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Four Lost Songs

In 1950, the final completed works of composer Richard Strauss were published posthumously as a set titled Four Last Songs – the grand and sweeping epics existential work from a composer nearing the end of his life.

Described by Darwin Symphony Orchestra’s (DSO) Artistic Director Jon Tooby as one of the most iconic pieces of music ever written, Strauss’ classic has inspired a new DSO commission, premiering at the Darwin Festival this month.

By Kate Conway

18 months in development, Four Lost Songs is a melting pot of music, poetry and drama, and the newest work by celebrated Australian composer Emma Jayakumar. Based on poetry from four talented First Nations poets, co-curated by NT Writers' Centre’s Rita Horanyi, the works chosen all depict different journeys of loss, and themes of resilience and hope.

While all composers have different methods of translating text and themes into music, Jayakumar examined the poems and drew on her experience as a classical singer to mould the formal song structures.

“The emotional core of the poem suggests musical shapes and harmony, and from that, a core melody presents in my mind that will either be a sung line, or it will be the melody that is then taken up in the orchestra,” she says.

Currently based in Perth suburb Gooseberry Hill, walking through the Darling Ranges bushland and listening to the local bird life also helped Jayakumar connect with the poetry, influencing the composition process.

“When I went walking up in the hills, I was thinking about Matthew Heffernan’s poem where he was talking about standing on a hill top and feeling the wind blow across his face and listening to the land.

“I could hear magpies calling to each other and they had a very specific call, you’d hear one magpie and then 30 seconds later another magpie would repeat the call from across the other side of the hill. That turned into a melodic transcription that went into the orchestra, and that is how the piece progresses – it’s a call and response between the orchestra and the singer,” she says.

The flagship event for the DSO also includes a powerful performance of Stravinsky’s Petrushka Ballet Suite, a formidable and demanding piece chosen to highlight the DSO’s artistic and technical prowess, balanced out with Vaughn William’s popular Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

But Four Lost Songs, Tooby says, is the evening’s jewel in the crown.

“Unveiling a new piece is one of the most exciting things. I think Emma’s music is so extraordinary and it is an exciting time for new music, and new composers. That is something we are pretty passionate about with DSO, commissioning new work. It is quite a special program.”

Four Lost Songs
WHEN SAT 20 AUG | 7.30-9.10PM
COST $20-$130

Thumbnail, header & inset: Photo: Tim Nicol Photography

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