Australia’s Leading Vocal Ensemble The Song Company

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The Song Company is Australia’s leading vocal ensemble, embracing music from around the world and across the ages. In the lead up to their performance at the 2012 Bellingen Music Festival, Sophie Radford tells us more about the group and their magical sound.

Share with us a brief history of The Song Company.

Formed by Charles Colman in 1984, The Song Company is a group of six full-time professional singers led by internationally acclaimed Artistic Director, Roland Peelman. It gives approximately 120 performances each year across Australia and around the world.

The Song Company has developed as one of the most vibrant and extraordinary vocal ensembles in the world. The group’s repertoire covers vocal music from the 10th century to the present day and is unique in its stylistic diversity. With the support of The Australia Council and Arts NSW, the Company operates full-time.

Through a longstanding commitment to education, an annual concert series, as well as many recordings and broadcasts, The Song Company has built up an impressive following around Australia, and increasingly so, around the world.
How would you describe your sound?

Under the leadership of Roland Peelman, Artistic Director since 1990, the six-voice ensemble has developed its style by successfully integrating serious scholarship, tonal clarity, vocal daring and unbridled performance dynamics. The group is equally at home in medieval songs and chants, 16th-century polyphony, 20th-century classic. It creates innovative programs that cross the old divide between high-art and low-brow and old/new.
Introduce us to your artists …

Members of The Song Company include Mark Donnelly (Baritone), Anna Fraser (Soprano), Clive Birch (Bass), Susannah Lawergren (Soprano), Richard Black (Tenor) and Lanneke Wallace-Wells (Mezzo). All of our artists have a wealth of experience and bring something unique to each performance.
The Song Company has been established for over 25 years. What have been some of the highlights so far?

The Song Company remains at the forefront of contemporary vocal music through an extensive and ongoing international commissioning program and new collaborations.

Six Hermits (2003) involved six Chinese musicians on traditional instruments. The relationship with Australia’s most prominent poet, Les Murray, is ongoing and involves composers from around the globe. Spanning over three years, the Tenebrae project with Dance Company Force Majeure, directed by Kate Champion, has been described variously as ‘sensational’ or as a ‘benchmark for artistic collaboration’.

“This (2009), is the Song Company’s 25th anniversary and the Tenebrae series is one of its most impressive productions – not just from them, but from any music or arts group in this city, touching the spirit as it has with memories of things rich and strange.” Peter McCallum on Tenebrae III.

Of the 2009, Kalkadunga Man tour with didgeridoo player and composer William Barton:

“Kalkadunga Man is a fascinating and moving attempt to reconnect, not just with Barton’s heritage, but with the way sounds become meaning and meaning becomes culture … add The Song Company’s fond characterisations and you end up with a vivid slice of a past life.” Harriet Cunningham, Sydney Morning Herald (2009).

Regular international tours to Europe and Asia have taken The Song Company to some of the most prestigious festivals and venues around the world, such as the Dubrovnik Festival, MDR Sommerfest, Festival of Flanders or the Dresdner Festspiele, which have prompted great critical acclaim: “Their rendition was perfect, revealing a structural insight of utmost clarity (…) bringing back history unexpectedly fresh and alive.” (Sachsische Zeitung, June 2004).
While your performances cover some of the classics pieces, do you also perform works composed by your own artists?

Gethsemane is the ABC’s entry for the 2012 Prix Italia for a radiophonic musical work.

Conceived by Gerard Brophy, one of Australia’s most celebrated composers, Gethsemane interprets the traditional Jeremiah lamentations from the Old Testament through modern-day accounts of life on the streets of Calcutta to create a contemporary meditation on poverty, abandonment and compassion. “Gethsemane refers to the garden in Jerusalem where Christ faced the realisation of his imminent death and the provocative lamentations that become metaphors for grief, loss of dignity and pride. Brophy, however, paints a very contemporary picture of the human condition by drawing on his experiences visiting the poorest areas of India’,’ said Director Roland Peelman.

The Song Company commissioned the work from Brophy, who conceived the music for the six voices of the Company with the addition of a variety of mostly tuned percussion instruments, soprano saxophone, and electro-acoustic interludes created by the composer. The music is characteristic of Brophy’s more recent works in its engagement with the music of other traditions and in the clarity and economy of its soundworld.

Gethsemane includes five narratives which describe an arc from pre-dawn to night and from birth to death, on the streets of Calcutta. The stories alternate with singing by The Song Company of traditional religious texts, variously in Portuguese, English and Hindi, accompanied by percussion and interwoven with the lonely music of the soprano saxophone.

The recording presented here is a radiophonic realisation of Brophy’s original concert work, created in studio at the ABC the year after its staged premiere. The radio version of Gethsemane retains the overall ritual structure of the original, alternating vocal and instrumental music with spoken narratives and sonic interludes. It contains an additional prologue and interlude text written by the composer to provide context (along with foley sounds) for radio listeners. This is in the absence of the strong visual ritual context provided by the choreography of dancer Martin del Amo, who collaborated with The Song Company on the staging of the concert version.

The electro-acoustic passages created by the composer for the performance are also incorporated in various forms, along with additional sound treatments by ABC sound engineer, Andrei Shabunov.
You have released an abundance of albums. Are you working on anything new?

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed the recording process in the past and certainly look forward to our next venture into the studio, but for the time being we’re concentrating on our live performances, both locally in Sydney and on tour across Australia. It’s through this engagement with audiences that we can start to assemble the shape of the next album.

One of our most popular CDs was Kalkadunga Man which is currently available for purchase on our website:

We are regularly broadcast on ABC Classic FM. And you can find our next musical broadcast on

Annually, we produce a CD with a sample of the year’s program on it.

You will be performing at the Bellingen Music Festival in June. What can we expect from this performance?

The Song Company will be performing at both the Friday and Saturday night concerts. In addition to that, we will be running two workshops during the festival.

Musical Director Roland Peelman will run a one-day workshop for schools at Bellingen High School on Friday 8 June. Schools will be invited to participate and will be sent detailed information once enrolled. Places are limited, so you may want to enquire early to ensure that your school is included.

We will also run a two-hour workshop for singers on Saturday morning 9 June at 10am, exploring the secrets of our amazing harmonies.

Thank you Sophie.

This story was published in issue 21 Coffs Coast Focus

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