Gratitude and Grief (Brisbane Festival and Griffith University)
QPAC, Concert Hall
“Gratitude and Grief” is not only the name of the newly released album in which Katie Noonan and Elixir explore every nuance of Michael Leunig’s poetry, but, for fortunate Brisbane Festival audiences, is also the title of the creative collaboration’s special first-weekend show. The fusion of music, poetry and art from multi-platinum-selling and five-time ARIA Award-winning singer/songwriter Katie Noonan, Australia’s ‘poet laureate’ Michael Leunig, Noonan’s ARIA Award-winning jazz trio Elixir (featuring Zac Hurren and Stephen Magnusson) and Camerata – Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra (under the baton of Iain Grandage) offers audience members a Sunday slow-down and sense of calm from its first string and woodwind sounds.
The focus, however, is immediately Noonan’s stunning, ethereal-as-always voice. That is until cartooner Michael Leunig joins the group on stage. Leunig, who has collaborated over four years with Elixir to reinterpret ten of his poems in song, speaks the poems live between the songs being played while he draws beautiful accompaniments to each piece live onstage in his trademark black and white, quivering line style. The trademark simple yet evocative images suit both the sentiment and the gentle character of the show, which represents realisation of Noonan’s ambition in starting Elixir, to explore Australian poetry and find a place for quieter acoustic music. ‘Gratitude and Grief’ for example, see the accompaniment of a profound image of parent cradling a child in their arms, while barbed wire surrounds and a fighter plane flies overhead, in accompaniment to words such as ‘in the cradle of his mother’s arms a baby lies warm and sheltered from the time when they will come apart’.
The titular song also serves as standout though the beautiful Camerata string sounds, followed then by the simple message of ‘Peace is my Drug’, transporting the audience to a place of pleasant thematic contemplation. Although there is an intimacy to the entire program, after interval sees some humour too, with the quirky song ‘Magpie’ its appeal to the bird, “don’t put a hole in me” and the infectious generous sentiment of ‘Smile’.
Every of the concert’s numbers showcases Noonan’s soaring vocals and superb range, however, the most memorable come at the afternoon’s end in Elixir’s intimate and soulful arrangement on ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and an even more tender and angelic ‘Rainbow Connection’ (because love is love). And Camerata Conductor Iain Grandage’s ‘Let it Ring’ and ‘The Path to Your Door’, likewise, fill the Concert Hall with outstanding musicianship, with evocative bird-like sounds and percussion, so that desire becomes only for the show’s exquisite experience to linger a little more.
While festival shows so often take audiences on flights of fantasy, rarely do their worlds of whimsy offer opportunity for reflective pause amongst the painting-the-town-pink frenzy that Brisfest brings us each Spring…. that is the luxurious joy of “Gratitude and Grief”.