchestra with Brendan Joyce as the Artistic director.


Camerata is also committed to supporting emerging musicians and Reconciliation for First Nations people with the release of a Reconciliation Action Plan and the Upbeat Program to foster the next generation of Queensland musicians, with five outstanding musicians selected in 2023.


The dynamic orchestra have also just released a new album Sunshine Sounds on the ABC Classic label as a culmination of their tours across Queensland, featuring Queensland-based composers and audience favourites.


Margaret Sutherland’s uplifting Concerto for Strings opened the evening as part of the 30th Anniversary celebrations by 4MBS Classic FM, with 30 concerts in 30 days in May and June. 


Sutherland shattered the glass ceilings of classical music as an Adelaide-born female composer without formal qualifications. The concerto was to be published in 1948 by Boosey and Hawkes of London, but they withdrew the offer on realising the composer was a woman. It took several more years of persistence until the concerto was eventually accepted by the Australasian Performing Rights Association. 


The rendition was not only aurally entertaining but visually, as the feisty violins of Camerata bent toward the violas with each refrain as if in a challenge. Marian Heckenberg’s double bass rumbled resonantly as the cellos seemed to be dragged to the underworld. 


The Elegy for Strings, In Memoriam of Rupert Brooke by Frederick Septimus Kelly, was exquisite. The strings embodied the voices of a Gregorian chant pacing the cloisters in memory of Kelly’s friend, the poet Robert Brooke who died from an infection at only 27. The delicate pauses between the heartfelt crescendos were poignant and perfectly timed by the musicians adding to the pathos.


The bongo, clarinet and flute danced to ARIA-nominated and Yuin composer Brenda Gifford’s Barju (Footprints). The syncopated 60’s-sounding James Bond theme quick-stepped amongst slithering strings to culminate with a crashing cymbal. The big-band sound harkening back to Gifford’s days in the pop group Mixed Relations.


Camerata marched the audience along Cameron Patrick’s Lines of the Southern Cross, mimicking the ancestral songlines as an oral map of the First Nations People, as they traversed the multi-faceted land. The tonal idiom in 5 movements was commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and reflected Patrick's road trips around Australia. A unique technique of a droning cello and double bass cleverly mimicked the sound of the didgeridoo.


The musicians reached a climax in the Epilogue with the orchestra jigging to the bongo beat before returning to an echoing silence via the droning motif. A raucous applause replaced the echo with whistles and foot stamps as an appreciation of their technical skills.


The applause was followed by a flawless and emotional rendition of two poems from mystery guest Cheryl Leavy. She is an emerging Kooma and Nguri poet and winner of the 2022 Oodgeru Noonuccal Prize for indigenous poetry. It was an incredible illustration of the power of the word, with the first line, “Listen for the voice of sovereignty” accompanied by droning strings that swelled with the passions of the orator. Both poems were a rewarding yet troubling insight into the needs of the people and the land.


The theme continued with the Bush(fire) Requiem presented and composed by William Barton and Véronique Serret and reconfigured by Erik Griswald for Camerata. The passionate piece was commissioned by Artology in 2020 to mourn the losses of the 2019/20 Black Summer fires and the incredible devastation caused on Kangaroo Island.


Serret is a talented contemporary musician, composer and vocalist renowned for creating unique inclusive sound worlds. She collaborated with ARIA award-winning William Barton on the musical Heartland project with the message of peace released in an album on the ABC Classics label in 2022. 


The combination of Camerata with Serret’s mournful singing and violin, and the guttural sounds of Barton's didgeridoo was mesmerising. Evoking visions of the devastation of the land through fire. The natural cycle of Australia’s regeneration and rebirth but at a great cost to the wildlife.


The soft rhythm of the didgeridoo wafted across the audience as the kookaburra called out whilst the strings emulated the raging fires across the land. There were hints of the 1812 Overture until the musicians shook the eucalyptus branches as the winds picked up and the cockatoos screeched overhead. The primal bass sounds seemed to reverberate out of the fire-lit walls of the concert hall and across the lands of the Yuggera and Turrbal people. 


Aunty Delmae, Barton’s Mother, delivered some passionate poetry over the music of the bushfire apocalypse as it cleansed the land. It was a valuable illustration of how combining Western and First Nation instruments, languages and styles can embody a common Australian culture to define the true meaning of Country. 

Camerata presented a unique and momentous tribute to Australia and its people with From My Homeland, which should be heard by everyone. Fortunately, it was recorded for future broadcast on ABC Classic and film of the concert will also be available on QPAC’s Digital Stage.


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