Theatre/Music Review: Katie Noonan and the Australian String Quartet – The Glad Tomorrow

Five-time ARIA Award Winner Katie Noonan and the Australian String Quartet (ASQ) are currently touring Australia with their new album The Glad Tomorrow.

Reviewed 2 Nov 2019

Five-time ARIA Award Winner Katie Noonan and the Australian String Quartet (ASQ) are currently touring Australia with their new album The Glad Tomorrow. This is the first time Noonan and the ASQ have collaborated, and this uniquely Australian project sets the poetry of First Nations icon Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) to music. This performance and work couldn’t be more timely; with the recent closure of public climbing of Uluru, this performance and album is another step in the direction we need to be taking to acknowledge the horrific past with our relationship with the First Nations people, and work together as one to pave a new, unified future.

This album has been a long time in the making, starting with Noonan as a young girl in the early 80s, reading Oodgeroo’s book My People and falling in love with her poetry. That sparked Noonan’s lifelong fascination with First Nations culture and led to her eventually commissioning nine Australian composers, as well as herself, to set the poetry of Oodgeroo Noonuccal to music, for herself and the Australian String Quartet to record and perform. Each piece is a true reflection of Oodgeroo’s words and brilliantly enhances her powerful messages.

There is no question as to why Katie Noonan is one of Australia’s best performers. Her performance was flawless. From the moment she walked onto the stage, she was mesmerising to watch and listen to, and her passion for this new work was evident. Her soaring soprano voice, showing her classical roots, perfectly accompanied the ASQ. Some of the more challenging works, such as Son of Mine (Richard Tognetti) and Song in A Minor (Iain Grandage), particularly showcased Noonan’s brilliant voice and vocal ability.

Like Katie, The Australian String Quartet are world class. The musicianship between each member, Dale Barltrop (violin), Francesca Hiew (violin), Stephen King (viola) and Sharon Grigoryan (cello) is perfect. They may be four individual musicians, but together, they play as one. They breathe together, move together; their ensemble work is seamless. 

The ASQ also performed two Australian works on their own: Connor D’Netto’s String Quartet Number 2 in E minor and Peter Sculthorpe’s String Quartet No 11 “Jabiru Dreaming”. Both works were the perfect complement to the performance, showcasing the quartet’s extraordinary skills.

Before each piece, Kaleenah Edwards, the great-granddaughter of Oodgeroo Noonuccal, presented the poem that each piece was based on, speaking it in the Jandai language. Kaleenah’s recititation of the poetry was mesmerising. The warmth of her voice perfectly suited the poetry. It truly was an honour to hear Oodgeroo’s works presented in her native language. Special thanks must go to Oodgeroo’s grandson, Joshua Walker, Quandamooka songman, who translated the poems from English into the Jandai language. 

The Woodville Town Hall, in all of its majestic glory, was a fitting location for this performance. Jonathan Heath, from Amplify This 200 Productions, must get a special mention for the perfect audio mix. The only criticism of the night unfortunately must go to the venue’s event photographer, who spent the first 15 minutes of the performance walking across the front steps of the stage taking photos, regularly blocking the audiences’ view and then snapping photos over the heads of the audience in the front few rows. It sadly caused distraction, as when you were wanting to be drawn into this mesmerising performance you were suddenly snapped back to reality by the click of the camera or having your view blocked by a camera lens.

We need to be encouraging the creation of more works such as The Glad Tomorrow. We have phenomenal artists and musicians in this country, and it is fantastic to see ground-breaking, cultural new works such as this performance being presented. Let this be another step in the direction we need to be taking as a country.

Reviewed by Ben Stefanoff

Rating out of 5: 5

One Night Only – season ended

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