In November last year, I attended the National Gallery's Friday Nights event during its Masterpieces from the Hermitage exhibition. As I wandered through the gallery, I came across a choral performance that had me transfixed and extremely eager to hear more. The group was the Consort of Melbourne, a professional vocal ensemble who champion historic and contemporary chamber vocal repertoire. Since that experience, I have eagerly awaited the opportunity to see (and hear) them perform again, and this month they return to the Melbourne Recital Centre with their Local Heroes season.
"We have presented a regular concert series in the Melbourne
Recital Centre for many years and we're always excited to return," Artistic Director of the Consort of Melbourne, Steven Hodgson tells me. "Our Local Heroes season has a 'Fire and Water' theme with the first concert, Flames within being a very exciting and dynamic program centred on
explosive vocal music by composers Claudio Monteverdi, Carlo Gesualdo and Luca
"These all link images of fire with human passion, and the
texts speak of lovers burning with desire, and hearts being turned to
ash in the flame. We are also excited to be premiering Melbourne
composer Elliott Gyger's new 8-part version of Fire in the heavens. It was written for us and describes
oppressive power of the noonday sun in the Australian bush. Our second concert, in November, Voices over the water pays homage to a long and varied tradition of water songs,
ancient Gregorian chant to Jonathan Willcocks’ light-hearted
arrangement of Drunken Sailor. This is a much more
meditative experience, where the audience can drift away
and let our a capella harmonies lap over them."
While the group consists of eight core singers, the numbers can fluctuate, depending on the demands of the repertoire. With Flames within, the Consort is joined by Ensemble 642's Hannah Lane and Nick Pollock, to add some plucked-string sparkle to the vocal fireworks on display. "Hannah and Nick are continuo
players, and are able to improvise beautiful and
detailed accompaniments from a very basic written bass line," Hodgson says. "This
requires a dazzling musical imagination and expert knowledge of the
style you are working in, so they really breathe life into this
repertoire in a way that creates a lot of energy and excitement."
Hodgson is well aware of the barriers and preconceived judgements people have towards classical music, but he hopes audiences to their shows will leave with those thoughts quashed. "I think classical music in general suffers from the perception that it
is for some kind of 'cultural elite', that people worry they might feel
uncomfortable or might not understand what's going on," he explains. "Of course, this
is completely at odds with what we aim to do as musicians, which is to
make a profound connection to the people listening to us and create
extraordinary experiences for everyone in the room."
an eight-group ensemble, one of the things that really sets us apart
from your average choir is that our audiences get to know the voice of
each performer and we feel that our concerts are a much more intimate
experience for this. We also take pride in being an extremely versatile
group: we're equally comfortable performing beautiful sacred renaissance
polyphony, avant-garde contemporary music or even as back-up singers to The
"The Consort of Melbourne is made up of highly trained singers capable of incredibly dynamic and agile
performances. We hope to show audiences what a colourful and versatile
instrument the human voice can be," Hodgson concludes. "We're
always searching for a deeper and deeper connection to the music we're
singing, and it's when we manage to share that connection in performance
that the real magic happens."
Hodgson will be directing the Consort of Melbourne and Ensemble 642 at
the Melbourne Recital Centre for their program Flames within on Wednesday 15th June, 6pm.
Ticket prices begin from $29 and are available through the Melbourne Recital Centre, or save by purchasing a season ticket to Flames within and Voices over the water.