14 June 2021

Music for the people

Music for the people was the theme of the concert but I'm not sure I felt quote so secure leading up to it.  Not for the Vivaldi Autumn, which is obvious and pretty and well known, even if it is demanding in its own way.  Not for the few Scandinavian folk tunes that our leader for the event, Dan Russell of the Phoenix Collective, had discovered in recordings of the Danish String Quartet.  They were pretty and challenging in their own ways.  Initially it was for the Shostakovich.  Mention his name and it brings instant respect from fellow players ("You're playing Shosta?").  It was his Chamber Symphony and it was deliriously quick in the second movement and everyone was wary of that.  We didn't play it at full speed, but in the end we got away with it.  Fear is a great motivator for practice!  But strangely the Saint-Saens Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso was a sleeper challenge.  It looked simple enough but the bending of time was a big issue and we ended up with Gill conducting.  That helped.  Even so, I still misplaced the final note, but hopefully it was missed.  Maybe not: Dan had good ears.  He was an impressive player, too: nimble, playful, quick and nicely emotive in note formation.  But in the end, it worked.  This group is a capable one, and as Graham McDonald said in his concert review in City News, we are " “amateur” as someone who pursues an activity for pleasure ... while non-professional, produc[-ing] entirely credible performances of interesting music".  Wow, that's one to be proud of.  Thanks to Dan and a great pleasure to be blooded by Shosta.

Musica da Camera performed Vivaldi, Scandinavian folk, Shostakovich and Saint-Saens under musical director and soloist Dan Russell (violin) at Cook.

11 June 2021

Existence

I was taken aback by a story told by a fellow at a course yesterday.  He'd taken a brochure from our local Council or the Human Future (CHF) and distributed it to acquaintances, perhaps friends, here in worldly, internationally-aware, educated Canberra and he'd struck "overwhelming resistance".  He reported only 2 in 10 gave support.  Now, I thought anyone with some awareness and intellect and recognition of science had accepted the essence of climate change and the raft of related existential risks, but no.  The science says one thing, but our comfort or social media or MSM or political misinformation or industrially-promoted confusion has had its effect.  This happened at a U3A class on Mega Threats run by CHF member Bob Douglas in the context of a talk by fellow CHF member Julian Cribb.  CHF is our local incarnation of a body to study and warn of the risks of civilisational and perhaps human species collapse, and is one of several, as in Oxford, Cambridge and elsewhere.  The leading members are John Hewson, Bob Douglas, Robyn Alders and Julian Cribb with the body uch influenced by the  many influential writings of Julian Cribb.

The CHF identifies ten risks in three groups:

  • Existential risks: Global overheating; Global Poisoning; Weapons of mass destruction
  • Resource Crisis: Resource scarcity; Food insecurity; Ecological breakdown and extinction
  • Human Impacts: Pandemic disease; Overpopulation; Uncontrollable technologies; Mass delusion

Visit the CHF site to understand better each of these concepts.  The ideas are big and broad and the encapsulating titles can be baffling.  I remember Limits to growth from the 1970s and how they were ridiculed when they argued for collapse after 50years: it's looking increasingly prescient.

But my interest here is Julian's talk and his list of corresponding actions to respond to these risks.  Not sure I caught them all or summarised them precisely here, but this was my take.  And it intrigued me that this is much bigger than just CO2 measurements and dates.  This is all-encompassing change.  He had them as a neat 10 actions.  Again, not sure that my list is so organised.  He'll have a book out soon with the neat list.

Actions:

  • Outlaw all nuclear weapons
  • Ban all fossil fuels by 2030 including by-products (plastics, insecticides, etc)
  • Return forests to 50% of Earth's land area (incl. Amazon, Congo, Australia) "Let's let the trees do the work"
  • Convert entire global economy to a circular economy (to deal with the resource crisis in water, soils, minerals, etc)
  • Rethink the food system (regenerative, urban farming, etc)
  • Reduce population
  • Reform the economic system of the Earth.  [Economics is only a human construct, after all]

And some suggested mechanisms:

  • "Clean up the Earth Alliance"
  • "Earth Standard Currency"  that responds to real limits of the Earth system
  • "Global Waste Platform"  (not sure I caught this one...)

So how much time have we got?  Not much!  10 years?  Again I'll quote Gramsci: "Optimism of the will; pessimism of the intellect".  The alternative is despair.

Some factoids of note mentioned by Julian:

  • 4b people already live with acute water crisis
  • Delhi, a city of 26m people, will be out of water in 2 years
  • Droughts are now double in frequency compared to 30 (?) years ago
  • It's estimated that the Earth can sustain 2b people; we are now 8b and will reach ~10b before growth turns down
  • Average IQ is dropping!  [References I found suggest -7 IQ points per generation for post-1975 birth cohort in wealthy countries]

Interestingly, the CHF is developing an Index of Survivability around these existential risks.  It will be illuminating. 

Julian Cribb spoke on actions required to respond to existential threats.

Council for the Human Future

The pic is Four Horsemen of Apocalypse / Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov (1887) from WikiCommons

10 June 2021

Cups runneth over

There was a bounteous plenitude of performers at Wesley when the Scholars presented.  Not all Scholars, but 6 is lots in 40 minutes, and they were a capable lot.  Core was possibly Bernice Chua who was accompanist for both Zoe Loxley Slump and Yona Su, oboe and viola.  They swapped a little with Zoe playing two shortish Saint Saens movements, then Yona a longer Alfred Hill movement, then Zoe returning for a short Oboe tango.  Then a change of all, with Emma Warburton playing a flute on Reinecke with accompaniment by Ronan Apcar.  So a mix of performers and styles and very well received.  Bernice is now studying performance in Salzburg but I think the others are all advanced students at the School of Music.  Whatever, it was a fascinating mix of tones and composers and exposure to some seriously upcoming artists.  Two are to join the winter academy at the Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra; another was performing for Megan and CIMF that very night at Ainslie Arts Centre.  That was Ronan, but he might just be a Scholar ring-in pm the day.  Either way, busy all round and impressive and it all bodes well.  Much enjoyed.

Zoe Loxley Slump (oboe), Yona Su (viola), Emma Warburton (flute), Bernice Chua and Ronan Apcar (piano) performed as Wesley Scholars at Wesley.

8 June 2021

B four

It's the fourth Beethoven symphony that I've played, thus B four.  Sadly, I was not particularly well prepared.  Endless conflicts have come up over the last two months and I've missed a mass of Maruki practices.  Even on the day, I had an invitation to a friend's birthday party that conflicted with the warmup and performance.  I dropped gear off, then got to the party then returned for the show.  No warmup.  This on a significant program: Beethoven Symphony no.7, Krommer Concerto for two clarinets and Mussorgsky Pictures at an exhibition.  B7 and Pictures are well known.  The Krommer was new to me, although apparently he's well known to clarinetists.  That was a Mozart-ish early classical concerto in three movements.  Maruki are no slouches.  We got through it all, not fabulously resonantly, but we did it and experienced the pieces and learnt so much of them.  I enjoy this experience and this exposure to the repertoire.  For we work through a very serious repertoire, just as the pros.  Just perhaps not quite so well intoned.  Then to finish off, a dinner party at home.  It was a busy weekend, but why let up?  Congrats to our crew for a massive performance.


Maruki Orchestra performed Beethoven, Krommer and Mussorgsky at Albert Hall.  John Gould (conductor) conducted.  Caroline Faulder and Beth Battrick (clarinets) soloed.

7 June 2021

Show!

I tell the story of playing one of our "best sets eva" at a wedding and everyone ate and then the DJ put on ABBA and there was a wave of humanity attacking the dance floor.   I makes you doubt the worth of that 10,000 hours.  Maybe not the inherent value, but the cost recovery.  Jazz is like that; in the other way, so is pop music.  It was like that last night.  We were off to the Harmony German Club for a session with HitMania, "the ultimate tribute to the 60s, 70s and 80s".  I like tribute bands like I like pop music.  It's comfy and nostalgic and sometimes the music is great anyway.  There's nothing like a pure melody to impress me.  Not that all this was pure melody: there was much more groove and rock and I-IV-V-I than interesting harmony, but it still entertained.  We even got up to dance at times, to YMCA and the like.  That line-dance-type things are fun and the songs attached to them are very often very loved.  Not so sure about the Chicken dance!  This is also somewhat like my experiences on cruises.  Some decent playing, some popular music, some good times, not too challenging.  HitMania was a big show band.  At least 10 appeared on stage and there was a backstager and possibly the mixer too.  That would be a busy job.  And costumes: tons of them, some jokey wigs, some revealing  tights on a few lithe Las Vegas-style dancers.  So all up, keys, drums, bass, sometimes guitar.  All singing sometimes. A main female singer plus several others who also danced and those two lithe dancers, one who sang, and a MC who also sang sometimes.  Lots of dance routines so lots of practice.  Some games with the audience and dances with them.  The local rock-n-rollers were there but they even got us up for a few tunes.  And the music?  From the Andrew Sisters Boogie-woogie bugle boy, through the 50s then some 60s rock and country then a question to the audience: "what's new in the late 70s"?  I thought punk, but they meant disco.  Wasn't that earlier?  No matter... Then 80s but I don't know that too well.  I was well into jazz and ABC Music to Midnight by then.  And some ABBA, of course.  Look, not great art, perhaps, but great fun.  I enjoy an occasional tribute band and this was bigger than most.

HitMania played at the Harmonie German Club.

5 June 2021

B6 reduction

This was Beethoven 6 Pastoral Symphony in chamber format.  Australian Haydn Ensemble look for the interesting outings and they found one here, of particular interest given how know is this piece.  I think Skye mentioned it hadn't been played for yonks and they'd discovered it in some London archives.  That's how to make an investigative period ensemble.  Good on them and quite fascinating.  This  arrangement of B6 was by Williams Watts who had introduced much of Beethoven to Britain; he'd arranged all the symphonies for 2xviolin, 2xviola, flute, cello, bass and that was the format this evening.  All fascinating history and a new and fascinating take on the symphony, if lacking the power of 50+ players.  But they did it so well and we could follow the much reduced score in our heads.  And there were some demanding lines.  AHE featured a new bassist this evening, Bonita Williams, and I could only sit and admire some very fleet playing where, in the 3rd movement, I think.  And a strong bass presence.  Some cello floored me, too, as did some delicate lines from Matt at one stage, and generally from Skye and Melissa and viola Karina, too of course.  I just tend to the bottom end.  But the concert was a big event.  Before interval were a Boccherini string sextet and a Mozart Serenade.   Very different works, although again the Mozart, Haffner Serenade, originally arranged Masi with further work by Scolari & Lim) was a chamber arrangement with some selections.  Suffice to say this was a big program with intellectual clout and some great playing.  Always love a visit to my mate in the AHE.

The Australian Haydn Ensemble played Boccherini, Mozart and Beethoven 6 at Wesley.  AHE comprised Skye McIntosh (violin, Musical director), Matthew Greco (violin), Melissa Farrow (flute), Karina Schmitz and James Eccles (viola), Daniel Yeadon (cello), Bonita Williams (bass).

3 June 2021

Touching on history

Duty calls.  I'm recording at Wesley.  This was again artsong and this time very interesting for its exploration over time.  We started with traditional Schubert lieder.  Amusingly, it was said of Schubert that he idolised Beethoven but Beethoven couldn't write Schubert when he wrote song.  Then Richard Strauss and into French chanson by Debussy, impressionistic in style and portraying modern French poetry.  Then to mid-20th-century American, with lyrics by Browning and composition by Amy Beach.  It was a fascinating passage.   Michaella Edelstein sang and Robert Schmidli accompanied.  Again, a strong combination.  Michaella has a past at the Sydney Con and then sessions in Verona and Munich and performances in the Utzon Room at the Opera House, amongst others.  Now here in Canberra: a warm welcome.  Robert has a history of performance around Canberra and further afield including a several on CJ.  So, a wonderful strong voice with a delicate and detained piano accompaniment.  Impressive.

Michaella Edelstein (soprano) sang and Robert Schmidli (piano) accompanied at Wesley.

28 May 2021

Mixtape

It was another tough outing to record at Wesley.  Well, I jest, of course: it was a great pleasure.  Today was current CSO Kingsland Resident Artist, Lucy Macourt, playing with accompanist Anthony Smith.  I say mixtape with some truth, given a violin solo Piazzola tango etude to start and an arrangement of Gershwin Summertime from Porgy and Bess to end.  But the core was most of the program and it was nothing like this: Cesar Frank and Fritz Kreisler.  The Kriesler is well know, his Praeludium and Allegro. Not so sure of the Frank Sonata in A major.  But both were a pleasure and quite a challenge.  Lucy did it all proud and loud.  She's not a meek voice on the violin.  Strong and determined and very definite.  I liked it.  Anthony is always a pleasure.  I do wonder how these accompanists do their job.  They must be great readers, especially given the complexity over varied lines and chords and hands on a piano.  All beyond me, but this was a great pleasure.  Then strangely, as I left, I saw a mate from FNCO and MdC, Sally, and it turns out she's Lucy's aunt.  Clearly a musical family; I wonder what that would be like.

Lucy Macourt (violin) performed at Wesley with accompanist Anthony Smith (piano).

24 May 2021

Romantics

I find Art Song is its own world and oddly outside our modern experience.  I don't feel that with Beethoven or Bach or with choral music and I love the voices and the accompanists can be superb.  I heard some today, a fabulous pairing of Susannah Lawergren and Maciej Pawela: her great voice that singes the atmosphere, strong and broad and high; his detailed and delicate piano that told stories that matched her lyrics.  I think it's the lyrics determining the music that presumably makes art song.  (It's something I think also of the Beatles and how they wrote music).  So Susannah at one stage sang of lapping waves and I could hear it in the accompaniment.  Quite a feat.  But the lyrics can be so much of the romantic era, so much of love or nature or passion.  In fact, these four works spoke of the Australian sky, the Norwegian sky, the Australian beach and the Swedish spring (with a tragic love story thrown in).  Apparently the Swedes have an obsession with Spring which doesn't surprise me given their northerly climate.  So told us Susannah, apparently she with Nordic ancestry.  So the singing and the accompaniment were to die for, if the themes were strangely romantic.  So, I enjoyed it but it dumbfounded me in some ways.  But I learnt a few words of Swedish while following the lyrics.  So good.

Susannah Lawergren (soprano) sang with Maciej Pawela (piano) as accompanist at Wesley.

22 May 2021

Handing over

Given the science and the dire implications, I reckon climate change denial and the presumably corrupt climate-related actions of governments should be tried as crimes against humanity.  Them and media.  That they are not is a product of a slowly reacting politico/legal system.  Thus we treat our kids.  There's lots of identity politics in this: any self-respecting radical righty must call out the doctor's wives and latte sippers and take the side of coal, or now gas.  Even those who reluctantly recognise climate dangers must set their goals to avoid economic harm, as they see it, in a short-sighted sense meaning harm to their current mates and influences and media despite immense costs just decades away.  The sensible view is to determine the science as best we can and work to its limits.  Given our delays, net-zero CO2 by 2050 is now inadequate.  Certainly for 1.5degC.  We are currently at 419ppm and we added 2.98ppm in one Covid year May 2020-2021 (https://www.co2.earth/daily-co2).  We once talked of 450ppm for the onset of tipping points.  This is immensely threatening, given fires and droughts and floods, but a topic of derision or evasion by some pollies and some media.  Open a new gas plant, perhaps, to run 9 days per annum at immense real cost.  Who benefits?  Not business because they wouldn't do it.  All costs and no benefits, despite rhetoric, other than perhaps a by-election victory.  But it's the way for Subs and NBN and Robodebt and refugees and more, so non unexpected.  This is what we are leaving our kids.  It will be interesting to watch Australia avoid being in the spotlights at Glasgow COP26.  I can only hope that we are desiccated in the heat: it's already late, perhaps too late given tipping points, but any further delay is catastrophic and confirmatory.  But we've twisted out of our responsibilities before; think Howard and Kyoto.  In the meantime our kids are out, at least some of our kids, and I can only support them along with many others of our earlier generations.  Suffice to say, there were notable numbers of grey hairs on the march and a good few parents.  Not enough, but plenty.  So what happened?  We got together in Glebe Park after many, many email reminders.  We were a moderate number: the news said 300, the organisers 1,000; either way it's not enough.  Marches have little impact these days anyway: think Reconciliation and Iraq war.  There was a band, Post Irony, that played groove and improv with alto, effected bass and drums.  I liked it: school kids from Dickson College.  Extinction Rebellion turned up to lead a Discobedience session to the music of Staying alive.  It started with six dancers, then the kids started up in the audience, then rushed the stage and it was a danceathon.  Great fun.  There was a march to Garema Place and back.  There were some posters but not too many.  One I liked was carried by some girls "The world is getting hotter than Kurt Cobain".  That worked for me; the same line with Harry Styles didn't.  I left feeling happy although desperate.  These numbers won't influence stubborn, ideological, corrupted pollies and media.  Thus we hand over to our kids, with the threat of +2-4degC by the end of the century.  That's just 79 years away: one lifetime.  And just for kicks, they can have overpriced subs, declined industries, obsolete fossil fuel businesses, a slow and expensive NBN, EV-incapable infrastructure, impossible housing prices, tax benefits for various lurks and the rest.  They claim the saving grace is the military goods industries.  God help us.

School Strike 4 Climate marches around Australia and in Glebe Park here in Canberra.  Extinction Rebellion gyrated.  Post Irony performed, comprising Jai Malik (alto), Shivi Vachaspati (bass) and Luca Stevens (drums).








21 May 2021

Another exhibition

Exhibitions.  There are a few in my life at present.  Botticelli is the obvious one.  And I'm about to play Pictures at an exhibition again.  Then this turned up: Sam Row playing the original Mussorgsky piano version of PaaE at a Wesley lunchtime session.  I was there to record and it was a wonderful reminiscence and visit to the music.  And impressive, too, how he played the work from memory.  Not just that, but also an encore, Frank Hutchins By the river.  I've spoken before how you come to know music so well by playing it.  My experience here was just more proof.  I'd played the Ravel orchestration which is the version everyone knows, but it was very similar.  Unless I haven't imbibed quite as well as I thought, the music was essentially identical.  The colours of various instruments were not there, but all the lines were.  To me, it was the same.  I sat back with eyes closed and marvelled at the vivid and various dissonant responses to the artworks and the variations on the recurring promenades.  Just a thing of huge pleasure and a thing of great admiration for Sam who did this all, so competently, and with no music.  Loved this one.

 Sam Row (piano) played the original piano version of Pictures at an exhibition and Hutchins at Wesley.

17 May 2021

A smaller chamber

Back to the stage.  We got to ACO for their first concert tour.  It was small, but neat.  Nothign like the 20-or-so normal players.  This was six players over 2 quintets.  Beethoven, with doubled violas and Schubert with doubled cellos.  It seems the Schubert quintet is hugely admired.  I didn't find it as interesting as the Beethoven.  Simpler harmonies; simpler conceptually; less thrilling; more dramatic, yes.  The Schubert was String quintet Cmaj D.956; the Beethoven was String quintet Cmin op.104.  The playing was great, of course, although not without some slight, very slight weaknesses.  So be it.  I could only melt at the delicate lines and the purposive tones and the neat interactions.  Wonderful, but nothing unexpected to be said here.  Intimate and nice stuff.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra appeared in a smaller format playign quintets by Beethoven and Schubert.  Performers were Richard Tognetti and Helena Rathbone (violin), Stefanie Farrands and Elizabeth Woolnough (viola) and  Timo-Veikko Valve and Melissa Barnard (cello).

13 May 2021

C20th repertoire

Stuart Long may be quietly spoken but he's anything but behind the keyboard.  He played a concert of C20th solo piano, partly to display the vibrancy of this repertoire.  Certainly it was alive, demanding, strongly rhythmic, varied and harmonically challenging.  For this, read virtuosic.  This was no slouch outing.  I was not the only one dumbfounded at the end.  He played three pieces, but each was a set of smaller works.  Carl Vine Five bagatelles had five works (obviously); Prokofiev Visions fugitives contained 20 much varied works; Ginestra Danzas Argentinas had three.  They were all demanding to play and to hear, much varied in dynamics and feels, and Stuart exposed them with committed approach and intense dynamics, respectful always to the music.  So impressive.  I'm in awe, of the music and the musician.  I wasn't alone.

Stuart Long (piano) played Vine, Prokofiev and Ginestera at Wesley.

9 May 2021

Sharing the Queen's altar

I once drove by St Paul's in Manuka and saw the Queen with a retinue of a hundred-or-so people.  It's indicative of the relative disinterest in royalty these days that the normal activity of Canberra Ave and Manuka was proceeding as the Queen was visiting and it's as it should be, I reckon.  Nonetheless, it amuses me given I attend concerts and now perform at St Paul's.  Lofty connections, indeed.  Gillian Bailey-Graham's Forrest National Chamber Orchestra played St Paul's last night and I was sitting in as the only bass and it was demanding and satisfying and impressive despite a few foibles, not unexpected given some of the program.  First up was Bach Prelude and fugue in Dmin.  We all know it as a magnificent and overwhelming organ piece with an attendant fugue.  We played an arrangement for string orchestra with occasional features from the impressive organ at St Paul's.  Fabulous piece.  Then Faure with soloist Gordon McIntyre, Lalo with soloist Ben Aquilina, Achron and an end with the biggest challenge of the night, Tchaikovsky Souvenir of Florence, mvt.1.  To me, the difficulty was in varying placements of phases.  The whole was structured in 4-bar groups, but phrases moved all over, so the feel was not obvious.  Dangerous unless you count and read well or know the piece intimately, especially with a minimal bass chart.  I discussed this with several others.  Bach had similar trickiness, but not to the extent of the romantic phrasings of Tchaiks.  Bach mostly just  placed phrases on the three, so more constant and less intricate.  The secret is counting, of course, but counting can slip as we feel more comfortable, then...  Conscious counting is powerful.  But it all went well and the occasional foibles are nowhere near as bad on the recording so we can all look back with pride.  Well done crew.

Forrest National Chamber Orchestra performed Bach, Faure, Lalo, Achron and Tchaikovsky at St Paul's Anglican Church, Manuka, under Gillian Bailey-Graham (conductor) with soloists Gordon McIntyre (cello) and Ben Aquilina (violin).

6 May 2021

Musical anachronisms

I'm taking on recordings for Wesley lunchtime sessions.  Nice to help out and there are some very capable players to hear.  This time it was two from WA's WAAPA, Helen Brown and David Wickham.  David's in town to study FS Kelly at the National Library.  Helen visited for the week.  I am more comfy with instruments than voice so I could easily hear and see the fine capability in David's accompaniment.  Helen entertained with her emoting the parts which were amusing in themselves and varied.  A string of seven Spanish songs by Manuel de Falla featuring a number of "cross women" (as observed by Helen, after stained cloths, bitter loves and the like) and the piano aping guitar.  Six songs by Septimus Kelly which really showed their age in their deeply melodramatic romantic lyrics by Wordsworth and Rossetti and Byron and the like (I did find these hard to take for the lyrics if not for the music).  Several songs in dialect of the Avergne collected by Joseph Canteloupe, amusingly telling of love and lust and possibly subjects for modern day cancellation.  But I joke.  Helen presented with verve and presence and relevance and a lovely, powerful, telling soprano.  All nice stuff, even if the music seemed somewhat unfitting our times.  As if some times only existed!

Helen Brown (soprano) sang at Wesley and David Wickham (piano) accompanied.