• Jonathan Widran

FIONA JOY HAWKINS & REBECCA DANIEL, The Lightness of Dark

The late Leonard Cohen once said, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Australian instrumental greats Rebecca Daniel and Fiona Joy Hawkins place this insightful nugget of wisdom on the back cover of The Lightness of Dark: An Album About Loss and Mourning to illuminate their collective creative and spiritual vision behind the project – their first official dual album after many years of dynamic live and in studio collaborations. Pushing the often-stringent boundaries of new age and contemporary classical music, the two explore the many facets of life and loss, the search for something positive in the crippling shadows and the potential beauty that can emerge from mourning and sadness.

Rebecca and Fiona will be supporting the release of the album with a highly anticipated dual tour in Fall 2019.

Both Rebecca (violin/voice/piano) and Fiona (piano/voice) believe that when real life becomes art, experiences can be shared, learned from and resonate with others who are going through similar challenging situations in their lives. Coinciding with their ongoing desire over the years to co-write an album, they found themselves immersed in the subject of loss and mourning and both were channelling the effects of difficult personal experiences into the music they were playing. They quickly realized their intent, ideas and subject matter were identical and that their visions for what this project could ultimately be melded perfectly.

Featuring seven pieces composed by Rebecca and five by Fiona, The Lightness of Dark weaves its lush, cathartic narrative via pieces of varying instrumentation depending on the emotions the two are expressing. The opening track “Heavenly Voices” blends string quartet (featuring Rebecca, violinist Elizabeth Cooney, violin/violist Sam Harding and cellist Trish McMeekin) with organ, piano and vocals. Other songs feature solo piano (“Ghost, Insanity, Angels”), piano/violin duet (“Elegy”), piano with quartet pads (“Lake of Contemplation”), string quartet only (“Interwoven Threads of Chance”), string quartet featuring piano (“Empty Moments”) and other combinations uniquely fitted for the compositions they imbue.

“We believe our album will connect with everyone because we all experience loss in varying forms,” Fiona says. “It’s not just the loss of life. It can be the loss of youth, a loved one, a pet, your health…Life changing events where we are left to mourn because of loss. People only face their own issues when you lead the to a safe place to do this. We both wanted to explore the lightness within the dark and the idea of loss and mourning because we share the belief that there is sadness in beauty and beauty in sadness. Finding that beauty is paramount to moving forward in the face of loss. The rhythmic exploration of tolling bells gives a sense of time and its relentless forward movement, while the interwoven layers of piano with string quartet are melodically rich and soothing. There is a little madness in the music I’m currently writing, it only pops out of the calmness momentarily, but enough to know that there is uncertainty in everything we hear, feel and experience.”

Rebecca’s fascination with Trauermusik (mourning or funeral music) began with the study of Paul Hindemith. Hindemith wrote a famous piece of Trauermusik for solo viola and string orchestra and since performing this in the UK, Rebecca has embraced rich and layered sounds. She says, “I drew inspiration for the ‘Theme and Variations on a Ground Bass’ from Hindemith's ‘Trauermusik’ and Purcell's ‘Dido's Lament’, which I have performed in the UK. Both pieces are powerfully tragic, and yet the beauty that comes through is deeply moving and engaging, in a way that leaves you uplifted, and wanting the experience again. On the title track ‘Lightness of Dark,’ for instance, I use viola as a solo voice, as did Hindemith, and a simple descending bass line in the strings, as a repetitive foundation for vocal lines, as used by Purcell. The piece is written for string quartet, piano and vocalist, and uses repetition and simplicity to convey an emptiness and yearning, juxtaposed with rich chords in the strings and piano. The listener should be left emotional, yet content and at peace.”

While The Lightness of Dark is most richly experienced in its entirety as the duo converse and ultimately merge their expressions into a singular statement of grace, several pieces stand out thematically. Rebecca’s emotive, melodic and circular “Interwoven Threads of Chance” is about the idea of chance, and the interwoven sequence of events that leads to any one outcome. It reflects the sequence of events that led to the violinist’s chance meeting with her husband – contemplating, if any one thing had changed, would she have met him? Fiona’s solo piece “Ghosts, Insanity, Angels” is a suite of three pieces written for an earlier album that she had always wanted to join together as a clear account of the multiple losses she experienced in 2016, so she took the three separate stories and re-arranged them as a suite.

Fiona’s “A Bit in the Middle” (piano with quartet pads) explores the idea of time and existence before we arrive and after we die, contemplating the spark that caused the bit in the middle we know as life. Rebecca’s “Empty Moments” (string quartet feat. piano) is a new age masterwork about empty spaces and moments in of time one feels after something or someone is gone – the unfillable hole that is left with loss.

Rebecca and Fiona have enjoyed a long history of collaborations. They have performed over 50 concerts together including at the Sydney Opera House for the 2012 MusicOz Awards - and Rebecca has appeared on nearly every one of Fiona’s solo albums. The two have played together as part of the Fiona’s Blue Dream Ensemble, and Rebecca produced the group’s album Live at the Q.

Rebecca Daniel was a member of The Tudor Consort of Rochester Cathedral in England, and is currently a member of Blue Mountains madrigal group Canon Fodder. She studied violin and chamber music with Emanuel Hurwitz and the Amadeus String Quartet at The Royal Academy of Music, London, and was a member of the Chamber Orchestra with Trevor Pinnock and Simon Standage. She was also the leader of the Manson Ensemble, specializing in contemporary chamber works. She was a founding member of the Parnassus String Ensemble and toured the UK, before being invited to join The Australian Chamber Orchestra. Rebecca was the orchestra leader for Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, The Sound of Music and Beauty and the Beast. She also played for West Side Story, A Little Night Music and The Hunting of the Snark. She has recorded and performed with, among others, John Denver, Bread, James Galway and the Chieftains, Shirley Bassey, John Farnham, Anthony Warlow, Barbra Streisand, Men at Work, David Campbell and INXS.

Fiona Joy Hawkins is best known for her romantic, melodic songs and lush arrangements. A prolific composer, she has always been interested in creating music that evokes images, emotions and tells stories. She enjoys and regularly tours China and the USA and is also a member of the Contemporary instrumental group FLOW (Fiona Joy, Lawrence Blatt, Jeff Oster, Will Ackerman). Fiona is also knowns for “Grace,” her song on a Grammy Winning album in 2014. In 2016 she won two categories of the Independent Music Awards at the Lincoln Centre in New York and has been awarded Best Piano Album by International Radio (ZMR Awards) for several of her albums. Nominated alongside Pete Seeger for Best LIVE Performance Album in the Independent Music Awards, Fiona was an ARIA Finalist in Australia in 2008.

Living in a small village of 830 people in NSW Australia, Fiona has toured and played around the world at venues like New York’s Carnegie (Weill Hall), the New Orleans Jazz Museum, Sydney Opera House (MusicOz Awards), a live concert on Echoes/NPR Radio, has accompanied Deepak Chopra in NY, a concert for the Mason and Hamlin Piano Festival in LA, The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Glasshouse Port Macquarie, Sydney Women’s International Jazz Festival and the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, among others.

Looking back on the deep friendship and musical partnership that now culminates in The Lightness of Dark, Fiona says, “I first met Rebecca when I was living in Little Hartley, a small valley west of the Blue Mountains, two hours from Sydney. The community was having a rehearsal e for a fundraising event and my house was chosen as the practice venue. I was told that Rebecca lived on acreage behind my place. Somehow, I had lived there 12 years and never seen her. Becky arrived and looked like she had stepped out of a 50’s movie. Her violin case had Dr. Who stickers all over it and I was instantly concerned, as I needed a ‘real’ violinist to play the parts I had written. The minute she opened her case, I knew she was the real deal. It was a 1784 Italian violin with major pedigree. Rebecca was invited from England by Richard Tognetti to join the Australian Chamber Orchestra as she was considered one of the best violinists in Europe.

“We started to play the piece I had written and everyone’s draw dropped – including mine!” the pianist adds. “And the rest, as they say, is proverbial history. Considering all the years we have known each other and performed together, it was logical that we would do our own album together one day, and only a matter of time. We are so grateful to be sharing the very personal but universal The Lightness of Dark with everybody, and are looking forward to touring this fall.”

To stream or purchase The Lightness of Dark: https://open.spotify.com/album/6bsketAtyg6m3ay0iRBFuA

https://fionajoyhawkinsrebeccadaniel.bandcamp.com/album/the-lightness-of-dark

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