Martenitsa 10th Anniversary Concert

Seymour Centre May 2000

Broadcast on ABC Radio Sunday Concert September 17 and 18.

March concert reviewed by JOHN SHAND SMH

Among the infinite things art can do to us, an easily overlooked function is simply to remind us that it's good to be alive. This tenth anniversary concert by the Martenitsa Choir radiated a heart-warming quality almost from first to last, studded with bursts of more diverse emotions.

It is 10 years since Mara and Llew Kiek founded Martenitsa, an all-woman choir which pursues the Bulgarian open-throat singing technique. To hold together an essentially amateur 30-voice choir for so long is remarkable in itself; to achieve such a level of artistic excellence is nothing short of astonishing.

The first half of the programme, which featured the choir unaccompanied, showed the range of colours it is capable of achieving, from the sweetest naivety to buzzing surges of power.

‘Leilinko’, the world premiere of a specially commissioned work from the late Bulgarian composer Ivan Spasov, included the 30 voices improvising simultaneously, circling each other and creating weird harmonic overtones which seemed to spring from the very air rather than from the assembled mouths.

Mara!, the folk/jazz ensemble also led by the Kieks, opened the second half with Tony Gorman's ‘Travelling Light’, featuring a leaping clarinet cadenza from Paul Cutlan and a stirring bouzouki solo from Llew Kiek, in which he played with the rhythm like an elastic band, stretching and slackening it against the constant pulse of Steve Elphick's bass and Mara's tapan.

Cutlan's zany ‘The Big Pack’ had a spearing, braying alto saxophone improvisation from Andrew Robson. Thereafter Silvia Entcheva, Martenitsa's treasured soloist, delighted with a brief, unaccompanied song as a precursor of the return of the choir. Sandy Evans's ‘Solzata Na Klouna’ (with words by Marcia Malinova-Anthony) imaginatively used the choir to create the softest possible cushion for a typically penetrating solo from Elphick.

Further eerie harmonics were generated in a surprise treat: a rare public appearance by Gorman, who played an esgia - a solo improvised prelude for clarinet - in which he coaxed out overtones that emerged like baleful cries above the woody warmth of the root notes. Sometimes the ghost of a third joined this lament; a lament which carried its own overtones of elation. Three pieces from ‘Sezoni’, the Mara! and Martenitsa album on the Real World label, concluded the night, finally giving Mara a chance to unleash her own exceptional voice, which arched over both band and choir with vigour and joy.

Many thanks to sponsors Boomerang Integrated Marketing and Websdale Printing, and for the Seymour Centre’s generous support.

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