22 April 2018

Who needs NYC

Yeah, it's a big call and somewhat in jest, but there's great music in any decently sized city that I've visited and I saw some truly great music the other night at Smiths. It was Warwick Alder, Sydneysider, with our local cream, Brendan Clarke, John Mackey and Mark Sutton. Suffice to say, this was stunningly good and presentable on any stage anywhere. The style was somewhere around hard-bop-cum-post-bop with a touch of free from John. The skills were exemplary. The clarity of vision and inherent humour and good nature along with the awareness of history and a deep personal history of all players were evident. These guys just play like gods and I could just sit and smile. There was a certain bluster, not least as Warwick joked with the audience, but clear was the immense knowledge and long experience of all the players. Just stunning solos all round. Fabulously easy harmonies thrown out by the front line. Strong shared eights and fours from Mark. Blissful solos at all time from Brendan. Clarity of intent from Warwick and yearning sheaves of colour from John. Warwick was the melodic one, but trumpeters always are. There's something about trumpet that makes for melody. On the other hand, sax is all flourishes and screeds and colour and John does that with consonant or easily dissonant chops at will. Brendan just plays the most easy but adventurous embellishments and the most deceptively simple solos. And Mark who lays busyness and washes over settled grooves and then takes eights and fours with ease and variety. And this is over the most standard of American standards: I'll be seeing you, Darn that dream, Quasimodo. Interestingly, starting the first set with a trumpet trio (trumpet, bass, drums playing I'll be seeing you) and the second set with a duo (trumpet and bass playing Falling in love with love). Plus a fast blues (an Ellington gig requirement) by Warwick and a funkier, distinctly '70s jazz tune called Message song by a influence of Warwick's (Dave van Kriedt, mate of Brubeck and Paul Desmond, who had visited Australia to lecture at Wollongong when jazz studies started up here) and Brownsville, by Warwick's long-term bandleader and national jazz elder, Bernie McGann. What to say other than that this was a world-worthy night in our intimate venue. We were blessed.

Warwick Alder (trumpet) led a quartet with John Mackey (tenor), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) at Smiths.

21 April 2018

Hints of refluoresence

I've got the story, several times over recent weeks, that the ANU School of Music is chuffing along. Apparently they had 80 new students this year after 30 the previous year (or thereabouts?). Plenty of jazz and contemporary players who are getting jazz harmony training and showing interest in the demanding arts. Nice. I haven't seen too many over recent years, but maybe they are coming out of the woodwork. Before Warwick Alder we had one such band as a warmup. The band was Gravy 'Trane. The composition was sax, piano, bass, drums. The tunes were both covers and originals, interestingly by a few members. All looking up. Gravy waltz, Naima, a Cedar Walton tune and Stephen Scott Like a child at play are covers. In addition, three originals by sax, piano and bass. The players were decent, too. Obviously fairly new but with an understanding and awareness of the music and instrumental history. I enjoyed some nicely structured sax lines, some very confident bass, aware and responsive piano and drums. I noticed in the past that the early year students tended to be in the background; the more mature, developed players, some second, but mostly third year and honours, were out and about and doing some impressive, creative, personally relevant stuff. With any luck, that's where we are going, so expect any flowering to show over a few years. Looking forward to it. Gravy 'Trane are a promising opener.

Gravy 'Trane were Thomas Coleman-Bell (alto), Caleb Campbell (piano), Isaac Said (bass) and Hugh Magri-Bull (drums).

19 April 2018

Vale Brenton

Brenton Holmes was our friend and a drummer for numerous gigs. He died the other day and his old band played to his memory at his wake: Richard Manderson, Mike Dooley, Leanne Dempsey and me. A friend said at the funeral service that he sought "a life of the mind". That was so close to Brenton as Renaissance man but he was also deeply welcoming and had a strong sense of ethics built on humane principles. He died too young, not yet 70, after having to give up drums a few years earlier. Vale Brenton, you are well remembered.
RIP Brenton Holmes 1950-2018

17 April 2018

A return to old haunts

Musica da Camera played the High Court on Sunday and it was a return to an old venue. MdC is in its 40th year this year and they played the first concert held in the High Court, well before the recent series that has continued since Canberra's Centenary year. I'd heard that from an original member of the group, but on the day, I also heard it from a friend who I know otherwise who had attended that first concert. Circles within circles. It was the Running Festival that day, so access was a chore, but the audience was a nice size and the acoustics were flattering - just a nice degree of reverb where we were located. MdC was also celebrating the launch of its first CD (again, after 40 years) but I've mentioned the CD in another post. For this concert, MdC invited several CSO members: Barbara Jane Gilby (CSO concertmaster), Lucy Carrigy-Ryan (CSO violist and soloist for two works) and Kyle Ramsay-Daniel (CSO principal bass). The program was varied although had a melancholy tinge. Vivaldi (Concerto in G All Rustica) started it all with a lively spin, but then Hindemith Trauermusik was the first to commemorate a death. Then Elgar Serendae for Strings livened things up a little but Puccini Crisantemi memorialised another death. Then two recent Australian compositions: James Grant Waltz for Betz was a waltz offered to his wife for a Valentine's Day (lots of bass pizz and pretty solo melody line) and Graeme Koehner Whirling dance was polyrhythmic modernist work (I liked this one but not too easy to follow, especially while transposing up the sub-low-E notes on bass). Then, as encore, Morricone Gabriel's oboe (theme from The Mission), everyone's memorable favourite. That's the sort of composition you could retire on. Lucy played the solo parts on Hindemith and Grant. Barbara led from the first violin seat (standing like the higher strings and Kyle). Kyle just stood beside me a blasted his way through the music with some great reading and convincing playing. So that's what it takes to be a principal bass. He did a great job. We'd played the program through on Friday and I'd preferred that take, but others didn't agree. It just shows how we judge group performances by our performance. But what a pleasure to play with these professionals and this excellent string orchestra and to play in the High Court to a generous audience. And thanks to Karina who organises this concert series.

Musica da Camera performed at the High Court. Invited guests were Barbara Jane Gilby (musical director), Lucy Carrigy-Ryan (viola soloist) and Kyle Ramsay-Daniel (bass).

15 April 2018

A teaser

Just a note to go with this pic. This is Rookwood Ensemble in rehearsal. RE will be playing at All Saints on 29 April for the Heritage Festival. I was lucky enough to have been invited to play. I was particularly taken in by the music, a Vivaldi concerto (Dmin, RV541) but especially a Bach concerto (for oboe and violin, BWV1060R). The Bach is a piece I know well from ABCRN Late Night Live, a perennial listen of mine. So I was hooked. It's also the first time I've played with a pipe organ, meaning tuning can be skewed by temperature and more, and the first time I've inhabited the organ loft for a gig. All interesting and the music is a dream. More after the gig.

Rookwood Ensemble play Bach and Vivaldi at All Saints Ainslie on 29 April.

14 April 2018

Why every band needs a singer

I've said it before and I felt it again at this gig. Sally Marett was playing with the cream of our local players, Brendan Clarke, Hugh Barrett and Mark Sutton. John Mackey sat in for a few tunes, too. We could expect some incredibly capable and interesting playing and we got it. But beyond that, this was alive with the words of tunes we've all played from fake books knowing just the first line or so. These were songs not tunes. They were all standards, from the renowned American songbook, the popular music of the films and mid-20th Century US. We reel in response to some lyrics that sound so inane and yet there's depth and humour and subtly here. Rhymes, maybe, but we've learned that rhymes can express: no less than current uber-popular rap does that. The movies seemed all straight with defined roles and the rest, but there was depth expressed. I think of Romeo and Juliet as Maria and Tony but that's just my fave. "Beautiful love / what have you done to me"; "It's only a canvas sky / hanging over a muslin tree / but it wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me"; "Flamin' with all the glow of sunrise / burning kiss is sealing / the vow that all betray". Words and themes the musos don't know. And the contact with audience that a singer creates. Words and thoughts are passions and immediacy. Far more than the indistinct, uncertain noises that are instrumental music. Not to put that down, but it's not so immediate, so shared, so understood. Play with a singer and experience the difference. Your playing is immediately just support, for the singer, the story and the emotions. Suffice to say I like that. Of course, Sally did a truly excellent job, up front, entertaining, great voice and contact. Of course, the band did a similarly excellent job, fabulously inventive and capable and quick and responsive and on top of it all, responding to each other and Sally. John sat in and did wonders, flourishing widely and busily and ingeniously on Softly. So all round, this was a massive treat. I sat with a smile on my face throughout. Sally mentioned the arts scene in Canberra as busy and satisfying. That night was just a dazzling example. Playful, fun, ruefully true in its period lyrics, a blowout and truly excellent entertainment.

Sally Marett (vocals) led her band comprising Hugh Barrett (piano), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums). John Mackey (tenor) sat in for a few tunes.

12 April 2018

This year's primer

It's an annual outing and one that I look forward to with anticipation. It's Roland Peelman's intro to the upcoming Canberra International Music Festival. Roland is a fine musician so the performances are intense, informed, virtuosic, but they are more than that. They are also seminars in the history, background, intent of the composers, with just a touch of the technical, too. This year it was Schubert, Satie and Debussy. We heard of Schubert's intimate gatherings in the environment of repression under Metternich. Roland played three Moments musicaux, apparently written as last thoughts by this social character. Then Satie, who lived a solitary life on the margins. His compositions were simple, he was self-taught, no virtuosity of grand harmonic structures, saying much with little, at a time when Wagner's complex and saturated music was in vogue in France. Roland played three of his Avant-dernieres pensees, just short pieces, mostly with deep melody in the left hand against staccatos or arpeggios in the right. Then the etudes from Debussy. Apparently he had admired Wagner for a short time, but came to be influenced by Satie. It was Debussy who orchestrated Satie's Gymnopédies. Debussy explored harmonies freed from traditional tonal and functional relationships through variations of register, orchestration and the like. Roland played etudes exploring repeated notes, opposing sonorities and composite arpeggios. In this context, Roland talked of the piano's ability to handle repeated notes as the hammer doesn't fully retract and its importance as a development from earlier keyboard instruments. That was a new one on me. All fascinating and all so well played. And from memory. It's one aspect of music that it becomes imbued in people. Roland displays that, not least with his memory in performance. Playing from memory displays a deep connection and only assists in performance. So, a fabulously interesting and capable concert and a intro to the upcoming CIMF, no doubt to be as impressive as ever.

Roland Peelman (piano) performed Schubert, Satie and Debussy at Wesley.

10 April 2018

Evening at TheL

Now in black and at Llewellyn. First up is composer Jessica Wells giving a pre-concert talk. She spoke of her experiences as a composer and especially in film, supporting various renowned names on major projects as well as doing her own compositions. Also of the development of this piece of 12 short movements picturing the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac calendar. She had used it to experiment with different compositional tools, layering, colours, parts and combinations, various percussion and their uses and shapes for a workshop with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. It's an interesting and surprisingly challenging piece: for the basses, especially for Snake with its slithering odd time and exposed bottom end. Jessica mentioned she was originally from Brooklyn and we chatted about Park Slope and Seventh Ave afterwards. Then the serious work of the night: the concert. First up, Zodiac Animalia, a world premier performance, then a stage move and Matt Withers soloing on Castelnouvo-Tedesco Guitar concerto. Then interval and Rodrigo Concerto Madrigal with Matt and Callum Henshaw, another stage move and Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol. Other than Jessica's starter, this was a Spanish heavy night. I hadn't expected to enjoy it as much as I did, but it went over stunningly well and I was surprisingly taken by the music, or at least the performance. Megan was in Madrid that night so I dedicated it to her. I shouldn't be surprised - this is a seriously decent non-professional orchestra with an impressive conductor and some very decent players. I am often surprised by the skills on stage or in rehearsal at NCO: easy sight-reading, impressive chops and the two guitars were hugely impressive, seemingly joined at the hip for the pairing in Rodrigo. And how could you not be taken in by the finish of the Rimsky-Korsakov? The turnout at Llewellyn was decent and the whole was professionally videoed, so we can expect to see at least some on YouTube sometime. Just another wonderfully satisfying outing with NCO. And the inevitable party after. A big day and massive fun.

Jessica Wells (composer) gave the pre-concert talk. National Capital Orchestra performed Wells Zodiac Animalia (world premiere), Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Radrigo and Rimsky-Korsakov. Leonard Weiss (conductor) led with soloists Matt Withers and Callum Henshaw (guitars).

8 April 2018

Afternoon at TheL

For this purpose, TheL is Llewellyn Hall (as TheQ is QPAC). Saturday was to be a concert at night and prep during the day but this day was more. I arrived to hear Canberra Youth Orchestra on stage rehearsing the Peer Gynt Suite. Just 20mins or so but always informative. Lenny conducting. He's a busy one and he's going places. Then a run through for the evening's NCO performance of a string of Spanish music and one world premiere. The composer of the premiere, Jessica Wells, was there to listen and advise. Then the guitar pieces with Matt Withers and Callum Henshaw. That finished a little after 2pm so next door to Wig & Pen where John Mackey and Leisa Keen were running a jam session. There were several brass and sax players sitting in: new names I hadn't met. Leisa provided concert and Bb charts in her singing keys. Mostly renowned standards: Lullaby of Birdland, Blue bossa, Fly me to the Moon, Tenor madness and the like. For one ballad, Leisa asked if I had a bow and my classical offsider, Geoff Prime, was there with his so I could oblige. That was a change and louder than pizz so easier work. I had a bass and no amp, so jazz pizz was a workout. I retired after two sets to prepare for the evening. Great to play with John and Leisa and the others. Leisa is nicely professional, with a great take on voice and piano, not least for her convincing LH bass while singing and chording. Impressive and engaging. John, of course, just blew the house down whenever he started playing. Miro arrived as I was leaving so I missed that set. Too bad. Then home to prepare, get into stage black for the evening, to be in for the pre-concert talk at 6.30.

31 March 2018

A blessed Easter 2

This was other (extant) Bach Passion performed in Canberra. Igitur nos with St John Passion at the other Manuka venue, St Paul's. It was a more moderate affair but no less satisfying. Only one orchestra of 14 players (small so that one muso suggested only half an orchestra) with Evangelist and soloists and a smaller but still involving, powerful and skilled choir of 23 singers. This was shorter and more accessible than the St Matthew Passion. More accessible because it was more comprehensible, being in English. The version was the Bärenreiter Urtext in both German and English, but this was sung in the English and it made a huge difference. I followed the text (given in the program with just minimal changes from that sung), but mostly I could catch the words, at least from the solo Evangelist who told the story; some of the choral parts were not so immediately clear and often repeated lines rather than narrated. I caught a few details of the story that I'd missed, names like Caiaphas and Annas and Malchas and a hyssop branch and the like. I was thrilled by the chorus when it entered, all big and full and often contrapuntal, and awed by the Evangelist's job on the night. Evangelist Daniel MacMillan was trained at ANU but is living in WA at present; he was flown over for this performance. The complexity of his job had me wondering if his part was originally improvised. It certainly wouldn't be these days. We had prime seats and enjoyed watching the strings, just metres from us, not least Kyle, busy on bass, and Greta who both played viola and stood to sing occasional soprano parts. And the guidance of Matthew Stuckings who got all this together and conducted. It was standing room only for the performance, on an afternoon with setting sun raising temperatures in the church and a smaller experience than St Matthews but another hugely satisfying performance. Truly a blessed Easter.

Igitur nos performed JS Bach St John Passion on Good Friday at St Paul's Manuka. Matthew Stuckings (conductor) led Igitur nos chamber choir and orchestra with Daniel MacMillan (Evangelist), Greta Claringbould (soprano), Veronica Thwaites-Brown (mezzo-soprano), Charles Hudson (tenor), Colin Milner (baritone, Jesus).

29 March 2018

What 500 CDs look like

Like this! Five boxes, each containing 100 CDs. Musica da Camera has just received its printed CD release, Music from Mannheim. It's a live recording of early, formative classical music recorded at St Peter and Paul's Catholic Cathedral in Goulburn in Nov 2017. MdC is a string orchestra, this time led by Christian Renggli with viola soloist Justin Julian and augmented with four wind players for the viola concerto. The Court of Mannheim is important for the early development of classical music, was influential for Mozart and the like, introducing a string of innovations. The works were from the pens of the Johann and son Carl Stamitz, FX Xavier and Franz Beck. Very exciting, too, that one work, Johann Stamitz Sinfonia Ebmaj (WolS.I Eb-10; not Op.11 no.3 which is common), seems to not appear anywhere on YouTube, Spotify or Naxos. You can now catch some of this as a video on YouTube (search under "Musica da Camera Canberra") or better, buy a CD. Very reasonably priced.

Musica da Camera received its CD release, Music from Mannheim. The CD will be launched with a free public concert at the High Court on 15 April (bookings required, from High Court website under About>Concerts).

28 March 2018

Through mediaeval eyes

It was clearly different back then. Virgins, unicorns, lions and the rest. Strangely, they still concerned themselves with these things, but virgins were expected and inevitably horny creatures were everywhere in abundance. Or at least one unicorn and one lion and lots of flowers and a few dogs and rabbits and the like in every tapestry. This was the famed French Lady and the Unicorn tapestry series on show at the Art Gallery of NSW. We'd gone down to Sydney for other things but also this. It was a mercifully little exhibition but fabulously important and weirdly diverse. The series is 6 tapestries of much the same size, each perhaps 3m square. The first is called My sole desire with the young woman fronting a pavilion with the inscription Mon seul desir and attendant, dog, lion and unicorn, flags and the rest. Then five other tapestries labelled Smell, Touch, Taste, Hearing and Sight, each with the woman and the unicorn and lion and millefleur plus more. Each item symbolises something, love or fidelity or cunning or innocence or strength or chastity or whatever. We don't get this, of course, but it's lovely and delicate and immense work (est. 2.5 years work for 2 weavers). Sadly the colours are faded and there are repaired rat bites. The backs, protected from the light, display more vivid colours but they are not on show. But I love this odd, unfamiliar era which is the European middle ages. This was very late, ~1500, another world to our rational, open times, but still with some strangely common concerns. What a pleasure to see something like this so close. And then a quick run through a few other rooms.

The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are on loan from the Musée de Cluny (Musée national du moyen Âge) in Paris at the Art Gallery of NSW.

27 March 2018

A blessed Easter 1

This is a blessed Easter in Canberra: we can hear both Bach Passions. The first was a grand affair, St Matthew Passion at St Christopher's at Manuka with 31 musicians in two orchestras and ~140 singers from two choirs. The musicians were from Canberra Symphony Orchestra and the like with BJ Gilby and Pip Thompson as the two orchestra leaders. The choirs were Canberra Choral Society and Australis Voices (one of the Woden Valley Youth Choir family). The whole was conducted by Andrew Koll of local Canberra Bach Ensemble fame with solo vocalists Robert McFarlane, Jeremy Tatchell, Greta Claringbould, Maartje Sevenster, Christopher Roach and Andrew Fysh and a series of choir members playing smaller parts (identified when in character with a coloured scarf). St Matthew's is big regardless, but this was unabridged, totalling 78 movements, variously chorales or recitative or aria, in two parts with an interval. 3.5 hours in the original German. There was a script and translation projected but it wasn't always easy to read. Impressive and demanding, even for audience. But the time went. I loved the returning choruses, the voices were sometimes startling, always reverent, relevant. The Evangelist holds it together by telling the story, but what a job. Robert McFarlane was hugely impressive in this role. It's a story we know well enough, although spread over 3 hours there were features and references that I didn't know so well, so educational too. Other than the basses on stools or Pip or Barbara who occasionally stood, or a peak at the solo Viola da gamba down the aisle, I could see little. But then I mostly watch the bassists anyway. They were Kyle Daniel and Isabella Brown, both of CSO. Mostly it was delicious Bach contrapuntal fare but just once I was aghast, well into the first part with reference to Hell. It was bass hell: a very long fretful passage of semiquavers. But they pulled it off. Otherwise, I noticed how cleverly Bach expressed the plot or theme of a chorus in his writing. Somewhere in the second part I realised how effective it was then I heard it ongoing. And that haunting chorus that recurs, sung by both choirs (is it Wir setzen uns mit Tranen nieder or part thereof?) that just has your skin squirming with its simple beauteous melody and deep intimacy. Just a stunner. A fabulously successful outing for this work of great genius. Congratulations to all. Now for Bach's other survived passion on Good Friday...

JS Bach St Matthew Passion was performed at St Christopher's Manuka Canberra Choral Society and Australis Voices, two orchestras led by Pip Thompson and BJ Gilby with solo voices Robert McFarlane (Evangelist), Jeremy Tatchell (Jesus), Greta Claringbould (soprano), Maartje Sevenster (alto), Christopher Roach (tenor) and Andrew Fysh (bass) under Andrew Koll (conductor).

22 March 2018


This was Matt Withers and Callum Henshaw performing Rodrigo Concerto Madrigal at Wesley with Anthony Smith on piano. Matt joked that Anthony was their orchestra on the day then went on to invite the audience to hear this work in a few weeks with a full orchestra, in this case, the National Capital Orchestra in Llewellyn on 7 April. I'm in that, so this was a pre-visit/preview for me too. Not that we haven't played it through a few times and listened to other performances. But it's something special and a bit unusual to hear the concerto you are to play, performed in this format by the very people who will lead. It was an eye-opener. I was surprised by the extent of the work (12 movements over ~33mins), but not by its endlessly Spanish character and dancing rhythms and tangy guitar tones. Matt and Callum played well together, looking up for solo lines or ends and starts but otherwise intent of the complex, chordal charts that are guitar scores. Being a string player, I also enjoyed the quick lines of fretted notes high up the neck, especially when the two came together, in harmony or unison or jagged echoes. Guitar is plucked so sharp and so unlike other strings with their genial attacks and long sustains. This is all tack-sharp, cutting, alive and biting as we imagine the tap and snap of Flamenco and other Spanish styles. Looking forward to a night of this with Matt and Callum soon.

Matt Withers and Callum Henshaw (guitars) performed Rodrigo at Wesley with Anthony Smith (piano) accompanying.

PS. Wesley had baked a cake for Bach's 333rd birthday on 21 March 2018 (in preparation for a birthday organ concert that evening).

20 March 2018

As written

It was gloriously satisfying to hear Louse Page and Sally Greenaway in the cabaret act, direct from the Adelaide Fringe. It was a presentation of about a dozen songs called Louise and Sally do Tin Pan Alley, dedicated to the wondrous tunes that came from that street in NYC, 28th St between 5th and 6th Avenues. I strolled down there once but there's nothing much there now but memories. But what fabulous memories are the great tunes from theatre and film that spread to the world and formed much of the infrastructure of jazz over the decades. The Gershwins, Ellington, Arlen, Kern, Porter. I enjoyed this deeply for the tunes and their outwardly innocent but wickedly playful and aware lyrics but also for the performances. Louise presented with clarity and trained voice as only her training can muster and portrayed every word with clarity and insight. Sally was a dream. She's a composer so she knows alternatives better than most, picks them with wisdom and portrays them with training. I love the bebop turn-it-on-its-head approach too, but Sally could portray the tunes in their original voice then play with them in a clever but empathetic way that floored me, even down to the collapsed dissonances of one tune or the quotes from James Bond or Rhapsody in Blue or a string of tunes built on Rhythm changes, not least the Flintstones theme. I noticed that once before with another jazz gig she did. To some degree, all improvisers compose but not like a composer improvises. Huge pleasure. Then there was the story of the songs, the insertions of a few further inventions of Sally, a take on a Bach Two part invention (no.8, Fmaj) as rag time and an original from her Seven inventions show telling the story of the emergence of movies which works a treat. These are two wonderfully trained and experience musicians doing cabaret with real, deep class. Suffice to say, I was both floored and touched.

Louse Page (soprano) and Sally Greenaway (piano) presented their ode to the great American Songbook and its place of origin, Tin Pan Alley.

19 March 2018

A tale of two seats

It was the best of seats, it was the worst of seats. Or maybe not. This was the Australian Chamber Orchestra being led by Russian/English violinist Alina Ibragrimova from violin. Megan got given tickets from a friend who couldn't use her seat and I bought another in the back row. Seriously the back row: last row at the top upstairs. I didn't expect too much but the sound was very presentable, full, rich, more so than I've encountered in closer rows upstairs. The wall behind must do it. So I was pleased. Not so much for the Samuel Barber Adagio for strings, lovely as it was and how well played, but it's a non-fave of mine. But I noticed the neat playing, the precise intonation, the common sense of time, the intensity at low volumes, the neat dissonances. So not a favourite but looking very presentable. Then Mozart Adagio and Fugue Cmin. Busy and clear and falling over itself as fugues are. Loved that one. Then Hartmann Concerto funebre. I was non-plussed early but then startling playing, heavenly high harmonics, huge understanding between players and the modern harmonies got me. I was won over. Then interval. I'd noticed empty seats in the stalls, so off to front row. A nice chat with one couple then a search for a seat to view the bassist. I ended up somewhat unaccepted for my intrusion into someone's unused seat (I wondered why) but mightily impressed by the best seat in the house to view bass substitute Tim Gibbs (of the Philharmonia Orchestra [from where, Sydney?]) on bass. (Looking at the ACO website I write this, I reckon that TG was playing the famed 1585 Gasparo Da Salò bass: ACO make a big thing of their valuable and aged instruments). This time I was amongst the players. Watching their eyes and messaging; hearing the individuals; watching Alina herself up close, calm but sharp and quick and energetic in her playing (one player commented on her director's energy as I walked out with him); bowled over by some mighty lines on bass and celli; watching technique and checking string choices (D'Addario Kaplans? silver grey with dark windings) and how he used that bass extension. But the glances and awareness were perhaps the biggest lesson. That's what you see up close, amongst the players. Fascinating for others, too, as confirmed by mates also close and also players. The second set was Arvo Part Silouan's song then the main work, Schubert Death and the Maiden, symphonic in scale with four movements, originally a string quartet (no.14, Dmin) but arranged by Richard Tognetti for string orchestra. This was another stunning achievement. Afterwards Megan likened ACO to Berlin Phil. Another friend said it's the thing he attends before all else. I can see why. Seriously good; obviously our own local piece of world classiness, touching on Canberra every few months. I must include ACO in future bookings. A stunner from either seat.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra performed in Llewellyn Hall. They were led by guest director Alina Ibrigimova (violin) with Helena Rathbone, Aiko Goto, Ilya Isakovich, Lisa Pallandi, Maja Savnik, Ike See, Thibaud Pavlovic-Hobba, Lachlan O'Donnell and Veronique Serret (violins), Florian Peelman, Nicola Divali, Elizabeth Woolnough (violas), Timo-Veikko Valve, Melissa Barnard and Timothy Nankervis (cellos) and Tim Gibbs (bass). Australian Chamber Orchestra, Alina Ibrigimova

17 March 2018

How good was that

Canberra has had a minor influx of players in the last year or so and we've been well served by it. Barrett, Clarke & Sutton are amongst the best anywhere and we had it, just a trio, mostly playing jazz written by others, but with a level of ability that was stunning. This is Hugh Barrett, Brendan Clarke and Mark Sutton. All three renowned throughout Australia and now resident here. There were a few originals; there was lots of hard swing and passed fours and bass solos and vamps. All the standard take on jazz tunes, but with such facility, such immense awareness and fluidity. I was laid low by Brendan's solos, gasped at Hugh's earlier dissonances developing into flowing waves of notes, grinned at the ease of Mark's telling stories on drums, not least surprised by those extra bars at the end of I remember Hugh/you. They mostly played music by others but the tunes weren't too obvious. There was Coltrane but it was a blues called Just for the love; there was a string of tunes by pianists: Mulgrew Miller, Benny Barron, Kenny Werner, Bud Powell, Stephen Scott; there were a few by Cole Porter and Billy Strayhorn. Hugh provided two: Big staircase and his take on I remember you which easily took the nickname I remember Hugh. And I was floored by Hugh's solo intro to Lush Life: just right, in style and harmony with just a tasteful touch of dissonance with some diminished fills (if I heard right). Floored all round by some incredibly capable playing mixing seriousness with good cheer. Barrett, Clarke & Sutton just floored me. It wasn't totally unexpected.

Hugh Barrett (piano), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) performed at Smiths Alternative.

16 March 2018

Laying claim

It was a big claim to make (and presumably a playful throw-away) that this was "one of the most beautiful pieces ever written" but it was lovely and the playing was easily up to it. This was a group led by BJ Gilby performing Brahms Clarinet Quintet Bmin Op.115 at Wesley. I left with Pip and she said playing chamber music with friends was the best way to spend an afternoon. I could understand that whether the music is best ever or not. But how nice was this? The gentle interplay of a string quartet with the oddly insistent and unrelenting tone of the clarinet. I hear clarinets often enough but here it was frequent and prominent and that tone was so diverse from the strings: sustained but fatter, rounder, touching on mediaeval I thought. And the playing was lovely, not unexpectedly. Relaxed and easy but done with awareness and care. Barbara is leading us in MdC at the moment and I'm seeing her approach to preparing a group: slowly, highlighting surroundings and other players and understanding how the lines fit together, interweave, respond to each other. Not at all bull-at-gate, take it from the top. The performance was like this. Clear in intent, spacious and ready for changing lines and leads. So, if it was the most beautiful music eva, maybe so, but I just sunk into the pleasure of an afternoon of melody and interplay done with thought and awareness. That's my greatest ever.

Eloise Fisher (clarinet), Barbara Jane Gilby and Pip Thompson (violins), Lucy Carrigy-Ryan (viola) and Samuel Payne (cello) performed Brahms at Wesley.

14 March 2018

One of many

If I search it right, IMSLP offers a list of 89 Stabat Maters by different composers so the annual SM performance by Adhoc Baroque has a few years to run yet. This year the composer was Alessandro Scarlatti (his son, Domenico, later wrote a better known setting). The text was by Jacopone del Todi and recounts the grief of mother Mary at the cross of Jesus. It's a deeply touching thought and thus taken frequently as a theme. The work itself comprises 19 short stanzas, sung by soprano and mezzo-soprano, Greta and Maartje, with accompaniment from organ, two violins and cello. The movements were short, often just a single reading of the text, perhaps a minute or two, sung by one or other or both vocalists. I particularly enjoyed the harmonised singing. Greta and Maartje both present well as soloists but I was particularly taken by their harmony singing in this performance: harmonising, contrapuntal, always clear and well formed, deliciously intoned and fluidly melding. The accompanying organ was discrete, the two higher strings playful and the cello firm and forward moving. In the notes, Peter highlights harmonic and melodic twists in this music with echoes in more modern music: he specifically mentions an off-beat melody in one movement which I remember hearing as an oddity (or error?) on the day. Otherwise, the group, with cello replaced by viola da gamba, performed three pieces before interval - a melancholy motet by Stradella, one of 1750 surviving church cantatas from Telemann and a lively playful piece from Buxtehude - with mezzo, soprano and paired voices. Again, some great playing and very satisfying singing of this unpretentious and deeply faithful C17th music. May the series continue till its natural end!

Adhoc Baroque performed Stradella, Telemann, Buxtehude and a Stabat Mater by Alessandro Scarlatti at St Paul's Manuka. The group comprised Greta Claringbould (soprano), Maartje Sevenster (mezzo-soprano), Lauren Davis and Michelle Hicks (violins), Rachel Walker (viola da gamba), Clara Teniswood (cello) and Peter Young (organ, director).

12 March 2018

Our turn to Enlighten

Thanks to CJ's Belgian foreign correspondent for a few pics. Foreign correspondent? Well, Neal has reported for CJ from jazz festivals in Belgium. This time, Neal and Anne Gowan turned up at our Tilt gig at ANU Enlighten and provided some videos. Nice to see friends at a gig although I find it the most nerve-wracking of any visitors. It was a perfect night for it; the PA was supplied; there were lights and even B&W movies projected above us; we enjoyed playing. I played double and was enjoying it so much I didn't manage my funk-switch to e-bass. We met various audience, not least a Swiss PhD student of dwarf galaxies over for a visit to Mt Stromlo. He'd just flown in, learning of the hell of the flight to/from Europe, and told of being amazed by the local wildlife. Europe's left that way in the past. Enlightened.

Tilt Trio played at the ANU Enlighten festival. Thanks to Kathryn Wells for pics. Tilt are James Woodman (piano), Dave McDade (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass)

11 March 2018

What makes a group

I sat in admiration listening to the Australian Haydn Ensemble this night. It's not the first time, but it surprises me each time. I'm playing music like this now so I can feel just how difficult and inspirational is this close interaction. They all play wonderfully, of course, but the stunning thing for me was the dynamics and the close interplay. This is a group thing, a matter of togetherness, shared understanding, often of friendship or at least musical closeness. Simone shows it openly, with frequent smiles and grins. The others smile and glace less obviously or frequently but they are all eyes and ears, too. You see it as they come to a pause, or the end of a phrase, how they look up to Skye or each other. Then the exact attack, the shared fortes or denouements, at the most detailed level, within and between phrases. This is close playing and it's a key to chamber music with its intimate scale and unprotected exposure. They just did it so well and so comfortably. Jacqueline was unavailable so this was played without bass, interestingly, as much of this early classical music was written. The program was all Haydn: London Trio (flute, violin and cello), a string quartet and the Symphony no.104 London. The trio was written for home playing. I could only sit aghast thinking of the demands placed on home musos. But there was no TV in those days, so plenty of time for practice for the comfortable classes. Some lines just flawed me: from Anton's cello, or Skye's lead or Simone's responses or just how the whole group stopped then seemed to float for a lengthy pause, twice, I think, in the final movement of the symphony. I've said much of this group as they are friends and I've seen them numerous times, but I am never unsurprised. Truly lovely stuff.

Australian Haydn Ensemble performed in the Great Hall at ANU University House. AHE were Skye McIntosh (violin 1), Simone Slattery (violin 2), James Eccles (viola), Anton Baba (cello), Melissa Farrow (flute) and Nathan Cox (fortepiano).