Becoming is by composer Johanna Selleck and performed by Merlyn Quaife (soprano), Dean Sky-Lucas (countertenor), Jerzy Kozlowski (bass), Adam Simmons (shakuhachi), Lynette Rayner (violin), Zachary Johnston (violin), Barbara Hornung (viola), and Caerwen Martin (cello).
Becoming is based on two forms of Japanese poetry – haiku and renga. The brief, vivid images that are essence of haiku express something deeper than words – the sharing of feelings and perceptions that are universal and transcend the barriers of language and culture. Reinforcing this idea of connection, Becoming uses haiku in 3 languages (French, English, and Tibetan) by poets from tenth-century Japan through to contemporary Australia. Becoming is structured in the style of renga, which is an ‘elongated’ from of haiku incorporating linked stanzas composed by different poets.
The song cycle is divided into 4 sections based on the seasons, plus a finale. Each section begins with a ‘universal’ image relating to nature, moving to a more personalized perspective. The poems form an overall narrative suggesting cycles of birth, death, and renewal.
Johanna Selleck is a composer, musicologist, and flautist. She holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne, where she is currently an honorary fellow. Her compositions have been performed by internationally renowned artists including in Australia, Europe, the USA, Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Malta, and Israel.
“This unique hour-long setting of haiku and renga poetry accompanied by string quartet and shakuhachi continues a more than 50-year tradition of Japanese influence on Australian composition. With Becoming, Johanna Selleck takes it to a new level. She has set seven Japanese poets from the tenth to the twentieth century as well as four Australian haiku poets (including herself). Another dimension to the project is the translation of the selected poems not only from Japanese into English, but also from English into Tibetan and English into French. The three singers (soprano, bass and countertenor) share the vocal assignments across the movements. “Spring” begins instrumentally with string tremolo and arpeggiated chord textures which dissolve into slow melodies with intense harmonic underpinnings, reminiscent of Peter Sculthorpe’s string quartet writing. This sets the mood for a dreamy “Mackerel sky” haiku setting which revs up on the line “awakens music”. The second poem, “Rain dances” is accompanied by a rain-like pizzicato-dominated texture. As an introduction to the third poem, “Hira-hira to” (“A single butterfly”), an expressive traditional-sounding shakuhachi solo is introduced accompanied by ethereal tremolo strings. A feature of the vocal setting that follows is the extreme vibrato that soprano Merlyn Quaife uses to paint the line “kaze ni nagarete” (“fluttering and drifting”). The movement closes with a calm but mysterious (and at times, spooky), setting of “Déborde du haut” (“Spilling at the rim”) which depicts images of water in sunlight. The end is articulated by a single stroke of what sounds like tingsha (Tibetan cymbals). The “Summer” movement, like “Spring”, as well as “Autumn”, “Winter” and “Finale”, involves settings of four poems, this selection by Shiki, Natsume Söseki, Bostok and Jack de Vidas. The musical treatment is more passionate than the opening movement with dramatic solos and duets scored for Dean Sky-Lucas (countertenor) and Jerzy Kozlowski (bass). There is a depiction of the intensity of summer through images of rain, heat, love and birdsong. The string quartet and shakuhachi writing is deftly integrated with the melodic lines of the singers. For me, Becoming is a model for how to set miniature poetic forms like haiku. A big shout-out, also, to Junko Azukawa, whose exquisite ink paintings greatly enhance the visual presentation of the CD. Highly recommended.”Read full review
— Michael Hannan, Music Trust e-zine Loud Mouth
- Merlyn Quaife · soprano
- Dean Sky-Lucas · tenor
- Jerzy Kozlowski · bass
- Adam Simmons · flute
- Lynette Rayner · violin
- Zachary Johnston · violin
- Barbara Hornung · viola
- Caerwen Martin · cello
Where to buy
Move CDs can be ordered through music retailers across Australia including Readings.