The Arcko Symphonic Ensemble comprised upwards of 60 musicians for this long-planned celebration of Nigel Butterley’s music and his 80th birthday. Conducted by the ensemble’s founder Timothy Phillips, this co-operative of formidable skill performed Butterley’s From Sorrowing Earth (1991) and Elliott Gyger’s From Joyous Leaves (2015), on this occasion receiving its first hearing. Pianist Zubin Kanga contributed the exquisite Butterley miniature Uttering Joyous Leaves (1981) before the featured composer’s large-scale radiophonic work, In the Head the Fire (1966). Throughout this celebration there was a palpable sense of esteem, indeed affection, from the performers, composers present and members of the audience alike towards Nigel Butterley, also present in the Auditorium, who has held his own unique and important voice in Australian contemporary music – as a composer, educator and performer – for nearly six decades.It was news to me that Butterley's In the Head the Fire was inspired by the Qumran War Scroll:
Sitting as we did through this nearly half-century-old composition based on the then recently discovered War Scroll (one of the Dead Sea Scrolls), we were reminded of Butterley’s early vivid originality, confidence and virtuosity in writing for voice and orchestra. Butterley had attended the first performance of Britten’s War Requiem in Coventry Cathedral in 1962 and composed the exquisitely beautiful Laudes celebrating four sacred buildings in 1963. He returned from Europe deeply inspired by the numinous. Although it was very good to hear this important composition again, In the Head the Fire is, without doubt, a work of unrestrained, apocalyptic religious fervour. Particularly, much babelesque shouting and commotion accompanied by blaring shofar made for a cerebrally draining first half; without an apparent shared context, the concert would perhaps not have suffered from its excision.Cross-file under Popular Culture Watch (Dead Sea Scrolls).