13 March 2015

Symphonic Requiem for the child victims of war

Shane Chen violin
Stanley Dodds conductor
ANAM Orchestra
South Melbourne Town Hall
Saturday 28 February 2015


‘Wilfred Lehmann's Symphonic Requiem for the child victims of war,’ says Paul Dean, Director of the Australian National Academy of Music, ‘is one of the most extraordinary pieces of Australian music you will ever hear, and yet it has been played only once since it was written in 1994.’

The piece is described (accurately, I think) as “a devastating work for violin and orchestra voicing his (Wilfred Lehmann’s) outrage at the obscenities suffered by children at the hands of warring adults.’*

Did the ANAM orchestra with Stanley Dodds find that outrage? 
Most certainly – with the intensity that we’ve come to expect from an ANAM band.

Did Shane Chen find it? 
Absolutely – with the intelligence and musical sensibility that is becoming his trade-mark.

Shane’s problem was how to find that devastation out front on his violin because it was certainly written into Wilfred Lehmann’s score and played out behind him.

‘Important for me, as I prepared the piece,' he said, 'was the innocence of the childish character in the second movement (played on the mandolin). That’s more important than the anger. The anger is due to man-made circumstances but the beauty throughout the whole piece, that continued to the very end, was that Mr Lehmann shows the children having the final say. I firmly believe that the spirit of the piece is that they are going to a better place.’

The piece started with the drums of war – the snare drum – and that was picked up by the solo violin almost immediately in the opening bars.

Shane agreed, ’It’s the panicking in the chaos. It is portrayed in the opening.  It’s the middle of the night. You can hear a noise  – a possum? – then all of a sudden the drum beat, the terror during the night-time.’

He had other problems sitting in his head as well as the intellectual-musical. He had his fellow students of three years ago behind him, he had Paul Dean, Head of ANAM and clarinettist in QSO for the concerto’s first and only performance in 1994 in front of him and he had Lehmann himself in the fifth row. Pressure!

Chen had thought hard about accepting the gig. He thought the piece was ‘epic, huge and technically very difficult. It’s very difficult’, he said, ‘like Ysaÿe (the Ysaÿe sonata for solo violin, his 2011 end-of-year recital). The Symphonic Requiem is very difficult, but playable. It’s written by a great violinist, Wilfred Lehmann and he knows what works, what doesn’t work. The process of learning it s difficult but once you get it under your finger it’s very comfortable and very expressive.

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