Monday, 27 April 2015

Gig Guide - May

The merry month of May is about to start and it is jam-packed with music.

Two big festivals dominate the headlines: The Totally Huge New Music Festival May 15-24 (which will feature separately on the blog soon) and the Perth International Jazz Festival May 29-31 previously featured here.

The WA Symphony Orchestra presents two concerts: this weekend (May 1st) Vivaldi's Four Seasons with violinist Shaun Lee Chen violin and Paul Dyer conducting; on May 8th Sibelius' Fifth Symphony and Hakan Hardenberger premiering a trumpet concerto by Mark-Anthony Turnage.

A highlight of the month will be the Lost & Found production of Milhaud's opera Medee, opening at the Fremantle Arts Centre on May 11th. Director thomas de Mallet Burgess was featured recently in the Celebrity Soft Spot series. The opera is sure to sell out so act fast!

On May 12th Andrew Nicholson will join Joseph Nolan at St Georges Cathedral for a concert of virtuoso flute and organ music.

My newest favourite composer Karl Jenkins appears again - his Mass for Peace performed by the UWA Choral Society on May 3rd. Also that day Mark Coughlan performing Beethoven's Piano Concerto with the UWA Symphony Orchestra.

It is a busy month for the University with the Percussion Fiesta on May 26th. On May 28th Alex Cohen (former Chancellor) presents "A Human Odyssey" Vademecum - Go With Me featuring Sara Macliver (soprano), Paul wright (violin) and friends. UWA's new ensemble in residence Ensemble Vagabond led by Ashley William Smith will perform chamber music by Hindemith on May 31st.

On Mother's Day Cappuccino Concerts is presenting a concert of music inspired by Women of Note, performed by Irina Vasilieva (piano, Laura McGrogan (cello) and Ashley Smith (clarinet) featuring yours truly as compere! Come celebrate the special women in your life with high tea and inspiring music by Australian women composers.

Let the May madness begin!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Celebrity Soft Spot Thomas de Mallet Burgess

Next month director Thomas de Mallet Burgess presents Milhaud's opera Médée at Fremantle Arts Centre. Thomas's new opera company Lost & Found has been making waves in Perth's arts scene with their productions of unknown operas in unusual places. With his international background and commitment to transforming stuffy opera experiences for Perth audiences, Thomas makes a fascinating interview for the Celebrity Soft Spot series.

What music gets your heart racing?

Handel and Vivaldi both useful substitutes for adrenaline fueled activity; the Smiths for time travel; Everything but the Girl for nostalgia and Edith Piaf as a call to arms.

What calms you down?

Gregorian chant and Billy Holiday. The sky at night. Aside from that, it’s all in the breath.

How were you lured to take up a desk job in Joondalup? What did it take for your wife Fiona McAndrew (Perth-born soprano) to convince you to move here in 2012?

Fiona McAndrew performing La Voix Humaine
Fiona and I lived in London for some thirteen years before heading off to the US for four years and then Ireland for seven years. Perhaps there is a pattern of movement developing here? Until now, I hadn’t seen where Fiona had effectively grown-up and that is part of a person’s language of reference. The collapse of the economy in Ireland and the limited opportunities it offered was also a useful prompt.

At the City of Joondalup, I have a team of nine experts in the field of performing arts, visual arts and events. As the City of Joondalup is an emerging community this team has a responsibility to develop and deliver creative programmes. This is a far cry from simply funding projects. We have to create them. Many of us also work in our respective creative fields (directing, acting, sculpting, photography etc.). At the City of Joondalup I have an opportunity to work across disciplines (contemporary art, fashion, music) in a way that is stimulating and feeds into other projects.

You have spent decades roaming opera companies in various roles (artistic director Wexford Opera House, director of various operas at Convent Garden, Opera Ireland, Canadian Opera Company, Edinburgh Festival). Was it dissatisfaction with the status quo or a vision in the night or something else that inspired you to found LOST & FOUND opera company?

Before leaving for Perth I had directed a production of Handel’s ’Semele’ – challengingly part opera and part oratorio – at St. Werburgh’s Church in Dublin. Not only was this the church where Handel played the organ during his period in Dublin for the premiere of ‘The Messiah’ (across the road in Fishamble St.) but it perfectly suited the dichotomy of the work. The moments of oratorio were imbued with a sacred context and sung from the choir loft while the profane antics of the characters on earth were rendered more shocking as these sections were staged in front of the altar. All this was embedded in a culture waking up to the realization that it that had sold its soul to Mammon. It was hugely well received by the audience who sat in the pews – opera goers and church patrons at the same time. At the time I thought, I’m going to start a company that explores the resonance between a work and the space in which it is performed. The notes I made at the time formed the basis for Lost & Found’s Mission.

I have a host of ideas in play. Lost & Found’s first production of Poulenc’s ‘La Voix humaine’ set in a small hotel room was actually Fiona’s idea and I then developed the ritual around this. ‘The Emperor of Atlantis’ was a piece I had been looking to do for some time and it was an opportunity to connect with the Jewish community in Perth looking to explore the resonances of performing this work in a synagogue. One can never be sure precisely what resonances will emerge between work and space. That makes the work so unpredictable and exciting.

conductor and co-founder Chris van Tuinen
Audiences in Perth are protectively proud of our state opera company. What made you (and co-founder Chris van Tuinen) think there was room for another opera company?

When I arrived in Perth, I had a notion to start an opera company. Then I had a chance meeting with Chris van Tuinen who was also thinking of setting up an opera company that worked on a smaller scale exploring the link between music and drama and bringing the audience up close and personal. Between us we saw the opportunity for audiences to engage with music drama in a more visceral way than is possible in a 19th century opera house and where the traditional relationship between performer, orchestra and audience is re-invented.

Your name sounds a little English, a lot French, and yet you’ve recently been living in Ireland as director of Wexford Opera House. What are your origins?

The highest concentration of my maternal DNA is not to be found in England where I was born or France from where my name comes but rather Northern Libya, Albania and Bangalore in India.

"Opera needs to diversify in scale again," American opera director Peter Sellars said in a recent interview. "It wasn't always this elephant. It was quite light on its feet for a lot of its history and I think we need to be in that mode again… the next generation is looking to buy their vegetables at a farmers' market, not a supermarket; they want that taste, that crunch, that flavour. I think they're looking for more intimate musical experiences where you're close enough to taste the quality of the work." What is your vision for opera in the 21st century?

My artistic ambition is always to bring artists and audiences into an unexpected and intimate contact with opera, discovering new associations between character, music, text, movement and space and where the relationship between singing actors and instrumentalists is central to the presentation of an integrated music drama. Paradoxically, I found that the more successful I was becoming as a director (bigger houses more resources) the further I was getting from what I wanted to achieve artistically.

I am interested in productions that reflect a poetic reality with mentally and emotionally engaged characters trapped in situations from which conflicts arise that in turn engage the empathy and emotions of the audience. I am less concerned with finding contemporary parallels for these situations (this is the work of the audience) and more concerned with extensions of dream and myth that engage the audience at instinctive and primal levels.

For the moment I am particularly interested in the interpretative possibilities that may be offered by staging operas in unconventional spaces (for example, warehouse, asylum, church, train station, port).

I am also interested in new work that is developed musically and dramatically through collaboration.

You have a soft spot for neglected operas. What is the appeal of this repertoire?

I have very fond memories of directing at the world-famous Wexford Opera Festival (a visit to which has to be one of the most wonderful experiences for anyone interested in opera) and of course this is a festival that specialises in neglected repertoire: ‘Alessandro Stradella’ by von Flotow and ‘La Vestale’ by Mercadante. What a challenge these pieces were! Unfamiliar repertoire offers an opportunity to breath creatively away from considering how to approach the mainstream titles for the fourth or fifth time.

There are few schools for opera directors. How did you learn your trade?

When I graduated from Oxford there were only two schools I was aware of that taught any sort of directing course. Bristol Old Vic I found too snobby and Yale too expensive. As a result I learned the hard way. An apprenticeship as an Assistant Director at Covent Garden (hated being an assistant – it isn’t in my DNA). Mistakes. Many of them. All this from a base that the first opera I listened to was also the first opera I directed. Only three years ago did I begin to believe I knew how to direct opera. And I’m still learning.

Where do you get your inspired production ideas, for example the decision to set Viktor Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis in Perth Hebrew Synagogue around a rusted Volkswagen? In fact cars are becoming a theme; Menotti’s The Telephone (from the award-winning 2015 Fringe World triple bill) featured an Alpha Romeo convertible as a prop.

I research heavily and listen intuitively, possibly beyond this life.

Volkswagon in the Perth Hebrew Synagogue (Emperor of Atlantis)

You are also the author of “The Singing and Acting Handbook” (Routledge, London and New York) which is used worldwide including at the WA Academy of Performing Arts. What makes this book so groundbreaking?
It recognises that the acting training for a singing actor must necessarily be different from the acting training for a speaking actor. Everything else follows from this one simple fact.

Your wife Fiona performs in many of your productions. Are your two daughters also opera stars in the making, or perhaps a conductor and repetiteur to complete the production team?

Iseult and Beatrice will plough their own course. Both are musical but have many other talents also. They will both feature in Lost & Found’s upcoming ‘Médée’ – the whole family exploring infanticide. We’ll probably need group therapy afterwards.
Whilst it might appear from a Perth perspective that Fiona and I work a lot together that is not the case when considered from a broader perspective. We collaborated on ‘Dead Man Walking’ for Opera Ireland but apart from that haven’t worked that much together before arriving in Perth. For example, we both worked for Wexford Festival Opera but on very different occasions. Fiona has very kindly supported Lost & Found in its earliest days to produce a quality of performance that helps define the Company’s uniqueness.

[To watch Fiona McAndrew perform Poulenc's La Voix Humaine in a hotel room in Perth click here]

You have been invited to direct Pinchgut Opera’s production of Vivaldi’s Bazajet with Pinchgut Opera in July (Sydney) but first is Médée in May, set in the Fremantle Arts Centre. What can we expect?

Taken from the final sections of the ancient Greek tragedy Medea, Médée explores a woman’s psychological state as it shifts from the contemplation of marital infidelity to exacting revenge and, in a chilling climax to the slowly wrought catharsis, the murder of her two children. The compression of the action into three tableaux coupled with Milhaud’s economical music played by a chamber ensemble make for a compelling operatic tragedy. FAC’s history as first a lunatic asylum and later a women’s home makes it an apt staging point. Performed in a room that contains one of the asylum’s original cells, with a limited capacity of fifty people, this promises to be an intimate and haunting production.

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

Excellent company, fine wine, French language and culture, English language and literature, water slides.

Where can people purchase your book?

Online or directly from the publisher unless you are in London and then at most good bookshops with a drama section!


Thank you Thomas de Mallet Burgess for making time for Celebrity Soft Spot. For more info on the director go to Tickets for Milhaud's Médée at the Fremantle Arts Centre are selling fast. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Music as Social Commentary: After Julia review

The vicious gender attacks surrounding Julia Gillard’s prime ministership were well documented in the media. Composer Cat Hope commissioned eight women composers to ‘sound out’ a response to Gillard’s tenure as prime minister. The result, performed by Decibel ensemble in Sydney last year and now co-presented in Perth by Tura and PICA, is an incisive example of music as social commentary.

The theme of noise and interference was explored in several works, most overtly in Andree Greenwell’s Arrows I, II where the pure harmonies of four female singers became increasingly obscured by venomous voices yelling “ditch the witch”, “Bob Brown’s bitch” and other now-famous insults. In Cathy Milliken’s Shifrorl a dialogue between members of Decibel’s six-piece ensemble became increasingly confrontational before an elegiac conclusion played on wheezing harmonicas. Cat Hope’s comic Tough it Out used a set of instructions sent to the performers over headphones to disrupt their performance. In Laura Jane Lowther’s Loaded performers responded to media headlines with musical ideas that were then played back with distortion.

Michaela Davies’ Goldfish Variations made a quirky but pointed comment as the actions of two goldfish in a bowl were observed and interpreted by two performers. Thembi Soddell’s electro-acoustic Your Sickness is Found in My Body built into a frantic cacophony before an abrupt halt and in the stillness the lone sound of a fading flute note. Gail Priest used a quote from Gillard to determine the melodic material in Everything and Nothing.

Kate Moore’s enthralling Oil Drums was a bold work of orchestral density created by layering piano chords, syncopated instrumental rhythms, electronic thrumming and drones over the throbbing sound of 44-gallon drums. 

The diversity and uniqueness of these pieces is something I’ve come to expect from Australian women composers and the near-capacity crowd responded with great enthusiasm. Two things struck me: we need more concerts like this especially given that 25 percent of our composers are women (more than almost any other nation in the world); secondly this is a far more interesting and useful cultural exercise than commissioning music about Australian war history.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Perth Jazz Festval 2015

The Perth Jazz Festival has released the 2015 festival.
This year the festival will be held 29th-31st May.

Established in 2012, the Festival is the brain-child of Associate Professor Graham Wood (aka owner Ellington jazz club, pianist, cancer-survivor, WAAPA music director). The purpose of PIJF is to promote jazz music to the wider community, including the international community. The Festival’s aim is to bring inspiring music from around the world and Australia to Perth in an accessible and vibrant way.

This year the program is headlined by bassist Richard Bona (NYC) with fellow New York artists Barney McAll and Vivian Sessons also making the trip to Perth. The international line up also includes  Rachel Claudio (Paris), Troy Roberts (although I still count him as a Perth boy!, Timo Vollbretch (USA) and Keisuke Matsuna (Berlin), Gianni Denitto (Italy), Artur Dutkiewicz.

Local artists include Allira Wilson, Victoria Newton, Johannes Luebbers Dectet, Trisk and student ensembles WAAPA Big Band, Hale School Jazz Band and John Septimus Roe Jazz.

Check out the program for more details.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Musical Soiree @ New Edition

There are still some places available for the Musical Soiree at New Edition Bookstore on Tuesday.
I'm starting to get excited... :-)

It's essentially an author talk but more fun with musical samples and scandalous stories which invariably provoke plenty of discussion. My presentation gives a quick history of Australian composition by tracing three generations of women composers. The musical range is enormous. I find people are surprised by how much they enjoy my talks - I guess most people assume classical music is going to be a bit dull, but the lives and music from Women of Note are anything but dull!
(Either that or it's the free wine and nibbles!!!)

I hope you are able to come. Feel free to circulate among your networks but do note the rsvp requirement; the bookstore is cosy so there are limited numbers.

Reviews for Women of Note; the rise of Australian women composers (Fremantle Press 2012)

“A welcome – and overdue – publication. Appleby displays an expertise probably honed by her years as a journalist. She writes engagingly, achieving a fine balance between conveying information about the women’s personal lives and their music.”
Jillian Graham
Australian Book Review March 2012.

Women of Note makes an excellent starting point for anyone interested in exploring the music of Australian women composers. The musical lives and survival stories of all the women are inspiring. One can almost believe anything is possible. At the very least women of all ages can find in it a variety of survival tips...”

Jenny Game-Lopata, Musicological Society of Australia Journal July 2013

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Diego Matheuz: music and hope

“I saw children having lessons and giving concerts and I fell in love,” says Diego Matheuz remembering his first visit to El Sistema as a child. “I knew from that first day that I would be a musician all my life.”

Matheuz is in Perth rehearsing with the WA Symphony Orchestra. The conductor was a graduate of Venezuela’s El Sistema, a music education program which WASO has recently begun to implement in schools in Kwinana. The 30 year old is the perfect ambassador for the Sistema program with his deeply passionate approach to music and self-effacing personality, not to mention his pin-up good looks. 

The Venezuelan El Sistema was founded in 1975 by economist and musician Jose Antonio Abreu whose vision to empower disadvantaged children through music has revolutionised both social intervention and music education worldwide.

Matheuz grew up in the city of Barquisimeto and while crime and drugs threatened many of his peers Matheuz spent his childhood making music. He attended Sistema for five hours a day most days of the week, working hard to fit in his normal schoolwork. He began the violin when he was nine and by fifteen was touring internationally with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, the Sistema’s professional orchestra. Matheuz firmly believes music can create social transformation.

“An orchestra is like a perfect community. It is a wonderful way of learning to communicate, listen to each other and create a sense of community. If you are part of creating that experience as a child then as an adult it gives you hope; you have a vision, a possibility of a different life.”

Providing new opportunities to impoverished children is what inspired WASO’s community engagement manager Cassandra Lake who launched the orchestra’s Sistema music program with pre-primary classes in Kwinana last year.

“I am inspired by the stories from teachers saying the classroom dynamic is different because children are concentrating better and learning to work together,” Lake said. “I had a mum say to me ‘My son looks forward to going to school now. He’s singing all the time because of your program’. Another parent who was struggling to put a roof over their child’s head said to me they never imagined their child would have this opportunity.”

The community education initiative came from WASO’s desire to be more relevant to the community in which they operate. 300 students from Medina Primary School, Kwinana Christian School and North Parmelia Primary School are having weekly group lessons using their inbuilt instrument – the voice – as a starting point. Lessons on stringed instruments will follow with the goal of forming an orchestra.

The Sistema approach is renowned for its joyful and encouraging atmosphere. Matheuz explains this is because the emphasis is on music making as a group rather than an individual pursuit.

“We are not thinking about competitions,” says Matheuz, “we don’t have the vision of creating soloists like a conservatorium would.  It is more about being a group, an orchestra, like being a family together. In football you have a psychologist to keep the team together because there are too many ‘stars’. But an orchestra doesn’t need that because the focus is the music.”

Despite (or because of) the democratic ideology Sistema’s graduate list includes plenty of stars. 33 year old Gustavo Dudamel is chief conductor of the Los Angelos Philharmonic and Edicson Ruiz plays bass with the Berlin Philharmonic. And of course Matheuz who made his professional debut in 2008 with Orchestra Mozart in Bologna and is now principal conductor of Teatro la Fenice and principal guest conductor with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra Mozart. Matheuz has attracted the attention of mentors like Daniel Barenboim, Claudio Abbado and Abreu and is now considered global hot property. But he deflects the focus away from the individual. 

“I am lucky to have all these people and my family supporting me,” he says. “I thank God for this opportunity.”

This weekend Matheuz will conduct Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 2 with WASO which he promises will give the audience a vision of their own.

“This piece can make you cry and fall in love and remember things, it gives you hope. It gives you a very special moment and that is what I hope the audience will experience.”

This article copyright the West Australian newspaper.