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The Sound of Australia: William Barton with the ASO


Yidaki virtuoso William Barton performing with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra has to be one of the finest concerts and reconciliation events I have ever experienced.

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Barton took to the stage at the Adelaide Town Hall with such dignity that audience members knew immediately they were about to be part of a very special evening. It is protocol for orchestras to stand for their conductors and guest artists, but there was something deeply, symbolically respectful when the orchestra rose to welcome Barton.

Barton’s performance in Ross Edwards’ Tyalgum Mantras was that of a virtuoso; the endless variety of bird calls, animals and wind was astonishing.

The ASO, in Luke Dollman’s capable hands, was overwhelming when it performed Peter Sculthorpe’s Kakadu, a soundscape of the Australian bush with the yidaki blending with various instruments and strong percussive rhythms that reflect the harshness of the outback.  A video of Larry Gurruwiwi (son of Yolngu elder and yidaki custodian Djalu Gurruwiwi) highlighted that this is a sacred instrument.

Sean O’Boyle and William Barton’s Concerto for Didjeridu and Orchestra again re-created the sounds of the bush, with the stage bathed in red lighting to replicate the feeling of the Australian outback.

A superb highlight of the evening was Barton and Matthew Hindson’s Kalkadunga: IV Warrior Spirit  and V Spirit of Kalkadunga. A female elder recited the story of the resistance of the Kalkadunga people and the oppression they suffered at the hands of European settlers; the hard-hitting words, performed with a tuneful, mournful wail, pierced the Town Hall.

When Barton followed with his song of mourning, the night escalated into something much more than a concert. His voice, so powerful and pure, created a moment of such beauty and truth that it was impossible not to respect the man and his gifts, and also to reflect on the importance of the connection of Aboriginal people to this country. It was one of the most uplifting experiences I have felt in a theatre.

There could not be a more uniquely Australian concert than William Barton and the ASO. Barton generously shares his cultural heritage with the world, enriching people’s lives and our country with the harmony he creates.

The Town Hall performance last night was a one-off, presented by the ASO and the South Australian Museum. However, the museum exhibition Yidaki: Didjeridu and the Sound of Australia ­– a collaboration with the Yolngu people – continues until July 16. All  Australians would benefit from the wisdom of the elders, and the insights and understanding to be gained.

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