Sunwrae Ensemble
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Sunwrae Ensemble

North Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia

North Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia
Band Classical World


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"The Sunwrae Ensemble"

The morning after the night before at Golden Plains was expertly ushered in by Sunwrae Ensemble. This Melbourne chamber ensemble, ever-shifting in its line-up, straddles the lines connecting contemporary classical music and post-rock, growing beyond the borderlines of both fields by remaining open-minded in their approach: they’re no notating conservatorium dorks, but they’re not by-the-numbers 1-2-3-distortion-pedal post-rock heroes either. Thankfully, there’s not a guitar or cowboy shirt in sight – instead they offer a vibraphone, violin, harp, double bass, drums, flute and sanguine complexions.

They begin gently, making the slightest of tears in the morning’s welcome silence. A violin quests outwards from the stage, trees and dust still rattling from the bumpity bass of the electro sets finished a few hours before. Composer and vibraphone-tapper Rae Howell wraps up some clusters of mild vibraphone notes and joins the violin in coaxing weary heads out of tents and down to the stage. The minimalist composition dances lightly as the coffee line grows. Over the set’s forty minutes, Howell’s music slowly gathers to a canter. The music box melodies become stronger until the six-piece grow to a climax which was gratifying without being grandiose. In just forty minutes, Sunwrae Ensemble effectively booked themselves an annual gig. - Ben Gook at Mess & Noise Magazine, March 13, 2007

"The Sunwrae Ensemble at the Famous Spiegeltent"

When Rae Howell concluded her 2006 concert series in November she had long Rapunzel hair falling almost to her waist. One year on, Howell is sporting a buzzcut that makes her look even more fey and elfin-like, mirroring the ethereal quality of much of her music.

Howell is not afraid of change, as the dramatic lopping of her tresses indicates. Sunday's gig at the Spiegeltent signalled the Sunwrae Ensemble's departure from its usual “home”, St Stephen's Church in Richmond. After four years, Howell has wrapped up her Eavesdropping recital series and is now exploring new ways to perform her music.

The Spiegeltent concert was something of an acoustic experiment, since most of her performances do not require amplification. I must say it's hard to beat the acoustics of St Stephen's, where Howell's piano and vibraphone ring out and guide the band melodically, harmonically and rhythmically. On Sunday, her instruments tended to meld into the overall texture of the ensemble, which lacked the clarity and delicacy I am used to hearing from this band. At times too, it seemed the players could not hear each other properly and struggled to remain in sync.

But the music itself was as beguiling as ever. Sunday's program included two pieces from the ensemble's current CD, and several works from a new recording to be released new year.

Howell underlined the flexibility of her ensemble be presenting the players in different combinations, ranging from duo to the full nine-piece band (piano or vibraphone, string quartet, alto flute, harp, bass and drums).

The first three pieces teamed piano and strings, emphasising Howell's classically trained ear and the romantic minimalism that informs her writing. Poly (vibraphone, bass and drums) was more closely aligned with jazz, featuring passages of collective improvisation and a swaggering groove that disguised the rhythmic complexities of three interlocking time signatures.

The ensemble saved its most compelling number – The Chinook Winds – until last, diving with vigour into the tune's chopping chords, rippling arpeggios and pop-like hooks to create a terrifically rousing finale. - The Age, December 2007

"The Sunwrae Ensemble Tour"

As part of a concert tour that has already taken them from Brisbane down the north coast of NSW to Sydney and will eventually end in Melbourne, this distinctively different nine-member Australian contemporary music ensemble called in to Canberra on Sunday afternoon to perform a program of new music that was as diverse in content as it was pleasingly delightful in its presentation.

Led by its artistic director, Australian composer Rae Howell, the entire program consisted of 10 of her original works, specifically written for various combinations of the strings quartet piano, flute, piano and percussion instruments, which make up the Sunwrae Ensemble. Thus it provided an enticing tonal variety as well as a constantly changing visual aspect to the program.

Howell’s music is essentially minimalist in style, with open textures underlined by a continually repetitive rhythmic basis, and these coloured with gentle but varied dynamic fluctuations. These aspects of her music, together with its atmospheric expressive intent, were established in the opening work of the program, Autumn Never Fall for piano and string quartet, and were further emphasised by the content of the following work for the full ensemble with its equally quizzical title of Disappointing.

Similarly distinctive in its expressive colouration was Underneath, with the fluctuating rhythmic structures provided by the vibraphone, harp, double bass and percussion set against the melodic lines of the strings and flute. Here, as in much of the program, the music displayed strong influences from both the “variations on a ground” of 17th century instrumental music as well as from 20th century jazz with its strong improvisatory solo elements over a rhythmic basis. These elements were also most notable in such works as Merry-go-round and Catch Me If You Can, a lively pair which started the second half of the program.

With playing that was attractively bright and assured, it was a program that was undemanding but always enjoyable. - Canberra Times, July 2007

"Eavesdropping: Live at St Stephen's"

Sunwrae Ensemble Live Album

Why you should own it: Ask audiophiles what kind of venue is the best in which to record a session and they’ll tell you it’s a church.

Ask them what the best kind of session is and they’ll point to a live performance where the musicians are playing natural acoustic instruments.

This disc, superbly recorded at St Stephen’s Church in Richmond, offers music lovers great music and a reference quality recording.

It features an ensemble of piano, harp, clarinets, guitar, double bass, vibraphones, string quartet and percussion playing original minimalist music. - The Herald Sun, October 2006

"Sunwrae's Eavesdropping Album"

Making the occasional appearance on Melbourne’s art-rock circuit, the Sunwrae Ensemble feel far more at home in church. That is, Eavesdropping was recorded live at St Stephen’s Church during a performance in 2005, pulling together sounds including piano, vibraphone, clarinet, double bass and a string quartet. The sound quality is superb, with only the burst of applause following each track as a reminder of the album’s production. Led by composer Rae Howell, the Sunwrae Ensemble are playful and occasionally dramatic. ‘Underneath’ features a dancing violin and the vibraphone emulating raindrops, the piano of ‘Mind You Do’ builds, pounds and crashes. Without any stuffy bombast, Eavesdropping sounds closer to The Necks than what I know of Bach. Or rather, I don’t know much about contemporary classical, but I know what I like. - Mess & Noise Magazine, Aug 2006


'Autumn Never Fall' CD due for release in 2008~ studio album
'Eavesdropping: Live at St Stephen's'~ 2006 release of live recording during 2005 Eavesdropping Concert Series, CD & DVD available.
'Never Stops To Wait'~ studio album release 2005

Abundant Australian Radio Airplay
ABC Classic FM, 3RRR, 3PBS, 3CR, 2MBS



The exquisite Sunwrae Ensemble perform a grand spectacle of stunning chamber music on piano, vibraphone, string quartet, alto flute, harp, double bass & drums. Dynamic, engaging and visually stimulating, Sunwrae stylishly captivate audiences, performing instrumental music by Artistic Director Rae Howell, textured with persuasive rhythms and spectacular improvisation!

Described as "Animated and energetic..." (Thomas Reiner, Music Forum 2007) and "Hypnotically beautiful with a flowing cinematic feel..." (Jessica Nicholas, The Age 2006), one of the world's premier nu chamber groups feature a repertoire of solo works to large ensemble arrangements, performing a lush blend of melodic phrases and spectacular interweaving rhythms.

Sunwrae Ensemble Album releases include called Never Stops to Wait (2005), funded by Arts Victoria and the Australia Council, several Live CDs & DVDs from the Eavesdropping Concert & Art Exhibition Series (2003-2007) and 'Autumn Never Fall', a new studio album due for release in 2008. Festival appearances by the nu chamber group include Apollo Bay Festival, Bright Spring Festival (VIC), SxSW Festival (Austin TX) and Golden Plains Festival (VIC). A Live National Broadcast on ABC Classic FM’s Sunday Live and ABC TV’s Sunday Arts paved the way for their 2007 National Tour, followed by a highly acclaimed performance at the Famous International Spiegeltent in Melbourne.

Artistic Director and leader of the Sunwrae Ensemble, Rae Howell, is a freelance composer and performer on piano & vibraphone. A graduate of Melbourne University's Conservatorium, Howell is a multi-instrumentalist (also on brass, percussion & vocals), working in live performance, recording and international touring. In addition to Sunwrae, Howell works with Australian Puppet Theatre Company Peepshow Inc, Improvised Dance Ensemble State of Flux, and numerous film and mixed-media projects. A finalist in the 2006 APRA Professional Development Awards Howell is the only Australian represented composer of Cantilena Music in London, UK.

Howell’s international collaborations include the ARENA International Theatre Festival in Germany, Musician in Residence at The Banff Centre in Alberta Canada, and The Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida USA, Jazz Hall of Fame musician Sam Rivers (USA), Royal Society of Arts Fellow and composer/percussionist Eugene Skeef (Sth Africa/UK) and electronic recording engineer Jon Cohrs (NY, USA).

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