Monday, 29 April 2013

Music Monday May

This weekend is a rich couple of days for orchestral music and Mozart in particular. WASO are performing Mozart's three last symphonies with classical guru Douglas Boyd. On Sunday 5th May fourteen year old Tristan Murphy is soloist in Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto with the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra. Mozart's Haffner Symphony is also on the program.
The ACO have hit upon their most unlikely combination yet with Barry Humphries and cabaret artist Meow Meow collaborating in their current national tour. They perform in Perth on Wednesday 8th May.

Next weekend WASO's guest conductor Vladimir Verbitsky conducts WASO in a Kodaly's Dances of Galanta, Respighi's Pines of Rome and Bruch's Scottish Fantasy with Simone Lamsma on violin.

On Sunday 12th May it is Mozart again, this time  Raymond Yong in Mozart's Piano Concerto No 12 with string quartet led by Paul Wright. The concert is part of UWA's Keyed-Up series.
On Monday 13th May visiting Swiss organist Jean-Christophe Geiser performs this year’s Sir Francis Burt Memorial Recital at St George's Cathedral. Repertoire includes works by JS Bach, Ropartz, and Vierne.

Ruthless Jabiru - a new Australian orchestra

Kelly Lovelady is the principal conductor of the UK-based Australian orchestra Ruthless Jabiru. Kelly and I went to university together. She's all grown up now - I guess it happens to all of us! - and looking glamorous. Heck, she's even met the Queen!

It's so inspiring to see what my colleagues have achieved since those early morning scales classes and cheap refectory coffee. Kelly is based in the UK along with loads of other Aussie musicians. In 2011 Kelly mustered a group of expats to form Ruthless Jabiru, named after the Australian stork. They are already making a name for themselves, and this year (according to the critic from Musical Pointers) the orchestra was the highlight of the City of London Festival.

On May 9th the orchestra will be performing at Australia House in a concert celebrating Australian wine and music - what a winning idea!
Kelly say the goal of Ruthless Jabiru is connect the large numbers of professional Australian musicians living in the UK.
 "There’s an extraordinary amount of artistry and expertise amassed, and with so much common ground between us, it’s a great foundation for an ensemble."
Starting a new orchestra is a big call. Many European orchestras these days are closing down and Australia is seeing an influx of performers returning home because job prospects in Europe are so grim.
But Kelly has bucket-loads of energy and the orchestra is off to a good start; they are sponsored by Westpac and Peter Sculthorpe is their official patron. Their May concert features a commission from Australian composer Leah Kardos. Ruthless Jabiru is on twitter and Facebook and this is their website:
Now we just need to hear what they sound like.
How about an Australian tour Kelly??

WASO arrives at a special place

When Paul Daniel first arrived at the helm of the WA Symphony Orchestra one of his goals was for the orchestra to perform at different venues to a broader audience. It’s hard to imagine this happening more successfully than the concert on Saturday night at the Convention Centre. A live performance of the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean attracted over 2000 children, couples, families and the odd pirate.

Grammy-award winning American conductor Richard Kaufman introduced The Curse of the Black Pearl and all eyes were on the orchestra and chorus seated beneath a huge movie screen. Ominous chords rumbled in the low strings and brass and suddenly a ship loomed above the orchestra. Within moments the audience was caught up in the rip-roaring adventure of Elizabeth Swann, Will Turner and the infamous Jack Sparrow. It was like being in a huge cinema but with waves of energised music rolling from the stage.

Witnessing the soundtrack performed live was a reminder of how integral music is to film; the orchestra played with barely a moment to pause and their presence gave a heightened urgency to the drama. When Jack Sparrow was arrested after rescuing Elizabeth from drowning the orchestra paused for some dialogue before launching a sudden bass chord as Jack threw his shackled hands around Elizabeth’s neck to kidnap her. The 30-piece men’s chorus began to chant and the strings joined the fray as Jack made his escape. 

 Kaufman adeptly coordinated orchestra, chorus and screen action with the help of a click track and podium monitor. It was fascinating to trace a sound to its source, for example the ‘Medallion Calls’ horn theme, or the multiple percussive effects, and the electronic sounds generated by keyboard player Adam Pinto.

Often the music overwhelmed the dialogue, particularly in the battle scenes. But when the orchestra broke through the cinematic trance it was a reminder of the luxury of experiencing a full symphonic orchestra.

When the end credits rolled up the theatre resounded with cheers from a delighted audience. As Jack Sparrow said, “I think we’ve all arrived at a very special place: spiritually, ecumenically, grammatically...”

This was the first of two live movie screenings planned for the 2013 season by Evan Kennea and the artistic planning team. The orchestra will perform The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in June.

This article copyright The West Australian 2013.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Defying Gravity goes Afro-Cuban

A deep rumble filled the darkened auditorium and as the drums faded shadowy figures began picking out an ancient aboriginal melody on marimbas. The stage lights revealed four Defying Gravity students playing PeterSculthorpe’s evocative From Jabiru Dreaming. Director Tim White has a flair for the theatrical and his percussion ensemble were entering the spirit of the dreamtime.

After more than twenty-five years in operation Defying Gravity has a reputation; both Carnivale concerts were sold out weeks ago. The program was built around Latin/African numbers featuring soloists Constanza Herrero (vocals) and Freddy Poncin (hand drums).
Herrero’s understated singing brought authenticity and Poncin’s joyful charisma lit up the room. The seductive groove of Tito Puente’s Oye Como Va translated well into an all-percussion arrangement with marimbas and vibraphone beating out the original flute melody over a rhythm section of drums and hand percussion. Victor Daniel’s La Vida es un Carnaval was a riot of rhythm with 22 percussionists filling the stage with flamboyant salsa energy.

The same ensemble lined up across the stage with djembe drums between their knees, mimicking the traditional Guinean rhythms Poncin marked out in a heart-pounding African welcome.

The program was filled out by smaller works by Australian composers and the students themselves. Four relaxed performers grinned and grooved to the hypnotic marimba rhythms in Nigel Westlake’s popular Omphalo Centric Lecture. James Chong featured as snare drum soloist in The Marching Drumkit, a piece by WAAPA graduate Daniel Hall. Chong was accompanied by five marching performers playing bass drum, snares and cymbals and grouping together momentarily to form a drum kit for Chong to thrash out a rock solo.

Euphina Yap provided a contrast with her saccharine arrangement of Vivaldi’s Winter and Rheinberger’s Kyrie for marimba and vibraphone. The intense Concerto for Timpani by Japanese composer Akira Nishimura seemed a little out of place given the “Carnivale” theme, but timpanist Tegan LeBrun gave an enthralling performance. A concert by Defying Gravity guarantees a dramatic and slick production. Best of all the students look like they are enjoying it as much as the audience.

This review copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Viva Verdi!

There is a reason Verdi’s operas are so popular. He intended them to be characterised by sincerity, humanity and passion and these ingredients have an enduring quality. WA Opera is celebrating the composer’s bicentenary anniversary with a revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s lavish 1994 Opera Australia production La Traviata. It’s a difficult opera to ruin and this production allows those three ingredients to shine through.  

 The opera opens in the courtesan Violetta’s Paris apartment with a hedonistic high society party and closes in the now-derelict home with its owner dying from tuberculosis. In between is a riot of colour, song and dance charting the emotional journey of Violetta and her lover Alfredo. The production accentuates the melodramatic storyline with a decadent set and costumes ((Michael Yeargan and Peter J. Hall) and Verdi would surely have delighted in the realism added by Nigel Levings’ ‘verismo’ lighting.

Verdi was keenly involved in the 1853 premiere of La Traviata. He specified that to sing the heroine “one must be young, have a graceful figure and sing with passion.” Unfortunately the soprano singing Violetta weighed in around 300 pounds and made a fiasco of the premiere. A year later Verdi tried again with a more satisfying cast and the opera was a triumph.

Fortunately WA Opera didn’t have to look far to find young Perth soprano Katja Webb whose porcelain-doll figure fits Verdi’s description perfectly. Webb has a velvet-toned voice but she isn’t quite a dramatic coloratura (yet) and she struggles with the ornamentation in the first act. This is forgotten though in the wrenching illness and tragedy of the last two acts, sung with absorbing fragility.

Rosario La Spina’s Alfredo is lyrical and impassioned and the emotional connection between the two is convincing. Douglas McNicol is manipulative and then remorseful as Alfredo’s interfering father and Fiona Campbell and Sarah-Janet Brittenden are strong in supporting roles.

The WA Opera Chorus is in top form with a resounding Brindisi and sparkling party scenes. The WA Symphony Orchestra delivers the emotional ballast under conductor Joseph Colaneri, with clean entries and well-balanced cohesion with the singers.

The production allows Verdi’s unerring sense of the dramatic to prevail and that is its strength. In Act Three Violetta has left Alfredo to spare his reputation. Fresh morning light pours through the French windows onto the heroine now ravaged by illness. She finds renewed energy but the music tells another story: low strings and brass intone a funeral march while the violins weave strained harmonies over the top. The audience feels Violetta’s impending death before her friends will admit it. Each carefully devised musical moment deepens our pity. Viva Verdi! The passion and sincerity of your music connects with our humanity centuries later.

This review copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013.