30 March 2015

Drinking chai to Tchaikovsky

It's always good to see muso mates out for a gig. In the past it has been jazz, but with the state of jazz in Canberra, well... This time it was Tchai Quartet, a string quartet formed from members of my other orchestra, Maruki. Tchai plays weddings, parties and everything. I caught them at a gig in Civic for friends. The music ranged over the centuries from the expected (Vivaldi, Handel, Pachelbel, Mozart) to the unanticipated (Stand by me) with a few Beatles in there too (Hey Jude, Let it be, Here there and everywhere). The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba was majestic; one of Handel's Four seasons was sprightly with birds and gust of wind evident; the Pachelbel Canon was calming as ever; Stand by me was surprisingly effective with a cello slap bass line and a second take with vocals (Antonietta and Liz, I think). Hey Jude was more appealing than I'd expected, mercifully leaving the ending cut short. Here there and everywhere was just delightful. It is so, so pretty: the delicate and delightful writing of Paul McCartney. Much enjoyed.

Tchai Quartet are Mark Lim (1st violin), Janet Fabbri (2nd violin), Linden Orr (viola) and Rachel Towson (cello).

28 March 2015

Performance passes

Music is a performance art. It's performed, it passes, it's lost. Sometimes it's recorded. I was disappointed that Tom Vincent's concert was lost. Tom is an agile pianist with ideas that appear in proliferation. He plays standards, but these are not everyday tunes and melodies. They are re-visions of great tunes and harmonies, dense with fluency and variation and invention. Fabulous in all senses of the word. Wondrous, animated, exhilarating. He often plays with local-now-Melbourne bassist, Leigh Barker, who's able to follow Tom's exquisite wonderings, perhaps taking a solo on a whim or changing tempo or interpretation on an instant. There's an understanding here and a great capability to use his ear. The first time I saw the two together Tom was leading through long medleys and Leigh was there with him with only the slightest of delays to pick the tune. This concert was more standard, no medleys, although the quotes proliferate. Their drummer was Alf Jackson on the most minimal of kits, just kick, snare, sock, cymbal. It's enough; there's plenty of rhythmic action available and plenty of tone variation, too, using brushes and sticks and rimshots. It's a traditional approach, unamplified bass with gut, unamplified acoustic piano (here a Yamaha U1 upright sounding great) and the minimal kit. Just skills and ears and immense variety and playfulness. Great gig. Too bad it was lost to posterity, but you can't preserve everything.

Tom Vincent (piano) led a trio with Leigh Barker (bass) and Alf Jackson (drums) at Vivaldi.

27 March 2015

Majors or minors

Is Minority government as better way? There must be many who think so, given the low voting for major parties. If it weren't for compulsory voting and two-party preferences they may be in trouble. Richard Denniss and Brenton Prosser have written a book - Minority Policy : Rethinking governance when parliament matters - and they presented it at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute. There's a stream of conservatism here, but the major parties may not see it that way. Richard: "Frankly, you can't do democracy without politics", so a politician's job is to represent and doing numbers is part of that. There were stories that illustrated that, like Natasha Stott Despoja to Peter Costello when he didn't get his way with his Intergenerational Report: "Look at the numbers ... I have, Peter, and you don't have them in the Senate". The role of the PM is not to just wake up in the morning and have a brain fart; it is to negotiate policy, with the party, with Parliament and ultimately with the electorate. So Gillard was actually very successful, passing more legislation than Howard. Abbott is not so successful; he may learn but at the election he refused to deal with minor parties (and yet, he's in coalition with a very minor party). Something I didn't know: Fraser was planning a new party before he dies; what may come of that. But thinking Fraser, it was the Liberals that rolled an elected government by denying supply in the Senate. The Constitution doesn't mention major parties (or any parties or the PM for that matter). So what's the future of major parties? Will they adapt to the demands of the electorate or manipulate it through self-perpetuating legislation (many examples, including ACT, Tassie, Qld, Commonwealth that I can remember). There was talk of CPyne and Cathy McGowan (only the latter displaying a path to a future). "For democracy to work well, we need to be prepared to change our mind when a party really disappoints" or this telling quote from Richard "Preselect the wrong people and there's no such thing as a safe seat". John Key in NZ shows that Minority government can work; the approach of our major parties is unsupported by evidence. JK is in a fourth term and implementing change. Communication is the key, let alone a source of better legislation. It was interesting to hear of negotiations within and across parties to improve legislation (ministers from one party may suggest amendments to another party to achieve change the party room might not otherwise agree to). Some evidence: only ~30% of all voting population votes for the major parties; this gives 10% representation for minor parties (5% Reps, 8% Senate); at the last Federal election, 25% of the adult population didn't vote (no shows, informals or not enrolled); of the total Australian adult population, 2-party preferred, 33% voted Liberal and 25% Labor; 5% for Nationals. Richard suggested we need a Parliamentary enquiry into the state of our democracy (but don't expect one!). ACT is the most under-represented territory/state (2 Reps, 2 Senators); Tassie has 5 Reps (in the Constitution!), 12 Senators, let alone all the state and local pollies. Change requires electoral pressure but the electorate doesn't understand the voting system. Consultation is not a problem ; it's slower but policy is more considered and effective. The Media denies complexity and the most interesting parts of politics. And to end, some fascinating comments, that "Rudd broke our polity" and Abbott learned the lesson. Opposition leader used to learn to be PM through a difficult job of influencing front and back bench and party and developing policies. RUdd just "made the words" to "lead ... from the wilderness". Gillard "did an amazing job in minority government" although her public communications were poor.

Excuse the mess of comments and ideas, but the concept of minority government deserves much better here and also in public observations. Let's hope it gets it because the cause of the major parties is suffering immensely and we don't want democracy to go with it. Richard Denniss and Brenton Prosser presented their new book, Minority Policy : Rethinking governance when parliament matters, at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute.

26 March 2015

I should be so lucky

Another concert. This one by local James Huntingford, pianist and two-times winner of the relevant National Eisteddfod. Locally born and bred and student of various local schools and presumably school music departments, as well as ANU. He's capable, young, energetic and played capable, energetic music with admirable skills. Interestingly, James introduced the concert with his own, milder, slower and more musing prelude. The big work was five movements of Liszt, his Piano sonata in B minor. This requires undeniably virtuoso skills. It's moody but quick and also energetic and flowing with quick scales and phrases. Every now and again, there's a stop for pause, but it's mostly busy in a romantic diatonic way. At one point it stopped, I hoped for a b5 but got a more predictable b7. This is the period and no argument there, but with an ear exposed to twentieth century, I was just a touch disappointed. But no question about the performance. This is big, powerful, unrelenting. It works through five movements and plenty of pages. No time to turn pages, so a turner required. James is a source of pride for our local, decaying music scene. I can only admire his capability and commitment and hope our senior music school can keep producing them.

James Huntingford (piano) performed Liszt and his own prelude at Wesley.

25 March 2015

The musician's bane

Injuries are disasters for musicians - unexpected and one-off or repetitive strains. Either way, they are dreaded, they prevent practice and degrade performances and mar the job or the pleasurable pursuit. I was mightily impressed by Gilbert De Greeve's performance at the Belgian Embassy but I could tell something was wrong. In the end, he had to excuse himself from the last tune, a Chopin waltz, due to a finger injury he'd had in the last day or so. Gilbert is an emeritus professor, once Director of the State Music Academy in Antwerp, an honorary professor of other conservatories. He travels the world presenting concerts and workshops and lectures. He's a highly trained musician and a very nice guy to boot, so it was with some sadness that he was inflicted for this concert. He played Mozart, Brahms, a series of Chopin waltzes and works from two Belgian composers, Benoit and Mortelmans. He was most happy with the Brahms that was more gentle, less demanding of finger pyrotechnics and strength. He was most concerned with the Chopin, coming last, loud and lively and gymnastic, to the extent that he had to apologise and drop the final item on the program. An unfortunate end to a concert that was otherwise firm and powerful and insightful and played fully from memory. I can only hope to catch Gilbert sometime in the future. It was his seventh trip to Australia, so with any luck, I will.

Gilbert De Greeve (piano) played Mozart, Brahms, Benoit, Mortelmans and Chopin at the Belgian Embassy.

24 March 2015


It's a challenge to an atheist in the 21st century that this music of Haydn, written in the seventeenth century and a recitation of the words of Christ on the cross may be amongst the best music ever written. Certainly I thought that as I was listening to this thing of immense beauty, but I think it often enough for other music, too, so confusion can be just be put down to existential angst. Whatever, this was beautiful. The work is called Seven last words. Haydn composed it for string quartet on commission from Cádiz in 1786 and it was initially performed, unexpectedly for Haydn, in a small, bare chapel. The seven phrases were initially spoken between the sonatas, but eventually got written into an oratorio version. This performance was a rare one by four voices individually singing parts with string quartet on period instruments. The performers were stunning: an instrumental quartet from Australian Haydn Ensemble with a vocal quartet from the Song Company. First class. The movements are Introduction, seven sonatas and an ending Terremoto (earthquake). The words (=phrases) are: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do; Today you will be with me in Paradise; Woman, behold your son; My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?; I thirst; It is finished; Into your hands, Father, I commend my spirit. The sonatas move through various major and minor keys in various tempos, from Largo and grave to maestoso, adagio and presto con tutta la forza (Terremoto). Just stunning and immensely beautiful in a way that bridges the baroque. The whole lasted about 90 minutes. Projected text located the listener. The text was sung in German. I thrilled at Anna's carrying soprano; enjoyed the high tenor voice and lusty bass and harmonising alto. Skye took most melody lines on first violin, with viola and second violin accompanying and giving presence; Anthony's period cello spelt crochets or counterpoint. There's a perfection in this small ensemble of one voice per part. Apparently it hasn't been recorded in this format and someone suggested that they might. I hope they do. In a studio, with no coughs and the perfection it deserves. Stunning.

The Australian Haydn Ensemble and the Song Company performed Haydn's Seven last words (of Christ). The instrumentalists were Skye McIntosh (first violin), Catherine Shugg (second violin), James Eccles (viola) and Anthony Albrecht (cello). The singers were Anna Fraser (soprano), Hannah Fraser (alto), Richard Black (tenor) and Andrew O'Connor (bass).

23 March 2015

Two Salls

Sally Whitwell and Sally Greenaway performed for a special concert at the High Court. As Sally G said at the end, this is new music, composed by the two Sallys and performed with an array of very capable local performers.

First up was Sally Whitwell. She started with a solo piano piece, Reels, that floated then grew into heavy chords and rolling arpeggios then a call and answer between right and left hand, heavily spelt then lighter and quicker and responsive. Then Waltzing alone, pensive, and Road trip, recounting a trip along the coast north of Sydney, both duos of piano and violin. Winter love was Sally's first attempt at writing for string quartet, this time with piano; just gentle and lovely. Wicked Strings performed. Ad astra was performed with spoken and sung voice with cello and piano. It a lament to JS Bach recounting that three of his tunes were included on the sound recording with the Voyager spacecraft ( http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/spacecraft/music.html ). (Sally quoted Carl Sagan: "We could have just had Bach but that would have been showing off"). Then Some world far from ours, responding to a poem by Shelley. Then two with the surprisingly impressive and young Luminescence Chamber Choir, Echo and To your shore.

Second was Sally Greenaway. First up was Stay awhile for piano and choir, here Luminescence in 8 parts (they are 8 singers), on responding to adversity, and Katrimba, written in three for marimba but arranged for piano, cello and violin. Then three musical poems on solo piano and a commission sung by bass baritone Richard Baker to the theme of a poem by Pierre Louys. Summer beckons was a lyrical pastoral piece with Barbara Jane Gilby on violin. Interesting that both Sallys performed a piece referencing seasons: Winter love and Summer beckons. The Feud was written to poetry by Tanya Kiermaier with seven short movements separated by little poems. Then a piece of real emotion, San luiz, telling a story of a difficult time - I found it the most touching - and a final Encore de lirico. Sally G shows her filmic training in her music: moody, emotional, fittingly accompanying other performance.

This concert was labelled as Australian Women Composers and it was that, but more. Both are Canberra bred; both have ABC label CDs, Sally W has several; this was new music, so composed now; not least, the accompaniment was great, from Wicked-Strings!Quartet, Luminescence Chamber Choir and several friends. This was a quality local concert in a lively space and always well attended. And with any luck, you will be able to hear it again: it was professionally recorded by Infidel Studios.

21 March 2015

Daniel plays our lost Parisan café

Daniel Hunter was back from Paris for several birthdays and a jazz wake for Smiths and perhaps more. The venue was full (I almost didn't get in and a few other regulars gave up) but that's life in the big smoke. Perhaps Smiths should have seen crowds more like this earlier and they may not have closed. Sad. But good to hear Daniel again, this time touring with a band of mates from Melbourne, the Longhairs (joke). Jokes were a topic of the night (joke). Really, the music was the topic and this was convincing stuff, reminding me of West Coast contemporary, perhaps Pat Metheny. Guitar music, changing bar lengths especially in the head, plenty of changes but few obvious cycles. I'd heard a few of these tunes from his CD and there were some new ones: one as yet unnamed; another called Asylum with an obvious theme and angry, 4 chord rock resonance. Another is Sco-feel with obvious references, and I could feel the Scofield dirty guitar edge here and elsewhere. I liked the echo that held after some tunes, too, although effects, certainly sustain, were not too obvious. Drummer Nick was a hit with much rock-influenced concept and conviction and confident execution. Bassist Gareth is an old hand and local favourite. He's showing great firmness and professionalism after several years in Melbourne. Tenor Jack built his solos nicely from evident to rabid fast passages. Really nice, and especially so in harmony with John Mackey who sat in for two tunes. John was the teacher of several of these students and deserves their obvious respect: he played a storm and read post-bop easily: admittedly fairly scalar lines but at presto speeds. This was Circulation, like the others a composition by Daniel. Born in the 80s was Daniel talking about his generation with a manic, discordant concurrent solo by tenor and guitar. But perhaps it was Quiet, a pretty, floating tune in 3/4 with melody syncopations that I most took to. But then, at the end, I wondered at the quality of these guys: the neat reading, spot-on timing, interesting charts, substantive solos. This is the product of our jazz education, now looking to me to be pretty much lost to Canberra. And our Parisian café, Smiths Alternative, along with it.

Daniel Hunter (guitar, compositions) led a quartet with Jack Beeche (tenor), Gareth Hill (bass) and Nick Martin (drums). John Mackey (tenor) sat in for two tunes. For the last Thursday jazz night at Smiths Alternative.

20 March 2015

Here we are

The YouAreHere festival has come around again. It's a wonderful event: "a curated festival ... of Canberra's diverse independent and experimental arts and culture". It strangely pops up in various empty spaces around Canberra or takes over whatever venue for the week. It's only a week but it's a busy and eclectic time. I should give it more time, but I tend not to. My loss. But I happened on a few venues after Hippo.

First was Reuben Ingall. I've seen him performing electronica. Apparently he's on 2XX (our Indie community radio station). This was a talk on some musical interests and their approaches. Just outside was a little library, actually standing quite forlorn. I noticed this because a friend of mine started the first of these free community libraries here in Canberra a few months ago and it was featured in the Canberra Times by Ian Warden, no less. Then I walked around the corner hearing classical music from Phoenix Pub. Mmm, stange. The venue has been setup differently from my last visit, with enhanced stage and lighting and layout and bar down the back. Two of the Inventi Ensemble of Canberra, Melissa Doecke (flute) and Ben Opie (oboe), were playing, all decked out to the nines and entertaining a diverse audience as a breather from the Bad!Slam!No!Biscuit! comedy session. Just proof of the diversity and impish mischievousness of this festival.

Finally, we've all seen this plaque on the corner of Northbourne Ave and London Circuit. For once I stopped to read it. "EIIR Here on 15th February, 1954, the citizens of Canberra greeted Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the first reigning British Monarch to visit Australia". It has this republican musing of many things. First reigning monarch to visit? Maybe the delay is understandable given commercial flights were just new. British Monarch? Isn't she claimed as the Queen of Australia?

19 March 2015

Just so agreeable

Simon Milman returned with a new band playing his compositions. Simon covers a broad field and seems to have always provided at least some compositions for the bands I've seen him play in. I heard him with Wanderlust last year launching an album of his tunes. This band is Goal to Hurl. They played at Hippo for their first outing and it was wonderfully accessible music: varied styles with reliable grooves, satisfying and challenging melodies and some great solos. I only caught the first set but I was sold. First up was an insistent latin feel with nice unison head. Then a reggae, then a laid back four feel, then a country cowboy feel that turned to European playful lightness that made me think of Nino Rota or Jacque Tati. Then a bent post-bop blues with substituted changes and a calypso to finish the set. Very approachable but also deeply interesting and wonderfully played. I loved the incessant but not-at-all plodding grooves. There was consistency and drive but also embellishment and enhancement. Simon's walk on the medium up blues was exemplary - nicely repeating notes, nicely explored registers and scale degrees; one other was just simple arpeggios through the chords and it worked a treat; others spelt the groove, but moved easily through enhancements. Drummer Luke, too, was strong on groove, never confusing the beat, but easily adding colour. Guitar Matt was clear and choppy in comping and had some great phrasing in solos and some exciting high lines. I was particularly taken by Tom on tenor. He's playing with laidback blues balls but also with contemporary jazz analysis. He takes time, explores, sideshifts or substitutes or just spells out the changes, with firmness and big tone and inevitability. Nice. And the whole was like that too: easy, unforced, not superfluous or unexpected. These are seasoned players and it shows.

Goal to Hurl comprises Simon Milman (bass, compositions), Tom Fell (tenor), Matt Lustri (guitar) and Luke Glanville (drums). They played at Hippo.

18 March 2015

Why worry more

I wrote about Andrew Gilkson and his public lecture on climate change some time ago. I heard him again in a presentation and discussion for a small group in recent days. Those present were informed and intelligent and interested and ultimately disheartened by the state of our climate. This was a presentation of the science. Plenty of charts of observations. Plenty of peer-reviewed knowledge. Just a touch of leering at the deniers, not just of climate change, but rationality and scientific method and Enlightenment values. And a touch of philosophical thinking, on living in the present, satisfying one's conscience, doing what's right even if a good outcome seems unlikely. The news is not good. Some things I learnt: CO2 remains in the atmosphere for thousands of years; methane may be a more potent greenhouse gas, but it degrades within 100 years to CO2; the anthropogenic greenhouse gas forcing is now ~2.3degC but it's balanced by ~-1.2degC of aerosols, dust and similar in the atmosphere to give our net ~1.1degC temperature rise (usually quoted as +0.9degC); aerosols, dust etc (eg, from burning coal) drops out of the atmosphere within a month (essentially inadvertent geo-engineering); natural catastrophic events have doubled since 1980 (from Munich Re-Insurance, no less). There was more on interstitial cycles, glacial termination tipping points, polar ice melt and sea level rise, thermohaline circulation, shorter and longer term changes. Suffice to say, I looked up at one point to see some dejected faces, not from a poor session but from clearer realisations. All our time on earth as a civilised species has been spent within a small range of average temperature (~-0.8-+0.5degC); we are now entering temperatures that have never been experienced in the 10,000 years of human civilisation. We are changing all this and it's happening at breakneck speed (in geological and evolutionary terms).

I like civilisation; I want to be able to go to jazz clubs in Manhattan (remember, Manhattan has already flooded and it cost $US60b to repair); I don't want to live in a cave. Contrary to the flippant line, it's the climate change deniers that will have us living in caves as we abandon Manhattan and modern life as it becomes uneconomic to support. It's happened before; civilisations have disappeared due to changed weather (eg, the Fertile crescent of ancient Mesopotamia is dry). Queensland floods cost $6b a few years back but we rebuilt in the same place. I republish a graph that was only poorly presented in my last write-up of Andrew Glikson. James Lovelock (Gaia Hypothesis) suggested humans will end as a few hundred mating pairs at the poles; apparently Carl Sagan suggested (in the context of nuclear weapons) that technological societies may only survive a few hundred years after discovery of the atom; Limits to Growth, despite its own denialist protestations, is tracking well*.

"We’ll undergo the same fate as the people on Easter Island. Climate change is just at the very beginning. But we’re seeing remarkable changes in the weather already…. The human species is likely to go the same way as many of the species that we’ve seen disappear. Homo sapiens will become extinct, perhaps within 100 years" / Frank Fenner on climate change, to The Australian, 16 June 2012

  • *Is Global Collapse Imminent? An Updated Comparison of The Limits to Growth with Historical Data / Graham M. Turner (Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, Univ of Melbourne, Research Paper No. 4 August 2014) http://sustainable.unimelb.edu.au/sites/default/files/docs/MSSI-ResearchPaper-4_Turner_2014.pdf, viewed 18 Mar 2015
  • 17 March 2015

    Happy birthday, Jean

    It's the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sibelius and we heard a fabulous program of Sibelius music from the Sibelius 150 Trio. This may not be their permanent name, but they are touring as that and playing exclusively (at least for this concert) the music of Sibelius and they were wonderful. Great music, wonderfully performed, nicely varied. S150 are a trio of piano, violin and cello, but this was not just a program of trio numbers. This was varied: solos from piano and cello, duos from piano with violin and another with cello and a full trio. Do I have a favourite instrument of these? Perhaps the cello, played so generously with luscious vibrato and that rich deeper tone. But then the violin was fabulous, all busy and lively as they are written to be, earthy with some rabid pizzicato, high and flying. And the piano, full ranged and full bodied and harmonically colourful. I think of Sibelius as the Finnish national composer, like Verdi (strangely, it's his name but also the acronym of the king's name, Vittorio Emanuelle Re d'Italia, at the time of Garibaldi and Italian nationalism) is for the more flamboyant Italians. I expect folk themes but Sibelius ranges over classical and romantic and this was evident. The program mentions classical antiquity and Debussy and Ravel and dances for the piano pieces (Four Lyric Pieces for piano op. 74, 1914). The solo cello was themes and variations with likenesses to Bach and Paganini (Theme and Variations in D minor for solo cello, 1887). Then some folkish dances played in violin-piano duo (Danses Champêtres for violin and piano Op.106, 1924) and a moody cello-piano duo written in defiant sorrow after the death of his daughter (Malinconia for cello and piano Op.20, 1900). Finally, a piano trio that "shows Sibelius moving from classical paragons to a more romantic expression"* (Piano trio C Major "Loviisa", 1888). They encored with a shorter Romance in F major, leaving to great applause and a very satisfied audience. Tuomas, Siljamari and Roope all studied at the Sibelius Academy in Finland and elsewhere. They have senior roles in Finnish orchestras and considerable experience between them. It shows. Very much enjoyed.

    The Sibelius 150 Trio comprises Tuomas Lehto (cello), Siljamari Heikinheimo (violin) and Roope Gröndahl (piano). They performed at the Finnish Embassy for Henk van Leeuwen and his Australia Northern Europe Liaisons. Keep an eye out for more from Henk, including Paavali Jumppanen's return and jazz from HERD Trio and more.

    * Thanks to the program for the quote and several other observations adapted from Antii Häyrynnen

    16 March 2015

    Gen Y and beyond

    Laura Jackson's one woman play told a story of internet girlfriend pics and privacy and rape presented as a story of the Gen Y women's experience. All this can be challenging for a man to view, but Laura was humane in her rendition. A central young male character is initially seen as guilty but there's humanity in the chatter around him but to say more would give away the plot. For all the harrowing story and the developing understanding, Laura, too, is humane and understanding. This is feminist but the darts that are flung are justified and there's an openness to other views. Laura wrote the play and performed the roles of seven characters as they intersect to solve the crimes. It's both an old story (rape has been around forever) and a new one (privacy and Internet porn pics). We don't often see Kelsey, the woman at the centre of the story, but she's often present. We do see her companion, sister, a sexologist and solicitor and policewoman and step-sister. When we do see Kelsey, it's to see her dress to go out on Christmas Eve, obviously after some time in seclusion. The first event happened on 14 Dec. I'm pondering if it's 2 or 54 weeks of seclusion. In the meantime, we've observed the characters, but also pics and FB chats projected between scenes that are core to the story and our understanding. It's perfectly apt for this story and quite revealing. I found the work confronting but humane, suspenseful but nicely revealed. The solicitor got a ditsy treatment, but she also exposed some key facts in the developing plot. The sexologist did raise some queries while exposing credulousness. It's a revealing drama that suits the time: a recent International Women's Day and the prominence of domestic violence in the press, and the Internet is always just around the corner for community concern. Thanks to Laura for an exposé of a young woman's experience for this boomer male. I could imagine it all, but theatre provides the experience.

    Laura Jackson (actor, playwright) presented the one-woman play, Handle it, at Street Theatre 2. Janys Hayes directed.

    15 March 2015

    Eva Evita

    Evita is not an attractive character and the politics of it all and even the musical itself has me in a quandary. She's presented as a grasping, self-important, self-serving person who yet has a connection with her people. She's a woman and they often get the bad rap. She drives her President husband to support the workers (or perhaps to use them) against the richer classes and seems to nationalise British-owned industry but leave the country's finances and welfare in tatters and her Swiss bank account (but not in her name) swelling. There's some history research needed here, partly because I never trust dramatic recreations of historical events and partly because I struggled to hear lots of the text anyway. Just nice to see the Italians saw through her, but they had the experience of Mussolini. Evita was fabulously presented by a large cast (44 cast members appeared for the curtain call and that's without the band of ~20 and sound and lights and backstage and the rest). It's a mega-success for Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics). I don't remember any text that was not sung. The music was constant and pretty interesting. I felt a previous work by Lloyd Webber seemed to have just a few themes appearing repetitively. This was more varied if still something like leitmotiv with melodies matching characters or sometimes situations or themes. The big casts were well used for some graphic scenes, of mourning or cheering peasants or complaining plutocracy. There were some amusing military scenes, too: a musical chairs that Peron wins through a trivial ruse at the end and some marching toy soldier song scenes. Evita was strong in voice and personality and Peron was decently-voiced and believable but Che (Guevara?) was ever-present and very strong in role and voice. Given the continual music, this was a great workout for the band and singers. I noticed how much I enjoyed the big scenes of big casts which professional productions will probably not afford. Whatever, this was a great show and I can only stand in awe that an amateur group could present it. And it's just one of many in the Canberra musical theatre scene this year. Great work.

    Evita was performed by Canberra Philharmonic at Erindale Theatre. Key cast were Kelly Roberts (Evita), Grant Pegg (Che) and Tony Falla (Perón) under Jim McMullen (director), Casey White (musical director) and Eliza Shephard and Shasha Chen (choreography).

    Thanks to Wikicommons for the pic of Eva Peron

    13 March 2015


    Shorty and Chow were back at Smiths. I hear them snot so much as jazz but as fusion. It takes me back. Those changes, those driving feels and sometimes contorted melodies and solos, that power that's not-too-subtly emanating. Luke feels very much like this and it's not surprising because he wrote a good deal of the original compositions (I think Barney wrote all the others). Barney mentioned the difficult changes in On point. I could feel the intervallic contortions in Luke's soloing on the early tunes. He had plenty of gear on stage, three guitars and an array of pedals. He was playing Gibson semi-acoustic on the first tunes (ES335 or thereabouts) and the style was fusion, distorted, driving, sustained from the Fender Twin. There's some real tradition here. A later tune on a Strat was more Beck-ish with wang bar and then to finish a fatter a Les Paul with more bluesy, scalar soloing. A nice touch of history and a chance to compare classic tones and to revisit my fusion past. I was loving this! Julian was far more smooth and scalar throughout in solos, if sometimes choppy in accompaniment. Nicely phrased over barlines and through changes, smooth, not jarring but deceptively adventurous with its rhythmic note placements. Lovely. He was mostly alto, but touched on soprano. Barney was mostly on double bass, very occasionally with French bow and mid-punchy presence from a Mark bass amp. It's not a traditional sound, but it is one that cuts through. I was overjoyed by a few monstrous unison lines, one on acoustic, then another on the Warwick e-bass that he used later in the night. There was lots of reading here: everyone had charts and there were obviously plenty of dots written. I really enjoyed new drummer, Blair, too. I noticed on the Net that he's played musicals and he had that awareness of form and purpose that fits that style and some very well-formed but driving and interesting swapped fours and a solo or two. Very neat; very professional. But these guys are that: they all play the Duntroon Band. Their tunes were all originals, other than a short funky take on Coltrane's Naima. This is an outing before a recording. The tunes were often merged into medleys with interludes, I would guess mostly through-written leaving some generous spaces for solos. The tunes had names like The Seer or Pat's coming to town or Small story or Sunflower or On point. Nothing in these names, but this was some interesting and competent fusion with jazz chops and a touch of looping and driving guitars and contemporary jazz sax. Interesting writing and foot tapping and a chance for some screaming guitar. Much enjoyed.

    Shorty & Chow are Luke Greenhalgh (guitars), Barnaby Briggs (double and e-bass), Julian Fung (alto, soprano saxes) and Blair Fairbairn (drums) and they played at Smiths.

    12 March 2015

    Musing on a lesser tomato

    Julian Cribb spoke on the future of food for the Australia Institute and the UN Association of Australia. He introduced his talk as having two parts - a first part that is scary and a second part that's an antidote - but it seemed to me, as I walked out, that we have plenty of reasons to worry and little reason to hope. Perhaps solutions are identified if not developed, but the problems were massive and virtually immediate, and, like climate change, threatening some ridiculously large corporates presumably with huge influence.

    Firstly, the problems. Population growing to 11 billion (I thought the peak was estimated as 9 billion, but perhaps reconsidered) and increasing wealth demands more food and more environmentally demanding food. Peak oil, for transport, farm machinery and more, even if delayed. Peak water expected by 2030; we are "mining water" now (viz. Indian famer suicides); one coffee requires 140 litres of water to grow beans; we take 100x our body weight in water per day in the foods we eat. Loss of soil: 75b tons of topsoil are lost pa. Mining nutrients: soil is losing nutrient density and so are also our foods (we need to eat 5 tomatoes to gain the nutrients of one tomato for our grandparents!). Cities are growing and they import food; there is talk of emptying San Paolo for lack of water. Peak fertiliser: phosphates are mined from rocks and one country, Morocco, now provides most world phosphorus. Peak fish: catch is now decreasing ~8% pa; 80% of fish sold in Australia is imported. In summary, the average meal takes 10kg topsoil (not sure of this unit), 1.3 litres oil, 800 litres water and 1/3 gram pesticides. And our diets are unhealthy, so 80% of Australians die of a diet-related disease (I had thought this was a new-ager complaint). And our small farms are disappearing to the concentrated market power of ~20 food conglomerates. A climate temp increase of 4degC is estimated to drop US corn and grain production by 60-80%. And wars are associated with food, water and land insecurity.

    Now for the good news. There are solutions in urban farming and green cities, intensive systems (up to 10-100x yield), floating greenhouses and desert farms (on trial in Whyalla), fish farms (now booming, ~1/3 of fish worldwide is farmed), algae (to produce food, but alternatively, to feed fish, produce jet fuel and more), novel foods (26,700 edible plants exist although only 300 species are in the biggest markets, and 6,100 edible plants are Australian), synthetic meats from animal stem cells (which can be personalised for health). Different, perhaps, but feasible. I've seen the fish farms and we all eat the salmon.

    So how will it happen? Sorry to disappoint, but in this time frame (20/40 years?), I could only see this as risibly unlikely. Educate kids for food awareness; promote peace through food; develop preventative health policies; promote women to power. And water and nutrient recycling; encouragement of urban farming and rewilding. And the middle class voting with its purchasing power. This, after the dismantlement of what climate change action we were belatedly taking? And while urgent matters (terrorism, Ukraine, "lifestyle choices", deregulation) are concerns and while 20 mega-corporations mostly control the market and have lots of lose? I'd gone with little interest or awareness of the food issue (although it's promoted enough) and walked out thinking this is more even immediate than climate change. And cc is no lazy threat.

    There were some questions: eating insects and 3D food printing (all feasible); slow food (nice but not particularly germane to this crisis); mining artesian waters and use of dams; genetic modification ("promising tech" but some question exist over it now; but just "one screwdriver in a big toolkit"); the middle class as consumers and La Via Campesina (an international peasant movement) and "food sovereignty" (just what does this mean anyway?); Solyent (apparently a Silicon Valley ground mush; OK for food as fuel , eg for marathons or climbing mountains, but not for social eating); food distribution (costly given travel costs for moving all that food; better to equip local farmers for food independence); population reduction and reduced fertility. But for the likely politics of all this, I just heard vain hope: "I just hope Australians are smarter than the people we elect" (we are not); "current science policy of this government is to shrink the economy", consumer decisions will change all this, need to dispossess 20 mega-corporations from their power in food. But a final comment really told the story in my book. That 51 of the largest 100 economies are now corporations, not states, so "the world is now technically a fascist state". Now, that hints rather more accurately at what is likely for this crisis over the next few decades.

    Julian Cribb spoke on the future of food at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute and the UN Association of Australia.

    09 March 2015

    That time again

    It's that time of year. The buildings are aglow at night and we celebrate Canberra Day and enlighten ourselves with Shortis & Simpson appearing with a historian mate to explore a past year of our national history. It's apt that it should be in Canberra and it occurs at the National Archives. After all, the records were made here and later stored and released here, even if they were decided on by visiting ministers. This year they were investigating 1988/89. S&S looked at the social circumstances and Nicholas Brown, their new offsider ANU historian, looked at cabinet documents. I amuse myself by thinking of these as a double act, S&S as the funny man and NB as the straight man, but Nicholas was witty enough in his own right/write. There's an impressive amount of work in this and it deserves much greater awareness. John Simpson spends many hours in the National Library leading up to this event and he and Moya create a truly impressive cabaret-like visit to the era in words and song. 1988/89 were the era of Bob Hawke and rising tension with Keating over leadership; the cheapest mobile phone cost $2,796; it was the time of the first commercial Internet, GPS, email; Australia had the most McDonalds in the world per head; a Sunbeam frypan cost $59.95; Mandela was still in prison; George Bush Snr won an election; it was the time of the Bicentenary and Charles & Dianna at Sydney Harbour and protests and the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody following the Brewarrina race riots of 1987; pilots' pay dispute and the Kiribilli Agreement; Tienanmen Square Gorbachev and Glasnost (the Berlin Wall fell in 1989) and Home & Away; the new Parliament House was opened. S&S sang songs from the year to accompany the history lesson: Bette Midler Wind beneath my wings; Kylie I should be so lucky; Louis Armstrong (returned from the grave) What a wonderful world; Bangles Burning flame; Cher If I could turn back time; Crowded House Better be home soon; Paul Kelly Dancing on his grave; Celebration of a nation; Tracey Chapman Fast car; Bobby McFerrin Don't worry be happy; Proclaimers 500 miles; maybe others. It was also the time of the first ACT election resulting an in assembly containing four members who didn't approve of self-government after 2 months counting of the metre-wide ballot paper. And Jo Bjelke-Petersen and the Fitzgerald Inquiry and Peacock/Howard and a better national awareness of the Separation of Powers.

    Nicholas Brown started with a joke but soon resumed more academic rigour. He spoke on the politics of the time after release of Cabinet papers. Interestingly, these are the formal papers presented to Cabinet. The Cabinet Notebooks (~= minutes of Cabinet) are held for 50 years. There were strains in government and Australia. The Labor government were putting through a broad-ranging set of neo-liberal changes and not all was well. The election theme was "Let's stick together". A new language entered public policy: micro-economic reform; productivity; restrictive work practices; incentives; reciprocal obligations (and you thought this was all Liberal thinking?). Keating spoke of a "new social contract" and "bring[ing] home the bacon". Hawke spoke of "no child living in poverty". There were disenfranchised groups, divisions in cabinet, retrenchments, rising interest rates. There was the Expenditure Review Committee (ERC) and the Accord Mk4. HECS arrived and there were immigration reforms, ATSIC was created and the environment became an issue. John Button spoke of a "productive culture" and the MFP (Multi-Function Polis)idea was floated. Keating spoke of Placido Domingo. Qualitatively, NB spoke of the strong work of the APS, the well-argued policy papers, the strength of ministers to push for change. Perhaps this is personal memory, but it was a time of turmoil in Australia under a government that implemented harsh changes but at least tried to support the losers, if not always with success, and the "recession we had to have" was coming. But there were winners, too, and it led to the Australian "miracle economy" that we are seeing fade right now.

    To some degree this is nostalgia - certainly many in the audience would remember this time - but also it's serious and important history and it's ours and there are a million quotes to argue that we should know it. S&S are our local gems and they make a formidable intellectual team with Nicholas Brown. Catch them whenever you can. Shortis & Simpson are John Shortis (piano, chatter, vocals and extensive research) and Moya Simpson (chatter, vocals). They were accompanied by Dr Nicholas Brown (ANU historian).

  • John Shortis' new history website
  • 07 March 2015

    Who's counting

    4+4+4+6+1=19 but who's counting. The Sixteen didn't add to sixteen but they were sublime anyway. This was early music but with a modern twist that took that early conception and twisted it but retained the themes and concepts. The early music was a string of Pergolesi and the Allegri Miserere. The modern kept the same Marian theme with works by Scottish composer James McMillan including another Miserere. The choir was a revelation for its ability to precisely spell the harmonies, and they were often very complex harmonies. Voices would to come to the fore then recede with perfect control and pitch, and these voices were truly splendid. Strangely individual voices that existed in a choir but had unique identities that would express themselves then dissolve into the choral patina. I was initially confused by the line-up. Is this SATB? Yes, it's in the program that way. Presumably Harry Christopher up front as conductor, with a string of six women in the first row: obviously sopranos. Then a back row of 12 voices with one woman. Where are the altos? I sing in a choir where females are half the tenors! I realised this was three males and one female as the altos. Another world! I guess these are male countertenors. Different. But gradually I relaxed into the beauteous presence of this early music and the modern twists from McMillan. All so perfect. All so English and refined. Ties and tails. That lovely soprano that soared. The Allegri Miserere with the second, distant choir in the wings. The simple presence of a superlative choir singing plainchant and its later inspirations. Simply wondrous and beauteous. Enough just to sit back and relax and think of my next visit to London and the museums and the classy culture and the rest.

    The Sixteen performed their Queen of Heaven program at the Llewellyn Hall.

    06 March 2015


    Casey, Bill and Ed - the Casey Golden trio - are friends of CJ and I've heard them and written of them here several times, but I was still surprised when the music started. This was so quiet. Bill's tone was so close to acoustic. It's what they try to do, but it's uncanny. He had an amp. You almost wouldn't know it but you know he must have one otherwise you wouldn't hear him when he plays quite so gently. Bill can ring a string but often it's just a touch that forms a note, placed just right, sparse, unadorned, nothing excess as this is. Ed is doing something similar, always responding to Casey, always active but it's big tension under tight control. It's accompaniment and colour and interpretation more than obvious beat; the beat is there but implied. I feel Casey is the core, but that's nothing unexpected in a piano trio. He's playing richly embroidered lines or dense, complex harmonies. I follow a melody line and it's long and contorted before it repeats. I listen to the most colourful of harmonies and wish for a piano to do this justice. The tunes were all originals from one or another CD, especially their new one, Outliers, that's had good reviews around the world. And from another, Live at Bennett's Lane, recorded for Mal Stanley and ABC. The covers are all stark in complex black and white drawings; the music is similarly precise and resolute. They played a swinger at Geoff Page's request: Herbie Hancock's Dolphin dance, that wonderfully musical modern theme. I felt it was an entree to their thinking and playing. Again, the precision and listening and gentility; the melody appearing often but not interminably; the swing swung, but interspersed with spaces and implications; still the quiet engagement with each other and the music. It's easy to receive originals in their own context, but to hear a reworking like this on a known piece was a revelation. All strength to Casey, Bill and Ed. Profoundly satisfying stuff played with outstanding skill.

    The Casey Golden Trio are Casey Golden (piano), Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums). They played at Smiths.

    05 March 2015

    The Straighteners are at it again

    It was the sixteenth Manning Clark lecture and Richard Denniss of the Australia Institute gave it and it was recorded so you can hear it sometime on ABC RN Big Ideas. RD introduced the lecture as having two parts: what can we learn from Manning Clark and what will Australia be like when it grows up. The first part was very obviously familiar Manning Clark territory: Enlargers and Straighteners / Punishers. Much economic debate preludes talk of choices and talks only of means using a simple and perhaps misleading measure, the GDP. The Punishers have, very cleverly, managed to claim the role of Straighteners while acting the role of Punishers. [I could only think of the current line, that to save Medicare we must increase charges]. RD looked back 100 years. Most occupations were different from now; GDP didn't exist as a measure; any predictions would ignore mobile phones and the Internet and fret that whalers' jobs would be devastated.. And yet we are now the richest we've ever been and in one of the richest countries (and cities) in the world. Economic forecasts are consistently wrong and many predictions are just projections of the present. So how useful is an Intergenerational Report (or political audits or other), other than to scare us and remove discussion of options. [I wonder how much climate change will be discussed in this new report; that's one thing we can predict with certainty will happen over 50/100+ years]. RD likes to put all this in earthy terms: "making crap up"; predictors out 50 years are "kidding themselves"; "starving the beast" (a US neo-con expression, meaning to starve government of funds). Think on these facts: Australian debt has been up to 150% GDP twice in our history; GDP as a measure didn't even exist until ~1940s; the ABS only started releasing summary stats after WW2; the pension has dropped from 34% of average wage (1915) to 25% (2015). RD praised the Punishers for their success, although not for their outcome. He argued that this simple story of GDP and finance is used to effectively remove the possibility of discussion of choices and ultimately benefits the wealthy. Create fear and offer a simple solution; get people to vote against their interests; when the economy slows, cut spending to the poor and when it speeds up, cut taxes to the rich. It's hard to question that summarisation given recent Australian history (unfairness of last budget; tax cuts under Howard) and the growing maldistribution of wealth across the world and the famed 1% ("There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning" / Warren Buffett quoted in "In Class Warfare, Guess Which Class Is Winning" by Ben Stein in The New York Times (26 Nov 2006) http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/business/yourmoney/26every.html viewed 4 Mar 2015).

    I was amused by the theme of the second part of this talk, What will Australia be like when it grows up? This part of the presentation seemed weaker to me. The main themes were: we should decide our direction (our choices) and not our goal, as a goal is impossible to determine over decades anyway; We should implement policies that move towards those choices; change happens anyway, so don't worry over much about short term change (coal miners out of work? Think of those whalers from our past); don't prevent change, but support people affected by change (invest in retraining, education, support); be honest with our values and turn them into actions. Nearing the end, RB did give a prediction on the economy in 2015, despite he previous protestations: that we will have one. There was a little more, but that's the gist and I had to leave for the Gods.

    Richard Denniss (Exec Dir, Australia Institute) gave the 16th Manning Clark lecture at the ANU.

    04 March 2015

    Wet wet wet

    We did a standards gig in the Drill Hall Gallery. They have a lovely grand piano and that was what most interested us. Otherwise, the place and audience is quiet but welcoming and the space is heavy with reverb. The moral is, some rugs and curtains are welcomed. Here's a pic of Richard and James playing a duo on Blue in green and detail of a painting from the current exhibition, colourful, presumably abstract expressionist works by Ann Thomson.

    The band was James Woodman (piano), Richard Manderson (saxes) and Eric Pozza (bass). No drums.