28 June 2018

A mixed bag

I'm starting to see my error in not attending ACO concerts before now. They are seriously good, if in a unique and identifiable way. Lovely sound and great energy and reliable togetherness. Not sure how period-authentic is the performance but so what. I loved the final Haydn London symphony with its well shared understandings of dynamics within and between phrases, but I just doubt a court orchestra would have done it quite like that (although I think this was first performed in a commercial theatre). So what? The period movement is interesting, but we don't have recordings so the performances can't be other than affected by our experiences, and anyway, why shouldn't our modern performances be influenced by what's happened in the last 250 years? It's the nature of art, society and everything to change. So I drooled over their London symphony. There were two world premieres on the program, too. One by Samuel Adams (son of one of the John Adams). That was jumpy piece built on continuing triplet motifs moving through the ensemble and exploring issues of interpersonal dynamics. I liked it well enough but would like to hear it again to gain some acquaintance. More traditional others were not so generous. The second world premiere was by our own Uzbekistan-Aussie, the much loved Elena Katz-Chernin. This was a work in four movements about an escape from tyranny to Australia. Far more melodic, gentle, evident, accessible and accepted by our traditional friends. Me too. The major work of the night was Shostakovich Cello concerto no.1 Ebmaj played by Steven Isserlis. Great work; great player. There was easy responsiveness between enhanced orchestra (featuring horn and other woodwinds) and the solo cello, even if I felt the cello was sometimes lost under the sound of 35-or-so ensemble players. But then SI did not seem particularly loud even at his loudest. But a fabulous work played really well. And the pre-concert talk was a good introduction, not least by interviewing Sam Adams, composer and jazz bassist. So, a great night. BTW, we ate before (pub food: fish'n'chips; burger'n'chips) in the Wig & Pen downstairs. They deserve more support from Llewellyn attendees.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra performed works by Sam Adams, Shostakovich, Elena Katz-Chernin and Haydn. The Sam Adams and Elena Katz-Chernin were world premieres. Steven Isserlis (cello) played the Shostakovich Cello Concerto no.1 Ebmaj.

27 June 2018

Sun princess others

What else musical? There were several other acts, some pretty decent, that I didn't follow. Chris Powley appeared with orchestra in a vocal showcase. I only caught a few minutes where he was singing tunes in the styles of various famous artists. Amusing. I did catch Chris Gable, an Australian multi-instrumentalist with a good line in patter. He played a string of light jazz numbers on alto sax (?) and clarinet with the orchestra. His playing was quick and good and his sax playing had a wonderful tone. There was a young piano/vocalist who was popular but to my ear destroyed every song. His antics were popular but his interpretations of some supremely lovely ballads were indulgent and disrespectful ... to my ears. Perhaps it says as much about me as him. I won't mention his name. There was an in-port Penang Folkloric show featuring local instruments and songs, local melodies, gamelan, percussion and the rest and several dancers. Interesting but perhaps requires some understanding. I particularly liked the gamelan player. There was a solo guitar/singer called Danny Shamess and a clever covers duo called Galaxy Duo. Galaxy was female singer and male guitar with recorded backing and some searing guitar solos. Nice. Sounding much bigger than the pair of players on stage. What else? There was a DJ bar and Karaoke in the early evening. Some of the Voice performers appeared here, of course. There were some flunkies but mostly decent singers amongst them: no doubt regulars at the local karaoke pub. Indicative of cruise life, a lively dinner table partner, Poppy, tried to get me up for a duet but no avail. There's other stuff, too, not least bars and pools and ports and food but that's for another blog. I lost most of my pics of the artists, so just two from Singapore.

26 June 2018

Sun Princess voices

I might have written this as a matter of ridiculous to sublime but it wasn't so extreme. One side was the Sun Princess pop choir. Pop choirs are one activity that cruise ships may have. They are simple things, volunteers who gather a few times to singalong, mostly in unison but harmonies are allowed but not written. Somewhat like a group karaoke, I guess. This was the best I've done, and given the expectations, it was pretty good. We sang five uber-pop songs: Here comes the sun; Hit the road Jack; Blame it on the boogie; New York New York; Sweet Caroline. All obvious and common. The keys were mostly OK although I found just a few lines in the Boogie problematic, always going high. The Frank Sinatra was damnably hard to carry off, given it's known by such a quintessential jazz singer. Sweet Caroline is always there, but then it's easy and everyone knows the actions (except me). The largely spoken male lines in Hit the Road Jack need confidence. My favourite was Here comes the sun, which was not so much easy as melodious and commonly interpreted. There were clearly numerous choral singers amongst the group. I stood next to a cabaret singer from Adelaide and even a member of my choir, Russell, was onboard. Small world. Later I caught that cabaret singer in The Voice of the Ocean, a takeoff of the TV version (I understand, with rights paid). Six singers performing with orchestra and background singers before judges on rotating seats and the like. I've never seen the TV version but don't need to now. There were heats earlier in the cruise that I didn't pay attention to, and a strange series of judgments, first by three judges, then of the judges by the contestants, then of the chosen contestants by the judges, then by the audience of the final three. There were some decent singers, some with experience and some without, singing some pretty obvious country or soul or crooner songs, mostly cut strangely short. Singers had a limited range of songs to choose from, presumably popular numbers with band charts available. And then the jokes and generous commentary (the singing passenger is always right). I chose a different winner, but so it goes. That was the last night and quite fun.

25 June 2018

Sun Princess classics

More sedate were the classically trained performers playing a mix of classical and popular and jazz music in the bar mostly in the afternoon or early evening. The Grazia String Duo comprised two female violinists from the Ukraine. Lyudmyla Chrstyakova mostly played the first line with Kristina Sandetska playing second, an accompanying harmony or rhythmic line. Again, plenty of mainstream film and show hits (Memory, Shadow of your smile, Hello dolly, Come fly with me and the like( along with the occasional popular classical number. Again, this is not concert hall, but a little gets slipped in. Nice. Grazia's offsider was Russian pianist Olena Konstantinova. Think Misty, All of me, My way along with Lieberstraum and Fur Elise and more. I have each of their CDs as souvenirs. I can only laugh with pleasure at Olena's note: "From funny classical to another funny musician somewhere at the sea ... With best wishes! Olena :)" Lovely. Her English is better than my Russian.<br><br>

Olena Konstantinova (piano) and the Grazia String Duo, comprising Lyudmyla Chrstyakova and Kristina Sandetska (violins) played on the Sun Princess.

24 June 2018

Sun Princess covers

Sun Princess had perhaps the best pop band I've caught on a ship: Xtasea. Geddit? They were a 5-piece covers band out of the Caribbean. Two singers, male and female, with keys, bass and drums. The singers were great, swapping lead roles and neatly harmonising to each other, the tenor male not wildly below the female, and with a bassist player with a great take on finger funk. To me, he stole the band and others were aware of the bassist, but it takes all to make one. The keys were not so prominent, but obviously essential in laying down the chordal and melodic snippets in backing and the drummer was determined and firm and apparently in charge of calling each tune. I expected they had mini sets or medleys because they ran the songs together with no evident breaks, but no, apparently, they were just called and they knew the tunes well. Very impressive. Their rock was right but attracted me less than their funky sets. Very hot stuff with that prominent funky bass and those nifty vocals. They even had me up dancing once (or maybe it was the drinks package).

Xtasea performed covers on the Sun Princess. They comprised two vocals (female, male), keys, bass (Charlie Jn Baptiste) and drums.

23 June 2018

Sun Princess shows

CJ has been on vacation: another cruise with Mum. So what of the music this time? As always I loved the shows. I never attend such things at home: they are entertaining and competent and perhaps too expensive to stage in Canberra, anyway. If I watched the right TV, I guess I might see something on the style. I love them for the skills, for the popular and remembered music, for the energy and dancing. Not so much for the themes. This ship was Sun Princess and there were three or four stage shows over the 12 days-or-so. No shows on days when in port. I've recounted before about selection of performers. We got friendly with one, Cat, a dancer and, as I understood, manager of the dance troupe. The dance troupe was six women and four men. There were also two singers (male, female) and the orchestra. The orchestra were mostly jazz trained, I guess. I met the bassist, Will, from Austin TX. He was playing e-bass on the ship. The orchestras are always professional, being capable readers. This one also played a Dixieland tribute outside the stage context and backed a few visiting artists and the final night's The Voice at Sea. I'd seen some shows before but they remain great joys: Save the last dance; Bravo (operatic faves); British Invasion (songs of the '60s-'70s); Sweet soul music. The dancers also performed a few shows with recorded music, notably two on country music, all line dancing (although choreographed as high level jazz) and gingham and, as I remember, the British Invasion show. The Sun Princess is not a large ship but it does have a theatre and a largish cabaret stage and several other bar stages. Suffice to say, I like the shows and they are a feature of any cruise. Not high art, perhaps, but professional and performed by skilled dancers and singers on rolling seas with admirable skills.

The Sun Princess Dancers and Singers performed several shows mostly with backed by the Sun Princess Orchestra. The singers were Aja Goes and Steven Major.

5 June 2018

Thanks each way


It was great fun to finally play a gig with Ross Buchanan. We played a piano/bass duo session for a few hours at lunchtime at Brindabella Hills winery. I was covering for Peter Barta who normally plays with this band but it was share and share alike. I hadn't been able to play our Tilt gig the night before so Peter subbed and Mark Levers subbed for Dave. Roundabouts. It's good to play with others - something like a paid jam session: jazz teaches you to do just this and jazzers have a fairly well known shared repertoire to help, too. We played standards and jazz tunes, bossas and swings and blues and one or two ballads. Someone once joked that the gigs like this always started from A in the Real Book so he never got to the later charts. We didn't do that. But how nice to play and to get out to the country to do it. And cheers to Brian, my mate who is winemaker there.


Ross Buchanan (piano) and Eric Pozza (bass) played at Brindabella Hills winery.

3 June 2018

What is this thing called, love


It's a piece of nostalgia and theatre and comedy as much as music. NCO and CCS and a string of soloists performed Not the Messiah : he's a very naughty boy at Llewellyn last night to a crowded house and everyone had a ball. There's a generation out there that's brought up on Monty Python (I'm of it), so I'm not surprised at the turnout, but to some degree I was surprised at my own enjoyment of the event. I'd gone around thinking this is not Beethoven 9 or Mozart Requiem, especially because of the fairly simple readability of the music. But it's not complexity alone that makes for success in music and I wonder if I'd been snobby about the whole thing. I don't think so but I'd ignored the pleasure of a massed musical outing, of the joy of comedy and the essentially intelligent and well meaning humour of the Python crew and just the effectiveness of our locals to carry all this off.

120-or-so performers filled the stage physically and the hall aurally with a inundation of sound with the help Llewellyn's new phrased array; the orchestra did its musical job, enhanced even with a rhythm section with electric instruments (gasp); the choir sang a treat but also played up the night with discrete props; the soloists were a roguish joy as well as being wonderfully capable as singers; the brass wore sombreros and the pipers brought the house down. There were smiles and joy everywhere and congrats for jobs well done. Well done to Lenny, of course, who conducted this all and to SarahLouise who had done her parallel part with the choir. A huge turnout and a huge success.

National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society presented Not the Messiah : he's a very naughty boy by Eric Idle and John du Prez at Llewellyn Hall. Soloists were Louise Page and Demi Smith (sopranos), Nick Begbie (tenor), Tobias Cole (baritone), David Pearson (bass) under Leonard Weiss (conductor) with Ylaria Rogers (director) and SarahLouise Owens (chorus master). The bottom-enders were Roger Grime, Lizzy Collier and Eric Pozza (basses).

2 June 2018

The sounds of Spain


Our mates, the Australian Haydn Ensemble, were back in town again, this time at the Albert Hall. Just a small format of five players: a string quartet with a guitar. The theme was Spanish music at the end of the 17th Century and everyone think guitar when they think of Spain. Several works featured guitar and all had some relevance to Spain. Boccherini was Italian but he fell in love with a Spanish opera singer and toured with her company. He had two works, a string quartet (op.26 no.4 Amaj) and a guitar quintet (Fandango Gmaj). Mozart wasn't Spanish and neither was Porro who arranged his K.304, but the odd combination featured guitar with violin and cello. Canales was Spanish and worked for the Spanish court and was influenced by Boccherini. AHE played his string quartet op.3 no.2 Cmin. Perhaps the least of the connections was Haydn's op.51 Seven last words of Christ our saviour on the cross that was a profound experience for a congregation in Cadiz. But a worthy piece anyway. And one final work for solo guitar, Sor Into and variations on a theme by Mozart op.9. The strings were gut with bows to match and the guitar was an interesting modern copy of a romantic guitar by Australian Johann Stauffer: small bodied with an adjustable neck and violin-like tuning pegs. The sound of the guitar was lighter, sharper, thinner than a modern classical but it all fitted nicely to give a treble lift to the gut strings. The playing was lovely: detailed, conversational, lithe, sometimes quiet as to be discrete. And the informative chats and casual interactions after are a pleasure. Loved it yet again.

Australian Haydn Ensemble performed at Albert Hall. On the night they comprised Skye McIntosh (violin, director), Simone Slattery (violin), James Eccles (viola) and Anton Baba (cello) with guest Simon Martyn-Ellis (guitar).