Bach knew that the access point to the divine was through art. Not only was he a master technician, but an artist steadfastly and systematically seeking the divine; and for moments in his music, he allows us to know it. 

He knew that only by people coming together in a communion could this experience happen. Few artists can, through their work, will a room to levitate, to make the lights seem brighter, to make time seem slower for a brief moment, to expand into a glorious ecstatic moment and collapse into the deepest part of the self, as if all of the human experience could fit into a brief fermata. These things are at the core of Bach’s work and he is an artist whose legacy we are still trying to unpack. 

It is also the core of what the artists of Present Tense seek, to find the inner music and to bring people together to ‘sing’. Ricercar, literally meaning ‘to seek’, is what we strive for. We strive to keep seeking.

Ricercar is a work that we hope will continue to evade categorisation. It is a work that reaches for Bach the artist, the theologue, the universe, and the divine.

For our audience it was a bold step into an unknown: a journey through space and time, a space to reflect, a social space, to be together, to commune, to listen, to see. We hope the audience was emboldened by broad thinking, carefully considered image and sound, and crafted performance. It was this that was the culmination of two years of work and the basis of the presentation in December 2015 at Theatre Works. 

Founded in contemporary music the work asks: What is the legacy of an artist nearly 500 years after his death? What does the universal impact of Bach’s music mean when Bach himself couldn’t have imagined where his music would appear?

What we hope through the performance of this work, is that ultimately we can see ourselves, even if only briefly: To see a people, existing momentarily on a vast continuum of time populating a planet in a corner of a vast cosmos. Our life and death are reminders to us to make the most of that moment that we exist for. 

Through making this work we now know that this season was only part of the continuum of the work; its strongest possible middle point. 

Music may be the most glorious accident of our human species. Still, in 2016, with our vast scientific knowledge and understanding of human behaviour, nobody knows why our bodies respond to music. It is at once social, universal and also deeply personal. It’s only requisite is that it requires people to sit together and listen to one another. 

Nathan Gilkes & Bryce Ives
January 2016


RICERCAR is an original composition for theatre, founded in the music of J.S. Bach but is entirely unique in its composition and realisation.

96 minutes in length, across two halves or ‘books,’ RICERCAR was composed by Nathan Gilkes, Bryce Ives and the Present Tense Ensemble, between July 2013 and December 2015. It has been composed for a combination of operatic singers, jazz singers, pop singers and actors who can sing.

RICERCAR is a major work for Present Tense; it was performed in two distinct sections or ‘books,’ across two venues: Christ Church St.Kilda and Theatre Works.
It’s alternately majestic and meditative, with novel arrangements of a ricercar, a cantata, St Matthew’s Passion, and The Well-Tempered Clavier, roving from the personal expressiveness of Kolac’s solo violin to the all-consuming power of the pipe organ.

The musical revenant haunting the second half returns, and the piece swells into a gorgeous operatic finale, with mirage-like lighting from Richard Vabre.”
— Cameron Woodhead, The Age Newspaper
“On fortepiano, the opening notes of Bach’s Ricercar a 3 are meandering pinpricks. Nathan Gilkes and Bryce Ives would have us believe the origin of the Western musical universe can be found in Bach’s transfiguration of that dry and rattly theme.And in Ricercar at Theatre Works in Melbourne, they prove it in three-quarters of an hour in an ornate 1½-century-old church at twilight. Riffing on organ, Gilkes connects the dots between Bach and Philip Glass, Mike Oldfield and even the Presets. Members of the Present Tense vocal ensemble sound like tuned percussion instruments; a soprano solo is like a lead guitar.”
— Chris Boyd, The Australian


Thomasin Marshall, Collaborator & Designer
Jennifer Tran, Collaborator & Co-Designer
Richard Vabre, Collaborator & Lighting Designer
Aubrey Flood, Collaborator, Marketing Manager & Performer
David McNamara, Collaborator, Assistant Director & Performer
Karen Ireson, Collaborator & Performer
John Howard, Collaborator & Performer
Marcello LoRicco, Sound Designer
Bronwyn Shipway, Production/Stage Manager

Nathan Gilkes, Initiating Artist, Composer & Director
Bryce Ives, Initiating Artist, Writer & Director
Laura Burzacott, Collaborator & Performer
Rinske Ginsberg, Project Mentor
Xanthe Beesly, Movement Dramaturg
Daniel Han, Collaborator & Performer
Xani Kolac, Co-Composer, Violinist & Performer
Mark Leahy, Co-Composer, Percussionist & Performer
Rosie Westbrook, Collaborator & Performer