7 December 2016

Almost the big one

This was the final concert for the 49th year of the Canberra Youth Orchestra. Next year is CYO's 50th anniversary. That makes 1967/68 its founding year, at the height of hippiedom, the Summer of Love, Sgt Pepper's, before the ecstasy of Woodstock and the descent of Altamont. Then disco. And in jazz, Miles' second great quintet and into his electric years, and the death of Coltrane. But the Western classical stream continued and continues. The CYO is a fine ensemble and the musicians excite beyond their almost-tender years. Last night's theme was Brahms, specifically his Symphony no.1 Cmin, as the main work, but accompanied by Chaminade for flute and orchestra with soloist Lily Bryant and Mendelssohn for violin with soloist Donica Tran and Sibelius Finlandia played by unaccompanied brass. The soloists were both hugely impressive and I guess we can expect even more over time. Finlandia is wonderfully evocative and a demanding play for brass alone, not least standing as they did (especially for the heavy metal tuba), but they did it well and it rings so nicely for brass. The Brahms was big, four movements, complex, sometimes innocent and delicate, other-times lyrical and mellifluous (I borrow some descriptions from the program), later bold and triumphant. Some eye-wateringly fast bass lines had me chuckling. Congrats to six bassists! This orchestra is a great training device but more than that, a huge pleasure to hear and follow. And a great buy to boot: get your generously cheap season tickets soon. 2017 features Idea of North, Claire Edwardes and Gabi Sultana, a concerto competition winner and James Morrison. Sounds like some jazz-age partying will seep into the CYO half-century celebrations.

Canberra Youth Orchestra played Chaminade, Sibelius, Mendelssohn and Brahms at Llewellyn Hall under Leonard Weiss (conductor) with soloists Lily Bryant (flute) and Donica Tran (violin).

5 December 2016


It's funny to think that I cut my middle finger, left hand, cutting a tomato for lunch, and I got through the NCO concerto concert with a bandage. It wasn't so bad (not bad at all) but it's a fear of musicians. I've heard tell of musicians' hands insured for millions; apocryphal, perhaps, and worthy of some amusement. This was the National Capital Orchestra's Concerto Concert. It's an annual end-of-year event where members take the limelight to play movements of concertos or perhaps take the stand as conductor. This time, the concertos were an interesting bunch: for two violas (Prot), for four horns (Schumann) and one more common, for flute (Mozart). Also a few songs from G&S and Verdi and a devilishly difficult piece, Liszt Les preludes, and a famous unfinished symphony (Schubert). It was a varied mixtape of music with plenty of challenges. That's how I like it. As expected, we cut the Liszt better than ever before ("she'll be right on the night") but still not perfectly. That must be a common refrain. The Mozart and Prot sat with nice classical order, so much so that we played the Mozart without conductor, in chamber style. Kaitlin was lovely in the arias and hit plenty of high notes. The four horns fascinated me with their volume and smooth interactions. Interesting to see the ear plugs out in the front rows that took the full force of the horns. (I wished for earplugs for the percussion to finish Liszt: it was ecstatically loud and close behind me). Then to end, Schubert's Unfinished symphony, simple lines but quite compelling. To end my first year with the NCO. I feel blessed. These guys can really cut it.

National Capital Orchestra played its end-of-year Concerto concert at John Lingard Hall at Canberra Grammar School. Composers were Liszt, Prot, Mozart, G&S, Verdi, Schumann and Schubert. Conductors were Leonard Weiss and Christian Renglii. Soloists were Alex Kunzelmann and Suzanna Powell (violas), John Smiles (flute), Kaitlin Nihill (soprano) and Angela Liu, Dianne Tan, Anne-Marie Siiteri and Iain Hercus (horns).

3 December 2016

Here be intellect

These are people I've heard a million times (or thereabouts) but even still it can be magical. Ambassador and bassist Jean-Luc had gathered John Mackey, Greg Stott and Mark Sutton to feature at a charity gig for Fijian schools. It was held in a relatively bush-like area of the Belgian Embassy gardens. ArtSound provided sound. Attendees were not huge but close and appreciative. Thanks also to donations from a few supporters and refreshments from Stella Artois and Tasmanian Ninth Island winery. I was in front of John, seemingly hearing every nuance from the bell of his tenor and following his uber-developed sense of melody. All the factors were there: time, form, harmony, substitution, extensions. It's in the book of jazz improv but it's a special pleasure to hear it unfolding in real time in real life. There's emotion of course, but not without immense intellect. On that score, I was disappointed to read the recent report on the ANU School of Music fiasco where I found jazz lumped somewhere with rock/pop as a lesser art relative to classical. Jazz is nowhere near a lesser art given its demands for theory and technical and emotional skills to improvise in real time while responding to others. But back to the pleasure of hearing this sophistication at close quarters. The clear sound from playing in the open helped. The notes that started or featured in a phrase, the lightly flashed fills, the sixteenth note run that fell endlessly, the scales of various colours, perhaps interrupted by quizzically repeated notes. All immensely satisfying in its exploration and interplay. And a solid band behind. John mentioned later how he often prefers his companions to hold when he goes out. Greg, Jean-Luc and Mark could do that. Mark might be more playful at times, kicking or snapping an accent or two. J-L played his walks and latins with consistency and skills that surprised me, given this is now a hobby for an otherwise busy ambassador and father. But his training shows. And Greg, playing a George Benson model semi-acoustic, simple, crisp toned and unaffected melody with lovely chordal fills and accompaniment. Understated but so pretty and so correct. They played a few of the most obvious standards - Cantaloupe, Softly, All the things, Blue bossa, Stella and the like - but these were anything but ordinary in their hands. Just a grand pleasure of the highest sophistication. Then the Telopea Jazz Band. This is a school band, but I chuckled when someone said "they don't make school bands like they used to". I think that was after Weather Report's Birdland. Birdland? This is demanding music and they pulled it off well. Some Motown, some jazz charts. Lots of kids playing surprisingly well. Again, Birdland, school band? Wow.

John Mackey (tenor), Greg Stott (guitar), Jean-Luc Bodson (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) played for an "Adopt a School" Fiji fundraiser at the Belgian Embassy. Telopea Jazz Band followed.

1 December 2016


Jeremy Leggett gave the Solar Oration 2016 at the ANU. I've not felt a lot of hope around climate change for a while, what with our politics and Trump and the rest, but I do read there is some: we perhaps have a year or four to turn things around; Paris succeeded and change is "irreversible"; business is coming around and technology is changing rapidly. A few stubborn outbursts still arise, and one was raised in questions: apparently Matt Canavan (LNP, Senator, Qld, Minister for Resources) had that very day extolled coal in the Senate. But even some of those who recognise the science, have some hope. (Only some ... quite a few don't). But I understand, if you give up you have definitely lost, so hope is needed. JL provided some hope in this talk. He spoke of his background, then of the global perspective, under three themes: global society awakening to the threat of climate change; insurgencies disrupting energy incumbencies fast; incumbencies facing multiple threats. His personal story was early years in oil research and exploration (not all geologists and oil-people are denialists), then environmental campaigning with Greenpeace in the 1990's, then social entrepreneurship with Solar Century and a few books amongst this (his latest was the basis of this talk and is available for free download from his site). He further split his talk into ~13 topics, around governments getting serious, public action, regulator activities, divestment and capital, legal actions, prices, batteries and electrical vehicles, efficiencies, role of data, development, utility death spiral ("coal in terminal decline"), oil/gas/nuclear debts, shale boom busted. There were some nice facts: the average age of oil industry staff is 49 (so soon for retirement); solar PV, battery and electric vehicle should have payback of 7.6 years in 2020 without subsidies (ROI 7.3%); little money is yet made in Green tech; Bloomberg: solar/wind to win cost war by 2020; solar lighting (now costing $5) replaces kero in Africa with $70pa saving; the climate wars are an "epic drama"; 4 US cities are already on 100% renewable power; legal actions against VW, Netherlands legislation and Exon-Mobil; solar has been bid at $24/MWh; some buses in Geneva can flash recharge in 15 sec (did I get that right?); carbon industry debts are rising and unsustainable. Not sure I caught all those correctly, so read the book. But regardless of the positives, "we are in a race against time ... desperate" and at least Paris has "given future generations a fighting chance" (Obama to US Delegation to Paris COP; not sure of precise quote). There were questions. Canavan got that mention above; militaries are not included under Paris, but none-the-less US military is active on reducing carbon; biological fuels; capture of carbon already in the atmosphere ("there's hope but..."); marine and aviation; behaviour change ("we won't shop our way out of these problems"); deniers respond to evidence by going to the bunker; leakage from coal seam gas mining; transition ("none of this happens overnight"; need for a "structured retreat"). And threats (was it HSBC who predicted a possible Oil crash 2013?), but predictions are only perfect in retrospective. In the meantime, there's a G20 Financial Stability Board Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures due end-Dec 2016: keep a watch for this! Lots of ideas and news and some hope, I guess.

Jeremy Leggett gave the Carbon Oration 2016 at ANU.

29 November 2016


I didn't actually sing at the Harmonia Monday open day concert, but there were times I wanted to. I usually sing with this group. They are guided and conducted by Shiela Thompson and Oliver Raymond, both well experienced local singers. They were, today, accompanied by Jenny Kain and Lucus Allerton, even playing together in one series of pieces, selections from Brahms Liebeslieder waltzes, that required four hands. The program was broad. I like the fact that this is SATB, harmony singing, of works by major composers from Palestrina to extant. There's a lot for me to learn and this is my vocal vehicle. This program included Haydn, Brahms, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Schubert, Elgar and Copland as well as a few arranged traditional pieces. My favourites were Schubert, Holst, Copland and Shenandoah, a famed American folk song, here arranged by Luke Jakobs. These songs settled best with the harmonies that were clearer and time that was more easy. I itched to sing a few lines, I found some harmonies and seached for the tenor lines, although there were few tenors and they are easily overwhelmed in practice. Like most choirs I hear of, tenors - and men generally - are in short supply. But there's a love of the music and some interesting challenges here. Nice one; I'll be back for more practice in the new year.

The Harmonia Monday Choral Studies group performed its end-of-term open house concert. Shiela Thompson and Oliver Raymond (conductors) variously directed and by Jenny Kain and Lucus Allerton (piano) variously accompanied.

27 November 2016


Vespers are an evening sung prayer ritual in the various Christian denominations. We attended a lovely one with soprano and organ at a Lutheran church in Hamburg so I was interested to hear the Canberra version at our St Christopher's (Catholic) Cathedral. This was quite different: Catholic rites (not sure what difference this made); mixed choral; in English. The English removed a certain mystical, otherworldly presence that the German had to my ears, and the architecture in Manuka is lacking age (as was the internal architecture of the Hamburg church which was rebuilt after the destruction of WW2). But they were similar in musical style (as I remember). I guess this is plainsong, if not religiously correct (excuse the pun). The music in Canberra was written on staves, mostly with treble clef and sometimes with a key signature and there was occasional (small, electronic) organ accompaniment and even some harmony singing on a few numbers, but time was not indicated on the lines to be sung. I enjoyed sitting in where invited by the text, and it's linear, scalar melody with just occasional intervals of thirds or fourths and some slurred intervals, so easy enough to read, and no harmonies to find with everyone singing the same line with you. So, perhaps the English version is less ethereal (at least to our ears) but there's history and calm devotion and nice singing and a good opportunity to sing along, so I enjoyed this one.

Vespers are sung monthly at St Christopher's Catholic Cathedral, Manuka. This was the last for 2016: see the website for future dates.

25 November 2016

Havana to Buenos Aires

The concert was called Dancing through the seasons. The dancing was Habanera (meaning from Havana, Cuba) and tango, a double time with dotted first beat, developed from the European Contradanse and the local black African influences. Tango was a further development, and Piazzolla is probably its greatest exponent. So, various combinations of piano, flute and cello playing Habaneras and Tangos, and so nicely played. The music was infectious from the first notes. Emily opened with two piano solo pieces, and I could feel the incipient thrills from the very first note, followed by those understated but necessarily precise followers. First up, Bizet with his Habanera form Carmen. Everyone knows it. I loved how she played with a wonderful stolidity. Stolid is a frequent pejorative, but not here. This stolid wrung passion and dignified despair in firm and determined emotions. Lovely. Then Albeniz Tango in D. Another pop tango hit: relatively playful and pensive rather than emotive. Fiona came for Ravel Piece en forme de Habanera, a more complex piece with a modernist lilt and pastoral reflection. Then the major work, Piazzolla Four seasons of Buenos Aires. These are four pieces brought together as one wokr by arranger and friend Jose Bragato. I'm seldom clear in matching the outside world to music and this is not much different, but nonetheless this music is a huge pleasure. Four seasons, starting with Summer, all sudden changes and clearly repeating chords and enigmatic melodies and dense passion and that underlying tango groove (even if the frequent changes make dancing implausible). I've heard Buenos Aires' Maria and seasons and various other Piazzolla and I can only hear it as a massive seduction for the city. Seduction: that seems right for the tango and habanera. This concert was that, in performance and surely in the music. A great pleasure.

Fiona Dickson (flute), Katherine Wilkinson (cello) and Emily Buckley (piano) performed habaneras and tangos of Bizet, Albeniz, Ravel and Piazzolla at Wesley.

24 November 2016


Another COP has come and gone and Trump* is threatening Paris from NYC and the world keeps beating heat records and the deniers deny and the scientist warn and the politicians politicise and it all continues as it always has. Until it does no more. That's the threat of climate change: that it all continues until the window for action if passed and things really change. For the worse. We've been warned. Some suggest Paris was the big change: certainly Kyoto wasn't. There are signs of change, even that action is "irreversible" (we were told this word is now included in official documentation), but the big issue is just how quickly that change happens and whether it's quick enough. There was elation after Paris but some wariness amongst presenters at "A postcard from Marrakech: Implementing the Paris Climate Agreement". This event was a report on COP22, convened, or at least hosted, by the EU Delegation to Australia and the ANU Climate Change Institute. It was a sister event to one after Paris COP21 (also reported by CJ) and I guess we can expect another after next year's COP chaired by PNG and held in Bonn. We were told this COP the "new normal for COPs", more on development rather than decisions, working on the "Rule Book" (no doubt essential but not exciting). The Trump election happened during the sessions and the world changed, but the process is "irreversible", even if the US only comes to it pushed and shoved; also during the sessions, the Paris Treaty was ratified (very positively in 1 year; Kyoto took 7 years); also International Civil aviation made decisions on carbon offsets and the Montreal Protocol agreed to reduce HFC (greenhouse gases but outside Paris); but also a new Potsdam Institute report of climate sensitivities suggested we are tracking higher than previously thought, on track for 4-7degC (!). At least with the "new normal" we are "over the worst of the politics". Other observations: business and non-staters are now central to action; technology is changing unexpectedly rapidly (with implications not least for coal); equity remains an issue (the industrialised countries created the bulk of the problem) but the Adaption Fund and developing country actions are looking better (India and China are sounding good on climate change - immensely better than coal-munching Australia); developing countries need to adapt more than mitigate and South-South networks are developing to support adaption; thermal coal is looking on a steep decline, although metallurgical coal remains an issue; military carbon is exempted from reporting, but interestingly the US Military is progressing very well; business adaption is "quite astonishing" given new tech and awareness that action is now for real; "blue carbon" is carbon in the sea, and it's important and now being considered. Nice to hear our Australian delegation described as "responsive, pragmatic, helpful". I don't find it hard to conceive of our bureaucrats as that, or even our political reps (Julie Bishop and Josh Frydenberg) who are probably at the forefront of a disappointing government. Politics is more difficult than we outsiders allow for: I just hope there's a secret plan to restore sense to this issue in Australia (perhaps that's the Climate Review 2017?). The central theme remained, reasserted several times during the night: there's "no argument change is needed, but how quickly action will happen", or we've "got to go much faster in all directions". But there was one moment of excitement when the Canadian Ambassador outlined actions under Trudeau: introduction of carbon pricing; invitations to scientists to educate Premiers and public; increased transfers to poorer nations; commitment to eliminate coal by 2030; but the biggest, Trudeau's leadership in promoting climate change as the "greatest challenge and greatest opportunity". A breath of fresh air for tired Australian ears. We spoke to the Ambassador after and this doesn't happen overnight, but there's obvious leadership (happily informed by evidence, strange that...). We also spoke to our Australian rep at the event, Jo Evans of Climate Change and Renewable Innovations. She invited our submissions to the review in 2017 and listened to my despair. That couldn't have been easy so thanks to Jo.

A postcard from Marrakech : Implementing the Paris Climate Agreement was hosted by the EU Delegation to Australia and the ANU Climate Change Institute at the ANU. Speakers included academics Howard Bamsey, Luke Kemp, Hannah Barrowman and Richard Baker, diplomats Paul Maddison, Sem Fabrizi, Karim Medrek and Charles Lepam, local bureaucrat Jo Evans and journalist Angela McDonald (presented with an award at the event).

*As I write this, I read one of his functionaries is saying Trump will strip funding from NASA's Earth Science division in favour of solar system exploration. Flying blind. God help us. [ Trump to scrap Nasa climate research in crackdown on "politicised science" / Oliver Milman. In The Guardian Australia, online, viewed 23 Nov 2016. ]

23 November 2016

The eternal glory of JS

This being the run-up to Christmas, these were for Advent and again we were regaled with a generous program of four Bach cantatas. It was Andrew Koll's return with his rebirthed Canberra Bach Ensemble and it was several hours of great beauty and order and often of spine-chilling thrills. I can only hear the choral segments as a thrill, especially at the end of a cantatas, after the more subdued recitatives and arias. For when the chorus releases, all hell breaks loose. No, that's certainly the wrong metaphor, for Bach composed for the glory of God and these are clearly and transparently glorious, as well as gorgeous. I don't bother to follow the text (sung in German with an English translation). Perhaps I should. Just once I did, when soprano Emma and bass Andrew were singing to each other with quizzical smiles. I discovered he was Jesus and she was the Soul and they were pledging that their love would never part and committing to graze together amongst the roses of Heaven. Apparently, this cantata associates with a Gospel reading (Matthew 25:1-13) of virgins awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom. These are celebrating a central Christian feast, after all, and it is of a different era, even if the music doesn't sound out of place for modern ears. But I just listened. Enjoying the interplay of solo voices, the engulfing chorus parts, the structure and counterpoint of instruments with their ever-forward baroque motion. And it all sat so well. Andrew has drawn together a wonderful cast of performers so there was so little to query. I loved that double act of soprano and bass towards the end of the performance. I admired Leanne's busy violins and Dave's excellent bass part, sometimes doubled by Kristen on bassoon or Anthony on organ or Gillian and Clara on cello. I enjoyed the solo arias but especially the sparse, spacious recitatives, where story is told with minimal orchestration, just one or two instruments, continuo organ with cello or perhaps violin. And the choir of 27, occasionally featuring the tenors alone, or a soloist who walked out front for a role. They performed four cantatas, BWV 61,36,62 and 140. Someone commented that a concert of one composer is to be preferred. I'm not sure (I don't mind Beethoven with Mozart or even Glass). But this was just Bach and it was wonderful. Congrats to Andrew for a successful outing and for the renewed CBE. A great pleasure to be enveloped in several hours of such glory.

Andrew Koll (musical director) conducted the Canberra Bach Ensemble playing four Bach advent cantatas at St Christopher's Cathedral. Leanne Bear (violin) led the orchestra. Vocal soloists were Emma Griffiths, Chloe Lankshear and Keren Dalzell (sopranos), Maartje Seventer (alto), Paul Sutton (tenor) and Andrew Fysh (bass).

21 November 2016


I chatted with drummer Ko Omura about the Japanese tea ceremony and I thought later that the dignity and precision that's part of that ritual was also on view in his band's performance at the Band Room. Orbiturtle is an artists' community; this incarnation was a quartet composed of two Australians and two Japanese players, formed out of a visit by Steve and Dave to Japan a few years ago. Piano and alto are Australians; bass and drums are Japanese; both pairs played together regularly before Orbiturtle was formed. In format, it's a standard jazz quartet; in music, it's quite familiar, too, with tunes written by at least three members, but maybe it's that precision that so impressed me. They write some devilishly complicated heads, some of which are contrafactuals - melodies written over pre-existing changes. Ko also write a few tunes, and they were similarly interesting: congrats to a composing drummer. The band featured bassist Yoshio "Chin" Suzuki, veteran of NYC and a string of artists, not least Getz, Rollins, Blakey, Liebman, Konitz: a true jazz veteran. But the band was not onesided. This was seriously satisfying and deliciously carefully played. Steve Barry has a huge ability to design lines and follow through with ever perfect connections: chordal, melodic, arpeggiated, substitutions, extensions, polyrhythms, all there and all melding into an exquisite whole. Dave Jackson played with such a sweet and even tone, soft and supportive in the background or clear and stated in solos, always precise but not pushy, easily playing a simple solo line, then doubling and doubling again for flourishes, but again, carrying ideas through, always in easy control and with consistent tone. Chin sat at back, seemingly understated, but brilliantly melodic solos with lovely turnups to finish lines with clarity and some humour and always interesting walks. Interestingly, Chin is from the Suzuki method family (his uncle, I think) and the Suzuki awareness of musicality was evident. And Ko played richly varied drumming - sticks, brushes, a lovely gong that often finished several tunes - with impeccable underlying time that made this all sit with great poise. So, all round good compositions and impeccably precise and satisfying playing. The tunes were mostly from their recent CD (Sakura, listen on Soundcloud) and all original. Orbiturtle are touring the Eastern states with concerts and workshops.

Orbiturtle comprised Steve Barry (piano), Dave Jackson (alto), Yoshio "Chin" Suzuki (bass) and Ko Omura (drums).

19 November 2016

Aussies can can

The Merry Widow of Bluegum Creek had me thinking of the difference between musicals and opera. I looked it up, and the distinctions were pretty indeterminate: opera is more centred on music, trained voices, traditional; musicals include more dance and acting and use popular musical styles and are always in the language of the audience. All pretty indefinite: I expect some operas were using popular music and stories and singing styles of their days. Given the popularity of the original Merry Widow (Vienna, 1905, as Die lustige Witwe), I expect the distinctions remain unclear. This take of the MW was performed by the Queanbeyan Players at TheQ with a recent Australianised libretto. It's 1901, Australia is just federated and the first Australian Embassy opens in Paris. The newly widowed wife of a mega-rich grazier/industrialist is expected. The PM has instructed that this widow must not marry a Frenchman because the wealth must stay in Australia. An old boyfriend of the widow works in the Embassy and likes the high life: bawdy bars, Maxim's, chorus girls and the like. I won't give away the rest of the story but it's light and fun and includes the can can. Louise Keast was Anna Gladstone, the widow, and she did a fabulous job, with an excellent soprano and some wide-eyed, playful acting. Likewise a string of others with some very impressive voices. It's a big operation, including a small orchestra in the pits and a big cast on stage (professional musicals are seldom so generous: they have to pay). There were various comedy parts (if rather droll) and they went down well. The chorus singing was very good. The feature singers were very impressive. I particularly liked Michelin and the Viscount and Danny and Lady Valerie. In one joke, Michelin knew all the backstreets and Anna offered to fund the publication of a guide when he wrote it. The embassy wives and staff were humourous (not least in a final can can dance); the two real dancers did a nice job; the orchestra too, accompanied and overtured with responsiveness and skill. The music is unchanged from the popular operetta original; just the story and characters and lyrics are changed. This was a fun night with a Aussie theme but opera voices. Well done all.

The Queanbeyan Players presented The Merry Widow of Bluegum Creek at TheQ. Key performers were Louise Keast (Ann Gladstone, the widow), Charles Hudson (ex-boyfriend Danny Macquarie), Robert Grice (Ambassador), Stephanie McAllister (Valerie, the Ambasssador's wife), Matt Greenwood (Michelin) and Kenneth Goodge (the Viscount). Key roles were Peter Smith (director and the Marquis of Cascada), Jennifer Groom (musical director) and Belinda Hassall (choreographer).

17 November 2016


The woodwinds are a select group with their own sounds but I don't often get to hear them arrayed like this. The breathy flutes, the sinuous clarinet and their deep bass clarinet brothers and brooding double-reeded oboes and bassoons. There was piano and horn, too. Was the horns a ringing? It's certianly brass not woodwind, it fit nicely. These were various combinations from the RMC Duntroon Army band playing music of the the Twentieth century. Apparently most woodwind music has been written in the last hundred years, after the development of the instruments as chromatic in all keys. The Clarinet quartet (flute, clarinet, bassoon, oboe) started with Wiberny Ulla in Africa, all African rhythms and jazz/improv-like lines. Then my favourite, Poulenc Sextet for piano and wind quintet (flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, horn). This was a complex piece with feature lines and melodies passed throughout the group through several movements of varied feels and tempos. Great stuff. Then two Ross Edwards pieces, Binyang mimicking birdsong and Interior mimicking the sound of the Australian bush, played by solo clarinet with light percussion. Intriguing and a performance tour-de-force. Then Malcolm Arnold Divertimento played by the Wind Trio (and apparently every other wind trio) - flute, clarinet and usually bassoon, but this time, oboe - and a lovely discovery Alfred Reed Pastorale, a light country lyric on flute with piano accompaniment, and to finish, Canberran Nick Gilbert Creative compounds played by the Reed Quartet (oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon). This was modern, all compound time signatures and seriously satisfying to my ear. So a vary varied program with a range of fascinations and some nicely professional playing. Very nice.

The RMC Band Woodwinds performed at Wesley. They comprised (excuse the missing ranks) Lisa Agnew and Kylie Simpson (flutes), Carl Brumfield (oboe), Matthew O'Keeffe, Jacqui Broomhead, Natalie Dajski, Lenore Evans and Steve Wylks (clarinets), Lizz Affleck (bassoon), Tim McCabe (horn), Sean Henderson (piano) and Dick Cutler (percussion).

14 November 2016


It was a more compact Adhoc Baroque that gathered for their most recent concert. This was at St Paul's. Just four: harpsichord, cello and a singing pair of soprano and mezzo-soprano. The music was no surprise, though: Vivaldi and Scarlatti but also Bononcini, Bellinzani and Geminiani. Not just the music, but also the themes, were those of the time - Dido and Aeneas, Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Ancient and largely forgotten history to our times. The farfalletta (butterfly) is more current, at least as a theme. It was a clever piece by Vivaldi that really did flip about lightly in the wind, as if on the wings of a butterfly. But how dignified and courtly is this music. The recitatives that speak the stories with minimal accompaniment; the even phrasing; the occasional pairing in harmony of the two singers; the frequent dance-like gait. I loved the harmonised vocals when they came, and enjoyed the sometimes face-to-face interaction of singers Maartje and Greta (although we did lose some direct volume when they sang to each other) and the sequenced cello lines in accompaniment with the continuo harpsichord. Mostly these were tunes with singing, either one singer or two, other than Clara playing a cello sonata (Geminiani Dmin op.5 no.2) with Peter's accompaniment. This is lovely music to close eyes to and follow the stately movements. A lovely, dignified set of tunes from one of our best local baroque ensembles.

Adhoc Baroque comprised Greta Claringbould (soprano), Maartje Sevenster (mezzo-soprano), Clara Teniswood (cello) and convenor Peter Young (harpsichord). They performed Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Bononcini, Bellinzani and Geminiani at St Pauls, Manuka.

9 November 2016

Not so brutalist baroque

It's a strange experience to be transported to early baroque with strings and piccolo trumpet while sitting in a superb example of concrete brutalism, but this is the new world and this is our closest to a cathedral ambience in Canberra. It's the foyer of the High Court. Tall, spacious, relatively bare, with applauded acoustics. It's a much valued space for local musicians. Today we heard Limestone Ensemble, with guest Justin Lingard on some pieces, playing Alessandro Stradella, Purcell, Arvo Part, Telemann and CPE Bach. All old other than Arvo Part who is somehow in the tradition. The trumpet was a piccolo somewhere in the area of a baroque trumpet. It's such a pleasure: dignified, certain, sharp and clear but not strident. The accompaniment in the trumpet features was stately, courtly, balanced. All lovely even if outside our common experience (can we describe any modern experiences as courtly?). We no longer dance as this music demands, but it certainly is danceable. Then two chaconnes, a daring Spanish dance in its time, from Purcell. Then the Arvo Part. At least for part of his career, Part was influenced by his studies of mediaeval and Renaissance music, but he also indulged in 12-tone and serialist forms. This was not stately like the other works, but regular triple time with holding crochets, moving through harmonies and passing through phrases with minimalist impassivity. Lovely. Then Telemann. Lauren is the leader of this ensemble and she likes to introduce her music, to speak to the audience. Good on her: it was interesting. She coloured the concert with various snippets on info. Not least, that Telemann was a self-taught composer, but more interestingly, that he's the composer with the most published works despite a fairly short life. How fascinating! (The rub on Alessandro Stradella was more lascivious: that he had attempted to embezzle the Church; that he had affairs with noble women, survived one murder attempt and was finished off by another. Oh, and that he developed the concerto grosso form). Telemann's work was his Trumpet concerto in D major, written in Frankfurt. Again, simple, dignified, gentle. Then to finish, son CPE Bach with a wonderful Sinfonia in A major. I sat back to admire Lauren's bouncing bowing and otherwise the clever bowing by cello and bass to handle some on-off phrasing. A pretty tune very well performed and nowhere near brutalism other than in its performance location.

Limestone Ensemble performed at the High Court. LE was led by Lauren Davis (violin) with guest soloist Justin Lingard (piccolo trumpet).

8 November 2016

Uplifting and downcasting

It was a small space for a decent audience and even a smaller one for SCUNA and orchestra and soloists to perform three majestic Handel Coronation anthems and Mozart Requiem. It all deserved more. The Handel is irredeemably satisfying and grand and uplifting. The Requiem is hugely intriguing as well as touching and a little confusing. The confusion is around how much is original Mozart and I've been amused to find out how many people have tried to remedy this. The original completion was by Mozart's young student Sussmeyer and that's the one we generally hear; this completion was by extant US musicologist Richard Maunder; Wikipedia lists 13 others. Maunder removes a few Sussmeyer parts and adds a rediscovered Amen fugue and makes some other changes. The added fugue was obvious enough, but the removed sections weren't. There were also changes to Lacrymosa which were obvious enough. But the overall work was similar and the early movements appeared unchanged (including to the note level for the bass line that I mostly know). So, interesting and occasionally surprising but essentially familiar. This is a big program and choir, orchestra and soloists did a good job on it if there were some little discomforts. Sometimes, this was interpretation, like when I felt the pace was a bit slow, a function of the audience's recall of a piece. There were some glorious passages in the Mozart. I especially enjoyed the two soloist extremities - soprano and bass - on this outing, and the very neat and capable bottom end of the orchestra - cellos and basses. Again, my attention coming to bear. I also particularly enjoyed the brass, which had such a role in this outing, and the timpani which seemed particularly effective and prominent in this small space. But what a great night of truly great music with the intellectual rigour that Lenny brings to his craft. Wonderful outing.

The ANU Choral Society (SCUNA) with orchestra and soloists performed Handel and Mozart at Wesley Church under Leonard Weiss (conductor). Anthony Smith (organ) accompanied and soloists were Rachael Duncan (soprano), Janene Broere (alto), Charles Hudson (tenor) and Andrew Fysh (bass).