13 November 2014

Hansel and Gretel go West

Victorian Opera, Hansel and Gretel

Wangaratta West Primary Schoool
7 November 2014
 
Elizabeth Lewis (Mother/Witch) Matthew Tng (Father/Angel/Child)) and Simon Bruckard (Orchestra)
The fantasy came unstuck with question four, ‘Why wasn’t he singing?’

In a flash their heads had leaped the pink gaffer tape on the carpet that marked the edge of the stage and into the mechanics of the production. Up to that point that had cheerfully listened to people in fairy-tale costumes (they knew the word) sung in German (which two of them admitted to speaking). Many of them had been warned to expect German and were looking for die Hexe to appear.

VO’s Master of Music students had reprised their June production and mounted two performances on Thursday in Wodonga and one in Wangaratta on Friday. They gave the kids the same high quality performance – in singing and staging – that they’d presented in Melbourne in June.

From filing into the hall – Preps at the front, toes on the pink tape just behind the orchestra (Simon Bruckard and the bubby Yamaha grand, 10 years old this year and still in beautiful condition) to filing out they had clearly had a good time. One Grade Five ostentatiously went to sleep (until he had to give in to the laughter around him and ‘wake up’) and a pair of boofers were silently removed to the side (“You! Here! Beside me. And you! Here! This other side.”) They had good enough rhythm skills to sense that H & G’s dance song was built on triplets: ‘clap, clap, clap’ and ‘snap, snap, snap’ and joined in, encouraged by Ash the VP sitting in his captain’s spot half way back and off to one side, relaxed because he knew it was all going to be good.

Kate Amos (Dew Fairy)

Four hundred and sixty Preps to Grade Six laughed at the biffo - Hansel beats Gretel with the broom; Gretel beats Hansel with the broom – and thought the angels and Sandman were weird (probably because they didn’t recognize their characters). They recognized H & G and the parents and, of course, the Hexe. They followed the plot, the listened to the music, they loved the whole deal. More than that, they knew concert etiquette – they were silent and involved for an hour – including when to applaud.



But kids are a hard audience. They don’t laugh when we adults think they should and social niceties don’t prevent them saying so if they don’t like it. And they see stuff we think we’ll get away with. One of the kids realised they’d been short-changed with a non-singing opera singer and demanded reasons. She got them. Melissa explained: the original witch, Carlos E Bárcenas, had gone home sick so s/he was replaced by his/her cover, Elizabeth Lewis. But Elizabeth, the mother in Scene One, had also been cast as a captive child in the last scene so she was replaced by Luke Stage Manager. Simple! Laughter and applause.

Their applause was warm and genuine and that really is what matters most.

Georgina Wills, Head of Music at Wangaratta West Primary School summed it up this way, "The feedback from staff and students has been excellent. The younger students especially loved it.  High quality performances from exceptional performers is so important to us at Wang West. Many of our students would never have the opportunity to experience opera  if it were not for marvellous incursions such as this."

Images ©Denise Jackel 2014

31 October 2014

Victorian Opera-MCM Master of Music (Opera Performance) Recital



Melba Hall
The University of Melbourne
Thursday 30 October 2014

The secret is in the socks.

The singers generally had eight or nine minutes between finishing one aria and going back on to re-orient their head-space towards the next. Perhaps they liked to walk about a bit backstage to hum the orchestral introduction and sing the entry.

The orchestra, in this case Simon Bruckard, had less than half a minute to get the key, time signature, the nature of the aria and the opening dynamics settled in his head. That’s why accompanists have shiny knees. Not just from praying to St Cecilia. They have no time to find a hanky before he/she makes their entry so they wipe their sweaty palms on their trousers. In a few seconds Simon transported himself in time: from Mozart to Menotti, from Bellini to Bizet. Once oriented, he played each opening section to match what he knew would be the singers’ own dynamics: speed, volume and density of sound. The voice entries were seamless; Simon saw to that.

Simon Bruckard, Image courtesy of Victorian Opera
http://www.victorianopera.com.au/about/master-of-music-opera-performance-2014/
 
We saw all this tonight. Unsung, unacknowledged, except in the last few seconds of the recital, the orchestra – because that’s what he was – formed the base on which the singers built their magic. Even the invitation to drinks asked us to meet the singers – not the musicians, just the singers. Without his art, his magic, his solid expertise, his underpinning musicianship, no amount of wonderful acting – even that new-found skill of Matthew Tng, no amount of first-class singing would have saved the singers.

He didn’t follow. He didn’t lead. He was there with them, singly and together in ensemble every note of the way. Like a great hockey player he knew where the ball was going to go so he ran with them to that point. And if he is as good as he appeared to be in tonight’s performances they wouldn’t have realised he was doing it.

Simon is a virtuosic pianist:
Simon Bruckard, Image courtesy of Victorian Opera
http://www.victorianopera.com.au/about/master-of-music-opera-performance-2014
but he is more than that. He’s that rare musician: an accompanist. And more than that he’s a répétiteur: pianist, language coach, voice coach and rehearsal coach. He provided the lovely running figure under their lovely legato lines in Cosi. He provided the chromatic and timing structure for then to be secure in the recitatives in Figaro: spot-on all the time. He provided the frenetic dance colour in Carmen. He provided the beautiful cello-ish line in Die Zauberflöte. His was a superb performance. Sometimes I would have like more assertiveness, though, f or ff instead of mf, because it’s better to ask, I think, ‘Am I too loud?’

How did he, in an instant, transport his head in time – Délibes to Donizetti? It’s the socks. He has three pair. Look for the Tardis.

27 October 2014

Moments of Transformation by Paul Dean

Flinders Quartet premiere performance

Montsalvat
Sunday 26 October 2014

Listening to the first performance of Moments of Transformation was a bit like watching the birth of a child. Suddenly it’s there making itself heard and you can’t put it back. But at the back of the arrival, unseen, lie the idea that gave rise to the conception, the weeks and months of  the hard work of gestation and the pain and sweat of its nativity.

Out of the tragic accidental death of the brilliant young violinist Richard Pollett came Paul Dean's monumentally powerful string quartet.

The fabric of the piece is clearly woven of tragedy but it is never a memorium or a homage – a funeral panegyric – to Richard Pollett (the brilliant young violinist killed on 2011) either in its writing or in this, its first performance. The writing is immensely powerful, disturbing even. It asks the players to use a huge range of the languages of strings including mutes, sustained very high notes and no vibrato on Violin I over the other three. So it produced (it seemed to me) the life of a young person in transition from his family, from the world of music, from people who loved him to another place and the composer’s deep sadness that it happened.

There is no place to hide in this immensely difficult work. Shane Chen commented a week or so ago that his job – their job – was to make it look easy. That was never going to be the case. However the Flinders people did give us four virtuoso performances and in doing so produced music that cut straight into my gut. Was it Paul’s genius or the combined genius of Shane, Helen, Helen and Zoe? Or all five?

To put it simply, the Flinders people got it. They had worked on it note by note – I had heard them doing so. They were note and phrase perfect but, more than that they understood it; they got it. And they owned it and loved it – I had heard them tell Paul so. It was written for them  with them individually in mind   and it was theirs.

To my mind, in spite of Paul’s intent, the work does have elements of immense grief and it does demand answers to the unanswerable question, “Why?” but in the end today we watched, with a sort of joy, the young, glittering star transform to the place of the gods.


ABCFM Evenings Monday 27 October 20147:00PM

Flinders Quartet Live
Presented by Phillip Sametz from The Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre
Paul Dean, clarinet
Flinders Quartet
Wolf
Italian Serenade - string quartet
Brahms
Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op 115
Paul Dean
String Quartet
and http://www.abc.net.au/classic/listen/



20 October 2014

Following the Dean string quartet III

The Artistic Director’s Office
ANAM
5 August 2014

The third in a series of interviews with Paul Dean.
First published in Flinders Quartet: October update 2014

Paul played me an electronic version of the first three movements of the quartet. I found it, especially the third movement, emotionally very powerful. I wondered how much my response depended on knowing ‘the back story’. But he wanted to talk first about his place in history as a composer.

*****

When Mozart finished his quintet for piano and winds he wrote to his father, “This is the greatest piece I’ve ever written”. Beethoven knew that but still wrote his own piano quintet about eight years later.

Paul had talked to Andy Ford and other composers about being weighed down by monsters like Mozart sitting on your back when you are writing. Their view? It is essential to take “a bit of a Beethoven response”. ‘He just went and wrote it.’ Paul said. ‘There was no sense of “Oh god! I can’t compete”’.

‘Rather than just try to ignore the past I took the scores and CDs of Bartok second, Ligeti first and Janacek second quartet to Apollo Bay. I got a lot more out of just looking at them than listening, particularly the Bartok second. Miraculous! How did he get that sound? How did he transition from that to that? That was a really big turning point for me.’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzsWlJwjrHQ

Paul knew Richard Pollett as a brilliant violinist very well – he was a student at ANAM – and he is a close friend of Richard’s parents. Did the tragedy that is the impetus for this new string quartet overwhelm its writing? Paul is very clear that he has dedicated the piece, not in homage to Richard, but to Patricia and Phil. in Richard’s memory.

That created the biggest problem: the nature of the quartet’s sound world. Originally, Paul’s ‘corny first thoughts’ involved dialogue between violin and viola because he regards Patricia as one of our great viola players. But the music didn’t come out that way. ‘I just let the music go where I thought it was going,’ he said, ‘and that got me into troubles because I went off on tangents that didn’t work (laughs) and didn’t have logical consequences.’

Paul Dean

‘I have tried to make the start of the first and third movements beautiful,’ he said,’ but beautiful in my language rather than in the sense of a lush G major or G minor chord and a luscious tune. I wanted to write an expansive work with expansive sections and that’s been the challenge. I’ve tried to use my language and that’s one of the complicating things.’

‘The second movement will be just totally ferocious’, he said, ‘and I’ve given Shane’s nimble fingers lots of work. The fourth movement will be fast and frenetic but a different sound world to the second movement. I wrote a chorale for the last movement but I’ve ended up using it in the third movement. Maybe the last movement will be a violin solo to finish the piece; the violin playing with a practice mute so it will have the feeling of being the sub-voice to the others.’


‘It’s just my quartet and it may only have one week of performances or it might be the piece that is my breakthrough. If it’s good it will have a life. If it’s not, it will sit in the Australian Music Centre Library.’

Over a skinny latté IV

Richard Gubbins and Peter Kingsbury
ANAM and St Michael’s Church
9 May 2014, 6 July 2014

The fourth in a series of interviews about Flinders Quartet.
First published in Flinders Quartet:October update 2014

A pair of old friends, both with a long-standing love of music, agreed to commission Paul Dean to write the piece for Flinders Quartet. They discussed why they are doing it.

 Twenty years ago Andrew Ford on Classic FM talked about the idea of people forming a group to commission compositions. That idea stuck in Richard’s mind until he was able to commission Calvin Bowman’s The Curly Pyjama Letters for Flinders Quartet. The Paul Dean string quartet is a larger scale commission that emerged from a lunch with Paul, Richard and Richard’s dentist, Peter Kingsbury. ‘It involved an inheritance from my mother’ Richard said, ‘and I have burnt all that.’

Peter Kingsbury

For Peter, commissioning music is not about leaving a memorium; nobody remembers the sponsor. His motivation is about fostering an Australian idiom – how we as Australians see music as part of culture. ‘There are lots of wonderful new composers that need support,’ he says. ‘They don’t write for nothing. Mozart found out to his great horror that we die if we don’t get enough sustenance.’

Richard says he was far too slack to have learned an instrument. ‘I had the opportunity as a child. My parents acquired a piano from Allen’s on hire-purchase but it had to be returned.’ He sang first bass with Melbourne Chorale for 15 years and he loves the march in Beethoven’s Ninth because of its lovely tessitura. He thinks it is great fun to sing, and exhilarating. He loves Vaughan Williams’ Sea symphony. ‘It’s beautiful. It starts off with “the sea itself” and you feel the waves of sound.’ ‘My taste is catholic’ he says,’ but others might say I’m just a prostitute – a musical prostitute; I don’t understand most contemporary music.

Richard Gubbins

Peter used to play, very badly, the recorder in third grade at Cheltenham East State School. ‘I gave up because I couldn’t get past ‘Merrily, we roll along.’

For him, a commission is not about fame or immortality. It’s about trying to say, “this is how Australia was and how Paul Dean interpreted Australia and how Flinders Quartet interpreted Australia at the beginning of the 21st century”. So Paul has artistic carte blanche.

Peter sums it up, ‘it should speak to my emotions otherwise I don’t think the piece of music will survive’.

09 October 2014

The Play of Herod

Victorian Opera
Newman College
Friday 2 October 2014

Newman College chapel is about as far removed from The Big Opera Theatres as you can get. The Play of Herod is about as far from The Two Big Money Spinners – Verdi and Puccini – as you can get. For this production they both – the space and the opera – worked and worked spectacularly well.

Victorian Youth Opera The Play of Herod Nativity

The hard stone walls of the long, narrow, high ceilinged chapel loved the trombones and trumpets (it really was a day for trombones). The walls loved Elizabeth Barrow’s assertive Archangel. They also loved the grand organ, the panic-stricken piano and glockenspiel. They loved the divided voices and orchestra – part at the front, part high in the choir loft at the back – and surrounded us with powerful (in every sense of the word) sound that placed us firmly in the centre of The Play.

The Play of Herod is the gutsy, risk-taking, iconoclastic stuff of the sort that is giving VO a valuable reputation as being as far from Sniffy North Shore opera practice as it could get. It’s as if The Play was designed to consume money (but not much) not make it; the chapel holds only a few hundred people. If you want to mount extravagant AO-type sets you need to pander to the matrons whose hubbies hold the cheque book. If your set consists of a red cloth on a stick (to hide the slaughter of innocents) you can ignore the need to find funds sufficient to re-run Aida with elephants and mount something with style and class. We got both: style and class.

The mostly student-age voices from Victorian Youth Opera were superb (or superbly cast) with the magi – including a stunning bass – at the top of the list. Jacob Lawrence’s tenor suited the proto-evil Archelaus as well as it suits his usual Scots Church repertoire and Shajeda Kalitzki-Abedin gave us a controlled, agonising Rachel. All the kids could sing and they sang well, most superbly.

Victorian Youth Opera The Play of Herod.
Jacob Lawrence (Archelaus) Kiran Rajasingam (Herod)
 But for my money – and the tickets really were far too cheap for 75 minutes of excellent music-making – the star performance was Richard Mills’ score: its harmonic invention and its orchestration. Dr Mills seemed to be able to refer back to the 12th century Fleury manuscript – the horrific mediaeval tale – without the load of romantic agony we’re used to in 19th century Italian opera. There was agony but it was controlled. The magic was his orchestration and his genius was out in front in this work: his gentle pastoral treble recorder (a leitmotif?) at one end and his magnificent brass at the other with panic-stricken piano running somewhere in the middle. It was restrained, powerful emotion reminiscent of Benjamin Britten in harmony and control.

Expensive sets? Who needs ‘em? When the score, the orchestration and the singing are right, the production works.

29 June 2014

Hansel and Gretel

Victorian Opera
Arts Centre Melbourne
Saturday 21 June 2014

This Hansel and Gretel had been subject to a celestial staffing efficiency dividend. The 14 non-singing angels had been reduced to three and asked to double as spell-bound children where they did sing – like angels. The sets budget was measured in dollars rather than Met-style millions – and most of that was gobbled up by liquorice allsorts for the gingerbread house. The 13-strong pit orchestra had been herded into the back corner of the tiny stage where they peered out from behind the mini -flats. The oven, into which the witch was propelled with a swift kick in the arse, was a break-away cloth painted with angry red flames. It was 100% make-believe on a shoestring.

The Sandman: superb!
Image courtesy of Victorian Opera https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152325526789219.1073741830.127956549218&type=1

The production worked for just that reason: ‘suspend belief, it’s a fairy tale’. And the kids did just that; if they were half-smart, so did the grannies.

The other factor, that which may have escaped the grandchildren but was none-the-less critical to the success of this production, was that the music production was high-standard professional.

The six strings, five woods and two brass were tuned to a razor edge even before the oboe’s A. The orchestra was essential to the colour of this opera and this little band provided it. The bassoon, in particular, was splendid: rich and mellow and with just hints of menace. The singers were clearly confident that Fabian Russell’s band would give them the bedrock they could rely on.

Sibling rivalry - German-style
Image courtesy of Victorian Opera https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152325526789219.1073741830.127956549218&type=1

The singers themselves were immediate-past or present Master of Music students – a testament to their selection and the quality of work they’d got through in less than six months. They were superb!

As Sandman (dressed like a Sicilian spiv: that hat!), Michael Petrucelli’s voice had a beautiful, intriguing golden-sand quality that I’d not heard in a tenor-ish voice before. Cristina Russo’s Gretel was simply lovely: innocent and gentle even when she was beating up her brother.  Carlos E. Bárcenas (he’s an old hand now)  was a wonderful transgender(?) witch (certainly he had some pretty interesting boots for a lady!). Elizabeth Lewis and Nathan Lay acted and sang with the assurance and control we've come to expect from these opera singers: people who understand their part, can act it and can sing it. But for my money the stand-out voice was Emma Muir-Smith as Hansel in the lederhosen role. Her singing was just brilliant. Hers (his?) is a voice to watch. And Hänsel und Gretel together with that sensitive, expert orchestra gave us the most beautiful Abendsegen one could imagine; a three-hanky job. The singing was simple, unaffected and genuine.

This was cut down for length and staging but, as have been all VO’s ‘student’ operas/pantos, the quality of the music was never compromised. Sung in German? Still the action was easily followed without surtitles because the acting was spot-on without being melodramatic.

And, as a bonus, the students (they don’t sound student-like or inexperienced) now have a German role on their CV to sell.
Simply brilliant!
Again.

There's no such thing as a free gingerbread house. 
Image courtesy of Victorian Opera https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152325526789219.1073741830.127956549218&type=1

Over a skinny latté III

Shane Chen
Madeline’s at Jells
Jells Park, Wheelers Hill
8 May 2014
The third in a series of interviews with Flinders Quartet players.
First published in Flinders Quartet: June update 2014

Right place, right time – and nearly twelve years of hard work.

‘I was busking in Equitable Place in the city in June 2003; my hair was permed, my punk-style jeans had a big hole in the knee. It was damn cold; not many people on the street. I was playing Fritz Kreisler. She stood there and I thought, “There’s a nice girl. I’d better play well.” It was Silvia, a friend from school in Shenzhen eight years before when we were nine and in the same chamber orchestra. She told me they had this amazing teacher on violin in Melbourne Uni where she was studying cello.

'Nappies and practice, nappies and practice.'
‘In Years 9 and 10 I skipped a lot of school to play basketball, formed a punk band and practised violin. But I ended up with top marks in  Maths (I could count to four) so when I came to Melbourne on 2001 I had got into a double degree – Commerce and Business Systems.’

The amazing teacher was Bill Hennessy and he gave me six lessons but I couldn't handle two degrees, six hours of practice and English language lessons so I dropped Business Systems and Bill’s lessons.

‘Silvia and I got married, I worked in a shipping company and our first daughter (of three) arrived. Silvia at that time was contemplating that I should do something to fulfil my childhood dream. I applied for a part-time graduate diploma in music at Melbourne Uni. My boss gave me leave so it was nappies and study and practice in the garage (8.30pm till 1.30am) and teaching.

'Interpretation is not perfection. Everyone can bring that on.' 


‘But Bill had gone to ANAM so I applied three weeks short of the cut-off age of 27. Our third baby was due on audition day so I had to leave my phone on. Later, Paul (Dean) told me, “We looked at your application: what have we got? Commerce degree, plays basketball*. What have we got?” I got a scholarship and a bursary. My 2011 recital was Bach G minor sonata (synthetic strings) an Ysaÿe sonata for solo violin and Beethoven Spring sonata in F major.

He got the highest ranking.
Bill was so happy.
*Shane's CV didn't say "plays basketball" but it should have. [SJ]

Following the Dean string quartet II


The Artistic Director’s Office
ANAM
30 April 2014
The second in a series of interviews with Paul Dean.
First published in Flinders Quartet: May update 2014

‘Here at the Academy the world of Bach and the whole idea of counterpoint opened up to me. As a clarinettist you never play Bach. I realised my music was missing this sense of internal struggle – my definition of counterpoint; that sense that the bass line is ripping apart the middle and upper voices.

‘When I’m writing it’s a visual and a physical contact I have with the performers I’m writing it for. (My current) cello piece is being written for Torleif Thedéen and Kathy Selby. The first gesture that became the basis of the first movement I’ve called Turmoil. I physically see Torleif playing.

‘Second there has to be a story. I find it really hard writing music for music’s sake or absolute or abstract music. For me it has to be some sort of internal logic. When it comes to that (Flinders’) string quartet I'm paying homage to a wonderful young violinist. I was a part of his life in a very small way and in essence I feel that visual physical thing in my head that I’m writing it for Flinders and I’ve got this sort of angel involved at the same time. He’s playing one part of it.

‘And the third thing is the specific sound world (the orchestration) that comes from the initial gestures. The opening note is a sound, that (first) G sharp, that I want to sound other-worldly The A comes in on the first violin two or three octaves higher.

Paul Dean, Artistic Director of ANAM

‘For many years I used the same scale – a bit like a blues scale – but I wrote probably some of my best work using only this scale. It was like a security blanket but when I wrote a piece of music it sounded like me.

‘When I started (my Masters) at Melbourne Uni the first thing I talked about with Stuart Greenbaum was the fact that I was going to scrap the scale and it was really scary I have to say.

‘My first piece was a clarinet quintet.
I used all twelve notes.

It was really liberating.’

09 April 2014

Hobart Baroque

Julia Lezhneva
Federation Concert Hall, Hobart
Sunday 30 March 2014

Leo Schofield is both inspired and lucky – or a brilliant manager.

He signed up the very young Russian soprano for the Hobart Baroque Festival of which he is director, more or less sight unseen. About two weeks before her Hobart concert she sang in the superb acoustics of Elizabeth Murdoch Hall in Melbourne and that concert was broadcast a day or so later by ABC FM. A sound bite of her voice was used to promote that broadcast. It was heard by a national radio audience and an international audience on-line. A few days later she was interviewed by Margaret Throsby of ABC FM. In a flash the brilliant Mr Schofield had a brilliant international promo for his festival.

Ten days prior is not enough time to get people to get to an interstate festival? Not a bit. We, wife and I, have been known to book ourselves into a concert tour of North America at ten days’ notice. The bloke organising it went a bit pale over the phone but he managed it.

We cut it a bit finer to hear Ms Lezhneva – a week. But it was worth the scramble.

The Festival, for us, was six days of concerts – one a night with the odd lecture and a superb tour of Bruny Island (see below). Every concert was an absolute winner, but Julia was an absolute stand-out. She worth every bit of the standing ovations she was given.

It wasn’t just her young-woman charm, her simple but striking dresses or the highly polished Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, it was her voice and her ability to use it. She chose pretty much standard baroque repertoire but every piece fitted her voice perfectly. She resisted what was almost certainly the temptation to hit an octave above rather than the octave below. She didn’t need to. She has a superlative voice. It is rich in her lower register and bright and perfectly secure in its upper notes. She sang the typical coloratura-style runs typical of Handel et al without the slightest tension that she would not hit every note in the middle.

Leo Schofied, Julia Lezhnevaand, Mikhail Antonenko, her manager-pianist and Jarrod Cartland

It was a simple case of, ‘sit back while I sing you some incredibly beautiful music and don’t even think about me not doing so with total assurance’.

Leo told me that when he found a wombat for her and her boyfriend to cuddle they behaved like kids.

Now, Leo, what’s your trick for next year?

Image reposted from:
The Culture Concept Circle,

http://www.thecultureconcept.com/circle/social-history/julia-lezhneva-jewel-in-crown-of-hobart-baroque-alleluia

Following the Dean String Quartet 1

As musicians, none of us have really ventured into composition. It does seem odd that we spend all our time interpreting others' music and ideas. One of the questions that we constantly ask ourselves in rehearsals is "how did the composer intend this to sound?" The benefit of a living composer is obvious, but more than just asking Paul Dean what he means by a certain marking. I am following Paul through the development of his first string quartet. (A task which daunted Brahms, and can make even the most accomplished composer break out into a cold sweat.)

Through Paul's conversations I will glean an insight into what goes into putting pen to paper for his first string quartet and just how Paul is going to follow the footsteps of masters past. It is not often that we can get into a composer's head - so here's our chance!


Paul Dean
The Artistic Director’s Office, ANAM
4 February 2014
The first in a series of interviews with Paul Dean.
First published in Flinders Quartet: April update 2014


Paul says, “Martin Bresnick, an American New York based composer said, ‘Make sure when you leave on the journey you’ve got your bags packed.’ Have your sketches, have your ideas, have your structure.”

OK, I’m actually writing a string quartet. I’ve got the Richard Pollock dedication here; how much of a role is that going to have? Am I thinking five movements? At this stage am I thinking three movements with a prelude, an interlude and a postlude?

Before I start I’m going to listen to three quartets for 24 hours non-stop: Bartok’s second quartet, probably Haydn around Opus 50 and probably Beethoven Opus 131. I’m going to immerse myself, not to look for musical direction or ideas, but to take a bath in the texture and the colour and the sound world. The Bartok will make my composition language just go. I’ll learn so much more by listening to Bartok’s Second. It’s music of another world. It really intimidates me – in a good way. It’s music of another dimension. It’s like getting a dose of fertiliser.



Paul Dean, composer, Director of ANAM

I first took the first movement of the clarinet quintet I wrote for Dame Elizabeth, called Cruden Farm to Stuart Greenbaum, my Masters supervisor. The advice I got was, ‘you’ve got to learn to stretch it. Let things grow and develop’. I learned to just allow things to happen. Let the listener’s ear attune to what’s going on before that comes in or bring that in and let it settle. You get to 28 bars let’s hear the last ten of those again, not repeated, but there’s a sense that things are happening on a slower scale.

I’ve got a file on my laptop called, ‘String quartet crap’. I like the idea that you have a bank of ideas written down in words or written down in notes. This opening idea of the G# and the violin coming in on the A; what am I thinking? The G# and the A becomes the basic idea for the prelude. The G# thing may never appear but it’s opened the door. I needed to hear the start in my head.

Of course it’s going to change. When you’re thirty seconds into it you’re going to say, ‘I like this, I want this to change or I want this to move quicker.’

Over a skinny latté II


Helen Ireland
Tucci Brown, Brighton
3 March 2014

The second in a series of interviews with members of Flinders Quartet.

First published in Flinders Quartet: April update 2014


Helen settled for lemon and ginger tea and looked over my questions. She smiled so I asked when the viola discovered her. Their meeting was more or less accidental she said. It spoke to her when they met – and has ever since.

A primary school classmate was going to a music lesson so she went too. The teacher had a ¾ viola. Helen was taller than the other student so she could hold it. The stars aligned. She started lessons with the same teacher and studied viola through primary school and high school.

The two Helens played in a string quartet, busking and playing at weddings through high school. All four are now professional musicians.

Helen played with AYO in Year 12 and her deskie recommended Vince Edwards at Canberra School of Music so she left Adelaide at 17.



Helen Ireland

“I love my viola. It’s Australian, made by W E Smith in 1939. It belonged to Vince when he was my teacher and I’d always hoped I might end up playing it.”

“It’s a very beautiful instrument but it’s enormous. It’s got a very rich, very mellow tone – it’s verging on a cello – partly because it’s so big. It’s got a very warm, full bloom which I really love.”

“I discovered the world of chamber music at the Townsville Chamber Music Festival. I thought, ‘Wow. This is for me’. I went to concerts, page-turned and got involved in the education program.”

She had contracts with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, studied at Elder Conservatorium with Keith Crellin then enrolled at ANAM. First year was a bit difficult but in second year she met Zoe again. They’d worked together with TSO.

“She told me she was thinking of forming a quartet and she’d love me to be the violist. That was a really beautiful thing (she smiled). If it hadn’t been for that I might not be playing now.”


Last Words

Seraphim Trio
Melbourne Recital Centre, 
Thursday March 27

This review says it all:
http://classicmelbourne.com.au/reviews/seraphim-trio-last-words/

08 April 2014

Bruny Island Safari

Bruny Island

http://www.brunyislandsafaris.com/

I’m a bit keen on echidnas. I used to work with one called Milligan. I saw his Bruny Island cousin the other day. He – Bruny, not the cousin – was fawn. Craig-the-Driver-Guide thought he/she/it was white. On inspection of its retreating arse it turned out to be pale brown covered in dust. I saw a beautiful brown and gold tiger snake’s retreating bum too – if snakes have them – but I’ve never worked with one of them. I saw dishes of oysters – pass! ‘all alimentary canal’ my Biology I lecturer called them – and huge, wonderful Hothouse Cafe scones – not as good as mine and not on the same dish as the oysters.

When you visit Hobart you must look at Bruny Island. I had two choices: career around (on the sea) is a yellow speed boat or take a leisurely drive (on land) in a twelve seater with free Minties. I was driven overland to look at the stringy bark-ish scrub – it changes from two-storey to three-storey with changing aspect and therefore rainfall – and beside the rockpools with Sooty Oystercatchers. Geology I (passed on a re-sit) told me the cliffs were basaltic – ‘dolerite’ Craig said – not surprisingly since the exposed hillsides around Hobart include columnar basal organ pipes. I would like to have wandered into a little patch of wet eucalypt forest. Next time.

Haematopus fuliginosus Bruny


The bloke in the front seat (not Craig) out-knew me on The Ring but I scored points being able to quote, ‘When German bands from music stands played Wagner imperfectly, I bad them go, they didn’t say no, but off they went directly…’ (Princess Ida, Gilbert and Sullivan!) Lunch at Hotel Bruny (the one that’s half inverted) was memorable because a. the grilled fish was superb; b. the bloke opposite lined all his chips parallel then apologised for his OCD but I have no idea why.


Craig-the-Guide knows the sea. He can spot the snout of a seal at 50 metres in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel, and knows how to relocate them – the whole seal, not just the snout, and knows the island history because he lived in light stations there. He knows enough forest ecology to fool me (not difficult). He can tell the bum of an echidna from that of a tiger snake. He can drive on hilly roads (and that is something I do know about) and he knows about great cheese.

19 March 2014

Sound Bite

ANAM Musicians
Tuesday 18 March

A heap of kids came out to play today. My god! (whomever she might be) could they play! They tackled some of the most difficult writing and the little (if you exclude the four trombones!) buggers made it look and sound easy as true experts do. The Boss, Paul Dean, was in the audience but that didn’t seem to concern them. Afterwards, any of them within arm’s reach got a bear hug from him such is his ferocious reputation.

Jennifer Timmins and David Shaw produced a masterful playing of Ecuadorian Diego Luzuriaga’s Tierra...Tierra for two flutes (1992). The long, mellifluous opening notes gave way to the cold winds of the pampas then the icy winds of the plains further Antarctic-wards. Raptors wheeled and screamed in huge sweeping arcs (or so it seemed to me). Simply wonderful playing.
 
 Diego Luzuriaga

Nigel Westlake’s Omphalo Centric Lecture for two marimbas (1984 – 2007) was, inevitably, reminiscent of Ross Edwards’ Marimba Dances. This piece had virtuosi Thea Rossen, Kaylie Melville, Hamish Upton and Hugh Tidy, wielding multiple mallets per hand, to produce music of extraordinary richness and colour as the four musicians shared two piano-sized – and a few un-tuned – instruments. The dynamics were beautifully controlled; the cross rhythms, subtle.

Peter Maxwell Davies Presto Molto from Sea Eagle (2002) brought French Hornist Alden Cai out in white tie and black-trimmed white tails. Was he hedging his bets – ‘look at me don’t listen to me too closely’? Could he play the thing? Yes. Did he understand P M Davies? Yes. Could he handle the tempestuous, virtuosic writing? Yes. Would he have sounded even better in jeans and tee shirt? Yes, because we wouldn’t have been wondering what the clobber was for. He did look terrific in it but not at 1 pm on a Tuesday arvo, Alden.

Sergei Prokofiev’s Five Sarcasms Op. 17 for piano (1912 – 1914) is not for wimps. Julia Hastings is no wimp. She attacked this very difficult work – that is all the more difficult because it takes a sardonic look back at Rachmaninov’s romantic writing – with skill and vigour. Not once did we think she had failed to conquer it at any level, technically or intellectually. She resisted the current fad of over-pedalling to produce sounds of clarity and wit. Her mastery of single-note melodies over rich, smooth, pedalled arpeggios was delicious. South Melbourne Town Hall loves the big sounds. It loves Julia’s big piano.

 Prokofiev
Emanuel Lasker: Denker Weltenbürger Schachweltmeister , Forster, Hansen and Negele  eds. Berlin, 2009 p.139

Anton Bruckner’s Three Motets arranged for four trombones (1869 – 1892) brought four big trombones to the stage. This quartet was superbly balanced; the highly chromatic locus iste was rich and warm. The men (Ben Lovell, Iain Faragher, Ashley Carter and Matthew McGeachin) gave each phrase time to breath and they made excellent use of the hall’s two-second decay resonance. This performance seemed to emerge from deep in their souls; it was dark chocolate ganache – with definition.

long, smooth choral lines

Some ninny (Peter Garret) tried to close this joint down a few years ago. Is ANAM elitist? Too right! Should it be? Absolutely! Before anyone tries that trick again they should get their arse down there and listen to Australia’s best young musicians.

08 March 2014

France to Argentina

Zoë Knighton and Amir Farid
45 Downstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
5 March 2014

Persons such as me with certain disabilities go pale at the two flights of stairs down to the concert space of 45 Downstairs: roughly as steep as the final ascent of Everest without the snow. Andy admits the vertiginously challenged through Tradesperson’s Entrance from a lane off a lane off Flinders Street. The 1900s style warehouse is of ancient brick, wobbly glass, steel beams and a beautifully solid old Baltic pine floor. The architectural features conspire to make the space acoustically it’s superb and it loves cello-ish sounds. It loves cellos. It love pianos.

45 is one of the five-year old Knighton-Farid Duo’s homes and they were obviously happy there on Wednesday night. So was the audience – glass of chardy in hand.


The recital was part of Mary-Lou Jelbart’s Festival of Words and Music. The music bit on Wednesday was K & F’s continuum of French to Argentinian – and back again – music. The program notes promised ‘sumptuous romanticism’. K & F delivered without a hint of soup. Their secret was judicious use of rubato: just enough to deliver romanticism but not so much as to cloy or interrupt the march of the music. That secret made the program opener, Debussy (Claire de Lune) new all over again and it continued – via Bragato and Solare – through the rare and beautiful Huré sonata and the equally rare Nadia Boulanger pieces back to Debussy. The Italian José Bragato was Piazolla’s cellist and Piazolla was Boulanger’s student so the transition from 20th century French music to Argentina was fixed. Clever programming and it worked superbly: the duo is very much at home in Argentina.

Huré's 1929 cello sonata could easily have been cello with piano accompaniment. Huré was an organist by trade – and a contemporary of Widor – so he knew about multiple levels of harmony. K & F knew about that idea too. We heard, by turns, bitter and sweet, longing and yearning. Huré wasn’t Jewsh but the ghosts of the Jewish rag traders in the warehouse came out to listen.

Boulanger’s three pieces had piquant transitions of harmony from major to minor and back again and back again. The Duo used these to produce superb emotional arcs that found Boulanger’s witty, acerbic and assertive ideas. There were hints of Argentina, too I think … possibly … and I imagined the pair each with a red rose, tango-like, in teeth, behind an ear, in the hair.

For me, though, they absolutely shone in Debussy’s late cello sonata with its hints of the 1910-ish The Girl with the Flaxen Hair and The Engulfed Cathedral. Not surprisingly, the piece is considered technically demanding but there were no hints of that with this pair. Their technical mastery and superb musicianship were clear.