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Classical Masterpiece

James Ledger - 'Chronicles', 2009

James Ledger. © Bridget Elliot.
James Ledger. © Bridget Elliot.

It has been a good start to the twenty-first century for Australian composers and correspondingly hard to pick a single masterpiece. Anyway, how do you compare Ross Edwards’ Clarinet Concerto to Liza Lim’s Cy Twombly–inspired piano suite The Four Seasons? Or the public ritual of Peter Sculthorpe’s Requiem and the private whimsy of Richard Mills’s fourth string quartet, Glimpses from My Book of Dada? But James Ledger’s orchestral work Chronicles seems to do everything right. The beginning is slow, taking its time to establish tone and mood as it draws its listeners into an intensely personal expressive world. Once in that world, everything changes. It is as though we are being confronted by the sonic equivalent of distorting mirrors. The music becomes bolder, lurching between gestures that are by turns surprising, alluring, rhetorical, majestic and reassuring. Chronicles may last only 20 minutes, but partly because the pacing is so assured it seems like music on a grand scale. It is a piece of emotional extremes in which everything is in balance. By the end, even the surprises seem to have been inevitable. Chronicles was first performed in 2009 by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under its principal conductor, Paul Daniel.

—Andrew Ford

About the author Andrew Ford
Andrew Ford is an award-winning composer, writer and broadcaster. His books include The Sound of Pictures: Listening to the Movies from Hitchcock to High Fidelity and In Defence of Classical Music.