Black Water

Thomas Edmonds Opera Studio, Adelaide Showgrounds. 4 Mar 2012

Music and Libretto by Jeremy Beck, based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates (used by permission)

Featuring the music of Jeremy Beck–a much awarded composer who was not previously known to me–this was a challenging concert, and I have to be honest and admit that I did not warm to the program.  Beck is a contemporary American composer of serious concert music (call it classical music if you want) and his style is, well, typically American.

The concert began with his Sonata No 3 for Cello and Piano, entitled “Moon”, with Zoe Wallace on cello and Julie Sargeant on piano.  In traditional three movement form the dialogue between the two instruments was deceptively complex, with the melodic themes of the middle and third movements being anticipated in the first.  The melody line in the third movement built to a satisfying line, but it finished abruptly and never seemed to resolve. 

The sonata was followed by the major work Black Water, a dramatic vocal composition for one soprano and piano.  It is based on the novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates and is clearly about the events of 1969 at Chappaquiddick when Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy drove his car off the road into the river which led to the death of his young female passenger, with whom he was clearly intending to have an illicit affair.  The event was a scandal because Kennedy did not report the accident until the next day and made no attempt to rescue the woman.

Beck has selected ideas and text from the novel and has created a gripping narrative which he has set to song.  Karen Fitz-Gibbon has beautifully crisp diction and a wonderfully warm and rounded tone, and had no problem filling the rather uncomfortable Thomas Edmonds Opera Studio.  Sargeant’s accompaniment was clean, precise and empathetic.  At times the accompaniment took on the role of the Senator, at other times the river itself. 

This concert is the first of a national tour, and we were fortunate to have the composer himself in attendance.  He was clearly pleased with the calibre of the performance, as was the large and enthusiastic audience, a number of whom gave a standing ovation at the conclusion. 

Aaron Copeland in his wonderful little book “What to listen for in Music” divides ‘new’ music into four categories:  very easy, quite approachable, fairly difficult, and very tough.  This reviewer would categorise the Sonata as quite approachable, and Black Water as fairly difficult.  They deserve to be listened to again.

Kym Clayton

When: Closed
Where: Thomas Edmonds Opera Studio, Adelaide Showgrounds
Bookings: Closed