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ASO concert traces music in flight


Recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey has been on a mission to add different kinds of birdsong to her repertoire, and this weekend she joins the ASO for a concert tracing music in flight – from whooper swans to butcher birds.

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Lacey will join conductor Paul Kildea and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra this Saturday evening for Taking Flight, part of the orchestra’s Gigs at Grainger series.

Here, she explains the connections between birdsong and the recorder, and what audiences can expect from the concert.

What was your inspiration for selecting the works audiences will hear during this concert?

Recorders have been playing bird for centuries. Our classic repertoire is graced with nightingales, cuckoos, warblers of all types, and in the 18th century, recorders were used for the curious, dubious pursuit of teaching caged birds to sing human tunes!

About a decade ago, I realised that all my recorder birds were European. As an Australian, with a deep love of our land, this felt odd. So began a quiet mission to work with composers to ensure different kinds of birdsong would enter the recorder’s language.

Nowadays, I also play magpies, grey thrushes, honeyeaters, little Jacky Winter, and most recently, butcherbirds.

This concert traces music in flight, and the environments in which these airborne creations live. We hear birdsong and bird-inspired music, alongside Rebel’s 18th-century creation story, which conjures up the environment in which our winged friends exist.

From Finnish whooper swans and shore larks to Australian butcher birds – via an Estonian composer’s dream of our ancient continent, composed in the European springtime in a woodland alive with birds – this is a poetic evocation of our natural world.

Which piece on the program are you most excited about and why?

Hollis Taylor’s Absolute Bird. It’s one of the greatest joys and privileges of a life in music to premiere a piece that you’ve commissioned. I can’t wait to hear this piece come to life for the very first time with [conductor] Paul Kildea and the ASO.

Do you enjoy collaborating with orchestras? In what ways do you have to adapt your playing having the huge body of sound behind you?

I love playing with orchestras – there’s nothing like being surrounded by that lush kaleidoscope of sound. Even though the recorder’s small, it has an amazing ability to cut through sound, and in the skilled hands of fine composers like the ones we’re playing, as well as with some judicious technical assistance, you’ll have no trouble hearing it even in the midst of an orchestra in full flight.

So technically, my approach and sound doesn’t change much. But mentally, the attitude to playing a concerto is utterly different from playing chamber music.

In preparation, I feel like I’m training not just my fingers and ears to be at their most formidable, but also my nerves to be at their most steely.

What will it be like sitting in Grainger Studio listening to the music?

We think of this concert as a kind of listening reverie. A chance to wend your way through land, dream and air-scapes, in the spirit of Plato’s idea of music, “giving wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything”.

What is something that people might not know about the recorder?

The most exquisite recorders are Australian made, sometimes even of Australian wood.

How many recorders will you be bringing with you to Adelaide? Is it difficult to travel with them?

Seven. And no, they’re what a dear friend of mine, a double bass player, enviously calls handbag instruments!

What does nature mean to you?

It provides sanctuary, sanity and wonder, on a daily basis. From the pleasures of growing a garden to the delight of constant observation of natural life, it gives me intense joy.

I live in a city, and travel widely for work. I’m a runner, so for my daily run, I always find parks, gardens, waterways, wherever I travel. And, whenever I take a break, it involves going bush, whatever form that takes, whatever country I’m in.

This is an edited version of a Q&A originally published on the ASO’s blog. For more information about Taking Flight, see the ASO website.

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