International House

"Then with the range of individual performers from the evening, we heard the world premiere
of There are three things that will endure in this world by Christopher Bowen, specially
commissioned for the evening. This proved a highlight for the concert and, I believe,
helped to reassure me of the great value of modern “classical” music".

"Our first anniversary event took place back in April, and also featured a new work. Commissioned especially for our Celebration Concert, Christopher Bowen’s There are three things that will endure in this world was an ebullient reminder of those enduring
elements that transcend cultural differences; namely, truth, hope and love".

 

FM 102.5 Fine music magazine April 2015

BOWEN'S MASTERPIECE ECHOES THE CRIES OF THE FALLEN

Re-live AN AUSTRALIAN WAR REQUIEM

Australia's first War Requiem has been composed by the eminent composer-conductor, Christopher Bowen OAM to commemorate the centenary of World War 1 and the Gallipoli campaign. It was premiered in the Sydney Town Hall to great acclaim in August last year. Scored for orchestra, five soloists, massed choir, semi-chorus and children's choir, Bowen's long held desire to write an Australian War Requiem was fulfilled when Sydney University Graduate Choir commissioned the work. The choir got behind the event with immense enthusiasm while the small, dedicated management committee brought exceptional expertise and skill to the large enterprise which achieved an unqualified success.

The genesis of the work lay in Bowen's decision to set his music to letters written between young Australian soldiers on the battlefields and their mothers at home in Australia. the Australian War Memorial holds scores of these letters and reading them became a highly emotional experience. Text of the Marian hymn Stabat Mater (generally ascribed to Jacpone da Todi ca. 1230 - 1306) which describes the suffering of Christ's mother at her son's crucifixion, was then interwoven with these wartime letters. The juxtaposition provides a powerful text.

An extract from just one of these soldier's letters written by Vivian Neville Main to his mother on Christmas Day, 1917, reads:

My dearest Mother. We're somewhere in France and I've just finished Christmas dinner. I've been thinking of you all at home today. Oh! How I would like to be there with you all. Had my birthday in the trenches in none too comfortable spot but one must put up with these sort of things in these hard times.

By Jove it has been cold over here. Everything frozen and the water in my water bottle was one hard lump.

I had a very narrow squeak this time: Apiece of shrapnel came and tore my clothes and then went in to the ground. It was quite near enough.

Vivian was killed in action later that Christmas Day, aged twenty-four.

And a letter from a mother, Alice Crowley, to her son Lieutenant Clive Stanley Crowley dated March 31, 1918 reads in part:

My very dear Clive, I am feeling awfully low spirited dearest since hearing very such terrible news relating to this fearful war. It just feels to heavy to bear: Whenever will it end and I am always wondering how you are. I have never felt my old self since you left us. I try and imagine you at home here with us again and see your dear good face as in the happy days of yore.

Lietenant Crowley died on June 25, 1918. A fellow officer wrote of his death:

At daybreak during an early-morning bombardment at Villers-Betonneux in June 1918 I met Lietenant Crowley coming out walking from the front line. He was badly gassed but just able to speak to me and I heard that he died at the dressing Station the same afternoon. he was a friend of mine.

Another officer reported: "I saw Lietenant crowly walking out and heard him say, "I'm done. Get your gas helmets on , boys." These are just some brief examples of the material which inspire the text.

MOVED TO THE CORE

An important and profoundly significant step in the evolution of the composition occurred when Bowen embarked on a journey to Villers-Bretonneux, Pozieres, Passchendaele, Tyne-Cot, Ypres and Gallipoli. In these historical locations he experienced first-hand what were once the terrible battlefields where so many lost their lives during the "war to end all wars". As he travelled through towns and villages, it was as if he could hear echoes of the rumble of artillery fire and the cries of the fallen. he wrote in his extensive diary: "I have just returned from a very intensive twelve-day pilgrimage which has provided me with so much inspiration and material for this composition and has moved me to my very core. It is my hope that this War Requiem speaks a universal language and reinforces those qualities which bring all people together and enable them to share a common humanity in peace."

The premiere performance proved to be an intensely emotional experience for both performers and audience alike. Soloists Celeste Lazarenko and Ayse Goknur Shanal (sopranos), Henry Choo (tenor), Adrian Tamburini and Christopher Richardson (basses) and all those who participated were deeply moved. The performance received a standing ovation from the packed audience at the Sydney Town Hall.

Following the performance, Kim Williams AM, author, leader in arts, business, government and media, described the work as :"majestic, monumental and a deeply moving experience". Australia's mezzo soprano Lauris Elms AM OBE wrote: "Christopher Bowen has written some fine work over the years. In Australian War Requiem he has established himself as a great composer for all time. Musically this was a thrilling and unforgettable experience".

You can experience this extraordinary performance when Fine Music plays its live performance of An Australian War Requiem on ANZAC day , 25 April from 2pm.

 

 

 

FM 102.5 Fine music magazine February 2018

Always in search of interesting material for his vocal compositions, Christopher Bowen found that Rimbaud’s words appealed to his sense of justice and of the satirical. His music is characterised by frequent changes in tempo and syncopation while whispered injunctions give way to shouts of defiance in the choral writing.

Fifteen years ago, Christopher Bowen wrote about his then new composition, Démocratie. “It is not my intention to make a political statement with this work, as politics from my perspective have become a rather futile and impotent means by which to implement positive change for society as a whole. Democracy in its most ideal form is fast diminishing, hi-jacked by those whose only concern is to increase their own power to the exclusion of others. One can rationalise any change in many ways and justify it, but if the mechanisms of change demeans humanity and its most basic and fundamental qualities, then I would question its motives.”

Now, on this second performance of his work, he says that ‘democracies throughout the world are now more fragile than ever’. He says that it is a time when facts are described as ‘alternative’ and when people cry ‘fake news’ when what they are hearing or reading is really objective journalism. Amongst a certain part of the population, there is an acceptance of the most outrageous prejudice and bigotry.

He also wonders now how we should view all of those who have fought inequality, discrimination and injustice, including those now-revered protestors Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela when, in our own country, some denounce the right to protest against injustice.

While he says that Démocratie is not political, Christopher Bowen’s wish is that his composition proves to be provocative and challenging for the listeners, causing them to reflect on the state of democracy today. Although Arthur Rimbaud wrote in a satirical vein, he was not trying to make fun of the democratic system. His message was that democracy was failing to protect the vulnerable at the expense of the powerful. The message of Les Illuminations lives on!

Démocratie will be heard in Showcasing Australian Artists on Thursday 22 February at 8pm.

Classikon August 2014

Christopher Bowen’s An Australian War Requiem is the end result of a truly staggering effort…..Bowen’s music, was at turns haunting, stark and dramatic, with a flair for clever orchestration and rich choral writing…..The Sydney University Graduate Choir displayed excellent control, diction and uniformity of sound, notably in the exciting 7/8 rush of the ‘Shells Burst’ chorus…..Other highlights included the exceptionally well-trained voices of the Waitara children’s choir…the audience at Sydney’s beautiful Town Hall was left feeling as though they’d been part of something truly unique.  On this solemn anniversary what better way to remember and honour the memories of Australia’s fallen soldiers than through the beauty and clarity of the human voice?

Luke Iredale

Australian War Requiem

"It is a terrific work – majestic, moving, monumental and a wholly convincing commemoration of an exceptionally important moment in human and Australian history.

It was a deeply memorable experience."

Kim Williams 

 

In this century we have grown accustomed to war, and celebrating violence seems to happen on a daily basis.

It was with great interest that we went to the Sydney Town Hall last Sunday to hear Christopher Bowen’s An Australian War Requiem.

The old Town Hall has seen many wonderful concerts in the 19th and 20th Century, and the performance we were about to hear ranked with the most memorable of those experiences.

When we walked into the building, we saw a large screen set up over the stage, showing scenes from the Great War.

Britten’s War Requiem is justly regarded as a masterpiece, and now we have an Australian War Requiem to stand unashamedly beside it.

Chrisopher Bowen’s An Australian War Requiem was one of the most moving and profound experiences I have had for many years. The splendid text was based on letters written between Australian mothers and their sons in far away France. The letters were printed in the program for us to read, and Pamela Traynor’s text was beautifully built on real events, as those young men lived – and died – through those terrible times.

The work is divided into three parts; Tableau 1. The Horrors of War. Tableau 2. Sons and Mothers, and Tableau 3. Reflections on Loss.

The concert began with the screen showing a woman, as the narrator read a mother’s letter to her son, we saw the young man, and then heard his letter to her. Each of the Three Tableaux was preceded by five scenes from the war being fought in France.

The music began with the bass (Atatürk), and the large choir singing the Requiem Aeternam very softly. As the children’s choir was joined by the soprano and large choir, the work gradually grew to show the tragedy which was to unfold.

As the splendid baritone soloist sang the words of a dying soldier from the battlefield, and the music built to the climax, I was moved to tears. The final moments, as a piper played the bagpipes, was inspiration.

The concept of the presentation was wonderful, as we were transported into the horror of those days by the music of Bowen and his magnificent orchestration, by Traynor’s masterly libretto, and the images presented on the screen, helping the viewer to identify the journey we were traveling.

The Sydney University Graduate Choir sounded supremely confident, with a rich tone in this large hall. The other choirs, Waitara Voices and Fort Street High School, were very well prepared and gave of their best.

The splendid soloists were Celeste Lazarenko and Ayse Göknur Shanal sopranos, Christopher Richardson baritone and the exceptional Adrian Tamburini, bass-baritone. They were joined, stepping into this new and difficult work at late notice, by the magnificent tenor Henry Choo. (Why do we not hear more of this wonderful operatic tenor?) All the soloists were obviously moved to be part of this beautiful and important new work, and to find the music easily accessible at first listening was for me, a great pleasure.

"Christopher Bowen has written some fine work over the years. In Australian War Requiem he has established himself as a great composer for all time. musically this was a thrilling and unforgettable experience"

Lauris Elms AM OBE
 

 

"Bravissimo!

A moving, inspiring and wonderful concert.

I can't recall a more immediate standing ovation."

Andrew Mc Kinnon

 

“An impressive performance indeed. An ambitious project which involved many people and which was delivered with great aplomb”

Roland Peelman (Song Company

 

 

 

 

 

North Shore Times

"An odd program coupling, but an unfailingly interesting and rewarding one, came with a well attended concert by the Sydney University Graduate Choir of 70 voices and its orchestra under the keen and musically decisive conducting of Christopher Bowen in the university's Great Hall."

"Far greater emotional impact came from the premiere of Christopher Bowen's "Liberdade" Requiem, commemorating the 1999 East Timor elections in a work of tension, almost relentless punch, tonal in idiom but rhythmically unpredictable and imaginatively scored. This is a Requiem to make you sit up and take notice".
 

Sydney Morning Herald

An Australian War Requiem honours the nation's fallen in First World War

By Nick Galvin

6 August 2014 — 11:45pm

It was after writing his requiem for the freedom fighters of East Timor in 2000 that composer Christopher Bowen began considering what major works existed marking the sacrifice made by Australians in the First World War.

"To my utter amazement, I found there had been no major work written to honour those people who sacrificed so much for our generation," he says. Once he became aware there was no Australian equivalent to, say, Benjamin Britten’s monumental War Requiem, Bowen began considering how to rectify the omission.

"I thought I didn't want to write a standard requiem, I wanted something to actually speak of loss and I wanted to bring something that would tell the stories of the soldiers and their parents and everyone else affected," he says. It was then that he hit on the idea of incorporating words from the letters that passed between the young soldiers fighting and dying on foreign soil and their mothers back home.

Bowen, librettist Pamela Traynor and helpers sifted through "thousands" of these intimate pieces of correspondence that are preserved at the Australian War Memorial, looking for words that were at once personal and universal and which would fit into the context of the music.

Woven through many of the heart-breaking stories they uncovered is the constant thread of the young men's yearning to return home to their mothers.

"The words in the letters from the sons written to their mothers would in some cases shock us now," Bowen says. "It’s almost like they are lovers. But if you think of the time, a lot of those boys had probably never had a significant relationship with a woman.

Among the correspondence were letters between Sergeant Clive Crowley and his mother, Alice, who lived in Cobbadah in north-eastern NSW.

"My very dear Clive," Alice wrote. "I am feeling awfully low spirited dearest since hearing such very terrible news relating to this fearful war. It just feels too heavy to bear. Whenever will it end and I am always wondering how you are, my poor dear Clive away over in that wretched place..."

Alice was never to see her son again – Clive died after a gas attack in France in June 1918.

Bowen felt driven to take a 12-day “pilgrimage” to see for himself the battlefields of Gallipoli, Villers Bretonneux and Ypres. From that experience and the poignant words selected from the soldiers' correspondence, Bowen and Traynor fashioned An Australian War Requiem, which also incorporates elements of the Stabat Mater, the famous prayer to Mary that has long fascinated composers.

Bowen believes the work, featuring 250 voices, five soloists and a full orchestra, is substantial enough to help memorialise the suffering of Australians in the Great War.

And while he says he was not daunted by the undertaking, he was still acutely conscious of its significance.

"If you weigh yourselves down with responsibility it starts to become a little bit self conscious," he says. "I prefer to let it wash over me. Like any journey you go in a direction and see what happens and what opens up to you. I did feel a responsibility but it didn't weigh me down.”

Bowen is clear that the requiem is not a glorification of conflict.

"It's dedicated to the futility and it's really apt that we are performing it at this time, a time when we are faced with a world in which the old fault lines are opening up again.

"It's also a hopeful work but there is a question, of course, because we don’t seem to be learning. Eventually, at some stage, when we see and feel the enormity [of war], surely we must turn away from it. That's my hope."

An Australian War Requiem premieres at Sydney Town Hall on August 10. www.australianwarrequiem.com

Nick Galvin

Nick Galvin is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald

 

 

"My own 33rd complete Messiah came from the 84 singers and orchestra of the Sydney University Graduate Choir conducted by Christopher Bowen. It was a deeply probing reading which had the inestimable asset of a fine soloist team in soprano, Leslie Martin, mezzo-sopranos, Catherine Hassard and Nicole Smeulders, tenor Robert Boyd, baritone Tim Collins and treble David Thomson. The audience was large and the continually riveting performance diverted attention from the stuffiness of the Great Hall."

"The performances of Gustav Holst's "The Planets" and Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story Symphonic dances" confirmed the vivid, exciting work of young Melbourne-born and partly Vienna-trained conductor Christopher Bowen. His direction of Bernstein's exuberantly rhythmic, sustained attacks was definitely edge-of-the-seat stuff, greeted with whoops of delight and bravos from audience members not normally given to wearing their hearts on their sleeves".

"Chorea - a ring of dances" by Christopher Bowen, an eventful 15 minute piece suggesting some ancient ritual which begins as if Leviathans were learning to dance, changes gear to passages of terpsichorean vitality and some languidly sugary string writing, and alternates all these ideas in a work which is imaginatively orchestrated and captures attention. Naturally, the performance conducted by the composer, sounded convincing".

"Rossini must have has a few tunes left over from his latest comic opera when he completed his religious work, the Stabat Mater, and the performance by the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra and Choir, effectively and energetically conducted by Christopher Bowen, took delight in making the most of the contrasting sections of devotional profundity and high jinks".


 


 

 

North Shore Times

"Last week the Sydney University Graduate Choir of some 85 voices performed a concert version of Catulli Carmina, the Songs of Catullus. The musical content, not without rhythmic and oratorical complexities, was handled remarkably well under the vividly detailed conductorship of Christopher Bowen. The various choral sections had been well rehearsed. Before this Orff offering came the popular Misa Criolla by Argentinean composer Ariel Ramirez. It all added up to an unusually enterprising concert which attracted a large audience."

"Trilogy , a triumph in risk taking".




North Shore Times

Sing On Review

"This positive response was evident throughout the evening as the audience enjoyed a rich musical program. The SUGC Chamber Choir delivered a haunting calmness in an earlier work of Christopher's, Sweet Silence After Bells and the orchestra moved through an exquisitely luscious performance of Danses Sacrée at Profane and Prélude à l'Aprè Midi d'un Faune by Debussy. In the second half of the program the choir perfromed a stirring rendition of Stanford's seafaring choral work Songs of the Fleet. A rousing Jerusalem was the finale and prompted calls for an encore, in which the audience enthusiastically joined in.
 

"We felt very privileged to be involved in the first ever hearing of "Songs of the heart". The spell-binding orchestration was almost overwhelming in its power and its plumbing of the heights and depths of emotion. A truly memorable day".