IN the centre of Parliament House, directly underneath the flagpole, is a square atrium space known as the Members Hall. On either side are entrances to the two parliamentary chambers, with a glass ceiling three floors above through which the light flooded on this bright Sunday morning.

In the centre of the room is a square shallow pond with a low glass wall around it. This was the venue for a decidedly different concert as part of this year’s Canberra International Music Festival.

The festival program was uninformative about the nature of the performance, simply listing the four performers: Eric Avery, violin; Horomona Horo, taonga pūoro (Maori musical instruments); Theo Carbo, electric guitar and Jason Noble, clarinet.

As it turned out, it was 50 minutes of improvisation, at times quite beautiful, with all four musicians taking the lead at various times,
setting a theme or even just a musical idea which led off into the next few minutes of music.

The musicians placed themselves on each of the four sides of the central pond, separated by five metres or so but able to have eye contact, with each in turn entering the performance area from behind the rows of chairs again set up on all four sides.

The concert opened with First Nations violinist Eric Avery playing solo and singing in language between being joined by the electric guitar of Theo Carbo, and then a few minutes later by a bass clarinet from Jason Noble, with each additional instrument sending the music off to a different direction.

Finally, the three were joined by Maori musician Horomona Horo who had a table of various Maori wind and percussion instruments which each added a different tonal colour to the mix. These were instruments such as a conch shell with a wooden mouthpiece, a short bone whistle, a larger end blown flute and a piece of green stone in the shape of a large leaf which rang like a bell when struck.

The space suited this music well. It is a reverberant acoustic space, but with a pond in the middle may have difficult to use for other, more formal musical styles. It allowed the performance to wash out over the audience as the music ebbed and flowed with shifts in
tempo and tonality, but always with an intriguing wonderment as to what might come next.

Somewhat unexpected, but quite delightful.

This article was written by Graham McDonald from Canberra City News.

Featured Image: Maori musician Horomona Horo. Photo: Peter Hislop.