All images: Ranui Young

FIVE ELEMENTS concert . (Enigma Quartet and Riley Lee)

The Shakuhachi is a Japanese flute whose sound embodies ancient Japan .  The world then was thought to comprise of five elements ( earth fire water air and ether ) melding into a divinity of nature its plants and animals.

The Enigma Quartet comprises four adventurous and accomplished female musicians. There’s no surprise that they fell in love with the Shakuhachi and one of it’s foremost exponents, Riley Lee, an expatriate American musician now permanently living in Australia.

It was a great concert .  The shakuhachi is both hypnotic and spiritually soothing. Listening to it you sense  the stillness of a falling leaf  .. mists descending through mountainous ravines… a small bird  capturing it’s prey in full flight…the sudden swiftness of death. Nature is sacred and ephemeral and primordial and the sound of shakuhachi is an embodiment of it.

Ten pieces of music were played ..all were composed by Australians based on the five elements.  In total they comprised a dialogue between East and West ..an interplay that was balanced, at times contrasting  at times complementary, but always respectful of the other.  Ultimately a clear distinction did  emerge: eastern music, particularly that of Japan is of the spirit and nature; western music is of the mind, the intellect and of the heart.

It all made for a great concert.  Riley Lees playing, as befitting his status as a leading western exponent of the instrument, expertly showed its full range nuance and elemental purity.  The Enigma Quartet comprising of outstanding musicians in their own right melded together to play with verve and sensitivity.

The Australian composers particularly Ross Edwards (Voice of the Rain), Holly Harrison (Flash Point), Lachlan Skipworth (Light Rain) did an outstanding job to make interplay meaningful and profound and in some cases (Ann Boyd) giving it an Australian context and a rich Australian idiom.  Holly Harrison’s piece, I thought was outstanding. It took me back to ancient Japan to a time simple yet complex , when nature was solace yet also harsh and unyielding.

The contrast of the musical textures and sounds ,percussive and melodic idioms made for many delightful moments none more so than the interchange between Rowena McNeish’s cello, its tones warm succulent and honey sweet  and the incandescent existential sound of the shakuhachi.

The Enigma Quartet and Riley present Five Elements played at  Independent Theatre North Sydney on Sunday November 26.

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