• Artwork for 'Sensuality in the City'. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Classical music gets racy at the Melbourne Recital Hall this month.
Stephen A Russell

13 May 2016 - 12:00 PM  UPDATED 13 May 2016 - 12:00 PM

It's a case of classical music meets 1950s pin-ups via the sculptural aesthetic of ancient Greek mythology in multi-disciplinary arts group Forrest Collective’s latest suite of works, Sensuality in the City.

Taking over Melbourne Recital Centre’s intimate Salon for one night only, as part of its Metropolis New Music Festival, Forrest Collective will imbue the evening with a racy sensibility not necessarily associated with classical music. Proceedings will have a distinctly queer bent, driven by the collective’s artistic director and conductor Evan Lawson. “Planning this new season and particularly this concert, I wanted to say and do something with music that was a little bit more political, a little more provocative,” he says.

Lawson will present his latest mythologically inspired work, Himeros during Sensuality in the City. “Himeros was one of the three demi-gods that represented love in all its various forms, with his interest being in uncontrollable desire, or lust really,” Lawson says. “This work is tying to create an element of longing and desire, but that idea of it never quite being fulfilled or of being comfortable with yourself in expressing it.”

Fascinated by the ritual aspect of ancient Greece and the human archetypes that have become cemented in our culture, like Odysseus becoming Christ, Hera becoming the Virgin Mary, he also points to the vastly different sexual mores of the time, when it was even common for an older man to take a teenage boy as a lover. “It was a society where that was socially acceptable, as documented by Plato, Homer and all the great philosophers.”

With these ancient tales often seen as the cornerstone of Western arts, Lawson’s most interested in stripping away the Victorian era’s airbrush approach to their darkness and sexual violence, not to mention the proliferation of same-sex love and lust. “When we hit the Victorian period, a lot of the myths that had to do with same-sex affection were swept under the carpet or they put a slant on it like them just being friends,” he says. “I like being able to go back and bring that out, hopefully in their original light.”

His previous work Peane for Hyacinth relayed the tale of poor Hyacinth, one of ancient mythology’s severely unlucky in love types. A Spartan prince and the male lover of the sun god Apollo, he was struck down while the pair played discus because Zephyr, the god of the West Wind who also had several wives, had taken a fancy to the boy and, if he couldn’t have him, decided no one could. He blew their discus straight into poor old Hyacinth’s head, killing him instantly and leaving a mourning Apollo to turn his dead lover into a flower instead.  

Willing to push buttons, Lawson says he hopes his new work Himeroth will, “create this element of being on the precipice".

Amongst a cavalcade of sensuous works, the night will also feature two Australian premieres from queer British composer Philip Venables, 2011’s Fuck Forever and 2009’s Fight Music. Renowned for his turbulent work, Lawson says he admires the theatricality of Venables, currently ensconced in a three-year residency at The Royal Opera in London. “I like Philip’s brashness and boldness, his determination not only to depict gay characters and themes, but also exploring sexuality in sound and the spoken word. He deals with very dark and deep sexual identity within music.”

Forrest Collective will also perform Ganymede by 19th century Austrian composer Franz Schubert, around whom there has been some debate regarding his sexuality. Soprano Rosemary Ball will give a sassy rendition of George Apherghis’ Recitation No.5

Erotic sculptural works by visual artist Jake Preval will transform the Salon. “I think it’s an excellent suite of works and a really interesting proposition, to try and match a sculptural practice with this classic music,” he says. “There’s a very bodily response for me to these vocal scores.”

Known for the homoerotic nature of much of his work, Preval says Lawson gave him abundant inspiration. "There’s all of that classical statuary and Hellenic ideas of beauty as a way of looking at queer desire and idealised forms of the male body.”

Not that he’s stuck in the ancient past, pimping up old photography of 1950s matinee idols with a few flourishes of his own. “The work is all about desire and I’m obsessed with gold tassels at the moment, so prepare yourself for that.”