Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Trouble in Tahiti up close and personal in Perth's western suburbs

There was a moment on entering Lost and Found’s production of Bernstein’s Trouble and Tahiti when I hesitated. I was walking through a stranger’s house and instinctively turned to greet Dinah in the kitchen preparing breakfast. Then I remembered this was just a set and hurried past a boy at the kitchen table to take my seat in the patio.

This is the magic of Perth opera company Lost and Found: they present opera so physically and emotionally close to the audience that the work takes on an (often uncomfortable) personal resonance. Director Thomas de Mallet Burgess likes to plumb the psychological depths of opera and so Bernstein’s exploration of a loveless marriage is set in a suburban home in Perth’s affluent western suburbs where the lure of white goods and ‘silver screens’ is just as potent as it was in 1951.

Sam and Dinah have a picture perfect life but despite their possessions and accomplishments they are trapped in a dysfunctional marriage. From my seat on the patio I could see wilted roses in a vase, Junior (Rory McLaughlin) immersed in headphones and a screen and Dinah in the kitchen, the squeak of her sneakers on the polished floorboards the only noise in the otherwise deafening silence.

Helen Sherman (Dinah) with Christopher Tonkin (Sam) in the background. All photos c Kristoffer Myhre

Tyler Hill’s set design included stacks of removalist boxes - a catalogue of unused possessions and also an innovative backdrop for the vocal trio (Bernstein’s “Greek chorus born of the radio commercial”) who functioned as removalists. Kieran Lynch, Curtis Novacsek and Rachel Singer were dressed as tradies and crooned close harmonies, jazz rhythms and sugar-coated lyrics with velveteen smoothness while ticking off items required to live the American dream: ‘Sheridan sofa, Chippendale chair, bone chinaware, real solid silver’.

The entire 45 minute opera unfolded in the living room which converted to Sam’s office, the street and a cinema. Pianist Christopher van Tuinen accompanied from the adjoining lounge, his clean technique and tender phrasing creating subtle background atmosphere. The audience sat in raked seating in the patio with the double doors to the starkly lit home (lighting by Devon Lovelady) creating a cinema screen of sorts.

One of Lost and Found’s strengths has been its casting of local world class singers. This year the company has toured a production to Victoria (and Paris in 2018) and seems to be spreading its wings, which perhaps explains the use of internationally-based singers for this show. It is disappointing for the local talent but there was no argument that Sam and Dinah were magnificently cast.

Sam was sung by Australian baritone Christopher Tonkin who is resident principal with Hannover Staatsoper and Dinah by mezzo soprano Helen Sherman who splits her time between the UK and east-coast Australia. Tonkin’s creamy baritone and sweet falsetto were a treat to listen to in close proximity while his chiselled features and contemptuous body language gave an extra arrogance to ‘There’s a Law’, sung after winning a hand ball tournament and while leaning against the patio door dressed in nothing but stars and stripes swimmers.

Tonkin (Sam) singing There's a Law

Sherman’s secure delivery, crisp diction and fast vibrato could also melt into moments of tearful fragility. Her Island Magic tribute to the Pacific islands was sensational, sung cabaret-style in a camilla dress complete with a bubbling volcano (courtesy of a champagne bottle and some aspirin) around which she sashayed with riotous extravagance.

It was unclear whether Sam and Dinah were moving into or out of their house; rather they seemed to be waiting in between. The coldness of their home with its stark lighting and boxed possessions was a powerful metaphor of the uncertainty of their relationship. The kernel of the opera thus became the ‘talk’ Sam initiated in the final scene, where any hope of resolution was quickly avoided by his suggestion they go to the movies. Sam’s silver screen substitution for intimacy couldn’t be clearer to the audience watching with voyeuristic fascination from our cinema seats on the patio.

Trouble in Tahiti runs until May 20th. Tickets are sold out.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Women of Note at Bassendean Library and RTRFM

The public speaking gigs just keep rolling in and I'm loving it!

Bassendean Library have asked me to present at their Literary Salon on Wednesday 17th May - think musical soiree with High Tea, stunning music and scandalous stories from Australia's women composers. It's the perfect event to take your mother to for Mother's Day! I have also invited some local friends as Bassendean is just down the road from us in Guildford.

I'm heading into RTRFM tomorrow, book under my arm, to promote the Literary Salon. Tune in to 92.1FM at 10:10am to hear me chatting on Artbeat about Women of Note and why women composers are so inspiring and intrinsic to Australia's music history.

"Everything I've ever wanted to do would've been easier... had I been a boy. But never mind, I never paid much attention to it, I just marched in and there I was." Peggy Glanville-Hicks

"The world at large thinks a woman can't be creative. A woman can contribute in a special way. I don't think women want to write the same type of thing as men, but their contribution is no less important."  Margaret Sutherland

The Literary Salon is 6-8pm Wednesday 17th May at Bassendean Memorial Library. This is a free event but places are limited. Go online to book or contact baslib@bassendean.wa.gov.au 9279 2966 

Saturday, 6 May 2017

The surprise highlight of the St George's Cathedral Choral Classics

St George’s Cathedral was strung with microphones for the first of four concerts throughout the year which will be broadcast on ABC Classic FM. It’s a testimony to director Joseph Nolan and the Cathedral Consort’s national reputation as a world class choir grounded in the crisp purity of the English choral tradition. The 21-piece Consort performed a program of choral classics spanning the 16th to 21st centuries with Faure’s Requiem as the centrepiece. The pews were reversed so the ensemble could perform from the Narthex on Friday night in close proximity to Stewart Smith in the organ loft.

Two 16th century works opened the program: Victoria’s Alma Redemptoris Mater with its intervals of open fourths and fifths so perfectly tuned the harmonics prickled my skin, and the dense polyphonic energy of Gibbons’ O Clap Your Hands.  Nolan conducted with pulsing energy although the section entries were not as precisely in unison as usual.

Smith’s striking organ chords gave a Gothic darkness to the opening of Faure’s Requiem and the work was rich with dramatic poise, notably the velveteen smoothness of the Amen concluding the Offertorium and the swell of sound to illuminate ‘et lux perpetua luceat eis’ in the Agnus Dei.

But the work wasn’t the musical centrepiece I was expecting. I missed the warmth of the orchestral accompaniment; the organ registrations were brittle, phrases clipped short and the rippling accompaniment to Sanctus (famously scored for harp and violin) felt too fast and mechanical. The soloists were tentative: baritone Andrew Foote warmed into the baritone role in his second solo and Edward Micro’s treble was pure and rounded but on the edge of cracking.

Instead William Walton’s The Twelve emerged as the highlight of the program. The biting harmonies and dramatic word painting of Walton’s anthem and mini cantata were sung with vigour and unity. Foote delivered a splendidly declamatory solo and Smith exploded into brillante organ arpeggios. The Consort sung with immaculate diction and rhythmic precision and the ensemble soloists were excellent, particularly the beautifully delivered soprano duo.

The spotlight on individual Consort singers was also the highlight of Charpentier’s Te Deum, providing a rare chance to hear the different timbres within this well-blended ensemble. The organ sat more organically in this arrangement. In fact the entire second half of the program was pristine, concluding with a setting of Ubi Caritas by Perry Joyce (a tenor from the Consort) which was a warmly mellow contrast to Handel’s Zadok the Priest where the choir sang with enormous volume underpinned by Smith’s virtuosic organ semiquavers.

Tune in to ABC Classic FM to hear the broadcast of this concert on Friday 12th May at midday.

This review first published in Limelight Magazine May 2017.

Friday, 28 April 2017

May Gig Guide - A massive month!

Welcome to May and a massive month of gigs.

The focus this month appears to be new music, kicking off with the Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble who are currently giving a national tour. They perform a program of Russian composers and a new work by Aussie composer Michael Smetanin on May 2nd at the Subiaco Arts Centre.

The new music continues on 4th – 6th with Defying Gravity percussion ensemble from the Academy of Performing Arts in collaboration with Kaboom percussion. Also at WAAPA on 8-12th is the Sound Spectrum Festival, the first of two festivals celebrating the composers and performers from WAAPA including an audio visual concert on the 10th titled Video Killed the Radio Star.

Meanwhile on May 5th the St George’s Cathedral Consort will perform Faure’s Requiem and Walton’s The Twelve and on the 7th the prodigious 14 year old Shuan Hern Lee will give a piano recital at 4pm as part of UWA's Keyed Up! series.

The Perth Symphony Orchestra are presenting Bach by Candlelight on the 6th at St Matthew's church Armadale with a sumptuous program full of surprises including Bach's double violin concerto led by Paul Wright and Jasmin Parkinson-Stewart, plus a guest appearance by jazz musician Jamie Oehlers and complimentary wine, tied together by narration from Chris Isaacs!

This month the WA Symphony Orchestra will perform in some special events including a concert with The Whitlams on the 3rd as part of the band's 25th Anniversary Tour and performances on the 5/6th of John Williams' live soundtrack to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. On the 28th the WASO Chorus under Christopher van Tuinen will perform Faure's Requiem at St Mary's Cathedral (yes that's the second performance this month!).

It's also an exciting month for opera. Lost & Found opera company's much-anticipated first production for the year will be a novel presentation of Trouble in Tahiti running from the 12-20th May at a suburban house in City Beach. And Freeze Frame opera make their first whole opera debut with an abridged version of La Boheme running the 25th-28th at the art deco Camelot Theatre, Mosman Park.

On the 14th the Darlington String Quartet will perform their first concert for the year featuring Shostakovich, Webern, Haydn and on the 21st the Perth Symphonic Chorus perform classics by Bach and Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna feautring Sara Macliver and Paull Anthony-Kneightly under the direction of Margaret Pride.

Alexandra Da Costa will feature in repertoire by Beethoven in concerts at WAAPA from the 19-20th while at UWA on the 22nd UWA students will compete at the Perth Concert Hall in the grand final for the Vose Concerto Competition.

Guitarist Slava Grigoryan joins the Australian String Quartet for a national tour kicking off in Perth on the 23rd and also that night Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt will perform Bach and others as part of a Musica Viva national tour. I recommend attending the fascinating and incredibly witty pre-concert talk for this concert which will be presented by yours truly ;-)

The month ends with some more new music with Tura new music presenting the GreyWing Ensemble (includes Lindsay Vickery, Jameson Feakes and Catherine Ashley) in a Scale Variable concert built around the music of Brazil.

Happy listening!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Celebrity Soft Spot Shuan Hern Lee

Shuan Hern Lee's life with music began when he was two years old. Now at age 14 the pianist, composer and singer is studying a voice degree at the University of Western Australia. Last year he made his debut with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and won the San Marino International Piano Competition and the International Piano Competition for Young Musicians (Netherlands). He also loves nerf guns. Meet Perth's teenage prodigy.

What music gets your heart racing?

All types of  Classical Music, especially music of Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff.  Pieces such as Hungarian Rhapsodies by Liszt and Spanish Rhapsody by Liszt, and also Islamey by Balakirev.  Basically all virtuosic pieces make my heart race fast.

What calms you down?

Slow pieces by Chopin such as slow movements of sonatas, nocturnes, Barcarolle and other slow pieces of other composers calm me down. 

What do you sing along to?

I sing along to all the pieces I practice as this helps me feel the cantabile style in music and tonal projection. 

You made history last year when you were the youngest person to be awarded the Fellowship in Music Australia (FMusA), the highest and most prestigious award offered by the AMEB. Do you consider yourself to be a musical genius?

I don’t believe in the word genius. It is all about working really hard. I took the exam as an experience and did not bother about the result. I enjoy performing a lot and especially solo recitals and therefore the full 80 mins program requirement for the F.Mus.A diploma exam gave me a platform to perform many pieces which I thoroughly enjoyed. It is certainly an honour to obtain such a prestigious award and all the hours of practice made it possible.

Shuan Hern Lee on The Voice (kids)
Your incredible career has so far included a performance in Carnegie Hall (aged 7), a concert with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra and starring on the Voice Kids show in Delta Goodrems team. What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?

I have performed concerto works with many professional orchestras in various countries but I really enjoyed performing Grieg’s piano concerto with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra in the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow and also Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto with WASO last year because it is a really great orchestra and the acoustic of Perth Concert Hall is fantastic. 

How are you preparing for your UWA Keyed Up concert on May 7th?

I choose pieces that I really enjoy performing and practice really hard and many hours daily. I work out details of each piece and search for the meaning of each work and prepare technical and musical aspects of the pieces. To perform for the audience is such a joy for me and to bring them into a musical journey filled with many variety of pieces, moods and styles is what I aim to present for this concert. 

You do a lot of performing how do you deal with nerves and performance anxiety?

I never become nervous or have performance anxiety.  I have been performing since 3 and it has become a natural thing for me to do. I always pray before each performance that I will perform very well and communicate with my audience and I prepare and practice really hard before each performance so I have no regrets. 

Watch excerpts from Shuan Hern Lee's winning performance at the San Marino International Piano Competition 2016

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

I totally agree that music should be interesting. The most important role of music is that of a language that is universal and it surpasses all nationality and race. It is most important that music speaks to us and the musician communicates to us through the tool which is the music. By speaking to us, music should make us feel different emotions at different periods of time.

You have been homeschooled and began your music education at the age of two and a half, studying piano, voice and composition with your dad. What is it like having a dad who is also your music teacher?

Shuan Hern Lee with parents
I am very fortunate to have been born into a musical family and also with my dad as my music teacher.  It is certainly very handy as you get 24 hours advice and I believe that many famous musicians come from musical parents too.  I have always enjoyed lessons with dad and also with him practicing with me, because he has always made the piano like a toy for me.  Having lessons with dad was always wonderful and it is a huge advantage because I could have as many lessons as I want. During the lessons, we discuss about music, historical aspects of piano playing and he incorporates all sorts of fun games when teaching me and practicing with me. For example he uses stuffed toys as puppets to make my practice fun and he incorporates running for 15 seconds after I have managed a part musically and then get back to the piano again.  Sometimes he makes me sit on a gym ball while practicing Chopin etudes. Therefore we have sport and piano practice simultaneously.  It was so fun!

This year you have begun a degree at UWA studying voice. What is it like being a university student?

It is very enjoyable to be a university student and good to meet different students, lecturers and discuss music as our common interest.  It is rather strange for me as a 14 year old to be amongst the older tertiary age students. My mum has to drive me to UWA and accompany me to lecturers and tutorials for the reason to provide duty of care.  But I feel really honoured and privileged to be at a tertiary institution and the youngest at the UWA school of music.

What do you enjoy most about music?

I enjoy being able to communicate with the audience and to be able to interpret various styles when learning.  Also I enjoy taking up the challenge to master a piece of sophisticated music. 

You have a soft spot for the voice. Why have you chosen to pursue voice above all your other musical interests at university level?

I have always liked to sing since from a very young age. I sing in church and attends my dad’s Bridge Choir and our local church choir regularly. My dad has taught me singing for many years and I would like it to compliment my piano performance. But of course I may end up being both a singer and a pianist professionally in the future. Chopin always wanted his students to take up singing lessons, so I strongly believe that it will help me with my piano performance. I have perfect pitch and I memorise pieces and songs quickly, so I thought singing would be the most appropriate subject for me. I also played the violin and cello for a few years but I still prefer singing and obviously top of the list is still piano.

Shuan Hern Lee aged 8.

Where did you learn the skills to practice for six hours a day?

To practice six hours a day is a discipline that I have developed since young and anyone could do it with determination. I find it the same thing as how a runner prepares for a cross country marathon race. The amount of spirit and motivation it takes for one to run from the beginning to the end of a race, is similar to the motivation that it takes to complete a 6 hour practice. I break up the 6 hours into a few slots, with breaks in between. I think that practicing many hours is very essential, due to the large amount of repertoire I want to work on.

What would you say to young children who are learning a musical instrument?

I would say that besides having the love to play the instrument, you need to be committed to practice it. Without practice and hard work nothing is possible. You must be able to transfer the love for the instrument into the motivation of mastering the instrument. Sometimes, music can also be fun, so try to find and incorporate different ways of practicing that will inspire yourself to practice and love the instrument more and more.

What is your favourite place in Perth?

My favourite place in Perth is the area around Riverside Drive and Elizabeth Quay. I go there quite often. I love to cycle down Riverside Drive then take relaxing walks around the quay. I also love to go down to beaches. I find it so soothing around rivers and beaches. The waves and currents calm me down and I always feel nostalgic around beaches.

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

I think no matter how much one practices piano, one will never perform well unless one has other experiences in life which will then enhance one’s performance. So even if I find myself very busy, I still find time for fun things like table tennis and nerf guns. I also like taking walks in parks, going to beaches, watching opera and playing archery. Sometimes I invite friends over for a nerf gun battle or a table tennis game. I hang out with my friends at church sometimes and I attend concerts with my dad’s students too. I like to travel on the plane and visit different airports all over the world. But eating is definitely on the top of my soft spot list. I love all kinds of cuisines especially Japanese. 

Thank you Shuan Hern Lee for participating in the Celebrity Soft Spot series. Shuan's next performance is at the UWA Keyed Up! concert on May 7th. For more details about Shuan go to his website and you can watch more performances on his YouTube channel.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Asher Fisch and WASO: what is the magic formula?

It's Friday morning and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra are in rehearsal. Principal conductor Asher Fisch arrives at the podium and picks up his baton, which has been accessorised with a ping pong ball. He holds it up for the orchestra to see and joins in the general laughter.

It is four years into the maestro's contract with the orchestra and the relationship has produced quite incredible results. Fisch has an obvious camaraderie with the orchestra, but there's also a marked improvement in the string blending, a more cohesive warmth from the winds and brass and profound detail in the musical interpretation. In a recent Limelight review Fisch was credited with transforming the orchestra into the best interpreters of German romantic repertoire this side of Germany. How has he done it?

WASO tuning up for their Friday rehearsal.

I sat in on a rehearsal this week to discover the magical formula. The concert this weekend includes Mozart, Stravinsky and Sibelius, a welcome relief for those of us who have found Fisch's programming focus on Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner a little conservative. It was the final rehearsal but there was still time for Fisch to relate the last time he was on the receiving end of an orchestral prank: his baton was substituted with a sausage during a performance of Manon and he used the sausage to conduct the remainder of the opera. More laughter from the orchestra and then the rehearsal began.

Mozart's Symphony No 29 took up most of the session. Much of it was nuts and bolts; correcting bowing and articulation, checking balance. Fisch often deferred to assistant conductor Elena Schwarz who was sitting in the auditorium following the score. The assistant conductor position was created under Fisch's tenure and the Swiss/Australian Schwarz is the second recipient following on from Christopher Dragon. Fisch turned often to look for her nod of confirmation: "Can you hear the violas?"; "How is the volume here?"

assistant Elena Schwarz
Fisch's direction was energised and even-handed, leaping lightly from his rehearsal stool to give direction to a phrase. At times he would try out an articulation with the orchestra before marking it in their parts and there was a sense of working it out together. "Yes that is better don't you think? Write it in." He used words sparingly and effectively: "Don't take this personally but it (the andante movement) sounds like Versailles and the nobility are eating chicken. Too relaxed. Which is how it was back then, but I want more."

Fisch listened to the opening of the symphony from the auditorium before asking for two-thirds less volume from the second violins, viola and cellos. The tempo was already quite moderate and the softer tone gave a hushed expectancy before erupting into the fully fledged theme, exploiting the pristine acoustics of the Perth Concert Hall.

The opening eight bars of the Minuet and Trio were worked over in detail to get the exact rise and fall. At bar 26 he stopped again: the violins needed to take time on the dotted rhythm before landing on the trill. They played it again and this time it had lift and elegance. "Perfect". Gradually the often lightweight minuet movement was transformed into a deftly elegant dance. Again in the fourth movement a simple request for a more energetic upbeat from the violins meant the whole phrase bristled with energy.

Slowly the symphony took on a distinct shape. The clean simplicity of Mozart can be unforgiving but FIsch's attention to detail was paying off. This was Mozart so distilled so that, like a miniature painting, the impact was compact and vivid.

Rehearsing Sibelius Symphony No 2

During the break I chatted with assistant concertmaster Semra Lee-Smith who confirmed that the orchestral players are just as delighted as the audience.

"I've been here 14 years and the last six or so years have been amazing. Now the emphasis is more on the music."

She describes Fisch's opening concert with the orchestra when he performed as a soloist in a Mozart piano concerto as a turning point.

"He started as one of us. I have so much respect that he performed as a pianist with us first. It feels like he is one of us. And he allows us to make mistakes and will laugh with us. That is really important."

After the break the rehearsal continued with a
top-and-tail of Stravinsky's Violin Concerto featuring concertmaster Laurence Jackson as soloist (a little hard to recognise casually attired in jeans and sneakers!). Jackson's incisive rhythm and bright sound gave a shining clarity to the rarely heard concerto. The ex-Birmingham Symphony Orchestra concertmaster joined the orchestra in 2016 and is no small part of WASO's transformation. Quietly spoken, unassuming and with faultless musical intuition he is respected and admired by the players. They warmly applauded him at the end of the rehearsal.

There was just time for a few touch ups to Sibelius' Symphony No 2. This is the first time Fisch has performed a Sibelius symphony and it marks a departure away from standard German romantic repertoire. Fisch has often commented about the chemistry he felt with WASO from the beginning and the more adventurous programming makes it is clear that now there is also trust.

His approach to rehearsing Sibelius showed the same detailed faithfulness to the score with an instinctive ear for balance and dynamic contrasts. Nothing that magical then. But combined with a world class concertmaster, orchestral players who feel like they are integral to the team and an organisational structure that puts the emphasis on the music the results are consistently outstanding. Later in the year the focus will be on Wagner's symphonic repertoire and there is a Tristan und Isolde planned for 2018. But I hope Fisch continues to expand his repertoire choices because as far as I can see the sky is the limit.

WASO will give their final performance of the Sibelius, Mozart and Stravinsky program tonight at the Perth Concert Hall.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Celebrity Soft Spot William Yeoman

William Yeoman is Literary Editor and arts writer at The West Australian newspaper.  His widely respected views on music can be read in Limelight and Gramophone magazines. Behind his dignified persona is a yoga-loving guitarist whose love of the arts is such that he will walk out of a rubbish performance. Will shares with us his thoughts on the much-maligned and desperately unappreciated role of the music critic.

What music gets your heart racing?

Vivaldi violin concertos performed at breakneck speed and with plenty of improvised ornamentation!

What calms you down?

Much of Ravel, Debussy and Chopin’s solo piano music, every time…

What do you sing along to?

Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter, Finzi’s Houseman and Hardy settings, Bach’s Matthew Passion, Handel’s Messiah (of course!)

You are currently books editor at The West Australian plus contributing to Weekend West and writing features and reviews covering the classical music scene. You seem to fit three jobs into one – a mammoth undertaking! Why is it so important to you that the WA arts scene is covered in the newspaper?

There is something of Schiller and Schopenhauer in this, but I believe the arts are fundamental to civilization because they allow us the freedom to explore, experiment and grow our creativity in a way that benefits every other aspect of society. As I have written elsewhere, “no endeavour, whether scientific, political, social, economic, military or recreational, can be realised in a way that benefits every member of the community unless it arises from, and is inspired by, that creativity and freedom which only the arts can engender. The arts are not a luxury. They are a necessity.” Therefore the more we can do to support and promote the local arts scene through the newspaper, the better it is for everyone. And readers seem to be responding positively.

William Yeoman on Seven West Media's Travel Club
What does a day in the life of Will look like?

3am Meditation and creative writing
5am Breakfast and reading
7am-between 3 & 5pm: Work (writing, editing, administration, interviews, meetings) Lunch somewhere in there too!
After work: Yoga, dinner
Evening: guitar or piano practice, freelance writing OR concert if reviewing for the paper.
Before bed: reading, listening to music

Watch William in action conducting a hilarious interview with Helmut Wunderlicher here.

How do you select content and discern what readers are interested in?

I look for a) the most significant events from an audience perspective ie WASO, WA Opera; and b) the most unusual events which are nevertheless likely to expand someone’s understanding of the arts and should therefore be pointed out ie a concert of contemporary classical music or an avant garde opera. It is also important to take risks, not just with style but content. Your readers will let you know when you’ve got it wrong!

Why is it important to be reviewing concerts and productions? Is it to register the event on the public record or is it more than that?

A review is often the only record of an event, so it is important for that reason. But reviewers should also be able to contextualize a particular event for those who were there as much as for those who were not, retrospectively, and evaluate it in light of similar kinds of performances and similar kinds of music. I also believe reviewing is a form of literature which should educate, entertain and form an integral part of the larger cultural conversation.

Fewer and fewer media institutions around the world are covering arts and providing specialist reviews. Is music journalism a dying artform?

There has arguably been a decline not just in content but in respect for serious music journalism. But I think that as long as the quality of the writing, the quality of the knowledge and the quality of the ideas are strong and original, music journalism is here to stay.

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

See above – the role of music should be to challenge rather than console. But music has to be interesting first, because otherwise nobody will bother listening to it. Then it has to be original, challenging, well-crafted and philosophically and theoretically well-grounded. And hopefully still fun!

You have a soft spot for guitar. When did you first begin learning?

I started learning guitar at the age of 10 from a crazy Yugoslavian guy in Northam. I studied all styles and only started focusing on classical and jazz in my early 20s.

I remember when you were working at a Nedlands music store and moonlighting as a music critic after hours. Where did you learn the skills to be an arts journalist and make the transition to The West?

I suppose I had a modest talent for writing, and always read and wrote a lot from a young age. Studying Latin at university level certainly helped improve my grammar and develop a sense of style. But my time working in the Classical Music retail industry, both here in Perth and in London, proved invaluable for my arts journalism: apart from the endless hours of comparative listening possible in such an environment, nobody should ever underestimate the musicological knowledge and essayistic skills one can glean from the finest writers of CD liner notes. I’m thinking of Graham Johnson, for example. I was lucky enough to start freelance reviewing for The West about 12 years ago. I guess they liked my work enough to offer me a fulltime job as a staff writer when one came up! After that, it was onwards and upwards, as they say. I have always loved all the arts, especially music and the visual arts, and there is never any shortage of great arts stories out there.

Inside goss on the The West – the paper is losing pages and readers by the month. Will our local daily survive the rise of digital media?

This may have been true in the past, but more recently we’ve had more and more space devoted to the arts, which in turn has been bringing former readers back to The West while attracting new ones. I know this from the amount of feedback I’ve been getting, telling me precisely this! There has also been a noticeable levelling-off in the print vs digital arena, and it is no longer seen as a marriage of convenience – more a match made in heaven!

What is your favourite place in Perth?

New Edition Bookshop in Fremantle.

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

I enjoy yoga and meditation too – though I suppose they are art forms in themselves as well!

Thank you William Yeoman for appearing on Celebrity Soft Spot. Follow William on Twitter @Sesquialtera  and in the arts pages of The West Australian newspaper.