Music review: Mosaics: Contemporary sounds of Melbourne, Sidney Myer Music Bowl

A rich musical program in the second instalment from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's free Sidney Myer Bowl series.

It’s a balmy Wednesday night and despite no big-ticket classical music names like Tchaikovsky on the program, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl is lined with picnic blankets and relaxed revellers waiting for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s (MSO) second free concert of the year to commence: Mosaics – Contemporary sounds of Melbourne featuring the city’s musical and community diversity.

There’s an indescribable magic laden in the atmosphere at large-scale arts events such as this that bring people together with a sense of joyous occasion. This is particularly so for Mosaics where the audience have voted with their feet to support an exploration of Melbourne’s diverse identity. 

The Mosaics program matched this energy immediately with Melissa Douglas’ premiere composition ‘Ascension’ that evoked an uplifting picture of resilience and hope. As we sat under a setting sun, we were transported to sunrise over high mountaintops and then shot into space with Stuart Greenbaum’s ’90 minutes Circling the Earth: Hymn to Freedom’. Greenbaum’s piece offered tantalising juxtaposition between cinematic strings and pop rock percussion. 

Audience members deserved bragging rights if they found ‘Night School’ to be brimming with NYC energy as the piece’s composer, Zappa, hails from the US.

The program then shifted to showcase four young artists who have collaborated with the MSO through its inclusivity and access program, GRID. Nomad charmed with his honest rap storytelling in ‘Destined’; Elaura presented a sensual and smooth interlude with ‘Alzar’; HVSH brought together a winning combination of Joe Hisaishi (of Studio Ghibli) style accompaniment and soul melody to ‘About You’ and Ag Johnson sang what could be a new age Disney musical hit, ‘Beauty Within’. 

The highlight of the night, however, was yet to come – the Sangam Ensemble’s premiere work ‘Agam (The Interior Landscape)’. The piece was a musical invitation to become submerged in the stories and culture of Tamil Australians. 

The Sangam Ensemble’s collaborative work with MSO exuded thoughtfulness and sensitivity – delivering an emotionally powerful performance. The first movement contained an impossibly rich texture through beautifully meshing two musical traditions: Western and South Asian. It was utterly arresting, broadening one’s understanding of the capabilities of music in real time. Besides music, the Sangam Ensemble employed multiple art forms to depict their message to great effect. This was particularly present in the second and third movements that include spoken word, dance and audience participation. 

Read: Book review: Little Plum, Laura McPhee-Browne 

Mosaics was a night of celebration with MSO’s programming facilitating a space for pride in diversity and inviting audiences to include contemporary pieces and tonal traditions outside the Western Canon into their understanding of ‘classical music’. 

Mosaics: Contemporary sounds of Melbourne
Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne

Conductor: Benjamin Northey
Musicians: Nomad, ELAURA, HVSH, Ag Johnson, Sangam Ensemble

Mosaics was performed on 15 February 2023.

Jenna Schroder is an emerging arts critic, with a background in dance and voice, and an organiser at the Media, Entertainment, Arts Alliance. Outside of her union activism, Jenna can be found performing at The Improv Conspiracy, around the Melbourne comedy scene and producing independent work across multiple platforms. Twitter: @jennaschroder00