20 January 2018


This was different from the rest so far and a stunner, for me at least and for some I was chatting with. Different? Rachmaninoff Elegie Op.3, Barber Sonata cello & piano Cmin and Shostakovitch Sonata cello & piano Dmin. Yes, different, although they did encore with a more sedate Schubert Serenade. I loved it all. A strong, youthful and loud performance from Luke Severn and mostly from memory and a mature and relatively quiet performance from Elyanne Laussade on Steinway. When is a Steinway quiet? Was it a mark of Luke’s volume? But I was up close, second row. The Barber surprised and pleased me. I only know the common Barber which is attractive, but this one was more daring, more modern and yet hinted at those beautiful melodies (one phrase somewhere was almost identical) and based on a series of odd intervals on 2-3 of the bar if I remember correctly. Interestingly, the Shostakovitch was written just 2 years before, but in different countries. They are different. Shostakovitch was just fabulous, virtuoisic, fast or slow, bombarding or lento. And I felt more modern-comfortable with the harmonic movement in Shostakovitch; Barber seemed a bit less comfy to my ears. Great, challenging modern music (well, 100 years old now) and a change from Bach and Vivaldi (despite their comfy genius) and some players who did it justice. Fabulous and challenging.

Luke Severn (cello) and Elyanne Laussade (piano) performed Rachmaninoff, Barber, Shostakovitch and Schubert at the Wendouree Centre for Performing Arts.

19 January 2018


I’m learning about pope organs. For instance, there are 44 in Canberra (!), mostly in churches, but also in 3 private residences. Also, that there are homeless organs ad they get moved. It’s obvious, really that these loved, artisan instruments are valued by their (mostly) congregations. This concert was in a local town, Creswick, at St John’s Anglican Church, a lovely old bluestone construction from the time of the gold rushes. The organ was another Fincham & Hodbay (1989) which had been gifted by the Barkly Street Uniting Church when they sold the premises. The move was in 2015 so the setup is recent. It fully mechanical and unusually the mechanism is visible from the organ loft. Unlike St Pat’s low tuning (well below A=440), this organ is slightly sharp (~A=444). It seems that all mechanical organs are somewhat varied in pitch. Understandable, as they are clearly a mammoth job to tune. Christopher Trikilis is a Melbourne-based organist. He performed a lovely set by Vivaldi arr. Bach, Lemmens, Bach, Zipoli, Mendelsshohn, Bajamonti, Wesley and Dubois. I expect the organ has its own collection of composers. He played wonderfully, with clear enunciation and steady timing and informative chatter. There was some inevitably noisy footwork but this organ is fully mechanical and we were sitting right under the pedals. We learnt of Italian organs having no pedals, thus the Alberti bass: an arpeggiated obligato pattern moving through chords and inversions (1-3-5-3, etc). And CT was playing with a camera that projected on a crean up front, so we watched his hands and he’d nod to applause. Fun. A lovely concert with great organ and touching venue.

Christopher Trikilis (organ) played at St John’s Anglican Church, Creswick. And to learn more of pipe organs in Australia, visit Organ Historical Trust of Australia.

  • Organ Historical Trust of Australia
  • 18 January 2018

    Keeping the record

    Just a quick mention of Kym Wilson. Kym is over from Adelaide to record the full Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields festival. He’s originally from Canberra and started recording under Annabel Wheeler at ArtSound. I’ve run into him previously here and also in Adelaide at a concert. Nice to see his approach, using a few different Rode and AKG layouts. Enough of that: chatter of mics are just recorders’ porn. Cheers to Kym.

    Kym Wilson (audio) recorded the Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields Festival.

    17 January 2018

    Romantic comedy

    Are all operas romantic comedies? Maybe it’s the Italian blood in them, for most of the arias in this concert were by Rossini or Verdi or Puccini. Just a few from Bizet and Mozart, but they were pretty much in the mould. Why not? Romantic comedies are popular and opera was a popular form in its time. Before TV and movies. The singing was good and there was that stylised acting and we were mostly told of the background so we could appreciate the heroine’s dilemma or the cad’s cad-ness, but I still couldn’t catch much of the language. Such is this singing. I went out singing the final pop-aria to myself and it is seriously catchy (Libiamo ne' lieti calici [La Traviata] / Verdi). Operas aren’t my thing, and more so those collections of best-of arias so I’ll leave it at that. For those who obviously enjoy it, I’m sure the quality was there and the pleasure too.

    Olivia Cranwell (soprano), Carlos E Barcenas (tenor), Stephen Marsh (baritone) and Phoebe Briggs (piano) from Victorian Opera performed arias.

    16 January 2018

    Strange view

    So it is when you attend an organ concert in a church. In concert halls they are up the front, but in churches, the organs are usually up the back, over the entrance, and the pews face forward. It’s a good opportunity to listen, and I saw some closed eyes for this concert, but also perchance to dream. This was New Zealander Martin Setchell playing the George Fincham & Sons, built 1930 with tubular, pneumatic action. It’s highly regarded. MS introduced his works, a Bach prelude, an air and gavotte by Samuel Wesley, Elgar Pomp & Circumstance no.4, a fountain reverie and four more works in the form of a symphony, but by four composers. An interesting caprice. This was a large organ, ably filling this huge space, varying though all manner of gentle tones through to the grand, deep pitches. I tested with some apps. The low notes seemed to be ~50Hz and the pitch was well below A=440. But that’s just tech. I feel there’s an artefact in organs with slow formation, especially of low notes. I guess it’s the nature of moving that air. But how satisfying is a big tone, the deep notes and the high floating tones ad what’s this festival without it.

    Martin Setchell (organ) performed in St Patrick’s.

    15 January 2018

    Way back

    Well, it’s only really a century or so before the classics but it felt like forever. The program was called Echoes of the Celts and the band was La Compania. They are a Melbourne-based group playing early (pronounced er-lie?) music with sackbuts and viole da gamba and cornetti and the like and with a singer who was at home with gaelic. To my ears, this was music to drink by. I could only think of such a band in a field or a tavern with ales and meads and dancing women lifting heavy skirts. And another thought: love songs are forever, not surprisingly going with those dances in taverns. Just about every song was a love song, and mostly by women A later one was a tender song from a grandmother to her long-time spouse and otherwise they were of young love lost or sought. Just one was a political song opposing the Brits and there were a few instrumentals. I enjoyed the sackbut, the early trombone that played the bass line, and the pairing of the violin and cornetto, in unison or swapping lines. And the thuds of percussion and the accompaniment from early guitars or harp or lute and viola da gamba. And singer Lotte Betts-Dean was a standout. I guess she was soprano (ah, the program says mezzo) but I didn’t take much notice of that. This singing was different. Fast as, so even when I could read the lyrics they were tough to hear, but then there was the gaelic and its odd sounds that I could seldom read against the text. They were a bit dour, for the style, but the location was hardly a pub so to some degree that’s expected. But this was a revelation and an unexpected pleasure.

    La Compania are Lotte Betts-Dean (mezzo-sprano), Danny Lucin (cornetto, director), Lizzy Walsh (baroque fiddle), Glenn Bardwell (sackbut), Victoria Watts (viola da gamba), Rosemary Hodgson (baroque guitar, lute, harp), Denis Close (guitarino, bodhran, frame drums), Christine Baker (bodhran, bones, frame drums).

    14 January 2018

    The core

    This was a mid afternoon concert at Wendouree Centre for Performing Arts. A generous and impressive place for a school hall, but this apparently belongs to the Ballarat Grammar (the headmaster was thanked for providing it). This was the core of the classical repertoire: three sonatas, two by Beethoven (no.5 Fmaj “Spring” and no.1 Dmaj), one by Brahms (no.2 Amaj). And the players were superb. Monica Curro, an assistant principal at the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Stefan Cassomenos. SC had played the previous night for the opening concert. Here the piano was a generous Steinway and we were close up. I fell in love with the close spelling of the tune the shared sense of dynamics and phrasing, the frequent delicacy of the violin and the strength and forcefulness of the piano. Just superb renditions, informed and reasoned and most importantly shared. These two play together in a modern group, Plexus, and this was not that, but their mutual understanding showed. SC would often look up to MC awaiting a lead; MC was oddly positioned to not easily look to SC, but it all worked. Truly, a great treat! How the classics should be played.

    Monica Curro (violin) and Stefan Cassomenos (piano) played Beethoven and Brahms sonatas.

    13 January 2018


    This place was called Snake Valley and the concert was in a lovely old Uniting Church (built Presbyterian, 1861) in a field behind trees on the country road. The feature was a Fincham and Hobday organ. You get to know these names at this event. They were makers in Melbourne and this one dates from 1894. Some problems that appeared during the first up Bach were presumably remedied for the rest of the concert, but this is the nature of such a beast. I expect funds are tight for maintenance. The players were Anthony Halliday and Tomomi Kondo Brennan. AH plays organs around the world, not least in London and Leipzig, and has appeared here before. TKM has a history on violin from Japan through Canada and is now an associate principal with Orchestra Victoria. OV is the Melbourne-based orchestra supporting the Australian Ballet and Opera. So no slouches. The music was a mix of solo organ and duets from Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Haydn, Elgar, Mozart and Widor and Vitali. There were some tech hitches with the Bach but we could still enjoy the variations in tone and power that pipe organ can display, and some very capable playing of multiple parts. The duets featured the violin, with the organ surprisingly reticent when accompanying but also when taking a phrase. Perhaps the tech issue or perhaps AH’s artistic judgement. I much enjoyed TKM’s bowing as a class in itself, being close up, especially some very effective and even slurs and bouncing passages. Lovely ll round.

    Anthony Halliday (organ) and Tomomi Kondo Brennan (violin) performed at the Uniting Church Snake Valley for the Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields Festival.

    12 January 2018


    First up was the opening concert at St Patrick’s Cathedral (huge and impressive and reaching for the stars and bedecked with ribbons). The Gloriana Chamber Choir performed with Carlos E Barcenas and Stefan Cassomenos and Argentinian percussion. They started hidden in the choir stalls with chant, unison, high and female, then a second piece of chant, this time in harmony, with mediaeval-like drums accompaniment and a slow walk to the altar. Nice. I liked this one. Then Ariel Ramirez Missa Criolla. It’s a setting of the mass in post-Vatican II non-Latin with accompaniment of South American folk idioms and indigenous instruments. I found this is bit unsatisfying for its harmonies, but others claimed this as their piece for the night. My fave for the night was two movements (3,4) form Joby Talbot Path of miracles, telling of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. It was sung mostly in English but with some Latin, accompanied by various percussion instruments, using frequent obbligato passages and the like. My favourite for the night. Very nicely sung by the Gloriana Choir, a very strong tenor voice from Carlos and some very decent accompaniment.

    Gloriana Chamber Choir was led by Andrew Raiskums (conductor) with Carlos E Barcenas (tenor), Stefan Cassomenos (piano), David Richardson and Ben Smart (Argentinian percussion).

    11 January 2018


    We’re into 2018 and CJ returns but not to Canberra. We are in Ballarat to look after a friend’s house and dogs. Ballarat is a stunningly beautiful town, perhaps with the dark underside so common with wealth and beauty, or past wealth and beauty. Its buildings certainly display past wealth even if there seem to be plenty of discount stores amongst the impressive stone of the golden past. It was, for 2 years, the richest metropolitan area in the world but that’s ~150 years ago now. And the dark side we’ve been hearing of through a Royal Commission. The fence and gates outside the Catholic cathedral had been festooned with ribbons. I’m told they were taken down by the church at the end of the RC but they reappeared within days. More dark side maybe, and not particularly hidden. It’s heartening that some are not for forgetting even in this era of forgetfulness. To bide our time, we are attending the Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields festival, so expect a string of (short) reports on various classical and related concerts around the area, many featuring local pipe organs. Ballarat is rich in them (18 in Ballarat and lots more around the area). Just more remainders from the era of wealth.

    31 December 2017

    End year

    Tilt is not playing for NY Eve so this is end year for us. We played the Tradies again and I expected a quiet night, given the date between Christmas and New Year and Canberrans being down the coast and all, but there was audience. And we were graced by a friend who was over from Belgium, Alysa Ingles. I've known Alysa in Canberra as a friend of one son. She's now in Belgium studying but back for a family visit. She sings in Belgium with a band of professionals. My impression is their repertoire is the pop/gypsy-jazz. We worked out a few keys and played half a dozen songs, standards like Honeysuckle rose, All of me and Bluesette and she did a great job, nice voice and aware enough to deal with odd entries and the like. Well done and thanks to Alysa. Always nice to play with a singer. The audience loves it and our roles become just that little bit more relaxed and complementary. Otherwise, it was our repertoire of modern jazz, hard bop and a few standards.

    Tilt played with Alysa Ingles at Dickson Tradies. Tilt are James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Dave McDade (drums).

    28 December 2017

    A maturing project

    I've been watching Charis' new choir for a year or so now. It's only in 2016 that I Progetti appeared. Charis had been with SCUNA in my awareness, but this was her new project. Projects, perhaps? I Progetti is a small chamber choir, working alone or with others, with unfamiliar choral repertoire. I imagine a repertoire from the Renaissance or thereabouts, but they also sing new material, not least by one of their singers, bassist Mark Chapman. Touche! I love performance and perfection, but it's also nice to see some creation beyond interpretation or improvisation. I've been feeling that recently, noting various indie musos who write music rather than just perform it. But back to this performance. It was free, days before Christmas, in the lovely space of the NPG foyer with its high roof and timber and acoustics. Other than Mark's composition (called Welcome Yule!) it was C16-C17 with a touch of C18. Think Josquin des Pres, Monteverdi, Purcell, Praetorius and a string of more obscure names. But so nicely done! These voices really did sit well together with three per SATB section. The basses were rich and sonorous, the sopranos reaching into the sky, the altos spelling those balancing harmonies and the tenors firm and incisive. I was particularly struck by some lofty soprano singing in the audience participation at the end. We were all invited to sing Ding dong merrily on high and Hark the Herald angels sing. This is Chrissie after all, and the joy was shared. Such a lovely, artful performance complete with audience involvement. How could you not love it!

    I Progetti is Charis Messalina de Valance (director), Deirdre Clink and Ngaire Breen (sopranos), Mary Harwood, Mary Woodhouse and Susannah Bishop (altos), Alex Moruya, Paul Francis, Steven Harris and Tristan Struve (tenors) and Mark Chapman, Peter de Vries, Phill Grant and Steven Strach (basses). Anthony Smith (chamber organ) provided accompaniment.

    24 December 2017

    Very very real

    I remember being taken by some super realist paintings at the Contemporary Arts Centre in Adelaide over 30 years ago. So now we have hyper reality and it's largely sculptural and it's on display at the National Gallery. I admire the skills of the detailed paintings and sculptures but there are some that leave me cold. There were some like that in this exhibition, even if I marvelled at the accuracy and the skin details and tone, often seemingly coloured and covered with make-up. Maybe they weren't but many looked that way. But the issue with these works is, do they say anything? There were some that were truly beautiful and realistic but also told stories of people and love and life. Like the huge naked man and equally large (in both height and belly) naked pregnant woman. And one devastatingly beautiful and touching grandmother holding baby. That was below life size but big in tranquility and love. There were a series of naked women, not least one series clinically exposed. Well, I'm a bloke and I can appreciate women's bodies but it's all over the Net and I wonder just what this was saying. That one didn't say much to me but a lovely intertwined, life-sized older couple in the corner spoke volumes. Megan joked "that's us" and we're not so far off. Then the next room had wheelchairs with old men of different dress motoring independently. We could walk through these: another example of self-drive vehicles. Patricia Puccinini (of the ACT's memorably odd hot air balloon) was represented with several life-like but unearthly creatures that drew unexpected compassion. I feel she's got a good heart. An early room was mostly detailed but obvious people-copies. A final room seemed more of cartoons or fantasy. Of those, I most enjoyed the challenges of modulating people (liminal?) moving from one state to another. And to end it all, a large theatre in the round and a fascinating, bewildering film of animals and people in various forms and roles - beautiful, detailed, oddly contrasted - from seven projectors with classical musical accompaniment. There was a little more, but these were key. I'm taken by the technique but also yearn for a purpose. To me, some had it and some less so.

    Hyper Real was an exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia.

  • Hyper Real @ NGA
  • 22 December 2017

    White papers and the changing world

    It's a few weeks back and out of order but still relevant. The recent Foreign Affairs White Paper has the Canberra corridors aflutter. None less than those of Hugh White. He's a renowned local defence/foreign affairs person and has written a string of works on the matter. He mentioned his Powershift and China choice in his talk and recognised they were both somewhat incorrect or dated in their own ways. The latest is his Quarterly essay, Without America : Australia in the new Asia. He launched it at ANU and we were there. First up, he presented this graph (fig 2.4, GDP estimates to 2030, p.26) and commented that it's in the recent Foreign Policy White paper* but not mentioned in the text, but it's an essence of his argument. By 2030 (Treasury reckoning) China will have 2x the GDP of the US (China $42.4t vs. US $24t). Given China's unexpectedly quick growth, its deep resolve against US's weak resolve and its artful use of power, he argues the US will withdraw from Asia and leave primacy to China. Look at the collapse of influence of the US after debacles in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and now Trump's "bizarre disfunction" and America's "collapsing statecraft". But as they say, follow the money. How quick and what evidence? White says it's already the most likely outcome, despite the fantasies of Fukuyama (The End of History and the Last Man / Francis Fukuyama, 1992) or perhaps because of their acceptance. But the big problem is that a US hegemon remains at the heart of Australia's recent White Paper. Our debate is failing, due to credulity, poor quality of policy and failed political leadership. The APS lacks creative intelligence. Our defence is building "a really dumb force in an unbelievably stupid way ... we could not get it more wrong". We should consider self-reliance (costing perhaps 4% GDP vs. 2.5% today, and maybe nuclear (+1%). China may behave as a hegemon, but we don't yet; India and China may agree to leave each others' regions alone (they are separated by the Himalayas which are impenetrable to military force); China uses it culture of soft power (not alone there!). Just a few snippets of a fascinating and concerning talk with implications that seem unconsidered by Government. You'd expect no less with our politics these days. To read more, there were tons of articles around about the issue a few weeks back and the Quarterly essay is available now (Without America : Australia in the new Asia / Hugh White [Quarterly essay 68, 2017]).

    Hugh White launched his latest Quarterly essay at ANU.

  • * 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper / Australia
  • 20 December 2017


    No, not so simple. This is ANU and there are good minds with plenty of knowledge and thought, so the questions were more defined: "Is the Earth special" was the title of the session and it was translated into two subsessions, each of three experts, on "Is our planet special" and "Is life on Earth special". And this melange of differing specialisations was moderated by a fairly immoderate and amusing local researcher, Charley Lineweaver. (As a side issue, it seems Charley appears fortnightly on ABC radio, but I've never heard him: I assume he's on local radio ABC666). This was a family event, so questions invited from U15s early on, and they asked some decent questions, but otherwise, it developed into an adult event.

    The first part was Jessie Christiansen of NASA, an ANU graduate who watched films in this very theatre (ANU Film Group in HC Coombs Theatre). She outlined the frequency of planets found by the Kepler mission, a NASA satellite that uses transit techniques to find planets. Suffice to say they've found tons of them, of different sizes and in different system configurations. (Very different from when my Canberra Astronomy Society team at Stromlo found extra-solar planet no.9). There are limitations on what can be observed, and our Earth would not be found from afar with current technology, but there are lots. Second up was Daniel Fabrycky of Univ of Chicago who spoke of planetary systems, basically identifying how gas giants (they make up ~10% of what we've found) can interfere with standard orbits of rocky planets and even send them off into the galaxy. Daniel presented a glorious Kepler Orrery that displays the natures of known extra-solar systems to date in vigourous colour and movement (see YouTube). Third up was David J Stevenson of CIT (California Inst of Tech), a planetary scientist who threw a curveball arguing that "habitable zone" is a limited concept, essentially a function of our experience, and that all manner of planetary issues (for Earth, he identified water, plate tectonics, magnetic field and large moon) can be of relevance. Basically, given we only have one example of a planet with life, we can't foresee the possibilities.

    Then the biologists. Simonetta Gribaldo of the Institut Pasteur fascinatingly outlined the evolution of life, the three main streams of Eukaryotes and Prokaryotes (comprising archaea and bacteria), their earliest known ancestor, Luca (Last Universal Common Ancestor), their likely prior evolution, their differences in cell structure (basically, they all have ribosomes in cells, but eukaryotes have cellular nuclei and prokaryotes don't). Fascinating! Also something on timelines, the oldest traces of life (~-3.5by), the Great Oxygenation Event (~-2.4by), the arrival of Eukaryotes (~-1.6by), etc. Then Jochen Brocks of ANU with an argument about the rise of algae in more energy-rich environments (~-645my) and the arrival of the Eukaryotes (bigger and requiring more energy). Then a final speaker, philosopher Kim Sterelny of ANU outlining Universal Darwinism: the requirements underlying successful Darwinian evolution.

    So, is our planet or life here special, as Charley Lineweaver kept asking of the experts? Basically, they hedged their bets, essential given we really don't know and we have very limited comparisons (nil). But there are tons of planets out there around tons of stars in the Milky Way; there are all manner of conceivable biological developments that may create life and develop it with the right evolutionary conditions. The numbers are big but so far our knowledge, especially in the biological area, is small. But we can muse on it, moderately intelligently, and they did. An interesting session that introduced me to many new ideas (not least, Luca) and well entertained us. Let's just keep our eyes and ears open.

    Charley Lineweaver (ANU) chaired a session on the likelihood of extraterrestrial life at ANU. Speakers were Jessie Christiansen (NASA), David J Stevenson (California IT), Daniel Fabrycky (U Chicago), Simonetta Gribaldo (Institut Pasteur), Jochen Brocks (ANU) and Kim Sterelny (ANU).