Windmill   CB0048

The music

The composer writes:

…from a thatched hut draws upon a particular strand of Chinese culture: the Chinese scholar who withdraws, temporarily or permanently, from society. The thatched hut was the place where the great Tang dynasty poets Du Fu (Tu Fu) and Li Bai (Li Po) withdrew from the world. Their example was followed by many others, including the poet Bai Juyi (Po Chu-I), author of Record of the Thatched Hut on Mount Lu, and Xia Gui, the Song dynasty painter of Twelve Views from a Thatched Hut. The scholarly recluse cultivated poetry, calligraphy, painting, chess, and music—arts in which the hand is directed by the mind, thereby revealing the true character of the individual.…

“There is one short quotation in this quartet (at the start of the fifth movement) from a Chinese musical source. For the rest, the musical language of the quartet owes as much to modern Western music (notably Satie, Webern, and Cage) as it does to Chinese musical traditions. In my search for the musical means to create this quartet, I was influenced by the forms and sentiments of classical Chinese poetry, which attempts to express the inexpressible through words, and by Chinese philosophy, which holds that the extremely diverse and constantly changing appearances of the world are all emanations of a single ordering principle—the Dao (Tao). ‘Looking at the objective world’ and ‘looking within’ are the twin foundations of Chinese art; this closely corresponds to my own approach to music. The seven movements are conceived as a cycle, like seven poems on related themes. There are apparent differences in style between movements, but over the cycle there are parallelisms that emerge between movements and parts of movements.

“My interest in classical Chinese scholarly arts is primarily in the way they express ideas and sentiments that are still relevant today. ‘Though times and happenings alter and differ, may men in what moves them be brought together.’ [Wang Xizhi (303–361), Lantingxu (Orchid Pavilion Preface)]”

Windmill: “Australia’s indigenous inhabitants survived for 50,000 years on what their ‘country’ had to offer them. When Europeans arrived, human relationship with the land changed. European settlers often displayed ignorance and arrogance, but also stoicism, courage, and a fierce determination to survive in an inhospitable climate. Given the frequency of long periods of drought, farming ventures that began with high hopes often ended in despair. Without a supply of water, agriculture is unsustainable; fortunately, deep beneath much of the continent lie vast, ancient waters. The distinctive steel windmills that dot the Australian outback pump up life-giving water in the often desolate landscape. Many are now rusting away, replaced by solar technology. If you get close enough to one you can hear its distinctive creaking sound, stopping occasionally, resuming as the breeze picks up.”

The composer

Stephen Whittington is an Australian composer and pianist who began performing contemporary music in Adelaide in the 1970s, giving the first Australian performances of music by Christian Wolff, Terry Riley, Cornelius Cardew, Howard Skempton, James Tenney, Alvin Curran, Terry Jennings, Peter Garland, Alan Hovhaness, George Crumb, Claude Vivier, Morton Feldman, and many other composers. An extended stay in California in 1987, and particularly his meeting with John Cage at CalArts, proved a powerful stimulus to his work. On returning to Australia, Whittington began composing in a new style that combined elements of minimalism, polystylism, and chance procedures.

His keen interest in other art forms has led to his various one-man multimedia shows: The Last Meeting of the Satie Society (2000); Mad Dogs and Surrealists (2003), incorporating music, poetry, and film; and Interior Voice: Music and Rodin (2006). In 2006 he appeared at the Sydney Opera House with Ensemble Offspring for the Sydney International Film Festival, presenting a program of live music for four classic silent movies. In 2007 The Wire magazine listed Whittington’s performance of Morton Feldman’s Triadic Memories as one of “60 Performances that Shook the World” over the last 40 years.

Whittington presented performances at the 2009 Adelaide International Film Festival and the Vienna International Dance Festival 2009 (Austria), and at the Printemps Musical d’Annecy (France) in 2010. His string quartet …from a thatched hut, commissioned by and dedicated to furniture designer Khai Liew, premiered in 2010, the year that also saw the release of the four-CD set Journey to the Surface of the Earth, a collaboration with Domenico di Clario. In 2012, Whittington directed John Cage Day, a 10-hour performance that included his eight-hour performance of ASLSP (As SLow aS Possible) and a Musicircus, incorporating many Cage works, including Concert for Piano and Orchestra. Also in 2012, he traveled to Kyoto, Japan, to study the relationship between Japanese garden design and music. Later that year he appeared as pianist and composer at the Turbulences Sonores festival in Montpellier, France, where his Fallacies of Hope for string quartet and piano was premiered by the Australian String Quartet with the composer at the piano. In 2013, Cold Blue Music released a recording of his Music for Airport Furniture, recorded by Zephyr Quartet. Whittington toured China in 2014, where Windmill was played multiple times, including in concerts at Shanghai Conservatory, Central Conservatory (Beijing), Beijing Foreign Studies University, and Shenyang Conservatory.

His recent works include Fake Gallants (2015) for Baroque ensemble; Autumn Thoughts for piano (2015), which was premiered by the composer at a 2015 recital in Beijing; A la maniere de M.R. for piano trio (2016); and Fragments for P.B. for chamber ensemble and electronics. Whittington’s sound and video installation Hallett Cove—One Million Years (2015), uses continuously evolving video footage and sound controlled by uniquely designed software to explore the area’s geological landscape.

The performers

Zephyr Quartet, which has been described as “creatively adventurous and multi-talented” (The Australian), is a genre-defying string quartet that, since its inception in 1999, has dedicated itself to expanding the boundaries of art music via diverse collaborations, drawing inspiration from and working with artists from the worlds of theater, dance, literature, visual art, environmental art, design, film, and media art.

Zephyr, whose members also compose and improvise, is based in Adelaide, Australia, and regularly performs in festivals across Australia and overseas, enjoying frequent airplay on ABC Radio and TV. The quartet, which maintains an ongoing commitment to the development and promotion of contemporary classical music, often commissioning and performing new works by living composers, has worked with such diverse musicians as Jóhann Jóhannson, Stars of the Lid, JG Thirwell, and Jherek Bischoff. Among the group’s many projects are Hunting: Gathering, a collaboration with designer Khai Liew and composer Stephen Whittington (SALA Festival 2010); Impulse, with Leigh Warren & Dancers (Edinburgh International Arts Festival 2012 and Holland Dance Festival 2009); and MICROmacro, a live visual art and original music performance (Adelaide and Perth Fringe Festivals 2012). Zephyr received the prestigious Ruby Award for Innovation for its 2006 Electro-Acoustic Project, and the 2012 State Award for “Performance of the Year” from the Australian Art Music Awards. Zephyr Quartet has released five CDs of the group’s original music, and in 2013 Cold Blue Music released Zephyr’s recording of Whittington’s Music for Airport Furniture (CB0038).

“These four musicians have collaborated with an extraordinarily wide range of other practicing artists and have significantly expanded listener notions of what the string quartet medium stands for.” —The Adelaide Review