13 June 2024

Boho then and now

I enjoy musicals although I don't get to many but I was lucky enough to be offered tix to Rent at the Canberra Theatre.  Rent is a rock musical from the mid-1990s, out of NYC, a winner of numerous awards, well toured and modelled on Puccini La Boheme; a story of a year in the life of a group of bohemians in NYC's East Village in the time of AIDS.  Some parallels are obvious: AIDS for Consumption; largely parallel characters; Mimi for Mimi; several musical quotes.  There's more same sex and drums and guitars.  Otherwise, I guess the issues of bohemian life are similar: money, friendships, commitment, housing, heating, eating, partying and the like.  The script was virtually all sung except an introduction and ending.  That's interesting but also can be harder to hear and comprehend, so the first half, a long Act 1, was pretty confusing.  We were not the only ones reading the Wikipedia plot description in the break.  When I did hear lines, sometimes I found them unexceptional and conversational, but I didn't concentrate on this.  I did more concentrate on the music and singing and dancing and presence and performance.  The music was rock, so fairly few chords and mostly fairly simple melodies.  The band was not easy to see, but I heard drums, bass, guitar, keys, sometimes perhaps a doubled guitar.  Leaving, I saw two screen at the back of the theatre, presumably so performers could see the conductor.  Dunno.  A jazz bass walk appeared at one time, I think associated with contacting parents who were a butt of jokes.  Also a guitar solo or two in good screaming metal style.  All good.  I liked the music, the incessant drums, the mix with some really excellent vocals.  Overall, I found Mark was my all-round favourite, catching my eye for singing, dancing and presence.  The central character Mark (Noah Mullins) has elements of the creator, not least poor housing and losing a girlfriend to another girl.  He's a film maker who documents these goings-on and is later queried by flatmate guitarist/singer/songwriter Roger (Jerrod Smith) when he finally takes a commission.  Interestingly, there's a projected film at the end which is presumably the original artists.  Roger and stripper/addict Mimi (Martha Berhane) fall in love but Roger keeps Mimi at arms length to protect her, thinking he has AIDS.  She ends up heartbroken and  homeless and virtually/maybe dies of AIDS but seems to magically resuscitate after seeing a vision of tranny friend Angel (Chad Rosete) who earlier died of AIDS in the arms of lover NY Univ-rejected philosopher  Collins (Nick Afoa).  There's some suggestion (Wikipedia?) that all other than Mark died of AIDS, but Mimi does seem to survive, let alone the others.  Not sure of that one.  It all happens from one Christmas to the next, in Alphabet City.  The summary tune was Seasons of wonder, covered by Stevie Wonder and more.  Its hook is "Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes / how do you measure a year in the life / How about Lo-o-ove / How about Lo-o-ove": the theme is obviously love.  The whole cast ends singing this one.  Creator Jonathon Larson had also written Superbia, somewhat influenced by George Orwell 1984, and Tick, Tick... Boom!, an 'autobiographical "rock monologue"' (Wikipedia) then ended up dying suddenly aged 35 the day before Rent was first performed as an off-Broadway preview.  What goes around, comes around.  Bohemian poverty in life as in art, in two operas a century apart.  No match for West Side Story, but a well intentioned rock musical with some great performances.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rent is a rock musical by Jonathon Larson.  It was staged at Canberra Theatre.

11 June 2024


Well, one has to check out the famous pic, doesn't one?  No, the painting of Gina Rinehart is not flattering but it's become one of the most notable in Australia after attention was brought to it by a campaign to disappear it.  The National Gallery decided otherwise.  I was amused that someone suggested it could have been bought then destroyed.  That may be the way of unflattering paintings, or maybe not: politicians are known for buying and saving cartoons of themselves and they are seldom flattering.  Not sure.  But it's not alone.  Vincent Namatjira seems to paint others in much the same way when he paints people of power and influence and even himself.  We continued a walk through of the Aboriginal wing at the Gallery.  I am taken by the new wave of Aboriginal art, the vibrant, outspoken politics of it all, but also the more traditional themes, often done in western techniques.  A room of linocuts intrigued both of us.  Just a quick visit as is possible for the local gallery.

01 June 2024

Spectrum bottom ender

Tilt Alt. played again at Old Canberra Inn and as often happens we had a visitor half expecting a jam session. This is actually a great pleasure and sometimes we have sit-ins. This evening we just chatted to Ben Jones. Ben plays bari sax in Spectrum Big Band and perhaps involved in its admin. With any luck we'll get that sit-in at another gig. At least we got a selfie with Ben.

James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Mark Levers (drums) played as Tilt at the Old Canberra Inn. Ben Jones (baritone sax) listened and chatted.

31 May 2024

Same not same

Wesley Music Centre is admirable in its support of young, upcoming musicians. Not sure how they afford it, but they maintain a string of Wesley Music Scholars and have done so for yonks, with graduates even working internationally. They also support local students appearing amongst the Wednesday lunchtime concerts that I record. This one was the return of Elena Nikulina's studio with four students, some of whom we have heard before. This was Oscar Wu playing de Falla and Bartok, Hannah Ni playing a Chopin Polonaise, May Li playing Glinka arr. Balakirev and Simon Wu playing Chaminade and Bartok. They all played capably and the concert was wonderfully satisfying. My unexpected new awareness for the afternoon was how a piano, in this case a fairly new Yamaha grand, was so different under different hands. To some degree it would be a function of the music, but May's tone was so delicate and endearing under her considered touch while Simon's was heavy and meaty. Preferences and styles come to mind, but the different presences of the same piano was obvious and unexpected. Just a lovely concert all round with a touch of learnings (to borrow an ugly neologism).

Students of Elena Nikulina, Oscar Wu, Hannah Ni, May Li and Simon Wu (piano) played at Wesley.

27 May 2024

First Finlandia

This was a particularly good program, even for Maruki which reliably works its way through the repertoire.  The main work was Brahms Symph no.3.  I love any Brahms.  The rest was Rossini Thieving magpie and two by Sibelius, Karelia suite and the fabulous Finlandia.  It's not too difficult so I was surprised that I'd never played Finlandia before.  Wow.  Of course we all know and love it, but it's something else to perform it, read it, find the intricacies and dynamics and the rest.  I can appreciate how it's so loved: powerful and ecstatic.  Wonderful.  The other Sibelius had a touchingly beautiful melody in the second movement and the Rossini was joyful and mobile.  And Maruki was in fine form, playing well if a little reticent on tempo for me, and well attended by players and audience.  So, a satisfying outing at Albert Hall as the sun shone on a glorious Canberra winter day.

Maruki Orchestra performed Rossini, Sibelius and Brahms at Albert Hall under Kristen Simpson (conductor).

25 May 2024

Many happy returns

I got to the National Press Club especially  for Mike Price, given he was a major member of the local jazz scene a few years back but he's been off in Qld for some time.  In Cairns for 8 years, he told me.  But then I realised Nick was a Canberran who'd returned after years in Macau and Chris had been a decade or so in Cyprus (?) so they are all returnees.  Fascinating.  As was their playing.  The NPC gig is pretty relaxed, but there was plenty of controlled energy in this one.  Mike's clean, swift, chordal styled guitar moving through various dissonances and chromaticisms but also just telling the harmony as it is, or spelling the lovely melody of some standard.  They were standards, played comfortably up-tempo, with solos for all, fours for Nick, often with a tagged ending for a little more guitar solo.  All nice.  Clean, capable, certain jazz, guitarist styled.  Is there bebop here?  It doesn't quite feel it but maybe it just doesn't sound it without a horn.  Certainly the lines and improvs were bop-styled.  Whatever, this was wonderfully capable and expressive.  Chris' bass was a lesson for me, up or across the neck, quick and broken syncopated lines over walks, nice thumb positions playing and a fairly common but effective hand formation that I must revisit.  Nick's drums are the essence of stable, but can explode given half a chance.  Mike was deceptively clean and correct, more tone than improv, revealing for me far more depth and adventurousness with my eyes closed.  The presence was standard jazz club with Mike calling a tune and Chris grabbing for his iReal Pro or similar: casual presence and serious performance (or maybe causal performance with serious preparation).  As I like it.  Travel has done us all good.

Mike Price (guitar) led a trio with Chris Pound (bass) and Nick McBride (drums) at the National Press Club.

23 May 2024

A violin's voice

John Ma played a solo concert featuring his baroque violin and it was a revelation.  I'd heard of the importance of the bow and I know it, of course, but the way he made it speak spoke wonders.  Not to say his left hand wasn't doing a good job.  It was.  The intonation seemed so comfortable and lines were smooth and correct as expected.  Interestingly he spoke of music as speech and observed how it has changed over time so pop and baroque and more has song sounding like normal speech while classical and opera has developed to a different stage voice.  In that bow was such expression, delicacy, rhythm and note groupings, volume and dynamics.  It expressed the essence of what the music was saying, so the left hand and its pitch was just a support.  I'd heard the essence of this argument before but never witnessed it like this.  Perhaps because John was playing solo, that helped, or that the baroque compositions demanded such fluency and subtlety and also because he's such a good player with a history of major international performance groups, but regardless, this was that very observation spelled in front of our eyes.  Stunning and educative, if not the theme of the concert which was John and his English baroque violin made by Richard Duke of London, dated ~1770.  That was also interesting, as was the chatter about composers and history, but what I heard from that bow was the revelation of the day.  Now I understand.

John Ma (violin) performed on his Richard Duke violin at Wesley

22 May 2024

Contemporary and Siena

Otherwise we just hung around with friends in Sydney, ate too much in Chinatown and thereabouts and got to the Gallery to see the new wing and a few old faves.   Of note were some contemporary Aboriginal works, a jukebox with songs of protest, a video of digital tunnels that you could navigate (I'm not game-trained enough to be particularly capable), an amusing and unexpectedly attractive big rotten lemon in shiny glass beads and a fascinating smell-sensory work of spices in stockings.  The Tank was closed for refitting.  Then the main gallery and the traditional stuff, not least the earliest European painting in the collection, a Madonna and child by Sano di Pietro dated somewhere within 1450-81 and a long-term fave of Circe by Bertrand MacKellar.  All lovely or challenging or at least interesting.

21 May 2024

Harbour Banks(y)

Just up to Sydney for a weekend to catch up, mainly to catch up with mates from Edinburgh who were passing through.  We ate well and got to a few art events.  We checked out the local music scene, not that I know Sydney too well.  There was some jazz but not too obviously adventurous (not surprising on a weekend), and some classical that was sold out or exorbitantly expensive for what it was.  Otherwise, DJs.  Getting there we came across several demos and I always like them, even if they seemed pretty small.  Thank God some people still hope for better.  The Ukraine demo was underway; a demo against executions in Iran was setting up; the Christians were also setting up and singing and handing out brochures as we left.  Otherwise, Banksy at the Town Hall.  He's well known and interesting enough.  I liked his politics, including purchase of a yacht to save refugees on the Mediterranean.  He obviously does well out of his work (this exhibition seems pretty commercial and touring the world: "The show is now touring Australia after its incredible worldwide success with over 1,750,000 visitors!" [exhibition website]) but his heart seems to be in the right place.  I thought of Andy Warhol but perhaps with more empathy.   Certainly he'd used similar techniques at times and obviously referenced Warhol's Marilyn.  I particularly liked the reference to Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the running naked girl in Vietnam after US bombing, but Banksy had her between symbols of US capitalism.  Nice.  Lots more interesting if obvious commentary and just a few pics here.  Interestingly, if you bought an expensive ticket you could stencil a Banksy image on a t-shirt on exit.  Merch: as I said he's cluey in more ways than one.

Without limits [There is always hope], the art of Banksy was at the Sydney Town Hall.

16 May 2024

One of many follies

I felt something awe-fully authentic in this concert.  It was period music, Bach and Bellinzani's take on La Folia, and we hear them often enough with gut strings but recorder and harpsichord presented the works in a milder, quieter form that made you think of sitting in an intimate room, a musica da camera, as it would often have been.  This was not the big event of a concert, but the intimate family event of the sala.  Jane Downer was back and playing on tenor recorder with Ariana on the delicate harpsichord.  First up was Jane playing a bella partita (Dmin), then Ariana playing two movements of another Bach partita (BWV826 Gmin), And finally together playing La Folia and 16 variations by Bellinzani.  Lots have done the La Folia variations (see the page on IMSLP on "List of compositions with the theme "La Folia"").  Apparently, it's "an early medieval Iberian dance accompanied by mime and songs, performed during celebrations of the solstice and New Year festivals" (Collins Dictionary) so obviously referencing good times.  With the delicious nature of Bach's musical invention, this was a good time.

Jane Downer (recorder) performed Bach and Bellinzani with Ariana Odermatt (harpsichord) at Wesley. 

14 May 2024

Of the hour

This concert was called Folk and Fantasy and it was at Wesley on a rainy Saturday night and it was far too poorly attended.  This was a real shame.  The group is the Hourglass Ensemble.  They are coordinated by Andrew and include a star-studded international cast playing a challenging, modern chamber repertoire.  An indication of their seriousness is their 2 European tours and 42 commissions since their formation in 2015.  And this concert revisited a performance in the Utzon Room at the Sydney Opera House.   Impressive!  HE seem to be a core of 3 players with various invitees, including internationals or players with serious national or international experience.  Tonight, it was 6 players performing new works from 5 Australians (not least Sally Greenaway and Elena Katz-Chernin) and one American.  All lyrical and attractive stuff, some lengthy works, various tunes heard on radio, and one solo piano work by Schumann/Liszt.  We heard some serious chops, too, strings and piano and winds, delicate, careful, accurate, delightfully light when required.  I melted over both strings, violin/viola and cello, and the piano was busy, often busily arpeggiated, and of a wonderful touch.  And flute and Andrew's clarinet/bass clarinet pairing.  The whole was richly varied in tone from differing combinations, a duo, various trios, a piano solo, a final all-in quintet.  There were two Australian premieres, one by Elena Katz-Chernin and a playful US work called Ralph's old records in 5 parts with various revisits to early jazz and blues.  Just delightful and authentically jazzy, if presumably not improvised.  Not all contemporary music is rattles and clatter, although some rattles appeared jokingly amongst the record collection.  This was joyful and often playful and some really star playing.

The Hourglass Ensemble performed music by Anne Cawrse, Richard Grantham, Sally Greenaway, Schubert/Liszt, Elena Katz-Chernin and Kenji Bunch at Wesley.  HC comprised Ewa Kowalski (flute), Andrew Kennedy (clarinet, director), Anna Rutkowska-Schock (piano), Alexandra Osborne (violin, viola) and Andrew Wilson (cello).

13 May 2024

Mid C20th pipes

It was a challenging and thus interesting organ concert from Callum Tolhurst-Close but maybe a bit unexpected for some.  Certainly there were some delayed applauses that suggested the music was not too well known or understood.  Not a Bach on show but one Saint-Saens and several lesser known names form 1930s-1960s: Thalben-Ball, Langlais and CH Stewart.  The Thalab-Ball was an elegy that slowly grew from quiet to loud then decayed to an end.  Just suiting a decent pipe organ.  The Langlais was a Kyrie Orbis factor, loud from the start, then quiet then loud again.  The CH Stewart was a gathering of five songs on hymn tunes, mostly more sedate than the previous works.  Saint-Saens Fantasie no.3 finished the program.  It was written a little earlier and sounded milder and perhaps earlier still.  Hyperion records notes its "sparse, minimal textures and ... thinly accompanied hautbois solo".  This was perhaps the most relaxed work.  The early works played with dissonant harmonies and varied organ tonalities which seems perfectly of the time if maybe SS wasn't.  Whatever, not a fugue amongst them but plenty of interest in tones and colours.

Callum Tolhurst-Close (organ) performed at Wesley Church and Rachel Mink (soprano from Luminesence Chamber Singers) turned pages.

12 May 2024

Thanks Sean and all

It's an amazing and fabulous thing that jazz players can come together and play decently with no history, or at least no personal history.  The history that serves is the studies and practice and listening that makes for the essence of jazz.  So Dave couldn't do this gig and Sean sat in.  And it was a great gig and very much enjoyed by us and well complemented by listeners as they left and even as encountered on the streets.  That's nice.  Mostly standards, and that's part of that history mentioned above, but also several tunes from James that aren't just walks. Congrats to Sean for his ear.  It happened a few weeks back, too, at Old Canberra Inn, when only I could make it and the sit ins made up 2/3 of the band, namely Ross and Mark.  But this was another entertaining and challenging gig to everyone's entertainment including us.  How I love music like this!  Casual with beer on amp but deadly serious too.  Jazz is something special.

Tilt Alt. were James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Sean Kirk (drums) at Molly and Ross Buchanan (keys), Eric Pozza (bass) and Mark Levers (drums) at OCI.

11 May 2024

Fare thee well, Dudok

I've talked of the Dudok quartet here several times not least for their excellent and varied  performances, but there's also a personal aspect given Marie-Louise stayed with us and the rest, Dave, Judith, Marleen, stayed close by and we drove them and chatted widely, about music, of course, but also about Amsterdam and climate and arts and bikes and more.  They are a warm group and committed and aware so quite fascinating and to top it off, Marleen had a close friends here after studying at ANU.  Small world.  I love all that about visitors.  We tried to show them the local scene, but their time was short and they were busy, but they were all at a gig at Verity Lane and we passed by Smiths and Marleen dropped in to Molly while Imogene was having a break.  We obviously talked of sex shops and Amsterdam dope but also the Bimhuis and Concertgebouw and instrument funding and Blue Poles and how they recently played with the Night Watch as a backdrop (wow!).  But these things come to an end with a drop off at Jolimont for Murrays to Sydney and the long flight home.  The next evening I was playing at Molly and it seemed so long since they'd left and yet they were probably just landing.  Let's hope they get back here sometime soon. In the meantime, just to confirm that Dudok has inclusive tastes, see them playing an arrangement by Oene van Giel of Giant Steps for string quartet.

The Dudok Quartet Amsterdam comprise Judith Van Driel and Marleen Wester (violins), Marie-Louise de Jong (viola) and David Faber (cello).

10 May 2024


The final concert was a big one, long and plenty of performers and tunes.  It was called Mulanggari and was heavy on first nations themes.  First up was Stiff Gins with our mates Dudok and Kevin Hunt, perhaps others.  SG are entrancing, inviting, singing songs with gloriously correct voices and lyrics that I didn't catch, but I fully expect are worthy, bridging Euro and Aboriginal languages and themes.  Jonathan Zwartz had a role in developing, writing or orchestrating some of this.  A relaxing outing for our Dudok accompanists.  Then an interval a country, sometimes dissonant , often double stopped Ben Ward bass solo piece written by Brenda Gifford. And a ecstatically driving piece for three percussionists by Holly Harrison.  The players were Claire Edwards, Veronica Bailey and Niki Johnson and the piece was wonderfully powerful and rocky with a kick drum and a huge pleasure.  Then a larger group for Wadhu (skin), composed by Brenda Gifford and the solo played by Claire Edwards at Verity Lane earlier in this festival.  As I remember this featured violin Veronique Serret and didjeridoo William Barton.  Then another larger work, Burruguu (time of creation), by Nardi Simpson.  And a final work, again by Nardi Simpson and arranged by Jonathan Zwartz and Roland Peelman, with the further addition of Luminescence Chamber Choir.  The stage just keep growing.  Then a final few words, of thanks to Roland for a great third decade of CIMF and off to chat and drink outside the hall.  The final party, especially for CIMF staff and volunteers and performers and various associates is a well loved ending for the festival.

The final concert of Canberra International Music Festival this year featured first nations, European, reconciliation and related themes.  Works by Nardi Simpson, Holly Harrison and Brenda Gifford (composers) plus perhaps others were played by a cast of musicians featuring Claire Edwardes, Ben Ward, Stiff Gins Artist Stiff Gins Nardi Simpson and Kaleena Briggs (vocals), Luminiescence Chamber Singers (choir), Roland Peelman (piano), Kevin Hunt (piano), Dudok Quartet Amsterdam, Ellery String Quartet, Veronique Serret (violin), William Barton (didjeridoo) and more.