Concert review: FilmHarmonic

A collaboration of new music and film.

Festivals enable programmers to experiment, to shock, to delight, to impress. FilmHarmonic ticked a lot of boxes in today’s politically infused and demanding cultural circles. The event, programmed in the Brisbane Festival was a logistical triumph. It marshalled as many as 90 students from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music and Griffith University Film School, supplemented by interstate instrumentalists.

Ambitious and complex, the cinematic footage illustrated just how powerful the fusion between visual and musical narrative can be. The drive for variety and contrast evidently inspired the program’s choices.

There was a laudable mix of male and female achievers as well as a broad spectrum of cinematic content and musical genres. Music encompassed Persian, Argentinian, European and recently crafted Australian music. Classical works bookended the event, namely Grieg’s ‘In The Hall of the Mountain King’ and Saint-Saens’ ‘Carnival of the Animals,’ the latter famously featured in Disney’s Fantasia.

Other than a missed entry in the Grieg and an unfortunate trumpeter’s split notes, there was nothing amateurish about the content, which was classy and entertaining. Once the orchestra found its stride, the crystal clarity of the ensemble’s voice wowed the crowd. At the astute conductor Peter Morris’ slightest signal, the sound raised the roof or whispered in the ear. But the carefully brokered momentum was threatened by the all too frequent congratulatory patter in between items.

Necessary information should be delivered on screen like the credits at the end; the deserving personnel celebrated after the show ends. 

Virtuosic extras from interstate played Persian instruments: the tar, oud and daf in ‘Kerevan’ composed by Ustad Abol Hasan Saba that interlocked with the sequence Farsh-e-Parandeh (Flying Carpet.) Graceful dancer Parnian Zanganeh performed live as the kaleidoscopic intriguing images shifted onscreen. Click track preparation was by Ray Lin. 

Director Herman van Eyken’s magical yet disturbing ‘Per Sempre’ (Ma Non Troppo) ‘I’ll Be With You Forever But Not Too Much’ was a reimagined adaptation of Casares’ classic ‘The Invention of Morel.’ A couple tango on the roof top terrace of Casa Malaparte – a classic of modern architecture – featured in the deceased Jean-Godard’s film Contempt

Paired with Piazolla’s popular ‘Libertango’ the dancers were filmed in a studio. Then the images were grafted onto existing footage of this landmark terrace. There’s no way the dancers could leave, their toes nudged the roof’s edge, they glided forward and were back trapped in a timeless void. The viewer is perturbed by the couple’s sustained eloquence in a hollow existence. Jeremy Stafford’s guitar shone brightly in the music’s sway.

Another short, ‘A Study for New York Counterpoint’ was a complex collaboration between the superb dancers Isabella Hood and Georgia Pierce, with Steve Reich’s minimalist ‘New York Counterpoint’ effectively chorused by nine clarinettists, Jaime Redfern’s imaginative choreography and van Eyken’s inspired direction.

‘An Ostrich Told Me The World Was Fake,’ was a multi-award winning, charming animation directed and produced by Lachlan Pendragon. Andrew Udal’s rewarding music was threaded with fragments from Bizet’s Carmen.                                                                                                              

People can be wary of contemporary classical music and yet when new scores are heard in the service of film, audiences are entirely open to it. Exposure to new Australian music, for instance, Hudson Beck’s ‘Moon Voyage’ hit the spot during the reimagined, A Trip to the Moon (1902) edited by Finnlay Magill and Ella Brown.

‘Maya and the Three Soundtrack Suite’ by grammy-nominated alumnus Tim Davies, now a-go-to, trending composer in downtown Las Vegas, was bold, sassy, stereophonic. It gushed and thundered at one with the animation’s drama. Davies was in attendance and the performance was extra special because of it.

Read: Book review: Wildflowers, Peggy Frew

The Godfather’s lush film music by Nino Rota and arranged by Marjan Peternel, highlighted brilliant trumpeter Riley Nimmo and underscored an ingenious spliced and collaged sequence of revenge and gruesome killings edited by Marianthe Boobairs and Brock Kemper. Prepared by Bob Steward the accomplished chorus added another emotional layer.

FilmHarmonic was an absorbing, worthy and audience friendly experience. 

Griffith Film School and Queensland Conservatorium of Music

Brisbane Festival

FilmHarmonic was performed on 23 September 2022

Gillian Wills is an author and arts writer who has published with ArtsHub, Australian Stage Online, Limelight, Griffith Review, Australian Book Review, The Australian, Weekend Review, Good Reading, The Strad (UK) Cut Common, Loudmouth and Artist Profile. Her short stories have been published with Dillydoun Review, Antonym, Dewdrop, Unbelievable Stories and Hare’s Paw Literary Journal. Her memoir, Elvis and Me: how a world-weary musician and a broken racehorse rescued each other, Finch Pty was released in 2016 in Australia, America, Canada, The UK and NZ.