16 December 2018

New kids on the block


Canberra Sinfonia was a new one on me but Lenny explained: it's like CYO for advanced students bordering on professional (or more formally, from the program: "Canberra's newest semi-professional ensemble designed for and by emerging professional musicians"). Nice. Hayley's there and she's just finished her degree and I've played with her and that was a pleasure. So were Heng and Helena and they are also lovely players. Apparently this is their second concert, playing Bach and Handel ; their first was a few months back. The program was Bach Orchestral suite no.1 and two Handel organ concerti (op.7 no.1,4) with new Decca artist and once-local guest Calvin Bowman. Interestingly, we were also invited to applaud between movements: no-one did, but it's an interesting break with recent orchestral manners. Lenny said the Handel was interval music for his oratorios, so it would have been background and spoken over anyway. Sometimes you feel a need to give some response during a piece but it's not a done thing. It wasn't done here anyway, despite the invitation. But this was a lovely performance with quite a solid bottom end on the strings and a pleasant tinkle of harpsichord from where I was sitting in the second half, along with Calvin's second half organ, and some winds, two oboes and a very impressive bassoon doing bass lines occasionally. I say solid bottom given the strings were 2-2-2-2-1 (vln1-vln2-vla-clo-bs): in most orchestras they would increase in numbers from bottom to top, so a different balance. Interestingly, each Handel concerto had a movement that was solo organ "organ ad lib". I guess this is written these days but it's indicative of the skills in improvisation by these musicians in the past, and specifically Handel himself. So, a great little concert attended by too few, this being so close to Christmas. I'm looking forward to more. A choral concert with Luminiscence Chamber Singers is due 23 March .

Canberra Sinfonia performed at Wesley under Leonard Weiss (conductor) with Calvin Bowman (organ) soloing on Handel.

15 December 2018

Processing


To me, jazz is fine music with groove; "classical" is fine music without that Afro-American inspiration; popular music is less fine, usually. But to say that it's all a melange these days is unexceptional. The music of Ben and Hugh's latest album is played on ABC jazz radio but it shares much with electronica and dance music. It's accompanied by electronics and tangles of cables, heavily processed, happens live through computers and Ableton, features loops and drones and pitch shifts and the like, and mixes it with jazz trumpet, easily reminiscent of Miles at times, and Rhodes and piano tones and lines and sequences that speak jazz languages. Do I need to say, I loved it? This sounds modern and relevant, fresh, contemporary as in the NPR Best 50 albums for 2018 that dropped in my email the other day. To some degree it's standard electronics but jazzers make it sparkle by adding that level of instrumental dexterity and harmonic knowledge. Ben and Hugh both have that in spades: Ben's fabulous, rich, tempered trumpet tone and melodic intelligence; Hugh's superb Rhodes and other tones (much fed from a laptop he had by his side) and his unerring and inquisitive harmonies and extended chops. These are two masters playing contemporary, sometimes minimalist, on occasion austere or exposed or flourished. The loops provide a bed for some stunning releases at times, long lines or consistent and insistent sequences. Manual sequences over computer sequencing. The concert was at CMAG (Canberra Museum and Gallery) as an event in the EuroVisions exhibition and it fitted perfectly with the colour and contemporary European art collected by the Sydney Goldbergs. Great music in and fitting an intriguing space.

Ben Marston and Hugh Barrett performed at the Canberra Museum and Gallery.

14 December 2018

At year's end


The Australia Institute ran its End of year politics wrapup as its final Politics in the Pub session and it's one PitP that I did get to this year. Ben Oquist (TAI) chaired a session with four Parliament House journalists: Rob Harris (Herald Sun), Annika Smethurst (Sunday Tele, Herald Sun, Sunday Mail), Bevan Shields (SMH, Age) and Amy Remeikis (Guardian Australia). Somewhat like the previous session on climate, there was horror at the last year but some sense of hope. Somewhat like the other session, I just wait to see the green buds, But it was interesting and informed chatter and even added something for this politics junkie. First up, what's wrong with Parliament: Parliament "doesn't look like us" [lovely observation]; its culture, not least bullying; importing of personality politics into the Westminster system (esp, the Presidential PM); poor leadership [yes, obvious]. Does the LNP need time in opposition: Victorian election night, 8pm, realisation of slaughter; return of Barnaby Joyce and Abbott? Who are they speaking to? Scott Morrison and the election: is anyone listening, answer "No"; Labor has 3 seat benefit in recent redistribution; his "hysterical press conference" last week; Julia Banks and the LNP's problem with women; National security as " a natural reflex"; LNP so bad because Labor has been so good for so long and Labor as "formidable" and as a government in opposition; LNP's best chance at election is just to offer money, it influences some; but no expectation of a LNP win. Highlights of the year: The Spill ("ridiculous" especially given Turnbull was "Labor's greatest asset"; Dutton???); the "OK to be white clusterfuck" which seemed an awareness raiser for much of Parliament; LNP shutting down Parliament after the first Turnbull spill to deal with its own problems; treatment of women, not least Barnaby Joyce questioning paternity of his girlfriend's baby. Oh, and Melissa Price offending island states and 2 weeks later, admitting she, as Environment Minister, hadn't read the recent IPCC report. The questions, Shorten seen so poorly because opposition leaders always "winge and complain" and he's "very managed". Labor was wedged on Encryption legislation but Shorten blinked anyway. Media requires some soul-searching although not all media deserves blame, think Allan Jones calls at Turnbull spill and Ray Hadley with Dutton "pretty much gave instructions". They don't broadcast to many, but they do to NP pre-selectors [I found that that explanatory]. Dutton and the conflict of fewer boats (to save on cost) vs National security as a political issue [I read Dutton has given instructions not to reduce security boating]. Nauru may see some LNP supporters move to Labor. I missed the final comments, but was amused by Ben's wrap-up "Best spot to finish ... on sex." It was interesting to hear these people who are so close speaking so openly although most is in the media if you look or listen for it. Again, I'll just await the light after the storm.


The Australia Institute ran its End of year politics at ANU with Ben Oquist (TAI, chair) and four Parliamentary Press Corp journalists, Rob Harris (Herald Sun), Annika Smethurst (Sunday Tele, Herald Sun, Sunday Mail), Bevan Shields (SMH, Age) and Amy Remeikis (Guardian Australia).

13 December 2018

Disappointments


It's unfair to the ANU and its excellent gatherings concerning Climate change but I was disappointed. They run a range of events. This one was entitled "Australia's prospects for a credible energy and climate change policy?" Note the question mark. It's a measure of our lack of success over the years, back since Keating. It's become a culture war issue so I hear the ABC (another other culture war issue) can't even get the Federal Environment Minister to speak from the major international forum (Katowice Climate Change Conference, Dec 2018). But the LNP has problems with cc and she's ex-coal industry. So much for Katowice and the future of humanity. I guess I would just be ridiculed after such a statement (I was just recently) but I'm conservative enough to accept our Enlightenment institutions, like science. It's the deniers who are off with the fairies and into conspiracies. But despite the ANU convening this event, I was disappointed because that very issue of survival of civilisation, of the future, was absent. Admittedly, it was a discussion elsewhere, of the possibilities of a deranged politics, but only on the last question did someone ask about the cost of doing nothing, or too little. It is immense, of course, but the economist - again ANU and impressive - could only come at mechanics, as necessary as that is, without the balance of short- and long-term costs. They must be there, they are there, but I didn't hear them. And the woman from the BCA who was all pro-market, pro-cc-response, but forgetful of their quite recent history. Weren't they with Abbott against Gillard and carbon costs? The one who did impress with some expression of urgency and awareness of the existential menace of it all and its earlier-than-expected arrival, was Tony Wood of the Grattan Institute. The GI had arranged the event with ANU. Suitably, the moderator, ANU Energy Change Institute Director Ken Baldwin, also displayed some of this awareness, or perhaps we should read "fear". As in "approaching the climate change point of no return" / Jerzy Duszyński, President, Polish Academy of Sciences, or "When it comes to climate change, we're faced with a physical, moral, and philosophical crisis" / Patricia Espinosa, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, or "Avoiding the worst impacts of climate change will require rapid and deep decarbonization in all sectors, within a very short timeframe" / Laurence Tubiana, CEO, European Climate Foundation, or "the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon" / David Attenborough, or the Parties’ commitments under the Paris Agreement represent “one third of what is needed", and further, "We are running out of time. To waste this opportunity would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change. It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal." / Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General. There's more of course. Australia as 55th in 58 (Climate Change Performance Index**) countries for responding to cc; Trump as questioning the science because the weather was chilly that week. So what did our presenters discuss? CC at heart a political challenge ("we're not short of policies"); this mess has many parents; cc as a surrogate for politics in the LNP; what have Labor/Greens/business learned; where to go now ... await the election. Discussions on targets, business support, pricing carbon, narratives by pollies to the public, equity, "profit through confusion", technology as a rescue. I could only sit stunned as AMP was offered as an example of success in a discussion on carbon financialisation (think Banking Royal Commission). But oddly there was expressed some optimism "despite ... the childish silliness of the last 10 years". I'll believe it when I see it.

Australia’s prospects for a credible energy and climate change policy? was convened by the Grattan Institute at the National Library with moderator Ken Baldwin (ANU) and speakers Tony Wood (Grattan Institute), Jessica Wilson (BCA) and Warwick McKibbin (ANU).

  • **Climate Change Performance Index
  • 10 December 2018

    Double treating


    The concert was labelled a double treat given the two features: a pair of double concerti. First up Vivaldi for two cellos; second up Bach for two violins. I like Vivaldi but the Bach was a winner and so well known. Vivaldi was Gminor; the Bach was Dminor. Whichever was the winner in the popularity stakes, these are impressive and attractive works, both of them. The Vivaldi was maybe more predictable, repetitive, less adventurous than the Bach but they were both great. The performers were the Forrest National Chamber Orchestra playing in the chapel at Grammar Girls School. The conductor was Gillian with Shilong helping out on some numbers. The soloists were all regular FNCO members, cellists Frances Stevens and Duncan McIntyre; violinists Rebecca Lovett and Shilong Ye. The supporting program was deeply interesting , too. Bartok Rumanian folk dances; Borodin Nocture from String quartet no.2 (very recognisable); Ravel Bolero (very very recognisable ... and done here nicely and in a mercifully shorter arrangement for string orchestra - just 5 runs through instead of, what? 17 or so?); and the most immediately attractive of all, Plink, plank, plunk! (1951) by Leroy Anderson, played totally in pizz, all cheerful and bouncy like a Disney theme. This was nice playing by a group that spans teachers and students and ages. Lovely to hear and some wonderful programs. Always a pleasure.

    Forrest National Chamber Orchestra performed Bach and Vivaldi double concerti as well as Bartok, Borodin, Anderson and Ravel in the chapel at Grammar Girls School. Gillian Bailey-Graham and Shilong Ye (conductors) directed soloists Frances Stevens and Duncan McIntyre (cellos) and Rebecca Lovett and Shilong Ye (violins).

    8 December 2018

    Gardening


    It's the day after and Megan's had me out in the garden and it's not something I love. Gardening as in Tilt+1 playing the ANU Fellows Bar garden with a decent audience and a few beers is what I like. It was much fun last night with Josh Knoop sitting in for some more complex comping and those different sounds of guitar soloing. And despite some annoying gear problems (not a problem I usually have, but it's plagued me this gig and last), I was playing well so in a good mood. Playing well is why we do it and a break to travel then a few gigs for Christmas seems to have done it for me. So, thanks to James and Dave and Josh, and see you on Thurs for another outing.

    Tilt+1 played at ANU Fellow Bar garden. Tilt was James Woodman (piano), Dave McDade (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass). +1 was Josh Knoop (guitar).

    6 December 2018

    Nailing it


    Jason Bruer's band is called Hammerhead and it's a driving hard bop outfit with three horns up front (tenor, alto, trumpet) and rhythm section. Mostly straightahead hard bop. At least one was more pensive, sustained, even relaxed, with circular breathing and another was a classical crossover in fugal form, the various instruments mirroring melody but displaced by time. But mostly it was honest, convincing, hard swinging, outgoing jazz. The horns up front were lovely, tuneful, together, energetic and interesting when they took their solos. The rhythm section was a blast, driving through at all times and happy to take their solos, too. Drummer Alex was the recent Wangaratta award winner for drums and got some regard for that. Very much jazz of the period and well deserved. Bassist Max is an old boy of the ANU and is playing a storm. Alone he could have anchored this band, so firmly swinging and fat sounding was he. His solos tended to slower and more thoughtful but they could let go, too. Gavin on piano was a pleasure, comping or headlining with power and energy. But energy was a feature all round. The horns were formidable together and intriguing apart. They changed just a little: alto to flute; tenor to soprano; trumpet to flugelhorn. All to be expected, but just a little surprising when it happened given it was none too common. But I particularly enjoyed Jason's soprano and Simon's flugel and the tone of flute fitted its more pensive context. But this was mostly a night of outright energy and exuberance and this band gave it. Two sets of five tunes then off for the drive back to Sydney. They nailed it.

    Jason Bruer (tenor, soprano) led Hammerhead with Simon Ferenci (trumpet, flugelhorn), Andrew Robertson (alto, flute), Gavin Ahearn (piano), Max Alduca (bass) and Alex Hirlian (drums).

    3 December 2018

    Family matters


    And great matters they were: Vaughan Williams and Beethoven; Lark ascending and Emperor concerto. The theme of our latest Maruki concert was Keeping it in the family. The solos were played by daughter Georgina Chan on violin for Lark ascending and her father George Chan on piano for the Emperor concerto. They both did wonderfully well. Georgina is studying music at UQ so expected, but fabulous none-the-less. George is a doctor, so this is a hobby, but again this was wonderfully convincing. But that's not all. Maruki concerts can feel like steak knives in their extent: that's why I enjoy them. John Gould has us playing the repertoire: all the names and seriously demanding stuff. The added works for this concert were Brahms symphony no.3 and Borodin Polovtsian dances. It would be a demanding program for a professional orchestra let alone a community orchestra, but Maruki takes it on. Yes, there were times our intonation and timing could have been better, but we've learned four major pieces and playing them is so much more instructive than just hearing them, however many times you do that. So, congrats to George and Georgina who truly did themselves proud, and thanks to John and the orchestra for expanding my experience of the repertoire. And to add, the story of the basses. We were four on the day so satisfyingly present in the mix. Jennifer had been around for the term so she was a mainstay. I only returned from Europe shortly before and arrived with Melissa, of CYO and ANU, for the final two practices. Then once-Maruki bassist, Naomi, literally arrived unexpected on the day to play (!) . And yet the basses sounded and sounded well. Congrats to a capable crew!


    Maruki Orchestra performed Beethoven, Brahms, Vaughan Williams and Borodin at the Albert Hall under John Gould (conductor) and Melvyn Cann (concertmaster). Soloist Georgina Chan (violin) played Lark ascending and her father, George Chan (piano) played Beethoven piano concerto no.5 Emperor. The bottom end coagulated over the weeks and days leading up to the concert: they were Jennifer Groom, Melissa Fung, Naomi Barber and Eric Pozza (basses). Maruki Orchestra, John Gould, Melvyn Cann, Georgina Chan, George Chan, Jennifer Groom, Melissa Fung, Naomi Barber, Eric Pozza

    1 December 2018

    Great Australian voices


    The Australian Voices. They are from Brisbane. They've been around for 25 years and are famed for the Singing Politician with Robert Davidson and Topology and numerous awards and more. They were on tour, touching down at Wesley Music Centre. They are deliriously good. They are generous, having run a workshop in the afternoon and inviting the participants up to sing a short Bach with them. Their music is mostly Australian and it's rich and modern and sometimes playful. They have a mashup of over 30 pop songs on YouTube called Tra$h Ma$h. We didn't hear that but we did hear Indian rhythms and knocking stones and whirly tubes and even singing through them. And Bruckner and several by leader Gordon Hamilton including one quoting Turing on his conviction for "gross indecency". But what beautiful voices, heavenly, gloriously intoned and delightfully together, sometimes with featured solo voices, bass or others or that high soprano. So good to hear such a choir and with such an interesting span of styles. Great stuff.

    The Australian Voices performed at Wesley Music Centre under Gordon Hamilton (artistic director, conductor).