Review: Thirteen Ways To Look At Birds

Paul Kelly, James Ledger, Alice Keath and the Seraphim Trio draw inspiration from the avian world for a subtle, atmospheric evening of words and music that doesn’t always take full flight.

Kelly was, of course, the top-billed attraction of this evocative, agreeably esoteric performance, but he frequently made sure the audience understood that it was a collaborative piece, and one intended to touch on the metaphysical, the mythological and, of course, the environmental.

Kelly, his co-composer Ledger, multi-instrumentalist and backing singer Keath and the Seraphim Trio took to the stage of the Adelaide Town Hall Auditorium and launched into spoken-word recitals of Judith Wright’s Black Cockatoos and Thomas Hardy’s The Darkling Thrush, without explaining exactly what we were about to see (the programme was a big help at first). Then there were quiet introductions, apologies for the use of one word, a little Ocker humour and some fond personal sentiments from Kelly as we continued through renditions of WB Yeats’ Leda And The Swan, Gwen Harwood’s Barn Owl and the first of several instrumentals, Mudlarking.

Occasionally haunting and always restrained, highlights from hereon included: Richard Wilbur’s beautifully repetitive A Barred Owl; John Keats’ epic Ode To A Nightingale; Miroslav Holub’s grimly comic The Fly (which seemed to not feature birds at all until the punchline); and Kiwi Denis Glover’s most lovely The Magpies. Sometimes the music became almost (dare it be said) ambient, but the often gorgeous orchestrations kept pulling it back from the brink, with Kelly’s soft, Aussie-as tones perfectly suited to the almost tranquil mood.

After a final scary but subtle call-to-arms about impending mass extinctions, Paul and Co left the stage and, although you might have assumed that such an event wouldn’t have an encore, there was indeed one: a fourteenth way to look at birds, in fact. And PK appeared very chirpy.

Thirteen Ways To Look At Birds was performed on March 1 at Adelaide Town Hall

Thirteen Ways To Look At Birds
Friday, March 1 – Saturday, March 2

Adelaide Town Hall

Header image:
Kate Pardey / Adelaide Festival

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