15 May 2011

Eight seasons

I jest. It’s really just four seasons each from two composers. The seasons were the premiere of Elena Kats-Chernin’s Four [Australian] Seasons and Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires and the performances were in the Great Hall at Parliament House for the Canberra International Music Festival.

Kats-Chernin is a bourgeois favourite these days, given her comparative fame as the composer of the theme music for ABC RN’s Late Night Live. She deserves it. Her music is tuneful and very accessible and often memorable. Don Aitken commented that recent “classical” music has been written for the audience whereas a few decades ago it was written for fellow composers. Not sure of the truth of this one, but lots of straight music and music making is more accessible now, with conductors speaking from the podium and more movement and sexier images (viz. ACO) and more lyrical compositions. K-C’s seasons start with Spring and cover an Australian year with lazy, hot summers and the like. Spring felt right to me. I counted them off. I’m not sure I would have otherwise picked the remaining seasons, but the music was quite beautiful none-the-less. And I loved the piercing clarity of Anna McMichael’s solo violin. The work was a commission of Canberra author Barbara Blackman and was performed by Anna McMichael (violin), Elena Kats-Chernin (piano, composition) with the Canberra Festival Camerata under John Harding (director).

The other four seasons were from Buenos Aires and Astor Piazzolla. I’d heard the theme in his operetta Maria de Buenos Aires. I enjoy Piazzolla’s energy and attractive tunes and iconoclasm and I particularly liked his operetta for its odd but intriguing storyline and view of a city. But I find his music is pretty samey. A friend is a listener to AP and said after the performance that Piazzolla reuses his themes. Maybe it’s the nature of the bandoneon which was his instrument. But you have to love the vibrancy and passion of the tango and especially AP’s un-danceable version of it. It is truly a buzz. Again this was a work featuring a violin, although here it was interacting more individually, conversationally with other strings, especially viola and cello, and they had equally passionate, if shorter, segments. And was this passionate! Lara St. John stood to play (the musicians mostly did) and this was full body involvement: twists and bends, very unlike the concert hall, even unlike the jazz club. It was certainly a physical performance. But I liked her violin: all sorts of scrapes and effects, some lengthy unison pizzicato at one stage, big intervals, lots of slides, taps, the lot, and lovely, clearly ringing high notes, despite all the passionate performance. And were they harmonic slides on bass by Justin? Lots of passionate fury and very attractive melody, but again I didn’t catch the seasons. My AP-listening mate agreed these were more variations on a theme than identifiable seasons, and I think there were more than four musical segments. Whatever, this was vibrant and passionate and seemed to me to be epic and tragic at its heart. I don’t feel that way about the seasons, even the Canberra winter, but these are passionate people. Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires was performed by Lara St. John (violin) with the Canberra Festival Camerata and John Harding (Director).

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