Saturday, 24 March 2012

Violinist Breaches By-Laws

A man is apprehended playing violin in front of the Sydney Opera House.
"I'm playing the violin," he explains to the security guard.
"You're breaching the bylaws, you're not allowed to play music in front of the opera house," says the guard.

The violinist is not Andre Rieu or Richard Tognetti, its Jon Rose who has been awarded Australia's most valuable individual music prize. The larrikin of Australian music was presented with the $60 000 in Perth this week.

Jon Rose gave up  formal violin lessons at 15 and since then his journey has encompassed jazz, commercial music, country and western and sound installations. His has built his entire practice around the violin, an obsession which has involved building his own 'deconstructed' instruments, holding a festival in the Hungarian town of Violin, and running his bow over all manner of sound making devices including fences, windows, body parts...

Ideas erupt from Jon Rose freely and almost ceaselessly. His role as a polemic and capacity for playfulness has made him an iconic Australian figure in the experimental improvised music scene. In particular I love his Australian Fences project which involves making the eerie and beautiful sounds on the wires that criss-cross our huge continent.

His more playful sound installations involve giant interactive balls.

After the award presentation we went to dinner to celebrate 25 years of Tura New Music and Jon regaled us with outlandish stories about a festival in the Hungarian town of Violin where the visiting performers ended up winning a football game with the locals and getting chased out of town. Jon did a concert in the train station waiting room for Violin and Flies, and by the end of the piece most of the flies had died. In retrospect the stories sound crazy and I had consumed red wine, but Jon swore they were true and I think I am recounting accurately...

As part of the Don Banks award Jon was presented with a massive bunch of banksia flowers which he couldn't take back to Sydney on the plane.  Instead he gave them to me. A fantastic memory of this generous, spontaneous and wide-minded man.

Monday, 12 March 2012

New Music Up Late

An hour before the Sydney launch of Women of Note I was in the studio at ABC Classic Fm recording an interview with Julian Day. It was a good interview but I was nearly late for my own launch! The AMC was only down the road but I didn't factor in Sydney peak hour...

Here is a link to the interview for New Music Up Late.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Women of Note has gone national!

It was the perfect way to celebrate International Women's Day. The full moon was rising over the Sydney Opera House and shimmering on the harbour. Inside the Australian Music Centre we were listening to music by Australia's women composers. It was the Sydney launch of Women of Note.

The launch was smaller than Perth but still worthwhile. Professor Anne Boyd officially launched the book with a speech of great enthusiasm and warmth.

Elena Kats-Chernin and Tamara Anna Cislowska performed Elena's latest piano work Vocalise. Elena says her pieces are her diary; the thoughts flow from her mind through her fingers. I have never felt that more than at this performance as she battled sciatica nerve pain to perform her lyrical but stormy work (commissioned originally by the Melbourne Mental Health Research Institute).
 Michael Duke (Head of Woodwind at Sydney Con) and David Howie performed Undercurrent by Katy Abbott. In the book Katy is in the Emerging Voices section but in the past few years she has shot well past this to become a well-established composer.

It was wonderful to catch up with some of the women I interviewed for the book, and have a celebratory dinner party afterwards. Below L-R Anne Boyd, me, Becky Llewellyn, Gail Priest, Elena Kats-Chernin.

Women of Note has gone national! Thanks to all those who have helped it make it to the shelves. It is so exciting to know that people are reading about these amazing women and their music. I have peace now that the missing jigsaw pieces of Australia's music history are in place.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

"Any tips on how to be a prodigy?" I ask British film director Phil Grabsky.

The man has spent the past few years inside the heads of three of the most famous composers in the Western canon: Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. He must have noticed some similarities.

"It takes a lot of hard work." Phil's answer gets a laugh from the Cinema Paradiso audience. "Seriously, any notion that Mozart just tossed out the music without any effort simply isn't true. He didn't go to school, he spent his entire childhood studying music with his father. He worked very hard his whole life."

Well Phil ought to know. He is up to his third documentary of famous composers. In Search of Haydn reconstructs Haydn's life using performances and interviews from today's most admired classical musicians. The documentaries are much loved around the world and paricularly in Australia where In Search of Beethoven and In Search of Mozart made it into the top 10 all-time most popular documentaries.

Classical composer Haydn

 I suspect I wasn't the only one at the preview screening of In Search of Haydn who learned many new things about the 18th century celebrity composer. In his day he was more famous than Mozart. In England he dined with royalty even though at home in Austria/Hungary he was ranked a livery-wearing servant of the Esterhazy house.

I hadn't realised Haydn's childhood was spent dominated by the ritual of the Catholic Church. He left home at the age of six and became a choir boy at St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. I suppose that explains his ability to write so fluently for voice. He spent twenty years writing operas for the Esterhazy family, who had no less than two opera theatres custom built in their gardens. In 1778 Haydn composed a staggering 50 operas in one year, which grew to 120 performances a year. This must have been before TV!

In Search of Haydn completes the trilogy of films Grabsky has written on the great composers. (Although during our interview Phil mentioned he is entertaining the notion of another doco on Chopin.) I'd reccommend these if you like your classical music and enjoy watching live performances. Filmed with beautiful cinematography and laced with humour, this has to be the easiest way to 'read up' on famous composers.