Spinifex Gum and the Sydney Symphony

Composed and arranged by Felix Riebl and Ollie McGill. Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House. 21 June, 202

Reviewed : 21 June, 2023

Photo : Jay Patel

Spinifex Gum is music with a message. Composed and arranged by Felix Riebl, it has been sung around the country since 2018 by Marliya, an all-female choir of seventeen young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island singers led by conductor Lyn Williams.

The message of the songs they sing is strong. It is about country and family, about social inequality, land rights, disproportionate incarceration, deaths in custody. They sing in both English and First Nation languages, with an energy and passion that is beguiling and moving and inspiring. They work in perfect harmony, moving together to Deborah Brown’s understated choreography. Some have contributed material to the choir’s latest album, Ganalili.

They have taken the message of Spinifex Grass to festivals and concert halls across the country since 2018. This new symphonic version was premiered in 2022 with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. In Sydney on Wednesday night, they sang with the Sydney Symphony conducted by Aaron Wyatt.

Photo : Jay Patel

They were joined by the Sydney Children’s Choir, Gondwana Voices and one hundred students from Ascham School, Newtown High School of the Performing Arts and SCEGGS Darlinghurst. 186 voices in all. Clear and strong, poignantly powerful.

Composer Felix Riebl is a singer, songwriter and composer who, with Ollie McGill, created the over fifteen musical stories that make up Spinifex Grass. The music has universal appeal – the titles suggesting the emotional implications of the words. “Mine Steal Tender Ore”, “Battle Cry”, “Take This Silence”, “Dream Baby Dream” – and “Voice, Treaty, Truth Now”. The thunderous applause that followed the rousing message in this song left no doubt of the voting intentions of this audience.

With the orchestra behind Marliya, and 151 singers surrounding the orchestra, this distinctive performance in the Sydney Symphony’s 2023 season was very special. It was a privilege to be part of such a singular performance.

First published in Stage Whispers magazine.