24 Jul 2017

Claire COWAN: Stark - The Violin Concerto (première performance)

From Music Alive, 7:00 pm on 24 July 2017
Claire Cowan

Claire Cowan Photo: Supplied

Stark: The Violin Concerto, composed by Claire Cowan, takes its inspiration from the iconic NZ dancer Freda Stark.

Stark was made famous in the 1930’s when she appeared as a prosecution witness in the trial of Eric Mareo, who was accused of murdering Stark's lover, Thelma Mareo with a glass of poisoned milk.

Later, in WW2, Freda became a famed exotic dancer in the Civic Theatre’s Wintergarden Cabaret nightclub, where she performed in gold body paint, earning her the title ‘Fever of the Fleet.’

The work's composer Claire Cowan has split the concerto into three contrasting movements: Black, White and Gold.

Movement I: BLACK 

Black is the sky. Black is the land. Black are her painted eyelashes. Black is the dark of the theatre wings. Black is the hush of the moments before entering the spotlight.

For as long as she could remember, Freda wanted to dance, preferably alone and preferably naked. “I think I was a bit mad when the moon was out at midnight. It was one of those things. I loved dancing without my clothes.”

Movement II: WHITE

White is milk. White is shock. White is grief. 

“Our angel has fallen from the sky.” - Freda’s cousin on observing her post trial.

Movement III: GOLD

Gold is glitter. Gold is the Civic Theatre. Gold is the dazzle of the spotlight, the raining applause, and the allure of the dance. It’s 1943 and “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”

The third movement spells out Freda’s name in pitch material throughout, moving through moods which reflect the war-time era and the golden Civic’s exotic atmosphere. Towards the end we hear Freda’s famous gold-paint adagio, which dissolves into an elegy for her lost love.

Amalia Hall (violin), Orchestra Wellington conducted by Marc Taddei.

Recorded 3 December 2016 at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington by RNZ Concert.

Producer: David McCaw

Engineer: Graham Kennedy