May 29, 2012

Planetarium (Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, Sufjan Stevens) @ Sydney Opera House

                                                      Photo by Daniel Boud

Sydney comes alive during VIVID. The Circular Quay area is awash in light and design with various buildings illuminated in dazzling light. The crowds are flocking to this winter wonderland. On the music side Fergus Linehan has curated an eclectic linup featuring the popular and the avantgarde. Last night we went to our first event and it was spectacular. A meeting of three of New York's finest musical talents put on a show that was unique.

Firstly we were entertained by the Australian Orava String Quartet. They played a selection of music by the Plantarium composers. They started with "Diacritical Marks", by Nico Muhly. This piece was in eight movements and was the nearest to being of a classical nature. It was stirring and reflective. Then followed "Run Rabbit Run", by Sufjan Stevens. His music came in three sections. "Year of the Boar", "Year of the Horse" and "Year of our Lord". These pieces ranged from the mournful to the playful. It reeked of Sufjan and was quite magical. Last up was "Aheym", by Bryce Dessner. Dessner's music was chaotic, robust and powerful. A great start to the night.

After a short interval we came to the main event. "Planetarium" is a piece commissioned by the Muziekgebouw of Eindhoven, the Barbican of London and our own Sydney Opera House. The stage welcomed again the Orava String Quartet and introduced the wonderful Trombone Collective, which featured 7, yes 7, trombones. They were a powerful force. A drummer, James McAlister, was also employed. But three men were front and centre. Three unique talents. Classical composer Nico Muhly on piano and keyboards. The National's Bryce Dessner on electric guitar. Celestial genius Sufjan Stevens on vocals and various electronic augmentation. Apparently Muhly and Dessner wrote the music with Stevens providing the lyrics. We received a song for each planet, plus one for the sun and the moon. They ranged from the serene to the dramatic, pulling together all elements of the musical sphere. There were quiet moments and monumental ones as well. "Jupiter" was epic and grand, whilst "Mars" was the most chaotic. I really loved "Saturn" which was easily the most rock like with Dessner giving his guitar a real shredding. "Pluto" was a small delight, but the best was saved for last. "Earth" was huge, warm and expansive and the closing "Mercury" was wondrous, delightful and simply beautiful. All the elements of the night pulled together nicely underneath an orb illuminated in dazzling style. Even the vocoder treated vocals of Sufjan worked well in context, even though I would prefer his 'natural' voice. It's always challenging going to a show where we are virgins to the music. We are so used to knowing the music put before us. But this worked. It was challenging, brave and rewarding.
A great experience.


  • At May 30, 2012 , Anonymous Jenn said...

    Mercury made me cry, which is pretty profound for a first listen!

  • At May 31, 2012 , Blogger Wayne said...

    Mercury was amazing! I wonder if an official recording will ever be released.


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