I am haunted by the image of a lone man trudging through the wilderness at the ends of the earth, his frozen companions lost behind him. That man is Douglas Mawson, on his remarkable solo trek through East Antarctica in 1912 – a feat described by Sir Edmund Hillary as “the greatest solo journey ever recorded in Antarctic history”. This journey from the deepest South has mythic resonances, like Orpheus ascending from the underworld, but instead of a doomed Eurydice following him, he was walking towards his fiancée Paquita Delprat – a woman with whom he exchanged unanswered letters during a 2 1/2 year absence.
The subtitle of this work is “A Silent Poem for Douglas Mawson”, for the work is based around a ‘buried’ setting of the poem “Orpheus in the Underworld” by English poet David Gascoyne. Musically, the two worlds of the myth manifest themselves in the work’s frequent meanderings into bitonality, but also in the tension between the bare, open stacked 5ths of the expanse of the landscape, and the sinewy chromatically moving lines of a body under duress.
Deep is the final work of a set of four to be completed as part of my composer_connecting_communities residency with the Youth Orchestras of Australia Network. The residency entails travelling to Youth Orchestras around the country, and developing and rehearsing works in collaboration with the participants in those ensembles. The four works together make up a larger work, titled Quadrants, with each composition relating to a point of the compass travelled to as part of the residency. The other three works are Exotic for Junior String Orchestra, Wild for Intermediate Orchestra, and Magnetic for Symphonic Wind Band. It is written specifically for John Curro and his marvellous Queensland Youth Symphony – a conductor and an orchestra I have long admired, principally for the orchestra’s apparent willingness to follow John to the ends of the earth.
Conducted by the indomitable John Curro, this enjoyable and vibrant concert celebrated the music of three generations of composers – mostly long dead. For the opening work however, the orchestra was able to work with Iain Grandage, composer of Deep. Subtitled ‘A Silent Poem for Douglas Mawson’ (who trekked solo through Antarctica in 1922), the sparse harmonies of this work reflect the landscape of Antarctica. This came through most effectively; the underlying percussive drive never distracting the listener from the enthusiastically played melodies and soaring crescendos. Laura Mathison, 4MBS 5/4/2008