Seated on couches, listening to mellow sounds and hiss of beer opening
The evening began with the mellow sounds of Koechlin’s Duo No. 3, performed on tenor saxophones by visiting Dutch saxophonist Niels Bijl and Australian saxophonist Peter Leung.
The furtive hiss of a beer opening underscored the duet as the audience lounged on an array of mismatched couches and chairs, in what used to be called the Glebe Café Church Space but is now named, more severely, the Glebe Justice Centre.
Beautiful tone and sensitive playing
Bijl followed the Koechlin with Ithaca, a beautiful atmospheric piece for solo tenor sax by Ronald Moelker. Based on the poem of the same name by Greek poet Konstantinos Kavafis, Ithaca showcased Bijl’s beautiful tone and sensitive playing. Following this, Leung performed his own composition, Sun for soprano sax, which he wrote while studying with Bijl in Holland. Sun consisted of five movements, each based on one of the fundamentals from Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Leung’s playing demonstrated the supple sweetness and flexibility of the soprano sax, encapsulating both the martial and reflective aspects of Sun Tzu’s text. Continuing the literary theme, Bijl then joined Leung on stage for Duo No. 1, also by Leung, for soprano sax and tenor sax. Originally scored for voice and tenor sax, Leung based this duet on dialogue from a Shakespeare play, the specific play long since forgotten by the composer. Leung and Bijl evoked the drama of the dialogue as the two voices shifted between consonance and dissonance.
In the second half of the concert, the Encore Strings joined Bijl on stage for the Australian premieres of four pieces for tenor sax and string quartet, all composed for Bijl by jazz musicians. The first two pieces, by German composer Katharina “Tini” Thomsen, contrasted an optimistic, hopeful mood in Jo’s World with a mournful, sombre lament in Last Minute Blues.
Bijl’s stunningly crisp technique made the virtuosic sax part seem effortless, allowing the audience to fully immerse themselves in the deeply emotional music.
Despite the upbeat title (a bilingual pun based on the mistyping of Bijl’s name), Niles Smiles by Jan Menu began quietly, the string voices joining gradually, creating an ambient, melancholy atmosphere. The finale of the concert was Angel of Insanity by Vera van der Bie, which, according to Bijl, had been composed on the very day of its premiere. Angel of Insanity was a dark, lilting waltz, that built to a climax of intense dissonance and guttural, growling slides in the tenor sax part.
A warm, friendly atmosphere
Throughout the concert, both Bijl and Leung were entertaining and informative, interspersing the music with humerous anecdotes and stories, creating a warm, friendly atmosphere. Their rapport with the audience and their fantastic playing made this concert of new music extremely enjoyable.