Astra concerts seek to extend the boundaries of conventional choral performance, often moving into areas of theatre and text as part of the concert experience. New and little-known works from all musical periods form the repertoire, frequently receiving their first Australian performances. Recent Astra concerts have ranged from mediaeval tropes through nineteenth-century oratorio (Carl Loewe and Heinrich von Herzogenberg) to twentieth century political music (Dessau, Eisler), recent music from Italy, Germany, Romania and America and the latest in Australian and New Zealand composition. Each Astra program is planned as an event that engages the audience with the stimulus of contrasting materials, with the possibility to learn something new from the sound of voices in changing configurations of style, space and other sound sources.
The inventive use of architectural environments is also an important feature - each concert is designed as an event in which different program elements interact with each other and with the performance space itself. Astra was among the first performing groups in the 1980s to use such spaces as the North Melbourne Town Hall, the Customs House, the State Library Dome, Gasworks Theatre and the Meat Market Craft Centre. Programs in recent seasons have ranged from the multiform spaces of Queen's Hall Parliament House, Lithuanian House in North Melbourne and Good Shepherd Convent in Abbotsford, to the reverberant acoustics of the Carmelite Church in Middle Park and Carlton’s Sacred Heart Church, while revealing intimate performance spaces such as The Eleventh Hour Theatre in Fitzroy.
Sound and Space: Astra and architecture, a collaboration between Astra and Culture Victoria, uses images and recordings to document how musical and architectural designs have formed an interactive partnership over three decades of Astra events.
From its regular performances in inner city locations in Melbourne, Astra has developed a significant national profile as an innovative force in Australian music. Commissions of new works from Australian composers have played an important part in the concerts over many years. Astra has received some prominent national awards for its work, including one of the inaugural Sidney Myer National Performing Arts Awards in 1987.
Full details about this year's program can be found under Concerts