Time and Place: Exploring Identity and Human Connection

Our final concert of the year, Time and Place, explores themes of identity, human connection and place through a scintillating collection of choral works spanning the last century. A highlight of the concert is A West Irish Ballad, written by Australian composer and former SCC chorister Clare Maclean which was commissioned by the choir for its first performance in 1989. Natalie Shea, who still sings with the choir, was at this premiere; and it’s clear that the music hasn’t lost its power in our own time and place.

“Singing the music of your own country is a very special thing, and Sydney Chamber Choir has made it a core part of its mission to sing and to commission new Australian works. A West Irish Ballad was more than that: it was the music not just of my own country, but of my own place. It was written by someone I knew, someone I had shared rehearsals with, shared a rehearsal room with. Plus, it was a handwritten score – direct evidence of the human hand that held a pen and wrote it!

“Singing in the premiere of A West Irish Ballad in 1989 took me far from my own country, to the other side of the world: to Ireland. And not just to a name on a map, but to real places: a marshland with a snipe calling in the night, a hillside where the sheep are flocked, and a little country church where two young lovers share their love in secret glances, while pretending to read the Bible...

“I find this poem completely shattering. ‘When I go by myself to the well of loneliness...’ It so starkly expresses, in exquisitely beautiful language, the absolute pits of despair: being left not just with nothing, but with nowhere: ‘You have taken the east from me, you have taken the west from me, you have taken what is before me and what is behind me...’ And Clare’s music captures that perfectly, with a background of bare, empty open fifths while the altos quietly intone the simplest of melodies. It’s a big challenge for me as a singer, because you can’t really sing when you’re crying, and that’s where I always end up with A West Irish Ballad...”

Hear this beautiful work of Clare’s alongside Ella Macens’ Stāvi Stīvi, Ozoliņ, Paul Stanhope’s I Have Not Your Dreaming and works by Healey Willan, René Clausen, Morten Lauridsen, David Conte and Jonathan Dove in this breathtaking concert.

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Text: Natalie Shea, Ria Andriani and Wei Jiang

Sydney Chamber Choir sings from Clare Maclean’s handwritten score of “A West Irish Ballad”.

Sydney Chamber Choir sings from Clare Maclean’s handwritten score of “A West Irish Ballad”.