Monday, 27 March 2017

April Gig Guide

The WA Academy of Performing Arts is in full swing this month. Concerts include Clocked Out Duo percussion stars Vanessa Tomlinson and Erik Griswold performing on the 4th and renowned English conductor Nicholas Cleobury leading vocal students in a performance featuring Tippett's Negro Spirituals on the 6th.

The school of music at UWA is also hitting full steam with a Mainstage Concert on the 9th featuring Shaun Lee-Chen and the student orchestra performing a world premiere by jazz composer Joe Chindamo. On the 28th the Schoenberg Project will feature student arrangements of Schoenberg's Six Little Piano Pieces plus an arrangement by Brett Dean from when he was a student - it could be very revealing!

Thank you Louise Devenish for this update: On April 10-11th an unusual gig at PICA called Never Tilt Your Chair Back on Two Legs brings together three of Australia's leading female percussionists for Maurice Kagel's music theatre piece Dressur.  Set at a formal dinner table, the theme of dinner time etiquette will also be explored in a new work by Kate Neal.

The Australian String Quartet take over Margaret River from the 21-23rd for a Chamber Music weekend - what's not to love?!

The WA Symphony Orchestra go retro with The Best of British on the 7th before a Sibelius fest on 20/21/22 with Asher Fisch conducting the second symphony and concert master Laurence Jackson in Stravinsky's Violin Concerto. On the 28/29th the Zuckerman Trio join the orchestra for Beethoven's Triple Concerto with Pinchas Zukerman also featuring in Berg's Violin Concerto.

Let me know if I've missed anything. See you at a concert soon!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Celebrity Soft Spot Carolyn Chard

This year the West Australian Opera celebrates its 50th anniversary and at the helm is Carolyn Chard, general manager for nearly two decades. Carolyn worked in arts management across multiple platforms in Perth before discovering opera. She shares a glimpse of the inner workings of the company and why 'music is the strongest form of magic'.

What music gets your heart racing?

Dance music with a heavy beat, the kind you feel in your body on a dance floor.
Beautiful music, music that speaks to your soul  (too many to name plus depends what mood I am in; today maybe Parsifal overture, Mahler 5; tomorrow I would name others). Some renditions of Ave Maria just melt me; at other times I dissolve listening to Nick Cave’s Into My Arms.

What calms you down?

Walking on the beach
Beautiful music

What do you sing along to?

‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams (although you don’t want me to).

This year WA Opera celebrates its 50th year. The company has been collecting stories and memories from past cast and audience members. What have you learned about WA Opera from these?

That there is an appreciation for the company and a memory bank that is very personal and individual to many patrons; that the company has made an impact on collective memory. The stories are all on the website and worth reading at

Carolyn with the ‘hero image’ marketing team

What is the role of an opera company in a city like Perth?

To present the artform in a beautiful theatre, to maintain the tradition of grand opera in an isolated city.

You walk something of a tightrope balancing traditional repertoire with bold contemporary repertoire like new works by Richard Mills and Iain Grandage. How do you navigate the responsibilities of expanding your audience while also retaining traditional subscribers?

It’s a risk every time and actually hard to navigate or balance through the level of risk you are willing to expose the company to. How do you measure what that success looks like? Is it financial success at the box office? Artistic success? What if you have one without the other? Is it still worth the investment event at the cost of forgoing other work?

The WA Opera team is a small family. International singers often talk about the warm welcome they receive when performing here. What is special for you about your team?

I try to engender a caring culture where we welcome and look after people, Many years ago a theatre director pointed out to me that we trade in human emotion, that’s our widget, our product. It means that we have to look after that carefully and that boils down to looking after people. I work with some wonderful, committed, energetic and enthusiastic people who love the company and the theatre, who have a passion for opera and who take great  pride in our singers, our chorus, our creative colleagues and WASO musicians.

In your other life (before opera) you were in banking and fashion design. You worked in management roles for Barking Gecko and Deckchair before heading into opera in 2001. What was the appeal of opera?

At Wesfarmers Centenary Dinner with her daughter
I studied fashion design. I worked in banking. I promoted bands, events and DJs in clubs during the dance music and rave scene in the eighties and nineties (The Prodigy, Blackbox, Kevin Saunderson, Dream Frequency, Sasha). I did the arts management degree at WAAPA and moved into theatre management at Deckchair Theatre and Barking Gecko Theatre (during this tenure we established the Awesome Festival). I worked with Black Swan Theatre, Perth Theatre Company and Kulcha. I met Richard Mills when we co-produced the Britten children’s opera Noyes Fludde/Noah’s Flood and he encouraged me to consider the management role with opera. He taught me much about the artform and engendered a passion for producing and presenting opera. I worked with my Australian opera colleagues at Opera Conference and was invited to a dual senior management position with Opera Australian based out of Sydney and Melbourne offices. I was invited to resume the general manager’s role with WAO when my successor moved to the CEO position with WASO.

What are you proudest of in your years with WA Opera?

I have worked in opera now for almost two decades, in two stints as General Manager with this company split by a few years with the national opera company based out of both Sydney and Melbourne. I am proud of presenting and producing two of Richard Mills’s works, both new operas with the Perth Festival – Batavia, which was commissioned by Opera Australia as part of the Centenary of Federation and first presented in Melbourne in 2000, and The Love of the Nightingale which was part of the Wesfarmers Arts Commissioning Series. Both operas were composed and conducted by Richard Mills and both directed by Lindy Hume. They had a special rapport which translated well on stage. On opening night of Batavia in Perth the CEO of Opera Australia turned to me and shook my hand and congratulated me on getting the work into the theatre and onto the stage (it was a production that I had been told ‘would not fit the Maj’ and, with my clever Production Manager Mandy Farmer, we found a way to store some of the scenery between Acts in containers on the street)

You are one of a very few women heading up an arts company in WA. Any ideas why there aren’t more women in management roles?

Sometimes it just cyclical – there have been times when the four major companies in WA have been headed by women. Right now three of the four majors have women leaders (Nat Jenkins at Black Swan and Jess Machin at the ballet while my predecessor Craig Whitehead heads WASO).

WA Opera's first mainstage production for the year is opera Tosca which opens on March 28th with Antoinette Halloran in the title role, Paul O’Neill as Cavaradossi and Teddy Tahu Rhodes returning as Scarpia. Perth audiences last saw Tosca in 2011. What does this New Zealand production by Stuart Maunder have to offer?

Stuart is a wonderful colleague with great insights into character and story as well as understanding the music and the genius of it. For this particular season Stuart and I actually negotiated a production swap – he has enabled us to present the New Zealand Opera production of Tosca which he directs and I have enabled him to take the WAO Lindy Hume production of Carmen so effectively we swapped productions.

Teddy has sung Scarpia here for me before and I am so pleased that we have Antoinette in her debut with this company – and in role suited so well to her – and also delighted to welcome Paul O’Neill back after many years in Germany (he left as a young man and has returned, with his beautiful family including four children, to make his home base in Western Australia again)

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

I think music should make you feel. Or just ‘does’ make you feel.

I love a quote from Marilyn Manson that ‘music is the strongest form of magic’.

I mentioned the song ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams and there’s a quote from Rusty Rueff contemplating why that song become such a global hit; he said ‘I think its because at the time the world was looking for something…we were recovering from a recession, war and many other things…and we needed a movement of hopefulness that allowed us to stop the madness for a moment and pick us up. Will it be timeless? Maybe for the generation who were in the heart of the trouble. Maybe they will reflect back on this time and remember this song and make it timeless’.

Where did you learn the skills to manage an opera company?

I did the three-year arts management degree at WAAPA which, some twenty five years ago, included foundations of law, economics, human resource management, marketing, business management in the main ECU stream as well as full involvement in arts campus life doing front of house, publicity, ticketing and so on. Before that and after that it was about learning on the job. Plus I think you need a natural aptitude for the skills required. You need to have a passion and love for the work each day. The hours are long and there is no corporate paypack so it’s usually an intrinsic reward we chase.

You were involved in the #artsmatters push to get arts into the pre-election political debate. What’s it going to take to get arts on the radar of our major political parties? 

The central premise of that campaign is very simple; that the arts matter. The arts matter to all of us. We all need to lead on this. Everyone is impacted by the arts. It’s up to each of us to engage, promote and participate in the arts, all arts: performing arts, visual arts, literary arts, music, film, design, libraries, dance, comedy, circus, puppetry, mime, books, magazines, apps, games, fashion, writing, singing, dancing, acting.

With a new state government we have a fresh start to engage. I want everyone to get the message that so many others articulate better than me:

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life
 (Pablo Picasso)

Art is the only serious thing in the world
 (Oscar Wilde)

If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams 
(Yann Martel, Life of Pi)

Running through Melbourne streets to an Opera Australia meeting.

What do you have a soft spot for?

I love words and music. Two of my favourite quotes are from The Little Prince: ‘The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart’. And another, which to me applies not only to music but to values I hold true like kindness and truth and love, is: ‘And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye’.

Thank you to Carolyn Chard for participating in the Celebrity Soft Spot series. Tosca opens on March 28th. For more information go to WA Opera

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Celebrating in style - women in composition

A big thank you to all who attended so enthusiastically the Musical Soiree at Joondalup Library yesterday for International Women's Day. There was a lovely spirit to the gathering and fabulous reactions and interactions to music by Cat Hope, Elena Kats-Chernin, Becky Llewellyn, Margaret Sutherland and Ros Bandt.

Thanks to Joondalup Library for hosting so elegantly and to Jacquie Davidson for being my paparazzi!

There were a number of comments about the celebratory and creative atmosphere around the topic of International Women's Day, which can often be a gloomy/bombastic affair. Certainly women in composition continue to suffer from visibility issues. But in Australia we have  the benefit of up-to-date documentation (The Australian Music Centre and Women of Note) and given 25% of our composers are women - more than almost any other western country - we have plenty to celebrate. I look forward to this being represented more accurately in our concert programming and commissioning. And meanwhile, I'll keep celebrating!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Music for International Women's Day

International Women's Day is tomorrow: 8th March, Here are some ways to listen to music by Australian women composers as part of your day.

Andrew Ford from the Music Show has done a fascinating interview with composer Liza Lim, recently returned to Australia to take up a post at the University of Sydney. She is profiled alongside pianist Jeanell Carrigan who has written a book and recorded an album of early 20th century women composers and their piano music. To listen to the interview go here.

The new music podcast Making Waves have released their March playlist titled Social Activism Waves: music that interrogates or reflects on different aspects of society including gender politics.

Tune in to ABC Classic FM to enjoy listening to their all-women program. While I'm driving to Joondalup Library to present my Musical Soiree I'll be listening to Mairi Nicolson broadcast music by women composers (Betty Beath, Ann Carr-Boyd, Cathie Travers, Ros Bandt) who are featured in my book Women of Note. A perfect way to set the scene!

For those whose voice isn't being heard, I can think of nothing more appropriate and healing than Betty Beath playing her Lament.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Manganiyar Classroom Review - the life affirming power of community music making

My last show for the 2017 Perth Festival was the Indian theatre group The Manganiyar Classroom. It's the second in a trilogy of works by director Roysten Abel about the musically rich Manganiyar tribe. This time the show featured the Manganiyar children and I took Matthew as my guest. He was one of many kids in the audience watching children who were only a few years older share their cultural story.

The show was set up as a classroom and the children used music to protest against the education system. Two adult musicians sat to the side accompanying on the bowed khamaycha and dholak hand drum. A bell tinkled and the haunting sound of the khamaycha set the scene as the children (all boys) filed into class.

The roll call elicited musical responses from the children, much to the irritation of the teacher. "Who told you to sing? Shut up."

But the protest continued. A boy was berated for bringing a harmonium to school but he sat on the floor and accompanied himself singing while the children grouped around him to learn the song. Feet tapped, hands gestured and heads waggled as they sang.

"We are Manganiyar children," they explained, "we need music in our education."

When the teacher finally walked out the children danced on their desks in delight and began to teach each other songs. Their voices were bright and strong, confidently singing the long phrases and complicated decorative inflections.

A new teacher arrived and taught new songs using call and response. A highlight was the rhythm lesson where his khartaal (castanet) rhythms were echoed by the students on a variety of percussion instruments. The children responded with intense concentration and real joy as the layers created intricate textures. Eventually the older students brought out two enormous bass drums that shook the chairs in the theatre with deep vibrations. It was spontaneous, virtuosic music making and a powerful demonstration of the life affirming power of community music making. The audience response was ecstatic.

Abel's concern for the homogenised Indian education system and its failure to meet the needs of fringe tribes has resulted in his vision to establish a new school and education system for the Manganiyar chilrdren.

The topic resonated with me as I have been watching my six year old boy struggle with the intense fine motor skill demands, excessive homework and the confidence crushing speed of our current education syllabus. Abel described in the program notes the disturbing transformation of first generation school-educated Manganiyar children from brilliant musical kids to washed-out adolescent drop outs. I am glad the Manganiyar parents have Abel to advocate for them, to give voice to their musical gifts. And I am encouraged to do the same for my child.

Matthew's favourite part was when the children got the big drums out. He wondered where the girls were? And he wished that next time the story would be told by Australian kids so that he could understand the words. The most important part, he explained, was when the adult listened to the children and started singing with them.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Unsent love letters

I’m always interested to follow the progress of composers from Women of Note. Elena Kats-Chernin’s output continues at an incredible speed. Her many fans will be pleased to know her latest album is another collaboration with pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska, this time with Eric Satie as the muse.  Unsent love letters contains 26 miniatures by Kats-Chernin inspired by Satie’s extraordinary life and music.

“Satie’s life was a fascinating, fervoursome affair,” says pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska, who recorded the album, “from the first strike of love and then lifelong estrangement with artist and muse Suzanne Valadon, to the unexpected celebrity and conflict of his last ten years. After he died friends, gaining access to his apartment for the first time in almost three decades, found conditions both perplexing and romantically fastidious in their own way: two grand pianos one atop the other, one chair, one table, seven velvet suits and the love letters – many, many unsent love letters.”

The album reflects on idiosyncrasies and anecdotes from Satie’s life, with music that ranges from seductive orientalism to hypnotic melodies reminiscent of the ground-breaking, transcendent beauty of Satie’s own piano pieces.  Kats-Chernin's miniature ‘imaginary building’ reflects on Satie's sketches of imaginary buildings (which he even advertised in the newspaper for rent and purchase); ‘very shiny’is a reflection on one of his characteristically opaque performance directions and ‘postcard to a critic’ is named after Satie’s explosive response to a negative review (leading to a spell in gaol).

Kats-Chernin and Cislowska

The buoyant rhythms and rhapsodic harmonic style that have brought Kats-Chernin a reputation as one of the best-loved composers of her generation provide the perfect lens to reflect on a musical great of the previous century. Together Kats-Chernin and Cislowska The album is released today by Universal Music and available from ABC Shops and iTunes.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

March Gig Guide

As Perth Festival winds down the rest of the arts community winds up! It's a busy month, starting with the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra on March 4/5 featuring violinist Rudolf Koelman teaming up with FCO soloists for concertos by Vivaldi, Bach and Elgar’s Serenade for Strings.

On March 10/11 the WA Symphony Orchestra performs Tchaikovsky with Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov plus the very exciting world premiere of Lachlan Skipworth's Spiritus. On the 16/17/18 Yu-Chien Tseng features as violin soloist with the orchestra in Bruch's Scottish Fantasy and Daniel Cohen will conduct Beethoven's 7th Symphony. WASO finishes the month on March 31st with classically trained singer Kate Miller-Heidke who will traverse the worlds of contemporary pop, folk and opera with her original songs.

After outstanding performances for West Australian Opera in The Marriage of Figaro and The Riders soprano Emma Pearson will be in recital on March 12th as part of the Swan Songs series. I could listen to Pearson's satin soprano all night, definitely my current favourite singer!  Her program includes songs from Strauss and Mahler and a beautiful set of songs shot through with all kinds of dance rhythms.

The Perth Symphony Orchestra are having An Irish Night on March 15th at the Fremantle Town Hall, celebrating Irish history and its journey to Australian shores.

The show schedule for the WA Academy of Performing Arts has been released and March is packed full of gigs including Mad About Coward on March 21st featuring International director and Noel Coward tragic Stuart Maunder and accompanist (and Associate Dean of Music) Stewart Smith promising an elegant, moving and very funny exploration of all things Coward.

On March 23rd Geoffrey Lancaster directs WAAPA classical and acting students in Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, an evening of musical melodrama featuring music written as accompaniment for the spoken word. There are also excellent two WAAPA percussion gigs on the 23rd and 25th.

The Giovanni Consort will present Baroque vocal music from South America - often overlooked with our Euro-centric approach to western music history - in a concert on March 26th.

On the 28th WA Opera will launch their first house season with Tosca sung by Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Scarpia), Antoinette O'Halloran (Tosca), Paul O’Neil (Cavaradossi) and Wade Kernot (Cesare Angelotti). WA Opera presented Tosca just six years ago but this production is from New Zealand with Stuart Maunder directing. Hopefully it is worth revisiting!