Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale brings Banksia Ensemble back on stage, connecting musicians and momentous times

David CusworthThe West Australian
Jen Winley conducts the Banksia Ensemble in Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale on May 21 and 23.
Camera IconJen Winley conducts the Banksia Ensemble in Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale on May 21 and 23.

From one pandemic era to another, Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale brings the Banksia Ensemble back to the stage this month, connecting emerging and established talents in classical music.

Conductor Jen Winley said the work, launched in 1918 after World War I at the onset of the Spanish flu, connected with modern times.

Jen Winley.
Camera IconJen Winley. Credit: Shea Walsh

“We have a lot more empathy and connection to those musicians composing and performing during the 1918-19 flu pandemic,” she said. “Previously, I think we would have felt like those issues were something restricted to previous generations but now, those musicians working to be creative in how they conceive and perform music in very challenging conditions feels very familiar indeed.”

Winley founded the ensemble last year amid COVID curbs, to bring established and emerging musicians together, and to highlight neglected works — The Soldier’s Tale was meant to tour but didn’t because of the 1918-19 pandemic.

“The Soldier’s Tale has always held a fascination from me,” she said.

“From its complex rhythmic structure to its interpretation of the new jazz sounds at the time coming from the US, it is a fun and challenging piece for performers and conductor alike.

“Most of all, it is the inclusion of the narrator that brings the work to life. By weaving the text through and around the music, both the narrator and the musicians act as storyteller.

“The story itself has stood the test of time; a Faustian tale of caution about a Soldier who trades his violin, and his soul, with the devil in exchange for untold riches.”

The narrator is WA operatic soprano Daniella Sicari, currently working in Perth but planning to resume her career in Britain later this year.

WA Symphony Orchestra assistant concert master Semra Lee-Smith plays solo violin, in a line up that reflects the ensemble’s philosophy.

Daniella Sicari.
Camera IconDaniella Sicari. Credit: Eugene Dillon-Hooper

“Banksia Ensemble’s aim is to be a force of positive change in classical music programming by including works by living and/or historically under-represented composers in all our public programs as a matter of course; as opposed to them being used as token inclusions or limited to themed or ‘special’ concerts eg for International Women’s Day and the like,” Winley says.

“There is an eye-opening amount of phenomenal repertoire out there that needs and deserves to be performed alongside the established canon of classical masterworks.

“In this concert, we have included stunning chamber works by Germaine Tailleferre, Rebecca Clarke and Lili Boulanger to complement the style of writing in Stravinsky’s work. All were written directly after the end of World War I and demonstrate the diversity of compositional style in this era.”

She said the ensemble had faced a steep learning curve in its first year, but also attracted widespread interest.

After the Stravinksy on May 21 and 23, the next project is a workshop day in August for the full chamber orchestra and mentors in strings, wind and brass.

“We have chosen to perform Brahms Symphony 1 because it is core repertoire for professional orchestras but rarely performed in youth and university level,” Winley says.

Semra Lee-Smith.
Camera IconSemra Lee-Smith.

“WASO are performing it the week after the workshop which means the Banksia musicians can go and see the performance with a deeper understanding of the music and learn even more through watching it performed by the professionals under the baton of Asher Fisch.”

Banksia will also develop mentoring for orchestral management, production and promotion — tasks many have turned during a hiatus in many institutions — and another public concert featuring another female composer, the 19th century German Romantic Emilie Mayer.

Banksi Ensemble presents The Soldier’s Tale on May 21, 7.30pm, at All Saints’ College, Bull Creek, and on May 23, 3pm, at UWA’s Callaway Auditorium.

Tickets from www.banksiaensemble.com.au/whatson.

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