31 March 2013

Striking tones

It has a unique sound and it’s one of only two in Australia. It’s the Carillon. The National Carillon was a gift of the British Government to the people of Australia to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Canberra. It was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 26 April 1970 (still our common monarch). This year is the 100th anniversary of Canberra, so a concert was appropriate although they are frequent in this town. Lyn Fuller played a set of tunes for Good Friday. It was a beautiful day, sunny with just a little crispness in the air. There were kids and bicycle riders and every second person seemed to have a dog.

A carillon is a keyboard percussion instrument, played with fists and feet. It must have at least 23 bells (2 octaves – these are chromatic instruments). This one has 4.5 octaves and 55 bells. Lyn told me there’s an overlap between foot and hand keyboards. I was lucky enough to visit the performer’s room. It seems there are two full claviers, presumably allowing four handed performances. There are also a few small rooms with electric and acoustic pianos and computers and printers. It’s quite a little neat workplace up there. What we see as audience below is a 50 metre tower and an idyllic island garden. I also noticed that Lyn was playing a handwritten chart and that fits the frequent annotations of arr. Lyn Fuller or arr. otherwise in the program. This is not a common instrument (probably less than 1,000 in the whole world) and it also uses uncommon techniques. I expect carillionists learn early on how to arrange their favourite tunes. I loved the high bells ringing in fast passages and I reckon a carillon would handle dissonance well in a slurry of high notes. The slower and lower tones felt different. Bells are carefully cast and tuned for tone and pitch, but I still felt a little uncomfortable with some pitches and some undampened chords. I’ve been reading up since, and I’m not surprised. Bell making is a complex art and the sound is a complex mix of overtones that decay at different rates. There’s a low enduring hum note (octave below strike tone), a tonic (strike tone), minor third, fifth, octave, major third, fifth, etc, with various decays. All very complex, but this mix of minor and major make for an interesting tonal structure. Read about it under “Strike tone” at Wikipedia.

But what of the program? I found it relaxed, spacious, obviously bell-like. Lyn played various classical and folk themes. A sparse Benedictine plainsong called Adore devote. An arrangement of Sibelius’ Finlandia. A Sonata da chiesa. Traditional tunes like Just a closer walk with thee and Amazing grace and Picardy. A carillon can play dynamics but it’s limited. I found variation more in a rubato feeling of relaxed time and no rush between tunes. It’s a big instrument; it moves like it is. It has lugubrious, billowing pitches, but also joyous, high bells that sing with the wind. It’s one of the joys of Canberra that we walk the Lake and hear these reverberent tones on the wind. And on a day like this, it’s a particular and, at least in Australia, a rare pleasure.

Lyn Fuller performed on the National Carillon at Aspen Island for Good Friday for the C100 Musical Offering. See link below to take a virtual tour of the Carillon and play it.

  • Carillon tour
  • Play the Carillon!
  • Stirke tone from Wilipedia
  • 30 March 2013

    What’s good and bad for us

    I’d expected to receive an email saying Andrew Leigh’s presentation at Politics in the Pub had been cancelled. After all, he’s just been promoted to the Ministry, as Parliamentary Secretary assisting the PM, just a few days before in the debacle which was the most recent Labor leadership spill. But I received no email and the event was on and he turned up. I bought a beer and perused the crowd. I like Politics in the Pub. It was busy. There was lots of humour and good will. I wondered if this is a respite from the chill winds outside for the centre-left. I got talking to a guy next to me who turned out to be a Christian Brother. Lucky I did, because this was one recommendation later by Andrew Leigh. He was talking of his new book, Disconnected, which investigates social capital and engagement in the community in Australia. It’s familiar territory. I thought of Robert Putnam and it turns out that Andrew had worked with Putnam for some time. Andrew’s a local Federal MP and was an economist at ANU, so this is localised for Australia and with an awareness of Canberra and it showed.

    Andrew started by noting that social capital is a relatively new concept for economics. He described it by providing various measures and then surveyed the decreases in these measures in Australia over the period from a peak around 1960. Nothing surprised me much: membership of associations, car use, involvement in politics, valid voting, church attendance. Here I was interested that he said even atheists should care about dropping church attendance, because “church goers are nicer” (quoted from Putnam). I guess this crosses the Pacific, although we have very different experiences of religion. Then workplace social capital, union membership, knowledge of neighbours, rise in living alone, involvement in sport. He did observe that suicide and murder have dropped and that people still watch sport although they don’t participate (I thought of the commercialisation of sport). But Andrew is not a luddite. He recognises the value of our ICT, cars, TVs, ATMs, etc. The issue is how to manage them for our benefit. He also noted a few social changes that have reduced community. Women are overrepresented in social capital, but they have now gone out to work so have less time for community building. He ran a mile from suggesting we return to the past but noted the cost of everyone busily being involved in paid work. He also noted that ethnic diversity, at least initially, lowers trust (but then recovers). Think Catholic/Protestant in Australia’s past. Putnam’s answer is that we “hunker down”, go private. We are working longer hours and this is often welcomed by the worker. (I found this an interesting claim: that not all longer work hours are at the instigation of the employer).

    Then he got to Canberra, noting that it’s consistently highest in Australian measures of social capital: organised sport, share of volunteers, donations, lower litter in Clean Up Australia surveys. He noted we are marginally more educated, wealthier, better planned but also that we spend less time in the car than people in other cities (8 days pa vs Sydney 13 days pa vs Australian average 11 days pa these are days as 24 hours!). Also, that despite Sydneysiders’ pride in the Opera House, Canberrans are more likely to have gone to the theatre or opera in the past year. He noted psychological studies of email and that Silicon Valley companies now limit email to certain times per day. Also that studies of kids now show virtually all time out of school, eating and sleeping is spent in front of a screen. The answers? Not too much offered. Try new things, eg, say hello to someone or listen to a new radio station. Recognise the value of donating money. Government can’t do it for us. Renewed social capital requires a “cultural renaissance” and it starts with you and me. Well, I’ve discovered buses and I talked to the bloke next to me and we have street parties, so I’m on the way.

    There were questions and comments and some jokes. Donate to the Australia Institute – it’s as good as sex. Someone noted that cultural institutions are growing, viz, in Tassie. A few people were optimistic that social entrepreneurs and “glamourteers” (volunteers in cultural institutions) are taking a new, more individualistic path. This sounds like a ‘60s “the personal is political” message which has some truth in it, but can be naïve in practice. Someone asked why we need social capital and someone else about relationships to neo-liberalism. In each Andrew revealed his economics orientation (fair enough), noting that markets work better with trust (I thought: what about corporate oligopolies) and justifying actions by personal benefits (know your neighbours so they will ring the cops when someone’s taking your TV; friends bring you soup when you’re sick) and identifying Adam Smith as in Theory of moral sentiments as his favourite economist.

    I felt it worthy and his heart was in the right place, although I found nothing particularly new. In fact, it was a few questioners that had me pondering more, especially the optimistic few. I side with the “we’ll all be doomed” set while preferring with community over individualism and valuing the very tools (dare I say “progress”) that causes us many of these problems. Maybe it’s needed so we can work together to fix the bigger problems, but I still feel uncomfortable discussing community while the climate changes. Is this Rome burning?

    BTW, Andrew’s next book is due out mid-year and it’s on Inequality, which he noted has taken risen since the 1960s, mirroring social capital’s fall. Now that’s a revealing pair! He’ll be back at Politics in the Pub to present that one, too.

    28 March 2013

    Just pics, after all

    Face of South Sudan, by Melanie Faith Dove. Digital Print. Thanks to NPG for permission to publish

    I was a little disappointed by the National Photographic Portrait prize. The hung pics, shortlisted from 1,200 entries, are now on display in the National Portrait Gallery. I was musing over how to judge these pics. These are just photos and I’ve said before that I consider photography a pretty minor art. I thought about which touched me; which seemed indulgent or touching or pretentious or humane; which seemed technically accomplished (I enjoy doing photography and I treated it rather seriously in the past, doing darkroom work and studying Ansel Adams and zone theory and composition). The winners didn’t do it for me. I was annoyed by a few pics: Reg Mombassa and his cat called Puss (what else?) (Reg / James Blackwood) and Rowan Atkinson in serious pose with some comment that he’s not really like Mr Bean and he likes cars (Bean no more / Quentin Jones). These both struck me as pretentious. I enjoyed the structure of the pic of Burt Bacharach although it seemed strangely devoid of personality (What the world needs now is love / Jeremy Shaw). A few other celebrities did nothing for me. Perhaps they are too used to the camera in their faces or too ready to enjoy it. I understood something from the homeless couple in a park with a tent (Rob and Kayla / Tom Psomotrogas). I despaired how anyone could make serious reference to the gutwrenching photo “General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon” with a cute girl and Banksy graffito (Confronted / Tim Tam). I liked the pouting young daughter with a face of hair (Birds’ nests / Rewa Nolan) and the daughter’s creation of ornate Victorian clothing modelled by the other sister (The living room / Janet Tavener) and the kids who recreated circus characters (Les enfants du Paradis / Tracey Schramm). I respected another family story, of the father and retired NSW policeman on location in the Blue Mountains (Retired mounted policeman / Paul Mallam). These are personal and honest and each seemed to me to tell a true story. I very much liked the grannies seated in a row (Granny’s 90th / Katherine Bennett). I would have dreamed of taking that photo. I quite liked the feeding Aboriginal mother (Becky feeding Hazel / Louise Allerton) and the comfortable old couple next to her (Ivan and Lillian / Margot Sharman). I was touched by another young mother with a child in hospital (Katie and Jaylen Cornish / Morganna Magee). I admired the sharpness and colour of the channel swimmer (Wyatt / Daniel Arnaldi) and also the large portrait of a black man (Redfern, I love you – Alan / Ben Lawrence). I felt uncomfortable with one man, eyeless due to reflections on his glasses (Hamish Ta-mé / Dennis del Favero) but I enjoyed the story and the now-other-worldly feel of the morse coder (Morse coder / Richard Goodwin). But I gave it to the photo of Agnes (Face of South Sudan / Melanie Faith Dove). It’s a big and sharp portrait of a striking face, in profile, all glowing black skin and clean white background with a single, unobtrusive gold earring. Great pic. That’s my winner. Perhaps I should declare conflicts of interest: I prefer dogs and never laughed at Mr Bean. And one last thing. I was disappointed by the (not unreflective) glass over every pic. They don’t cover paintings that are unique; why cover photos that can be reproduced? I’m waiting on permission to use a pic, so in the meantime just follow the links below.

  • National Photographic Portrait Prize @ NPG
  • 25 March 2013

    Contacting the pre-modern

    The pre-modern era remains with us. The turnout for the Pocket Score Company at the High Court just confirms it. Not that it means we really understand it. We see the beautiful and aged buildings in Europe; we hear the glorious music and associate it with cathedrals. It’s a trivial example of our lack of understanding, but I remember the disappointment when Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling was restored as vivid colours.
    It was similar with some of the music the PSC sang. We think of towering cathedrals and monks singing religious themes, but at least one equally beautiful song was downright bawdy and there was a love song from Abelard to Heloise. There was a song that depicted Parisian street with three parts that spoke over and above each other while musically entwined. Another song comprised lurid hints of debauchery with the male, a fine oarsman, singing his exploits and the female fretting about the size of the barge. But they were sung in various languages in various olde forms, so we could just ignore the words and luxuriate in the male voices. Which is what I mostly did: enjoying Ian’s deep bass with David’s countertenor and Paul and other David’s two tenors. Maybe it was just in some songs, but I loved it when the two tenors ranged high, so we had three males up high which just accentuated the pure and deep bass below. Otherwise, I couldn’t help but relish the intertwining lines of melody. They sometimes echoed between voices like in a round; other times they were sung like layered harmony with matching phrasing. For one tune, Ian accompanied with a gentle and billowing hand drum. And they presented well. They had started by walking the ramps into the performance area for Abelard’s chant, then the French street scene had singers moving from backstage to congregate at centre. Nice informative introductions, too. These are confident blokes singing olde music and it’s popular. I like it that we have this touch of mediaeval / renaissance Europe here in Canberra and it even fits the modern, concrete brutalist cathedral which is the High Court. Pocket Score Company are David Yardley (countertenor), David Mackay (tenor), Paul Eldon (tenor) and Ian Blake (bass). They performed at the High Court for the Canberra 100 Musical Offering.

    24 March 2013

    Village people

    We forget the pleasures of a simple, non-commercial community world, especially when we’re lost in screen and digital socialisation. I remembered it the other night when we went to the Village in Glebe Park. It’s a cross between circus and fair and show; all hand-made and human-sized. Not that it’s lacking sophistication. There was irony and presentation and humour, but it’s not there for the spin and your money. It’s for everyone. It’s family oriented with lots of kids, despite the erotic finger puppets. Here, we’re all responsible for each other, so the kids can just get steered away. There are colourful characters and colourful costumes and colourful pillows in colourful tents. There are things you can take part in, percussion or dancing or cooking displays. That was an oddity, as we lined up for that single Dutch pancake that was, loaves-and-fishes-like, meant to feed the multitudes. But there was patter to keep us all company. There was beer and coffee and rooburgers, so alt is welcome but not demanded. The women cart the gear and the men wear colours and the both hightail it to the vintage clothing racks. There are stages and tents and bands and roving minstrels and puppets. We went partly to catch Adam Simmon’s Origami as the played a set on the drive back from Sydney to Melbourne. It was early so the crowds were limited, but the PA was decent and the sound suited the sparse sax trio format. We’d come across a friends as we walked to Glebe Park – Joelle was meeting Gina there – and we drank and chatted for the evening. We also saw or chatted with Paul and Richard and Brian and Robyn and Adam and Robert and others. Obviously a place to be. Then the Crystal Barreca Band, who I’d missed till then. This was eight piece, playing gypsy jazz or zydeco or some style in that area. Crystal has a voice that just matched the part, and the horns and four to the floor guitar and the accordion and Phill’s bass. Very nice; very entertaining; very danceable; very community. We didn’t stay for the roaming Brass Knuckle Blues Band or the rest. But this was a pleasure. Lots of fun, very pretty in a handmade, organic way, welcoming to all and a salve for tired minds suffering the onslaught of the commercial world so close outside.

    23 March 2013


    I can remember no better piano experience. Stephen Whale was performing at St Albans and he’s a great, young pianist presumably with a notable future. He could only be in his early 20s. He’s studied at the Sydney Con and at Yale for a Masters. He played in this little church for a mature, even aged, crowd, and the respect and welcome were palpable. We were obviously in the presence of a very capable concert pianist and it was intimate, loud and close. Stephen called the concert Perspectives on the Divine. He played Rautavaara’s Ikonit, Mozart’s Sonata in Fmaj and Liszt’s L’apres une lecture du Dante, Fantasia quasi sonata. Stephen started each tune by steadying himself in quiet with closed eyes. He played from memory. He’s long limbed and flexible, often at arms length from the keyboard but occasionally leaning forward. This is obviously physical, his legs moving for pedals and balance, his body lifting and generally moving with the performance. Not extreme, but mobile. I thought of footy players, young, flexible, responsive. The Rautavaara started with whole handed chords, then through delightful consonance and frequent dissonance, tides in and out of semiquavers, perhaps a crochet melody in the left hand. I noticed throughout his perfect sense of time and two handed polyrhythms. His later Mozart just had perfectly rounded and unrushed little twists of melody (presumably ornamentation). Not that the time didn’t vary, maybe it sped up or slowed down, but no line or lyrics were uncomfortable. Obviously well practised. And his dynamics were big. His chords could be grand and loud then followed by gentleness or tranquillity, but that’s dynamics at a macro level. I noticed how the melody moved with admirable clarity and obviousness between lines in right and left hands: internal dynamics. The essence of the tune was always there, clear as day, talking to you, not lost despite Lisztian flourish and virtuosity. It was the same with the Mozart that twinned playful genius with courtly dignity. All evident, all exposed, a revelation. These were very different pieces, the Raatavaara and Mozart and Liszt, but all were spoken with believable characters. I didn’t know Rautavaara but I feel I do now, and the Mozart and Liszt were as we’re told in the books and films about these masters. I’m sure there are other pianists like Stephen, but not this day (or this year) in so small a concert that I could touch and chat with him afterwards. Something like this is a gift and a gem. Fabulous.

    22 March 2013


    I verge on understanding classically-trained players when they perform new music, but I can struggle with electronica. So it was with Paul Hesline and Nickamc at the YouAreHere festival. This was the programmer bleeding edge of the field. Not synths with keyboards, but laptops with visual programming and hand controllers. There was one guitar, but Paul mainly performed with a Sony PS2 controller and Nickamc solely with a Nintendo glove. I asked an informed listener what freeware was around to experiment in this field. He suggested PD (Pure Data) but warned of a steep learning curve. Looking at it later, I could only agree. PD seems to be programming with a visual interface. The programming determines all factors of the sound (effects, envelopes, repeats, ordering, etc) and the way these are activated in real time by various controllers. So I guess the compositional process is programming and the performance is improvised within these compositional parameters. This is different thinking - from jazz with its improv or from classical with its interpretation of dots. It certainly sounds different but presumably this is totally a matter of the artist and the creation. I’m guess the programming and performance could create jazz or classical or anything, but in practice it doesn’t. The culture doesn’t support this. What I hear is minimalism in drones and repetition and simple melodic fragments and much drama and visual imagery in hits and in the presentation itself, although it’s not pop-electronica-pretty. This is blokes staring at laptops and wires and picnic tables. It can be made prettier, but I guess this is the arty end of the spectrum. I listen and watch. I wasn’t in the mood and this wasn’t the venue to close eyes so perhaps I do it an injustice. I’m yet to be convinced, but ya gotta try.

    20 March 2013

    Paper art

    Adam Simmons had CDs for sale in origami covers. How could you choose a standard cover? It’s so apt. The band is called Origami and it’s got Japanese simplicity in its chordless sax-trio format. I like this format lots. It’s open sounding, leaves space for counterpoint, it’s less defined, There’s plenty of opportunity for inventiveness and yet it has the rhythm section to groove. My feeling it that it must put lots of responsibility on the bassist, but Howard did it so comfortably. The other aspect that hints at Japanese asceticism is Adam’s choice of instruments. He plays all manner of instruments that you can blow. I remember a broadcast on ArtSound where he played an extensive range of reeds and flutes. In this band, he limits himself to alto sax and bass clarinet. Origami were playing to a small and committed audience at the Front. I noticed they (or I should say, “we”) weren’t young. That’s a worry. The Gen-Y locals were outside looking in and they got a treat. I saw no-one from the young jazz scene, but that’s going through busy times with changes at the ANU (best of luck to those who have the task of resuscitation). Coming to gigs like this could be part of it but days are young on that front.

    Origami is an adventurous crew in terms of music as well as CD cover design. The first set was jazz takes of various Australian rock/pop tunes. Adam volunteered that he didn’t expect these to reach the songbook, but this is exactly how tunes get there. At least Prince and Stevie Wonder got into the books. It would be satisfying if more pop music was sophisticated enough to justify inclusion. Adam said he picked tunes that he grew up with, or just was attracted by, from melody or the groove; these days, the harmony is nothing special. So we got Gotye and Overkill and Michael Hutchens and The Reels. We also got a tune by Adam’s son’s music teacher. The band has recorded these on the CD Karaoke. I heard this as unpretentious, stepwise, cerebral alto playing from Adam, wonderfully full sounding and firm bass that lays an indelible foundation from Howard and colour and cymbals and movement from Hugh. Then Adam finished the set with an original called The Blues of joy, all Ornette-like alto bluesy melody and energy. This was from an earlier CD and suggests a very different side of this band. The second set was immensely different again. Adam took up bass clarinet and started with a lengthy section of circular breathing to start a suite called the Usefulness of art. He introduced it by talking of Rodin’s essays of the same name and of research showing increased empathy of kids raised with music. The Usefulnes of Art was a work of spirituality and intensity, with unison lines, features for each instrument and meditative repeating themes and long sustained passages of bass and clarinet and cymbals. I heard this as spirituality in the style of Coltrane’s Love supreme. So this was a concert of variation: pop, free blues and a spiritual suite … and a unique album cover. Origami were Adam Simmons (alto sax, bass clarinet), Howard Cairns (bass) and Hugh Harvey (drums).

    19 March 2013

    Playing these gigs

    It’s just a gig, but you gotta love it. I caught some of the best players around town playing a Sunday afternoon gig for families and lots of kids and the mothers down the back swilling a few wines. This was Ipanema and Basin Street and Georgia and even All of me and a touch of funky with Let’s stay together. Standard practice for a dinner dance or the like. But this was not at all uninteresting. Paul lets go with the most substituted solos that you can imagine on the oldie-songbook and James lays down outspoken and insistent blues licks in his fluent solos, and Steve and James play easy, reliable accompaniment that spells the chords against Paul’s colours, and Alopi is just an open personality with a smooth and often caressing voice. I liked these tunes. I liked Alopi’s original that touched on country and suited his voice so well, even if the key change stretched it. Sunday afternoon gigs like this don’t lay claim on great art, but these guys do the job with panache. Easy feels and entertaining and pushing the envelope with some devilish substitutions. Alopi Latukefu (vocals) led Intaploping with Paul dal Broi (piano), James Luke (bass) and Steve Crispin (drums).

    18 March 2013

    From the mouths of youth

    David Yardley is going overseas for work so this is the last time he’s conducting Kompactus Choir for a while. Kompactus were performing at the High Court for the C100 Musical Offering. They are a youth choir formed out of the Canberra Youth Music Chamber Choir and SCUNA in 2008/9 when they enlisted David Yardley as musical director. This concert was called Best of Kompactus and covered a range of musics from Monteverdi through Vaughan Williams to recent Canberra visitors, the Finnish choir, Rajaton. They sang quietly, sometime almost lost behind the airconditioning, but their dynamics were generous and they’d then swell to a nice firm volume, although never very loud. I lost the male voices a little, being outnumbered at 5 to 7 females, but the interplay was clean and the harmonies were accurate and there were some lovely lines of polyphony that moved between parts, and some lovely voices htat worled together with admirable care and sense of unity. Perhaps some high notes were strained, but this was neat and capable and satisfying. They sang a varied program of quite short songs, starting back around 1450s, then through Linden Lea by Vaughan Williams that reminisces on English countryside and mourns the coming of the industrialisation. Then Monteverdi, a spiritual, Lauridsen’s C20th take on O magnum mysteriosum and a David Yardley arrangement of a song from C15th. Then a lamentation and Abide by me, and oddly, a song of daffodils, flowers that growing beautiful, flourish and die as a metaphor for life, and a song of a butterfly, sandwiching another Monteverdi, Crudel perche me fuggi. This was a lovely concert of delicacy and contemplation and I look forward to another.

    Kompactus was directed by David Yardley with Rachel Cowley, Briana Hillman, Freya Howarth, Hannah Richardson and Veronica Milroy (sopranos), Alexandra Morris, Elizabeth Morris, Katy Pullen and Olivia Smith (altos), Cody Christopher, Michael Gill and Thomas Liu (tenors) and Christopher Bentley, Robin Dalton, Cameron Gill, Israel Marsh and Richard Pywell (basses).

    17 March 2013


    Art Not Apart is back. I just read this morning a comment that art is different in Canberra – more community, arranged by the artists, less corporate than other cities. This feels rights. Certainly, ANA is like this: several weeks of contemporary arts of all types, theatre, poetry, music, discussions, more. All free. Arranged throughout Civic in various venues. I’ll attend some of the Difficult Music series, and anything else that’s opportune. Yesterday, I goaded Megan and some friends into the New Acton ANA event. It’s a full day of markets, music, arts, presumably with a bit of corporate support. It’s bustling and friendly. Along with the body painting and vintage clothes and tuned gongs and chats with visual artists, we caught freestyle dancer Alison Plevey accompanied by altoist Andrew Fedorovich. Then some Canberra referenced poetry, delivered with aplomb and full voice, by Raphael Kabo. I’m just discovering a love of poetry when performed. First were some readings at last year’s ANA. I note two poems: one of London place names melded with Canberra locations; another of reciting poets huddled in the Phoenix bar missing fire and calamity outside. We were not sure if this referred to the Canberra bushfires, so a truish story, or to a mythical revolution and retribution. We’d have to hear it again, but it was impressive and visual, musical and nicely repeated. You may see more poetry in these posts. Then Natalie Magee dropped in from Sydney with a band including at least the other Brendan Clarke, for her 500th anniversary gig (23yo to the despair of the MC). This was modern, pop music with some jazz sensibility through trumpet solos, and an unusual Indian sensibility in Natalie’s vocals. We just heard 3 tunes, originals by Natalie. I imagine this is perfect JJJ-unearthed material, so watch this space. Just a visit but a perfect day and a friendly, arty scene. Nice.

    Just a pic or two of the Arboretum. This was our outing for coffee and some nature awareness-raising. It’s early days yet (give it 50 years) but this will be spectacular (provided we can still water it). At least the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection is up and running and it’s already a treat with specimens dating back 60+ years and the dear old cork plantation (planted ~1920) is a little-known delight dating back to Burley Griffin and Charles Weston.

    Alison Plevey (dancer) performed with Andrew Fedorovich (alto). Raphael Kabo (poet) recited. Natalie Magee (vocals) led a band with Callum Gracie (trumpet), Peter Koopman (guitar), the other Brendan Clark (bass) and Dan Kennedy (drums). And a visit to the National Arboretum.

    13 March 2013

    Happy birthday

    In a nice little twist, at the end, after the premiere of our own Symphony for Canberra, the CSO/Centenary Choir sang Happy Birthday. It s a cute end to a big event, Canberra’s 100th birthday bash, and it's fitting for this town, intelligent but also suburban and homely as it is. But then I've always noticed how this city is bigger than its population suggests. Canberra is only ~360,000 - just 2 Commonwealth lower house MPs although representing the two largest electorates in the country - but it's got five universities and draws APS and defence staff from around the country and private sector to provide for it, and, despite all the cynicism, these are capable and pretty corruption-free. Australia is generally well governed (by both sides of politics with the support of a professional public service, although some annoyance is due at present) and Canberra plays a large part in that. A corny but self-confident happy birthday salute is fitting.

    It followed the premiere of Andrew Schultz's Symphony no.3, Century. This is a work of ~45 minutes, composed for orchestra and youth and adult choirs. It's actually two interleaved works (a capella choir and orchestra) each of three sections with each paired section comprising a choral exposition and an instrumental movement on the theme. The theme is Canberra and its architectural design, with the choirs singing three passages from architects Burnham, Sullivan and Burley-Griffin about architecture and democracy from the time of the Canberra design competition of 1913. I enjoyed the work immensely: the choral counterpoint; the sweeping and passionate instrumental passages; the swells of pride. I’m not sure I really heard Canberra in it, but music is the most abstract of the arts. I’ll sound like a wine taster here, but I heard mostly drama and thunder and awe, spots of Scandinavia and even Wagner, especially in the first movement, and later English gardens and worthy explorers. This later was perhaps most in tune with the round roads and rolling hills and sheep plains of Canberra’s environment. Regardless of that, I loved it with its vibrancy and modern harmonies and lush and swelling presence. What a great work to honour the centenary and what a great decision to honour it with a symphony. Acclamations all round!

    We didn't do the whole hog on the day. There were five or more stages, lots of food and events and migrating minstrels, even boating displays and Brass Knuckle Blues Band and others slouching on boats. We missed several other stages with worthies including The Church, The Gadflys, The Falling Joys, Paul McDermott, Mirramu Dance Company and William Barton - several of whom were from Canberra. Again, this was a homely affair. The big bubbly bar was on everyone's lips. We searched for Michelle Nicolle with no luck. But we did catch two modem classical outfits.

    Firstly, Topology. They were my band to catch for the day and they were fabulous! I’d seen them before and had been mightily impressed. This was more than I’d expected or remembered. They are perfectly described on the Net as "Pulse driven contemporary Australian chamber music with cinematic energy. A quintet of violin, viola, double bass, saxophone, piano. Genre: Classical: Contemporary”. I’d add that they are relevant. There's a popular sensibility here, in rhythmic strength and in references to the Round roads of Canberra and to political events. Gough Whitlam was a piece that featured samples and loops of the voices of Gough Whitlam, Paul Keating and John Kerr that were cut and spliced to a waltz and interpreted as music. How apt, given that the performance was only metres from the steps of Old Parliament House where Gough spoke those immortal and bitter lines "Well may we say "God Save the Queen", because nothing will save the Governor-General". But it was the words of Keating about the “unprincipled act" that really made the argument. This was stunningly impressive and relevant music from Topology. Topology is led by Canberra's own Robert Davidson, bassist, out of Brisbane.

    Secondly, the Griffyn Ensemble performing with astronomer Fred Watson. It seems a strange combination, but they were performing various constellations from a piece called Southern Sky by Estonian astronomer / composer Urmas Sisask. This piece was written by Sisask after a visit to Mt Stromlo and first performed with a dedication to Canberra only a week before the fires that destroyed the observatory and 450 houses around Canberra in 2003. This was less outspoken music than Topology. Again I found the music abstract and hard to relate to the theme (eg, constellation Mensa = table > music with theme of bushfire). There was melody from flutes and clarinets, gentle accompaniment from harp and vibes, some Wagnerian soprano voice (Volans) and some fading glory on mandolin (Dorado). A more interiorised music played mostly with softer tones and classical chops.

    Then to finish, the mandatory fireworks and one or two fabulously lit skies, mostly with ruddy hue and overwhelmingly large vistas. It’s public art and entertainment, but this was classy stuff. Well done. The Canberra Symphony Orchestra with the Centenary Choir performed of Andrew Schultz's Symphony no.3, Century. They were conducted by Nicholas Milton. Topology are led by Robert Davidson (bass) with Christa Powell (violin), Bernard Hoey (viola), John Babbage (saxes) and Therese Milanovic (piano). The Griffyn Ensemble was led by Michael Sollis (composer, mandolin, bass) with Kiri Sollis (flute), Matthew O’Keeffe (clarinet), Meriel Owen (harp), Wyana Etherington (percussion) and Susan Ellis (soprano). Fred Watson (astronomer) provided commentary.