Magazine article Strings

An Ode to Australians Displaced by Atomic Testing

Magazine article Strings

An Ode to Australians Displaced by Atomic Testing

Article excerpt

Topical work by Australian composer Matthew Hindson is bedside reading for Lara St. John

I DON'T OWN A MUSIC STAND (I use beds: hotel or my own), but if I did, "Maralinga" would have been on it for quite some time. When Wolf Trap presented the opportunity to commission a piece for violin and piano, I immediately thought of Matthew Hindson, an Australian composer whose supremely original and evocative Violin Concerto I recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 2007.

He decided to call the piece "Maralinga," a word I initially thought was pretty, unaware of the infamous history of the eponymous province.

Located in South Australia, Maralinga is a large desert area used by the British in the 1950s as a nuclear test site. The native population was not properly evacuated, and apparently little regard was given to the Australian military personnel exposed to radiation from the tests.

That is what inspired Matthew's piece - the decimation, for no good reason, of a large swath of high desert and the culture of its few inhabitants. It begins with a bleak and haunting opening: various solo violin effects, aleatorie keening, punctuated by the occasional devastating piano chord. Then it accelerates, first to a demanding finger-dropping page of 16th notes in the violin at a d = 138, and then into a pulsating rhythm of three-against-five with a seven-note ostinato in the piano left hand, all derived from traditional aboriginal rhythms.

After the second ending, the work goes back into a more recognizable 4/4, and the major sevenths from the opening reappear as minor ninths. I think this is Hindson's way of creating the sound of despair.

Following a wild and nearly unrecognizable quote from "God Save the Queen," the last part leads to a slow section from a forgotten time - sad and tonal. Lastly, there is a short build to the end, a final crash, and a wailing harmonic that sounds until the piano stops reverberating. …

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