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Southern Ocean (1999)

Southern Ocean was commissioned by Symphony Australia for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Intervarsity Choir Festival and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Porcelijn. The work is a setting for choir and orchestra of a new text by Margaret Scott and was composed in 1999. The text has beautiful and dramatic nautical imagery and is set in a town in southern Tasmania. It contrasts contemporary experience with the sometimes violent history of the town against a backdrop of the ocean's many faces.

The piece falls into three large choruses and two dialogues for male and female voices. The mood of place and time and a commentary on addressing the past as we move towards the millennium emerge as themes in the outer sections; the middle sections are a series of optimistic reflections from the shore. The drama of the natural environment and the toughness of the human spirit in enduring natural and man-made storms are key ideas throughout.

The Southern Ocean was of interest because of the immensity of its natural forces as well as its imaginative and mythical position in the Australian consciousness - a vast ocean of unbroken waves, great icebergs and terrible peril for sailors (past and present) yet also the route for much migration to Australia in the nineteenth century. Hence, embodying hope and fear. The focus on the sea is important - the image of people struggling from the sea to create a new life seemed a good metaphor for the Anniversary of the Intervarsity choral movement; that is, extreme optimism and determination to create art and beauty in the face of any number of obstacles.

Musically, the idea of the unbroken wave that rises, propels and swamps within an ocean of continual momentum, was firmly in my mind.

 

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