Monday, 30 June 2014

WASO Harold in Italy review

Music by some of France’s most colourful storytellers – Bizet, Faure and Berlioz - was brought to life by a Russian conductor and soloist in the WA Symphony Orchestra’s most recent concert. 

conductor Vladimir Verbitsky
On Friday night conductor laureate Vladimir Verbitsky delivered a version of Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite No 1 coloured by bristling string playing interspersed with delicate saxophone and harp moments. In the Carillon movement Verbitsky’s unerring sense of line gave elegant shape to operatic melodies strung over plodding accompaniment.

One of Faure’s more harmonically progressive pieces, Suite from Pelleas et Melisande, had a bleak edge to it. The sweetness of the Sicilienne was a welcome respite between the pensive picture of Melisande at the spinning wheel and the melancholic Funeral March.

violist Maxim Rysanov
 An English interlude in the form of two movements from Vaughan Williams’ Suite for Viola and Small Orchestra introduced soloist Maxim Rysanov. The richness of his viola was immediately apparent: at the low end of the register a deep weeping sound, a mellow middle section and a honeyed top end.

Berlioz’s theatrical Harold in Italy continued the montage of French pictures. This ‘symphony with a principal viola part’ gives most of the theatrics to the orchestra, but Rysanov’s bold sound earned him prominence and he played with precision. Berlioz’s storytelling was masterful. The pilgrim’s hymn with answering horn calls faded to a magical hush and Verbitsky drove the Brigand’s Orgy with his typical fist-clenching fervour. Yet despite the rousing climaxes and consistently excellent playing across the night there was something missing. Perhaps it was the lack of meaty repertoire; the excess of pictorial works built into a vague incoherent collage. Or perhaps it was the lack of emotional connection; the predominantly clinical approach by Verbitsky and Rysanov ultimately lacked both Russian fire and French melodrama.  

This review copyright The West Australian 2014.

July Gig Guide

It's a wet, wet winter in Perth this year. Thankfully the music continues regardless! This month has a mix of concerts, some lighthearted and some darker to suite the weather.

Now here's something I don't know what to do with: a Youtube-taught electric violinist from Zambia playing at the Perth Concert Hall. Check out Caitlin de Ville on July 4th if you're brave!

On 6th July Paul Wright and friends will perform  Mozart, Mendelssohn and Dvorak at St Thomas the Apostle, Claremont as part of the
Pipe Organ Plus series.

WA Opera's Magic Flute opens on the 15th where Katja Webb (Pamina) will warm your soul and James Clayton make you smile as a truly comic Papageno.

On the 12th the WA Youth Orchestra are perfoming music by Hamlet (Shostakovich), Romeo and Juliet (Prokofiev) conducted byVladimir Verbitsky. The Russian intensity continues with the Australian Chamber Orchestra who will perform Shostakovich's Piano Quintet and also Lutoslawski's Subito on the 23rd. 

The WA Symphony Orchestra have a creative month planned. On the 18th is a musical/culinary feast with Maggie Beer and Simon Bryant called The Cook, the Chef and WASO,  at Riverside Theatre. On the 27th actors from Classical Kids Live bring their theatrical skills to a family concert Beethoven Lives Upstairs

WA Academy of Performing Arts are hosting the inaugural International Art Song Festival from the 13-20th with teachers Dr Graeme Johnson and Deborah Birnbaum. The festival concludes with a gala concert at Government House Ballroom on the 20th. WAAPA percussion students under Tim White will take over for a high octane version of Stravinsky's ballet Petrushka on the 31st. 

And finally on the 24th the Choir of King's College Cambridge are in town o as part of their national tour with Musica Viva.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Rossini's Stabat Mater review

Asher Fisch continues to impress. The conductor’s second concert this year with the WA Symphony Orchestra took him closer to his operatic heritage, with works by Puccini and Rossini revealing his expertise. (See my earlier misgivings about the appointment of an opera specialist here.)

Asher Fisch

The concert opened with Puccini’s string quartet Chrysanthemums performed here by string orchestra. Fisch wound Puccini’s long melody lines with elegiac introversion and the darkly sonorous string sound was a dramatic contrast to the sparkle of Haydn’s Symphony No 26 which followed; Fisch’s honing of string sound is becoming a hallmark of his relationship with the orchestra. Haydn’s Lamentatione Symphony was marked by aggressive fingerwork by the violins and flourishes from valveless (Classical era) horns. Stewart Smith’s sensitive accompaniment from harpsichord enriched the Adagio movement particularly.

The theme of mourning continued with Rossini’s Stabat Mater, a work that bristles with drama and - oddly enough - humour. Fisch delineated all the detail: the troubled opening queries from bassoon and double bass, the pizzicato whispers and the bold contrapuntal triumph of the Amen chorus. Soprano Rachelle Durkin sung with crisply articulated ornaments and brought irate animation to her Inflammatus aria. Jacqueline Dark was warmly sorrowful in the second soprano role and Daniel Sumegi’s bass was appropriately grim. John Longmuir sung with a beautifully polished tenor sound (floating out a melting falsetto D flat) and his martial nobility brought a black twist to Rossini’s curiously comic Cujus animam.

But the greatest feat on Friday night came from the WASO Chorus directed by Christopher van Tuinen and coached by Andrew Foote. The 100-strong group sounded clean, united and convicting. Rossini offered multiple solos to the bass section and the men responded with glowing contributions. The pinnacle was the a capella Quando corpus morietur, normally sung by the quartet of soloists but here delivered with great dramatic impact by the full choir, singing completely from memory. This was a compelling program revealing the depth of talent currently in operation at WASO.

This review copyright The West Australian 2014.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Journalism in Schools - an exciting life

Every time I present at a school I am surprised by how much I enjoy it! Maybe it is the teaching genes I have inherited and have been ignoring all these years! I recently presented How to Write a Feature Article to a group of Year Nine English students at Carey Baptist college. I was pleased with how well the session went given I normally do seminars on this topic to older students.

I also shared quite a lot about my book Women of Note as the students were looking at Australian cultural identity with the focus "Those we have forgotten". Women of Note is full of overlooked composers so it suited perfectly.

I received some lovely feedback from the teacher:

"I would like to acknowledge the excellent work you did with my class in terms of writing a feature article responsibly and effectively.  Hearing it from a someone who actually does this in 'the real world' gives it so much more credibility - therefore a reason or motivation to give it your best shot.  

I was so pleased with the information  about  those members of the Australian society that are not usually mentioned when we talk about national identity and identity 'shapers'.  You certainly enlightened the students so that they have a much broader understanding of those who make wonderful contributions to the richness of this country.
Lastly, I was impressed with your ability to connect so well with students.  It was as if you teach them every day!  Your teaching style and the fact that you on their 'page' in terms of interests and language use made it a very successful session.  
Thank you so much.  I wish you all the best - such an exciting life!
Kind regards
Pamela van Rooyen"

I don't always feel like I have an exciting life, but that day I did. I wish the composers were with me as I talked about their music, just to watch the response of the students as their faces lit up.