An atmosphere of occasion pervades Vera Blue’s collaboration with the MSO before the show even begins, with a queue extending from the Hamer Hall to the NGV – a sight more befitting a rock concert than any performance at Hamer Hall — filled with bright-eyed Melburnians of all stripes and ages.
Tangential to International Women’s Day, Vera Blue with the MSO: Everything is Wonderful is a celebration of female musicians and composers in two acts. With conductor Vanessa Scammell at the helm, the first act comprises a selection of pieces from emerging contemporary classical composers; in the second we have songs from the genre defying Australian singer-songwriter Vera Blue re-devised for an orchestra.
‘Vera Blue with the MSO: Everything is Wonderful is a celebration of female musicians and composers in two acts.’
Long Time Living Here (Acknowledgement of the Country) from the immodestly talented soprano, composer and playwright Deborah Cheetham AO makes a hauntingly beautiful start to the concert. Missy Mazzolli’s These Worlds in Us is a mellifluous meditation on sentiment and melancholy, using the evocative power of music to show in the composers’ words ‘that grief is often not far from joy’ with sweeping, sonorous phrases and solo violin lines nimbly executed by MSO concertmaster Sophie Rowell. In contrast, Holly Harrison’s Frumious is a frenzied exploration of sounds and rhythms inspired by the titular portmanteau coined by Lewis Carroll to mean both ‘furious’ and ‘fuming’ at once.
Anna Clyne’s Restless Oceans is a mature piece composed in the late romantic style, reminiscent of the likes of Dvorak and Mahler without being derivative. The finale of the first act is The Space Between the Stars from emerging Sydney composer Ella Macens, a lush and impressionistic work that cleverly uses the full expressive and tonal capabilities of the orchestra to encapsulate wonderment.
As an avid listener of contemporary classical music, by the end of the first act I’d forgotten the gender criteria for the program. Rather, I felt as if I was introduced and treated to a selection of exemplary contemporary classical pieces from criminally underrated composers – who happen to all be female. As it should be.
The second act sees the Hamer Hall transformed to a stage at an outdoor music festival, or a rock concert, or perhaps the set of a video clip with the introduction of vivid, immersive lighting design, digital sound amplification and the headlining songstress Vera Blue.
‘Vera Blue’s rockstar stage presence, charisma, and humour fuses with the MSO in unexpected and magical ways.’
Since entering the public gaze as Celia Pavey in second season of The Voice, Vera Blue has established herself as an unique voice with a unique vision in the Australian contemporary music scene and beyond, with songs that span in mood from catchy and upbeat to whimsical and poignant. She fuses pop and folk melodies with electronica, and here with the MSO this is elevated to ethereal baroque pop.
Vera Blue’s rockstar stage presence, charisma, and humour fuses with the MSO in unexpected and magical ways. With the addition of the arresting lighting design, the end result is a surreal, dream-like experience that had the audience with spirits lifted and on their feet at its conclusion.
Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5: ★★★★☆
Vera Blue with the MSO: Everything is Wonderful
Vera Blue with the MSO
Conductor: Vanessa Scammell
Composers: Deborah Cheetham AO, Missy Mazzolli, Holly Harrisson, Anna Clyne, and Ella Macens
Hamer Hall, The Arts Centre
18-19 March 2021