Wednesday, 29 June 2016

July Gig Guide

It is mid-winter and my mulled wine recipe is out! So too is the Perth Winter Arts Festival brochure to satisfy your artistic palette. Here is my pick of the classical music gigs around town this month:

The WA Symphony Orchestra will host Simone Lamsma playing Tchaikovsky  on July 1st. On July 15th the orchestra with conductor Guy Noble will present Last Night at the Proms featuring the classic anthems, soloists and chorus of this English tradition. On the 22nd the orchestra joins forces with Cirque du Soleil for a unique circus and musical extravaganza, again conducted by Guy Noble.
And then things get serious again with an all-Beethoven program on 28th conducted by Simone Young featuring Javier Perianes performing the Piano Concerto No 3.

On Saturday 2nd July Michael Kieran Harvey will join Irina Vasilieva in a recital for two pianos at Cappucino Concerts. The program is intriguing and the performers outstanding so this is a must see!

American pianist Julian Garguilo's rigorous Russian conservatory training and his informal style makes him a funny and unconventional advocate for classical music. He performs Downstairs at the Maj on 16th.

The WA Academy of Performing Arts is hosting English soprano Dame Felicity Lott as part of their International Art Song Academy and she will perform in recital on the 6th and in a gala concert at Government House Ballroom on the 10th.

On the 11th the Australian String Quartet tour with a program including Haydn, Webern and Australian pianist/composer Joe Chindamo! Musica Viva are also in town this month, bringing the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge on the 28th. Central to their program is Frank Martin's Mass for Unaccompanied Double Choir.

WA Opera present The Elixir of Love featuring Aldo di Toro and Rachelle Durkin, running 14-23rd July.

And in a lovely conclusion to the month the Magellan Ensemble (Paul Wright violin, Faith Maydwell piano, Sacha McCulloch) will premiere Perth guitarist/composer Duncan Gardiner’s A Thousand Cranes Beat Their Wings on July 30th at Christ Church Grammar School Chapel.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Peter and the Wolf review

“It’s the Wolf!” the children clamour. A masked actor is sneaking past the orchestra as they warm up onstage. The concert hasn’t even begun but the fun is already underway.

Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf was the concluding concert in the WA Symphony Orchestra’s Education Week program which included a birthday party for the education ensemble EChO, the world premiere of student compositions, the popular amateur Rusty Orchestra concert and a hospital concert.

Tahlia's first visit to the Perth Concert Hall
The fresh take on Peter and the Wolf was presented by Platypus Theatre (from Canada) who were a resounding success at WASO’s inaugural Education Week last year. Artistic director Peter Duschenes demonstrated the concept of musical characterisation with WASO and conductor Chris van Tuinen performing excerpts including Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee and Schumann’s Traumerei. The musical themes for Prokofiev’s ‘symphony for children’ were introduced and the story unfolded with the help of masks, puppets and mime plus a few minor plot adjustments for modern sensibilities: the wolf stuffed the duck in a sack rather than swallowing it and the huntsmen were police who ran out of ammunition allowing Peter and the help of a dozen audience volunteers to net the wolf.

Platypus Theatre kept the music central, drawing all their theatrics from the musical gestures from the bird reluctant to help Peter distract the wolf to the tug of war over the wolf’s tail. The antics were well-pitched with stock-in-trade pantomime gestures prompting shrieks of “He’s over there” from the thrilled young audience.

My three year old loved the cat because of its music (kudos to the clarinettists!) while my five year old thought it was hilarious when the wolf couldn’t spot Peter and friends hiding right behind him: “He must’ve thought the person who woke him up was invisible!”

It was fabulous to see WASO investing so wholeheartedly in the vital job of reaching a young audience. The high demand for tickets during Education Week indicates there is no shortage of parents and children keen to give the adventure of classical music a go.

This review copyright The West Australian 2016.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Celebrity Soft Spot Laurence Jackson

There were smiles all round when Laurence Jackson signed on last year as concertmaster for the WA Symphony Orchestra. Jackson left a prestigious position as concertmaster of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to relocate to Perth - an indication of WASO's growing international reputation as a hard-working and progressive orchestra. The violinist has impeccable pedigree, studying first at the elite Chethams School of Music then the Royal Academy of Music before making his Royal Festival Hall debut in 1990. Since Jackson joined WASO the players and administration have been talking with warm appreciation about both his innate musical instincts and his friendly manner.  


What music gets your heart racing?

That could be almost anything! From a Mozart piano concerto to a Strauss tone poem like Ein Heldenleben to Earth,Wind and Fire! It's probably more about how I feel at that particular time, than the musical genre itself.

What calms you down? 

I love to listen to jazz, at the moment I am revisiting Stephane Grappelli, who has always been a hero of mine on the violin and I am enjoying his collaborations with Django Reinhardt, both absolute geniuses in my book.

What do you sing along to? 

Well, I cannot sing to save my life but I always have music swirling around in my head, often I come off stage and I'm humming the piece the orchestra has just played....I think I might be alone in that amongst many of my colleagues!

Last year you signed a three year contract as concertmaster with the WA Symphony Orchestra. It is now six months into your first year with the orchestra – how are things going? 

It is going very well, I have had the privilege directing my colleagues for a week in a series of concerts at Perth Concert Hall as well as appearing as soloist with them. The amount of support I have had from everyone has been amazing; a very refreshing experience for me. WASO is a very dynamic, forward-thinking orchestra, there is a real "can do" attitude here in Perth and there is also a real willingness from the players to constantly improve as an ensemble and to develop our role within the Perth community.

Jackson and his Vuilaume violin.
In April you performed Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with WASO. How did it feel fronting the orchestra as soloist? (Read a review from Limelight magazine here.)

Personally, I always find it a real thrill to stand up in front of an orchestra and play a concerto. The freedom you have is amazing and coupled with a good orchestra and equally importantly, a good conductor, you can really define a piece in your own way. That's not to say that it's easy in any way! Particularly standing in front of your colleagues can be both positive in terms of the support and good will etc that you receive, but also possibly less than positive if you feel you have to prove yourself as a player. In my case, I was the 'new boy', so I felt I had to play my best!

Western Australia seems particularly attractive to European musicians for the life-style change as much as the music! How is Perth comparing to Birmingham, or Warrington where you grew up? 

Well it may be a cliche, but it's true, the lifestyle is fantastic in Perth and I am reminded of that every time I drive into work along Mounts Bay road and see the river and the park... it doesn't get much better! The contrast to working in the UK is striking in terms of hours and sheer volume of repertoire covered in any one particular week. This was one of the main draws for me making the move to Perth: finding a better balance in my life and having time to enjoy and develop new interests.

Your successful leadership of the Maggini String Quartet from 1994-2006 produced 23 albums, a Gramophone Award, the Cannes Classic Award and the Diapason d’Or of the Year. Do you miss your chamber music days? Will you be pursuing small ensemble work in Perth?

 I do miss the quartet a lot and probably more now than ten years ago. I particularly miss the fabulous repertoire for string quartet and also working in minute detail on pieces and general housekeeping, like intonation, rhythm etc. However, I don't feel the urge to start another quartet, I feel that I have learned much from that chapter in my career and I now would very much like to explore the violin sonata repertoire, which is something I did much of when I left college and joined the Young Concert Artists Trust back in 1989.

Listen to the Maggini String Quartet performing Three Idylls for string Quartet by Frank Bridge

You play on a violin made around 1850 by J.B. Vuilaume. How did the instrument come to make its home with you?

 This is a remarkable originally made its way to the UK from Russia and was in a truly terrible state! I think it had five large holes in the body for a start and it took many years of restoration by my good friends at Oxford Violins, to enable it to be played professionally and sound amazing. I have had the violin for about 16 years now and I've not been tempted so far by anything more exotic.

What drew you to music initially? Why are you still playing? 

Music was always being played around the house and encouraged by my parents, and I began the violin when I was a little boy aged about 6. They were not musicians but that environment, plus the lack of any distractions in that little part of rural England, meant that I would play all day long quite literally! I simply loved the violin and never wanted to do anything else with my life.

You have a soft spot for several English contemporary composers. You recorded the John Jeffreys Violin Concerto for Meridian and the complete repertoire for violin and piano by Sir Arnold Bax on Naxos. Are there any Australian composers that you have a particular interest in? 

Not yet but I'm sure that will change of course.

The role of a concertmaster is somewhat paradoxical – it requires leadership and soloistic charisma but also empathy and behind-the-scenes skills to build relationships with conductors and artistic management. Where did you learn the skills to be a concert master? 

That's a hard question....I think the skills you mention in the question are absolutely what you need, unfortunately there is no handbook and no further education available (that I know about) and you tend to learn from trusting your instincts as well as from your mistakes. Perhaps the most important quality required, is the ability both as a violinist and a person, to be yourself and not to try to be anything other than that. I think you get appointed not just because you can play the violin but also because your colleagues feel they can work with you and that you will become their musical ally, so to speak.

Laurence and his wife Sarah
Did you bring family or pets to Perth with you? 

Just myself and my wife, Sarah, plus 5 suitcases and 126 boxes!

What is your favourite place in Perth?

I don't think we have one favourite place, we love Kings Park and walks down by the river and we do love going to the beach and having breakfast overlooking the certainly can't do that in Birmingham!
Black bear, Minnesota c Laurence Jackson

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

 I love nature and wildlife and I love to indulge my hobby of photography. Those that know me are aware that I am passionate about bears and I am looking forward to volunteering at the Animals Asia Chengdu Asiatic Bear Centre later this year. I have photographed brown and black bears in the USA and Finland, sometimes at surprisingly close quarters....but that's another story!

Thank you Laurence Jackson for being involved in the Celebrity Soft Spot series. To see Laurence in action choose a concert from the WASO website.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Bring It On the Musical

Blonde, peach-cheeked Campbell sends up a prayer: please may she be elected captain of the Truman cheer squad and win the national championship. Bring It On the Musical establishes from the outset all the American coming of age stereotypes. Fortunately bucket loads of satire, sensational dancing and heart warming tenderness from the WA Academy of Performing Arts cast and crew make this an exhilarating night at the Regal Theatre even if you’re not a cart-wheeling, pom-pom waving squad girl.

Bring It on the Musical (based very loosely on the movie) first appeared on Broadway in 2012 and is a musical for the iGeneration. The dialogue between Campbell and her friends takes place predominantly via video calls and Campbell’s boyfriend hears gossip from texts, Twitter, Facebook and “someone even tried to tell me in person.”  Director Jay James-Moody emphasises this with audience selfies projected (via Instagram) on the stage wall during interval.

The plot involves Campbell being ‘redistricted’ to Jackson High School which doesn’t have a cheer squad. “No cheer squad?” wails her best friend Skylar. “What’s the point of having a high school?” Campbell manages to befriend the hip hop dancers at Jackson in a Save the Last Dance formula and tries to wreak revenge on the scheming Eva who ousted her from the Truman team.

Along the way the LOL moments including two Goth’s commentating on the superficiality of cheerleading, Campbell’s hip-hop audition dressed in a leprechaun suit and one-liners like “Put Little Bitch Barbie back in the box”.

Campbell is sung by petite, bouncy Hannah Burridge whose relationships with loner Randall (a sweet-voiced Jason Arrow) and hip hop dancer Danielle brings warmth to an otherwise two-dimensional role. Vocally Burridge isn’t convincing in the Act One solos and in Act Two she is outshone by the feisty Danielle sung by Melissa Russo with bright voice and brazen body language.

Christina Odam’s Eva is laden with sneer while Truman girls Skylar and Kylar (Rebecca Cullinan and Marissa Economo) flounce and mimic delightfully. Over at Jackson the attitude is just as exaggerated with transgender La Cienega (Hayden Baum) high-kicking stylishly alongside peppy Nautica (Stephanie Wall).

The contrast between the regimentation of cheerleading and the flamboyance of hip hop is a choreographer’s dream and Michael Ralph creates a virtuosic, fast-paced spectacle, moving a cast of 40 around the stage with ease. Rozina Suliman’s sassy streetwear (Jackson) and neon-lit lycra (Truman) heightens the characterisation. Movable school lockers and cafeteria tables provide sturdy dance props and allow for fast scene changes in Steve Nolan’s set which otherwise relies heavily on Mark Howett’s lighting and projections to add atmosphere. The score is packed with memorable pop tunes like It’s All Happening and Do Your Own Thing, performed with driving energy by a 10 piece band under David King.

IMHO #BRINGITONWAAPA can’t be matched 4 xpertise and NRG

Getting into the iGeneration vibe @ #BRINGITONWAAPA

Thursday, 9 June 2016

A fitting homage to Roger Smalley

In the seventies English composer Roger Smalley performed in the pioneering electro-acoustic ensemble Intermodulation. But he discarded his electronic explorations when he moved to Perth in 1976 and thought the style would mean little to the Australian public. Times have changed and Cat Hope and ensemble Decibel have brought the little-known repertoire back to life. Their concert which opened Tura's Scale Variable series on Tuesday paid fascinating homage to Smalley who died in August last year.

The program was a surprisingly neat fit for Decibel which is similar in make-up to Intermodulation. Impulses (1986) could have been written with Decibel in mind as it was scored for flute, alto trombone, percussion, piano, cello and synthesiser. The ensemble revelled in the precision of Smalley’s fugal layers and moments of soloistic virtuosity.

Then there were the moments where Didgeridu (1974) brought to mind Cat Hope’s bass-heavy compositions with the sliding pitch and rhythmic patterns of the didgeridu manipulated through an archaic four channel tape machine.

The virtuosic early piano works Transformation (1968) and Monody (1971) performed by Adam Pinto and Stuart James respectively displayed Smalley’s first attempts at electronically manipulating live sound.

Decibel performing Zeitebenen at the Underground Studio c Bohdan Warchomij

Hope’s curatorial sleuthing unearthed the score for Zeitebenen (1973-75) – a pivotal work composed while Smalley was touring in Stockhausen’s ensemble – from behind a cupboard at the UWA School of Music. The 45 minute work for four instrumentalists, live electronics and tape was Smalley’s first attempt at expressing politics in music. The work's three sections and 21 ‘moments’ (similar to Stockhausen’s Momente) and the rhythmic patterns derived from the Fibonacci series reflect Smalley’s career-long fascination with structure. His richly imaginative sound world included slowly evolving vowel sounds (referencing Stimmung), waves of electronic noise derived from the four natural elements and a section of street noise. The work started with the same melodic pattern as Monody and moved via a gradual downwards glissando to an electronic and acoustic battle against the industrial destructive aspects of humanity, ultimately resolved by a victorious thump on the bass drum by percussionist Louise Devenish. 

This review copyright The West Australian 2016.