UNWRITTEN MELODIES

For Genevieve Lacey, mak­ing mu­sic come alive also in­volves deep lis­ten­ing, writes Matthew West­wood

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile - The Mel­bourne Cham­ber Orches­tra

The recorder is a mod­est in­stru­ment — just a sim­ple pipe with a mouth­piece and fin­ger­holes — and yet Genevieve Lacey can con­jure whole worlds with it. She re­cently was a guest at the Aus­tralian Fes­ti­val of Cham­ber Mu­sic in Townsville and per­formed in the open­ing con­cert there with her col­lab­o­ra­tor Poul Hoxbro. With Lacey on recorder and Hoxbro play­ing pipes and a frame drum, the au­di­ence was swept back to the 13th and 14th cen­turies with mu­sic that was zesty and fresh — and not at all like some­thing kept in the freezer for 800 years.

The other re­mark­able thing about their per­for­mance is that the mu­sic barely ex­ists, at least not in a form that can eas­ily be read off the page and re­pro­duced. Yes, there are an­tique manuscripts, but all they may show is the out­line of a melody. The rhythm, the coun­ter­melody and all the other things that make a per­for­mance are — as Lacey ex­plains in her up­beat way — all up for grabs. Ed­u­cated guess­work, knowl­edge of mu­si­cal forms and a flair for in­ven­tion go into the mak­ing.

One of the pieces Lacey and Hoxbro played that night had an Ara­bic in­flec­tion: a tang in the wind, blow­ing from the East rather than the West. The saltarello, or “lit­tle jump”, is a spir­ited Ital­ian dance form, and this one is the old­est ex­am­ple of its kind, spring­ing from a 14th-cen­tury Tus­can man­u­script held in the Bri­tish Li­brary. Hoxbro added rhyth­mic beat and thrum to the melody, and Lacey her or­na­men­tal flour­ishes, gleaned from years of lis­ten­ing and en­livened with a finely tuned in­stinct that sug­gests to her, “That’s how they play.”

But this doesn’t quite cap­ture the sweet tone and lively trilling that is­sues from her pipe, or the charisma on stage of some­one do­ing what, it seems, she was born to do.

Her fa­ther, Rod Lacey, was a his­to­rian and the fam­ily lived dur­ing Genevieve’s early years in the High­lands of Pa­pua New Guinea. He spe­cialised in me­dieval his­tory and also oral his­tory, and late in his ca­reer he worked on col­lect­ing peo­ple’s sto­ries about the Stolen Gen­er­a­tions. “Grow­ing up in our fam­ily,” Lacey says the morn­ing af­ter the Townsville con­cert, shield­ing her­self from the bright win­ter sun, “was al­ways about lis­ten­ing to peo­ple’s sto­ries, and lis­ten­ing to a place, and lis­ten­ing re­ally hard to all the things that aren’t be­ing said, and not priv­i­leg­ing the things that have been writ­ten down, be­cause the things that are writ­ten down of­ten are tied to the pol­i­tics of power.”

Lacey ap­plies such think­ing to her mu­sic. It’s a mis­take to per­ceive the world only through the medium of books or manuscripts, and not through lived ex­pe­ri­ence and the abil­ity, as she says, to “lis­ten re­ally hard”.

She is far too re­spect­ful of mu­si­col­ogy to be dis­mis­sive of aca­demic re­search and what it may tell us about mu­si­cal per­for­mance from cen­turies ago. But mu­sic must flut­ter and live in the mo­ment of per­for­mance, she be­lieves, not be pinned to a the­ory — how­ever his­tor­i­cally in­formed — of how it should sound.

“The idea of try­ing to re­con­struct what some­one heard 10 cen­turies ago, that’s not my thing,” she says.

With mu­sic of our own time, too, she recog­nises that per­for­mance is so much more than can be writ­ten down. Lacey knows from ex­pe­ri­ence that the score is just the start­ing point, the spring­board from which notes are made into mu­sic. Com­posers are “won­der­fully ob­ses­sive” about their mark­ings on the score, she says, but she has never en­coun­tered one who hasn’t made al­ter­ations dur­ing their work to­gether. “What’s on the page is only a skele­ton of what some­one’s hear­ing,” she says. “And to mis­take the no­ta­tion for the thing it­self is a re­ally grave er­ror, I think.”

Lacey’s in­tel­li­gent ap­proach to mu­sic and con­vic­tions about the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of mu­si­cians have given her an im­por­tant role in help­ing shape the mu­si­cal cul­ture of the na­tion. She has been a fes­ti­val di­rec­tor — in­clud­ing of the Four Winds fes­ti­val on the NSW south coast at Ber­magui — and also a guest pro­gram­mer of con­certs. To­mor­row, she cu­rates a con­cert with Wil­liam Hen­nessy’s Mel­bourne Cham­ber Orches­tra in a pro­gram that will span 900 years of mu­sic, from 12th-cen­tury French polyphony to Ross Ed­wards’s Tyal­gum Mantras from 1999. In the pro­gram, called To­wards Eter­nity, Lacey will play two baroque con­cer­tos for the recorder, by Vi­valdi and Sam­mar­tini, the Ed­wards piece, and vari­a­tions on a 16th-cen­tury madri­gal by Cipri­ano de Rore.

She is also artis­tic di­rec­tor of an in­no­va­tive pro­gram in­sti­gated by cham­ber mu­sic pre­sen­ter Mu­sica Viva to pre­pare the next gen­er­a­tion of mu­si­cians. Fu­tureMak­ers is an in­ten­sive, twoyear men­tor­ship scheme sup­ported by the Berg Fam­ily Foun­da­tion that aims to ad­dress the whole mu­si­cian: not only their per­for­mance but en­tre­pre­neur­ial in­stincts, ad­vo­cacy, even their men­tal re­silience. The pro­gram has just pro­duced its first grad­u­ates, the Ar­ca­dia Winds quin­tet, and the sec­ond in­take of young mu­si­cians will be an­nounced soon.

Lacey’s plea­sure is ev­i­dent when dis­cussing her work as a men­tor, and so is the fire of her vo­ca­tion. Mak­ing a beau­ti­ful sound is the min­i­mum that mu­si­cians should be do­ing if they are to make a con­tri­bu­tion, let alone make a liv­ing.

“Rather than be afraid of that, let’s run with it, that’s the re­al­ity,” she says. “We’re in­ter­ested in work­ing with peo­ple who are feisty and re­source­ful, who aren’t wait­ing for the phone to ring … I love this idea of the artist as cit­i­zen, as leader. You have an ex­tra­or­di­nary gift — how are you go­ing to use it?”

Lacey doesn’t just say the words: it’s as if she lives and breathes them. How else to ex­plain her own ex­tra­or­di­nary gift — a mu­si­cal in­tel­li­gence car­ried on a stream of thin air?

ap­pears at the Mel­bourne Recital Cen­tre to­mor­row; Fed­er­a­tion Square, Fri­day; and Dayles­ford Town Hall, Septem­ber 9.

Recorder vir­tu­oso Genevieve Lacey

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