Fascinating journey for bird-lovers

Contemporary music group Stroma pulled another one out of the hat (or perhaps the bush) with their programme Diabolical Birds. Advertised as "cutting-edge chamber music infused with a cacophony of birdsong", it was a fascinating exploration of the different ways that composers react to stimuli.

New Zealand is rich in bird life, and playing the Mt. Bruce tape of the real thing as the audience entered was a nice touch, setting the scene for the aural menagerie that followed.

Philopentatonia by Julian Yu recreated the spatial effect of birds in the tree-tops, gradually bringing them into the orbit of conventional musical structures. In contrast, the birds in James Wood's Crying Bird, Echoing Star were of the caged variety, held in the concert hall and given a background of instrumental sound. The performers captured the effects of both works well, though some uncomfortable string intonation marred parts of the Wood.

Liza Lim's Diabolical Birds were translated into the idiom of Western art music and given a lush accompaniment, whereas the stylised bird song in Messiaen's Oiseaux Exotiques moulded the music to the metrical patterns of the birds. Ananda Sukarlan's wonderfully characterised piano playing added enormously to the range of colours in this performance.

Manutaki by Gillian Whitehead takes the idea of flying birds as its starting point, and its long melodic lines were given a sensitive performance, particularly in the sections featuring Bridget Douglas on flute, Pat Barry on clarinet and Rachel Thomson on piano.

The highlight of the evening was the first performance of Jack Body's In the Curve of Song. An extraordinary and magical sound world surrounded taped readings of old Anglo-Saxon texts, with Madeleine Pierard providing unearthly vocal and theatrical additions, and Stroma's instrumentalists forming a seamless aura of sound in support.

— Jane Dawson, Dominion Post, 5 August 2003