Adam Simmons: The Kites of Tianjin
★★★★★ Raphael Solarsh, Arts Hub
“… a fitting finale to the inimitable brilliance of The Usefulness of Art concert series by Adam Simmons.”
“The Usefulness of Art has been a ground-breaking and magnificent musical journey. Simmons and his collaborators have plotted a singularly innovative and evocative trail that has taken audience to the far-flung corners of the world with Simmons’ exquisite sonic journals. Each concert has offered not just music inspired by place but deeply personal narratives seamlessly intertwined.”
“… Adam Simmons is producing some of the most incredible jazz in Australia or anywhere else.”
Adam Simmons, The Kites of Tianjin
★★★★½ Des Cowley, Australian Books and Arts Review
“The extended applause that greeted the performance’s end seemed like a recognition of the monumentality of Adam Simmons’ Usefulness of Art series. Inspired by a direct quote from Rodin, ‘I call useful all that gives happiness’, his cycle of large-scale compositions has raised fundamental questions about the role of art in our society, and the ways in which art might bring us together. For this occasion, the performances by Wang Zheng-Ting and members of the Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble were flawless. For those of us fortunate enough to have attended the series, there was a sense that, for composer and audience alike, we had reached the end of a long and fascinating journey. And, like any journey, we had arrived changed from when we set out.”
Kites Soar on Breath of Life
★★★★½ Jessica Nicholas, The Age & Sydney Morning Herald
“…Simmons has used [The Usefulness of Art series] to explore the value of music and art in shaping identity and fostering a sense of community.”
“… the exceptional artistry of sheng player Wang Zheng Ting […] the sheng flutters and dances with the delicacy of butterfly wings, though it can also pulse with rhythmic vitality.”
“…Simmons uses his instruments and… his entire 15-piece Creative Music Ensemble… to draw parallels between music and nature, art and pleasure.”
“The Kites of Tianjin is all about wind and its relationship to breath – and breath to life – and as the piece comes to an end, the musicians put down their instruments and simply breathe. Simmons looks out at us, issuing a gentle invitation to breathe with them. It’s a simple but deeply moving gesture, signifying the inclusiveness and desire to share that makes Simmons’ work so meaningful.”
Wind as Breath, Breath as Life
—Roger Mitchell, Ausjazz.net
“Breathtakingly beautiful…the ending also draws the audience in to share and engage with the ensemble, but in a totally different way. We gradually become aware that the music is becoming breath-like and, in an utterly magic experience, realise as the music fades that all that remains is the breathing. Like gentle waves washing on a sea shore the breathing takes us to an utterly restful and peaceful place. Instead of our breath being taken, we are filled with and enlivened by our own breathing. Don’t miss the chance to hear this concert.”
Acclaimed Melbourne composer, Adam Simmons, will perform the world premiere of his latest new musical work, The Kites of Tianjin, at fortyfivedownstairs from Thursday 26 to Sunday 29 July.
Inspired by Simmons’ experiences in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, famous for its Wei Kites, The Kites of Tianjin will feature Wang Zheng-Ting on Sheng (Chinese mouth organ) as featured soloist with the Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble.
The Kites of Tianjin will be the fifth and final concert in Simmons’ acclaimed The Usefulness of Art series. Comprising five unique and original concerts over 2017-18, The Usefulness of Art originated from a quote by Auguste Rodin, and is the driving force behind Simmons’ formidable musical career.
Since meeting in 2007, Simmons and Ting have collaborated on a number of major concerts as a duo and with Simmons’s trio, Origami. The two were intrigued by the Wei Kites during a visit to Tianjin in 2017, where they attended a workshop run by Wei Guoqiu, a fourth-generation member of the famous kite-making family.
“There’s something irresistible about making your own kite… and about finding the way to ride the wind. It’s similar to playing with nature in other ways, such as creating sand tunnels at the beach or floating sticks down the river or stoking the hot coals to produce flames,” says Simmons.
“A kite is brought to life by the wind—and we in turn rely on breathing to give us life. This invisible force around us has such potential for creation and sustenance. My personal revelation a few years back is that really what I have been learning via my musical instruments is fundamentally about how to breathe—and that to breathe is to live. In this way, the kite in the wind becomes a metaphor for living.”
The Kites of Tianjin—which musically and visually explores breath and the fundamental nature of being human—is the culmination of the preceding Usefulness of Art concerts. Together, the concerts have used Simmons’ original art music to ponder such weighty concepts as the creation of form, art through music, qualities that art engenders in humanity, reasons to create art, how art connects communities and helps develop understanding of one’s place in the world, exploring personal identity, and connecting to place.
The first four concerts have elicited rapturous praise from critics and audiences alike, including The Age’s Jessica Nicholas: “… another marvellously assured step in Simmons’ own journey as musician and composer, and a potent demonstration of the usefulness – no, the necessity – of art as an expression of our collective humanity,” and “(The Calling was) arresting both musically and visually, reflecting the sense of empathy and shared experience that gives this work such a strong emotional resonance.”
Two 5-star reviews by Raphael Solarsh of Arts Hub effused: “… (a) sonic freefall into a raw and emotive tour de force… another masterpiece by Simmons and his collaborators,” and “Simmons’ music is rich and evocative with the cinematic string arrangement given a grittier and more tactile edge by saxophony that spanned subtle breath all the way to unrestrained wail.”
This concert is supported by the City of Melbourne Arts Grants Program.
THE KITES OF TIANJIN—BIOS
A virtuoso player of saxophones, clarinets, flute and shakuhachi (Japanese flute), Adam Simmons stretches the boundaries of modern composition and infuses a sense of wonder and playfulness into musical art forms better known for their gravitas. His performances are not so much ‘concerts’ as staged auditory spectacles—drawing audiences in to share in the uniquely communal power and euphoria of his music and art. He has a rare and uncanny ability to elicit the very best from the highly accomplished musicians he works with, as well as evoking spine-tingling emotion and rapturous applause from audiences.
His concerts are joyous, inspired cross-genre collaborations with virtuoso musicians and theatrical artists. Previous concerts have involved not only his eclectic Creative Music Ensemble (in which his father, Paul Simmons, plays saxophone) but also artists of the calibre of Michael Kieran Harvey, the Arcko Symphonic Ensemble, and Diokno Pasilan.
Adam is the lead Co-Artistic Director of Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues. He was also selected for the 2017 intake for Australia Council’s Arts Leader Program.
Wang Zheng-Ting is a world-renowned musician (Sheng, Chinese mouth organ), musical director, lecturer, author and ethnomusicologist. He graduated from Shanghai Music Conservatory and completed an MA in Ethnomusicology at Monash University and a PhD in Ethnomusicology at the University of Melbourne, and is an honorary research fellow at Monash University.
He co-ordinated the Chinese Instrumental Music course at the University of Melbourne, was a Melbourne Festival Ambassador in 2014 and 2015, and has been invited as a visiting scholar to the City University of New York, guest professor at Xiamen University, and Research Fellow at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music. He is director of the Australian Chinese Music Ensemble.
As a lecturer and solo performer on the Sheng (Chinese mouth organ), he has performed recitals across the world including the US (New York Lincoln Center, University of California), and in Zurich, Germany, Thailand, Tokyo, Holland, China and Italy. His book, Chinese Music in Australia: Victoria, 1850s to mid-1990s was published in 1997.
The Adam Simmons Creative Ensemble (ASCME)
The ASCME first performed in 2004 at the Sydney Opera House for the Freedman Awards, resulting in a Special Award from the Freedman Foundation being awarded to Simmons for his work. Since then the group has performed at Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival, Festival Of Slow Music and Wentworth Arts Festival, as well as being recorded by ABC FM at the Half Bent Music Festival. ASCME combines the outstanding talents of musicians from diverse backgrounds, performing cross-genre music that connects, engages and resonates powerfully with audiences. The ensemble has also performed in three of The Usefulness of Art concerts so far, and for the Kites of Tianjin will comprise:
Saxophones—Samuel Boon (Saskwatch), Cara Taber (Esstee Big Band), Gideon Brazil (Gotye, The Rockets), Paul Simmons (Adam’s father, from Ballarat; The Parrots inc. David Hobson, Kamahl, Dolphy’s Albatross)
Trumpets—Gemma Horbury (Orkeztra Glasso Bashalde, Tek Tek Ensemble), Gavin Cornish (Movin’ & Groovin’ Orchestra)
Trombones—James Wilkinson (Snuff Puppets), Bryn Hills (from Ballarat; The Boxing Tostados)
Bass—Howard Cairns (Origami, Way Out West)
Drums—Niko Schauble (Australian Art Orchestra, Tibetan Dixie)
Percussion—Nat Grant (The Amplified Elephants), Carmen Chan (Do You See What I Hear?)
Guitar—David Brown (bucketrider, Pateras/Baxter/Brown, Candlesnuffer)
Vocals—Pete Lawler (Weddings Parties Anything, RRR BBQ Orchestra)
THE KITES OF TIANJIN—COSTUMES
Fashion/costumier—Christine Crawshaw (Ballarat; BOLT Ensemble, Ballarat Heritage Festival)
Christine Crawshaw is a Ballarat-based freelance designer for events involving set dressing, display, costuming for events, weddings and theatre. With a background in visual arts (Victorian Collage of the Arts and Ballarat University College) Christine has worked with performers in live music and festivals for over 20 years, including BOLT Ensemble, Festival of Slow Music, Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble and Harvest Festival (Buninyong).
THE KITES OF TIANJIN—SET DESIGN
Award-winning quilting artist Rachaeldaisy (Rachael Simmons, Springwood, NSW) has become synonymous with bold, colourful, highly detailed quilts. While honouring the age-old tradition of quilting, Rachaeldaisy constantly creates fresh ways and techniques to interpret conventional designs. Her use of 3D elements such as folded and gathered fabric techniques, yoyo puffs, prairie points, wool felt, appliqué denim and crochet doilies, as well as her mastery of colour and form, make for unique, exquisitely textural work. Rachaeldaisy’s quilts have been exhibited in national and international quilt shows and galleries. Rachaeldaisy is Adam Simmons’s sister.
THE KITES OF TIANJIN—VISUALS
Visual designer—Jean Poole
Jean Poole is a Melbourne-based video artist, specialising in live projections, though extending to animation, music video direction and installation design. Jean has designed live visual sets for artists such as Gotye, Cumbia Cosmonauts and Cleverhorse. He has been commissioned to create and control projection mapped video environments for the MONA museum’s annual MOFO and Dark MOFO festivals.
His fascination with the possibilities of real-time video manipulation – has seen him projecting video onto 100-million-year-old dinosaur skeletons onto car wrecks in the Australian desert, onto Turkey’s Cappadocia cliffs, and onto masked wrestlers on rooftops in Mexico. This passion for shaping atmospheres with video, has also found him controlling multi-screened and projection mapped video for theatre, and accompanying musicians at the Sydney Opera House, ACMI, the OK Video festival in Jakarta, Indonesia, the LPM festival in Rome, Italy, and at Australian festivals such as Big Day Out, Meredith Music Festival, Electrofringe, Stereosonic, Golden Plains, Good Vibrations, Melbourne International Jazz festival and Falls Festival.
THE KITES OF TIANJIN—Other points of interest
With a population of more than 15 million, the northern coastal city of Tianjin is the fourth largest city in China. In 1980, Melbourne and Tianjin formed a sister city relationship—the first such relationship between an Australian and a Chinese city. In 1998, the Melbourne Office opened in Tianjin to facilitate trade, investment and exchanges between the two cities. The City of Melbourne remains the only Australian local government to have an established business office in China. Melbourne’s sister city relationship with Tianjin fosters understanding and goodwill between the two cities and recognises contributions made by the Chinese community to Melbourne’s business, culture and community life.
Spring and autumn kite-making emerged as a traditional Chinese folk craft around 770 BC. In ancient China, kites were known as ‘paper eagles’ and used to measure distances and send signals, as well as for fun and recreation. Selecting the materials (silk, bamboo, and paper), designing, making and mastering the flying of these beautiful kites is a painstaking process.
The city of Tianjin is especially renowned for its kite craftsmen; the most famous of whom was Wei Yuantai, born in 1872. Nicknamed Kite Wei for his mastery of the craft, he made extraordinary kites for more than 70 years. Kite Wei created around 200 silk kites with many new designs, such as flat hard-winged, soft-winged, three-dimensional and foldaway kites, which have a flexible bamboo framework secured with glue instead of thread, and reinforced by a copper ring at every joint. Kite Wei passed on his craft to his family members, and today his great-great grandson Wei Guoqiu continues his kite-making tradition.
Previous concerts in The Usefulness of Art concert series:
Concert #4: The Calling
(Adam Simmons with Afro-Lankan Drumming System)