Thursday, 28 August 2014

September Gig Guide

Brahms, Schubert and Schumann: English pianist Imogen Cooper says they are the composers closest to her heart. Cooper will be giving a recital of their works on Tuesday 2nd September for Musica Viva. Speaking of English pianists, that modern Renaissance man Stephen Hough (check out his latest musings at is also in Perth this month and performing Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto with the WA Symphony Orchestra on the 26th September. It must be piano month because Dutch pianist Bart van Oort is also giving a recital as part of the Keyed Up! series at the University of Western Australia on Sunday 21st September. To cap it all off Brisbane-based organist Andrej Kouznetsov is giving a recital at St George's Cathedral on the 12th.

WASO is recovering from their August Beethoven marathon with some chamber music at Government House Ballroom with the Brahms' evergreen clarinet quintet on the 19th.

UWA's Hackett Ensemble present their concert dedicated to Roger Smalley (one-time professor at UWA) on the 18th and over at the Academy of Performing Arts Defying Gravity will be showcasing percussion graduate Josh Hogan on the 11th. WAAPA will also present Into the Dreaming - guitar music by Sculthorpe and Westlake on the 18th.

Two large choral concerts round out the month: on the 13th Orff's Carmina Burana performed by Collegium accompanied by an Argentinian Folk Band (yes that's right, worth checking this one out!) and on the 21st a performance of Reqiuems by Faure and Durufle by the UWA Choral Society at St Patrick's Basilica.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom review

There were empty seats at St George’s Cathedral on Friday night. It was an unusual sight at a Consort concert and I can only hope the non-attendees were expressing their disapproval at the absence of mulled wine at interval rather than the contemporary repertoire on the program. Either way they should be regretting their decision because the spiced apple juice at interval was a good substitute and the Alexander Levine’s music simply extraordinary.

The Consort gave the Australian premiere of Levine’s hauntingly beautiful Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. The Russian/English composer’s setting of the ancient liturgy drew on the operatic drama of Bach’s Passions and the soaring ecstasy of Renaissance polyphony. Add Levine’s Russian heritage and his contemporary harmonic language and the result was an enthralling composition that sat easily alongside the great liturgical settings by Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Tavener.

The 22 movement a capella work spanned a vast dramatic range. A solo bass chant opened the work with the choir adding angelic harmonies of open fifths and the occasional suspended dissonance. The chords became thicker with entries only a semitone apart – very difficult to pitch for the singers. In the Second Antiphon echoes of plainchant could be heard in the modal writing and the Hymn to the Lord was suddenly fast and rhythmic with folk-like syncopations.

Levine’s originality sparkled within the traditional structures. Penderecki-esque chord clusters depicted the supernatural in the Cherubic Hymn; a sustained soprano line became the pedal note around which all the harmonies resolved and the thrilling climax of a triumphant hymn was outdone by the surprise of a whisper-soft ‘Amin’.

Conductor Joseph Nolan was emphatic on the climaxes, rigorous with the ever-changing time signatures and single-minded in his pursuit of purity of sound, even in the tension of close harmonies. The Consort’s distinctive blended sound and precise diction was evident even as they explored an earthier Russian sound. Occasional mispitched entries revealed the difficulty of Levine’s writing and the challenge of singing an 80 minute work unaccompanied. But minor errors were forgotten alongside the satisfaction of a perfect cadence at the end of a softly spun phrase, wrapping the ears in a warm aural embrace; it was well with my soul.

This review copyright The West Australian newspaper 2014

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Australian premiere of Levine's Divine Liturgy at St George's Cathedral

On Friday St George's Cathedral Consort will give the Australian premiere of British/Russian composer Alexander Levine's Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom.

Director Joseph Nolan gives the work a big wrap: "It is a modern masterpiece... like Rachmaninov's Vespers only better!

Joseph Nolan
"I would seriously doubt that anything quite so difficult chorally has ever been attempted in Australia.  This will mark a serious milestone in the choral life of Australia, as well as introducing a living composer of real worth to these shores."

Alexander Levine photo Sasha Gusov
Written after a powerful spiritual experience, Levine's 2006 setting of the Russian Orthodox liturgy blends old and new. The composer says, “ I thought about this journey as the spiritual experience of a person who one day comes to the church to participate in a liturgical service, where prayers and music would cast upon him the joy of unification in spirit with the divinity of God through Jesus Christ.”

John Chrysostom (347-407) was renowned for his preaching and public speaking and rose to the position of Archbishop of Constantinople. The epitaph Chrysostom means literally golden-tongued. His beautifully refined version of the liturgy became normative liturgical form in the churches within the Byzantine Empire.

Levine has adapted the Liturgy so that there is no solo part for the priest and instead the choir sings throughout. This moves the work towards being a concert piece rather than an act of worship.

The score is currently being couriered to my address - I am looking forward to getting to know it before I review the concert on Friday.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Women of Note at SwanSong

I have been invited as author of Women of Note to attend the Lisa Harper-Brown's SwanSong recital this Sunday 17th August.

Lisa Harper Brown
The program (listed below) features songs almost exclusively by Australian women composers.

Women of Note was a key influence on SwanSong series director David Wickham as he selected the music. Wickham has recorded two albums of Australian songs with Lisa Harper-Brown - a fantastic documentation of Australian vocal music. Their recital together should be marvellous. I can't wait to hear their interpretation of works by Sutherland, Glanville-Hicks, Katy Abbott and Sally Whitwell.

I will be bringing signed copies of the book to sell at interval.

Please come and say hallo!

SwanSong Program
August 17th 3pm Perth Town Hall

(Click on the names for further information, or read Women of Note!!!)

Margaret Sutherland (1897-1984)
Six Songs, Settings of Poems by Judith Wright (1915-2000)
Winter kestrel
The old prison
Woman’s song
The twins

Katy Abbott – The Domestic Sublime (Chris Wallace-Crabbe, b. 1934)
On the surface of things
Indoor yachting
Coat hangers galore
At the clothesline

Peggy Glanville Hicks – Four early Songs:
Come Sleep
Be still you little leaves

Francis Poulenc – from Fiançailles pour rire (Louise de Vilmorin)
Il Vole
with Reine des Mouettes
or Voyage a Paris

Sally Whitwell (b. 1974)
In the deep heart’s core (William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939)
May (Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894)
Warm where snowflakes lie (Christina Rossetti)
Flatworm’s Heaven – a train song (Michael Rosen, b. 1948)

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
What a movie!, from Trouble in Tahiti

Lisa Moore review

The New Yorker describes Lisa Moore as the “queen of avant garde piano” but she’s the most down to earth sovereign imaginable. In a genre renowned for eccentric performers and unapproachable music Moore was calm, friendly and all about the music. And the music was good.

Her program for the Tura Scale Variable series was devised around works for singing pianist. Moore’s clean, smooth technique and transparent musicality spanned a range of intimate emotions, from the quietude of Philip Glass’ Metamorphosis I and IV to humour of Brett Dean’s Equality with its wild rumbling piano scales and Moore’s unrestrained bellowing “All men are bastards”.

Australian composer William Gardiner was present to introduce Little Room, a compelling theatrical piece about “Australia’s first refugees” – the Irish orphans sent to Australia during the great famine.  Electronically-produced sounds of sloshing of water and fragments of text formed a cocoon of sound with Moore at its centre reading poetry, accompanying herself on piano and playing a folk tune on a melodica.

Martin Bresnick’s Ishi’s Song delved into existential questions about cultural legacy and loss. A simple native-Indian melody was developed with the clarity and complexity of Bach. Chords clustered around the melody building into complex polyrhythms with Moore’s light, even touch bringing a twinkle to the high notes.

Moore and Martin Bresnick
Moore is a pianist, not a singer, as was obvious in Ted Hearne’s Intimacy and Resistance. She declaimed the text without vibrato over Hearne’s bluesy syncopated piano chords making the piece more Sprechstimme than ballad.

But her piano skills were beyond reproach. The centrepiece of the recital was Rzewski’s De Profundis, was a complicated weaving of text by Oscar Wilde with body percussion and complex piano writing. Moore howled, slapped her cheeks and delivered feverish pointillism from the piano in a display of impressive virtuosity. A whistled interlude provided thoughtful reflective space while her conversational approach brought intimacy to Wilde’s deeply hopeful words.

Despite the huge technical skill required to deliver a recital of this kind (Moore read the scores from an Ipad using a Bluetooth foot pedal to make page turns), the overall impression was of a musician of refreshing naturalness. Randy Newman’s rambling conversational I Think its Gonna Rain Today was a fitting conclusion to a recital of unadorned authenticity.

Come back soon Lisa Moore.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Announcing WAAPA's new Head of Strings

The WA Academy of Performing Arts welcomes new head of string Alexandre Da Costa. The Canadian violinist will make his debut Perth performance this Saturday August 16th at 7:30pm.
 The violin prodigy obtained his masters in violin at the Conservatoire de Musique du Quebec and also holds a piano degree from the University of Montreal and postgraduate degree at Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kuns.

Alex will be officially relocating to Perth from Montreal in January with his wife Martine and baby boy Mattenzo. Like many international artists Perth's lifestyle and weather was part of the attraction.

" I know that Perth will become my own little paradise where I will be able to help a new generation of string players achieve their goals and professionally live with music daily." Da Costa says. "The city of Perth is such an inspiration thanks to its beauty and charm, and from the first moment I arrived I knew that my connection to the land of Australia and the West Coast in particular was one that would be very special."

 Da Costa's goals for his time at WAAPA are ambitious:

"Working with the wonderful team of WAAPA will be a joy, and together we shall build one of the strongest string programs in the Asia-Pacific region."

Da Costa plays a 1730 "Guarneri del Gesù" with a Sartory bow, loaned by Canimex.