Thursday, 31 August 2017

Celebrity Soft Spot Jenna Robertson

Last year Scottish-Australian Jenna Robertson ditched her engineering job to take the plunge as a full time soprano. She had already clocked up ten major repertoire roles, won the Australian concerto and vocal competition and had been running her own company Operabox for six years. The last 18 months have been spent following her heart. And taking a crash-course in French for her debut this week in the title role of Manon.

photo Marnya Rothe

What music gets your heart racing?

Any good opera where there is that magical combination of singing, orchestra, acting, design, surtitles! Amazing! William Kentridge’s production of Berg’s Lulu at the Met got my heart racing like crazy – it was a totally unique and thrilling combination of music with theatre. Of course at the moment, it’s also Massenet.

What calms you down?

Anything that holds my attention for extended time. Film is one of my favourite ways to relax and I love subtle films like those made by director Sofia Coppola. 

What do you sing along to?

Verdi, Donizetti, Katie Noonan, Jessie J…so many things!

How are you preparing for your title role in Operabox’s production of Manon?

I’ve been preparing for Manon for most of this year and the biggest challenge for me was the language as I’ve never studied French.  I was very fortunate to have the help of Opera Australia Language Coach, Nicole Dorigo, who taught me the French. Of course there is also the musical, technical and dramatic preparation that I’ve worked on also.

 A sneak peek from the general rehearsal of Manon, which opens on Friday.

You are doing much more than singing the role; you are also producing and promoting the season plus running the company! Where did you learn the skills to run your own opera company?

I worked internationally in oil and gas for 10 years as an engineer and project manager and had world-class leadership and project management training and experience during that time. That was a warm up for leading an opera company, which is actually harder, as there is never enough money. I’m always trying to learn new skills too. I’ve recently completed a part-time course at NIDA in Directing and training with Creative Partnerships Australia.  I also soak up information from wonderful mentors.

Operabox is one of several relatively new grassroots opera companies making a refreshing and vital contribution to WA’s operatic landscape. Why did you decide to launch your own company?

Operabox started with a team of 6 in the beginning in 2011. We are now producing our 7th production and have grown to an association with 170 members with 80-90 people involved in each production.  Now our focus is on both creating exciting meaty opportunities for arts professionals and providing interesting repertoire for WA audiences. We try to produce operas that meet both those criteria.
Robertson as Zerbinetta in Operabox's sensational Ariadne auf Naxos,
which I reviewed here.

Mark Applebaum says music should above all else be interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?

I think it has different roles for different people, and can help people in so many ways by healing, inspiring and uniting. In opera, I guess the role of the music is to help tell stories and deliver important messages and the music heightens story telling in a way that in my opinion is unmatched in any other art form.

You have a soft spot for opera. You studied Engineering (with a singing scholarship on the side) at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh and worked for Chevron in WA before make the career switch to opera in 2016. What is the appeal of opera?

A soft spot is a bit of an understatement! Somehow I didn’t see an opera till my early twenties when I was already working as an engineer (it was Natalie Dessay as Lucia at the Metropolitan Opera).  I was blown away by the electrifying combination of theatre and music.  I’ve been working on moving in that direction ever since. Opera provides me with an unlimited challenge, which I love. There’s always more to learn.

How do you choose the repertoire for Operabox? Why Manon?

We take such care over choosing our pieces. We look at what would be interesting to both our artists, orchestra and our audience, and relevant to today’s society. We also strive for diversity in our offerings. Manon is our first French opera and has never been performed in WA with orchestra.
Gaetano Bonfante (Des Grieux) and Robertson (Manon)

You have a pretty stellar cast joining you including Opera Australia tenor Gaetano Bonfante and baritone Sitiveni Talei as Des Grieux and Brétigny, with Kristin Bowtell as Lescaut. Christopher Dragon is taking a break as  Associate Conductor of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra to conduct the season and Sydney opera director Joseph Restubog is bringing a twist to the traditional ending (spoiler alert!). What can the audience expect?

Yes, we have an amazing team of people and I am continually blown away by the team we are able to pull together for each opera. The audience can expect to see our cast who are a mixture of Perth and Sydney-based singers, a small chorus and an orchestra of 25 in the pit conducted by Chris. It’s a fully staged production set in the 1920s, which director Joseph Restubog chose because the story really suits that period. That said, this story is so human its themes are timeless. As there have been a few 1920s shows in Perth this year already, our design team focused on trying to do something different. I’m particularly amazed at the work that costume designer Stephanie Cullingford has done with the historical accuracy of our costumes.

So far your singing career has taken you to Austria to study at the AIMS opera studio in Graz, Berlin for coaching, NIDA to complete studies in opera directing and you are currently based in Sydney soaking up the teaching of legends like Tony Legge, Arax Mansourian and Nicole Dorigo.… Where to next?

I’m heading back over east after Manon.  I have some more concerts this year in NSW, then heading to Europe again in November-December for more coaching and auditions, and then have an exciting role in 2018 in a new Australian opera called Mimma, which will be premiered in Perth at the Regal Theatre. The producers saw one of my performances of Anna Bolena in 2016 and offered me this role.

As Violetta in La Traviata, Opera New England, NSW

What is your favourite place in Perth?

I don’t think it’s a specific place, but after living in Sydney this year, I just love the lack of traffic and ease of getting around! I love the colour of the blue sky that seems to be unique to Perth.

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

I love good food, wine, and have a passion for film and photography. In fact my recent studies in directing at NIDA in Sydney have changed how I see everything.

Big thanks to Jenna for taking time out of production week to chat with us. Manon runs 1st-7th September at Newman College and 3rd September at Darlington Hall. More details and tickets here but be quick because tickets are selling fast. For more info on Jenna you can stalk her on Facebook and her website and follow Operabox here.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Intercurrent intrigues with shadows and echoes

Simulacra by definition refers to a representation or likeness – an intriguing theme for the third concert in Tura's Scale Variable series where Intercurrent ensemble explored musical doubles, echoes and shadows. Intercurrent formed in 2016 and their vitality, unique instrumentation and enthusiastic commissioning of composers has already set them apart in Australian chamber music practice. The group comprises Lachlan Skipworth co-founder and artistic director, Louise Devenish percussion, Ashley Smith clarinets and Emily Green-Armytage piano.

Ashley Smith, Emily Green-Armytage, Lachlan Skipworth, Louise Devenish. Photos Bohdan Warchomij

Green-Armytage and Devenish opened the program with a breathtaking performance of American composer Hannah Lash’s C.  Two repetitive melodies duelled on piano and vibraphone with patterns of notes grouped in threes, fours or fives hammered up against each other in parallel motion. For a few brief bars in the centre of the work the parts aligned before the phase shifted again in a strange dance of tugging unity. It was an astounding display of fierce independence married with precise synchronisation.

This was followed by an equally impressive bass clarinet solo as Smith relished the challenge laid down by WA composer Chris Tonkin. Entr’acte explored extremes of pitch, dynamics and speed and Smith delivered the full spectrum of bass clarinet sounds and effects with intensity and suppleness. Rapid soft passages were interrupted with explosive outbursts, followed by quirky micro tunings, folksy pitch sliding, slap tonguing and more. The work was anchored by its conclusion, a section of soft, hymn-like multiphonics where the simulacra theme was clearly apparent; each note was shadowed by notes in the harmonic series reverberating simultaneously in a musical and technical masterstroke.

The ensemble members came together for the first time for the world premiere of Alex Turley’s Blue Heat. In a nod to American minimalism Turley’s work was built around repeated semiquaver patterns gently rising and falling in layered waves of sound. The blend of marimba, piano and clarinet created a woody warmth from which sprung soloistic sections for piano and clarinet plus an interlude of piano and marimba droplets sounding just like a music box. Blue Heat was a mix of extreme softness, transparent textures and simmering energy, released finally in a frantic race to the end.

The use of electronics in Julian Day’s Father offered a fresh soundworld. Ghosts of melodies were revealed within electronic pitches that wavered and stretched over a long slow descent. The performers emerged from dark corners of the stage to join the melancholic hymn, adding long smooth phrases built around the repetition of tiny two-note rhythms. The delicate execution by the performers meant the ear became aware of minute changes to rhythm and volume in this work of shadows and fading memories.

Finally, Philip Glass’s Music in Similar Motion, the archetypal work of simulacra (or at least similar patterning) and the only work on the program written before 2011, making it quite old-fashioned! The ensemble repeated Glass’s five quaver melody in various irregular lengths with metronomic precision, creating relentless static ripples. The addition of an electronic track gave extra haze to the layers as the work progressed. It is an iconic work and coming in at just less than twenty minutes is a challenge to the stamina of the audience and the performers. Frankly alongside the more contemporary (and far more interesting) explorations of layering and echoes it felt a little tame. Which is a good thing, because it means the contemporary music scene is alive, evolving and thriving, thanks to groups like Intercurrent.

This review first published by Limelight magazine in August 2017.

Monday, 28 August 2017

September Gig Guide

This month kicks off with a much anticipated season from Operabox. Their production of Massenet's Manon will run September 1-7th directed by Opera Australia's Gaetano Bonfante, conducted by Christopher Dragon with Jenna Robertson in the title role.

On the 2nd master piano technician Paul Tunzi will celebrate 30 years in the industry with Keys in the City. The ingenuous interactive installation at the city of Perth library will allow tour groups to watch demonstrations on 30 of Australia's rarest pianos including the 'First Fleet piano'. Also on the 2nd Rob Buckland and Matt Styles will perform a rare double saxophone concerto with WAAPA's Symphonic Wind Ensemble.

Cat Hope is back in Perth and on the 3rd her ensemble Decibel will perform a series of works 'composed' by visual artists as part of an art exhibition called Sounding Art at PS Art Space.

The WA Symphony Orchestra will begin their Wagner series on the 6th with a concert  making connections between Liszt, Schumann and Wagner including extracts from the epic four-opera Ring Cycle. On the 9th the series continues with excerpts from Tristan und Isolde, bass baritone Shane Lowrencev singing arias from Die Walküre and Die Meistersinger and music by those who followed after including Bruckner and Strauss. On the 24th the WASO Chorus will be in the spotlight singing  Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna, Bach and the world premiere of a work by Lachlan Skipworth.

Choral music is prominent this month with the Giovanni Consort's Donne on the 8th featuring music for female voices, the Music on the Terrace Series featuring the Churchlands SHS choir in Rising Stars on the 10th and Voyces' teaming up with Rachelle Durkin for Tundra on the 16th.

Adam Pinto will feature with the University of WA orchestra on the 13th performing Smalley's Piano Concerto, and that week WAAPA's Defying Gravity percussion ensemble will celebrate its 30th birthday with concerts on the 14-16th.

On the 17th Dominic Perissinotti will give a recital on the organ at St Patrick's Basilica and on the 23rd St George's Cathedral will host the Perth Symphony Orchestra for the popular Baroque by Candlelight. Also on the 23rd the Perth Symphonic Chorus will perform Brahms' German Requiem at the Perth Concert Hall with soprano Sara Macliver.

A strange phenomenon known as The Legend of Zelda starts a national tour Perth on the 24th with Jessica Gethin and the Perth Symphony Orchestra providing the music. The concert involves a performance of the symphonic soundtrack from the Nintendo game, accompanied by a digital collage of scenes from the game.

On the 30th Musica Viva will return to town with cellist Nicolas Alstaedt, pianist Aleksandar Madzar and preconcert talk by yours truly!

And for those of us with kids, a few ideas for the school holidays:

Spare Parts puppet theatre will give the world premiere of Rules of Summer, a show based on Shuan Tan's book. The season opens on the 23rd and runs for the school holidays and is recommended for ages 5+.  WASO will run the interactive kids concerts Jump Jam and Jiggle! from 28th-30th featuring music from The Planets.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Celebrity Soft Spot Alex Turley

Alex Turley has been a compulsive composer since high school and this year he is really hitting his stride. The WA Academy of Performing Arts graduate has had music performed by the Melbourne, WA and Perth Symphony Orchestras, Soundstream Collective, Greywing ensemble and this month Blue Heat is being premiered by Intercurrent Ensemble. Later in the year Alex heads to Hobart for the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra's composer's school but first he stopped by for a chat on Celebrity Soft Spot.

What music gets your heart racing?

I’ve recently become a bit obsessed with horror movie soundtracks. They’re all about using known semiotics and codes, but sometimes they’re just put together really intelligently. Michael Abels’ score for the recent movie Get Out was pretty masterful.

What calms you down? 

Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens or anything by Takemitsu (his music is not necessarily ‘calm’ but it’s very reflective).

What do you sing along to?

Anything from Travelogue by Joni Mitchell or Fleetwood Mac.

Your work Blue Heat is being premiered this month by Intercurrant Ensemble, commissioned by co-co-director Lachlan Skipworth who has also been your composition teacher for the past five years. Intercurrent has a fairly unique instrumentation of percussion, piano and clarinet; how did you go about creating this piece? 

Skipworth conducting Intercurrent
What I always look for in an ensemble – and is sometimes tricky to find – is some sense of homogeneity, that everything is working together as part of one machine. The instrumentation of Intercurrent is unique, yes, but at the same time feels very natural to write for. Marimba and clarinet blend well, especially in their lower ranges, and a piano can complement anything. Ashley, Louise and Emily are three of Perth’s most talented musicians, so when I was writing Blue Heat I was conscious of not letting them go to waste. So what I’ve written is really fast and difficult!

What do you hope the audience will experience when they hear it?

The piece is all about exploring energy and motion. I called it Blue Heat for a few reasons, firstly to capture a sense of fire-like energy in the sound, but also because it’s about contradictions. Can something be moving fast but at the same time not really moving at all? Can something be almost inaudible but at the same time intense and exhilarating? It’s quite a visual piece, too – the players throw different melodies to each other, and interact in lots of different ways. At some points everyone comes together and it’s difficult to distinguish which sounds are coming from whom, and at some points the ensemble breaks apart into three separate fields of individual activity. I’m hoping that the audience’s focus will be constantly moving around the ensemble, as that sort of thing makes a piece of music really exhilarating to experience.

Have you established a standard method of composing or is each piece unique? 

I certainly have a ‘groove’ that I get into when I’m composing, but I’m still very conscious of not making all of my pieces sound the same. One of the tricky things about learning how to be a composer is finding a balance between having a voice and language that you can claim as uniquely yours, but not churning out the same piece over and over, and I’ve watched many composers fall too far on either side of that spectrum. For me I try and focus each work on a different visual or extra-musical idea (an image, poem or place, for example) that can take the audience into a unique world, but across every work I still have a very ‘Turley’ way of doing things.

Pencil and manuscript or computer?

Honestly, both are equally frustrating. I wish I could just Bluetooth my brain into a computer and write scores telepathically.

With Greywing Ensemble. Photo Bohdan Warchomij.

You’ve been composing since high school. You made a brave choice in pursuing it for a career; Australia is not renowned for appreciating its own composers! Why did you choose composition?

I caught the bug, unfortunately. In my teenage years I was immersed in a very musical environment, and I became obsessed with deconstructing the language of music, learning as much as I could about how and why everything works the way it does. It’s so mystifying to me how something as mundane as a vibration in the air can produce such intense physical and emotional responses in us. I spent as much time as I could exploring this process, eventually making my own music just as a means of understanding. When I finished school it was a little tempting for me to go and do Law or something nice like that but by that point I had such a deep fascination with music that anything else would have made me quite unhappy. Yes, Australian composers have a very difficult time getting people interested in their music, but I am really determined to make everything work and I’m not going to give up without a fight. There are lots of things that can go alongside composing really nicely – arranging, engraving, conducting, teaching, researching, producing, administrating – so it’s not as if I’m lost for things to do.

You are having a remarkably successful year including wining the Penrith Symphony Orchestras Young Composer Award and being selected for the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Composer School, plus upcoming performances of your works in Texas, Mexico City, Brisbane, Sydney and Perth. Where to from here?

I’m still at that point in my life where everything is really new, and I’m just trying to pull things together into some semblance of a freelance career. 2017 for me has been the year that everything has really begun to pick up speed. I’ve got myself to a place where I’m really confident with my craft and my ability to produce good music for people. It’s still a huge rush for me when someone that I barely know from across the country (or in Texas!) is actually interested in what I’m doing and wants to work with me. From here I’m just trying to make as much good music as I can, and I’m trying to diversify as well into areas such as art installation and theatre. There’s lots of stuff in the pipeline!

Listen here to City of Ghosts performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 2016.

Mark Applebaum says music should above all else be interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?

It’s hard to argue with that statement. For me I think music just needs to produce a response – emotional, physical, memory, whatever – and the more intense the response the more powerful the music.

You have a soft spot for saxophone. You’ve composed a Sax Quartet, a Sax Concerto, a work for Sax and piano and another for Sax and cello. What is the appeal of this instrument?

I never set out to write so much for saxophone! It all happened because one of my close friends from uni (David Gioia) is a saxophonist, and he is incredible. I’m completely in awe of how he’s able to paint melody with an astonishing amount of precision and nuance. Together we found that his style of playing was really well suited to my style of writing, so we collaborated on all of those pieces that you just mentioned. We even recorded an album together which will be released in the near future. That kind of ongoing collaboration ended up being very significant in my development as a composer.

'Ink' with Alex Turley piano and David Gioia saxophone

Who are your music heroes?

My heroes are the people around me – young composers and young artists in general – that are taking risks, producing great work, making things happen and being lovely people in the process. Lachlan Skipworth, Dan Thorpe, Josten Myburgh, Lisa Cheney, Peggy Polias, Connor D’Netto, Bec Smith, Kezia Yap, Samuel Smith, Sally Greenaway, Tim Newhouse, Cassie To, Sam Wolf, to name just a few!

What is your favourite place in Perth? 

The beach near my old house, lovely place to take my dogs at sunset!

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

I love taking photos, I’m also a huge fan of visual art and theatre, I’ve recently become quite obsessed with architecture, I travel as much as I can afford to, I try and keep up to date with feminism, I’m obsessed with interior design… the list goes on! I also work in a fancy-ish restaurant and I actually really enjoy it (weird, I know).

Thank you Alex Turley for participating in the Celebrity Soft Spot series. You can read an interview with Alex here at CutCommon mag and listen to a Making Waves podcast here. For more details about Alex and his work go to alexturley.comFuture performances:
29th August: World premiere of Blue Heat by Intercurrent, State Theatre Centre. Program also includes works by Julian Day, Chris Tonkin, Hannah Lash and Philip Glass.2 Sep: Between the Ocean and the Sky performed by Jonathan Thompson, a PhD oboist from Texas who has commissioned composers from all over the world via the internet. 10 Sep: New Commission (piano duet) performed by Liam Viney and Anna Grinberg, Queensland Art Gallery. This is a part of a concert series called ARGO that seeks to take classical music out of the concert hall and into interactive spaces. They are playing the piece from either sides of an indoor lake.28 Oct: New Commission (orchestra) performed by the Penrith Symphony Orchestra in Sydney as part of the Young Composer Award.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Ever wanted to be a percussionist?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a percussionist?

I've always secretly wanted to play percussion. Rhythm is one of the most primal and powerful forms of communication. Percussionists get to dance around (often barefoot) on stage and always seem to be having so much fun! 

Now is our chance! Speak Percussion are putting a call out for 100 percussionists - NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED - to participate in their performance at the Totally Huge New Music Festival in October.

Speak Percussion and guests will unite in the 13th THNMF to perform the WA premiere of A wave and waves by American composer Michael Pisaro, a massive 74-minute work for 100 performers on 100 instruments.
They are offering a rare opportunity to join with one of Australia’s most dynamic and risk taking arts organisations in an extraordinary new music project. A wave and waves is a project that redefines the way contemporary chamber music is presented.

 The Midland Railway Workshops will be transformed into a sonic and visual ocean of instruments and performers, creating an intimate experience of monumental proportions.

 No percussion experience is required – this call is open to all interested people. Participants will work with Eugene Ughetti (Artistic Director, Speak Percussion), Louise Devenish (Head of Percussion, University of Western Australia) and Tura’s production team.

There are 3 rehearsals before performances on 29th October.

Sign up here before September 1st.  More details here. Go on, be brave, be a percussionist!

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Australian publishes WICA review

I was delighted to be able to review the Women in the Creative Arts conference recital for The Australian newspaper. The concert featured the Muses Trio, an ensemble remarkable both for their charisma and for their focus on performing music by women. Their dedication to performing the eight works on the program included a month of workshops with the composer (sometimes via skype).  Four of the composers were present for the performance and gave insightful introductions to their works. The concert was richly thought provoking and often very beautiful, a fitting centrepiece for a conference celebrating women in the arts.

Christa Powell, Therese Milanovic and Louise King. Photo William Hall

"I’ll let you in on Australia’s best kept secret: our nation has one of the highest proportions of women composers in the world. Last week more than a hundred people gathered at the Australian National University to celebrate the diverse work of women who make up 26% percent of Australian composers, sound artists and improvising artists.

The centrepiece of the Women in the Creative Arts conference was a Friday night concert by Queensland’s The Muses Trio who performed eight works for piano trio chosen from around 100 international score submissions. Pianist Therese Milanovic, violinist Christa Powell and cellist Louise King’s authoritative interpretations were inflected with humanity and detail, marred only by a rather boomy piano (half-stick the lid!) and occasional mis-pitches in the violin.

Queensland-based Nicole Murphy’s Spinning Top opened the concert. Breathless repeated figures, harmonic stasis and some off-kilter syncopation gave this piece a self-contained perpetual motion. Minimalist patterns also underpinned US composer Jean Ahn’s A Flash of Ravel where Ravelian snippets were fragmented and juxtaposed with sections of string pizzicato and harmonics."

Read the rest of the review at The Australian.

Composers Natalie Williams, Nicole Murphy, Joyce Wai-chung Tang,
 Hilary Kleinig and Christine McCombe. Photo William Hall

Monday, 14 August 2017

A warm celebration in Canberra

Despite the chilly Canberra weather the atmosphere this past week at the Women in the Creative Arts conference has been incredibly warm. The academic papers, panels, performances and the rigorous discussions were all under-girded with encouragement and cheers of support. 
WICA composers, performers, academics. Photo William Hall

I was able to witness the impact Women of Note has had in the landscape, something I hadn't realised from Perth. I was told countless stories about how my book had influenced people in their commissioning, their perfoming, and their careers.

Photo William Hall

 I was overwhelmed by how much people felt supported and affirmed by my work. And it was so exciting to see the next generation of composers learning from the work of their forebears:

"....I confess to my shame I hadn't heard of Margaret Sutherland before now..."..
".... a couple of years ago I read your book and decided I wanted to meet Helen Gifford, to see her, to commission her..."
"...the bridge building you are doing for the music industry is so important..."

Liza Lim, Natalie Williams, Mathew Dewey (ABC), Naomi Johnson (ABC), Lisa Cheney

There are are significant changes afoot around the visibility and celebration of our women composers and I am so excited to be part of it.  47 papers, 4 recitals, 5 keynotes and 3 panels later I think some of the changes are going to stick this time around. In the immediate future:

* Cat Hope has offered to host the conference next year at Monash.
* Vanessa Tomlinson will be rollling out her research from Queensland University to include every tertiary institution documenting the works that are being performed in graduation recitals. 
* Joanna Drimatis is collating a database of graded works for performance by schools and community groups.

Add that to the ongoing work from the Hildegard Commissioning Project, the findings from the APRA/AMCOS commissioned report on results from RMIT research, the Skipping a Beat report, the Australian Women Screen Composers report, and there is a sense of growing awareness and action toward increasing visibility for women composers. 

I'll post my keynote paper soon to add to the discussion. 

With the magnificent composer Judith Clingan

I have the satisfied feeling that my book has done what it was meant to do.
I sold out of copies of Women of Note at the conference. Which means my print run with Fremantle Press is finished and it is time for an eBook. 

So now it is time to head back home to my family, filled with a warm glow, and work out where to from here. 

Huge thanks to Natalie Williams and ANU for hosting this incredible event.

conference director Natalie Williams

Friday, 4 August 2017

WICA conference riding the crest of arts gender debate

The Women in the Creative Arts conference will be held next week in Canberra and the atmosphere around gender and the arts is reaching a new intensity. 

My opinion piece in the Guardian has been widely read and generated excitement about what we might be able to achieve at the conference. At the same time the responses in the 'Comments' section  highlighted for me that there are still some very entrenched views around! 

This week APRA/AMCOS released a report in response to RMIT research.with a raft of initiatives to increase female participation in the music industry. They are committing to doubling the number of female membership applicants within the next three years.

The WICA conference is perfectly timed to harness the energy across multiple art practices and direct it towards long-lasting change.

Registrations close on Monday 7th August. If you are a woman working in the creatives arts you need to be part of this history-making gathering!

If you can't make it stay tuned for blogs coming from the conference once I land in Canberra next week! Now back to writing my presentation: "Women of Note; the rise of Australian women composers".

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Mixed ASQ concert

The Australian String Quartet launched their Homeward national tour in Perth on Wednesday night. The quartet is eighteen months into their new configuration (their line-up seems to change as often as the prime minister!) and the players seem relaxed and settled at the Government House Ballroom. Dale Barltrop and Francesca Hiew (violins), Stephen King (viola) and Sharon Grigoryan (cello) are unashamedly young and hip, performing standing with their iPad scores, designer clothes and bundles of energy. The enormous sound they muster from their exquisite set of Guadagnini instruments is velveteen, crisp and well-integrated under the egalitarian leadership style of Barltrop.

Britten’s String Quartet No 1 was a fascinating exploration of sounds and textures by the then-young English composer brimming with ideas. The first movement’s cluster chords and shrouded melody were given an eerie chill while the second movement had thrilling gear changes between angular chunks, bright pizzicato and racing scale passages. The doleful solo violin melody in the third movement gave way to a chorale played with organ-like richness. The quartet’s assertive, clean finale revealed an unguarded joy that was a delight to watch.

Australian composer Paul Stanhope’s String Quartet No 2 was premiered by the Pavel Haas Quartet in 2009 and was well worth revisiting. It continued where the Britten left off with an intriguing mix of musical ideas. Motifs from East Europe and the Middle East coloured the work, making reference to the Czech composer Pavel Haas who died in Auschwitz. Melodies were inflected with trembling bowing, pitch sliding and trills, while energetic syncopations and percussive effects lent a folk feel. The weary melody in the third movement Dirge was hauntingly played by cello and violin while the lurching dance of the finale, with its chugging accompaniment and off-beat rhythms was given almost rock ‘n’ roll swagger.

Following on from the explosive creativity of the first half, the Dvorak’s String Quartet No 13 was quite simply uninteresting. Perhaps it was the lack of musical direction from the ensemble - the famed Adagio was numbing and the fiery finale lacked ebullience - or perhaps it was simply an anticlimax after the more adventurous repertoire? If the programmers were looking for a safe romantic contrast they should’ve looked further; the work lacks lyrical moments and is rhythmically quite square. Either way it was an uninspired performance and a disappointing end to what was otherwise an exciting concert.

This review first published in Limelight magazine August 2017.