Saturday, 30 September 2017

You have missed the October Gig Guide


My website has been upgraded. The Gig Guide and all other posts are now being published at: 

https://rosalindappleby.com

Come check out the new site - it has all the archives plus new pages for Kidsarts, Women of Note and more. You will need to subscribe/follow to stay up to date. The first 10 subscribers will go in the draw to win tickets to Freeze Frame Opera!

See you soon at rosalindappleby.com 




Thursday, 28 September 2017

Noted has moved

My new website has officially launched over at:


You will find old favourites like the Gig Guide plus exciting new pages on Kidzarts and Women of Note. I'm hoping the new site will help me provide even better coverage of the Perth arts scene for you.

My vision is for arts journalism that both champions and critiques the arts, building a thriving local arts scene. Come and check it out and let me know what you think!

The first 10 followers/subscribers will go in the draw to win tickets to Freeze Frame Opera's next production!

This version of Noted is now obsolete and I will no longer be posting here. Make sure you head to https://rosalindappleby.com and follow the new site so you can stay up to date.





Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Sneak Preview

I couldn't resist leaking a sneak preview of my new website, which I will be launching on Thursday.



I've been working on this site for ages now and have nearly finished tweaking the final changes. I thought it would be fun to release it in my birthday week as a present to me and to you!

My aim is to help build a thriving arts scene in Perth and Australia through my music journalism and I needed a better site to do this. The current Noted has been going strong for five years and attracting over 10 00 views a month but it is time for an upgrade. You will still see the popular features from the old site including the Gig Guide and Celebrity Soft Spot, plus some new special features!

Watch this space on Thursday for the link to the new site and a fun subscription deal :-)

Photo by Nikhita Singhal on Unsplash



Saturday, 23 September 2017

I need your help!

Hi everyone. I am getting a bit personal here because times are changing and music journalism is changing too. I have an exciting announcement:

I'm about to launch a new website!

I am in the process of designing a new website to meet the changing needs of arts journalism in Western Australia. I'd appreciate your thoughts on what this might look like. This is your chance to shape the face of music journalism in Perth!



A year ago I posted a blog on The Future of Journalism. Since then:

  •  The West Australian newspaper has taken over the Sunday Times, foreshadowing the changes in media ownership laws which were passed in the Senate just last week allowing greater monopoly in the Australian media industry. 
  • The arts pages in the West Australian have covered far less of the WA arts scene and often used non-specialist writers. Last month OperaBox's entire opera season of Manon passed without a review from any of the local press.
  • Other media organisations have stepped up their coverage of WA in small ways: the Australian Book Review and more notably Limelight magazine have been publishing more reviews from Perth.
  • The online Perth Arts Live has folded and a new arts site SeeSaw Magazine has launched.
  • The national Senate has launched an inquiry into the Future of Public Interest Journalism. A hearing was held in May and findings will be passed down on 7th December.
I've had the opportunity to rethink the way I contribute to the arts scene. Perth has a thriving arts scene and I am more convinced than ever that I want to be part of the debate, to be known as someone who champions the WA arts scene. I've enjoyed new opportunities as a public speaker as well as expanding my writing to The Guardian, Limelight, ABR and The Australian newspaper. 

Despite this I've lost a lot of income and done more work for free than I would've liked. And I've been saddened to watch the media coverage of the arts continue to shrink. Which has led me to this exciting period of developing a new website. This is where I want to hear from you:

What do you look for in conversations about the arts? 
What would you be interested in hearing about? 
What format works for you: podcast, listicle, reviews, interviews?

One of the benefits of the huge media shakeup is there are now so many different ways to do journalism. What do you think are the best ways to do music journalism? The best ways to document, critique and champion classical music and its practitioners?

Please post comments below or contact me at rosalindappleby(at)gmail.com

Your suggestions will be part of the new version of Noted, coming very soon!






Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Clarinotts - Ernst Ottensamer's life of music

This review of the Clarinotts album was originally published by Ozarts Review and has been republished here in honour of the great Viennese clarinettist Ernst Ottensamer who died in July 2017.

***

“We have totally freedom,” said Andreas Ottensamer, youngest member of The Clarinotts“We know what our partners will do a millisecond before they do it. It’s a luxury you’ll rarely have with any other ensemble”

This incredible cohesion  is what struck me on a ‘blind’ listen to the Clarinotts album; that and the uncannily similar sound quality of the three clarinettists. It made sense when I had a closer look at the performers and realised this was Ernst Ottensamer playing with his sons, the famous Viennese ‘Royal Family of the Clarinet’.

Daniel, Andreas  and Ernst Ottensamer from the Clarinotts

Ernst Ottensamer is being mourned around the world after dying tragically of a heart attack on 22nd July, aged 62. Ernst was principal clarinettist at the Wiener Phiharmonic from 1983 and founding member of the Wiener Blaserensemble and Wiener Virtuosen.

Ernst inspired a generation of clarinettists around the world, including his own children. His eldest son Daniel Ottensamer became co-principal clarinettist with the Vienna Philharmonic alongside his father, and his youngest son Andreas Ottensamer is principal clarinettist of the Berlin Philharmonic. Together the three of them formed the Clarinotts, releasing their first album appeared in 2009 and their second album in 2016. 

 The 2016 self-titled album opens with Mendelssohn’s sparkling Concert Piece for Clarinet, Basset Horn and Orchestra No 1. The brilliant duet was composed rather appropriately for the father-son duo of Heinrich and Carl Baermann. It is full of dazzling operatic writing and I was struck by the warm, full-bodied sound of the basset horn and clarinet and the driving energy in their playing.

The album’s repertoire traces Ernst’s career trajectory including his time in the pit of the Vienna State Opera with works like the trio Soave sia il vento from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte and the Fantasy on themes from Verdi’s Rigoletto by Franz and Karl Doppler. Dance works also get a look in with Rossisni’s La danza quoting from the overture to William Tell and the sentimental French-style waltz of Cantilene from Francaix’s Petit Quatuor.

Ponchielli’s Il Convegno had both sweetness and fire. Andreas and Daniel duetted with incredible precision, their virtuosic runs, flourishes and dramatic rubato perfectly synchronised.

As you would expect this is an album of great finesse and class, accompanied by none other than the Wiener Virtuosen – an ensemble made up of the section principals of the Vienna Philharmonic. They are certainly the best players for the romantic/early 20th century repertoire that dominates the first half of the album. I admit to presuming the album would remain in this romantic/early 20th century repertoire and was pleasantly surprised to find some 21st century works included at the end.

Bela Koreny’s Cinema I is based on the plot of Paul Verhoeven’s film Basic Instinct and you can feel the intrigues and the tension in Ernst’s spooky bass clarinet and the wails of Andreas and Daniel over the top, accompanied by the Wiener Virtuosen with Christoph Traxler on piano. The bossa nova tune Morning of the Carnival by Luiz bonfa was another contrast; slick and sultry.



A comment for clarinet nerds: check out the almost inaudible articulation from all three. It sounds like diaphragm articulation but it has the even attack of tonguing, generating sublimely clean playing.

The richness of this album is the synergy of three virtuosic clarinettists who really do seem to be of one mind – it sounds like one person multi-tracking!  But what makes it really gripping listening is the energy and emotion the Ottensamer family bring to their music making – they really pull out all the stops in Olivier Truan’s unaccompanied trio The Chase and it’s an exhilarating conclusion to the album. Turns out it is also a fitting final bow from Ernst Ottensamer; a testimony to a life spent sharing music with excellence and passion.


Mercury Classics/Deutsche Grammophon                                                          
released 2016                                                                                                                  
0289 481 1917 2




Saturday, 16 September 2017

The Great Gatsby ballet captures superficial beauty of the Jazz Age

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic coming of age novel The Great Gatsby portrays the Jazz Age in vignettes rich with imagery. The story has since been re-imagined by film makers and in 2013 by Northern Ballet director David Nixon. The lavish parties and iconic music of 1920’s America makes it an appealing genre to set to ballet and Nixon’s production captures the decadence and superficiality to perfection. The ballet was given its Australian premiere last night by the West Australian Ballet as part of artistic director Aurélien Scannella’s plan to expand the company’s conservative story ballet repertoire.

Brooke Widdison-Jacobs, Oliver Edwardson, Matthew Lehmann
and Chihiro Nomura. Photos Sergey Pevnev

There were feathers and sequins galore in Dixon’s beautiful costumes: dancers floated haughtily across the stage and men in tail coats oozed good manners. Jerome Kaplan’s fluid set used sliding screens to create rooms with white curtains and large windows evoking grandeur. Tim Mitchell’s moody lighting was particularly stunning in creating a creamy opulent glow for Daisy and Jordan to lounge in feminine elegance.

But it is a tall task to distil the imagery and irony of language into a wordless ballet. There was a lot of mime and stock gestures used to establish character and narrate the story of a man relentless in his pursuit of a beautiful dream. Nixon used flashbacks to recount Gatsby’s early relationship with the young Daisy (costumed with the virginal sweetness of Little Bo Peep) and his links to the gangster underworld.

Oliver Edwardson, Chihiro Nomura and Gakuro Matsui

Richard Rodney Bennett’s music helped wonderfully. The score was a neoclassical medley of jazz numbers, orchestral music and excerpts from his film scores (Murder on the Orient Express, Nicholas and Alexandra) linked surprisingly seamlessly by orchestrator John Longstaff. The breathless energy of downtown New York was depicted in the swirling string phrases of Billion Dollar Brain, lush quotations from Partita for Orchestra set the tone for the reunion between Daisy and Gatsby and the Percussion Concerto was a nerve-rattling accompaniment to the Act II scene at Wilson’s Garage. Conductor Myron Romanul guided the WA Symphony Orchestra (and supplementary rhythm section) adeptly through the different styles with some magical solo moments from clarinet, horn, accordion and saxophone to name just a few. Pianist Graeme Gilling was the lynchpin, turning out ragtime numbers and atonal passagework with rock steady assurance.

The corps de ballet filled out the party scenes, moving through tangos, Charlestons (danced en pointe!) and a congo line, even singing along loudly to a recording of When the Midnight Choo Choo in a stand out scene in Myrtle’s apartment.

Pre-recorded music was used again in the finale but felt more contrived; Gatsby’s dream of waltzing with Daisy into a pink sunset was accompanied by I Never Went Away sung by Bennett. The transition to recorded music was clunky but it was also the most moving pas de deux of the night, as Matsui and Nomura let down their emotional reserve.

Matthew Lehmann and Melissa Boniface. 

On Thursday night Oliver Edwardson was a youthful and observant Nick Carraway, bewitched by the disdainful coolness of Jordan (Brooke Widdison-Jacobs with her impossibly long, elegant legs). Matthew Lehmann was a swaggering, possessive Tom and Melissa Boniface was larger-than-life as his lover Myrtle. Her husband Wilson, the garage owner, was danced with angular conviction by Liam Green, who gave a particularly moving grief scene accompanied by a low brass chorale. Chihiro Nomura was a delicate Daisy, flitting constantly and tossed breathtakingly between the men but unable to be pinned down by Gatsby. Gakuro Matsui was Gatsby: clinical, aloof and ruthless in the pursuit of his dream.

None of the characters were unreservedly lovable; like Fitzgerald’s novel Nixon encouraged his audience to critique the flawed characters while still creating a work of enthralling beauty. An impressive accomplishment for Nixon and the team at WA Ballet.

The Great Gatsby continues until September 30th.

This review first published Limelight Magazine 2017.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

The highs and lows of Operabox's Manon

My enduring memory of Operabox’s production of Massenet’s Manon will be Jenna Robertson radiant in orange brocaded silk and exuding charisma. Her Manon was a heroine full of ambiguities and I couldn’t steal my eyes from her remarkably expressive face.

Jenna Robertson as Manon

Since founding Operabox in 2011 Robertson has made a significant contribution to supporting emerging singers and broadening the operatic repertoire for WA audiences. Operabox’s most recent production was a sensational fully staged  Ariadne auf Naxos complete with orchestra and chorus and I had high expectations of their similarly ambitious Manon which opened on Friday night.

Director Joseph Restubog and his design team (Laura Heffernan set, Stephanie Cullingford costumes, Beth Ewell lighting) set the opera in the egalitarian Paris of the roaring twenties where Manon is bewitched by glamorous flappers and exotic nightclubs. A projection of mottled blue paint formed the backdrop to a nuts and bolts set and assorted (mostly) period costumes (oh how some government funding could make a difference here!).

We met Manon bubbling with schoolgirl sweetness and on her way to the convent; “That’s the story of Manon” she explained to des Grieux. Robertson captured every nuance of Manon’s duplicity with her superficial glamour,  cruel manipulations, a sobbing Adieu notre petite table and finally her heartfelt penitence. She sung with impeccable French and bright top notes although her coloratura soprano didn’t quite have the lyrical fullness required for the role.

Bonfante singing En fermant les yeux 

Gaetano Bonfante as Le Chevalier des Grieux similarly struggled to find a warm centre to his sound, but his entrancing Act Two ‘Dream Song’ En fermant les yeux with its gently rocking orchestral accompaniment was a golden moment in the opera (despite an out of tune horn accompaniment).

The bustling Act Three marketplace was given a vigorous orchestral introduction by conductor Christopher Dragon and his small but responsive pit orchestra but fell flat from there. A few racks of scarves and books made a lacklustre set, Manon’s costume was underwhelming and uncertain direction (Manon’s Obéissons quand leur voix appelle was a confusing mix of comedy and seriousness), meant the drama struggled to connect with the audience.

Things began to gel in the Saint-Sulpice scene set up by a hushed orchestral chorale and a lush Magnificat from the six-piece chorus. Manon - in the breathtaking orange brocaded silk and fasinator - entreated des Grieux to give up his priesthood with both earnestness and petulance and there was a visceral connection between the lovers.

The twists of Act Five can be wearisome as the two lovers debate on whether to stay or leave together and Restubog added another twist with Manon finding inner peace rather than expiring in the final moments.


Michael Heap’s resonant baritone made a commanding Comte des Grieux. Simon Wood as Guillot was a natural theatric whose character began to darken as his ill-fated flirtations took their toll.  Sitiveni Talei was a slimy de Bretigny and the resplendent Kristin Bowtell was a lascivious Lescaut. The trio of alluring flappers was sung by the spirited Christina Thé, Esther Counsel and Belinda Cox.

This was a gutsy attempt at ambitious repertoire. There were moments where it fell short and moments where it soared. But as the heroine would say, that’s the story of Manon.


This review first published in Limelight Magazine September 2017.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Celebrity Soft Spot Jenna Robertson

Last year Scottish-Australian Jenna Robertson ditched her engineering job to take the plunge as a full time soprano. She had already clocked up ten major repertoire roles, won the Australian concerto and vocal competition and had been running her own company Operabox for six years. The last 18 months have been spent following her heart. And taking a crash-course in French for her debut this week in the title role of Manon.


photo Marnya Rothe

What music gets your heart racing?

Any good opera where there is that magical combination of singing, orchestra, acting, design, surtitles! Amazing! William Kentridge’s production of Berg’s Lulu at the Met got my heart racing like crazy – it was a totally unique and thrilling combination of music with theatre. Of course at the moment, it’s also Massenet.

What calms you down?

Anything that holds my attention for extended time. Film is one of my favourite ways to relax and I love subtle films like those made by director Sofia Coppola. 

What do you sing along to?

Verdi, Donizetti, Katie Noonan, Jessie J…so many things!

How are you preparing for your title role in Operabox’s production of Manon?

I’ve been preparing for Manon for most of this year and the biggest challenge for me was the language as I’ve never studied French.  I was very fortunate to have the help of Opera Australia Language Coach, Nicole Dorigo, who taught me the French. Of course there is also the musical, technical and dramatic preparation that I’ve worked on also.

 A sneak peek from the general rehearsal of Manon, which opens on Friday.

You are doing much more than singing the role; you are also producing and promoting the season plus running the company! Where did you learn the skills to run your own opera company?

I worked internationally in oil and gas for 10 years as an engineer and project manager and had world-class leadership and project management training and experience during that time. That was a warm up for leading an opera company, which is actually harder, as there is never enough money. I’m always trying to learn new skills too. I’ve recently completed a part-time course at NIDA in Directing and training with Creative Partnerships Australia.  I also soak up information from wonderful mentors.

Operabox is one of several relatively new grassroots opera companies making a refreshing and vital contribution to WA’s operatic landscape. Why did you decide to launch your own company?

Operabox started with a team of 6 in the beginning in 2011. We are now producing our 7th production and have grown to an association with 170 members with 80-90 people involved in each production.  Now our focus is on both creating exciting meaty opportunities for arts professionals and providing interesting repertoire for WA audiences. We try to produce operas that meet both those criteria.
 
Robertson as Zerbinetta in Operabox's sensational Ariadne auf Naxos,
which I reviewed here.

Mark Applebaum says music should above all else be interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?

I think it has different roles for different people, and can help people in so many ways by healing, inspiring and uniting. In opera, I guess the role of the music is to help tell stories and deliver important messages and the music heightens story telling in a way that in my opinion is unmatched in any other art form.

You have a soft spot for opera. You studied Engineering (with a singing scholarship on the side) at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh and worked for Chevron in WA before make the career switch to opera in 2016. What is the appeal of opera?

A soft spot is a bit of an understatement! Somehow I didn’t see an opera till my early twenties when I was already working as an engineer (it was Natalie Dessay as Lucia at the Metropolitan Opera).  I was blown away by the electrifying combination of theatre and music.  I’ve been working on moving in that direction ever since. Opera provides me with an unlimited challenge, which I love. There’s always more to learn.

How do you choose the repertoire for Operabox? Why Manon?

We take such care over choosing our pieces. We look at what would be interesting to both our artists, orchestra and our audience, and relevant to today’s society. We also strive for diversity in our offerings. Manon is our first French opera and has never been performed in WA with orchestra.
 
Gaetano Bonfante (Des Grieux) and Robertson (Manon)

You have a pretty stellar cast joining you including Opera Australia tenor Gaetano Bonfante and baritone Sitiveni Talei as Des Grieux and Brétigny, with Kristin Bowtell as Lescaut. Christopher Dragon is taking a break as  Associate Conductor of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra to conduct the season and Sydney opera director Joseph Restubog is bringing a twist to the traditional ending (spoiler alert!). What can the audience expect?

Yes, we have an amazing team of people and I am continually blown away by the team we are able to pull together for each opera. The audience can expect to see our cast who are a mixture of Perth and Sydney-based singers, a small chorus and an orchestra of 25 in the pit conducted by Chris. It’s a fully staged production set in the 1920s, which director Joseph Restubog chose because the story really suits that period. That said, this story is so human its themes are timeless. As there have been a few 1920s shows in Perth this year already, our design team focused on trying to do something different. I’m particularly amazed at the work that costume designer Stephanie Cullingford has done with the historical accuracy of our costumes.

So far your singing career has taken you to Austria to study at the AIMS opera studio in Graz, Berlin for coaching, NIDA to complete studies in opera directing and you are currently based in Sydney soaking up the teaching of legends like Tony Legge, Arax Mansourian and Nicole Dorigo.… Where to next?

I’m heading back over east after Manon.  I have some more concerts this year in NSW, then heading to Europe again in November-December for more coaching and auditions, and then have an exciting role in 2018 in a new Australian opera called Mimma, which will be premiered in Perth at the Regal Theatre. The producers saw one of my performances of Anna Bolena in 2016 and offered me this role.

As Violetta in La Traviata, Opera New England, NSW

What is your favourite place in Perth?

I don’t think it’s a specific place, but after living in Sydney this year, I just love the lack of traffic and ease of getting around! I love the colour of the blue sky that seems to be unique to Perth.

Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music?

I love good food, wine, and have a passion for film and photography. In fact my recent studies in directing at NIDA in Sydney have changed how I see everything.


Big thanks to Jenna for taking time out of production week to chat with us. Manon runs 1st-7th September at Newman College and 3rd September at Darlington Hall. More details and tickets here but be quick because tickets are selling fast. For more info on Jenna you can stalk her on Facebook and her website and follow Operabox here.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Intercurrent intrigues with shadows and echoes

Simulacra by definition refers to a representation or likeness – an intriguing theme for the third concert in Tura's Scale Variable series where Intercurrent ensemble explored musical doubles, echoes and shadows. Intercurrent formed in 2016 and their vitality, unique instrumentation and enthusiastic commissioning of composers has already set them apart in Australian chamber music practice. The group comprises Lachlan Skipworth co-founder and artistic director, Louise Devenish percussion, Ashley Smith clarinets and Emily Green-Armytage piano.

Ashley Smith, Emily Green-Armytage, Lachlan Skipworth, Louise Devenish. Photos Bohdan Warchomij

Green-Armytage and Devenish opened the program with a breathtaking performance of American composer Hannah Lash’s C.  Two repetitive melodies duelled on piano and vibraphone with patterns of notes grouped in threes, fours or fives hammered up against each other in parallel motion. For a few brief bars in the centre of the work the parts aligned before the phase shifted again in a strange dance of tugging unity. It was an astounding display of fierce independence married with precise synchronisation.

This was followed by an equally impressive bass clarinet solo as Smith relished the challenge laid down by WA composer Chris Tonkin. Entr’acte explored extremes of pitch, dynamics and speed and Smith delivered the full spectrum of bass clarinet sounds and effects with intensity and suppleness. Rapid soft passages were interrupted with explosive outbursts, followed by quirky micro tunings, folksy pitch sliding, slap tonguing and more. The work was anchored by its conclusion, a section of soft, hymn-like multiphonics where the simulacra theme was clearly apparent; each note was shadowed by notes in the harmonic series reverberating simultaneously in a musical and technical masterstroke.


The ensemble members came together for the first time for the world premiere of Alex Turley’s Blue Heat. In a nod to American minimalism Turley’s work was built around repeated semiquaver patterns gently rising and falling in layered waves of sound. The blend of marimba, piano and clarinet created a woody warmth from which sprung soloistic sections for piano and clarinet plus an interlude of piano and marimba droplets sounding just like a music box. Blue Heat was a mix of extreme softness, transparent textures and simmering energy, released finally in a frantic race to the end.

The use of electronics in Julian Day’s Father offered a fresh soundworld. Ghosts of melodies were revealed within electronic pitches that wavered and stretched over a long slow descent. The performers emerged from dark corners of the stage to join the melancholic hymn, adding long smooth phrases built around the repetition of tiny two-note rhythms. The delicate execution by the performers meant the ear became aware of minute changes to rhythm and volume in this work of shadows and fading memories.

Finally, Philip Glass’s Music in Similar Motion, the archetypal work of simulacra (or at least similar patterning) and the only work on the program written before 2011, making it quite old-fashioned! The ensemble repeated Glass’s five quaver melody in various irregular lengths with metronomic precision, creating relentless static ripples. The addition of an electronic track gave extra haze to the layers as the work progressed. It is an iconic work and coming in at just less than twenty minutes is a challenge to the stamina of the audience and the performers. Frankly alongside the more contemporary (and far more interesting) explorations of layering and echoes it felt a little tame. Which is a good thing, because it means the contemporary music scene is alive, evolving and thriving, thanks to groups like Intercurrent.


This review first published by Limelight magazine in August 2017.

Monday, 28 August 2017

September Gig Guide

This month kicks off with a much anticipated season from Operabox. Their production of Massenet's Manon will run September 1-7th directed by Opera Australia's Gaetano Bonfante, conducted by Christopher Dragon with Jenna Robertson in the title role.

On the 2nd master piano technician Paul Tunzi will celebrate 30 years in the industry with Keys in the City. The ingenuous interactive installation at the city of Perth library will allow tour groups to watch demonstrations on 30 of Australia's rarest pianos including the 'First Fleet piano'. Also on the 2nd Rob Buckland and Matt Styles will perform a rare double saxophone concerto with WAAPA's Symphonic Wind Ensemble.

Cat Hope is back in Perth and on the 3rd her ensemble Decibel will perform a series of works 'composed' by visual artists as part of an art exhibition called Sounding Art at PS Art Space.

The WA Symphony Orchestra will begin their Wagner series on the 6th with a concert  making connections between Liszt, Schumann and Wagner including extracts from the epic four-opera Ring Cycle. On the 9th the series continues with excerpts from Tristan und Isolde, bass baritone Shane Lowrencev singing arias from Die Walküre and Die Meistersinger and music by those who followed after including Bruckner and Strauss. On the 24th the WASO Chorus will be in the spotlight singing  Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna, Bach and the world premiere of a work by Lachlan Skipworth.

Choral music is prominent this month with the Giovanni Consort's Donne on the 8th featuring music for female voices, the Music on the Terrace Series featuring the Churchlands SHS choir in Rising Stars on the 10th and Voyces' teaming up with Rachelle Durkin for Tundra on the 16th.

Adam Pinto will feature with the University of WA orchestra on the 13th performing Smalley's Piano Concerto, and that week WAAPA's Defying Gravity percussion ensemble will celebrate its 30th birthday with concerts on the 14-16th.

On the 17th Dominic Perissinotti will give a recital on the organ at St Patrick's Basilica and on the 23rd St George's Cathedral will host the Perth Symphony Orchestra for the popular Baroque by Candlelight. Also on the 23rd the Perth Symphonic Chorus will perform Brahms' German Requiem at the Perth Concert Hall with soprano Sara Macliver.

A strange phenomenon known as The Legend of Zelda starts a national tour Perth on the 24th with Jessica Gethin and the Perth Symphony Orchestra providing the music. The concert involves a performance of the symphonic soundtrack from the Nintendo game, accompanied by a digital collage of scenes from the game.

On the 30th Musica Viva will return to town with cellist Nicolas Alstaedt, pianist Aleksandar Madzar and preconcert talk by yours truly!

And for those of us with kids, a few ideas for the school holidays:

Spare Parts puppet theatre will give the world premiere of Rules of Summer, a show based on Shuan Tan's book. The season opens on the 23rd and runs for the school holidays and is recommended for ages 5+.  WASO will run the interactive kids concerts Jump Jam and Jiggle! from 28th-30th featuring music from The Planets.


Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Celebrity Soft Spot Alex Turley

Alex Turley has been a compulsive composer since high school and this year he is really hitting his stride. The WA Academy of Performing Arts graduate has had music performed by the Melbourne, WA and Perth Symphony Orchestras, Soundstream Collective, Greywing ensemble and this month Blue Heat is being premiered by Intercurrent Ensemble. Later in the year Alex heads to Hobart for the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra's composer's school but first he stopped by for a chat on Celebrity Soft Spot.


What music gets your heart racing?

I’ve recently become a bit obsessed with horror movie soundtracks. They’re all about using known semiotics and codes, but sometimes they’re just put together really intelligently. Michael Abels’ score for the recent movie Get Out was pretty masterful.

What calms you down? 

Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens or anything by Takemitsu (his music is not necessarily ‘calm’ but it’s very reflective).

What do you sing along to?

Anything from Travelogue by Joni Mitchell or Fleetwood Mac.

Your work Blue Heat is being premiered this month by Intercurrant Ensemble, commissioned by co-co-director Lachlan Skipworth who has also been your composition teacher for the past five years. Intercurrent has a fairly unique instrumentation of percussion, piano and clarinet; how did you go about creating this piece? 

Skipworth conducting Intercurrent
What I always look for in an ensemble – and is sometimes tricky to find – is some sense of homogeneity, that everything is working together as part of one machine. The instrumentation of Intercurrent is unique, yes, but at the same time feels very natural to write for. Marimba and clarinet blend well, especially in their lower ranges, and a piano can complement anything. Ashley, Louise and Emily are three of Perth’s most talented musicians, so when I was writing Blue Heat I was conscious of not letting them go to waste. So what I’ve written is really fast and difficult!

What do you hope the audience will experience when they hear it?

The piece is all about exploring energy and motion. I called it Blue Heat for a few reasons, firstly to capture a sense of fire-like energy in the sound, but also because it’s about contradictions. Can something be moving fast but at the same time not really moving at all? Can something be almost inaudible but at the same time intense and exhilarating? It’s quite a visual piece, too – the players throw different melodies to each other, and interact in lots of different ways. At some points everyone comes together and it’s difficult to distinguish which sounds are coming from whom, and at some points the ensemble breaks apart into three separate fields of individual activity. I’m hoping that the audience’s focus will be constantly moving around the ensemble, as that sort of thing makes a piece of music really exhilarating to experience.

Have you established a standard method of composing or is each piece unique? 

I certainly have a ‘groove’ that I get into when I’m composing, but I’m still very conscious of not making all of my pieces sound the same. One of the tricky things about learning how to be a composer is finding a balance between having a voice and language that you can claim as uniquely yours, but not churning out the same piece over and over, and I’ve watched many composers fall too far on either side of that spectrum. For me I try and focus each work on a different visual or extra-musical idea (an image, poem or place, for example) that can take the audience into a unique world, but across every work I still have a very ‘Turley’ way of doing things.

Pencil and manuscript or computer?

Honestly, both are equally frustrating. I wish I could just Bluetooth my brain into a computer and write scores telepathically.

With Greywing Ensemble. Photo Bohdan Warchomij.

You’ve been composing since high school. You made a brave choice in pursuing it for a career; Australia is not renowned for appreciating its own composers! Why did you choose composition?

I caught the bug, unfortunately. In my teenage years I was immersed in a very musical environment, and I became obsessed with deconstructing the language of music, learning as much as I could about how and why everything works the way it does. It’s so mystifying to me how something as mundane as a vibration in the air can produce such intense physical and emotional responses in us. I spent as much time as I could exploring this process, eventually making my own music just as a means of understanding. When I finished school it was a little tempting for me to go and do Law or something nice like that but by that point I had such a deep fascination with music that anything else would have made me quite unhappy. Yes, Australian composers have a very difficult time getting people interested in their music, but I am really determined to make everything work and I’m not going to give up without a fight. There are lots of things that can go alongside composing really nicely – arranging, engraving, conducting, teaching, researching, producing, administrating – so it’s not as if I’m lost for things to do.

You are having a remarkably successful year including wining the Penrith Symphony Orchestras Young Composer Award and being selected for the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Composer School, plus upcoming performances of your works in Texas, Mexico City, Brisbane, Sydney and Perth. Where to from here?

I’m still at that point in my life where everything is really new, and I’m just trying to pull things together into some semblance of a freelance career. 2017 for me has been the year that everything has really begun to pick up speed. I’ve got myself to a place where I’m really confident with my craft and my ability to produce good music for people. It’s still a huge rush for me when someone that I barely know from across the country (or in Texas!) is actually interested in what I’m doing and wants to work with me. From here I’m just trying to make as much good music as I can, and I’m trying to diversify as well into areas such as art installation and theatre. There’s lots of stuff in the pipeline!

Listen here to City of Ghosts performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 2016.

Mark Applebaum says music should above all else be interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?

It’s hard to argue with that statement. For me I think music just needs to produce a response – emotional, physical, memory, whatever – and the more intense the response the more powerful the music.

You have a soft spot for saxophone. You’ve composed a Sax Quartet, a Sax Concerto, a work for Sax and piano and another for Sax and cello. What is the appeal of this instrument?

I never set out to write so much for saxophone! It all happened because one of my close friends from uni (David Gioia) is a saxophonist, and he is incredible. I’m completely in awe of how he’s able to paint melody with an astonishing amount of precision and nuance. Together we found that his style of playing was really well suited to my style of writing, so we collaborated on all of those pieces that you just mentioned. We even recorded an album together which will be released in the near future. That kind of ongoing collaboration ended up being very significant in my development as a composer.

'Ink' with Alex Turley piano and David Gioia saxophone

Who are your music heroes?

My heroes are the people around me – young composers and young artists in general – that are taking risks, producing great work, making things happen and being lovely people in the process. Lachlan Skipworth, Dan Thorpe, Josten Myburgh, Lisa Cheney, Peggy Polias, Connor D’Netto, Bec Smith, Kezia Yap, Samuel Smith, Sally Greenaway, Tim Newhouse, Cassie To, Sam Wolf, to name just a few!

What is your favourite place in Perth? 

The beach near my old house, lovely place to take my dogs at sunset!

Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music?

I love taking photos, I’m also a huge fan of visual art and theatre, I’ve recently become quite obsessed with architecture, I travel as much as I can afford to, I try and keep up to date with feminism, I’m obsessed with interior design… the list goes on! I also work in a fancy-ish restaurant and I actually really enjoy it (weird, I know).


Thank you Alex Turley for participating in the Celebrity Soft Spot series. You can read an interview with Alex here at CutCommon mag and listen to a Making Waves podcast here. For more details about Alex and his work go to alexturley.comFuture performances:
29th August: World premiere of Blue Heat by Intercurrent, State Theatre Centre. Program also includes works by Julian Day, Chris Tonkin, Hannah Lash and Philip Glass.2 Sep: Between the Ocean and the Sky performed by Jonathan Thompson, a PhD oboist from Texas who has commissioned composers from all over the world via the internet. 10 Sep: New Commission (piano duet) performed by Liam Viney and Anna Grinberg, Queensland Art Gallery. This is a part of a concert series called ARGO that seeks to take classical music out of the concert hall and into interactive spaces. They are playing the piece from either sides of an indoor lake.28 Oct: New Commission (orchestra) performed by the Penrith Symphony Orchestra in Sydney as part of the Young Composer Award.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Ever wanted to be a percussionist?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a percussionist?

I've always secretly wanted to play percussion. Rhythm is one of the most primal and powerful forms of communication. Percussionists get to dance around (often barefoot) on stage and always seem to be having so much fun! 

Now is our chance! Speak Percussion are putting a call out for 100 percussionists - NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED - to participate in their performance at the Totally Huge New Music Festival in October.


Speak Percussion and guests will unite in the 13th THNMF to perform the WA premiere of A wave and waves by American composer Michael Pisaro, a massive 74-minute work for 100 performers on 100 instruments.
 
They are offering a rare opportunity to join with one of Australia’s most dynamic and risk taking arts organisations in an extraordinary new music project. A wave and waves is a project that redefines the way contemporary chamber music is presented.

 The Midland Railway Workshops will be transformed into a sonic and visual ocean of instruments and performers, creating an intimate experience of monumental proportions.

 No percussion experience is required – this call is open to all interested people. Participants will work with Eugene Ughetti (Artistic Director, Speak Percussion), Louise Devenish (Head of Percussion, University of Western Australia) and Tura’s production team.

There are 3 rehearsals before performances on 29th October.

Sign up here before September 1st.  More details here. Go on, be brave, be a percussionist!

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Australian publishes WICA review

I was delighted to be able to review the Women in the Creative Arts conference recital for The Australian newspaper. The concert featured the Muses Trio, an ensemble remarkable both for their charisma and for their focus on performing music by women. Their dedication to performing the eight works on the program included a month of workshops with the composer (sometimes via skype).  Four of the composers were present for the performance and gave insightful introductions to their works. The concert was richly thought provoking and often very beautiful, a fitting centrepiece for a conference celebrating women in the arts.

Christa Powell, Therese Milanovic and Louise King. Photo William Hall

"I’ll let you in on Australia’s best kept secret: our nation has one of the highest proportions of women composers in the world. Last week more than a hundred people gathered at the Australian National University to celebrate the diverse work of women who make up 26% percent of Australian composers, sound artists and improvising artists.

The centrepiece of the Women in the Creative Arts conference was a Friday night concert by Queensland’s The Muses Trio who performed eight works for piano trio chosen from around 100 international score submissions. Pianist Therese Milanovic, violinist Christa Powell and cellist Louise King’s authoritative interpretations were inflected with humanity and detail, marred only by a rather boomy piano (half-stick the lid!) and occasional mis-pitches in the violin.

Queensland-based Nicole Murphy’s Spinning Top opened the concert. Breathless repeated figures, harmonic stasis and some off-kilter syncopation gave this piece a self-contained perpetual motion. Minimalist patterns also underpinned US composer Jean Ahn’s A Flash of Ravel where Ravelian snippets were fragmented and juxtaposed with sections of string pizzicato and harmonics."

Read the rest of the review at The Australian.

Composers Natalie Williams, Nicole Murphy, Joyce Wai-chung Tang,
 Hilary Kleinig and Christine McCombe. Photo William Hall


Monday, 14 August 2017

A warm celebration in Canberra

Despite the chilly Canberra weather the atmosphere this past week at the Women in the Creative Arts conference has been incredibly warm. The academic papers, panels, performances and the rigorous discussions were all under-girded with encouragement and cheers of support. 
WICA composers, performers, academics. Photo William Hall

I was able to witness the impact Women of Note has had in the landscape, something I hadn't realised from Perth. I was told countless stories about how my book had influenced people in their commissioning, their perfoming, and their careers.



Photo William Hall

 I was overwhelmed by how much people felt supported and affirmed by my work. And it was so exciting to see the next generation of composers learning from the work of their forebears:

"....I confess to my shame I hadn't heard of Margaret Sutherland before now..."..
".... a couple of years ago I read your book and decided I wanted to meet Helen Gifford, to see her, to commission her..."
"...the bridge building you are doing for the music industry is so important..."

Liza Lim, Natalie Williams, Mathew Dewey (ABC), Naomi Johnson (ABC), Lisa Cheney

There are are significant changes afoot around the visibility and celebration of our women composers and I am so excited to be part of it.  47 papers, 4 recitals, 5 keynotes and 3 panels later I think some of the changes are going to stick this time around. In the immediate future:

* Cat Hope has offered to host the conference next year at Monash.
* Vanessa Tomlinson will be rollling out her research from Queensland University to include every tertiary institution documenting the works that are being performed in graduation recitals. 
* Joanna Drimatis is collating a database of graded works for performance by schools and community groups.

Add that to the ongoing work from the Hildegard Commissioning Project, the findings from the APRA/AMCOS commissioned report on results from RMIT research, the Skipping a Beat report, the Australian Women Screen Composers report, and there is a sense of growing awareness and action toward increasing visibility for women composers. 

I'll post my keynote paper soon to add to the discussion. 

With the magnificent composer Judith Clingan

I have the satisfied feeling that my book has done what it was meant to do.
I sold out of copies of Women of Note at the conference. Which means my print run with Fremantle Press is finished and it is time for an eBook. 

So now it is time to head back home to my family, filled with a warm glow, and work out where to from here. 

Huge thanks to Natalie Williams and ANU for hosting this incredible event.

conference director Natalie Williams



Friday, 4 August 2017

WICA conference riding the crest of arts gender debate

The Women in the Creative Arts conference will be held next week in Canberra and the atmosphere around gender and the arts is reaching a new intensity. 


My opinion piece in the Guardian has been widely read and generated excitement about what we might be able to achieve at the conference. At the same time the responses in the 'Comments' section  highlighted for me that there are still some very entrenched views around! 

This week APRA/AMCOS released a report in response to RMIT research.with a raft of initiatives to increase female participation in the music industry. They are committing to doubling the number of female membership applicants within the next three years.

The WICA conference is perfectly timed to harness the energy across multiple art practices and direct it towards long-lasting change.

Registrations close on Monday 7th August. If you are a woman working in the creatives arts you need to be part of this history-making gathering!

If you can't make it stay tuned for blogs coming from the conference once I land in Canberra next week! Now back to writing my presentation: "Women of Note; the rise of Australian women composers".




Thursday, 3 August 2017

Mixed ASQ concert

The Australian String Quartet launched their Homeward national tour in Perth on Wednesday night. The quartet is eighteen months into their new configuration (their line-up seems to change as often as the prime minister!) and the players seem relaxed and settled at the Government House Ballroom. Dale Barltrop and Francesca Hiew (violins), Stephen King (viola) and Sharon Grigoryan (cello) are unashamedly young and hip, performing standing with their iPad scores, designer clothes and bundles of energy. The enormous sound they muster from their exquisite set of Guadagnini instruments is velveteen, crisp and well-integrated under the egalitarian leadership style of Barltrop.


Britten’s String Quartet No 1 was a fascinating exploration of sounds and textures by the then-young English composer brimming with ideas. The first movement’s cluster chords and shrouded melody were given an eerie chill while the second movement had thrilling gear changes between angular chunks, bright pizzicato and racing scale passages. The doleful solo violin melody in the third movement gave way to a chorale played with organ-like richness. The quartet’s assertive, clean finale revealed an unguarded joy that was a delight to watch.

Australian composer Paul Stanhope’s String Quartet No 2 was premiered by the Pavel Haas Quartet in 2009 and was well worth revisiting. It continued where the Britten left off with an intriguing mix of musical ideas. Motifs from East Europe and the Middle East coloured the work, making reference to the Czech composer Pavel Haas who died in Auschwitz. Melodies were inflected with trembling bowing, pitch sliding and trills, while energetic syncopations and percussive effects lent a folk feel. The weary melody in the third movement Dirge was hauntingly played by cello and violin while the lurching dance of the finale, with its chugging accompaniment and off-beat rhythms was given almost rock ‘n’ roll swagger.

Following on from the explosive creativity of the first half, the Dvorak’s String Quartet No 13 was quite simply uninteresting. Perhaps it was the lack of musical direction from the ensemble - the famed Adagio was numbing and the fiery finale lacked ebullience - or perhaps it was simply an anticlimax after the more adventurous repertoire? If the programmers were looking for a safe romantic contrast they should’ve looked further; the work lacks lyrical moments and is rhythmically quite square. Either way it was an uninspired performance and a disappointing end to what was otherwise an exciting concert.

This review first published in Limelight magazine August 2017.

Friday, 28 July 2017

August Gig Guide

Let's start this month's gig guide with Tura New Music, who are having a busy winter! In August Tura will support the workshop of Cat Hope's experimental opera Speechless in Adelaide plus tour to Warmun for a 3 week regional residency where Jon Rose will, in collaboration with the local community, turn a car wreck into a musical instrument. Tura is also producing the next Scale Variable concert featuring Intercurrent on August 29th. The 4-piece Intercurrent have an impressive program planned including a recent work by Hannah Lash and THREE premieres by Chris Tonkin, Julian Day and Alex Turley. Finally the organisation have been involved with a sound art, video and sculpture installation called Scarasson which will be presenting nightly performances at the State Buildings from August 1-6th.

Keep an eye out for string quartets this month: the Australian String Quartet kick off their national tour in Perth on August 2nd with a program including Dvorak Britten and Australian composer Paul Stanhope. I haven't yet heard the new lineup of players, so if you have let me know what you think. The popular Takacs Quartet is also in town on the 10th performing Haydn. Mozart and the world premiere of Carl Vine's 6th String Quartet Child's Play. This will be the launch of their national Musica Viva tour.

The West Australian Symphony Orchestra will celebrate a 20 year association with conductor Simone Young on the 4/5th with a wide-ranging program from Haydn to Brahms and the world premiere of a work by Australian Andrew Schultz. Asher Fisch is in town on the 17-19th to conduct Schubert's great Symphony No 9 with Jayson Gillham joining him for Schumann's Piano Concerto. The following week Fisch will conduct Mahler's 6th Symphony and Karen Gomlo will perform Mozart's Violin Concerto No 3.

On the 11th St George's Cathedral Consort will perform Bach, Bernstein and Britten's A Ceremony of Carols. The Perth Symphony Orchestra are performing their annual Baroque by Candlelight concert on the 23rd at St George's Cathedral. Jessica Gethin will conduct and Paul Wright is concert master: book now as this immersive concert always sells out!

Rochelle Durkin's fiery colloratura soprano will be on display in Baroque Beauties at the Government House Ballroom on the 20th, accompanied by the UWA string orchestra and vocal consort.

On the 12th the WA Academy of Performing Arts will host Geoffrey Lancaster and Stewart Smith playing keyboard works by Bach. Also at WAAPA Karin Schaupp and Claire Edwardes will give a concert on the 18th of all-Australian music for the mellow and sensuous medium of guitar and marimba. On the 24th winner of the 2016 Sydney international Piano Competition Audrey Gugnin will present a recital and on the 26th August WAAPA 3rd year music theatre students will  begin their season of Chicago under the direction of Crispin taylor.

Finally the Darlington Piano Quartet will perform Dohnanyi, Brahms and James Ledger's Three Escher Portraits on the 27th at the Darlington Hall. Enjoy!