Live Review: Dark Mofo Festival, Max Richter – ‘Voices’ and ‘Reconstruction’, Federation Hall, Hobart, 10.06.2023

Feature Photograph: DarkLab Media

Max Richter is a pioneering composer known for his emotive and boundary-pushing music, blending classical and electronic elements. His work explores memory, sleep, and the human experience, captivating listeners with atmospheric beauty and profound melodies.

Richter’s ‘Voices Live’ and ‘Reconstruction’ performance at the glorious Federation Hall, as part of the Dark Mofo Festival, was sublime.

Richter described that the idea for the piece ‘Voices’ arose from feeling of personal bleakness during the Trump era in the US, when he felt all of the advancements of the civilised world were being overturned

One of the most remarkable aspects of the album ‘Voices’ is the use of historical and contemporary texts to explore themes of protest, political unrest, and the struggle for equality. By incorporating words from influential figures such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi, Richter imbues the music with a profound sense of purpose. These spoken-word excerpts, combined with the mesmerizing orchestration, lend a poignant and urgent voice to the compositions.

The album features a hauntingly beautiful melody that intertwines with spoken phrases from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, reminding us of the importance of empathy and compassion in a world often plagued by division.

‘Voices Live’ was an awe-inspiring and deeply immersive experience that transcends the boundaries of traditional concerts. With the added elements of recorded voices in a variety of languages, a live narration by Denni (a First Nations artists who had performed her own dynamic set earlier that week – see my review here), the mesmerizing violin performances by Emma McGrath, UK born Concertmaster of the magnificent Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO), and the ethereal vocals of soloist Grace Davidson, Voices Live takes Max Richter’s already powerful album to new heights.

From the moment the lights dim and the first notes reverberate through the venue, Voices Live commanded attention and created an atmosphere of introspection. The seamless integration of spoken-word narration by Denni adds an additional layer of storytelling, elevating the emotional impact of the music. Denni’s poignant and evocative delivery brought life to the powerful texts incorporated into the compositions, providing a visceral connection to the themes of human rights and unity and placed in perspective by Denni’s own First Nations heritage.

The presence of Emma McGrath’s violin performances adds a breathtaking dynamic to the live rendition of Voices. McGrath’s virtuosity and expressive playing perfectly complement Richter’s compositions, adding a layer of intimacy and vulnerability to the already emotionally charged music. Her solos are particularly captivating, showcasing her technical prowess and ability to evoke deep emotions through her instrument.

The angelic vocals of Grace Davidson serve as a celestial guide throughout the performance – the sounds recalling for the the majesty and elegance of Sigur Ros. Her voice soared above the orchestral arrangements, conveying a sense of hope, longing, and compassion. Davidson’s ability to convey intricate emotions with her ethereal and delicate vocals is truly captivating, adding a transcendent quality to the live experience.

The live production of ‘Voices’ is a testament to the meticulous attention to detail that Max Richter brings to his performances. The seamless integration of the orchestra, choirs, spoken-word narration, violin, and vocals creates a cohesive and immersive soundscape. Each element is expertly balanced, allowing the nuances of the music to shine through while maintaining the overall emotional impact.

Voices Live is a truly extraordinary experience that leaves a lasting impression on its audience. The combination of Max Richter’s evocative compositions, Denny’s narration, Emma McGrath’s violin performances, and Grace Davidson’s celestial vocals creates a symphony of emotions that resonates deeply. It is a testament to the power of music and its ability to convey profound messages of unity, compassion, and hope.

I believe, in a secret addition to the night, the entire perfomance was broadcast across Hobart in a series of secret speakers dotted throughout the town during the festival.

After a break, Richter returned with McGrath and cellists and violinists from the TSO for what he called a journey through the landscapes of Vivaldi, entitled ‘Reconstruction’.

This was his interpretation of the classic Four Seasons piece – tendrils of the original, the rock n roll riffs, twirled their way through the music. There is a quartet (Fourplay) famed for their delivery of rock classics though the medium of strings – Richter’s piece added another dimension to this – it was like a beefed up quartet doing a rock n roll version of classical music.

It was a mesmerizing live performance featuring McGrath on violin, accompanied by the orchestral prowess of the TSO’s cellos and violins. This ambitious collaboration showcases Richter’s innovative vision and the seamless blending of classical and contemporary elements, resulting in a captivating and harmonious musical journey.

McGrath’s violin playing was simply stunning. Her technical precision and heartfelt interpretations breathe new life into Vivaldi’s timeless melodies. McGrath’s command of the instrument and her ability to infuse each note with emotion create a deeply evocative and immersive experience for the audience. Her partnership with the TSO’s cellos and violins added a rich and resonant layer to the already exquisite compositions. Mention too must be made of the dynamic performance by the lead cellist – animated yet delicate.

Richter’s reimagination of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is a testament to his musical prowess and artistic creativity. Reconstruction seamlessly blends elements of classical and contemporary music, with Richter’s own unique touch. The reinterpretation preserves the essence and spirit of Vivaldi’s original work while infusing it with modern sensibilities and sonic exploration. The result is a tapestry of harmonies that honors the past while embracing the present, captivating the listener with its sheer beauty and innovation.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging performance – a standing ovation and an encore adding to the thrill and a night that ended too soon.

Richter returns later this week to perform his eight hour long piece ‘Sleep’.

Feature Photograph: DarkLab Media

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