Monday, 10 December 2012

Symphony in the City

The WA Symphony Orchestra had just finished Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, complete with 80-piece choir and fireworks exploding from the Langley Park stage. “That was great, better than Jennifer Lopez!” said my friend.
The estimated 15 000-strong crowd around us were on their feet cheering and the orchestra responded with two encores: Strauss’ Radetsky March and Peter Allen’s I Still Call Australia Home. It was a fitting conclusion to a very Aussie version of a classical music concert.
This was the first time the free Symphony in the City concert was held at Langley Park (moving from the Esplanade due to the Elizabeth Quay developments). A mild summer evening with the sunset reflecting on the Perth skyline made the perfect backdrop. The orchestra performed from a huge floodlit sound shell while the audience picnicked on the grass and screens projected the concert not just around the park but also to Albany and Merredin in a live regional simulcast. The concert was also webcast live with public screenings at towns around the state.
(To watch the webcast click here)

The orchestra were in relaxed form under conductor Paul Daniel, donning pirate hats for Klaus Badelt’s Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack. Delibes Flower Duet (Lakme) was a highlight with Perth divas Sarah Macliver and Fiona Campbell singing with a sweet delicacy that surpassed any recording or performance I’ve heard.

The WASO Chorus, recently returned from a tour to Hong Kong, brought a blast of energy to Verdi’s Anvil Chorus (Il Trovatore) and the men were in particularly good form for Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances (Prince Igor).

Presenter Andrew Horabin’s dry humour kept proceedings down-to-earth. His evocative introduction to Smetana’s Vltava (Ma Vlast) set the scene and the orchestra responded with a performance like a magnificent aural painting. It seemed even the wind stopped to listen to the hushed flute and harp depiction of the rippling river.

The engaging program effectively introduced the state-wide audience to the rich diversity of our orchestra. The icing on the cake would’ve been a piece by an Australian composer to showcase our living cultural heritage. But outclassing a pop concert at the new arena is a good start!

This article copyright The West Australian 2012

Music Monday December

You can't have Christmas without Handel's Messiah.
Thanks be to Collegium Symphonic Chorus for programming this season favourite on Saturday December 15th at the Perth Concert Hall. Dr Margaret Pride conducts as usual with Paul Wright leading the orchestra. Soloists are Vivien Hamilton soprano, Fiona Campbell mezzo, Robert McFarlane tenor, Robert Hofmann bass.

Bach's Christmas Oratorio also gets an outing on December 23rd with Chris van Tuinen conducting the UWA Choral Society. Katja Webb, Courtney Pitman, Alasdair Kent and David Costello are soloists.

And John Christmass will celebrate his last Vienna Pops concert on New Year's Eve.  The retiring maestro conducted his final Best of British earlier this year and the last Vienna Pops is sure to sell out fast.
The rest of the month and early January looks to be fairly quiet - the calm before the Perth Festival storm hits in February! And that's ok because we will be creating enough of our own parties in the next few weeks won't we?!
Merry Christmas all!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

25 years of new music

For the past 25 years Tura New Music have been making it their business to turn WA into a hotbed of new music activity. This weekend they celebrate with a series of concerts featuring among others Perth artist Kynan Tan. Tan was born a year after Tura began in 1987 (as Evos music) and is part of the new generation of artists who with the support of Tura are exposing WA audiences to new possibilities in music and sound.
Kynan Tan, photo courtesy Brad Serls.

On Saturday night Tan will perform his laptop piece Multiplicity in a concert alongside Melbourne computer wizard Robin Fox. Tan is a music technology graduate (the new lingo for composer) from the WA Academy of Performing Arts where he was introduced to the interdisciplinary potential of music and visuals. Tan’s decision to focus his practice in this area was cemented by his recent participation in the Australia Council’s JUMP mentorship program with Fox.

“I’ve always been interested in the visual element,” Tan explains. “It’s a natural step with computer technology to change audio signals to visual signals and vice versa. Audiences at concerts are always searching for visual stimulus and this provides a truly immersive effect.”

Tan first saw Fox perform at Tura’s 2007 Totally Huge New Music Festival and was inspired by the way Fox controlled a shimmering green beam of light with the same electrical impulses that were producing the sound. The concert was one of the first Tura events Tan had attended. Three years later Tan was the recipient of the Tura commissioning award and says the organisation has had a huge influence on his development as an artist.

“Receiving the Tura commissioning award forced me to continue to create music after I’d left the university environment. Having someone tell me I was heading in the right direction gave me a huge confidence boost. Tura is a great support, they bring in influential artists like Robin and they provide events where I can showcase what I’m doing.”

Tan is just one of Tura’s success stories in a legacy of music advocacy that has involved countless residencies, tours, festivals and concert series reaching from inner-city Perth to remote regional communities. The networking and stability Tura has provided WA artists as an umbrella organisation has been the envy of the nation.

John Davis, CEO of the Australian Music Centre, shakes his head in bewilderment at how Tura has stayed afloat over the decades. “I don’t know how they do it,” he often says.

 Tura’s celebration concerts continue next week with Decibel ensemble on Monday night, Queensland’s Clocked Out Duo on Wednesday and a jam session on Tuesday at the long-running Club Zho with performances by grassroots artists alongside new music faithfuls Cathie Travers, Lindsay Vickery, Cat Hope and Jonathon Mustard.

Tura Director Tos Mahoney has been cementing the future of Tura with the recent appointment of Annalisa Oxenburgh as general manager and an associate director joining the team in 2014. It’s intriguing to wonder who will be the emerging artists in 25 years and what their music will sound like. No doubt Kynan Tan will still be making music – Tura will make it their business.

See: for more 25th year celebration details

 This article copyright The West Australian 2012.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Happy 80th Birthday Betty Beath!

When I grow up I want to be as stylish and adventurous as Betty Beath.

Earlier this year I met Betty at the Perth airport and couldnt believe how fresh and funky she looked after a seven hour flight from Brisbane. And those fancy buckled shoes! Betty and her husband David were visiting for the launch of Women of Note, where Betty peformed one of her renowned song cycles with images by David.
(Betty playing piano)

They also came for dinner with Ann Carr-Boyd and had great fun meeting Matthew.


Our previous meeting had been several years earlier at Bettys home in Highgate Hill. Her home, like her music, reflects a life sensitised to sound and landscape. The rooms were filled with ornate Indonesian furniture; doors and windows opened wide into the jungle-like garden.

Betty's interest in the natural can be traced to a childhood playing in the bush around the family cane farm in Bundaberg, northern Queensland. When Betty was three her mother decided she should have music lessons and so the piano also became a formative influence.
Actually it seems to me now that my role in music was perhaps a little predetermined by my mother, Betty told me with a smile. I had passed my first exam before I was four and could read music before starting school.

She continued piano through to university level, studying with Frank Hutchens in Sydney and completing her degree at the Queensland Conservatorium. Her first compositions were for piano and voice. I began to feel that I was writing well for the voice and that I had confidence in writing for the piano. Then gradually I had opportunities. Richard Mills had a song cycle Id written, River Songs, and he said to me, Betty, why dont you orchestrate that? I thought, I will, Ill have a go at that. That might have been among the first of my orchestral works for voice and after that I was invited to do some more, and so it went on.

Betty's first contact with Asian cultures came in the fifties, long before the Peter Sculthorpe school was established. Her first husbands occupation took them to a remote Papua New Guinean island in 1953 and the experience left a vivid impression on the young composer.
It opened my eyes to particular colours and sounds, and the experience of being able to live in a remote area. For at least six months I was the only white woman on the island of Abau. I set up my first home there. No piano, but I wrote to my mother: Please send me up my violin!”’

In 1975, after rearing two children, Betty travelled with her second husband, writer and illustrator David Cox, to Indonesia as recipients of a three month South-East Asian Fellowship from the Australia Council.
That completely changed my life. The images that I still retain vividly in my mind are of the dance and the music that I heard it was so enlightening to me.

Betty had not studied composition formally during her degree but in Bali she studied with the renowned musician Tjokorde Agung Mas and it gave a confidence and impetus that has never left.

The gentle Nawang Wulan Guardian of the Earth and Rice (1980) for flute and piano derives its harmony and melody from an Indonesian five-note scale.


 I like [my music] to have a certain impact and drama, but I like it to communicate a feeling, to have warmth, joy or sadness; all those things are important. And simplicity.

Lament for Kosovo (1999) is one of Betty's most popular works and has been performed around the world (in arrangements for string orchestra and mandolin prchestra) including at the United Nations Headquarters in Vienna (2008) to honour the Declaration of Human Rights.

This and many of her other works have been recorded on over forty CDs, mostly on the Jade and Wirripang labels.

 I think that we write from our own time, Betty said. We show just as a painter does whats happening now. We are responding to influences, things that we feel deeply about. Im not working from a completely intellectual level at all I dont care about that but I do care about my work being as professional as I can possibly get it and as good as I can.

Betty continues to compose large-scale works, is an active grandmother and examines for the AMEB.

Im still writing for my time but Im also writing for my age. Im aware that I want to communicate more. I want people to feel more, to experience more from the music; I think music is very healing, I think it has a fundamental value in our lives that is often unrecognised and undervalued.
Bless you Betty!
You can find more information on Betty Beath and other women composers in Australia in Women of Note or


Sunday, 11 November 2012

Perth International Arts Festival - at a glance

The 2013 Perth International Arts Festival program has just been released and we are spoilt this year! Fine music program manager Chris van Tuinen has really landed a hot program. My pick of the classical gigs below:

Top of the list: the world premiere of Philip Glass's Complete Piano Etudes .
Pretty cool that Phillip Glass is coming to present this monumental piece AND that it includes three totally new works commissioned by our festival. It's not often such a big name composer is in town let alone premiering his music. I've only spotted him from a distance, I'm hoping to get a chance to interview him this time :-)
Aussie pianist Sally Whitwell is going to be performing some of the Etudes. Sally is a bit of a young hot thing who has become an overnight star since the runaway success of her 2011 CD of Glass's piano music.
Laurie Anderson also ticks all my boxes - woman composer, edgy contemporary music that crosses into pop and radio. Think Cathie Travers crossed with Gail Priest. Laurie is collaborating (for the first time) with the Kronos string quartet in a new piece of their own devising, what a huge gig.
And of course Threepenny Opera by Berliner Ensemble is going to be hard to beat. Another festival opera (following Elektra earlier this year), what a treat! I didn't get to see the Berliner Ensemble when I was in Europe so I am hoping bubs comes early so I'm able to get out to see them in February!
The theme of darkness and light will be explored in a performance by the St George's Cathedral Consort. They will sing Gesualdo's a capella Tenebrae Responsoria with a special light installation by visual artist Benjamin Bergery.  This gig will sell out for sure, audiences can't get enough of the ethereal acappella and candles thing! And the Consort are singing at an amazing standard at the moment.
I love that lots of these concerts are featuring fresh music by people still alive and writing for our time. It makes the program unrepeatable and precious - we may never get another chance to meet Laurie or Phillip or experience Gesualdo's Tenebrae performed in this way. There is no substitute!
More deets and the rest of the program go to

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Peggy Glanville-Hicks premiere

Congratulations Peggy Glanville-Hicks on the premiere this Sunday of the first complete recording of Sappho!!!

I can imagine you on your Greek island in the sixties as you researched and wrote it. I wonder if you ever imagined it would have its world premiere in Lisbon in 2012? And that it would be conducted by a Australian female conductor?

Sappho was commissioned by the San Francisco Opera when Peggy was at the height of her career. The world had just witnessed the triumph of Nausicaa premiered 1961 in Athens and rumour was that Maria Callas would make her comeback as a soprano in Sappho. But the finished work was rejected by the opera house and the work was never premiered. Two years later Peggy was diagnosed with a brain tumour and despite successful operations she never composed again.

Parts of Sappho have been recorded the entire opera had not been performed in public until earlier this year.

Great work Jennifer Condon for organising the whole affair (pictured below at first rehearsal).

And I'm so glad ABC classic FM got in on the action and snapped up broadcast rights. Tune in on Sunday Nov 4th at 7pm for the first ever broadcast of this amazing piece. Deborah Polaski sings the title role. The synopsis is here (libretto by Lawrence Durrell with original text by Sappho 630 BC).

For more details the project has its own website

Long live the music Peggy!

Women of Note at State Library

I call her a musical magpie because her music glitters with references to a huge range of styles including tango, rock, electronics, folk and music theatre. Cathie Travers is one of Australia's most unique composers and we have recently been doing some presentations around Perth talking stories and music from Women of Note.

Here is one of the pieces Cathie plays, in a helpful Youtube clip that explains how she is using the electronics to layer the sound.

If you want to hear Cathie play this and other pieces live (and hear some stories about the rise of Australian women composers) then come down to the State Library on Saturday 3rd November 2pm. We'll be set up in the outdoor Love2Read Cafe. There will be Cathie's CD's and my book on sale plus loads of bargains at 'The Big Book and Music Sale'.

Hopefully the sun will be shining again by then and it will the perfect afternoon to lounge at the cafe and enjoy the entertainment!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Music Monday November

November already, my head is spinning!

November 11th isn't the big deal in Australia that it is in Europe but there is a Remembrance Day concert being held at St Patrick's Basilica in Fremantle. Dominic Perissinotto will give an organ recital with works by Liszt, Franck, Elgar, also Thalben-Ball's Elegy, famously performed at Princess Diana's funeral. A solemn, poignant and elegant way to acknowledge war and the pursuit of peace.

If an American hotdog is one of your 'Favourite Things' head to WASO on Nov 2nd and 4th for their Rogers and Hammerstein tribute. Jacqui Scott and Andrew Halliday will star as the Captain and Maria among other favourite roles, accompanied by the orchestra and yes I wasn't joking about the hotdogs at interval!

Slightly more serious the following week when the orchestra are joined by the LA Guitar Quartet playing Rodrigo's Concierto Andaluz, ole! It's a hot program which also includes Stravinsky's Firebird Suite and Ravel's Mother Goose suite and the Australian premiere of Osvaldo Golijov's Sidereus. I have the feeling the orchestra are going to enjoy this one.

The ACO return on Nov 14th with a Russian program AND ex-WASO trumpet player David Elton who will feature with British pianist Steven Osborne in Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No 1. The ACO promise an immensely virtuosic performance with flexibility and humour veering on craziness. This is my pick for the month.

The following night Musica Viva bring to Perth Anthony Marwood (piano) and Aleksandar Madzar (violin) who apparently belong together like wine and cheese. The publicity brags they are musical soulmates - big claims but I guess when you've been playing together for twenty years it begins to show. Repertoire includes Beethoven, Debussy, Schubert and Kerry.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Madam Butterfly needs new wings

Thanks to Caitlyn for her enthusiastic and insightful company on Tuesday night. It was a mixed night for me, moving but frustrating too.

Madam Butterfly
His Majesty's Theatre
October 2012

I first saw Andrew Sinclair’s production of Madam Butterfly decades ago and it was the first time opera moved me deeply. It was partly the story of a teenage Japanese girl’s sacrifice of family, faith and eventually her son for a faithless American sailor, and it was also the exotic beauty of the set and music.

Puccini did everything right when he set David Belasco’s popular play about a marriage of convenience between a sailor stationed in Nagasaki and a Japanese geisha. The romantic tragedy is perfectly paced and decadently scored. WA Opera have been staging Butterfly roughly every six years, most recently in 2006 although there was an unstaged Opera in the Park performance in 2008.

Director Andrew Sinclair’s early 20th century French interpretation of Puccini’s east-west tragedy was fresh and original when it premiered in 1993. If you haven’t seen Madam Butterfly before this will be a good introduction. But the Monet-inspired waterlilies, the impressionistic Japanese costumes and the revolving wooden house (designer Kenneth Rowell) are looking familiar and worn. A sensational cast were required to justify dusting it off for the fourth time.

Fortunately American soprano Kelly Kaduce didn’t disappoint as Cio-Cio-San, giving a deeply felt performance with a rounded, mellow soprano inflected with giggles, tenderness and rage as her character required. Angus Wood was a golden-toned Lieutenant Pinkerton, singing with youthful brashness that a sailor’s life isn’t complete until he’s ‘picked the flowers of every place he’s visited’ and taking the boos at curtain call good naturedly.

Cio-Cio-San’s maid Suzuki was sung by the dutifully concerned Fiona Campbell whose face reflected in every scene the truth Cio-Cio-San was avoiding. James Clayton was the increasingly disapproving American Consul Sharpless and Andrew Foote was Cio-Cio-San’s ever hopeful suitor Prince Yamadori. The kimono-clad WA Opera Chorus shuffled and bowed as Cio-Cio-San’s wedding entourage and were fiercely condemning when they discovered her secret conversion to Christianity.

The clash of east and west is written clearly into Puccini’s music, with tam tams and pentatonic scales versus The Star Spangled Banner references. In 2006 Joseph Colaneri’s conducting was one of the highlights of the performance. Returning now as the company’s artistic director, Colaneri was equally satisfying. The WA Symphony Orchestra were lush and cohesive, injecting the drama required to drive the opera to its devastating conclusion.

I’ve now seen Madam Butterfly five times and my son is a similar age to Cio-Cio-San’s blue-eyed Japanese baby so the opera has taken on a new power. But I won’t go see it again. With only three staged operas a year this repetition of even the most enduring opera favourite runs the risk of overkill.

The current season of Madam Butterfly follows the revival of the museum-piece production of Lucia di Lammermoor. Is dusty repertory opera all that is left after the effort to create a new production like Elektra? I think Perth deserves better.

 This review copyright The West Australian 2012.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Wine and Canapes - with music!

I am doing several book talks in the next few weeks and thought I'd post details of the one in Subiaco because it is a free event with wine and canapes!

Monday 22nd October
Subiaco Library, 237 Rokeby Rd

I will be sharing stories about the women and the music in Women of Note and one of the featured composers Cathie Travers will be performing on accordion. There will be a chance to purchase signed copies of Women of Note. Should be a really special evening.

Bookings are essential as places are limited. Please RSVP to Subiaco Library on 9237 9300 or More details here.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Help needed - free opera ticket for your efforts!

Thi is the fourth production of Madam Butterfly I've seen by WA Opera. I think I'm going to need some help...

If you are interested in helping me gain a fresh perspective please make a comment below and you will go in the draw to win a FREE TICKET to opening night on October 23rd! Your companionship could be just what I need to enjoy the night out.

Don't get me wrong, Madam Butterfly is an amazing opera and Puccini's music gets me every time (mental note must remember to take tissues). But there is only so many times I can sit through the same production (yes it is the Andrew Sinclair production AGAIN) without getting cynical.

The creative team is interesting: incoming artistic director Joseph Colaneri will be conducting, my current fav mezzo Fiona Campbell will sing Suzuki and American soprano Kelly Kaduce stars as Cio Cio San.

Opera News magazine describes Kaduce as having "plangent, amber-toned soprano, glamour girl looks and artless, affecting dramatic style." Her signature role is Mimi (La Boheme) and she has  sung Madam Butterfly with Michigan Opera Theatre, Portland Opera and Boston Lyric Opera among others.

WA Opera shows normally sell out. Make a comment now to go in the draw for your FREE premium reserve ticket. Winner will be chosen by random selection and notified on Saturday 20th October via the blog or by email if you leave an email address.

Michael Collins and WASO

There is often a sense at WASO concerts that the real show begins after interval. The opening overture and concerto might be flashy with a celebrity soloist but there is a new intensity as the orchestra is enlarged for the symphonic repertoire and the principal wind players take over.

On the weekend the opening Hebrides Overture by Mendelssohn showcased well-crafted woodwind solos and an energised string section. The celebrity soloist was the UK’s Michael Collins featuring in Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No 1 and Debussy’s Premiere Rapsodie. The bravura of Weber’s Concerto was given a psychedelic edge with the breakneck speeds of Collins’ scale passages and dramatic mood swings. But at Friday’s concert there was also untidiness: intonation and timing issues in the winds, missed notes in the horns and conductor Otto Tausk caught off-guard by Collins’ spontaneity. The soloist had moments of sharp pitch and shrillness which don’t belong in Weber’s lush Germanic sound world.

The improved focus after interval meant Debussy’s Rapsodie fared better. Collins’ flexible clarinet tone suited Debussy’s multi-hued music. The clarinet interjected conversationally with floating high notes and crisp brightness or nestled into the orchestral cushion of sound with feather-soft delicacy.

Dvorak’s Symphony No 9 showed evidence of Tausk’s attention to detail; the melodic theme heard in the violins in the first movement was broken into folksy fragments while the energetic attack of the violas gave them welcome prominence. Leanne Glover’s cor anglais solo established a gentle lyricism in the Largo which was matched by the elegaic strings and lingered over by Tausk in a spine-tingling ending. Andrew Nicholson (flute) and principal oboe (unnamed) sizzled in the third movement and the familiar brassy climaxes and flowing lyricism of the finale felt fresh and perfectly proportioned. This was WASO at their finest, making the inconsistency in the first half more regrettable. John Adams’ arrangement of Piazzolla’s Todo Buenos Aires was the ‘Bonus Track’.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Julia Gillard: Global Feminist Icon

Julia Gillard may have just become a global feminist icom. She has attracted an international fan club for her slamming criticism this week of opposition leader Tony Abbott.

In an incisive, passionate moment of truth telling the Prime Minister used Abott's own comments to expose his anti-feminism and hypocrisy. The UK media are all over the story and the New Yorker says Obama should be taking notes. Commentators on Twitter have suggested Meryl Streep is in Hollywood practising her Gillard accent.

Gillard's clever politicking shifted the debate from its focus on the inappropriate private phone messages of parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper to a broader feminist debate. Abbott's reputation was left in tatters and the misogynist attacks that have plagued the Prime Minister's term in office are finally in the spotlight.

Historically it has always been harder for women to achieve high profile careers. One hundred years ago composer Margaret Sutherland was married to a misogynist who, jelaous of her success, taunted her publicly and privately until she restricted her composition to music for children.

Fortunately she divorced him and went on to write pioneering music that paved the way for modernism in Australia. But for decades she endured the insults of a husband who likened a woman composing musica as a sign of insanity, and who arrived at one of her concert premieres with a beautiful woman on his arm, to the composer's immense shame.

The insults directed at Gillard over the past few years sound too similar. Feminism has been alive and active for over a century and it's a shame to think not much has changed. Does it really need to become a gender battle field in order for women to get a fair go?

Of course it is not only women that get harrassed. Work-place bullying and the peer pressure men impose on other men can be horrific. And women abusing other women only perpetuates the struggle for inter-gender understanding.

Is the only way to eradicate peer pressure by removing the peers?

An alternative is to come in Gillard-style with guns blazing, as did composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks. The Australian/American composer rose to international acclaim with her operas and held her own among the New York avantegarde with her biting wit.

"Everything I've ever wanted to do would have been eaiser had I been a boy," she once reflected. "But never mind, I never paid much attention to it, I just marched in and there I was."

Another Option: Activist and cultural critic Jarrod McKenna tweeted "I'm not as misogynistic as... is not as transformative as confessing how patriarchy has formed us & then work 4 humanizing justice."

Working for justice sounds harder but perhaps the only way forward?

Does anyone else have another alternative?

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Music Monday October

The director of the Academy of Ancient Music directs the Australian Chamber Orchestra on their current Australian tour which arrives in Perth on Oct 10th. Richard Egarr conducting baroque and classical repertoire will attract a full house so get your tickets soon!

My October highlight is clarinet superstar Michael Collins playing Weber’s First Clarinet Concerto AND Debussy's Rhapsodie with the WA Symphony Orchestra on October 12th. Every clarinettist's dream concert! Stay tuned for another ticket giveaway...

Sunday 14th is a double-whammy with WASO concertmaster Guilio Plotino directing a Italian string music program at Government House Ballroom while at the Perth Concert Hall the legendary Count Basie Orchestra will be playing some of the greatest jazz standards of all time.



Monday, 24 September 2012

Vienna Boys Choir review

Thanks to Anthea for her company on Saturday night, looking amazing in her hot red coat. We were both imagining our 18 month old boys on the stage singing like angels,  then realised we were being a little premature as they're not even talking yet! Here's my review:

If you were playing close attention you would have seen the wink that passed between one boy and another, or the occasional wry smile when a singer mispitched his note. It was a reminder that despite the professional focus and golden singing these were boys after all, between the ages of 10 and 14. We were witnessing the modern incarnation of the centuries-old Vienna Boys Choir.

The 20-piece choir sang with angelic sound, as expected. There was also warmth and graininess from the alto voices and an impressive range of timbre, from the purity required to sing Renaissance works by Palestrina and De Victoria to the swinging gusto of gospel and popular ballads. Soloists with bird-like accuracy and sureness of pitch during complex harmonies revealed the virtuosity for which the choir is renowned. The range of repertoire and intense concentration of the boys over two hours of performing was also impressive.

 Impressive but to be expected; this is one of the world’s best children’s choirs. So it was a surprise to discover the choir’s tendency to rush the end of phrases. When conductor Manolo Cagnin led from piano the standard of singing dropped markedly and the rhythmic precision of conductor and choir suffered. A capella works were consistently steadier, with blended tone and phrases more carefully shaped.

Songs by contemporary composers Raymond Murray Schafer and Gerald Wirth (the choir’s artistic director) involved the use of percussion, clapping and vocal effects. Schafer’s Miniwanka was particularly effective in its onomatopoeic depiction of water. Elena Kats-Chernin’s Land of Sweeping Plains was melodic with engrossing layering of voices. The choir’s uninhibited enthusiasm for these new pieces and techniques was refreshing. Ultimately it was this unsuppressed youthful engagement that satisfied most, despite the inconsistent musical standards.

This review copyright The West Australian 2012.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Percussion Birthday

"Many thanks for your wonderful article about Defying Gravity and percussion in today's West. I'm really thrilled with it; you managed to fit absolutely everything into your article; it read beautifully, and the photo is lovely too. Thank you so much from all of us in Defying Gravity!!"

Tim White, director Defying Gravity

A piece of fence, a battered wheel hub or some conch shells could all be part of the music when Defying Gravity head north for Sounds Outback. Making music from junk is all part of the training for the eighteen student percussionists from Defying Gravity. The WA Academy of Performing Arts ensemble will celebrate its twenty-fifth birthday this month with a series of concerts, the inaugural WA Day of Percussion and a tour to the Ningaloo Reef.

The student ensemble has a devoted following and their three concerts at WAAPA have already sold out. Ensemble director Tim White says the attraction to percussion comes from deep in our DNA.  

“Percussion is so clearly from the earth and our distant past. There is something primal about playing it – you whack it with your hands. It is so natural, everyone can do it.”

The percussionists will be scouting instruments from Exmouth station junk for their Sounds Outback tour which will include a concert at Shothole Canyon and on a glass bottom boat.

“I’m thinking John Cage’s Second Improvisation ‘Inlets’ for amplified conch shells will be a good piece to program,” says White. “The exciting thing about Sounds Outback is that it is heading back to nature. Percussion is a great instrument for outdoors and for exploring boundaries. It is the most exciting instrument in new music because it has helped open the doors in the exploration of rhythm and timbre as equal building blocks to melody and harmony.”

The tour will be a combined birthday party with Tura new music who also celebrate 25 years of music making. The organisations have worked together closely over the years and White is delighted to be participating in another Sounds Outback.

“I am very much a Tos Mahoney (Tura director) fan. He has put that much of his heart and time and money into new music in WA and I think he is a heroic figure.”

White, who is also principal percussionist with the WA Symphony Orchestra, has been directing Defying Gravity since 1994 when he inherited the ensemble from founder Gary France. Since then the ensemble, which includes students from both the University of WA and WAAPA, has produced 53 graduates. 75 percent are still working full time in the music industry including Marcus Perrozzi (Cirque du Soleil), Genevieve Wilkins (London’s ensemblebash) and the many percussionists who have played with WASO and Tetrafide Percussion.

Gary France is contributing a birthday present in the form of a piece of music he has written for Defying Gravity. France will also perform at the concerts and present sessions at the WA Day of Percussion alongside other high profile guest artists including Iain Robbie, Joshua Webster and Japanese percussion superstar Kuniko Kato.

“Kato has astounding virtuosity and skill as a musician. She is a sensational marimba player. Watching her perform is like watching the best of Taiko drumming and western classical music combined.”

This is the first time WA has hosted a Day of Percussion, a phenomenon made popular in America. White hopes a day jammed with workshops, masterclasses and concerts will help profile what most people already know: Perth is alive and kicking in the world of percussion.

Sounds Outback ( Reef) runs from October 5-9. Details:

This article copyright The West Australian 2012.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Free Ticket!

Elena Kats Chernin says they sound like angels.

If anyone is interested in attending the Vienna Boys Choir (see blog below) at Perth Concert Hall on Saturday night and hasn't yet got a ticket then this could be your lucky day!

Make a quick comment about which is your fav post on my blog and you'll go in the running to get a free ticket. I'll get back to the winner by Friday.

Hope you can join me, it is going to be a stunning concert!

I Love a Sunburnt Country

Composer Elena Kats-Chernin’s favourite landscape is the Australian bush with its contrasting textures of grass and trees. She has vivid memories of her impressions of the Blue Mountains shortly after arriving in New South Wales as a teenage Russian migrant.

‘The mountains were scary; they were so high and I closed my eyes as we were driving because the walls seemed so close.’

The ‘sunburnt country’ has since become her beloved home and it is fitting Kats-Chernin has been commissioned to set to music the iconic Dorothea MacKellar poem My Country.

‘I love the poem and I’m touched that I was asked as I wasn’t born here. But I feel at home here and it is part of my heart to be in this country.’

The a capella piece will be premiered by the Vienna Boys Choir on their national tour which visits Western Australia on September 22nd. The choristers – aged between 10 and 14 – may not be able to identify with the ‘sapphire-misted mountains/ The hot gold hush of noon’ in MacKellar’s poem, but Kats-Chernin found plenty in common when she visited Vienna earlier this year.

‘The boys are great, they are so fun and alive. They have a big range and they sing wonderfully in tune. Their sound is more silvery than girls, it feels like they have a thickness to the timbre. We workshopped some ideas together and they are smart, they learn so fast.’

Initially it seemed impossible to add music to words already so powerfully and beautifully conceived. Instead of attempting to evoke landscape in the music (‘Other composers write bird and insect sounds but that is not what I do, it would sound contrived’), she chose an irregular time-signature with five beats in a bar and opted for a non-sentimental tribute.

Within a few weeks she had written Core of My Heart layering favourite phrases from the poem to create contrasting textures much like the bush landscape she loves.  ‘I love a sunburnt country’ and ‘opal-hearted country’ are repeated by altos and then sopranos and ‘core of my heart, my country!’ is declared with a sweeping melody line.

The composer says Core of My Heart’s combination of an ancient landscape and new music is well-suited to the Vienna Boys Choir, who will also sing Viennese classics by Schubert, Mozart and Strauss on their Australian tour.

‘This is a world class choir, an unbelievably great choir. It is a very old tradition but very young voices, I think it is amazing. They make a special sound; it is so pure, so angelic and very direct, it moves you to tears.’

Kats-Chernin’s music typically bubbles with enthusiasm, driven by buoyant rhythms and colourful melodies. It is also intensely autobiographical and mostly written in minor keys gently laced with melancholy.  Core of My Heart is one of the few works Kats-Chernin has set in a major key signature.

‘This is not a piece for a minor key, it is too positive, too optimistic. I chose F major and G major which are keys of fun for me, sunny yellow and orange colours.’

Kats-Chernin’s effervescent music has won her fans around the world. She is superstar of Australian composers and the subject of multiple television documentaries, with an exclusive photographer and several personal copyists. She is regularly commissioned by the world’s leading orchestras and the song Eliza’s Aria from her Wild Swans ballet made it to number one on the UK Classical Charts and has been remixed by several DJ’s.

Most recently Kats-Chernin has been residing in Berlin working on a commission from the Komische Opera to arrange Monteverdi’s operas Orpheus, Odysseus and Poppea. The complete trilogy will be premiered on September 16th to mark the beginning of Australian director Barrie Kosky at the helm of the Komishe Opera. The twelve hour performance will feature Kats-Chernin’s unique instrumentation of Monteverdi’s orchestral sketches and will involve 200 performers.

Travel is becoming increasingly difficult for the composer who is suffering from a slipped disk. When possible she prefers to be composing at her piano in the Sydney suburb of Coogee. Not far from her house is the ‘jewel –sea’ described in MacKellar’s poem.  ‘Her beauty and her terror -/ The wide brown land for me!’

Vienna Boys Choir Perth Concert Hall Saturday 8pm, Mandurah Performing Arts Centre September Sunday 2pm.

Watch this space for your free ticket!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Music Monday September 2

A bit quieter in the music world these next two weeks. Unless you're into percussion in which case it is the pinnacle of the year!

The slightly crazy Austrian Brass septet Mnozil Brass begin their Australian tour on Wednesday 19th at the Perth Concert Hall.

On Saturday 22nd we get to hear Elena Kats-Chernin's new piece performed by the Vienna Boys Choir. More on that in tomorrow's blog. The same weekend is also a series of concerts by Defying Gravity (WAAPA'S student percussion ensemble) who are celebrating their 25th birthday with concerts, the inaugural WA Day of Percussion and a tour to Ningaloo Reef as part of the Sounds Outback festival. I will post more on this popular percussion ensemble on Wednesday.

 On Monday 24th Musica Viva bring us Berlin's Kuss Quartet and Naoko Shimizu performing a program of Kurtag, Mozart, Kerry and Smetana.
If you hear anything I've missed for the month of September let me know.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Early Signs of a Happy Marriage

It’s like a new marriage, but with three partners. Australia’s newest string trio Swan Virtuosi got to know each other a little better on the weekend. It was their second concert and Margaret Blades, Sally Boud and Louise McKay had the help of chamber music experts Mozart, Schubert and Kodaly.

Schubert’s unfinished Trio D471 was a poised concert opener. Blades is normally heard fronting the WA Symphony Orchestra but here the crystalline lyricism and dark glow of her 1710 Cappa violin could be heard to full advantage. Boud’s empathic viola playing, familiar from her previous role in the Australian String Quartet, took on a more conversational role while the muscular, plaintive cello of McKay formed the foundation of the trio. Schubert’s ménage of elegant melodies revealed the lyrical potential of the group, although phrasing was not always uniform.

Kodaly’s Duo for violin and cello Op 7 had more coherence, with Blades and McKay passing musical ideas back and forth and exploring the whispers and sobbing of Kodaly’s rhapsodic folk tunes. The intimacy of just two instruments meant the players’ carefully crafted nuances could be appreciated.

The virtuosic writing in Mozart’s Divertimento for String Trio exposed each instrument in turn. The trio had the extroversion and empathy required with exciting passagework in the Allegro movements (although the first movement was a little unsettled) and blended warmth in the Adagio. This was Mozart where cleanness was substituted for freedom and vehemence. The musical boldness, combined with beauty of sound, are traits that promise much for Swan Virtuosi’s future life together.

This review copyright The West Australian 2012.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Pecan Summer

You're in the minority if you're a woman composer. But an Aboriginal woman composer is a very rare thing. Deborah Cheetham has written her first opera and it opened in Perth at the State Theatre this week.

While opera houses around the world are battling bankruptcy soprano Cheetham has been establishing a new one. Short Black Opera is Australia’s first indigenous opera company. Cheetham reasons that opera - story told through song and dance - is what Aboriginals have been doing for centuries in corroboree. With the backing of industry heavyweights like Jonathon Welch (Choir of Hard Knocks), Australian soprano Rosamund Illing, the Dame NellieMelba Opera Trust and a swag of sponsors, Cheetham’s dream has become reality.

Pecan Summer is written, scored and directed by Cheetham. The opera recounts the 1939 story of the 200 Yorta Yorta people who left Cummeragunja Mission and crossed the Dhungala (Murray) river into Victoria as a protest against the withholding of wages and abuse of Aboriginal people. The opera opens with the Dreamtime creation of the Dhungala and closes with Kevin Rudd’s apology speech, but Cheetham condenses the epic story around the fictitious nine year old character Alice, a member of the stolen generation.  

The cast included indigenous singers Cheetham scouted from around Australia including the sonorous John Wayne Parsons as Alice’s father James, Eddie Bryant as Alice’s brother Jimmy and the magnificent bass baritone Tiriki Onus as Uncle Bill. Cheetham sang Alice’s mother Ella with sustained lyrical beauty. Sydney soprano Jessica Hitchcock was endearing as the young Alice and the connection between the mother and daughter made the imminent separation heartbreaking.

Dhungala locals including the newly formed Dhungala Children’s Choir were supplemented by WA indigenous singers Michael Smith, Billie Court, Tori Oakley, Patricia Oakley, Jub Clerc, Vonda Last and Michael Smith.

The singers were impressive: raw talent honed by Cheetham’s intensive Wilin summer school program. Cheetham’s neo-romantic music (orchestrated by Jessica Wells) was well-written for voice, building to a sweeping Puccini-esque climax and interspersed with comic cameo moments. The river theme, the lyrical lullaby and the musical commentary underscoring the church scene were particularly effective.

Theatrical moments were flawed: a clunky set, awkward silence between set pieces and lack of stage direction for singers. The Perth SymphonyOrchestra (conductor David Kram) often overwhelmed the dialogue.

 Still, the power of the story was persuasive and the opening night audience reacted (as did the Victorian audience at the premiere) with a standing ovation. This is one of the world’s oldest musical art forms performed by a cast of people belonging to the world’s oldest living culture. The story belongs to all Australians and Cheetham has found a fresh way of telling it.

Pecan Summer closes Saturday 8th. For tickets go to BOCS.