Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Shen Yun Chinese Ballet

A company of Chinese dancers is taking the world by storm with productions that showcase ancient Chinese mythology and traditions. ShenYun features lavish costumes, an animated backdrop and live orchestra supporting some of the world’s best exponents of Chinese classical dance.


The company was founded in New York in 2006 when a group of thirty Chinese artists decided to rediscover customs and values rarely practised since the Cultural Revolution. The group met with immediate success and has grown exponentially. Shen Yun now employs four hundred artists across four companies performing in over twenty countries each year.


Perth business entrepreneur Mark Hutchison has been instrumental in bringing the group to Perth for their first performance on May 1st. Shen Yun translates as ‘the beauty of heavenly beings dancing’ and Hutchison says when he first watched a performance it was like being transported to another land.


“The beauty and positive energy was very moving,” he said. “The dancers’ athletic ability and purity of heart made it the pinnacle of art in terms of quality. I flew my family to Sydney to see the show and vowed to bring Shen Yun to Perth.”


Shen Yun brings to life legends such as the heroine Mulan on the battlefield or the Tang Monk and his disciples Friar Sand, Pigsy and the Monkey King. The production intersperses these ancient stories with the struggles within modern communist China, spanning 5000 years of history. The dancers are accompanied by a unique orchestra that includes Chinese instruments like the urhu and pipa alongside western instruments.


Hutchison conducted business in China for many years and more recently has begun to appreciate the cultural wisdom of the ancient civilisation.


“You can’t have culture without values. Values hold together not just an individual but civilisation itself. Chinese civilisation was intact for 5000 years because of its enduring values, thought to be handed down from the heavens.”


Many of these ancient traditions – including China’s traditional religions Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism - were eroded during the Cultural Revolution. More recently Falun Gong, which encapsulates the values of all three, was perceived as a threat and banned by the Communist Party. Shen Yun showcases these traditional wisdoms and as a result the company is not permitted to perform in China.


While Shen Yun’s gentle protests against tyranny have attracted negative attention from the Chinese government, its artistic credentials have made it a worldwide phenomenon in a fascinating example of the political power of the arts. Hutchison says at its heart the show is about beauty and positive energy.


“Shen Yun is a very expressive classical Chinese dance form that is reviving these beautiful values. You don’t need to understand the language to appreciate the values.”


Shen Yun is at the Regal Theatre May 1—4th

This article copyright The West Australian 2014.

Friday, 18 April 2014

ACO and Giovanni Sollima


Giovanni Sollima is something of superstar; the Italian cellist/composer premiered his double cello concerto with none other than Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in January. When Sollima arrived onstage with the Australian Chamber Orchestra [Wed 16th April] sparks were soon flying.


The charismatic performer featured first in a classily understated version of Boccherini’s Cello Concerto No 3 in G. Sollima’s light fingerwork and his transparent emotions made the work sparkle. The orchestral accompaniment was lithe and crisp, ornaments had bite. The long stretched lines of the central adagio movement were exquisitely soft.


From here Sollima leapt straight into L.B. Files, his own composition based on Boccherini’s life. During the opening bars he prowled the stage bowing rapid arpeggios with cello gripped between ear and shoulder. The work began as a Baroque-styled concerto with acerbic harmonies and became increasingly more modern with snatches of syncopation and a cadenza that sounded like an electric guitar solo. The fascinating composition moved seamlessly between genres, referencing Boccherini’s interest in fandangos, flamencos, bird sounds and his alleged meeting with Casanova. In the final movement the orchestra played finger percussion on their instruments to accompany a recording of an African singer while Sollima chanted along and bowed a harmony on his cello. The only awkward moment in all the genre-jumping was the use of pre-recorded text at the opening of the third movement which jarred with the very lyrical preceding movement.


The tireless Sollima returned to the stage for Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C, making bold contrast between the light, energised outer movements and the intensely melancholic middle movement. The orchestra was less satisfying, too loud in sections and the first violins less cohesive than usual.


The Italian-themed program was rounded out with Verdi’s String Quartet in E minor where the orchestra brought a denseness to the darker melodies and dramatic texture. Resphigi’s Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No 3 was a curious mix: Renaissance melodies played with Romantic rubato; galante mixed with grunt. This was another fascinating program from the ACO and an unforgettable soloist.

This review copyright The West Australian 2014.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

St Matthew Passion review

I’ve been searching for a new recording of Bach’s St Matthew Passion and I’ve finally found it. The only problem is it hasn’t yet been recorded.


In fact the absence of recording equipment may have been the only flaw in the St Matthew Passion performed by the St George’s Cathedral Consort with the orchestra of The Musician’s Table. Conductor Joseph Nolan’s attention to detail was evident everywhere else, from the Baroque soloists sourced from around the country to the positioning of instrumental soloists.


Nolan’s judicious editing cut Bach’s three hour Easter Passion to around two hours and (unlike Mendelssohn’s arrangement) the harmonic transitions were smooth and the storyline coherent. The chorales were performed unaccompanied, allowing Bach’s evolving harmonic architecture to be clearly heard. The beauty of the Consort sound glowed like a pearl. But most significantly the silence framing the chorales helped reclaim their original function; a space for self-reflection within the gospel story.


At other times Nolan kept momentum rolling forward, contrasting outraged climaxes with heartbroken intimacy as the story of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion unfolded. Paul McMahon (Evangelist) narrated with fiery conviction, Andrew Foote sung Jesus with weighty presence, while Robert Hofmann and Richard Butler filled out the smaller roles.


Bach reserved his most tender music for the women onlookers in Matthew’s gospel and it is hard to imagine more magical versions than the ones given on Sunday night. Fiona Campbell’s prayerful “Have mercy” duet with Paul Wright’s sobbing violin was convicting, while Sara Macliver’s “Out of love my Saviour is willing to die” was like a love song with the trio of flute and cor anglais throbbing an exquisitely soft accompaniment.


“A thousand thanks for thy passion,” Macliver sung as Bach’s masterwork drew to a close, “That thou didst prize my soul’s redemption so dearly!”


For your passion, and for prizing musical excellence so highly, a thousand thanks Joseph Nolan and the cathedral team. Please make a recording soon.

This review copyright The West Australian 2014.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Montreal-New York Quartet

‘America keeping secrets,’ whispered tenor Thomas Buckner, ‘keeping secrets’. The unison chant of the accompanying bass clarinet, viola and electric guitar were equally hushed as composer Erik Griswold made a pointed comment on Wikileaks in his dramatic Mendax Redacts. The work was one of two Australian world premieres performed by the Montreal-New York Quartet at the opening night of their Australian tour.


The quartet featured a collaboration of four all-stars from the international new music scene: baritone Thomas Buckner, viola player Pemi Paull, bass clarinettist Lori Freedman and electric guitarist Tim Brady. The unusual combination of instruments made a surprisingly well-balanced ensemble. The players were well attuned to each other and equally proficient playing the complex notated music in Brady’s Road Songs as when channelling their own creativity in the interpretation of Christian Wolff’s graphic score Edges.


Brady’s guitar gave a contemporary edge to the group, most overtly in John Encarnacao’s No Direction Home. This was the second Australian work on the program, a curiously compelling mix of distorted guitar, viola and bass clarinet rock riffs underscoring refugee stories.


Paull’s viola brought warmth to the ensemble with improvisations characterised by mutterings, scoops and insistent attack.  Lori Freedman’s impressive fluidity paired with her experimental ingenuity was a highlight, especially in Brady’s Improvisations for Bass Clarinet. Buckner’s vocalese of growls, gags, and splutters were engrossing. His muddy diction and loose vibrato made it hard to comprehend the text but his emotional account of Annea Lockwood’s For Richard was delivered with intense sonority.


Cage’s FOUR6 required the performers to improvise music within set time slots. The quartet’s improvisations included tapping on strings, vocal overtones and vocalising into instruments which, while lacking the flair of recent Cage performances by Decibel ensemble, gave a moody intensity to the work. The ability to communicate their emotional commitment was the bedrock to this successful ensemble and their interpretation of new music.

This review copyright The West Australian 2014.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

April Gig Guide 2014

The WA Symphony Orchestra is all-American this weekend (April 4th and 5th) with a program of US classics: Barber, Bernstein, Gershwin and Copland. Then on the 26th April WASO pay tribute to the animation juggernaut Pixar with a concert of music from movies like Toy Story, Cars, Finding Nemo.

Easter is not far away and on 6th April St Georges Cathedral perform Bach's St Matthew Passion -  Joseph Nolan presents his carefully trimmed version (rather than the epic original or the Mendelssohn arrangement) which will feature the Cathedral Consort singing the chorales unaccompanied to highlight the texture and beauty of Bach's writing.


On 8th April April Musica Viva bring the Sitkovetsky Trio to Perth for a program of Smetana, Vine and Tchaikovsky.

Scale Variable ( kicks off the annual series with two concerts: April 5th Montreal-New York Quartet -  an all star line up bringing together four international new music soloists to give their assessment on serious new music; On Thursday April 9th  Silver Swans is the title of an Etica ensemble concert presenting the WA premiere of James Ledger’s Silver Swans, the world premier of Chris Tonkin’s Transient States and a reprisal of Ross Edwards’ Laikan which was premiered at the Perth Festival in 1980.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra present two concerts while in town this month: Sun 13 April ACO2 will perform at Government House Ballroom (includes Fredrick Kelly's Elegy written in a tent in Gallipoli in 1915 and dedicated to Rupert Brooke) while on April 16th the core ACO will perform with cellist Giovanni Sollima.

The month concludes (29 April)  with live-wire virtuoso Nigel Kennedy (violin) performing everything from Bach to Fats Waller at the Perth Concert Hall.

I hope that whets your appetite so you start clicking links and buying tickets and getting out to hear live music!

Scale Variable 2014

Since 2001 Tos Mahoney and team (Tura New Music) have been presenting Scale Variable concerts celebrating the ocean of new music from the present and recent past. This year Scale Variable is shaping up to be an exciting series across the year with the first gigs coming up this month:


The Quartet brings together four all-star new music soloists:

Tim Brady (Montreal) guitar
Lori Freedman (Montreal) clarinet & bass clarinet
Pemi Paull (Quebec) viola
Tom Buckner (NYC) voice

The program is intended to be nothing less than "an assessment by these distinguished musicians of the current state of serious music."
American experimentalism is the point of departure, with works by John Cage and Christian Wolf, in contrast to Brady's own guitar-influenced post-modern chamber music. New Zealand composer Annea Lockwood's meditative composition forms another counterpoint, balancing premiers
by two of Australia's leading younger composers, John Encarnacao and Erik Griswold.

On Thursday April 9th  Silver Swans is the title of an Etica ensemble concert presenting the WA premiere of James Ledger’s Silver Swans, the world premier of Chris Tonkin’s Transient States and a reprisal of Ross Edwards’ Laikan which was premiered at the Perth Festival in 1980.

Later in the year there is also Sound Collectors (July 18th) which brings a strong interrogation and developmental composition process to the series. The Sound Collectors are Louise Devenish and Leah Scholes. Their collective backgrounds in contemporary percussion, percussion theatre and graphic score realisation are combined in a process of collecting, discovering, exploring, interpreting and sharing new and diverse music for two percussionists.

And in a programming coup Lisa Moore is finally giving her first Perth performance. On August 9th she will be performing a program for piano and voice called From Me to You.
Crowned “New York’s queen of avant-garde piano’ and ‘visionary’ in The New Yorker this Australian virtuoso has performed with a large and diverse range of musicians and artists including the London Sinfonietta, New York City Ballet, Bargemusic, ExhAust, Howl, So Percussion, Le Train Blue, Eighth Blackbird and the New York League of Composers. Lisa moved to New York in 1985 and has released 7 solo recordings and over 30 collaborative recordings, with two new solo recordings soon to be released.

And for those in Melbourne on 10th November Cat Hope is visiting with Decibel Ensemble for The Giacinto Scelsi Project. This program features works from Giacinto Scelsi’s (1905-1988) latter period as well as reworking’s and new compositions inspired by the composer.

For more concert detail go to