Pictured (L to R): Alison Snook, with The Muses Trio—Christa Powell (violin), Therese Milanovic (piano), and Louise King (cello). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.
The Muses Trio describe their work as ‘celebrating music by women, performed by women.’ It was an inspired idea to launch their debut CD (The Spirit and the Maiden) inside the Boggo Road Gaol as an Anywhere Festival event: celebrating music by female composers, with performances by women (including special guests from Vulcana Women’s Circus) taking place inside the women-only wing of a former prison. Christa Powell (violin, Topology), Louise King (Cello, Cello Dreaming) and Therese Milanovic (piano, Topology), demonstrated their virtuosity in an edgy, compelling, powerful, memorable and often-moving performance.
The artists played a selection of the pieces from their new CD, providing insights and information as personal introductions as to the selection of the piece or the life of the composer. Powell spoke touchingly about Amy Beach, introducing Romance with reference to the restrictions placed on Beach’s work (when “imprisoned by time and gender,” and restricted by her husband to holding soirées at home). However, many of the pieces selected by The Muses Trio for the CD are written by their contemporaries. Milanovic talked of the value of direct feedback on recordings, or what she described—when welcoming composer Louise Denson to the launch—as a “dialogue” and a “really lovely process.” Such insights enhanced the experience. For example, Milanovic held the audience spellbound as she played the charming Song for Comb Man (Kate Neal), having first introduced Neal’s work by encouraging us to look at You Tube video of the TropFest short film which includes the composition. King referred to Nadia Boulanger as “a trailblazer,” before an electric performance of selections from Three pieces for cello and piano. And, having first heard from the composer, in the hands of The Muses Trio Denson’s emotional, lyrical Two Boleros (violin, cello, piano) had us enthralled.
The performance was a launch of a CD, but may also have been the beginning of a productive partnership between The Muses Trio and Vulcana Women’s Circus. Artistic Director Celia White (with Co-Director Michelle Grant) created a mesmerizing performance which opened the second half of the production. Performers Bianca Mackail, Rachael Gibson, Abby Kelso and Ellen Grow, evoked the spirits of Boggo Road inmates as they moved into the space—and impressed with their strength, control and elegance in duets on ‘silks’ (in this case thick nets, which seemed so appropriate for the jail).
The event included an optional addition of a ghost tour. Sadly the Boggo Road Gaol is about to close for a major change: the modern buildings are to be demolished and heritage spaces ‘adapted’. If you want to see a piece of Brisbane’s heritage before it disappears, why not visit the website to book a tour. If you buy a copy of The Spirit and the Maiden CD you can then listen to the music when you visit, and try to imagine the Anywhere Festival experience (links to purchase the CD & digital albums are available via the The Muses Trio website).
The performance concluded with a list of acknowledgements and thanks for the many supporters of the work of The Muses Trio. Congratulations to Alison Snook for the attentive page turning—and to Boyds for managing to supply and safely deliver a grand piano into the cellblock.
Verdict: Spine-chilling—an inspired launch event. Visit Boggo Road Gaol while you can, and look out for The Spirit and the Maiden CD.
The reviewer attended the Saturday 14th 2016 matinee performance. The launch takes place over three performances, 14-15th May 2016 (see the Anywhere Festival website for details).
Catherine Lawrence is a Post-Completion Fellow at The University of Queensland’s School of Communication & Arts.