Friday, 30 May 2014

June Gig Guide

it is winter and Asher Fisch is back in Perth to stoke the fire at WASO. Hopefully he will last the entire season this time, I was disappointed to miss him earlier in the year when at the last minute he cancelled a concert and had to return to Europe. Fisch's first concert with WASO is June 6th/7th conducting Haydn's Lamentatione Symphony and Rossini's Stabat Mater. The following week (June 13th/14th) he conducts Mahler's Ninth Symphony.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra bring the Timeline tour to Perth on Wednesday 4th June. In this quirky program the orchestra will join forces with electro-pop group The Presets to perform a kaleidoscope of 230 songs spanning 42 000 years. Apparently there is also percussion, vocal sextet, curated recording footage and visual effects. Intrigued? Me too!
Lovers of piano trios are in for a feast: on Sunday 8th June the Magellan Trio (with Margie Blades ex-WASO) will perform trios by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven at Trinity College and on Wednesday 11th The Darlington Piano Trio perform trios by Bruch, Bridge and Mendelssohn.
Lost and Found Opera Co are a new star-attraction. After their success at Perth Fringe with The Human Voice, the company have found another 'lost' work to perform in the curious location of Perth Hebrew Congregation Synagogue. Ullmann's The Emperor of Atlantis will run Thursday 12, 15, 16th. I love watching this company explore ways to enable the community to engage with the narrative of opera.

WAAPA's musicals always sell out and West Side Story sounds like a it will be another hit. The season runs June 14-21st. WASO ends the month with a movie soundtrack performance at the Convention Centre Riverside Theatre. On June 20/21st  they will perform Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers with the WASO Chorus and St George's Cathedral Chorus. On June 27/28th Vladimir Verbitsky will conduct Faure's Pelleas et Melisande and will be joined by violist Maxim Rysanov for Berlioz's Howard in Italy and Vaughan Williams' Suite for Viola and Orchestra.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Hansel and Gretel review

Opera performances are too rare in Perth and I am obviously not the only person pleased to welcome the recent emergence of grassroots companies like OperaBox and Lost and Found Opera. The Perth Town Hall was sold out for the opening night of Hansel and Gretel, OperaBox’s fourth production since the company was founded in 2011.


Humperdinck’s operatic version of the Brothers Grimm fairytale is a strange mix of childish innocence and high art with its gingerbread house, Wagnerian leitmotifs and an angel ballet.


The OperaBox production was simple, vigorous and appealing. The production moves location for each performance so the makeshift set (Olivia Tartaglia and Rhiannon Walker) relies on flats transformed by twinkling fairy lights (the forest scene) and gingerbread stick-ons (the Witch’s house). First-time opera director Sarah McKellar added modern touches. Hansel and Gretel skipped around in overalls and beanies and the Witch wore furs with a wand doubling as a cigarette holder a la Cruella de Vil. But the updating was mild; there were still lederhosen and a gingerbread house, no iPods or Mars bars.


A cast of seasoned stage performers inhabited the stage confidently. The resourceful Jenna Robertson sung Gretel with a winsome smile (she also produced and marketed the show) and Alexandra Bak was a boyish Hansel stomping and frowning while singing with rich rounded tone.


In an enchanting Act II ballet scene the children were lulled to sleep by dancing angels (choreography Claire Thomas) and the Sandman appeared in puppet form (a nod to McKellar’s R&J puppet production at the Perth Fringe Festival) operated and sung by Emma Taylor who also sung the Dew Fairy.


Thomas Friberg was endearing as the concerned Father rushing into the wood to find his lost children. Eva-Marie Middleton’s flexible mezzo soprano was warm as the weary Mother and shrill as the cackling Witch. Her prowling presence dominated Act III although her centrepiece dance Hurr hopp hopp hopp felt too polite.


The rich sound of the 30-piece orchestra (conducted by a steady Christopher Dragon) was appreciated in moments like the rousing number celebrating the death of the Witch. A professional pianist or small ensemble would’ve lifted the standard but perhaps compromised the company’s aim to provide opportunities to emerging artists, itself a major achievement. This entertaining low-cost opera experience continues with performances at Victoria Hall Fremantle on Thursday and Darlington Hall on Monday.




This review copyright The West Australian 2014

Monday, 26 May 2014

Hackett Ensemble review


Ashley William Smith expected half a dozen students at his first new music ensemble class. Instead the room overflowed with almost thirty students. It is uncertain if the attraction was the edgy repertoire on offer or the charismatic young professor. One thing is clear: new music performance is back on the map at the University of Western Australia for the first time since the heyday of composer Roger Smalley in the nineties.


For the debut of the newly formed Hackett Ensemble, Smith (winner of the 2012 MCA Freedman Fellowship and newly appointed Head of Winds and Contemporary Performance) chose repertoire exploring the loose boundary between noise and music. Two flexibly scored works by Frederik Rzewksi were well-suited to the mixed ensemble. Gareth Hearne’s theatrical narration of Coming Together was gripping despite being regularly drowned out by the large ensemble. Smith conducted with poised focus and the students seemed confident working with semi-improvised music. With each repetition of the text the intensity increased until a shrieking death metal climax, with bass and electric guitars riding the wave of sound.  


John Cage’s solo piano piece In a Landscape (performed with tranquillity by Barrett Oliver) provided a seamless link to Rzewski’s Attica. The much gentler mood of Attica was established by recorder, acoustic guitars, warm string chords and vocal ‘ah’s’ laid over a deep pedal note in marimba and vibraphone. Smith conducted with poised


A recorder solo (Anna Maydwell performing Big Baboon by Paul Leenhouts) and a saxophone solo (Scott Collinson performing Paradigm I by Ronald Caravan) demonstrated contemporary techniques and sounds that challenge the boundaries between noise and music.


Cathy Berberian’s Stripsody - a quirky work requiring a narrator of immense dramatic poise – was the least successful part of the night. Allocating each sound bite to a different member of the ensemble was messy and distracting. At the same time the egalitarian solidarity shared by the performers and conductor was one of the strengths of this concert. It is heartening to see new music embraced without fear; music lives only because of performers like these.


This review copyright The West Australian 2014.


Thursday, 1 May 2014

May Gig Guide 2014

The university semester is in full swing and May is bursting with concerts by student ensembles. These can be some of the most interesting and energetic concerts of the year.

On May 2nd Paul Wright conducts the UWA symphony orchestra playing early classical repertoire and on May 19th the orchestra is joined by the school of music choir and John Septimus Roe school choir for an epic performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.  Also at UWA the Keyed Up piano series features Stephen McIntyre - one of the grand OLD men of the piano -  on May 11th. Over at WAAPA the percussion students are performing a program of Latin American percussion music titled Fiesta! from May 1-3rd.

My pick from the student concerts would be the debut of new music group Ensemble Hackett on May 23rd. There hasn't been a new music ensemble at UWA for over 15 years I'd reckon. Ensemble Hackett is led by new Artist in Residence and wunderkind Ashley Smith and in their first concert they are profiling minimalist composers.

The fascinating Chinese ballet group Shen Yun is finally coming to Perth with concerts May 1-4th. The group has become a world wide phenomenon with their blend of incredible artistry and ancient Chinese religion.

The WA Symphony Orchestra are performing Shostakovich's 5th Symphony on May 2nd with Alexander Lazarev conducting, and on May 23rd Daniel Sumegi sings songs by Brahms (the Glanert version) -  also Stravinsky's Petrouchka and the Australian premiere of Erki-Sven Tuur's De Profundis.

Also on May 23rd the Australian String Quartet will perform Mozart's Requiem but WITHOUT the words! The fascinating program also includes Alban Berg's Lyric Suite.

Musica Viva are bringing over the American Brass Quintet for a national tour that stops in Perth on May 22nd.

The Pipe Organ Plus series continues with a concert on May 18 at the Basilica of St Patrick in Fremantle. Organist Dominic Perisinotto has put together a stunning program of works by Bach and Arvo Part, featuring WASO cellist Louise McKay and flautist Andrew Nicholson.

So there we have it, lots to choose from, enjoy the month of music!