It didn’t take a festival to dream up the idea, nor any of Australia’s string quartets. Katie Noonan, entirely off her own bat, has teamed up with the UK’s Brodsky Quartet to create a new song cycle based on the poetry of Judith Wright.
The Brodskys are “my favourite string quartet in the world,” the versatile singer-songwriter said in an ABC RN interview. She approached nine Australian composers to write the music on Wright’s poems, and it’s an impressive line-up indeed: Carl Vine, Elena Kats-Chernin, Richard Tognetti, Iain Grandage, Andrew Ford, David Hirschfelder, Paul Grabowsky, Paul Dean and John Rodgers. Noonan herself also wrote a song for the cycle.
Ecology and the need for Aboriginal reconciliation were particular ideas that drew her to Wright’s poetry; however she invited the composers to respond completely as they chose. “I wanted them to find a poem that spoke to them, so it’s quite a broad range of themes covered, but it does have a lovely through narrative,” she said.
Renowned for their ability to bridge stylistic divides, the Brodsky Quartet on previous occasions have collaborated with Elvis Costello and Björk. “It was this genuine combination of pop and classical, which is really hard to get right. I was so inspired by them as an ensemble; they are amazing classical musicians and totally open-minded,” Noonan told The Australian.
The Brodsky Quartet, it will be remembered, recorded two Peter Sculthorpe quartets, nos 8 and 11, with Anne Sofie Von Otter in their 2001 album Island Dreaming. This new venture with Noonan is an initiative that, apart from anything else, might encourage other string quartets to think outside the square. There seems to be much scope for traversing other styles and using other art forms such as poetry as starting points for collaborations.
Noonan performs the song cycle with the Brodskys in her upcoming With Love and Fire national concert tour, starting with Brisbane on 29 April. Full information here. An album is on the way too.