The bee has been around for a long time and contributes to a large amount of our food consumption. The short life of a worker bee contributes to the swarm, the individual needs set aside for the greater hive. This confluence of activity is a huge inspiration for Dance of the Bee.
The first half of the evening was a showcase of Michael Kieran Harvey’s superb ability. A collection of repertoire and premier solo piano works, his fingers deftly brushed the keys in a wide array of motion.
Keenly evident is Harvey’s rhythmic technique, whether through strident arpeggiotic, almost percussive themes, vast rests punctuated by specific rhythms or cross rhythms (eg. triplets on the right hand, quavers on the left, one of my favourites).
The final two pieces were particularly striking, both performed for the first time at Dance of the Bee. Paul Grabowski’s …Aus der Tiefe… played like a beautiful otherworldly cross between lounge jazz and a heavenly chorus, full of the evening’s usual dissonances and changing times. Lastly, playing his own piece, Bees from his own piano cycle The Green Brain, Harvey composed to his own strength of intense pace and dramatic dynamics, which inspired a rousing applause from the opening night audience.
Dance of the Bee is the name of the piece that governed the second half of the evening. Composed by the experienced Martin Friedel, Australian composer and amateur bee keeper, this piece flowed and grew in a landscape inspired by a hive of bees, themselves a part of the performance.
Harvey was joined by Peter Dumsday, Joy Lee and Kim Bastin on two additional pianos, the Astra Improvising Choir, and a hive of bees, projected both through an internal microphone and large screens.
The pianist all showed versatility and virtuosity, flourishing in individual and unison timing representing the simultaneous order and seemingly chaos of a swarm of bees. The Astra Choir voiced unusual sounds with aplomb, creating original soundscapes.
The bees themselves were used interestingly, as well as a piece of wire on a lower piano string to invoke the droning sound of the hive.
Friedel’s composition was haunting and original, full of pleasant dissonance and long developments of sound. What may appear to be strings of lax improvisation is indeed a carefully constructed piece of art music.
The lighting was simple and unobtrusive, much was in the subtleties of growing throughout the movements and pieces themselves. The sound quality was very good, I was able to hear the intricacies of each performance without being distracted by sound issues.
Being art music, Dance of the Bee is not a toe-tapping entertainment, but a thought-provoking celebration of modern musical form, virtuosic piano and the humble bee.