In November 2009, what might have been “A Night at the Museum” saw the Sydney premiere of the “Origin Cycle” at the Australian Museum. This intriguing performance by soprano Jane Sheldon and Ensemble Offspring, conducted by Roland Peelman, is now a contender for the title of Performance of the Year in the 2011 APRA Arts Music Awards.
“The Origin Cycle” is a set of 8 songs, for soprano and chamber ensemble, commissioned by Sydney soprano Jane Sheldon and Harvard Professor of Philosophy Peter Godfrey-Smith. The commission and its performance commemorated the dual Darwinian anniversaries that year – 200 years since his birth and 150 years since the publication of his seminal book “The Origin of Species”.
The decision to perform a brand new piece of music amongst centuries old artifacts, affirmed the continuing evolution of humanity and its culture, and that new life derives from what went before. The words of the songs as well as the titles of the movements were drawn from Darwin’s tome and were set to music by 8 Australian composers – a prestigious cohort comprising Elliott Gyger, Elena Kats-Chernin, Barry Conyngham, Kate Neal, Rosalind Page, Paul Stanhope, Nicholas Vines, and Dan Walker.
” The Face of Nature”, “The Tree of Life”, and “Floreana” are just three of the movement titles which so vividly illustrate Darwin;s fascination with the power and the beauty of nature, whilst the sounds represent the logic of evolution as well as the dissonance of clashing forces as species struggle to survive.
” The Origin Cycle” had its world premiere in the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Of the nomination, APRA states; “The eight compositions of varying styles and textures were complex and engaging and well arranged to create a thoughtful musical narrative, creating suggestive connections between the evolution of species and the evolution of musical styles, and between scientific and artistic ways of conceiving of the world. This performance from singer Jane Sheldon and Ensemble Offspring conducted by Roland Peelman had excellent accuracy and tonal polish”.