On Saturday evening we attended the launch of new acapella quartet the Australian Vocal Ensemble (AVÉ) at the Queensland Conservatorium theatre – a gorgeous 80-minute concert including the world premiere of an array of new works inspired by the poetry of Brisbane writer David Malouf.
AVÉ’s Artistic Director and award-winning artist, soprano Katie Noonan, took to the stage with fellow ensemble members and internationally renowned artists mezzo-soprano Fiona Campbell (Perth), and tenor Andrew Goodwin (Sydney). Unfortunately, ensemble member David Greco was unable to attend the inaugural performance, and so with only a day’s notice Sydney-based baritone Andrew O’Connor stepped in. His stirring performance was an astounding display of skill even without having learned the repertoire in a single day!
I don’t have a technical background in music or voice, but you don’t need one to be able to feel the tingling in your spine or the goosebumps on your arms upon hearing this music, these voices – haunting, soothing, uplifting, glorious. The works were obviously technically challenging, but smoothly and beautifully performed.
The concert repertoire included seven pieces inspired by Malouf poems, commissioned by Katie Noonan in 2020 from composers Stephen Leek (Stars), Jessica Wells (In The Sea’s Giving), Anne Cawrse (Afterword), Isaac Hurren (The Catch), Thomas Green (Typewriter Music and First Night), Robert Davidson (Suburban) and Alice Humphries (From the Book of Whispers); pieces by Bach, Tomás Luis de Victoria, and Handel, including an arrangement of Bach’s choral cantata Straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn with translations to the Gubbi Gubbi, Noongar, and Gadigal languages as well as German; and a composition by tenor Andrew Goodwin, Peace I Leave With You.
The concert included a reading by ‘Queensland muse’ David Malouf of his poem In The Sea’s Giving, followed by performance of Jessica Wells’ composition inspired by the poem. Noonan spoke warmly and conversationally with the audience throughout, emphasising the intimate feel of the chamber setting in the packed auditorium, and dramatic lighting added to the atmosphere and experience of the concert.
“There is nothing like AVÉ in Australia. We plan on being an elite chamber ensemble of international excellence, but one that is warm and welcoming to all. We will champion new Australian works on every tour, engage with our First Nations communities at every concert and engage with local communities at every concert,” said Katie. “I want to illustrate Queensland’s integrous creative leadership by establishing Australia’s only, professional classical vocal quartet. I believe it is vital to use the human voice to tell the stories of our time and place, and to encourage our audiences to use their voice.”
“We aim to create an unparalleled music experience for audience members – a chance to explore new Australian composers, a chance for audiences to find their own voice, and a chance to hear Indigenous songs of their own country alongside late Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces and brand new work.”
She added that AVÉ’s repertoire would be a unique blend of the old and the new. “The OLD will be represented in the glorious spiritual music of the late Renaissance and the early Baroque – the golden age of vocal polyphonic writing, while the NEW will be the modern music of the 20th and 21st Century, with a particular focus on new Australian music.”
Each year, AVÉ plans to commission 10+ Australian composers, work with some 250 vocal students and 450 community singers, mentor an emerging quartet, and perform to 3,500 regional audience members across Queensland and a national metropolitan audience of more than 5,000. Already, Katie Noonan has commissioned works from Richard Tognetti, Iain Grandage, Stephen Leek, David Hirschfelder, Connor D’Netto, Thomas Green, Alice Humphries, Zac Hurren, Anne Cawrse, Jessica Wells and Robert Davidson – 50% Queensland composers, 30% female composers and 100% Australian.
AVÉ’s debut album release is planned for August this year.