By Hailey Nuthals, Highlighter editor
After nearly a month of fantastic spectacles, performances, and concerts, 92Y Concerts wrapped up their “Seeing Music: A Festival at the Intersection of Sound and Sight” with a prolific event titled simply “The Reef.” On a cold Thursday night that could speak no less than it already was of the ocean or sunshine, the Australian Chamber Orchestra graced the Kaufmann Concert Hall with their performance.
Touted as “unforgettable visual and sonic experience of breathtaking imagery from Australia’s Ningaloo Reef and a fascinating score of music,” the event combined an original film of surfing in the Ningaloo with an eclectic score of songs containing (and certainly not limited to) Beethoven’s “Cavatina from String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major, Op. 130” and Alice in Chain’s “Them Bones.” All of the music was performed live and arranged for orchestral performance.
The evening began with a “Welcome to Country,” a few opening songs that featured Shelton Murray on didgeridoo and famed Yawuru singer-songwriter Stephen Pigram on guitar, meant to set the mood of the night and immerse the audience in the cultural notion of Australia. Murray’s didgeridoo was immediately dramatic and expansive, filling the soundscape with the sort of unapologetic power that comes along with the instrument. Pigram’s smoky voice and simple guitar lines solidified the folk feeling of the songs, while the orchestra behind completed the arrangement until things were swelling and filling the heads of the listeners, not unlike the ocean they were about to depict. Pigram had even written a few of the songs in the welcome, and the sincerity was beautifully evident in the performance.
Slowly, and with such graceful transition that the audience almost didn’t notice it happening, the screen suspended above the musicians began to fill first with ethereal images of the Milky Way, and then with the very beginning of the footage of the film. As Richard Tognetti, artistic director and lead violin, had warned the audience, the film was less narrative than it was a contiguous collection of video, meant more as art and less as entertainment. Footage began from the blackest dawn of morning and seamlessly flowed through a day of surfing, with the beautiful cinematography that director of photography Joe Frank is known for.
The two-hour performance never lagged for a single beat. The images, vast and rich and dramatic, were perfectly in time with the playing of the musicians. Such careful timing must have been done with excruciating detail, but it was all pulled off flawlessly, so the audience never for a moment felt a gap between the video and music or wondered how much longer they were going to be there. The surfing, of course, was an art form in and of itself, and even the ocean felt a part of the composition, thanks to the organic method of filming. Eventually, to the audience’s regret, the film came full circle, and gently closed on the same image of the Milky Way it had begun with. A final cadence from the orchestra, and the magic was complete.