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.