Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, Wed 10 Aug
On a cold, wet evening, a group of maybe forty people converged on Dunstan Playhouse to witness what was advertised as a free conversation panel discussion between Guitar Festival Artistic Director Slava Grigoryan and writer/pianist Anna Goldsworthy, with moderation by theatre director Chris Drummond. However, it was the unbilled special guest who accompanied them onto the stage who would ultimately make the event: Adelaide’s own looping saxophonist Adam Page, fresh from his recent triumphant evening premiering his compositions with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
They began with a quote from American Poet Archibald MacLeish: “The poet’s labour is to struggle with the meaningless and silence of the world until he or she can force it to mean; to knock upon silence for an answering music.”
This provoked a conversation about composition, improvisation, and artistry that provided a glimpse into the inner worlds of the artists. Anna Goldsworthy mentioned that the best writing is often motivated by a personal problem that needs resolving. Adam Page confided that he rarely listens to his music for fear of falling into self-imitation and repetition, and quoted Picasso to communicate the intersection of creativity and perseverance: “Inspiration exists, but it must find you working.”
As the discussion continued, the panel let on that the evening’s chat would also involve performance, intimating that the grand piano, guitar case, and looping pedals and saxophone on the stage were not just for show. Anna Goldsworthy would perform a work of her choosing, then Slava Grigoryan, and then finally Adam Page would improvise a work inspired by their performances.
Up first was Goldsworthy, to perform one of her favourite pieces, Chopin’s Nocturne #8 in D♭. Her performance was enchanting in its lilting rhythm, her technical prowess on display as she performed a work she’d advised us which she’d been playing since her youth. She appeared to take great care as she moved through the sections of the emotive and plaintive melody, transfixing the audience before coming to a whispered close.
Slava Grigoryan performed excerpts from a work called Sounds Of Rain. It’s a safe bet that you don’t get to be Artistic Director of the Guitar Festival without chops, and Grigoryan’s classical guitar playing was astounding in its virtuosity, with impeccable fingerpicking passages moving up and down the fretboard at dizzying speeds, always fluid and musical, even when it accelerated to an outright frenzy of sextuplet runs and violent strums, before retreating to a quieter melodic passage to finish.
All the while, Adam Page scribbled notes, planning his response, an unenviable task if ever there was one. It’s safe to say that no one expected him to craft a piece on the spot that would evoke the sounds and moods of the two painstakingly crafted and deftly executed pieces that preceded him. But then, in a stunning twist, Adam Page did just that. Looping breath sounds for ambiance, then layering his tenor sax repeatedly, he prepared a harmonic textural foundation, worked some harmonising pedal and reverb into his gradually building and evocative sax playing, and soon was playing sextuplets reminiscent of Sounds of Rain. Just when it appeared he would be finished, he strode over to the grand piano, breath loop still swirling, and improvised a bit bearing a striking resemblance to the mood of the Chopin Nocturne. It was a knockout performance, mesmerising the intimate audience and impressive by any standard.
There was still a bit of time left for a quick Q&A, and Anna Goldsworthy answered a query about why they make music with perhaps the quote of the panel and a pretty good summation of the otherwise stormy evening: “Music is an objective good in a world that’s got a lot of darkness.”