I want to make it very clear that I hold Dulcie Holland's Concertino for Piano and Strings (1983) in very high regard - I think it is unequivocally one of her best works, if not the best.
In June, I was privileged enough to give the world premiere of Dulcie Holland's unpublished, unperformed, and unheard masterpiece with the Canberra Sinfonia under the always-positive Leonard Weiss. Alongside Dulcie's piece we gave a world premiere of Christopher Gordon's film music suite June Again (2022) and Australian premiere of Bobby Ge's The Light That Breaks Through (2019). A parade of premieres!
[photo by Peter Hislop]
I wanted to write a little bit about Dulcie's Concertino for Piano and Strings because I honestly can't get over how good a work it is - which makes it just as insane that it never got to see (or hear?) the light of day back when it was written in 1983. Looking back, bringing the Concertino from the manuscripts to the stage was hard yakka...and a combination of the planets and stars aligning and sheer willpower.
Lenny and I (but mostly Lenny) went through and typeset every single note from the manuscript into the computer, and I would then painstakingly check (several times) every single note. I can't remember how long this took but it was definitely a months-long process - and an exercise in meditation... If you're interested, CutCommon did an interview with me about this whole journey that you can read here.
[Lenny and I the week following the performance at after a National Opera gig]
The work is in three movements (typical fast-slow-fast) and I honestly truly believe it has to be one of her greatest works. It is just so excellent and so Dulcie. The language is so refined and unique, it's sophisticated, and it's a well-crafted journey from start to finish. There were times it made me feel like I was soaring, others almost made me cry - all in 20 minutes! You can hear some of my favourite moments in this Instagram post.
[at the first rehearsal of Dulcie Holland's Concertino for Piano and Strings]
The audience and reviewers loved it. There were such glowing and lovely reviews and I am so grateful for the beautiful things they had to say about our performance and Dulcie's piece:
"...it is a crime that we have never heard it until now..." "Holland's music sounds fresh, alive with a distinctly personal language." "Apcar is attuned to contemporary music...[he] shows a talent far beyond his age" - Limelight Magazine
"Holland's work struck me as a masterpiece...and deserves to be performed again and again." "Apcar...played brilliantly with bravado and style" - Canberra Critics' Circle
"It was fitting that Apcar should be the first person to perform the work as he is a champion of Holland's music..." - Canberra CityNews
[photo by Peter Hislop]
I have a vague theory about how this work was never premiered until 39 years later in 2022. Dulcie dedicated this piece to Selma Epstein, her long-time friend and collaborator. Given the size of this ensemble (it's not an easy-to-come-across ensemble) and the fact that Dulcie neatly wrote by hand not only the full score but every single part, it seems like there was intention for this work to be performed. Maybe it was commissioned by Selma or someone else who knew they were going to have these instrumental forces (and Selma). Why it didn't end up ever making it to the stage seems to be a mystery. I haven't really looked closely into it but it's a puzzle to save for a rainy day.
Now all I can hope for is the work to be performed again and again...and professionally recorded! If you happen to be in a programming position and are reading this, the Concertino is easy, enjoyable, and effective. And why not support an Australian composer? :)
Special thankyous to the team at Australian Music Centre (I am your #1 fan) and Leonard to making this happen. Overjoyed!