Saturday, 13 December 2014

Unsilent Night

A group of boombox fanatics are putting an avant garde spin on the Christmas carol tradition this weekend. The Guardian reported thousands of people from New York to San Francisco will be walking through city centres with vintage boombox cassette players on their shoulders playing an ethereal sound track of bells and chants.

The idea began when composer Phil Kline turned his boombox orchestra into a mobile phenomenon. Kline has been designing pieces for tape recorders since the eighties and in 1992 developed a 45 minute piece for Christmas carolling. Participants in Unsilent Night have a choice of four cassettes. They press play at the same time and then begin to wander the streets with their alternative Christmas music.

The concept has grown from 24 people to thousands. Many now use a smartphone app rather than the original boom box.

It's a pretty fun communal celebration of the music and mystery of Christmas night.

There have been versions in Sydney and Melbourne; do you think it would take off in Perth? 

Friday, 5 December 2014

Soiree Society

This week I had my final soiree for the year. The Soirees have been such a fun way to introduce people to the composers and music in Women of Note. Each soiree has had its own unique flavour: a birthday party, a wintry mulled wine soiree and this week a champagne and cupcake extravaganza at the home of John and Marcia.

Responses to my presentation were enthusiastic and somewhat surprised. From "I didn't know any of that, it was so interesting!" to "I've always loved Philip Glass, now I'll have to listen to some Elena Kats-Chernin." There was lots of laughter, conversation and intent listening to music ranging from the pastoral (Becky Llewellyn's Berceuse), popular (Elena Kats-Chernin's Eliza's Aria) and punk (Cat Hope's Corridors of Pain). People also expressed concern at the struggles and oppression some of the women composers faced in their careers. It certainly generated avid discussion afterwards.

Marcia - most generous of hosts

A huge thank you to my hosts throughout the year for your enthusiasm for Women of Note and your generous hospitality.

Long live the music!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

St Georges' Cathedral Consort in Fremantle

 It is rare to hear the St Georges’ Cathedral Consort outside its cathedral home and singing secular repertoire. The Fremantle Arts Centre courtyard’s relaxed setting was an inspired choice and an icy wind didn’t keep away the sell-out crowd. In fact the wind caused barely a rustle in the intimate courtyard and the choir’s renowned technique was beautifully showcased across a program of Negro spirituals, popular classics and madrigals.

Fremantle Arts Centre

Mozart’s Laudate Dominum might be familiar territory for cathedral singers but The Lion Sleeps Tonight certainly isn’t. The 16-voice choir pulled off the African classic convincingly with tenors and basses chanting ‘Awimbawe’ while countertenor Adam Boyt crooned the lullaby over the top. Tippett’s Five Negro Spirituals was equally successful with resonant pedal notes from bass singers, a warm broadening of vibrato and thankfully no over-exuberant ‘ethnic’ appropriations. 

St Geroges' Cathedral Consort

I’d hazard a guess that this choir could make anything sound good, but conductor Joseph Nolan has a knack for sourcing outstanding repertoire and arrangements. Guest soloist Sara Macliver mellowed her silvery soprano for a Barbershop-style arrangement of Summertime and a hushed Somewhere Over the Rainbow. In Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer she sang with sweet pleading while the choir delivered the dramatic extremes of the accompaniment. Nolan led from an electronic keyboard - a sad substitute for a pipe organ – in an immaculate performance. A moment of exquisite beauty was provided by Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium. The American composer, described by Nolan as ‘like Rutter but better’, would have been delighted to hear his restful melodies sung with such delicate purity.

Sara Macliver

Three 17th century madrigals (by Bennett, Gibbons and Dowland) were sung by just 10 singers and sounded exposed in the open-air venue. It made an underwhelming start to the concert, the only weak point in the program.

Macliver compered the concert and included a revealing interview with Nolan whose ambition has been driving the choir to great success since its formation in 2008. This was a rare opportunity to hear the group and its leader up close and personal.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Betty Beath on Victims of War

While the federal government debates whether to send Australia troops to fight IS in the middle east our composers and artists are also engaging the issue.

Brisbane composer Betty Beath's iconic work Lament for Victims of War has just been re-created for YouTube, with paintings and drawings by artist David Cox. The heart-aching work speaks as deeply as it did when it was written in 1999 in response to the Kosovo conflict. The performance here is by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Toshiyuki Shimada.

The work has a directness and pathos similar to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, but
with Betty’s distinctive and unexpected pentatonic twists (Indonesian harmonic language pervades all her music). A doleful melody pregnant with repeated notes is interrupted by passages of heavy bowing and dark energy. Sobbing string phrases are cut short at just four notes and each phrase reaches higher and higher towards an anguished climax.

Betty says "(Since the Kosovo conflict) we have witnessed the horror of more and more innocent victims of war, people of many, many races and religions who are forced to endure hardships that we can hardly imagine. David Cox has illustrated this video in response to the music. He too is filled with repugnance at the violence that causes so much suffering across the world and hopes that his paintings express some of that anger and sorrow."

The Lament has been performed in many countries in both its forms - for piano, mandolin orchestra or string orchestra. It's next 'outing' will be December 6th at the Vienna Concerthouse. The Frauen-Kamemrorchester von Osterreich Vienna have programmed the work in a concert dedicated to the life and work of Bertha von Suttner, the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Betty says, "It is an honour that the piece will be performed in this program which also features works by Nancy Van de Vate, Honegger and Shostakovich."

Betty Beath

It is a fitting recognition of this distinguished Australian composer, who will be celebrating her 81st birthday on Wednesday (19th December).

Betty's 80th birthday was celebrated on Noted last year in Happy Birthday Betty Beath and more information on her can be found on an earlier post on her work Transience.

Betty is one of the trailblazing composers featured in my book Women of Note.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Il Trovatore

At one moment during the opening night of Il Trovatore there was as much noise coming from the audience as from the stage. In Act Three Manrico roused his band of gypsy fighters to rescue his mother from execution and the West Australian Opera male chorus flooded His Majesty’s Theatre with hot-blooded singing. The audience reacted with an equally zealous shout of approval.

The pursuit of vengeance drives Verdi’s Il Trovatore relentlessly. We are introduced to the theme in the first scene as soldiers are spooked by the story of a gypsy woman burned to death who was avenged when her daughter tossed the Count di Luna’s brother into the fire. The story gets more sordid as we hear the daughter Azucena’s version: in her distress Azucena accidently threw her own baby into the fire. She brought up Manrico as her son instead and he promises to avenge her. Enter Leonora, the love interest of both Manrico and the Count di Luna, and the opera begins to really explode with emotions.

Azucena (Elizabeth Campbell) demands revenge from
 Manrico (Rosario La Spina)

Elke Neidhardt's 2007 production (revived by Matthew Barclay) gives political clout to the action by relocating it from 15th century Spain to the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s. Set designer Michael Scott-Mitchell’s penchant for the spectacular is evident in gallon drums of real fire, an onstage army vehicle and in the final act an elevated prison cage flooded with glaring fluorescent light (Nick Schlieper) as a stark symbol of the entrapment resulting from vengeance.

The famous Anvil Chorus is set in the aftermath of a battle scene and sung by the soldiers rather than the gypsies as they load bodies into the vehicle and assault the gypsy women. There are no anvils but the revenge theme is hammered in deeply.

Soldiers ravage the gypsy women during the Anvil Chorus

Neidhardt also highlights the humour: the love struck Leonora is teased playfully by Ines and newly enlisted soldiers enact ‘the full monty’ as they exchange their civvies for army uniform.

Soldier's enact 'the full monty'

American soprano Jennifer Rowley sang Leonora’s impossibly long phrases with unhurried beauty, revealing a glorious top end as she evolved from sensual girl to grimly resolute lover. She was well-matched by Rosario La Spina who seems to grow ever more resplendent. His Manrico was every inch the troubadour and he navigated the extremes of ‘Ah si, ben mio’ and ‘Di quella pira’ as though the role were written for him.

La Spina sings 'Ah si, ben mio' to Leonora (Jennifer Rowley)
as Ines (Fiona Campbell) watches.

James Clayton’s whole-hearted commitment painted a villainous Count di Luna even while his voice lacked the sonority of a Verdi baritone. Elizabeth Campbell was a tormented Azucena, exploiting the conflicting roles of loving mother and vengeful daughter. Fiona Campbell was an expressive Ines and David Parkin a stoic Ferrando.

The company’s artistic director Joseph Colaneri led the WA Symphony Orchestra in a vivid account of Verdi’s score always closely connected to the singers. Colaneri and head of chorus Joseph Nolan have been a revitalising combination and it is unfortunate this is the last season with the company for both of them. It is worth a ticket to Il Trovatore to witness the vocal and instrumental freshness they bring to this production. WA Opera must consider how to better retain artists of this talent. 

This review copyright The West Australian 2014.

Friday, 31 October 2014

November Gig Guide

A mouse will find himself inside the Perth Concert Hall this Sunday. His name is Maximus Musicus, and his adventure will be narrated by Stephen Fry and the WA Symphony Orchestra with help I'm sure from the hundreds of enthralled children in the audience.

In a slightly different realm WASO will also accompany Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova (familiar from a visit with the ACO in 2008) performing Sibelius's concerto on the 14th & 15th plus deliver timeless classics from the movies on November 21st & 22nd conducted by film music legend Richard Kaufmann. The orchestra's busy month (they are also performing in the pit for Il Trovatore which finishes its season on the 8th) concludes with two chamber music concerts of Serenades on the 28th & 30th and will be accompanying pop artist Ben Folds on the 28th & 29th.

Violinist Ray Chen and pianist Timothy Young tour with Musica Viva on 6th November and the Australian String Quartet will bring Sculthorpe, Stanhope and Mendelssohn with them on November 10th.

The St George's Cathedral Consort are escaping the cathedral for an open air concert (summer must be nearly here!) at the Fremantle Arts Centre with Sara Macliver on the 13th. Also in Fremantle Roland Brand will perform Beethoven's Emperor Concerto with the Fremantle Symphony Orchestra on Nov 23rd. 

For something with a twist check out Michael Schumaer performing his Dans Le Jardin series with cellist Alex Waterman, referencing the music of J.S. Bach. They will perform in the courtyard of the State Theatre Centre on 28th & 29th November as part of the Mini Move Me Improvisation Festival.

Monday, 27 October 2014

UWA Hackett Concert

Audience members sat on beanbags reading their programs by phone light in the Hackett Ensemble’s latest concert. The semi-darkness was filtered by soft red and blue lighting and in the gaps between performances mellow DJ music filled the room. It was a calming way to begin the weekend and it the performers seemed relaxed too.

The original "Dream House", New York

Music students from the University of Western Australia had set up the Calloway Auditorium as a Dream House, named after the loft where La Monte Young and other New York artists perform music 24 hours a day. In the spirit of the Dream House the audience were invited to arrive and leave at their own discretion. Of course they didn’t, instead sitting politely throughout the duration which was easy to do because the performers were mostly excellent.

Philip Glass’s early work Strung Out (1967) was performed with hypnotically smooth tone by violinist Andrew Ngooi. Two pieces from the eighties continued the minimalist th
eme: Glass’s Facades, performed rather laboriously by string quartet and two saxophones, and an inspiring rendition of Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint for clarinet and pre-recorded tape by Ben Power. Michael Lowenstein’s more recent Ten Children No 4 (2013) was built around charming melodies in the bass clarinet (played sweetly by Blake Howieson) echoed moments later on tape.

Eduardo Cossio, a composition student from the WA Academy of Performing Arts, conducted his own work Music For Oswaldo, an energetic and good humoured instrumental piece combining minimalist ideas with dance music from Peru.

The night concluded with an improvisation from the multi-talented Ben Power, who also coordinated the concert. Power performed barefoot using a pedal rig to add a wash of electronic effects to his clarinet twiddles and groans. His engaging improvisation ended after just minutes – I was hoping for at least a few hours in true Dream House style. None of the other performers ventured far beyond traditional performance conventions either, unlike Young whose practice questions the definition of music and often involves performance art. A missed opportunity in an otherwise satisfying concert.

This review copyright The West Australian newspaper 2014

Friday, 17 October 2014

Beaufort Street Books Soiree

Unfortunately this event has been postponed until next year. I will keep you posted with details as soon as I have been informed of the next date.

Beaufort Street Books is the perfect place for a Soiree.

 The store is cosy and inviting and I know I will feel confident surrounded with wall to wall books! The staff are just as excited as me and they have even organised a local female wine presenter who will be hosting some free wine tasting.

BSB is a bookstore that has become the hub of a community. If you haven't checked it out you MUST - pop in for Saturday Yoga, or a movie night or some literary speed dating! There is so much going on her. Even better come to their Literary Lounge Tuesday 21st October to hear me share the music and stories from Women of Note while you enjoy some wine!

Go to the Literary Lounge website for details or call 08 61427996 to reserve your place. Events often sell out so be quick!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Invitation to TANGO

"If we are lucky in life we experience a few extraordinarily wonderful things," says Perth luthier Graham Hawkes. He has just produced an album of new Australian guitar music and is quietly proud of its significance.

Graham Hawkes

Album cover: Invitation to Tango

"All the contributors to this recording were unhesitating and positive in their response to my request for a couple of new tangos. It took awhile to gather the courage to ask them but I think age strengthened my resolve. The result is a splendid recording of 14 new tangos for guitar."

Graham is a guitar enthusiast who has dedicated his retirement to perfecting his skills as a guitar maker. The tango is one of Graham's favourite styles of music and gets regular air time on Plucked Strings, the radio program he hosts on RTRFM 92.1. Graham's enthusiasm for the dance has been constrained only by the limited amount of tango repertoire for guitar. So with the quiet determination he went about commissioning an album of new tangos for the guitar.

Rosette with Aboriginal inspired decoration (G. Hawkes)
cedar soundboard (G Hawkes)

The Australian composers featured on the album are Alan Banks, Philip Bracanin, Rohan Jayasinghe, Krzystof Piotrowicz, Ruth Roshan, Mardae Selepak, Owen Thomson and Mark Viggiani. The compositions reflect the diverse backgrounds of the composers making a compelling mix. The technical flamboyance of Alan Banks' free improvisation, the sunny warmth of Ruth Roshan's mandolin, the stillness of Owen Thomson's Midnight Tango and the luxurious Russian Romani sound of Krzystof Piotrowicz are some of the stand outs.

Composers and performers featured in Invitation to Tango

The recordings are high quality made by the composers themselves supplemented by guitarists Tania Ravbar Constantino and Stephanie Jones and clarinettist Catherine Cahill.

Hooray for an all-Australian album of such great quality. Invitation to TANGO can be sampled here and purchased from Paypal for $15.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Gig Guide October

I like the idea of music being a language.
In the Liquid Architecture concert this week international sound artists Alessandro Bosett, Makiko Yamamoto, Id M Theft Able examine the point at which language becomes music and music becomes a language. October 6th at PICA Main Gallery Space.

Also on the 6th the Borodin String Quartet return to Perth with Musica Viva, performing Shostakovich and Beethoven at the Perth Concert Hall.

On October 14th the WA Symphony Orchestra are trialling an unusual project called The Rusty Orchestra which gives amateur players the experience of working alongside professionals and preparing a concert. WASO's other standard concerts this month include the world premiere of Carl Vine's Concerto for orchestra and Michael Collins in Mozart's Clarinet Concerto on Oct 10/11th. A concert of Liszt featuring Piers Lane is on the 17th/18th and at the end of the month the orchestra will be in the pit for the WA Opera's Il Trovatore, which opens Oct 30th.

The WA Academy of Performing Arts is also presenting an opera this month; Hansel and Gretel opens on the 11th October. And on October 30th Geoffrey Lancaster, whom I remember as an inspired early music lecturer and fiery fortepianist, will give an all-Mozart recital at WAAPA.

On October 24th the University of Western Australia's new music group Ensemble Hackett will be performing works for solo instruments in unusual locations around UWA, in a program aptly titled 'Wandering'.

On October 29th the Australian Chamber Orchestra will perform an all-Beethoven program including Beethoven's Triple Concerto.