Australia’s oldest and foremost contemporary music ensemble, Synergy Percussion, has a close tie with legendary Greek composer Iannis Xenakis.
The fascinating work Pleiades, composed by Iannis Xenakis, will be performed by Synergy Percussion to mark their 40th birthday this year. In the early ‘90s, the ensemble met the composer and performed for him, and there is still a strong memory of this that manifests into even the newest members of the ensemble. They too feel connected with Xenakis.
Timothy Constable, artistic director at Synergy Percussion, wasn’t with the company then but understands the strong corporate memory, and presence of the Greek artist. To celebrate this, the ensemble will be peforming his 1978 composition Pleiades to mark their 40th birthday this year.
“I think at a personal level, the piece Pleiades is my favourite piece of percussion group music so it’s no more complex than that,” Timothy tells Neos Kosmos on the choice of piece to use to mark such an auspicious occasion. Pleiades will be performed by the ensemble on the Saturday, and the following night they will perform Anthony Pateras’ Beauty will be amnesiac or will not be at all – a work inspired by Xenakis but highly original. And a piece that will be making its world premiere that night.
“Anthony’s piece is quite a forbidding piece to look at, it’s over an hour long, that when it landed in my in tray I was quite scared,” Timothy recalls.
“He spent a long time writing it and the more we are getting into it with rehearsing it, the more I realise the detail he is bringing to it.
“It shows real clarity of thought – the way he is using the space, and he is using electronics so there’s a sound design aspect to that.”
In many ways since its conception in 1978, Pleiadas has remained unchallenged as the most ambitious work for percussion ensemble ever written. A sound-world unlike anything before, ears will ring and brains will ache from processing the intricate patterns of the rhythms and sounds, while the audience’s eyes will be captivated by the synchronised flurry of movement as the performers’ hands dance across their instruments.
“He’s a very unusual figure as a composer,” starts Timothy about Xenakis’ musical style.
“He was trained as an architect and he had a very colourful younger life fighting in the Greek resistance and for all of those reasons what he ended up with was a very unusual, highly complex compositional style that suits percussion really well so as a result of that he has a strong place in particularly percussion ensembles and solo music aesthetics. And he wrote some of the most enduring and most challenging game changing works to percussion ensembles of which Pleiades is the biggest.”
Xenakis fought with the resistance during WWII and took part in many protests during the civil war where he became involved in street fighting against British tanks. He was gravely wounded when a shell hit his face. He lost his left eye and was disfigured. It was around this time he fled Greece.
“The estrangement, a longing that he suppressed that comes out in his compositions,” says Timothy. “I don’t know if it’s Greek tragedy but there is something about it that comes out in his work.”
Timothy says the way Xenakis uses the instruments in his compositions is “revolutionary” and that his compositions have a “tribal immediacy that audiences really respond to and are rewarding to play”.
“He seems to understand the elements that the instruments are made out of, it’s highly creative, it’s very complex but it’s also very immediate,” he says.
Members of Synergy Percussion will be dispersed throughout the concert space on platforms, amongst six speakers angled in different directions. The audience will be free to roam below the performance area, ensuring a different acoustic perspective on the piece at any given listening point.
Xenakis vs Pateras will be performed on Tuesday 22 and Wednesday 23 April at 8.00 pm at the Carriageworks, 245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh, Sydney. For bookings visit www.carriageworks.com.au