20 May 2019


We were celebrating the day after the election ... at least the death of Queen Mary but also her birthday and, I guess, Jesus. This was SCUNA, the amusingly named choral society hinting at inebriation, and they had their orchestra (virtually all players from NCO) and two solo singers, soprano Veronica and mezzo AJ under Lennie. The tympanis were out for the renowned and hugely memorable funeral march. I'm told the tymps were added later and this arrangement was used in the renowned '70s film, Clockwork Orange. "He cometh up and is cut down like a flower" / "of whom may we seek for succour" / "who for our sins art justly displeased" / "deliver us not into the bitter pains". It's a heavy feeling. This was perhaps the most intense and stunning work but not the Gloria of the program. That was Vivaldi's. First half Purcell with the Queen's funeral march and Come ye sons of art, written for a birthday of Queen Anne (royalty was presumably good for commissions; these days I guess it's the mining industry) then Vivaldi Gloria in D major after interval. So a generous program to raise the spirits or, with QM, to delve into depths. Glorious music throughout. The two soloist vocalists were great and fitted neatly together in duet passages. I especially enjoyed AJ's solos. The choral singing was generous and the musical passages nicely presented. Evelyn on cello was busy and did a particularly satisfying job. Lenny led it all and even doubled on trumpet at one time. I know of harp and carillon and he was toying with a violin in the break. What else does he play? So, a great comedown from election weekend. Who needed it?

SCUNA (ANU Choral Society) presented Purcell and Vivaldi at St Peter's Lutheran Church. Leonard Weiss (conductor) directed with soloists Veronica Milroy (soprano) and AJ America (mezzo soprano) and accompaniment by Anthony Smith (keys, organ) and the SCUNA orchestra with bass provided by Evelyn Andrew (cello).

16 May 2019

Mozart and mates

They were a civilised bunch, sitting together in a chambre, playing stately, amiable music with attractive melodies placing never-too-excessive demands. One movement was introduced as written for quick sale, by a musician seeking to monetise his fame. Nonetheless, this is Mozart and it's lovely stuff. The performing group was also made up of friends: two pairings of husband/wife and another mate, all with connections and history, even back to Telopea High (literally just around the corner). I think the session was convened by Hilda Visser-Scott but it's a group that seems to get together to play together every so often. There are now music and other professionals with a history of musical travel and various orchestras. The music was Mozart, two trios and a duet with various combinations. The main work was the complete (all three movements) Trio in Eb major for piano clarinet and viola KV498. Otherwise there were single movements of KV548 and KV434. All dignified and attractive and sensible rather than ecstatic and investigative, but always Mozart so always a pleasure. A lovely outing.

Hilda Visser-Scott (piano), Peter Scott (clarinet), Robyn Botha (viola), Dawid Botha (violin) and Harry Hall (cello) played Mozart at Wesley Music Centre.

15 May 2019

Big Day Out 3

It takes a flit from ACO/Branford Marsalis to Smiths to realise the jazz in your soul. This was my last outing with Dan Tepfer. He was playing a jazz gig for CIMF at Smiths with top flight Australians Sam Anning and Alex Hirlian. The place was sold out and I was recording so I had to get there early. I heard them warming up and was already excited. They had played a few gigs together before this (Brisbane and Wollongong?) and they were hot. The music was mostly original from Dan's trio's latest album. The room was full and the CIMF had trucked in a Yamaha grand in good nick and capable soundman Bevan was on duty. Then the gig. From the top, this was intensely complex rhythmic outings with fabulously effective solos all round. I tried to count a few with no luck but saw some charts later and it wasn't impossible, although rich in sixteenth-note syncopations through changing time signatures, 7s or 11s interspersed with more common 4s and 3s, perhaps changing each bar. Not impossible but a difficult read. Very heavy on time and groove. And chords that implied rather than defined. Something like E-4b7 (not even sure how to write it!) mixing with other colours of E-7. Odd extension that, 4 not 11? The grooves were steady and hard often fast, strongly defined by both Sam and Alex but free for accents and embellishments as they desired. Despite the writing there was considerable freedom. Also a friendly and respectful eye from Dan. He obviously enjoyed this group. He mentioned he'd studied with Sam at the Manhattan School of Music. There's no way this would have been out of place in the Village. Dan has studied (astro-)physics and it shows in his variety of musical interests (Bach, Disklavier and contemporary jazz). I've since read he has more music and science in his family background. The room was full with an older cohort, this being a CIMF concert, but the band was absolutely well received. They ended on a softer note, some non-originals and tamer times and a ballad. Set 2 ended with the driving original, Roadrunner, and an encore of Everytime we say goodbye. I went away stunned and hugely pleased and aware of the jazz in my soul. Something of this quality would thump the heart of any listener. A stunner and a great pleasure; being Manhattan, I can say world class.

Dan Tepfer (piano) led a trio with Sam Anning (bass) and Alex Hirlian (drums) at Smiths for CIMF.

14 May 2019

Big Day Out 2

Second in the concert marathon was a biggie: Australian Chamber Orchestra featuring Branford Marsalis playing music of Villa Lobos, Piazzolla, Ginastera, Stravinski, Golijov and Sally Beamish. Is SB the one out here? She's extant, she knows Branford and it's him playing on my Spotify recording. It's not often I leave a concert at interval, but this time I did. The musicians were great and the music inviting, especially the Piazzolla (if of a theme, as Piazzolla sounds to me ears). Branford opened with a short Stravinski clarinet solo on soprano sax, then a Villa-Lobos fanstasia, then Satu Vänskä led for Piazzolla Four seasons of Buenos Aires. All fabulously capable playing with strings that just sat in easy consensus and just a few ensemble features - I particularly noticed some prominent bass and a fabulous cello solo. Satu's lithe playing was a huge pleasure. Branford was his professional self but not so exciting for me in this setting. But I was recording the next concert so I left at interval to get suitable seating, given the smallish room that was sold out. How can this be? Leaving ACO and a Marsalis at half time? Odd but great while it lasted.

Branford Marsalis (soprano sax) and Satu Vänskä (violin) fronted the Australian Chamber Orchestra in Llewellyn Hall.

13 May 2019

Big Day Out 1

It was pretty shoddy planning but also just a concurrence of opportunities that had me with with three concerts in one evening after an afternoon orchestral practice (a playthrough of Wagner, Beethoven 4 and Saint-Saens; I took leave of Dvorak 8!). But then the professionals. First concert up was Dan Tepfer at Fitters Workshop playing his Goldberg variations / variations. The original Bach variations are an aria start and end sandwiching 30 variations, sometimes technically described as in canone all terza or fughetta and always written for two manuals on a harpsichord. Dan had a long association with the Goldberg and has finally created a response consisting of an improvisation for each of the 30 variations. So we hear the introductory aria, then a first Bach variation then a Tepfer improv then Bach then Tepfer through all 30 to the final aria repeated. In all, about 90 minutes, played with no music and improvised on the day (if probably conceptually established beforehand). I loved it deeply. Bach, of course, is a thing of wonder. Dan's responses were full of tonalities and harmonies and rhythms that have grown from another 300 years of fine music and jazz and more. There's clarity and order and dance-like joy in Bach; there's groove and dissonance and polyrhythms and substitutions since. So, the improvs are vastly different but built on the essence of each of the relevant variations and influenced and respectful and intellectually outstanding. A few people I spoke to preferred Bach or even suggested he could have left the improv out but it was a work of sublime depth to my ears. I chatted to Roland Peelman later and he agreed: if Bach was around that's what he'd be doing now, respectful and knowledgeable of the past but totally cognisant and involved in the present. Fabulous work. You can hear a take of it on streaming services as Goldberg variations / variations, but it can never be that performance, that day. That was fabulous and is passed.

Dan Tepfer (piano) played Bach Goldberg variations and his related improvisations at the Fitters Workshop.

12 May 2019

Home studio

We host musicians for the Canberra International Music Festival and we enjoy it immensely. To some degree, it's more interesting to host than to listen. It's more intimate, you learn lots, you're in the know to some degree, you get to hear some highly trained musicians practicing in your lounge room. Last year, it was Cecilia, a wonderful Dutch-Italian baroque violinist with Amati attached. This year, it was Anton Baba, cellist, again baroque, gut and bow, trained in US and Europe, now resident in Sydney and playing with all the best baroque groups and a lovely guy to boot. He was to play the Bach cello suite no.1 Gmaj on Saturday morning so we recorded it on Friday evening as an exercise. A nice record of the visit and a great training tool for Anton and his students.

Anton Baba (cello) recorded Bach during his stay for the Canberra International Music Festival.

11 May 2019

Endurance 2

It was a short walk to a more exposed hilltop for the ADFA Band (Band of the Royal Military College, Duntroon). We've all seen them often enough. I like them lots. They bravely countered the elements as trained servicemen/women will, in uniform, no gloves. Some of the older audience could sit here but we could also walk around listening to Bach Toccata and fugue Dmin. Our group was late so only came in for the last bars of their other piece. The T+F was introduced as the most popular piece of Bach's repertoire. We were suggested to think of the brass ensemble as an organ in many individually-performed parts. It sounded somewhat like that. Again, I'm sure the cold affected the playing and probably the pitch but this is always a professional outfit. Then on further, mercifully inside, to the Director's Residence for the sonic.art saxophone quartet distributed through the space playing a very modern Berlin composition Stelzenbach Atempause. We were moved through but that little we heard worked really well in such a space, musicians distributed in corners of this residence that was made safe after the 2003 fire but not decorated or even finished inside. So, nice timber floors but open walls and spaces and no ceiling. It's an intriguing space perfectly suited to urban arts. Then again outside, to hear Los Pitutos in the Great Melbourne telescope dome. Again, open and cold; this time spitting rain. They retreated into the Common room (warmest indoors so far) and gave us a series of popular Latin-America songs. Uber-popular songs of the likes of Perhaps perhaps perhaps. They did this well with infectious latin rhythms and sweet vocal harmonies and a nice touch on percussion (even some horn!), but I would have liked to have heard more adventurous choices. I'm told the group is based in Berlin, the singer sings opera professionally and the horn player performs orchestral music and the whole group swaps instruments. All intriguing and the voices and rhythms were lovely. Then I had to leave. The Penny Quartet was setting up to play Widmann string quartet no.4. I caught just a few bars: they started with bowing the instrument's body. Mmm, could have been interesting. So, a cold day but a string of fascinating musical encouters. Nice.

RMC Band, sonic.art sax quartet, Los Pitutos and the Penny Quartet played on Stromlo mountain for the CIMF2019.

10 May 2019

Endurance 1

We were "on the mountain", meaning Mt Stromlo and it was bitter cold. It put a freeze on virtually all the music, even inside but particularly in open domes and on an exposed hilltop. This was one CIMF event that demands little walks between venues and offers diverse performers. This is a seriously varied experience and for that it was very good. I ignored the cold, as best I could. For my group, first up was a welcome from astronomer Brad Tucker and some genuine, original, 1930s, 78rpm recordings of Albert Schweitzer playing Bach on organ (saved from various Stromlo fires). It matched with a few other pieces of Stromlo trivia, not least a photo of observatory director and wife, Geoffrey and Doris Duffield, toting a double bass to play in their Stromberra Quartet (sometime before his death in 1929: you can still find his grave on the mountain). And in contravention of CP Snow's two cultures, Rosalie Gascoigne, artist of found materials, who lived on the mountain from 1937 with her astronomer husband, Ben. Then on to the first major performance which happened to be an Australian premier. This was Dan Tepfer, NYC jazz pianist. He played his work Natural machines on Disklavier. Disklavier is the digital player-piano made by Yamaha. Dan played with the automated Disklavier performance. Dan's website describes the process. In summary, his improvisations are processed and responded to through Dan's pre-programmed computer, so Dan leads but also follows, both musically and through an artistic projection of the playing. Fascinating and very nicely played. He played, perhaps 4 movements, and one without the computer interactions. It had some audience befuddled, Disklaviers not being so known or understood. Truly a work of future thinking and artistically satisfying. Then on to the open Yale-Columbia dome. The two violinists were fretting about the cold (understandable: 11degC but a cold wind so ~4degC apparent temp) but played a worthy set anyway (I did wonder how!). This was the World premier of Mike Dooley's violin duet The Heavens declare. As I remember, three movements with a first movement divided into parts (inviting some untoward clapping); several passages of bowing against pizz; a slower middle movement and lively final. A lovely work and one I'd be pleased to hear again in more comfortable circumstances, for audience and players. The work was played by two members of Quatuor Voce, Cecile Roubin and Sarah Dayan.

Dan Tepfer (disklavier) played compositions from his Natural machines collection and Cécile Roubin and Sarah Dayan (violins) played a violin duet by Mike Dooley, all at St Stromlo.

9 May 2019


Masterclasses are a fascinating process. It's an excellent place to hone your awareness, as players or as listeners. This one was a mature (15 years) string quartet guiding a newer quartet (5 years). Of course, the new quartet sounds great when you first hear them, but they just get better as they take on the suggestions from the others. A good pair of ears, they say, and here four pairs. The masterclassees were the Penny Quartet (Melbourne); the masterclassers were Quattor Voce (France). The music performed and deconstructed was Prokofiev Quartet no.1 mvt.1. It's amusing that the first four bars take so long for consideration, but it's not surprising. Any bars are indicative of a group's performance. After that, they moved somewhat more quickly through various passages and styles of playing. So what issues? Clarity of voices in transitions; character and bite; where and how to bow: near the bridge or over the fingerboard, digging in or long bows; dirt and politeness; dynamics (always!); phrasing and excitement and even ecstasy and "clownlike" (for this piece); displaying canon passages; spelling cello lines; rhythms and ambiguities; tension; flexible tonalities; active listening and "grounded rhythms" and communal pulse (I was amused that they suggested foot tapping, virtually as in jazz, to inculcate and share rhythms: foot tapping is usually a classical no-no); using metronomes on and off beat; chords (very interesting how they analysed a series of vertical chords for better intonation); articulation and passing lines; binary and tertiary approaches (essentially playing with polyrhythmic interpretations - another common contemporary jazz technique). Of course, these refer to a specific time and place and performers and piece, but it's indicative of the deep listening that's a component of masterclassing. And it's good for the audience, too. It certainly sharpens the listeners ear. Intriguing.

Penny Quartet received a masterclass from Quator Voce. Penny Quartet are Amy Brookman, Madeleine Jevons (violins), Anthony Chataway (viola) and Jack Ward (cello). Quator Voce are Sarah Dayan, Cécile Roubin (violins), Guillaume Becker (viola) and Lydia Shelley (cello).

8 May 2019

Bob's battlers

It's election time and even if the current government won't recognise climate change for the emergency it is, some will. The Home of all Parliaments, for one, which has declared a "climate emergency" as have the informed types who turned out for Bob Brown's gathering on the lawn in front of Parliament House to join the anti-Adani convoy, if only in spirit. We just caught the end of it, hearing Bob's voice over a PA as we walked to the venue but we were there in spirit. We, the conservatives, who respect our enlightenment institutions, like science and informed citizenry. Who disavow the slinky maths and managed agreements that have us meeting Paris targets "in a canter". Misinformation, perhaps lies. The election will be a test. Are Australians sensible or dumb or misinformed or just plain self-interested. Does civilisation have a future past a century or two? Do our own grandchildren have to deal with +4degC and runaway temperatures? How often can we lose fish in the Darling or have floods that kill 1/2 million cattle or bushfires that sweep states and continue with our known world. Time to panic with Greta.

The Anti-Adani convoy rallied with supporters outside Parliament House.

  • CSIRO Greenhouse gas data
  • 7 May 2019

    Home towner

    This is the time of virtuosity the time of CIMF. My first concert was Kristian Winther. Kristian is Canberra-bred and sounds of the world. He played violin, solo, Bach Sei solo a violino senza basso accampagnato. I heard the first concert, so the first 3 works of six. Sonata no.1 Gmin, Partita no.1 Bmin, Sonata no.2 Amin. He was playing the other three that afternoon. Each was a work of four movements. I lucked out with a front row seat that was left otherwise vacant so I could watch his bowings and fingers and face. The best was just to close my eyes and take in the subtly of bowing tones - light or gritty - and the nifty fingering and luxuriate in the glorious harmonic inventions of Bach himself. The first movements were not quite so comfy but then, settled in, his presentation was a thing of immensity and intelligence and beauty. A blast from a Canberra boy returned for our own festival.

    Kristian Winther (violin) played Bach at Canberra International Music Festival.

    6 May 2019

    In a variety of ways

    It must be the era of odd combinations and I was intrigued. This time it was drums and two basses: our local bassists Eric Ajaye and John Burgess with visiting Melbourne drummer David Jones. There's history aplenty here. David and Eric played together in Melbourne twenty years back, presumably before Eric's move to Canberra and ANU and Eric taught John at ANU. They are all strong, inventive players and this was the opportunity to improvise. Improvisation it was: John and David had just met in person that afternoon. But that's jazz. But even so, the traditions appear in some shared musical themes. I think Footprints emerged twice and the funk of Freedom Jazz Dance featured and the opening was In a silent way. And amongst the open, free improv, there was written music, David's Ancient echo and Eric's words, you'd probably say rap, written by him as a schoolkid to Freedom Jazz Dance. We got to sing along a phrase with that. The variety of basses, too, was fascinating. Eric's smooth, lithe, sliding, often funky lines on two e-basses and an NS stick. John's sharply clear grooves and melodies on his two e-basses and the electronics on his bowed NS stick and more. Against this, David's immensely satisfying, sharp rhythms and virtuosic, unexpected three- and four-feel fills and interjected tones from various bells the percussion. How sharp! A few drum solos that floored the audience and a tunes played on kalimba then expanded to the two basses. There were two sets of this, knowns and unknowns, all immediate and personal and exploratory. Intriguing with that edge of adventure from the unusually deep tonal blend and the electronic extrapolations. Another rare instrumental combination and a great pleasure.

    Freeflight were Eric Ajaye (bass), David Jones (drums) and John Burgess (bass, electronics). Simon Mitchell (art) was sketching but the pic didn't catch his art.). Thanks to jazz regular Bob Howe for the pic of authentic Jazz Haus illumination.

    5 May 2019


    Edward Neeman is faculty at ANUSOM and I got to his faculty recital in the Larry Sitsky Room after SS4CC. It's a very different experience after a demo, but not out of place, somehow, given inter-American tensions. This was entitled Piano music from Latin America but it was a rich range, including mid-20th century American (meaning USA) music. Five pieces, four played from memory (a feat of which I remain in awe), one piece written by the composer for Edward himself, some dark, some rhythmical, even boogies and shuffles and stride, pieces all played with great commitment and immense dynamics. To me it's obscure, but perhaps not to Latin Americans. Edward told a story of Lecuona as Cuba's Gershwin: while US kids don't know of their Gershwin(s), Lecuona is renowned in Cuba. The composers were Velazquez and Lecuona and Pinera (the piece written for Edward) and the Americans Beech and Schoenfield. The classical Cuban rhythms are nothing like the jazz feels but are there for the hearing and the modernism can be disjointed and richly complex, so not for the fainthearted but wildly impressive and plenty challenging. A great outing.

    Edward Neeman (piano) performed a free faculty concert at ANUSOM. The pic is Edward and Stephanie (also a concert pianist) Neeman encountered at CIMF2019 the following day.

    4 May 2019

    The kids are alright

    They are alright and they are right. We are in the midst of an election campaign and the silence is deafening on climate. There are attempts otherwise, claims of "the climate election", high costings for anything Labor attempts and shrill negativity but climate response runs in the slow lane. At least a few kids did their Greta-thing and took some time off school for a climate demo. There was some light rain which I'm sure we'll remember fondly in our hot and dry future and numbers were down. The idea was cute, to form a human chain between the offices of Andrew Leigh (Labor) and Zed Saselja (Liberal) but I missed that. Perhaps the meeting at Gunghalin had numbers down, being at one end of town. At least attendees could travel there by tram. I came across a friend who'd taken a visiting sister for a ride on the tram and run into the demo. The visitor was from the Greens, so a happy coincidence. Lots of kids spoke: tellingly they were all girls. Not surprising at this age: girls are known to mature earlier. There were plenty of boomers, too, in support, but quiet given this will be their kids' crisis. Overnight, the British Parliament had declared a "climate emergency" and that was mentioned but not central. Andrew Leigh spoke and got a hard time on Adani and more. Tim Hollo (Greens) spoke well and was well received. I was thinking, the best can be the enemy of the good. Zed was not expected, probably not invited (certainly LNP deserve no invitation on climate). I set off back on the tram, somewhat lightened by the community but disappointed by the turnout and desperate for the purpose. Think canaries and coal mines: it's almost too late. Too late? Think this. I have been running CJ (est.2005) for longer than scientists say we have to reduce carbon emissions by 50%, ie, 11 years, by 2030. The mother of all parliaments is right but will we act?

    The latest School Strike for Climate Change (SS4CC) rally was held at Gunghalin about three weeks before Federal election day.

    29 April 2019

    Complete with gargoyles

    This was a lovely little concert. The location is special and old for Canberra: not exactly Notre Dame but it does have gargoyles. It was All Saints in Ainslie, the Sydney sandstone, gothic-styled Anglican church built in 1868 at Sydney's Rookwood Cemetery as one end of a mortuary steam train track, used until 1939, dismantled in 1958 and reconstructed in Canberra. The event was part of the Heritage Festival given its history. The group was called the Rookwood Ensemble playing chamber music, this day mostly of Vivaldi, in the organ loft with the mechanical pipe organ. The organ is itself historic: built in 1857 for a Baptist church in Harrow, UK, and transported to Canberra for dedication in 1990. I just played two pieces and there were another two trios for oboe, violin and organ. Caroline, Heng and Terry were the key performers on the day and well deserve praise for some wonderful solo features. It's odd playing in an organ loft with half your audience sitting with their backs to you, looking to the altar. Even for those with seats turned to the back, there was little too see, with musicians viewed from below and largely hidden by railings. But the music was lovely and the group was capable and the acoustics are satisfying. I was particularly taken by Vivaldi's variations on La Follia. Amongst other works, we played a chamber arrangement by Terry, our organist, of an organ concerto by Bach, arranged from a work by Vivaldi, his violin concerto Grosso mogul. This had possibly the longest count I've encountered (strings don't count like brass): 103 bars of solo organ. Then a finish and an afternoon tea, as is the way with such events, and much good cheer by the performers and others.

    Rookwood Ensemble performed Vivaldi and related at All Saints Ainslie. RE were Caroline Fargher (oboe), Terry Norman (organ), Heng Lin Yeap, Heather Shelley and John Dobson (violins), Thayer Parker (viola), Teresa Neeman (cello) and Eric Pozza (bass).