[Update December 2015: the above recording was made by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation at the City Recital Hall concert in November. My thanks to producer Don Bate and engineer Matthew Dewey.]
￼The wonderful Song Company and its artistic director Roland Peelman will premiere a new vocal piece of mine, Love is always born, in its upcoming Oct-Nov tour. I thank Roland for commissioning it, Kathie and Reg Grinberg for their generous financial support, and of course Michael Leunig for his beautiful poetry and images.
You can get tickets here so please come along. I will be attending at least 3 of the concerts – Blackheath (Blue Mountains), Sydney and Parramatta – so please come say hello afterwards.
As the song goes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. When Roland Peelman asked me to contribute to the Song Company’s Leunig Song Almanac, I chose December. It’s a magical month anywhere, but especially glorious in Australia because it and Christmas are the start of beach weather, summer parties, and that uniquely Aussie way of relaxing that we call the ‘silly season’.
I loved the idea of basing a work on the whimsical wonder of Michael’s Australian Christmas cartoons. I said to Roland, to capture the atmosphere of this time of year, I must start writing ‘December’ in December.
And that’s why this was one of two works I was writing when Sydney was gripped by the Martin Place hostage crisis.
As I wrote in the program note for my orchestral piece Untitled (Dec 2014) for Orchestra, Martin Place is a ten-minute walk from my home across Woolloomooloo Bay and I’m there several times a week. During the crisis, my friends who worked in banks and other buildings were stuck, cordoned in by the police. Early the next day, we saw the start of the sea of flowers.
There is a music that shows up in both the orchestral piece and this vocal piece. It’s Heinrich Biber’s ravishing but desolate violin passacaglia about a guardian angel leading a child to heaven. I’ve since realized it was unconsciously suggested to me by Michael’s cartoon about a weary angel – worn out from the year’s hard work – preparing for the season of joy. This was the cartoon I had thought would be the basis of this vocal piece.
I heard the Biber dimly after returning from that first visit to the then-little collection of flowers, but in the subsequent days it became bright and clear. In my orchestral piece, there were three trumpets symbolising three angels. After the work premiered, I was asked why there were three angels taking souls to safety when only two people died. But the music only worked with three trumpets, so all I can say is that three people died, including the gunman. All life is sacred. If we can’t accept that, peace will never come.
And now a fragment of this music has entwined itself on the beautiful, symbol-laden words of Michael Leunig, and like a climbing plant has created a tall and rich new foliage of sound. Like Picasso’s, Michael’s poetry is vivid and imagistic. The lap of an old lovely god is for sleeping in. Birds sing into open wounds.
The song is interrupted by a music that’s reminiscent of ‘Silent Night’, but the words are Arabic. Arabic speakers sing about Jesus too. If the central figure of faith for one-third of the world can be born in a manger, then it’s true what Michael Leunig says – in the most unexpected places, love is born.