Elemental forces of human experience swelled and dispersed throughout Three Sides of Love and Death created by the recently formed Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra. Unearthly and yet deeply grounded in ancient traditions and sacred practices, the music of the 11 piece orchestra under the direction of Richard Petkovic, transcended cultural boundaries to create a new and inclusive sacred symphony. The concert was the opening event of the fourth Sydney Sacred Music Festival, Riverside Theatres, Friday, September 5. It was a totally uplifting experience for orchestra and audience alike.
A small grant from the Australia Council for the first time had allowed the greater development of musical arrangements and time to rehearse. The result was a wonderfully balanced performance in which each individual made a unique instrumental or vocal contribution to a deeply sympathetic background of harmonious support from the rest of the orchestra. The care and respect of each musician for the other was almost tangible, discreetly guided by Richard.
Following a Welcome to Country by Darug elder Uncle Greg Simms, Yolngu vocalist from Arnhem Land and exponent of ceremony, Gambirra Illume used powerful exhalations and movements to invoke life forces and words of love from her own language. The steady pulsing of rhythms from behind her amplified the effect. The consciousness of breath found many expressions, often emphasised by the regular movement of the harmonium played by Richard Petkovic.
World whistling champion Asim Gorashi, originally from South Sudan, whistled, played first violin and oud and performed Sufi rituals. Seyed Salar Hosseini from Iran, only recently released from two years in Australian detention camps for seeking asylum, played second violin. A unique experience of breathing was heard in the ancient Mongolian art of throat singing by Bukhu Ganburged, who accompanied himself on the horse fiddle. Maria Mitar sang of love and loss, forgiveness and understanding. Chinese Australian Mark Szeto reflected on departures in playing his double bass and Ghanian percussionist Yaw Derkyl performed a A Call of Sorrow in a tribal language.
Players responded to each other across the semicircle of their stage positions. Shohrat Tursun delivered a traditional Uyghur Sufi song from the East Turkistani song cycles followed by Mexican baroque harpist, Victor Valdes, in Latin American celebration of higher powers. Through traditional chant and music, Vietnamese classical guitarist, Ngoc-Tuan Hoang memorialised lost ancient cultures of the world. Above is John Hibberd Snr’s photo of the stage in the moment of anticipation before the concert begins.
“Wonderful”, “awesome”,” inspirational” were just a few of the words heard in response to the premier performance of Three Sides of Love and Death. After more than a decade of development, this was the clearest exposition yet of Richard’s vision to demonstrate the wealth of international musical talent residing in western Sydney and how societies are profoundly enriched by the cross-cultural explorations of traditions and spiritual practices. It turns on its head the demonisation of those seeking asylum in Australia and transcends the fear of difference.
Sydney Sacred Music Festival continues in many venues until September 21. Three Sides of Love and Death can be heard again as part of Parramasala, Prince Alfred Park, Parramatta, Sunday, October19, at 8pm.