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After last month's Stateside special with bluesman Corky Siegel, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra signs off its Sources of Inspiration series with a global smorgasbord.

Thursday's Inspired by Exotica concert, with Jamaican-born conductor Andrew Gourlay at the helm, features suites by Danish composer Carl Nielsen and Russian Aram Khachaturian framing two contemporary Downunder classics. While Jack Body's 1983 Melodies draws its material from Crete, West Sumatra and Bollywood, Peter Sculthorpe's Earth Cry is firmly rooted in his native Australia.

Describing the 1986 score as straightforward and melodious, Sculthorpe considered it a protest against the bogus national identity foisted on his country in the 1980s; it was time, he said, to "attune ourselves to this continent, to listen to the cry of the Earth, as the Aborigine have done for many thousands of years".

Next week, Earth Cry will feature Australian didgeridoo player William Barton, weaving the mystic and mysterious sounds of ancient instruments around Sculthorpe's primal, energised music.


"Pleased to meet you, mate," is not a greeting I'm used to in the world of classical music, but this is what I receive from Barton, who emphasises that "it's quite a while since I've been to New Zealand in an official capacity". The man is determined to demystify. The didgeridoo is, he says, "a unique instrument that you pick up out of the bush, where it's been hollowed out by termites and all that jazz".

Then, and only then, does he probe more deeply into the crafting and tuning necessary for it to find its voice. Orchestral stringed instruments also come from trees, he points out, "but they're more manufactured and hand-crafted". He settles on the cello as the perfect counterpart to the didgeridoo, "because you can do didgeridoo bowings and seagull effects on it".

A moving documentary in the Australian Story series, available online through the ABC, tells this man's story. It opens on the banks of the Seine, with Barton and his mother, Delmae, strolling among artists' stalls. Notably, his first words are: "The tucker's all right at the restaurant, eh?"

Sculthorpe is quite a presence in the film and Barton smiles, remembering his friend "sitting in the dusk, in his chair at Woollahra". The composer extolls this young man who has played a didgeridoo central role in so many of his works, including the 2004 Requiem. He says that "having William and the didgeridoo in my life is almost like bringing my music home".

Barton first played Sculthorpe's music in 2001 with the Goldner Quartet at Townsville's Australian Festival of Chamber Music. The two men met the following year.

"Sculthorpe walked into the room and that's when the magic happened," says Barton. "This was the beginning of my life in the classical music world, even though I had had my first orchestral concert, four years before that, when I was 17. Peter's music is so bound up with our country's landscape. He wrote what has become the quintessential Australian music, bot for the nation and for the world."

22 Aug, 2015 12:00pm
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Barton has taken the compositions of Sculthorpe and other Australian composers, including himself, around the world. He mentions appearances at Carnegie Hall and the Berlin Philharmonie. "Maybe playing with the Vienna Philharmonic would be another high," he muses. "You don't want to gig every night with the same orchestra."

He is just back from Europe, where he played his own Kalkadungu in St Petersburg, and being "the first Aboriginal composer to play with the Mariinsky Orchestra must be another step in the right direction".

Tomorrow, at the Auckland Art Gallery, Barton will offer a free demonstration of his music and instruments to whet our appetites for Thursday's smorgasbord.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where and when: Auckland Town Hall, Thursday at 8pm

What: William Barton solo
Where and when: Auckland Art Gallery, main atrium, tomorrow at noon