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Review: Homophonic at La Mama Courthouse, Midsumma Festival

Review by Susanne Dahn

Returning to La Mama Courthouse as part of Midsumma 2024 is the mega-wonderful ensemble of instrumentalists and vocalists known as Homophonic! playing the festival for the fourteenth time ! 

Under the firm but great fun hand of Artistic Director, MC (and double bass player) Miranda Hill, Homophonic! is a collaboration of the always sublime Consort of Melbourne led by Artistic Director Stephen Hodgson and the brilliant Homophonic! ensemble of players. 

And once again Homophonic! have brought a program of astounding new music by talented queer composers and performers to our delighted and grateful ears.

New works on the program include those from composers Kym Dillon, Kevin MarchCameron Lam and Sophie Rose with a number of the performance firsts for Australia or the world. 

In music, homophony is a texture in which a primary part is supported by one or more additional strands that flesh out the harmony.  One melody dominates while the other parts play either single notes or an accompaniment.  This contrasts with equal-voice polyphony (in which parts move with rhythmic and melodic independence to form an even texture) and monophony (in which the parts move in unison).

The program opens with Kym Dillon’s Robbie’s Daydream, part of the RESPECT projectan ode to pilot Robbie Heywood who struggled with gender dysphoria and finally builds up the courage to stop hiding and claim her feminine identity. This work for strings only, expertly captures the dischordant feeling of alienation and not belonging, and if you listen closely you can just hear the plane engine. 

The program continues with excerpts from the Ukaria-developed song cycle The Unknown Swimmer by composer Kevin March which incorporates startlingly innovative percussion (including a dramatic container of water), flutes and cello and is led by librettist and soprano Judith Dodsworth. The playing is tender and gorgeous particularly in the final excerpt Coming Home which features bass flute and singing bowls in support of Judith’s soaring soprano.

The first half of the program ends in great fun with the world premiere of Melbourne for the Weekend by composer Cameron Lam. The piece takes us to the classic pubs (special shout out to The Laird) and gay cultural landmarks of the 1990s for just another pint.  This piece is beautifully accompanied by a weave of upbeat and joyous strings so ably led by Kyla Matsuura-Miller. 

Act 2 opens with another world premiere this time of Sophie Rose’s To Echoes and Lines also sung by Judith Dodsworth. This electronic work which has won the Homophonic! Pride Prize celebrates the aging of queer women as an act of joyous rebellion.  It is a stunning blend of digital music and voice with human voice utilising a wearable smart ring on the singers hand that enables control of the shape and pitch and bend of the performance.  Staggering !

The program continues with a triptych of Tansy Davies’ Greenhouses, Meta Cohen’s Caedo and Caroline Shaw’s And the Swallow the choice of which was inspired by the endless cycles of human violence and brutality we continue to witness. The full power of the whole ensemble of players and singers together is visceral and very moving in this thoughtful curation of short pieces culminating in the sublime rendition of Psalm 84.  The vocalisation of the autumn rain is amazing. 

The final piece on the program, true to its title Finale, is arranged by Steven Hodgson in response to Miranda Hill’s entreaty that the performance end on a high note. The arrangement of Elton John and Tim Rice‘s Can You Feel The Love Tonight is joyous and anthemic and both asks and answers that core question with an emphatic YES. Such love and harmony in this group‘s ground breaking work and pitch perfect performances, a huge pleasure to be part of it and a source of great pride for their central role in this premier queer arts and culture festival. 

A brief plug for RESPECT which is becoming a core centre of the work of Homophonic!  The RESPECT project commissions new music by LGBTQ+ composers, inspired by the lives, loves, and adventures of senior members of the community. Queer cultural history isn't passed down around multi-generational dinner tables at holidays, so it's the responsibility of artists and story tellers to write the stories down in a way that can pass on through generations.  What a worthwhile project!

What a joy this collaboration and performance is. The musicianship in the room is stunning. And the love and delight in the room is pure magic.  Thank you to Miranda and the entire team for another unforgettable night. 

Image Supplied

Violins: Kyla Matsuura-Miller, Natasha Conrau. Viola: Merewyn Bramble. 

Cello: Campbell Banks. 

Double Bass: Miranda Hill. 

Flutes: Laila Engle.

Percussion: Louise Devenish.

Soprano: Judith Dodsworth.

Consort of Melbourne: Steven Hodgson, Katherine Norman, Kristy Biber, Hannah Pietsch, Alex Ritter, Robin Parkin, Ben Owen, Lachlan McDonald.


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