Adelaide Festival

Festival Review: Suffering

Suffering, which is part of the 150 Psalms classical music performances, creates a heavenly choir experience which everyone can enjoy.


Presented by 150 PSALMS / Netherlands Chamber Choir
Reviewed 1 March 2020

Not just for those who are religious, Suffering, which is part of the 150 Psalms classical music performances, creates a heavenly choir experience which everyone can enjoy.

This year’s Adelaide Festival sees the fourth performance of the unique choral event, 150 Psalms, performed by an internationally renowned array of choirs over four days and twelve shows within multiple historic and/or religious venues. These groups include the Tallis Scholars from England, the Norwegian Soloists’ Choir (Det Norske Solistkor) and Australia’s popular vocal group, The Song Company. In Suffering, the performers are the impressive Netherlands Chamber Choir (Nederlands Kamerkoor).

For some background on the Psalms, over 3000 years ago the Hebrew Bible’s Tehillim, and then the Old Testament’s Book of Psalms, were created through the gathering of 150 songs. These songs encompassed themes like justice, humanity, compassion, liberation and power which all still hold relevance in today’s chaotic world. The Psalms performances range in theme (and title) from Powerlessness and Abandonment to Trust and Safety and the Celebration of Life.

Held within the high stone walls and wooden-striped ceiling of St Francis Xavier Cathedral, Suffering takes the audience on a vocal journey that transcends any choir experience within a theatre. As with every other of the twelve shows, the performance is introduced by someone who is a noted writer or contemporary thought-leader. Suffering is introduced by Reverend Tim Costello AO, and although at points this introduction feels overwhelmingly heavy with religion for those who are not particularly or at all religious, it provides a relevant context for the coming songs.

The performance starts off strong with Psalm 22 which is performed powerfully by the entire choir in German, with booming vocals filling the entire cathedral. Although some songs are sung in foreign languages like German and Latin throughout the show, this allows audience members to focus less on the words and more on the skilled vocals, which are of the highest quality in the world. Other renditions include smaller groups and even a dazzling solo performance from Mónica Monteiro who is accompanied by the organ. While slower renditions provide a meditative experience for audience members, the quicker paced compositions can exhilarate and enliven.

Highlights include the world premiere compositions by Australians Kate Moore and Elena Kats-Chernin whose contemporary approaches to the Psalms provide contrasting sounds and sharper elements compared to the other older renditions. While Moore’s Psalm 3 almost mimics an uncomfortable slow moan, like a choral drone with slow key changes, Kats-Chernin’s Psalm 13 has sharper and jarring components, reflecting the frustration within the lyrics which refer to an abandonment by the Lord.

You don’t have to be at all religious to experience and enjoy the beauty of these world-famous vocals combined with beautiful historic buildings. If you can appreciate the beauty of choir, or want to become more exposed to it, make a trip to one of the 150 Psalms performances.

Reviewed by Georgina Smerd

Rating out of 5: 4

One Night Only – Season Ended


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