How many in Thursday night's well-filled Town Hall felt a special sense of occasion as Stephen De Pledge, Michael Houstoun, Somi Kim, Jian Liu, Sarah Watkins and Liam Wooding took their allotted places around an almost sculptural installation of six grand pianos?
Voices at the End was a memorable keyboard spectacular and, with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Shoulder to Shoulder concert being lost to lockdown, a stirring launch for the lean classical offerings in this year's Arts Festival.
The evening set off with Steve Reich's 1973 minimalist classic, Six Pianos.
Reich's mesmerising 20 minutes always draw willing listeners into his pulsating world, either in trance-like submission or with finely-tuned ears to discover what's going on underneath the subtle shimmering. Yet, even in music that could easily register as robotic, individual personalities emerged, from the ineffably cool Houstoun to the flamboyantly spirited De Pledge.
The world premiere of John Psathas' Voices at the End proved a riveting 40 minutes, casting the same six pianists against a digital soundscape, presented with the immediacy of a state-of-the-art movie theatre experience.
Little wonder that Psathas, in his pre-concert talk, credited sound man Graham Kennedy as the seventh piano.
Voices is an eloquently argued eco-plea, with many dramatic contrasts, from the choral roar of angry voices to the pristine beauty of Briar Prastiti's Armenian song. Around all of this, the pianos weave their magic, achingly simple when Prastiti sing, but dealing out such fire and fury at one point that the audience broke into spontaneous applause.
Psathas sets out a potentially terrifying scenario. Yet hope emerges with the sound of heartbeats and sonorous Japanese shakuhachi flute, culminating eventually in the warm, rich chords of a short epilogue.
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Voices at the End grew out of Psathas' 2018 residency with the British ensemble Piano Circus. We can be proud that it has received its premiere back home in a country that, despite our comparatively lucky position, cannot afford to ignore its message.
What: Voices at the End
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart