Monday, 30 July 2012

Naya Chorale Debut

Perth is the place for entrepreneurs and if these guys can keep momentum going this will be an awesome contribution to Perth's choral scene.

Naya Chorale
Curtin Theatre, John Curtin Senior High School
July 2012

Adam Brockway and Jeremy De Vries-Turnell are young, ambitious and have talent to burn. The Perth Modern School graduates are the conductor and business manager respectively behind new a capella ensemble Naya Chorale. They have thrown savvy marketing skills, sharp conducting technique and experience in award-wining a capella groups into the formation of the ensemble which they hope will blast fresh air into the Perth choral scene.

Naya’s debut concert attracted an audience of 700 plus. After an extended support act from female a capella group Iris, who delivered an ambitious set of percussion and vocal pieces with varying success, the 38-strong Naya to took to the stage with repertoire ranging from classical to pop and everything in between.

The opening Kayama by Karl Jenkins was sung robustly and accompanied by a full light show and choreography. Laura Sippola’s Poison Tree and Scarborough Fair revealed an impressive blended sound while the intense harmonies of Imogen Heap’s pop ballade Hide and Seek were delivered with polished sheen.

The singers - many fresh from high school choirs – had a powerful energy but didn’t over sing; vocal projection was unforced and the tone pearly. If you combined cathedral crispness with barbershop blending and gospel dynamism then you would come near to what this group is about.

Compositions from local composers were included: the introverted I Carry Your Heart With Me by group member Alex Turley and the theatrical From A Song of Rain by choral conductor Anne Celia Christmass. Christmass’s piece was the standout on the program with use of vocal fragments and scrunched paper to vividly evoke rain drops. The diction in Bill Whelan’s Shivna was a little too crisp and didn’t quite capture the lilting huskiness of Old Irish. But there was little else to fault in a program of choral gems that had the audience enthralled. Lighting and choreography effectively complemented the music, completing a package that has set the benchmark high.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Classical music has a future

Alex Ross ( would have been proud. The famous New Yorker music critic chastises those in the classical music world to drag ourselves into the 21st century.  I think he would've approved of the Australian Chamber Orchestra's recent concert where didgeridoo improvisations, Bach and heavy metal formed the sound track to a surf documentary.

(The review below is copyright the West Australian 2012.)

Australian Chamber Orchestra
Perth Concert Hall
July 2012

A review in London’s Financial Times once described the Australian Chamber Orchestra as having a ‘salty’ sound. But it took director of Tura New Music Tos Mahoney to dream up a surf project combining the ACO’s distinctive sound with footage from the West Australian coastline. The collaborative adventure put ACO concert master and director Richard Tognetti around a campfire at Ningaloo Reef with didgeridoo player Mark Atkins and guitarist Steve Pigram. They were joined by surfers, a photographer and musicians who had in common immense technical skills and a penchant for reckless experimentation.

Tognetti (renowned for his love or surfing) has produced previous surf films with classical music soundtracks but this time the result was a multi-media concert depicting a metaphorical ‘day’ with footage of finless surfers including Taylor Miller, Ryan Burch and Derek Hynde accompanied by genre-defying music samples.

Under Tognetti’s direction the young musicians of the orchestra’s elite training band ACO2 performed Rameau’s 18th century Les Vents (The Wind) which perfectly matched the images (by photographer Jon Frank) of sparkling wave spray and wind-blown dunes projected on a screen behind them. The cluster harmonies of Ligeti’s Ramifications gave an eerie edge to crusty desert footage littered with dead sheep and old machinery. Two ring-in surfers, barefoot and bearded, sang gutsy Alice In Chains. The orchestra, aided by box drum, thumped out the heavy metal accompaniment complete with electric violin solo by Tognetti and cellist Julian Thompson’s sampling technology on electric cello.

In complete contrast Beethoven’s Cavatina was played with devastating beauty as waves of spectacular power and purity rolled by. Pristine footage of surfers falling in slow motion, underwater reflections and crystalline bubbles were breathtaking.  The images gave nobility to Beethoven’s music; the music gave humanity to the waves.

The centrepiece was Immutable by Iain Grandage (who also arranged and linked the concert soundtrack) which skilfully blended Atkin’s didgeridoo improvisations with interjections from the orchestra.

It was a concert that was at once wild and completely controlled. I hope there are plans for a DVD because this thrilling experience had so many connection points as it celebrated the ancient and ever-new aspects of landscape and music.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Lucia di Lammermoor review

This review is copyright Opera Magazine, London, 2012.

John Copley’s 32 year old production of Lucia di Lammermoor  for OPERA AUSTRALIA has been released in cinemas and become as great a tradition as the La Boheme he created for COVENT GARDEN 38 years ago. The WEST AUSTRALIAN OPERA’S performance (HIS MAJESTY’S THEATRE, July 14) showed the benefits and disadvantages of reviving a much-loved museum piece. The castle set was rich with detail but required lengthy set changes, while costumes were lavish but outdated and unflattering. Egardo’s grand entrance was greeted with laughter because of the tubby effect created by his gothic-black tights and puffy velvet jerkin. Red-headed Scots draped in stereotypical tartan crowded the stage as though to convince us that Sir Walter Scott’s historical drama poses no threat to contemporary consciousness.

Fortunately Emma Matthews brought a universal humanity to Lucia as she progressed from girlish coquetry to chilling lunacy. Her precise coloratura singing shimmered with colours and her mad scene swung between wide-eyed purity and icy anguish. It was utterly believable that a woman under such oppression would retreat to the only world she could control: the make-believe of the mind.

The remaining cast were more two-dimensional. James Clayton was a coarse Enrico with convincing aggression but lacking in bel canto legato. Garrett Sorenson sang Edgardo with fervour although high notes were strained. Daniel Sumegi was an imposing Raimondo, Andrew Foote acquitted himself well as Normanno while David Woodward was a foppish Arturo, not helped by the yards of lace dripping from his costume.

The WA Symphony Orchestra under Brad Cohen harnessed the tension between Rossini-esque merriness and Verdian melodrama. Ultimately though the potential for gripping theatre was shrouded by the outdated set.

More review of Lucia di Lammermoor:

Music Monday July

There's so much going on in Perth - Dullsville it ain't - so I've decided to post fortnightly calendars of Perth's classical music events. Hope it helps you enjoy Perth's thriving music scene.

This week WA Opera's Lucia di Lammermoor continues its season at His Majesty's Theatre and the rest of the WA Symphony Orchestra present their popular Cushion Concerts as part of the school holidays. On Wednesday I'm hoping so see lots of surfies in the audience for the Australian Chamber Orchestra's Perth concert of their groundbreaking Reef Tour.

Next week Festival Baroque will present Brahms' Nine German Arias for the first time in their entirety in Australia, featuring soprano Sara Macliver. WASO will perform the glorious Mozart Gran Partita in a progrom of wind chamber music at St Mary's Cathedral. And the debut of Perth's newest hottest a capella group Naya Chorale is on Saturday 28th July. See a video of them rehearsing here.

AS you can see there's something on almost every night. Enjoy!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Tortured Heroine

I'm going to the opera tomorrow night and it's going to be grim.
The heroine in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor makes Juliette and look soft. At least Juliette didn't have to kill Tybalt herself, and she wasn't heartbroken to the point of insanity.

From the opening of Lucia di Lammermoor it is clear that Lucia is not just oppressed by her fueding family, but also tormented from within. Her aria Regnava nel silenzio tells of a ghostly vision that haunts her.

(Sung here by Joan Sutherland with an amazing voice and a terrible hair do.)

The aria foreshadows her Act III mad scene where she murders the man she is forced to marry and goes publicly mad, telling the wedding guests she is reunited with her banished lover before collapsing dead.

(Sung here by Natalie Dessay with a dramatic roll down the staircase.)

The opening night of WA Opera's production of Lucia is on Saturday. Emma Matthews is Lucia and having seen her versions of tortured heroine in Batavia and Love of the Nightingale I know she will be devastating.

Ah to be a woman.
Brandy anyone?

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Kabarli Meditation

Listen to ABC Classic FM on Monday and Tuesday  this week to hear young competitors in the Sydney International Piano Competition play Anne Boyd's new composition 'Kabarli Meditation (Dawn)'.
Anne has just finished the piece which was commissioned for the 2012 competition. It is inspired by the painting 'Daisy Bates at Ooldea' by Sidney Nolan.

Anne is in the middle of writing an opera on Daisy Bates (1863-1951) so she has her head full of Australian mythology and indigenous culture. The opera Daisy Bates at Ooldea will be premiered in October. It tells the story of the eccentric Irish migrant Daisy Bates and the decades she spent at the beginning of the 20th century living with Aboriginal communities in the desert. Daisy was nicknamed 'Kabbarli' which means grandmother.

Syndey Nolan's 1950 painting of Bates is of a determined, diminutive figure in an arid landscape. It immortalises her but also depcits her alienness in the Australian landscape. I'm interested to hear if Boyd's piano piece explores the sense of an alien figure or is more sympathetic.

Boyd is a truly original voice in Australian music and a good choice (the other was Karl Vine) to write for SIPCA. Her music is distinctive for its delicate textures and purity. The immensely popular piano piece Angklung (1974) was inspired by the ancient Javanese gamelan instrument. The entire twelve-minute work uses just the notes Bb, Ab, Eb and Fb. Listen to an audio sample here.

Australian critic Roger Covell called it ‘among the most restrained and fastidious pieces that have ever been written … also very beautiful, as finely calculated as one of those ancient Chinese or Japanese paintings that record the fall of an autumn leaf.'

More information on the life of Anne Boyd and her music can be found in Women of Note!

If you get a chance to listen to the performances playing Kabarli Meditation let me know what you think. I'm hoping it will give a glimpse of the opera in the pipeline, will post my comments soon.