Mythology and folklore are not uncommon points of inspiration for creativity. Shrouded in the mists of time, the stories and legends from our distant past never fail to intrigue whether they be told by Wagner or Tolkien. English composer Kate Moore has taken some of these ancient sagas as a starting point for her cycle The Crow and Other Short Stories and woven them into a rich and cohesive tapestry which was presented by the Amsterdam-based Herz Ensemble.
The mood was set by Lies Beijerinck who invoked the crow on a didgeridoo, a very basic instrument that is the conduit for the incredibly complex sounds, often more than one at a time, that the human voice can make. Comprising of the quietest whisper and the most brazen roar, this short introduction set us on our path which led slowly but inexorably to the evening’s astonishing climax.
The concert was in two parts, The Crow and The Horse. Each consisted of three pieces of about fifteen minutes. The Crow itself was a lyrical piece performed, in this world premiere, by Geerten van de Wetering on Hammond organ and Matthijs Koene on pan pipes. Commissioned by Orgelpark in Amsterdam, its subtle changes of mood and emphasis evoked the majesty and dignity of a bird whose song, if it had lyrics, would certainly have some tales to tell.
The Crow was followed by the Dutch premiere of Sliabh Beagh, a piece for solo piano played by Laura Sandee. Ireland, in fact all Celtic lands, are rife with myths and mysteries and Sliabh Beagh – meaning small mountain in Irish – takes us, quietly at first, through mist-shrouded valleys to vociferous breath-taking peaks.
For the final piece of the first half, Bushranger Psychodrama brings together most of the Ensemble for the first time. For this composition we are back in Australia, exploring the myth of that country’s most famous hero, the outlaw Ned Kelly, who transported the never ending Anglo-Irish problem to the other side of the world. Completing the line-up of violin, viola, cello, organ and percussion, the tenor saxophone of Tom Sanderman provided the lament of the crow as the folklore hero faces execution.
For the second part – The Horse – Mr Sanderman switched to soprano sax. The first piece 101, from 2003, presented a new voice for the Herz Ensemble and was a joyous invocation of a phoenix rising from the ashes. In Ridgeway, ancient symbols and tracks through the landscape are depicted from a bird’s-eye perspective. There was some amazing glissando from Lidy Blijdorp’s cello which complimented the soprano sax to create an almost electronic synthesizer sound. The piano of Laura Sandee was at times prominent with some phrases that were reminiscent of Erik Satie.
Influences were also evident in the The Dam, the magnificent climax of the evening. The full Ensemble was back on stage with the addition of counter tenor Kasper Kröner which, perhaps inevitably, gave the finale a very Philip Glassy Akhenaten feel.
Matthijs Koene returned with what I imagine were called bass pan pipes. The construction of black tubes looked like something that had been taken from a particularly complex under-floor heating system but sounded like the footsteps of some ancient giant striding the earth.
Special mention must also be given to Jellantsje de Vries on violin, who doubled as concert master, Elisabeth Smalt on viola and, not least, to Meiyi Lee who, although small and at the back, was always prominent and important on percussion and whose bass drum was the biggest I have ever seen. It was good to see some consideration had been given to the visual presentation of the concert with some fascinating looking instruments and nice lighting.
The Dam brought together all the elements of this excellent concert into one exciting and breath-taking climax which will long linger in the memory. I am already looking forward to hearing the work of composer Kate Moore and her Herz Ensemble again. Michael Hasted 20th September 2019
Photo by Astrid Burchardt