Monday, 30 March 2015

A Good Friday discovery

I have just discovered Karl Jenkins. He is a Welsh composer with a shaggy moustache and an amazing Requiem which is being performed on Good Friday at Trinity Uniting Church.

Jenkins' Requiem combines the traditional Latin liturgical structure with his trademark ethnic elements - in this case five Japanese poems about death. The Dies Irae is particularly unique, driven by percussion with the choir singing a hip hop triplet rhythm over the top.

Hear Jenkins talk about the work below.

The Requiem promises to be a moving way to engage with Good Friday. It will be performed by Camerata 1685 conducted by Jangoo Chapkhana.

10am Trinity Uniting Church
72 St George's Terrace

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Duncan Gardiner's debut album as a composer

Perth guitarist Duncan Gardiner is releasing his second album Incense & Arabie at the Ellington Jazz Club on Monday 30th March. The album marks Duncan's debut as a composer - a term he has only recently owned despite composing for as long as he can remember.

For many years the focus has been on guitar: the WA Academy of Performing Arts graduate released his debut guitar album Of Dreams and Fantasies in 2009 and critic Chris Dumigan (Classical Guitar Magazine UK) said "I must say that this CD is one of the very best CD's of guitar music to ever come my way... I have returned to this CD more than most others just for the sheer pleasure of it." Duncan's busy performing career encompasses international tours and performing in local groups including the Perth Guitar Quarter, mimi duo (piano and guitar) and Duo Caliente (flute and guitar). He is also renowned as a guitar teacher, adjudicator and educator.

Listen below to the Perth Guitar Quartet perform a selection of Duncan Gardiner's compositions.

More recently Duncan has allowed his compositional talents to emerge. He has been commissioned by groups such as the Fremantle Symphony Orchestra and his compositions have been selected for the exam syllabus of the Australian Guild of Music and Speech. The album Incense 7 Arabie which will be launched on Monday contains all-original music. Duncan expresses poignantly in the CD liner notes (the CD is beautifully presented) the journey involved for him to regard himself as a legitimate composer, despite the burning desire within him to compose.

"I think it was my initial fear of being compared to my fellow composers at WAAPA (not to mention Bach and Beethoven etc!) ... But I am a composer. I compose music. I assemble series of pitches and rhythms and textures to create feelings and mood; a synthesis greater than the sum of all the individual parts and musical devices alone."

The works on Incense & Arabie are pensive, melodically exquisite and immaculately performed and produced. All are written for guitar and ensemble with the addition of a piano suite called The Peridot Sutie. Duncan is supported on guitar by vocalist Lucy Rae, pianist Faith Maydwell and members of the WA Symphony Orchestra including cellist Louise MacKay. The multi-talented Duncan also contributes on piano, recorder, vioin, cello, bass, sitar, flute, voice and percussion.

The launch at the Ellington is on Monday 30th March at 7:30pm. Duncan's compositions will be performed by the Aria String Quartet, mimi duo and the Perth Guitar Quartet. For more details visit

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

offBEAT Festival review

Fremantle Arts Centre's inaugural offBEAT Festival made a solid imprint on the WA music scene over the weekend, using unexpected collaborations to present rhythm in fresh ways.

The WA Academy of Performing Arts’ percussion ensemble Defying Gravity opened the festival on Friday night with a performance of John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit, a piece inspired by the stone navigation markers used by the Inuit in the Arctic. Ensemble director Tim White and 22 black-clad performers stood around a tree in the arts centre garden gently blowing through paper cones – the sound barely discernible above the wind in the trees. Gradually the players dispersed to various corners of the garden to form instrumental ‘sculptures’. Musical themes were passed between performers: the haunting call of conch shells and other horn-like instruments, the deep thudding of drums and the metallic chiming of bells and cymbals. 

The audience - adults and children alike - moved around the garden with unguarded inquisitiveness. The immersive effect was extraordinarily effective. I’ve never been so aware of the physiological impact of music: conch shells pushed air against me, bass drums thudded in my chest cavity and standing in the centre of the garden as the drums thundered from every side my skin was shivering from the vibrations. The aural acupuncture gradually faded and the performers regathered at the tree, drawing our attention back to the music of the wind in the leaves. 

(listen below to Inuksuit presented by Make Music New York and Colombia University's Miller Theatre)

On Saturday night 200 fans crammed the inner courtyard to witness three leading WA electronic artists collaborate with Josh Hogan’s percussion ensemble The Wheel Turns. The four-piece percussion group added beats to the moody folktronic pop of Joni in the Moon, gave a hypnotic edge to electronic duo Rockwell & Groom and an aural assault to MC Mathas' intellectual hip hop.

Sunday’s free afternoon concert featured drum virtuoso Daniel Susnjar and his Afro-Peruvian Jazz Group which drew a packed crowd of picnickers. Susnjar has put the riveting rhythms of Afro-Peruvian music at the centre of his jazz band resulting in compositions full of tricky duple/triple cross-rhythms and loads of groove. The addition of the Peruvian cajon or box drum (Iain Robbie) and Spanish guitar (Harry Winton) gave Latin American colour and the jazz horns (Ricki Mallet trumpet, Carl Mackey tenor saxophone) added bronze tones. Tom O’Halloran on keyboard and Pete Jeavons on bass completed the star-studded line up, with Susnjar steering confidently from his drumset. 

This review copyright The West Australian 2015.

Monday, 23 March 2015

WASO and Stefanie Iranyi

The WA Symphony Orchestra’s concert of Broadway and Viennese classics attracted a full house on Saturday night. The gilded elegance of Strauss operetta and the jazz glitz of Gershwin’s songs provided opportunity to witness the growing relationship between principal conductor Asher Fisch and orchestra.


The opening notes of Johann Strauss II’s overture to Zigeunerbaron had a golden roundness and the focus on beauty of sound continued throughout the night. The strings in particular navigated the 19th century Viennese overtures, arias and marches with a robust glow. The less well-known overture to Heuberger’s Der Opernball was an inspired inclusion with its wispy tune passed between the violins and a seductive melody in the cellos. Under Fisch’s supple conducting it was the most persuasive music-making of the night.

Bavarian mezzo soprano Stefanie Iranyi was a seamless addition for three operetta arias. The frivolity of Kalman’s In the mountains (Die Czardasfurstin) was expressed with foot-stomping gypsy abandon; Lehar’s When I hear the sound of the cimbalom (Zigeunerliebe) revealed the fabulous richness of her lower register, while in Lehar’s My lips kiss so hotly (Guiditta) Iranyi’s phrases sighed and stretched seductively.

Iranyi’s smooth classical sound was transformed by breathy vibrato, sliding between notes and a throaty vehemence for Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm, Someone to Watch Over Me and The Man I Love. In both the operetta and Broadway numbers Iranyi’s personalised touches were closely supported by Fisch revealing the shared musical vision between singer and conductor who are partners on and off the stage.

Fisch led Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue from piano in a display of musical camaraderie with his orchestra. Fisch’s fast tempo and plentiful use of the sustain pedal smudged some piano detail and the orchestra was less cohesive without the conductor on the podium. But Fisch’s energy was infectious and the orchestra came striding noisily along for the ride with vibrant brass chords and a gloriously long opening glissando from clarinettist Alan Meyer.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Celebrity Soft Spot Stefanie Iranyi

This month we celebrated International Women's Day so I thought it would be interesting to feature Bavarian mezzo soprano Stefanie Iranyi who will be collaborating with her partner Asher Fisch in concerts with the WA Symphony Orchestra this week. Stefanie balances her role as a mother with her international singing career (she has sung under the batons of conductors Zubin Mehta, Helmut Rilling, Jeffrey Tate and Bruno Bartoletti).

Stefanie shares with us her love for drama (on and off the stage!), the privileged moments of mothering and her seriously impressed reaction to the WA Symphony Orchestra.

What music gets your heart racing?
 Siegfried’s funeral march

What calms you down?
 My daughter falling asleep on me

What do you sing along to?
 Whatever gets stuck in my ears – sometimes not very much to my liking

What are your impressions of the WA Symphony Orchestra?
 I had the great pleasure to hear the Beethoven cycle. It is just amazing that an orchestra far away from the famous orchestras spread out in Europe or the US plays on such a high and, if I may - unexpected level! It seems that they really enjoy playing and making it happen!

How are you preparing for the Gershwin and Viennese repertoire you will be singing with WASO this weekend?
I listen to the music of the period, not so much the songs themselves but more the music around. That gives you a good idea and your ears get used to the style.

Mark Applebaum says music should be above all else interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?
If somebody comes after a concert and tells you that it was very interesting you should get very concerned….It’s a famous way out of not saying that it was horrible!!
Music should move – literally and also emotionally!

You have a soft spot for laments (your debut album with the Hofkapelle M√ľnchen features laments by Handel, Haydn and Hasse) – what is the appeal of this repertoire?
All these women were suffering badly. They went through big emotions, which is of course then shown in the music and requests a lot of different colours, volume ranges. I would say I have a soft spot for drama. On stage and also at home ;-)

What sort of vocal fach do you tend towards or is your voice still growing?
Indeed, my voice is still growing. Especially after I gave birth to my daughter. I was a lyric mezzo and now I am approaching the “Jugendlich dramatisches Fach” [lirico spinto soprano].

You performed a recital with Asher Fisch in Melbourne in 2013. Do you perform together often?
Yes, we do!

What a privilege to be able to share something you are both so passionate about together. But it must also create potential for some competition/conflict?
 We both appreciate each other’s opinion and have no problems to accept the criticism. We are actually most happy if the other one is sitting in the concert or attending the rehearsals. It helps so much if there is somebody whose ears and judgment you can trust. That is very rare in our business! Our conflicts are more based on different ideas how to clean a kitchen ;-)

Iranyi as Despina (Cosi fan tutte) Teatro Regio di Parma 2008)
How did you and Asher meet?
We met on stage. A Parsifal production in Naples.

You have a 2 year old daughter Livia. What do you suggest is a good way to introduce children to classical music?
A natural one. Nothing forced. At this age, kids still do have a good instinct, still not influenced – we should take advantage of this and expose them to all different kinds of music. They will let us know what they like.

I have two preschool children myself and know how hard it is to juggle work and family. How do you manage the work/life balance with a very young daughter and Asher often working away?
For this reason, we moved close to my parents and are now living in a beautiful area in the mountains. Livia from early on stayed with them when we both had concerts. She is so happy there, and I am completely relaxed when I have to leave her. Knowing that she will get the same education and especially all the love, which she would get from us! It is a win - win situation!

We celebrated International Woman’s Day earlier this month. Do you think it is getting any easier for women to have both a career and motherhood?
Well, I only can speak for my country Germany. Something is happening there, but still it is hard to get a place for them in a Kindergrippe, even though by law every child is entitled. Especially in rural areas the idea to send kids from early age to a Kindergarten is being regarded as the wrong decision – to express it in a mild way. I think there is still a way to go!

Singers use their most personal facility – their voice – as their profession. How do you cope with something so personal and vulnerable being under scrutiny? How do you manage the flu/sleep deprivation/hormone changes/emotions and everything else that effects the voice?
You learn very early on not to take critique too personally, especially when it comes to the quality of voice. It is something you cannot change; the earlier you accept it the better! In addition, it is completely subjective. One person is in love with your voice, the next one thinks it is a mediocre boring sound.

Where do you stay when you are in Perth? Do you have a favourite place to go or restaurant to eat at?
In August last year we went to a coffee place in Cottesloe…I love it!

Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music and the family?

Listen to Stefanie's pearly mezzo/ lirico spinto soprano in the Lacrimosa from Verdi's Requiem, performed in Moscow in December.

Big thanks to Stefanie Iranyi for making time for Celebrity Soft Spot. For more info on the singer go to her website. Full details of her concert with WASO on March 20th and 21st can be found at the orchestra's website.

I hope you are enjoying the new Celebrity Soft Spot series. 
Do you have a suggestion of who we should include on the list? Is there an artist you know doing something exciting in WA?