VSO – New Music Festival – Day Four – Songs Of Joy And Bliss


If you’re trying to make some noise then it stands to reason that you could do with a bang of some kind. The VSO accomplished this heartily on the closing night of it’s first New Music Festival.

The titular piece of the program, Brett Dean’s Moments Of Bliss, is a set of pieces, almost in effect a reduction, of the composer’s opera based on Australian writer Peter Carey’s novel, Bliss. The novel relates the happy incident of Harry Joy, a successful businessman, father of two, and well-liked “good ol’ bloke” suffering from catastrophic heart failure. He dies. After being dead for four minutes he awakes to his former life convinced that he is in hell: his wife is having an affair, his children are into drugs, and his company is producing all manner of cancer causing chemicals. The rest of the story revolves around his coping with the realization that, before his heart attack, the whole time he thought he was blissfully happy he was barely coping with a life of total misery.

Brett Dean’s score does much to affirm where the bar is set for what one can expect from their hometown orchestra. Aside from the epic mass of noise of coming off the stage (Verdi sounds like patty-cake in comparison), the musicians swung noise makers over their heads, incorporated electronic instruments, and even engaged in some genuine theatrics with a roulette wheel (Complete with feather boa!) to help set the scene of Harry Joy’s arrival in hell. Baritone Peter Coleman-Write appeared as Harry Joy in the opera’s premiere and reprised that role for us on stage this night. The exceptionally witty text of The Ballad Of Little Titch, a tall tale the protagonist tells the police in attempt to talk his way out of a jam, owes much to his lively performance:

His father was tall, his brothers were tall,
but he and his mother were terribly small
Little Titch…

He was greeted by catcalls and withering cries
by bullies who mocked him because of his size
Little Titch…

I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard such exciting orchestral music in a live context before. I’ve listened to recordings by my own favorite heavyweights and read some of their scores that occasionally became ochre with the sweat of a million sawing violins but the music never made the journey across the pond and into my local concert hall. If it has, SHAME on me. I really hope that this festival typifies the organization’s renewed commitment to contemporary music and that it continues to provide us a live outlet for big music making.

Great concert! Where were you?




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