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The Song Company, Antony Pitts (conductor)
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Label: 1equalmusic
Recording details: Various dates
Various recording venues
Produced by Various producers
Engineered by Various engineers
Release date: March 2023
Total duration: 79 minutes 29 seconds

Tracks is a curated collection of very diverse, mostly live recordings from each of The Song Company’s seven touring seasons from 2016 to 2022, under the Artistic Directorship of Antony Pitts. Opening and closing with the music of William Byrd, the album includes four previously unreleased tracks, and culminates in a significant premiere by one of Australia’s most distinguished composers, Ross Edwards.

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Tracks is a curated collection of mostly live recordings from each of The Song Company’s seven touring seasons from 2016 to 2022, compiled from our discography along with four previously unreleased tracks—culminating in a significant world première by one of Australia’s most distinguished composers, Ross Edwards. The album opens and closes with short masterpieces by William Byrd, whose 400th anniversary falls this year (he died in 1623), and looks both back to the distant past with dramatic and ecstatic music from the 12th century by Hildegard of Bingen and Magister Pérotin, and to the future with brand-new commissions from two Australian Indigenous composers, Elizabeth Sheppard and Sonya Holowell, inspired by the Uluru Statement from the Heart. New music is further represented by Alice Chance’s untitled contribution to Nineteen to the Dozen and by Heather Percy’s loving tribute to Bruckner’s Locus iste. Our vocal repertoire on Tracks ranges from Byrd and Bruckner’s choral classics via solo song—including a traditional drinking song and a beautiful movement from Messiaen’s virtuosic song-cycle, Harawi—to staged and multichoral extracts by Antony Pitts, our Artistic Director during this fertile period of the ensemble’s long and noteworthy history. The Song Company was established in 1984; Antony picked up the baton from Roland Peelman, and before him, John Grundy and The Song Company’s founding father, Charles Colman. Making Tracks has felt very timely—in 2022’s Songs From The Heart we sang of 'walking tracks of Country'; in this album we leave our tracks from the last seven exhilarating years.

William Byrd: O salutaris hostia a 6
In 2016 we sang the six-part O salutaris hostia, one of William Byrd’s most harmonically piquant pieces, in the cavernous acoustics of the Crypt of Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral, as part of an Eastertime triptych of old and new polyphony, In tempore Paschali. Byrd takes strict imitation in three parts to an extreme in this Eucharistic hymn, resulting in dissonances hardly found anywhere else in music of his time. O salutaris hostia was not published in Byrd’s lifetime and today, 400 years after his death, his colourful concurrences of six individual vocal parts still sound as fresh and vibrant as ever.

Elizabeth Sheppard: Kaouwi ex Cordis 'A Better Future'
In 2022 we collaborated with two Indigenous composers on Songs From The Heart, inspired by, and setting words from Australian Aboriginal leaders’ 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart. A Better Future, part of Elizabeth Sheppard’s multi-movement Kaouwi ex Cordis incorporated within Songs From The Heart, is a setting of the Statement’s powerfully magnanimous words: 'In nineteen sixty seven we were counted, in two thousand and seventeen we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast Country. We invite you to walk with us, in a movement of the Australian people towards a better future.' Elizabeth writes of her compositional approach: 'My music walks a two-way track, it seeks to shine a light on events, and to compare diverse perspectives. This empowers audiences to draw their own conclusions—as both Cheetham and Mozart have done. The primary Australian Aboriginal instrument is the human voice, but the European a cappella choral tradition is not Australian, it comes from an entirely different time and place, it was designed to be sung in European chapels. So I’ve reshaped it to serve Australian Ngarra-Burria (listen and sing) goals and messages, via my two-way composition practice. This is done through teamwork, by consulting with Elders, and by collaborating with professional Aboriginal performers and composers, as well as non-Indigenous professionals.'

Antony Pitts: Transiens (Part 3 The Future)
Transiens is a 25-part motet—an extended postmodern recomposition of Robert Wylkynson’s 13-part canon from the early Renaissance Eton Choirbook, Jesus autem transiens. It was composed for The Song Company on a road trip from Uluru to Kakadu and the Darwinian coast in early 2020—its multiple musical repetitions echoing from the landscape at the heart of Australia. Transiens was intended to be toured during 2020 as part of Burden of Truth, but due to the strict lockdowns in place the tour metamorphosed into an album which we recorded in bedrooms and kitchens across Australia, and which was then painstakingly edited and mixed together at home by Antony. Transiens is in three 'Parts' or sections, and is scored for six sopranos, six altos, six tenors, six basses, and a central cantus firmus. Part 3—The Future—focuses on the final six of twelve phrases from the Apostles’ Creed beginning with 'inde venturus est'—'from thence He shall come'—and ends with a quotation of the original melody from the companion piece on the album, Gavin Bryars’s Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.

Antony Pitts: Miryam’s Lullaby
The late-mediaeval Pageant of the Company of Shearman and Tailors has given us the well-known Coventry Carol, by far the most chilling of traditional Christmas carols. In this new five-part carol from The Patmos Book of Carols, written by Antony for the voices of The Song Company in 2017, we hear an evocation of the Virgin Mary (Miryam) as a young Jewish mother cradling the infant Jesus (Yeshua) while reflecting on the prophecy given to her by Simeon in the Temple at Jerusalem 40 days after Jesus was born: 'a sword shall pierce through thine own soul …'.

Pérotin: Beata viscera
In 2019, at the exact moment other non-musical economic forces seemed to be conspiring in an unsuccessful attempt to mute The Song Company, we were on tour with the two bass guitarists from Melbourne metal band, The Omnific. Power Chords Attached was our unique cross-genre collaboration resulting in sounds both earthy and ethereal, as in this interpretation of Pérotin’s freely composed melody by soprano Susannah Lawergren, accompanied by the rest of the combined ensemble. Antony had originally created the edition of Beata viscera for Rebecca Hickey to sing on the Tonus Peregrinus album of Sacred Music from Notre-Dame Cathedral (a highly evocative track that has had more than two and a half million listens on Spotify!), but here Susannah takes us to an even more visceral place …

Hildegard von Bingen: Ordo Virtutum – Narratio (extract)
Circle of Virtue was our 'pandemic' retelling of Hildegard of Bingen’s Ordo Virtutum, one of the very earliest surviving sacred music dramas—with a production design and concept by Leonie Cambage and Hildegard’s monody newly transcribed from the manuscript by Antony. The story is set in the Palace of the Virtues; a Chorus of Souls passes by the Palace, seeking strength from the ‘Living Sun’. One Soul lingers and asks that Queen Humility and the Virtues help her resist the pleasures of the flesh. The Virtues, with interjections from Knowledge of God, counsel the Soul that she must join with the Virtues in her battle to overcome the Devil, who challenges her with proud mockery. Music was a powerful weapon in Hildegard’s evangelistic weaponry, and she wields it very deliberately in the play. Denied singing or harmony of any kind, the Devil has to deliver his evil persuasions by speaking or shouting. Drones and other harmonic and colouristic effects including 'symphonia'—instrumental sounds from the time—have been added in a blend of moderation and exuberance perhaps characteristic of Hildegard herself.

Alice Chance: [untitled]
Commissioned and performed during 2019—a very challenging year existentially for The Song Company—Nineteen to the Dozen is a lively tapestry of nineteen or so compact, untitled miniatures from living Australian composers playlisted against fragmented classics from every one of the last 12 centuries. Each of the ‘early’ composers set words for functional, ritual purposes. In contrast, each of our nineteen living Australian composers (plus one collaborator) created a miniature soundworld from scratch—without direct reference to anything. This is because the unusual brief for the commission from Antony was: no title, no words, and no explicit program note—i.e. compose without the usual handles for a composer of vocal or choral music. By eschewing words and language in their most direct and usual form, the actual notes on the page and sounds in the air become signifiers and carriers of no meaning other than what is imposed or associated, as in this piece by Alice Chance for solo alto and three-part chorus.

Anton Bruckner: Locus iste
Antony writes of Nineteen to the Dozen: 'Driving from Sydney to Canberra and back, as we regularly do on tour with The Song Company, watching the landscape go by, I have been struck by how the vista from the car window changes—sometimes rapidly, sometimes gradually—and how human artefacts and structures appear next to ancient geological formations in an apparently haphazard manner. But, of course, things are not totally random: the landscape is formed by water, wind, and other natural processes; human inhabitants have chosen places to work (foraging, hunting, etc.) and live (temporarily or permanently) because of the natural resources and the shelter that the land provides. And so, our 70-minute journey takes us through a musical landscape forged by the creative processes of nineteen living Australian composers and sound artists, on which are dotted the remains of Western musical structures erected and abandoned or restored over the last twelve centuries—including Bruckner’s perennial four-part treasure, Locus iste.'

Heather Percy: Locus iste (after Bruckner)
In 2022 we embarked on an 'Underground' exploration of Renaissance masters, such as Orlande de Lassus, Josquin des Prez, Antoine Brumel, and Thomas Tallis. As part of the Underground series, with a concert title inspired by C S Lewis—Rumours of Glory—we negotiated the chromatic niceties of Lassus’s Prophetiae Sibyllarum, interspersed with the more austerely modal Missa Pange lingua by Josquin. New Australian music gave fresh context to these ancient masterpieces, including this delightful four-part motet, Locus iste, by Heather Percy, who references Bruckner’s famous setting of the same words directly, but reworks it into her own harmonic world. The pesky lurgy continued to plague our touring, but Antony’s 'other duties as required' meant that despite the lack of the regular tenor, the show could go on …

Traditional: The Parting Glass
During a period when nearly all concerts were cancelled in Australia, Francis Greep (Associate Artistic Director) and Antony employed as many singers as possible in small and larger recording projects; this Artist Songbook was one of those projects, and each song also featured in a video specially conceived and created by the artist. Tom chose The Parting Glass, an unaccompanied traditional song (of Scottish origins, from a version first published in Ireland) that speaks of the pain of separation and the resulting lack of 'good company'.

Olivier Messiaen: Harawi – VIII. Syllabes
Amidst multiple, unexpected interruptions, Amy and Antony were able to meet together from time to time to prepare one of the most demanding of 20th-century song cycles, Harawi. Messiaen’s surrealist 'songs of love and death' comprise loquacious and audacious birds, forbidding stone statues and ritual dances, and the tenderest affairs of the heart—all in chords and melodies that cross from wartime Paris with its underground jazz ('the symbol of, or the last tie with, the outside free world') to a Peru of folksong and legend where monkeys jabber, dancers shake their ankle bracelets, and syllables of the Andean Quetchua language are de- and reconstructed. The second half of Harawi begins with a song called 'Syllabes'—a game of number- and word-play consisting of a captivating lovesong addressed to the lover’s departed 'green dove', alternating with an extraordinary series of frenetic chases in which the warning 'pia-pia-pia' calls of apparently friendly monkeys are overlaid with cascades of chords that go forwards and backwards... and eventually can go no faster!

Antony Pitts: Anna’s Rapid Eye Movement – Act I (extract)
Anna’s Rapid Eye Movement (or A.R.E.M. for short) was commissioned by Michael Burden for New Chamber Opera in Oxford—with a libretto by Shaen Catherwood and music by Antony—and the first studio extract was released on Unknown Public way back when in 1993. Almost a quarter of a century later, A.R.E.M. was premièred live as part of the Dreamers of the Day tour in 2017 that took in the Sydney Opera House, with Anna Fraser starring as the eponymous heroine and a combined soundscape by The Song Company and Antony’s British ensemble Tonus Peregrinus. The foreground story of Anna’s Rapid Eye Movement is a simple tale of what happens when the stress of real life breaks through into the world of dreams: Anna’s longing for peace and fulfilment becomes a search for the midnight train. In Act I this search takes Anna via the Travel Agents’, the Bank, and her untidy bedroom to an extended, slowly dawning moment of realization that she is finally and really awake … The narrative unfolds as she articulates the mental and physical fluctuation she experiences … A retro telephone ring on her mobile sets up the first of many regular sound patterns and palindromes, including metronomes, alarm clocks, heart monitors, time pips, and knocking on the door—and Anna is told that, as she already knows, she needs a holiday. She hangs up and slips into a sleep coloured by the sounds of a recording of perhaps the last music Bach ever wrote, Contrapunctus XIX from The Art of Fugue. Clock time is measured very precisely by an insistent, regular beat against contradictory pulses and the stretching of the harmonic rhythm of Bach’s fugue. Urgent, mocking voices start up, and in the first of three nested Scenes, Anna is offered a variety of fantastic excursions and holidays, including the exotic 'midnight train'.

Sonya Holowell: Like you can
In another song from our live recording of Songs From The Heart, which also featured in an extended documentary on ABC Classic, we sang of 'Holy Day', 'a waterfall, a stream, a rowing boat', 'the feast above', and 'my blessed hope'. Of her eight-part song, Like you can, Sonya Holowell writes: 'I share a desire expressed in the Uluru Statement: to instil a legacy of truth-telling in this country. Alongside Truth I hope to expound upon the meaning of Agency and Sovereignty, values and policies which the Statement seeks to reinstate to the First Peoples of Australia. I hope to paint a picture of what this could mean for the entire country; how reconciliation and harmony are possible when these values are prioritised and protected. I want the audience to feel and understand that I too am on this learning journey with them. Finally, in witnessing Elizabeth’s and my unique artistic approaches, I continue to stress the fact of First Nations’ diversity and intersectionality, resisting essentialist tendencies to homogenise cultural ‘groups’. To be human is to be complex, impossible to define and dangerous to contain.'

Ross Edwards: De Spiritu Sancto
In 2018 we toured One-Equal-Music, a program devised around the wonderful words of the metaphysical poet John Donne: 'No noise nor silence but one equal music.' The program was largely new music for eight voices, including new commissions from Ruth McCall, Ella Macens, and Ross Edwards. Ross writes of his formidable eight-part De Spiritu Sancto: 'In her brief, luminous hymn the twelfth-century Rhineland mystic Hildegard von Bingen celebrates the universal life force, endlessly animating and regenerating as it dances through all forms to pervade the whole of nature. In setting the Latin text I’ve tried to portray the Spirit as a free agent, swinging unpredictably between unfathomable mystery and joyous freedom: ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth’ (Gospel of John the Apostle). My playful attitude to prosody will be apparent: words and syllables are often pulled apart, reassembled and chanted in rhythmic patterns to intensify their meaning. The intended allusion to the Divine Dance, or creative play of God—a Hindu symbol with marked similarities to the Holy Spirit—I think Hildegard might have understood and approved. Influences on the music include the sound tapestry of summer insects; the carolling of magpies and other birdsong; the present-centred praise songs of forest peoples and Aboriginal song cycles—and, of course, the visionary words of Hildegard von Bingen. It has been a joy to compose once again for the wonderful ensemble, The Song Company to whom, and to whose Artistic Director, Antony Pitts, De Spiritu Sancto is dedicated.'

William Byrd: Ave verum corpus
After more than a year of lockdowns, we were finally able to tour Burden of Truth with collaborating ensembles in Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra. Alongside the two large-scale works on the album Antony programmed some smaller, connected works, including Byrd’s timeless setting of Ave verum corpus. The word 'burden' has a number of meanings alongside the most common idea of a 'load' or 'weight': less well-known is that of 'refrain' or 'chorus', particularly in Mediaeval and Renaissance music. All the music in Burden of Truth is built around the idea of a refrain that repeats, such as at the end of this small miracle of polyphony: 'O dulcis, o pie, o Jesu Fili Mariae, miserere mei'.

The Song Company © 2023

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