Monday, 16 December 2013

Symphony in the City

 The sea breeze floated gently across the river to Langley Park and the blistering heat melted into a balmy summer evening. Classical music admirers picnicked alongside cricket fans and young families in an idyllic concert setting. The WA Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony in the City is fast becoming an established summer tradition.

My concert companions

A huge floodlit shell housed the orchestra and choir and a camera crew and audio team projected the performance onto screens around the park. The concert was also streamed live to Northbridge, Albany, Broome, Esperance, Kalgoorlie, Margaret River and Port Hedland.
The logistics alone were impressive. And there was good incentive; an estimated 20 000 people received a season brochure and witnessed a sample of WASO’s 2014 program, all in a relaxed, non-snobby atmosphere.

Actor/comedian Eddie Perfect introduced the orchestra and the concert began with a selection of movie music including themes from Star Wars, Schindler’s List and The Fellowship of the Ring. The orchestra were in festive spirit – the first time I’ve seen a cor anglais player perform with flashing Christmas earings – and played with energy. Assistant conductor Chris Dragon took the helm for The Fellowship of the Ring wearing a bright red dinner jacket and conducting with flair. The Schindler’s List main theme was played with lyricism by assistant concertmaster Semra Lee-Smith.

Matthew gets his first concert lanyard
The WASO Chorus joined the orchestra for stirring performances of Verdi’s Triumphal March and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. The well-blended sound of the chorus (the legacy of retiring chorus director Marilyn Phillips) was noticeable even in the outdoor setting.

This was the final concert for principal conductor Paul Daniel and Nimrod (Elgar’s Enigma Variations) was an apt farewell, performed by the orchestra with heightened tenderness.

The lesser-known Knightsbridge March from Eric Coates’ London Suite was a tribute to the conductor’s homeland. “This is to remember just how great England is despite what’s happening down the road,” quipped Daniel with a nod toward the WACA grounds.

And of course there were the now-obligatory fireworks, bells and choir for Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture bringing the concert to a spectacular, noisy finale. It was a fitting end to the year for our enterprising state orchestra.
                  This review copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Lior and Nigel Westlake

The pairing of the bittersweet vulnerability of indie-icon Lior with the colourful vitality of the music of composer Nigel Westlake seemed odd on paper. But, like some of the best jazz collaborations, the conversation between these vastly different musicians sparked a unique musical idea. What started as a small orchestral arrangement of an ancient Hebrew hymn grew into a seven-part song cycle reflecting on the noble human quality of compassion.

Lior delved into his Middle Eastern heritage to collect Islamic and Jewish texts and Westlake, best known for his film scores to Babe and Miss Potter among others, created an orchestral soundtrack to Lior’s voice.

Compassion – Symphony of Songs was performed by the WA Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday night alongside a set of Lior’s original songs arranged for orchestra and four-piece band. The pop songs were well-delivered but light-weight alongside the penetrating intensity of Compassion. Sim Shalom (Grant Peace) began with Lior’s impossibly high falsetto singing in Hebrew as slow orchestral chords rose and subsided in waves beneath him. It was like a beam of light streaming into a dusty synagogue. The audience sat transfixed.

The song cycle continued with the percussion driven Eize Hu Chacham (Who is Wise?) with Westlake’s distinctive cross-rhythms adding an African and Balinese vibe and his colourful orchestrations putting flesh to Lior's haunting melodies.

Lior’s impressive vocal range (he also sang deep pedal notes for the chant Inna Rifqa) was coloured with eastern inflections, Katie-Noonan-esque slides and moments of operatic power. He performed the entire work, including sections of complex changing time signatures, from memory. Sadly the text of the songs wasn’t included in the program so the wisdom of the words was lost on most of us.

The concluding Hymn of Compassion was delivered with a gentle pleading and as Lior’s last note faded the cello picked up the melody and wound the work to its conclusion. It was the perfect analogy for this collaboration, where two artists have become so musically connected they conclude each other’s sentences, and so self-effacing that it is the music that speaks loudest of all.

This review copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Sol Gabetta and WASO

Sol Gabetta gives me hope. The young Argentinian-born cellist is the kind of artist who will keep the classical music industry alive. Her performance of Dvorak’s B minor Cello Concerto with the WA Symphony Orchestra was utterly heart-felt and spiced with a good dose of risk taking.


On Friday night (November 15th)  the orchestra established the emotional goal posts of Dvorak’s concerto with an introduction that was both delicate (horn and clarinet solos) and energetic (a perky string statement). Gabetta joined in with exuberance, showcasing a bright cello sound with a knotty low register. Her technique was formidable but the edge-of-the-seat moments weren’t the cascades of notes, rather the engrossing moods of the quieter moments. There was the pensive duet with wispy flute and lingering cello entwined, the yearning intensity of Dvorak’s melodies, and the introverted delicacy of the cello’s final moments before the orchestra charged in with a rousing end. Gabetta's artistry took the audience on a profound journey.

Polish conductor Michal Dworzynski was a conscientious time keeper but his lack of sculptural finesse became apparent in Brahms’ Second Symphony. The first movement had bombast thanks to a warmly romantic brass section but – crucially – no space to breath between the long winding phrases. Dworzynski’s slow tempo for the second movement might have allowed for more shaping but instead the movement wandered aimlessly. The finale suffered from lack of delineation and Brahms’ luxurious layers became suffocating.

The concert opened with Smetana’s Vltava (Ma Vlast) which had a gracious start but the slow tempo meant Smetana’s mighty river became sluggish. Bookended by these two perfunctory performances, Sol Gabetta shone like a dazzling star.

This review copyright The West Australian 2013.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Radio Portraits of Australian Composers

When was the last time you were introduced to a composer?

ABC Classic FM is presenting 29 of Australia's more prominent composers and their music in a three day Composer Portraits series. The series begins today (Friday 15th Nov). It's a great concept and I'm hoping by Monday everyone will be whistling music by George Dreyfus or Elena Kats-Chernin!

Five of the composers in Women of Note are featured in the line-up: Margaret Sutherland, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Miriam Hyde, Elena Kats-Chernin and Mary Finsterer.

But where are the rest?

25% of our composers are women, yet only 5 of the 29 composers presented here are women. It is difficult to select a representative group when we have so many wonderful composers, but 17% is hardly a fair sample.

What about Liza Lim, Ann Carr-Boyd, Betty Beath, Moya Henderson? Poor form ABC!

Here is the ABC's list of composers.

For a more definitive list of our composers (and LOADS of music samples) go to the Australian Music Centre Website. You could create your own list of 29 of our legendary composers. Who would you choose?

Thursday, 31 October 2013

La Boheme

WAOpera’s self-proclaimed Year of the Divo is coming to an end. The year started with baritone hunk Teddy Tahu-Rhodes as the Alpha-male Don Giovanni, followed by Rosario La Spina’s resplendent Alfredo in La Traviata. But the best 'male moment' was provided by not one but four ‘divo’s’ in the current production of La Boheme.

The four 'divo's'

Puccini’s famous operatic depiction of 1830’s bohemian Paris is constructed around the love between Rodolfo and Mimi but much of the energy comes from the youthful antics of Rodolfo’s artisan friends. The easy-flowing banter between Rodolfo and Marcello (a painter), Colline (philosopher) and Schaunard (musician) feels even more natural in this highly entertaining production thanks to director Simon Phillips’ 1990’s updated setting.

Stephen Curtis’ set design celebrates the recontextualisation without sacrificing the intent of the original opera. Rodolfo’s grotty bachelor pad is scattered with dirty dishes and milk crate furniture; a rap dancer and ghetto blaster replace the traditional fife and drum band in a riotous market scene (with the WA Opera Chorus bustling with activity) and the toll gate from Act Three is a warehouse alley.

The Opera Conference production was last in Perth in 2007 and has plenty of depth to warrant this revival (smoothly orchestrated by rehearsal director Cath Dadd). For example the recurring rose motif, first seen painted on the flat window. In Act Three as Mimi and Rodolfo’s relationship is threatened decaying roses spill from a rubbish bin and in Act Four the louvre windows are open and the rose image is fragmented as Mimi dies.

 The thought-provoking directorial concept was matched by an outstanding cast. American tenor Garrett Sorenson’s emotion-laden, untamed voice gave a boy-next-door appeal to Rodolfo.  Australian-Armenian Natalie Aroyan brought a fragile naivety to Mimi, with moments of voluminous soprano splendour. Her conversational ‘Mi chiamano Mimi' was full of shy smiles and expressively stretched phrases. As the lovers sang their duet ‘O soave fancuilla’ the apartment floor lifted and the entire set was winched above the stage; their youthful infatuation lifts them momentarily from the squalor of poverty.


Jose Carbo’s brooding Marcello was the perfect match for Rachelle Durkin’s charismatic Musetta and their squalling relationship – including a fistfight resolved by love-making – was highly entertaining. Adrian Tamburini was a noble Colline and Andrew Foote was in top form as the Benoit the tipsy landlord. James Clayton was loveable as the loutish Schaunard, dancing erotically with a bean bag, peeing into the grimy toilet and procuring a surprise feast for his mates on Christmas Eve.

The robust playing from the WA SymphonyOrchestra under Joseph Colaneri overwhelmed the lovers during key moments in Act One but the orchestral colours were vibrant, with sassy winds and velvety strings lending moodiness to this engaging production.

La Boheme continues Nov 2, 5, 7, 9. Tickets here

This review copyright The West Australian 2013

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Marina Prior

Marina Prior is one of the most elegant divas in the music theatre industry with her luxurious brown hair and a voice rivalling Julie Andrews for sweetness. Yet rumour has it she started her career as a busker.

“Yes it’s true,” Prior confesses over the phone from her home in Melbourne. “Busking was my part-time job while I was studying music at Melbourne Uni. I would sing everything from Elizabethan love songs to Joni Mitchell and Puccini. It was very eclectic, a bit like this concert tour.”

Prior’s first national solo tour showcases the soprano up close and personal. She will be singing hits from her three decades in music theatre including her career-making role as Christine in the first Australian production of Phantom of the Opera. The 24-venue tour includes performances in Perth, Bunbury and Albany this weekend. 

Prior snared her first lead role when she was just 18 as Mabel in the Victorian State Opera’s The Pirates of Penzance. The dream run continued with roles in productions like Cats, Les Miserables, West Side Story and Showboat. It was the eighties, the golden era of musicals in Australia.

“In the theatre I found my tribe, where I belong. I have a light coloratura soprano so it suits me more. And I love the depth of dramatic theatre; I can be a cat, a Bronx stripper (in Guys and Dolls), and a daffy English lady in Mary Poppins.”

Prior has recorded five albums and ventured into stage plays and operas including an Australasian tour with tenor Jose Carreras. She stars regularly in Melbourne’s Carols By Candlelight and worked as a judge on Channel Seven’s It Takes Two. Most of her career has been spent working under a director so Prior is relishing the creative freedom of a solo show. 

“I have the chops to do it now,” says the 49 year old. “I love being able to construct the evening, tell anecdotes and make people laugh. It is liberating.”

The intimacy of a solo show is also appealing. Prior will be accompanied by pianist David Cameron and will occasionally strum a guitar, the instrument she first began singing with as a nine year old.

“You have to expose the real you on stage, that vulnerability is crucial. If you are real then people warm to you.”

The program spans Prior’s creative life and there is no shortage of material to choose from.

“The program is made from the songs we couldn’t leave out! There are music theatre songs and some Celtic music, plus songs I grew up singing by people like Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell.”

Another bonus is the performing schedule which allows Prior to return home to her five children during the week.

“Being a mother is the defining factor of my life and I love being able to be home for canteen duty and making lunches. And then I run away to the circus on the weekends!”

Marina Prior ‘Encore’ tour Friday 18th Astor Theatre, Saturday 19th Bunbury Entertainment Centre, Sunday 20th Albany Entertainment Centre.


This article copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013.



Crossing Roper Bar

Once upon a time someone tapped two sticks together and sang a story. The ancient tradition of music making is as old as humanity. The diversity of today’s music represents the complexity of the human community. Mixing the different groups doesn’t always result in a harmonious outcome.


Crossing Roper Bar is an ambitious project which blends some of the world’s most disparate musical genres in a musical collaboration which is touring WA this month. At its core is an ancient songline from the Ngukurr people from the Roper River in the Northern Territory, fused with the contemporary jazz sounds of the Australian Arts Orchestra. AAO director Paul Grabowsky initiated the project in 2004 with the late songstress Ruby Hunter and the project has since toured Australia and Europe where it played to standing ovations in Paris and at the London Jazz Festival.

The Ngukurr community is only accessible in the dry season by driving across a strip of land called Roper Bar. The Crossing Roper Bar tour takes its name from that natural bridge. And as the group of musicians sing their way from Darwin to Perth they are building a different kind of bridge.


For Broome-based singer and guitarist Stephen Pigram - a recent addition to the line-up - the connection is made through music.

“I’ve taken The Ngukurr people fishing and we have shared a few words from our different languages,” Pigram says. “But the music is what is bringing us together. The music will carry everything.”

“The Ngukurr are brilliant singers and performers.  It is about showcasing traditional musicians at the top of their form and providing an arena where people can sit and listen. Yothu Yindi has done it a bit and Gurrumul (Yunupingu) sings well in language but that is more disco and pop music. This is fused with a jazz slant.”

Pigram will be contributing some of his original songs to the mix. “It is like dressing your children up in different clothes and sending them out to the world,” he says.

The indigenous folk singer has collaborated in similar ways with Black Arm Band and the Australian Chamber Orchestra for their Reef tour.

“In this day and age you have to challenge musical boundaries, because everything is starting to sound the same. This takes it somewhere fresh for the musicians and translates it to something unique for the audience.”

Tour director Tos Mahoney says the project has evolved since the first west-coast tour in 2008.

“There is a sense of real joining now, of connecting between genres. It is musically more subtle and sophisticated and it has evolved into really quite an avant-garde work.”

Cross-cultural collaboration can be fraught, with lots to lose and little to gain from combining different musical languages. Mahoney says the success of this project lies in the artistic rigour and commitment to longevity.

“What is really amazing is how the project has kept going, and the personal connections the artists have made. It works because there is no intent to make a commercial success or to soften the art to make it more romantic or palatable. The result is a powerful joining that conveys profoundness and emotion.”

The tour will include workshops and collaborations in Djarindjini/Lomadina, One Arm Point, Beagle Bay and Roebourne as well as concerts in Kununurra, Karratha, Exmouth and finally the Perth’s State Theatre on October 29th.

This article copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Haydn's The Seasons

Haydn’s oratorio The Seasons never quite lived up to the success of its predecessor The Creation. It suffers from a prosaic libretto (particularly the English translation) and moments of juvenile word-painting including a bagpipe ‘drone’ in the chorus and frog burps in the orchestra. But it has moments of sheer brilliance too: the breathless choral commentary on the hunt with glorious horn writing; the often quoted Spinning Chorus, and the peasant dance and storm which were predecessors to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. So it was well worth the efforts of the UWA Choral Society to mass the 100-strong choir, soloists and 30-piece orchestra required to present this large-scale piece.

UWA Choral Society, Winthrop Hall

Christopher van Tuinen conducted with assurance, leading from harpsichord for the recitatives. Concertmaster Shaun Lee-Chen led the freelance orchestra with emphatic style, highlighting the light and shade. There were plenty of rousing moments but the most gripping were the more intimate, like the sparse pizzicato raindrops and hushed timpani roll anticipating the summer storm.

Soprano soloist Jennifer Barrington sang with pearly tone and brought a sense of drama to her beautifully sustained lines. Tenor Andrew Sutherland delivered a gleaming “The traveller stands perplexed” but lacked projection at other times. Robert Hofmann’s baritone sounded forced at times but his crisp diction was appreciated in the reverberant Winthrop Hall (a printed libretto would also have been appreciated).

The choir gave a mixed performance. Outstanding moments included the warm, lush “Come, gentle Spring” and the clean, blended men’s chorus in “Now cease the conflicts”. But there was also droopy pitch in the sopranos and messy entries (particularly in the laboriously slow drinking song) which compromised an otherwise worthy performance.

This review copyright The West Australian 2013.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Do conductors matter?

The age-long debate on the importance of the conductor has been put to the test. A New York orchestra set up on a street corner with a sign saying "Conduct Us". The hilarious results were captured in this film:

Ensemble ACJW, a joint venture between New York's Carnegie Hall and The Juilliard School of music, perform Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Isn't it fascinating to watch the changes in the sound as random conductors take to the podium.
Does it make you want to have a go? I think there is a closet conductor in all of us  :-)

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Sound Spectrum is back

For five nights next week Spectrum Project Space at Edith Cowan University will resound with brand new sounds. It is the bi-annual Sound Spectrum festival, featuring the composition staff and students at WAAPA.

Oct 7th-11th
Monday: Ephemeral (Contemporary Dance) & Spatial Music
Tuesday: Graduation Recital Previews
Wednesday: Mass Solar Installation/Performance, Ephemeral & Max/MSP
Thursday: Shock of the New
Friday: Ephemeral, Electro-acoustic Lab & Interactive Dubstep Environment

Spectrum Project Space, Edith Cowan University, 2 Bradford St, Mt Lawley, Building 3, Room 3.191

Friday, 27 September 2013

Etica ensemble

Etica ensemble is showing the tenacity required to survive beyond the ‘honeymoon’ period. In the three years since forming the group has pared back to a more flexible sextet and are currently ensemble–in-residence at the WA Academy of Performing Arts. Their second concert for the year featured American music inspired by the New York Downtown minimalist scene.

David Lang’s Cheating, lying, stealing is one of the better known examples of post-minimalism. The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer used a riff of short percussive notes to drive the piece but lack of precision in the two brake drum parts and a slow tempo choice by conductor Jon Tooby meant the offbeat swagger became a stagger. It was left to Paul Tanner (marimba) and Adam Pinto (piano) to propel the work to its conclusion.

Tanner and Pinto were again a force to be reckoned with in Damaged Goods by Roshanne Etezady, enabling the contrast in textures which was at the core of the work. Heavy piano chords played against light wind solos, sustained notes were the backdrop for a meandering marimba solo, and a repeated pitch was hammered out over a fast walking bass line.
Carlo Boccadoro’s Zingiber began with cow bells and built like a fugue as bass clarinet, cello, violin and piccolo gradually added their lines. Tambourin and a shrill whistle joined the fray and a well-rehearsed cacophony unfolded as the players intently maintained independent streams of notes.

Jennifer Higdon is one of America’s most-performed composers and her work Zaka produced the most interesting ideas of the night. The jolting opening piano chords referenced drum and bass while flute and clarinet zoomed above. Hand cupping on the joints of the clarinet and pencil tapping on strings gave lightness to the texture. An inner section of eerie piano chords, gently melodious string solos and bowed crotales slowed the momentum before a sprint to the finish.

Despite the program of audience-friendly music this concert didn’t have the gutsy impact it could have. Etica’s aim is to provide world-class new music but some more spit and polish was needed on this occasion.

This review copyright the West Australian Newspaper 2013.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Phantom at the Cathedral

St George’s Cathedral resounded with a dark music on Friday night. The cathedral’s pipe organ provided the live sound track to the 1925 silent horror film The Phantom of the Opera.

 The novel concert idea was the brainchild of cathedral organist Joseph Nolan, who has seen similar screenings in the UK. The classic movie (actually the 1929 re-released version was used) with its melodramatic stock gestures and blurred footage was projected on a screen and accompanied by guest Italian organist Giampaolo di Rosa who improvised the entire film score.

Giampaolo Di Rosa

The film is an adaptation of the same Gaston Leroux novel which inspired the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. A phantom manipulates events at the Paris Opera to turn the woman he loves into a star. Christine is wooed to his dungeon lair but eventually escapes with her lover Raoul.

The quintessential gothic cinematography included a massive opera house chandelier which crashed into the audience, an underground lake and torture chambers. Large-scale crowd scenes - including hundreds of ballerinas and a masked ball - showed the groundbreaking scope of the original movie. The famous unmasking scene was still horrifying even in this post-digital era; the Phantom’s fangs, pinned back nostrils and black-ringed eyes were ghastly.


The organ soundtrack was a theatrical triumph. From the tense minor chords in the opening credits to the ear-tingling assault of the coda, Di Rosa delivered a 100 minute tour de force. His improvising was well-paced with events onscreen and his use of pedal notes, chords and scurrying passagework was dramatically convincing. He occasionally painted musical pictures: a descending scale when the clown fell through a trapdoor and swelling cluster chords as the opera house lights mysteriously flickered on and off. But the majority of the improvising was esoteric and atonal, lending a gritty expressionist edge to the vintage film.

The concert was sold out a month in advance showing Perth’s appetite for this kind of value-added concert. Another success for Nolan and the cathedral team, who will conclude their concert series in December with Mozart’s Mass in C minor and Requiem.
This review copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Meet the conductor

WASO's new principal conductor (starting 2014) is in town and his concert on the weekend caused a sensation. Asher Fisch was introduced to the media at a banquet lunch today and the Perth Concert Hall was brimming with excitement.

"I could hear the difference in the orchestra from the first note in the cello section," declared Evan Kennea manager of artistic planning.

CEO Craig Whitehead enthused over Fisch's reputation for Romantic repertoire.

The orchestral players credited him with being a clear communicator and comparisons were made with Simone Young because of his fastidious rehearsal technique and vision for a specific sound and shape.

The ultimate compliment came from a wind player: "At the tea breaks everyone is smiling, there is no moaning - everyone is happy!"

And the feeling appears to be mutual. Fisch described WASO as a diamond. "And if you are someone who likes to polish diamonds - the diamonds in the UK and US are polished to death (there are some in Italy but they are very rough!) - if you hear about a diamond in Perth that is of great value, then you go there."

The Israeli conductor first conducted WASO 14 years ago and says any weaknesses have disappeared as players retired and replacements raised the bar.

"I hear no weaknesses, it is all a very high level. I want to create a profile for this orchestra where people will hear their sound and know this is WASO."

Slowly the enthusiasm began to rub off on me and my concerns about his lack of symphonic experience (see Fisch out of water?) began to fade. Fisch doesn't seem to be under any illusions; he described his arrival at WASO as 'graduating' to a symphonic position after many years as an opera conductor. His 'apprenticeship'  credentials are impressive (he has 85 operas in his repertoire and has done stints with Israeli Opera, Vienna Opera, Seattle Opera) and as a protégé of Daniel Barenboim he is brimming with ideas.

Fisch also seems to have a depth to him that the orchestral players are relishing after the effervescent but one-dimensional Paul Daniel.

However his repertoire is unashamedly 19th century. The 2014 season is packed full of German romantic repertoire: Wagner, Schuman, Schubert and a complete Beethoven symphonic cycle. As far as Fisch is concerned music starts with Haydn.

"I leave anything before that to the Baroque specialists," Fisch says. "And don't ask me to conduct modern music. I have a clear line, I will not conduct Shostakovich or Prokofiev, or Stravinsky."

Shostakovich is modern? Then Schoenberg must be space-age. Fisch's perspective seems limited but his fervour is welcome. In fact he is comfortable with music by his peers and Evan reassures me Fisch is referring to style; the sardonic irony of the 20th century Russian repertoire involves a degree of musical façade which doesn't suit Fisch's approach to communicating musically.

Lets not forget there is a reason the warhorse symphonies are core repertoire. When done with the red-blooded vitality and intellectual candour Fisch promises it could be a sensational year.

 For WASO's full 2014 season brochure go here.

For a  review of Asher's weekend concert go here.

Apologies for the 'selfie' but had to put it in despite the soft focus (poor form for a journalist/photographer Will Yeoman!!).

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Women of Note now has classroom activities!

In twentieth century Australia being a female composer was a dangerous game. One composer was diagnosed as mentally insane by her psychiatrist husband, several achieved success only after their divorces, and for others the only way to get their music published was to lie about their gender. Still, the allure of writing music enticed women from all walks of life.
From the convent and the nappy-change table, women began to compose. Now 25% of Australia’s composers are women, more than almost any other country in the world.

Listen to a selection of compositions at the following YouTube links:
Composer: Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Work: Drama for Orchestra
Composer: Elena Kats-Chernin, Work: Eliza’s Aria
Composer: Cat Hope, Work: In The Cut
Each of the women featured in this book was so passionate about their music that they pursued their goals to the detriment of their personal lives. They were Australian pioneers. Using chapters from the book Women of Note, consider the contribution they have made not only to twentieth-century music but also to the role of women in Australian society.

Download the complete teaching activity.
For school presentations contact the author at rosalindappleby(at)

History Year 10
The Modern World and Australia
Depth study 3: The globalising world Students investigate one major global influence that has shaped Australian society in depth, including the development of the global influence during the twentieth century. Students study ONE of these electives: Popular culture or
The environment movement or Migration experiences.
Popular culture (1945–present)The nature of popular culture in Australia at the end of World War II, including music, film and sport (ACDSEH027)
Australia’s contribution to international popular culture (music, film, television, sport) (ACDSEH123)
Continuity and change in beliefs and values that have influenced the Australian way of life (ACDSEH149)

 Source ACARA v5 2013

 Buy Women of Note                         Women of Note teaching activity

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Totally Huge New Music Festival

The highlight of August is the biennial Totally Huge New Music Festival. This year the festival is something of an extravaganza because it is running alongside the 2013 International Computer Music Conference which is being hosted in Perth. It is worth downloading the program yourself but here are some highlights I have picked out:

·         Festival Opener Friday 9th The Bakery 8pm. Melbourne new music mavericks Speak Percussion make their THNMF return with a set paying homage to British nightclub music from the nineties. They are joined by Japanese sonic artist Haco and avant-garde doom metal group Barn Owl.

·         Michael Kieran Harvey Sunday 11th Government House Ballroom 3pm. Australia’s most provocative and exciting pianist in a concert of solo piano music that includes his own Psychosonata.

·         Club Huge 11th-15th  The Bakery 9:30pm onwards: Drop in at the festival nightclub and unwind with music curated by Sam Gillies and featuring live laptop, ambient and beats artists.

·         ICMC Concert Series Perth Cultural Centre various locations. Guitar, piano and cello interact with electronics in a series of three conference concerts. Surround Sound Events and Installations featuring electronic composers from around the world will also be in operation, the extensive program is available online.

·         Latitude Series: 14th & 17th Astor Theatre, 8pm. The WA Symphony Orchestra present two hip concerts featuring music by local composers Jared Yapp and Lachlan Skipworth. Also a Radiohead-inspired piece by the popular Steve Reich and a concerto for electric violin by Nico Muhly.

·         THNMF in Fremantle 17th & 18th Victoria Quay, 3pm. The heritage B Shed will resonate like never before in two free concerts by experimental music legend Alvin Curran. 35 musicians will perform the choreographed BEAMS and sampled ship sounds will fill the port in Maritime Rites.



Totally Huge New Music Festival August 9th-18th

More details


Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Alvin Curran composer in residence

As a child Alvin Curran would stay up late listening to the ship horns outside his bedroom window in the port town of Providence, Rhode Island. But instead of thinking of Moby Dick he dreamed of making music with the sounds. Curran is now renowned as one of America’s most eclectic composers. Based in Italy he continues to draw on sounds from the natural world in his compositions. Curran is composer-in-residence for the Totally Huge New MusicFestival (August 9th-18th) and several of his pieces will be performed across the ten-day new music extravaganza.

“Anything that is resonant is my instrument,” explains Curran. “It could be a primitive ram’s horn, electronics, walking through puddles or the sound of a thousand tubas. It is not a mash up or a remix, it has evolved out of my own DNA.”

Curran’s broad approach to contemporary classical music perfectly suits the experimental festival which is masterminded by the all-embracing Tura New Music. The headline artists include Italian electronics composer Agostino Di Scipio, Japanese deconstructed pop artist Haco, UK’s David Toop, Australia’s figurehead of experimental music Warren Burt, Robin Fox, Michael Kieran Harvey and ensembles Speak Percussion, Decibel and Clocked Out Duo.

The impressive list of international artists is thanks in part to the International Computer Music Conference which is being held in Perth this year. The conference is the pre-eminent annual gathering for computer music practitioners from around the world and is expected to attract hundreds of international artists to Perth during August.

Over the course of his career Curran – who is one of the keynote speakers at the conference - has witnessed the overwhelming impact the electronics and computer music has made on music culture.

“I have bridged nearly fifty years in electronic music making from the early synthesiser and tape to this brave new world of digital electronics. You know, I’m sick of learning new machines,” he laughs.

He believes electronics has become the meeting place of popular and unpopular (experimental) music and is forming a new musical genre. Curran’s keynote address for the conference will explore the history of electronics and make some daring predictions about the future.

“Soon there will be internet concert halls and microchip enhancement of musicians,” he says. “I’m serious!”

And Curran could well be the one to make it happen. His latest commission is a double piano concerto which draws on music contributed form the iPhones of people in the audience. Curran’s extensive catalogue of works defies categorisation and includes pieces for radio, solo works, large scale choreographed pieces, sound installations and theatre works.

Yet for all his eclecticism Curran’s entry into music making was fairly traditional. He played trombone in jazz bands and studied composition at Yale School of Music with Elliott Carter. He then moved his base to Europe and ended up co-founding, with Frederic Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum, the radical collective Musica Elettronica Viva. He counts as colleagues people like John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, Earl Brown, Milton Babbit, Steve Reich, Morton Feldman, Robert Moog, La Monte Young and Giacinto Scelsi.

Curran has had several teaching posts around the world but he and his wife have remained based in Rome where Curran’s rooftop vegetable garden overlooks the Colosseum.

“Culturally, politically and economically Italy has been in a continuous and dangerous slide for the last 25 years. But I don’t have anything to lose anymore, I’ve done my career. And this city has been here 2000 years which gives a sense of permanence to the chaos and change.”

These days when he composes Curran’s inspiration comes from simply being alive and having work to do.

“I want to continue making music that makes me happy and that others can enjoy. Music can transport you; it’s like a transport system.” He continues the analogy with a chuckle: “You pay a ticket and get on and if it’s good you go with it. That’s what I do, I transport people and things!”

He has written a piece for Decibel ensemble which he describes as Alvin Curran minimalism, “a kind of virtuoso chamber piece”. Way Out Back will be premiered Sunday 11th August at Hacket Hall alongside works by other ICMC keynote speakers.

Curran is a keen exponent of taking music out of the concert hall and performances of two of his works will take place at Victoria Quay, Fremantle in the final weekend of the festival. BEAMS (2005) is Curran at his most avant-garde and requires 35 musicians, a chorus, basketballs, bass drums and metal objects.

“This piece is a form of provocation that leads to delight,” Curran says mysteriously. “For example the instrumentalists have to roll on the floor while playing. It is written in the spirit of randomness and pure fun and invites the public to be part of it.”

Maritime Rites is an iconic outdoor piece which has been performed in rivers, lakes and ports around the world since it was first created in 1979. The Fremantle version will feature Curran performing a sixty minute midi-keyboard improvisation in the Victoria Quay B Shed. He has also requested a ‘sail by’ of a rock band on a boat. Curran will be drawing on thousands of digital samples of ship horns, signal bells and other related sounds including recordings of the ship horns outside his bedroom window that first inspired him all those years ago.


Totally Huge New Music Festival August 9th-18th

More details


Monday, 22 July 2013

Gender Inbalance: it just won't go away

An article in the New York Times is generating debate about the nagging issue of gender imbalance among composers. The issue just won't go away and, as I discovered while researching Women of Note, composers have many different responses.

In the article below American composer Kristin Kuster describes how her perspective on feminism has changed.

I found it interesting that the statistics for women are much more dire in the US. We have a higher percentage of women composers in Australia and they are better represented in university departments. Something to celebrate? Read on and enter the debate for yourself:

Taking Off My Pants

 by Kristin Kuster, The New York Times
July 17 2013 
The Season of My Denial and Evasion lasted nearly two decades — from the age of 18 to 36. During this season, I wore pants for premieres of my music, while performing as a pianist and teaching, for all important composerly things. I hated the “What’s it like to be a woman composer” question at pre-concert talks, on panels and in interviews. If I couldn’t evade this question, I rattled off something dismissive: How could I possibly know any different? That’s like asking me what if I had grown up in Alaska. I refused to enter any competitions exclusively for female composers or to have my music presented at women-only concerts.
I learned this attitude. I learned it from a handful of female composers 5 to 10 years my senior. They believed that talking about our gender in relation to our work would perpetuate the distinction between male and female composers, and therefore pave right over all the ground we had gained in our efforts to break through the gender normative white-male hegemony that is this field.
O.K. I agreed, and for years I perpetuated a non-perpetuation of gender distinction. Today, I vehemently disagree with the notion that if we stop talking about something, it ceases to exist. Today, I believe we must cast a spotlight on facts and evidence that illuminate the gender imbalance of composers with visibly active presences in our field.

read the rest of the article here

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Decibel at PICA

How to cover eight brand new pieces of music in one review? A happy dilemma.
CONCERT REVIEW The West Australian Newspaper
July 8th 2013
Eight West Australian composers, six musicians, one room, and one mandate: the music must include electronics. The result was a fascinating concert that featured jazz composers, WAAPA graduates and seasoned electronics composers, revealing the breadth of creativity in the local new music scene.

Brad Serls

Decibel was ensemble in residence for two weeks at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art which allowed composers to attend rehearsals and incorporate the distinctive reverb of the performance space into the music.

Henry Anderson’s Resident Frequencies ‘introduced’ the performance space with a composition that responded to a recording of the ‘sound’ of the room. The resonant frequencies were layered to create an electronic hum while the ensemble of flute, bass clarinet, violin cello and percussion picked out pitches to mimic the recording.

The distinct rhythmic groove in Johannes Luebbers work The past is never far behind contrasted with a section of free improvisation. Luebbers utilised computer software to create electronic ‘responses’ to the live sounds, resulting in a fairly dense electro-acoustic ensemble sound.

Stuart James’ N-dimension was more free-form and the performers used ear pieces to maintain independent tempos. Snippets of instrumental sounds were refracted between the surround-sound speakers creating the effect of chaotic multi-layering.

The political overtones in Lindsay Vickery’s Silent Revolution and Rachael Dease’s The Perils of Obedience came from images projected on the wall. Footage of waste dumps and psychology experiments literally shaped the scores and musical responses of the respective pieces, creating macabre, decaying soundworlds.

In Chris Tonkin’s Rapid Same Question the crackles and beeps of computer sounds dialogued with the instruments with orchestral precision. The seamless integration continued to the end where the hum of a wine glass blended with the gentle whine of electronic overtones.

Cat Hope’s The Lowest Drawer continued her exploration of the bottom end of the sound spectrum with a ponderous decline in pitch from bass flute, bass clarinet and bass drum contrasting with the ringing almost irritating brightness of a sine wave pitch.

Sam Gillies’ The Aura Implicit was a stimulating contrast. Electronic static was joined by lively instrumental sounds which ricocheted between the speakers and to create a busy soundscape. 

The two well-attended concerts on the weekend demonstrated what many of us already know: Decibel has become a vital institution in the generation and performance of new music in WA.

This review copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013






Monday, 8 July 2013

Music Monday July

It is mid-winter and finally chilly in Perth. I'm looking forward to a lusty Don Giovanni (WA Opera) to stir the blood. The season runs July 16-23 at Perth Concert Hall and stars Teddy Tahu Rhodes in the role that really made him (and his bare chest) famous.

 Jian Wang (cello) and Bernadette Harvey (piano) are touring Australia with a beautiful recital program which arrives in Perth Thursday (11th),
On Saturday (13th) Beethoven's Ninth is being performed by the WA Youth Orchestra and UWA Choral Society. I'm a little over this work - WASO have done it twice recently - but I have to admit it will be exciting for the young musicians to perform such a monster piece.

On Friday 19th July the WA Symphony Orchestra celebrate the West End with David Shannon (think Phantom, Les Mis).

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Music Monday June 2

WASO's new movie concerts are proving a huge success. This weekend (Friday and Saturday nights)the orchestra will perform the soundtrack to Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The St George's Cathedral choir will provide the Elvish voices. My mum is going to this so it must be good!

On Sunday 23rd June the Darlington Chamber Series continues with Brahms  Piano Quartet in G minor and  Dohnanyi's Serenade in C. Graeme Gilling is on piano with WASO string players.

WA Opera will profile its emerging artists on Wednesday 26th June with their Morning Melodies concert at His Majesty's Theatre. The program of favourite arias will draw a crowd. Perfect for retirees and those who like soup and sandwiches after a concert on a chilly winter morning.
June 28th and 29th is the top pick for me this fortnight. WASO clarinet player Allan Meyer will perform Copland's jazz inflected Clarinet Concerto with the orchestra. The pleasant program is rounded out with Beethoven's Coriolan overture and Symphony No 4. And yes mum is coming to this one too! 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Denis Kozhukhin

Life changed for pianist Denis Kozhukhin in 2010 when he won the Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition in Brussels and was catapulted into the hectic world of international touring.

This weekend the 26-year-old will perform with the WA Symphony Orchestra as part of a month-long tour that includes Adelaide and Japan. It's an exhausting schedule but Kozhukhin wouldn't have it any other way. "Being a musician is not a profession, it is a style of life. It is consuming but it is a rich life and being able to share the music is special," he says.

The Russian pianist says there was no magic formula for winning the competition that launched his career, just a lot of time, nerves and adrenaline.

"It was the result of everything I had worked on the year before. Competition is mental agony because the stress is so high. If you don't know how to control your nerves it is very difficult."
Kozhukhin was born into a family of musicians and schooled in traditional Russian piano technique, initially from his mother, from the age of four. He attended the Balakirev School of Music (founded by his father) and continued his studies with Dimitri Bashkirov.

"Those years were wonderful," he says. "They were the golden years of piano teaching in Russia when there was a concentration of great talent, masters who spent their life giving to their students. It was not just about technique but the way you make the sound."

Kozhukhin's Russian polish will be on display with WASO when he performs the third piano concerto by his compatriot Prokofiev. The high-energy concerto is Prokofiev's most optimistic and lyrical, with melodies in the slow movement depicting the endless Russian horizon.

"Here Prokofiev is full of life. The last movement is extremely powerful and energetic, it rolls faster and faster and it doesn't end it just explodes. The audience will have the experience of touching something young, pure, energetic and kinaesthetic," Kozhukhin says. It is also technically challenging, a reminder of why Prokofiev was called the pianist with the iron finger.

"Prokofiev's technique was very percussive. There is lots of syncopation in the third movement and the bar line feels like it is moving. It is very important to listen to the orchestra; I have to have a little conductor inside myself."

Kozhukhin will also perform a solo concert on Monday as part of WASO's new international recital series. On the program is Prokofiev's Sixth Piano Sonata, one of 10 sonatas considered to be the most demanding music written for piano. Kozhukhin recently performed the complete sonatas in Tokyo and London and his debut recording with Onyx Classics with the same repertoire received a five-star review in BBC Music Magazine.

He describes the sixth sonata as an important historical document. It is one of Prokofiev's three War Sonatas written in 1940 in response to Stalin's reign of terror.

"It is brutal physically and emotionally; it takes something from me every time. The War Sonatas are related to a historical event about my country and its suffering. People should know this, it is an important document." The recital also includes works by Haydn, Franck, Schubert and Wagner's arrangement of Liszt's Tannhauser Overture.

Denis Kozhukhin performs with WASO at Perth Concert Hall on Friday and Saturday nights. He will give a solo recital at Government House Ballroom on Monday night.

This article copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013.