29 May 2015

New however


This concert was 12 pieces from 12 composers played by 15 performers. It's new music, but not all experimental. A few were. Some were more through composed, lyrical even, although tarred with minimalism. That's cool: I like minimalism. These were some of my favourite pieces. With the best intentions, I can find classically trained noise is often tiresome. I warm to it with evidence of skills and otherwise, sometimes, even when I just close my eyes. But my favourite pieces were through composed and performed with traditional skills and a conductor. Wings by Nahed Elrayes and Quartet no.1 by Ryan Sanderson appealed most. But others attracted me for various reasons. Piece 2 by Andrew Ryan was a composed jazz-rock with oboe lead (!). Hodge Podge by Yee Ning Ellen Chan and Themed variations by Lachlan McIntyre were interesting and featured some impressive violin from Helena Popovic. There was more too; my apologies for not mentioning each piece. Alexander Hunter performed by had also guided the students in the process of development and rehearsal over the last six months. New music, new in style or in date. Whatever, it's what's being made at ANU now.

28 May 2015

The past to hear now


There was nothing new to this gig, of course, other than that we'd never visited the Swiss Ambassador's residence before. But I enjoyed it immensely. Partly because the music was the standards, old and last century but timeless. It was set up like a concert, with rows of seats and the band out front, under lights which were dimmed for a much better atmosphere. It's a formal layout even if the atmosphere was fairly relaxed. I was interested that a string of people were tapping feet even if staring concert-like at the band. There were others who didn't move a jot and I wondered if this was all before their time or outside their experience. I dreaded there was maybe an age-component to the foot tapping. The band did a great job: relaxed, playing carefully, tastefully and nicely cool. Rachel's voice was not-unexpectedly controlled and rich in interpretation and subtle play. Lachlan was on guitar (I usually see him playing bass these days) and this was expressive with clear melody and limited flourish. Simon's bass was great, especially some nicely spelled solos, and Chris was a welcome return (I haven't heard him for some time) with careful detail and light touch. And those tunes! Some obvious but also some lesser known and some delightfully playful: Doodlin' and Centerpiece are clever and twisted in performance and humour; Honeysuckle Rose is just delightful; Just squeeze me and Love for sale and Do nothing till you hear from me are intentionally mischievous historical gems; The nearness of you is a favourite ballad of mine; there were a few others. These guys do the standards with the touch of the period, serious and well played but with the musical smile they deserve. Lovely.

The Here and Now comprised Rachel Thoms (vocals), Lachlan Coventry (guitar), Simon Milman (bass) and Chris Thwaite (drums). They played a gig at the Swiss Ambassador's residence. Thanks to Ambassador HE Mr Marcel Stutz.

26 May 2015

First up, Salzburg


This is Mozart in three cities but I hadn't realised it was 3 concerts for 3 cities. For the first concert, Erin Helyard and Skye McIntosh were playing Salzburg. Its early in Mozart's career and the first sonata, for Keyboard and violin Eb major was clearly early The later ones were much more sturdy, adventurous, comfortable with composition and instrumentation. But they were all evident and hugely attractive. Mozart is like that, after all. And the pairing of Erin and Skye was similarly comfortable. They'd studied together at the Sydney Con, sometime, and played together in Pinchgut Opera and otherwise. Erin was playing a modern replica of a traditional fortepiano. Julie and I chatted of the different tones of these period instruments, not so forceful or loud, a softer bass and ringing trebles. And the violin that's gentler, less firm and forceful. But that's just period instruments. Erin's playing was confident, sure; Skye a little more reticent, and this fitted with what I felt was a lesser role. The violin spoke melodies but the busyness and audacity was in the accompaniment. Must be Mozart, I guess. They played 3 sonatas together (Eb, G, Bb) and Erin played one solo sonata (G) and a set of variations on Salieri. The tone was a nice fit for this lofty space with serried rows of listeners and a most unassertive stage. All lovely and informative and a first step in a performance history of Mozart's works for keyboard and violin. The next are Mannheim and Vienna, sometime in July and August. Looking forward to it. BTW, this all happens in the Great Hall at ANU University House with its massive Leonard Feather backdrop.

Erin Helyard (fortepiano) and Skye McIntosh (violin) performed early Mozart in the Great Hall of University House.

21 May 2015

Afghanistan and implications


I've just been to hear Christina Lamb speaking to introduce her new book, Farewell Kabul : From Afghanistan to a more dangerous world, and I'm satisfied. Why? Because there was nothing that really surprised me. I've been worrying about the quality of democracy recently - of voters as uninformed, of politicians as self-serving and blinkered. It wasn't that I had my impressions changed by this discussion, by this veteran (in experience not age) foreign correspondent. Actually, her descriptions of the situation and the roles of politicians and the West and of the common humanity of people didn't conflict with anything I expected. And I don't think it's that she was ideological and I shared that ideology although she's of a post-Enlightenment and democratic world-view and that suits me fine. But she was informed and had contact with the place and people and the culture and she knew the story. She was critical of many aspects of the West's involvement in the Middle East, not least Bush and Blair (our own man of steel didn't get a mention) but she also disagreed ("a cynical view") with a questioner who saw the West's involvement as simply a means of pouring money into armaments industries. It's virtually always a mix of issues - ignorance, cockiness, money, influence, ideology and more - that underlies such tragedy. Some used to claim "it's all the oil" but I was always more comfortable with the less-dogmatic line "not just the oil, but would we have been there if there was no oil?". It's been a day of such awarenesses. An article by Krugman, who always speaks so clearly, arguing that The West in Iraq (under Bush) was "a mistake ... but worse... it was a crime" (Iraq war worse than a mistake, it was a crime, in Canberra Times, 20 May 2015, Times2, p.5). If you followed the story at the time, it was clear that WMD was not confirmed and the aftermath just proves that. This was one piece of evidence. Krugman offers more. And as for the status of democracy, another article looked at democracy in Australia and observed that "Winning elections requires a focus on the 'median voter' ... Median voters are assumed to be self-interested, short sighted and conservative, but also rational, family focussed and personally aspirational. This is common to many developed democracies" (Convergence theory explains the lack of choice in Australian politics, by Benjamin Reilly (Murdoch University) in The Conversation, 18 May 2015). Nothing unexpected in any of this, but there is disappointment and despair.

Excuse the preamble; what did Christina say? She noted that Abbott had decided, when the Australians left Uruzgan, that the war was worth it. She wrote her book to consider this question. It's informed by her diaries of 28 years as an Afghan correspondent and by her awareness of the costs of the war. She spoke of her arrival, meeting contacts, of the Russian invasion and the US's support for the mujahedin. Of people she knew, places she visited, of fundamentalists and Taliban and the disastrous and confused situation at present. Of how Afghanis have changed, of their poverty (ave. 80 pence pd pp) and of the increased poppy production (increased 30X from when the US went in!) and of the status of women. That some good has been done (education, health) but that monies ($US1 trillion) were squandered on foreign consultants and the rest. And who thinks we are safer now? Of the wars that spread from Libya to Ukraine (whack-a-mole wars that pop up where-ever). She noted we are now going in again, this time against IS, the fourth time in recent history. Of Karzai's dress sense and inabilities, of the West's (arrogant) ignorance, of the tribal complexities and corruption (2 months of every year's income is estimated to be lost to bribes in Afghanistan). Of Pakistan playing both sides and of lack of trust. Of Obama's "drones as a substitute for policy". Of a telling Afghan saying: "the Devil fell in Kabul when he was expelled from Heaven". Of lack of action in Syria and other actions that produced a "breeding ground" for ISIS. Lessons? "Listen to people" and "be determined / seize opportunities", "get to know countries" and "create contacts". Blair still thinks going into Iraq was the right thing to do, but few others (except perhaps Jeb Bush given recent reports). Another factoid: $US1m was spent per soldier pa in Afghanistan as everything was imported.

So my outcome from this day and this talk? I guess it's satisfying to test your awareness and not find it wanting. But that doesn't bode well given my pessimism on many fronts: climate change, inequality, political influence and the rest. Christina Lamb launched Farewell Kabul : From Afghanistan to a more dangerous world at an ANU / Canberra Times meet the author event. William Maley convened. Christina Lamb, Afghanistan, democracy, William Maley

19 May 2015

A great treat


Paavali Jumpannen is now on his 6th visit to Australia from his native Finland and he's well noted. ABCFM is broadcasting him with the Melbourne Symph and he's toured with the ACO and he's playing in day or so at the Melbourne Recital Centre. All serious stuff. I've caught him on two of his previous tours and this time I particularly realised the pleasure of hearing such a player in such an intimate setting. This was the Finnish Embassy and we had front row seats, perhaps two metres from his Yamaha C-5. This is being a part of the music. I seldom observe faces of players, but being so close was inevitable: Paavali was involved and aware but also strangely distant. He was not reading: his playing was from memory. He's obviously got a prodigious repertoire, too. He's recorded sonatas from Beethoven and Boulez (with great acclaim) and works of Messiaen. He's been studying the music of Schumann and his final work this night was his Sonata in F# minor Op.11 Before that was Debussy preludes and selected Sibelius. The Debussy was a dream, all images of veils and Delphic dances and wind and hills and snow and all so visually perceptive. I could observe every image that was being portrayed. The Sibelius was more chordal but also touched on imagery at times. His Scherzino was amusing and my favourite. The Schumann was complex and varied and symphonic in extent. It's apt that Beethoven was mentioned in relation to Schumann. But it was as much Paavali's performance that particularly involved me. There's something extra when a really capable player performs. Playing from memory is helpful. It leaves mental space for expression beyond the dots. The notes may clump or explode in seemingly careless array or weave delicate patterns or fall or bounce but it's all one. Paavali was like this. Detailed, knowledgeable, rough, tumbled, all deeply expressive. I got closer to all these composers than before. Maybe I'm more attuned after recently playing symphonic music, maybe I was listening better on this night, but Paavali had me following the closest details of phrasing and dynamics and articulation. This was something special. We're lucky here, in Canberra, with Henk and the Finnish Embassy, to be able to be up so close. If you missed him on his 6th visit, don't miss him on his 7th. Paavali Jumpannen is a great treat.

Paavali Jumpannen (piano) performed Debussy, Sibelius and Schumann at the Finnish Embassy.

18 May 2015

Orch 3


Coming quick and fast recently. This was my third orchestral performance; my second with the Brindabella Orchestra. The program was fairly short, fairly light, but with a few difficulties. There were several challenging passages in Mendelssohn Hebrides overtures (Fingal's cave), and the final page was dark with semiquavers. We did a few movements of Dvorak Suite in A major (American): the fourth was luscious and the fifth was a counting nightmare with the 1 and 3 all over the place. Strauss Kaizerwalzer was a thing of delight and it will be interesting to play it in a few months with Maruki. Offenbach Orpheus in the Underworld is the CanCan and just a treat to play, all lively and rollicking and immensely joyous. I could not help but beam when the dance came up. Too bad, but no dancing girls for this performance (although I read in Wikipedia that men also danced the CanCan as an athletic and perhaps less salacious dance in mid-1800s Paris). The whole was held together with the Dam Buster march (immensely nostalgic for a certain age group) and ended with a JC Superstar medley which I found surprisingly satisfying. Again, great fun, a few mistakes from me, but the orchestra played with more ear and dynamics than at any practice. Just another confirmation of the adage: "She'll be right on the night".

Brindabella Orchestra performed a program called Musical journey. Rosalie Hannink conducted and Heather Shelley led from the principal violin seat. Rosalie hands over the baton to Peter Shaw for the next concert.

16 May 2015

Welcoming the German baroque


Admittedly it's the JS Bach, but I've been listening to it all day after recording Salut! Baroque on Friday night at the Albert Hall. There are all sorts of things that worked this night. They played two sets, each of Handel, Telemann, CPE Bach and JC Bach. They were in Albert Hall and it works a treat for a baroque orchestra like this. They were just lovely, playing with gentle period instruments and with some magical performers. The music was delightful. I have heard the JS Bach several times today. Just the right length for the drives I had to do, to Campbell and Queanbeyan. This was the Concerto in C minor for violin and oboe, BWV1060. Well known, not least for Philip Adams and LeninL. There were some coughs but the violin was a dream (Anna McMichael with the most delicious of bowing skills) and the bass violin is unusual but clear and fits perfectly and another Anna, this time Fraser, was singing and the whole band flowed with lively, mobile energy. This was music of a period and place, of baroque Germany, played with understanding and historical awareness (I have yet to read the notes on the relationships of these four). These days, a period concert is a lesson in history as well as a listening experience and this was one. Lovely band, visiting quarterly, well attended. Salut! Baroque are a pleasure from a now-distant yet strangely relevant era.

Salut! Baroque performed at the Albert Hall and comprised Anna Fraser (soprano), Sally Melhuish (recorder), Hans-Dieter Michatz (recorder), Jane Downer (baroque oboe), Anna McMichael (baroque violin), Meg Cohen (baroque violin), Valmai Coggins (baroque viola), Tim Blomfield (bass violin) and Monika Kornel (harpsichord).

15 May 2015

Fretting for Palmyra


Even as I write this I hear of ISIS within 2 km of Palmyra and remember their bombing and bulldozing of Nimrud and more for their concern over religious idolatry. Not that the Europeans and presumably most other cultures haven't destroyed their own artefacts in various wars. The Romans built on their own remains, Bernini's Baldaccino is from melted tiles of the Pantheon and the Colosseum was being demolished for St Peter's. On the preservation side, I always wondered that national libraries, under IFLA, attempt to retain a copy of every publication. It's a noble aim if ultimately only achievable in the breach.

I'm not sure that this makes a folly or an urgency of this recent past-time of ours. We are auditing lectures in the history of architecture at University of Canberra. No tuts, no preparation or testing, but the lectures are fascinating and frequently like a trip down memory lane. First semester covers to ~1750. There's a good bit of art along the way; architecture relates to art and culture and society and religion. It's international (Stonehenge, Karnak, Borobodur, Kaaba) even if there's plenty of Western history, from Ancient world through Rome to Baroque and Renaissance. There's a smattering of modern and contemporary as influenced by the past (Merzbau, Le Corbusier, Dantaeum). We are mostly aware of the historical sites and have visited quite a few of them, but there are plenty of others that are new or obscure for us. The Second Semester takes the survey to current times. Seeing the story of historical destruction and climate change and the rest could make one fret for end-of-times. Conspiracy theories are just another indicator (viz. Maurice Newman and my pic of a note on a wall at UCan). After all, human civilisation is just ~10,000 years of the 4.5 billion year history of earth (ie, ~0.0002%). Whatever, for what's left or for what is remembered, this is a fascinating outing. Just the slightest of introduction to the wonders of just one aspect of the majestic and often tragic story of human civilisation.

Stephen Frith lectures the history of architecture at University of Canberra.

  • Thanks to WikiCommons and Bernard Gagnon for "Palmyra - Monumental Arch" by Bernard Gagnon - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
  • 14 May 2015

    Old guard


    CanberraJazz.net needs at least some jazz. So does Canberra as a town, but with the loss of ANU students and the closure of Smiths, there's precious little of that around. But John Mackey was playing at Hippo. It's noisy and busy so not a listening environment. The recorded music in the break is louder than the band, so I only manage one set these days. John was accompanied by a great swag of locals and Matt Handel was visiting from Sydney. The music was funky and jazz-rocky. Just a few tunes with plenty of solos of generous length. The first set was just 4 tunes. A jazz rock groove, Footprints, You don't know what love is and Sonny Rollins Freedom suite. John and Matt, two great local saxes. Mark Sutton laying some obtuse and edgy grooves. Greg Stott playing rabid sweeps and coloured phrases. Damien Slingsby driving but melodic and Lachlan Coventry playing Bass VI with a pick for fat and satisfying tone and solos of real lyricism. It's the old guard together for a blow. Impressive as always, this time loud with heavy grooves. There's nothing much new in Canberra these days, but this crew is always a pleasure.

    John Mackey (tenor) led a sextet at Hippo comprising Matt Handel (alto), Greg Stott (guitar), Damien Slingsby (piano), Lachlan Coventry (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums).

    12 May 2015

    g-l-a-s-s

    It was an afternoon of (Philip) Glass. We were in the Gandel Hall at the National Gallery, not at the Fitters Workshop, next to the Glassworks. This was a mammoth outing. Three hours of Philip Glass. Ensemble Offspring and associates were playing a string of formative works by Philip Glass. He's somewhat notorious for his minimalism and apparently caused considerable stirs when his works were first presented at various locations in NYC. While listening, I became aware of how we are now acclimatised to this approach, even if I've had some questioning comments since. But it's fifty years back now. The works were dated 1968 to 1976 so the early ones are from the Summer of Love, 1968, high Hippy, but this is not Hawkwind or psychedelia. They are out of the fine music tradition (Glass studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris) even if they are outside it. This is music reduced to a minimum, based on repetition and alternation of melodic cells. I wondered if it's prefigured by change ringing with its permutations of bell rings. The effect of the moving cells has a similar effect. But references are more to India and drumming and that fabulous percussion singing called Konnakol. Glass' music is intense, unforgiving, unrelenting, fairly loud; then it stops. The introduction suggested those in the know were the ones at the back lying on pillows, but then this is no longer the '60s (and the audience was no longer in its 20s). Audience could come and go through the performance. All very much of the period. The beats were intense and satisfying and the crossing rhythms were fascinating and forming their own mutating sub-rhythms. In one piece that I consciously tapped, I felt 6/8, noted three-note patterns and also quaver pairs (quaver pairs in 6/8?) but I couldn't easily tap to 5. I wondered about how it's written, then realised (again for this one piece but the approach seemed common) there was a cell pattern separating varying repeats of another pattern. I could guess how that might be written. The performers often nodded heads, no doubt identifying changes. There were a few slipups where someone stopped to await another nod.

    We heard a string of works of varying degrees of complexity. Claire Edwards started with 1+1, a very simple work tapping a timber board. It reminded me of rhythm exercises I used to practice with a drummer mate. This was very early. Then Music in similar motion, played on two vibes and keyboard containing only ~6 notes. They played Music in contrary motion later, on two vibes, e-piano and 2 keyboards. The contrary motion was more complex and demanding of concentration but just as devoid of respite. I thought there was a drone there, too. Tough on the musos: have a moment's doubt or flinch and you're lost. The percussive pitch of vibes and the organ tones of keyboards were key, but Glass later expanded with instruments for overlaid pitches and alternative rhythmic patterns. Music for fifths was played on e-percussion, keyboard, clarinet and soprano sax but here the wind instruments just seemed to add tonal variation, playing the same unyielding lines. Knee plays 1-5, from Einstein on the beach, was the latest work (1976) and it's a big departure. A single simple three note line on e-piano, a string of singers with simple, beautifully enunciated voices singing 1-2-3-4/1-2-3-4-5-6/1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 sometimes missing a number and a violin that is Einstein playing a devilishly difficult extended solo line, then again later. Just glorious, uplifting, fascinating. It must have been a devil of a work to play. Graeme Jennings (a CIMF2013 houseguest!) took it on, but I think it's something you'd have to live with for considerable time: no break, wild bowing and totally unforgiving. I was deliriously loving this all, although at 2 hours I was flagging. But then the finale, another highly developed work, Music with changing parts, dated 1970. The style was like the early ones, but beyond. I'm not absolutely sure of this (some musos were obscured in the back line) but I think this was played by 2 keyboards, e-piano, vibes, marimba/percussion, trumpet, alto/soprano sax, piccolo, bass clarinet and two female singers. The repetition of cells was there, but accompanied by long tones and various rapid repeated melody snippets. Someone said after that it was a NYC soundscape: ships on the Hudson, taxis, police sirens and the rest. I could believe this. This performance was limited to just 45 minutes (it can go on for hours) and I could have enjoyed more.

    I loved this gig. I'd been bathed in beats and crossing rhythms of few, repetitive notes and tapped my foot dry (most just sat still, this being a classical audience, but how could you not move to those deliciously abstruse beats), absorbed some beautiful tone and voices and meditated on this all. And put tissues in my ear for the unrelenting volume: the volume wasn't so loud, but it came constantly. Great gig and another CIMF revelation.

    A World of Glass was performed by Ensemble Offspring and associates. EO are Claire Edwardes and Bree van Reyk (vibes, percussion), Jason Noble (clarinet, keyboard) and Jim Nightingale (saxes). Their friends were Graeme Jennings (violin), Gabi Sultana, Alister Spence and Roland Peelman (keyboards), David Shaw (flute) and the Song Company with YAFF vocalists.

    11 May 2015

    Revelations aplenty

    Revelation is a word I find I'm using frequently for this CIMF. Sadly I've attended too little due to conflicts, but what I've attended has been rich with the modern and somewhat unexpected. Movers and shakers was all contemporary and a great mix of styles. Two of four composers were not just contemporary but in attendance. The gig started with Brian Howard Full fathom five. Amusingly I sing FFF in a choir, but nothing like this version. This was scored for 15 players; a thrilling and powerful 2-feel; swelling notes and sudden stops (reversed envelopes); tones moving throughout; notable trombone and explosive bass drums. Apparently it's written in response to Jackson Pollock's response to Shakespeare. Next was our late local master, Peter Sculthorpe Island songs for saxophone and ensemble. This was two movements with Amy Dickson featuring on soprano and alto sax. More expansive than FFF, meditative, strings and sax interspersed with various percussion and the sounds of seagulls (sliding cello harmonics) and other (sliding violin harmonics). I felt hope and satisfaction and survival and a sense of location. Kate Moore Velvet followed as a cello/piano duet played by Roland Peelman and Geoffrey Gartner. It's described as a response to flowing garments and cloth in the paintings of Leonardo and others. It's a beautiful subject, all draped opulence and on canvas so real. The image was vivid. Firstly 5/4 broken 3-2 displaying free folds and falls of fabric. Then perhaps into 6 feel and perhaps 3 and a response to the emotions of the paintings and a delicate insistence. To finish, a famed work of minimalism, John Adams Shaker loops for strings. Four movements, intense, incessant despite dynamics, 4s and 2s, and even a feeling of trains (not sure I should hear trains!). Again, this was a survey of some excellent and inventive music over various contemporary styles and so well played. Look for it on ABCFM as a live concert: they were recording.

    The composers were Brian Howard, Peter Sculthorpe, Kate Moore and John Adams. The performers were Amy Dickson (sax), Geoffrey Gartner (cello), Roland Peelman (piano, conductor), New Zealand String Quartet comprising Helen Pohl (violin), Douglas Beilman (violin), Gillian Ansell (viola) and Rolf Gjelsten (cello), Tinalley String Quartet comprising Eoin Andrerson (violin)Lerida Delbridge (violin), Justin Williams (viola) and Michelle Woods (cello) and Barbara Jane Gilby (violin), Anne Horton (violin) and the YAFF String Players comprising Emmanuel Cassimatis (oboe), Amy White (clarinet), Christopher Martin (bassoon), Ros Jorgensen and Nigel Croker (trombones), Gergele Malyusz (horn), Leanne Sullivan (trumpet), Kyle Daniel (double bass), Jim Nightingale (sax) and Claire Edwardes and Bree van Reyk (percussion).

    10 May 2015

    A cold one


    This was a cold one. We stood and shivered our way through a series of pieces on the Carillon. The wind blew through the recording I made. But the pieces were interesting, more so than some other Carillon gigs I've heard. A few locals were represented, people who know the carillon: Larry Sitsky, Leonard Weiss, Kate Moore. Kate's tune was commissioned for the carillon for this festival. One of Leonard's tunes was previously commissioned. There was a rag from Elena Kats-Chernin and she's sometimes in Canberra so may also know the carillon. Kate has lived in the Netherlands for the last 13 years and knows any number of carillons: they are a thing of the low countries and thereabouts. The Carillon plays with two hammered keyboards and a pedalboard. In action it looks heavy, played with clenched fists. Some sounds are deep and some light and airy. I warm to busier passages, where the harmonies become more evident with runs of notes. But pairs of notes are playable and Kate used them in her piece with cello. That was the only composition that was not solo bells. Kate's piece was For Elyse, with sustained cello played over regular harmonic accompaniment from the bells. Particularly mystical in that cold and falling darkness. Strangely, I am told the bells are only heard in the keyboard room, high but below several stories of bells, through speakers. Kate's cello was acoustic and processed and heard in the keys room, but heard over PA at ground level, with the bells sounding acoustically. Lennie played several of his own pieces; Lyn Fuller is the chief carillonist and played others; Thomas Laue and Anna Wong played others. It was a struggle against the elements, but intriguing and a pleasure.

    Leonard Weiss, Lyn Fuller, Thomas Laue and Anna Wong played carillon. Kate Moore (cello) also played at the Carillon for the CIMF.

    9 May 2015

    Noises


    James Turrell is described as the greatest artist of our time ... by some. I enjoyed some of his exhibition and admired some techniques, but I prefer Botticelli. But James and Oliver of The Noise were playing in the very echoey space of the Turrell Skyspace at the National Gallery yesterday and I enjoyed that experience. The dome itself seems strangely out-of-place to me, non-Australian, with ferns growing over (I saw them dead and dry a year or so ago) and all that water and green grass. The colours are not right. The open eye to the sky gathers some Australian colours, but seems to me to steal it for the benefit of the artist. But the techniques are perfect. The laser-levelled water edges are incredible, if the work of the builder. The sharp edged eye on the sky is also wondrous, although seems to be suffering a little now. Its edge is getting haggard and there are spots in the dome that break the sense of perfection. But perhaps the masterpiece was below me. The woman next to me observed that the concrete seats we were sitting on were heated. So it was! Comfy.

    James and Ollie played for about 45 minutes. It was one mutating piece, improvisation perhaps with some guide. Mesmerising, suitable for closed eyes, I think accompanied by drones (presumably that was the purpose of the two speakers fed from a laptop under Ollie's seat). I enjoyed this, didn't find it at all stretched or straining. My android tuner told me A was the central note, moving through C, C#, D, F. Fairly tonal, although mesmeric rather than melodic, sometimes moving stepwise, sometimes making noises rather than clear tones, with backs of bows or whatever. I liked this immensely. It's new, it's even n(N)oise, but it's music of its time and apt for the space. Spacey, even. They did it very well.

    James Eccles (viola) and Oliver Miller (cello) are two of The Noise and they played at the Turrell Skyspace at the National Gallery.

    8 May 2015

    Doing the details

    The Goldner String Quartet is in town for a Musica Viva concert and that's good, but I was particularly interested by a masterclass open to the public. I wasn't too sure what to expect but was not surprised. There were few audience, two members of the Goldner - violinist Dimity Hall and cellist Julian Smiles, three small ensembles performing over two hours. It was quite a chatty and busy atmosphere. This was intense work for these guys: more than I remember in workplace meetings and the like, but this is also a passion.

    First up was a string quartet. Not sure of names, but I assume a later year tertiary quartet. They played two string quartet by Philip Glass, one was Mishima, not sure of the other. Then comments and suggestions by the advisors on voicing, highlighting phrases, accents, bowing, playing for spaces, intonation, prominence, enmeshing especially for such repetitive music, dynamics, harmonic intensity and releases and contrast. Then a considerable time on harmonic intonation, flattening the major 3rd, sharpening the minor 3, (and a resultant ugly semitone between maj/min 3rds), major 7th, Pythagorean (Just) scales (as I understand, moving up the scale in perfect 5ths). There were specifics, too. Intonation for work in Eb when the ensemble agrees on G. Practising with a drone tone: Julian likes to use the dominant. I liked the Philip Glass and I was hearing it clearer and better intoned after all this discussion.

    Then two trios with violin, cello, piano. This is chamber music, so a "conversation". Look to each other; interact, use body language and physicality; "lead then play"; share vibrato, bow well in contact with the string; "it's always the leader's fault if the followers are not together"; even with common dynamics, introduce variation, seek balance of parts ("the piano usually wins in a piano trio") and take the lead as needed. "Chamber music ... gives you so many skills as a musician". Strings must adjust to the piano, it's heavier ("pianos have a certain fruit to them"), staccato is slower, tuning is equal temperament. Strings should practice different bowings (scoop, bounce, ...) to work with piano, staccato means detached, not necessarily short. Some practice games: each player leads in (to practice leading and communication); practice without expression markings, then add. Beethoven used multiple types of accents (sfz, fp, rfz, ...) so individually practice ways of playing expressive markings. And finally re Beethoven: "This is Op.1 no.1 and yet his whole personality is already clear".

    All interesting and informative. Not sure who played the Philip Glass, but the two piano trios were: Georgina Chan (violin), Jakob Jaksa (cello) and Patrick Gu (piano) playing Beethoven Piano Trio Eb major Op.1 no.1; Donica Tran (violin), Dominic Hill (cello) and Vivian Zhu (piano) playing Dvořák Piano Trio no.4 E minor (Dumky trio), first movement. Dimity Hall (violin) and Julian Smiles (cello) were from the Goldner String Quartet. Georgina Chan, Jakob Jaksa, Patrick Gu, Donica Tran, Dominic Hill, Vivian Zhu, Dimity Hall, Julian Smiles, Goldner String Quartet, masterclass

    7 May 2015

    A rare confluence


    Now this was a strange one. The Canberra Symphony Orchestra performed something I'd heard just a few weeks earlier from the National Capital Orchestra. Such a concurrence is pretty rare but it gives you a particular view. The work was Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade and it was played post-interval by both orchestras. I had been mightily impressed by NCA but I felt CSO had an additional sheen. Not just because CSO had a full complement of basses (four not 1, and including a common player, David Flynn). I have played orchestral music now for a few months and performed two concerts and I find I am listening differently. The backline behind the strings - flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns - are taking on more presence. I noticed the flutes with and without piccolo and how insistent the little thing is (and so easy to transport)! Same with some shaken percussion that strangely came at me from behind, bouncing off the back wall (just a row behind me). I really enjoyed the brass which was particularly competent this night, trumpet, trombone, tuba. And the timpani. And Barbara's solo violin. And, I think unusually, the two cello parts, where the principal cello bows and the rest play pizz. Scheherazade is attractive but it's not my favourite for the night. I find it rich and swelling but too simple and repetitive and the story is offensively misogynist.

    The first set started with Matthew Hindson Boom-box. It was short but exciting, more fanfare than backstreet funk. I heard Africa and standards and West Side Story more than Harlem and break dancing, but I liked it lots. Then Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto no.1 B flat minor. This was my favourite, perhaps partly because I knew it well given we had a record in my childhood home. Great orchestral melodies, ecstatic and virtuosic piano, a startling touch of Gershwin or 20th century in a cadenza in the second movement, ratty key. Absolutely attractive and done very nicely by pianist and orchestra.

    This was a great outing from the CSO and I never cease to be amazed that they do this with such a limited performance schedule. These guys don't play together daily like many professional orchestras. The Canberra Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Nicholas Milton. Hoang Pham (piano) played the Tchaikovsky.