27 February 2017


It looked like a tramp through the ages of classical music, and so it was until it got to Liszt. Yu Kosuke played Bach then Beethoven and Takemitsu (later than Liszt) then a few virtuosic Liszt tunes and an arrangement - cum - transcription of Wagner by Liszt that sounded to me much like the other Liszts. My favourite of the night was the Takemitsu, his Rain Tree Sketch I&II, sounding of falling water drops from small leaves, all modern sounding, perhaps whole-tone scales and indeterminate harmonies and no doubt lots of accidentals. Nice and modern and very different from all the others. The Bach was Aria variata alla maniera Italiana Amaj, sounding early period and much like a set of variations. The Beethoven was his Sonata no.21 Cmaj Walstein. It's popular and even I recognised it. Very different playing, though. I wonder how Yu gets her head around such changes. Everything was played without music. Then the interval and the Takemitsu and the Liszts, Les jeux d'eaux à la villa d-Este and Ballade no.2 Bmin, played attacca, without a break, as I remember, then the Wagner transcription, Isolde's Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde. I admired her sense of the pensive which she often visited. Also the clarity of exposition of melodies as they moved between right and left hands; that may be a foundational skill for professional soloists. I wondered about her take on Bach which seemed relatively loose and flexible, but I think that's an ongoing discussion amongst performers of the baroque. All questions that I have, but they tend to arise most easily when you have a player of such clarity. Much enjoyed.

Yu Kosuge (piano) played Bach, Beethoven, Takemitsu, Liszt and Wagner at Llewellyn Hall.

25 February 2017

Fashion sense

Still at the NGV and Viktor&Rolf intrigued and amused me mightily. I have only recently come to appreciate fashion for its artistic qualities (despite growing up the son of a tailor). This was madly extreme and playful and I had plenty of laughs. This was catwalk fashion, seldom feasible for daily wear, but witty and superbly tailored. We were greeted with a series of 7 costumes that layered on a living model, one over the other, to finally weigh 70kg and reveal just a dwindled head atop a decorated cone. Then a grey jacket confirming NO and with the most precise tailoring. A joyous Van Gogh girl with petticoated skirt and hay for hair. A tongue-in-cheek model carrying her own musical accompaniment and lighting on a frame above her head. Many displays were life-sized, presumably worn once by a model, but ideas were also presented on articulated dolls with fitting faces. The audience was overwhelmingly women and I guess that's to be expected. I only attended because Megan was interested, but I'm glad I did. This was fun and frolicsome and wildly adventurous. What else? A lovely richly-red jacket or gown (not sure which) with a huge bow that could just possibly could have been worn away from a catwalk. Works on various other themes, like Vagabonds or Wearable art (fun, but not very wearable if the later videos were anything to go by). Towards the end were videos of these very garments being presented. How lovely to see them move, although I was disappointed with the bland model faces, apparently requisite despite playful costumery. A final animatronic doll that walks her own catwalk each quarter hour. And a play area, as if for kids, but mostly populated by twenty-something designers experimenting; good on them. And that final theme, Little Swan, the V&R's pet dachshund. Fashion like this is new to me so this was a great pleasure of discovery. Fabulous in its true sense. Loved it.

Viktor&Rolf: Fashion artists was an exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. Viktor&Rolf are Dutch fashion designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren.

23 February 2017


David Hockney is a star of contemporary / pop art with his colours and Californian light and water splashes and English background and gay sensibility but he's never been a particular favourite of mine and I remain largely unmoved after seeing a display of his works from the last decade at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne. He's taken to using iPads and iPhones (using the app Brushes) to produce quick and colourful and sometimes revealing works. There were lots of these. Most interestingly there were many examples of his works being created in front of your eyes, on an iPad or TV screen. Presumably the app records the creation process and can rerun it. There's undeniable eye and composition and skills here and it was quite a learning experience to view an image go from blank screen to finished work. The electronics allows for quick and prolific creation, something like an update of the printing process and perhaps even more prolific. I was surprised to see the works on display were advertised as "over 1,200". There certainly were lots, although I'm not sure how they got to this number. There were household and local scenes, a series on Yosemite with obvious references to Ansell Adams, a long series of sitters (seemingly on one common chair) in a similar blank space. These were portraits in acrylic, all rough and lacking detail although clearly showing character and a good eye. Then a few large works formed collage-like from photos (for me the most welcoming pictures of all) and a final room of four screens in nine parts of four seasons in one English forest (Woldgate Woods in Yorkshire) captured with 9 cameras mounted on a moving van. Pretty but ho-hum to me. Hockey clearly has a great eye but his ill-defined images often disappointed me and a claim to significant art from a moving van carrying 9 cameras just left me cold. An interesting recent retrospective but no great revelation to my eyes.

David Hockney works from the recent decade were displayed at the National Gallery of Victoria.

20 February 2017


We're in Melbourne and we seem particularly unlucky for jazz or classical music. But there's White Night. It's all the rage here, a Saturday night public light show like Canberra's Enlighten, but just one big night (7pm-7am). The roads were closed off in the centre of town, 0.6 million people or so milled around, there were stabbings at one station and a drug emergency at an associated festival, but mostly mild and reportedly well received by visitors. We didn't find too many light shows where we walked, we enjoyed and dodged big crowds and walked the middle of main streets and found a few people to chat to. As these things are, people looked mostly dazed and somewhat under-/over-whelmed. We caught a few bands, not least the John Morrison Big Band. They were playing very recognisable standards with an easy swing - nicely done if not too adventurous (think Pensylvannia 6-5000). I was standing beside the stage (it was loud out front!) and met Alexandra by asking if she played music. Yes, alto sax. How easy it is to recognise lurking musos! Alexandra plays with the Australian Youth Band (concert and big band). We both enjoyed the easy professionalism of it all. Otherwise guitarists or keys with midi, blues feels, Piazzolla, dancers. And lots of people; given the high-rise residentials popping up around town, this is no surprise.

White Night was a city-wide light show entertainment in Melbourne. The John Morrison Big Band performed amongst many others.

17 February 2017


Barbara Jane Gilby noted one of her sayings "No practice is ever wasted". She was introducing the Canberra Strings, a new string quartet formed to visit New Zealand as musical ambassadors. Another earthquake intervened and the tour was called off at the last minute, but at Wesley we got to hear a program of modern Australian music prepared for this tour. The music was from 1912-2002. The composers were Alfred Hill, Peter Sculthorpe and Graeme Koehne. The music was widely varied. I also enjoyed hearing these players, who I've heard mostly in the context of a symphony orchestra, so a big group, in the intimate setting of a string quartet. Each individual with his/her own independent role and leading statement, but all merged into a compositional unity. And each with a clear voice, emerged from the melded symphonic tone. The Alfred Hill was from the Carnival, so light and pleasurable. The Sculthorpe was anything but. His String quartet no.6 was dedicated to Bonny Drysdale, a friend recently deceased. It is sombre, with movements marked Lento molto, Lento and Lento. There was some intriguing harmonic colour here, painful statements from the various strings, some rhythmic interest, but heavy going. I enjoyed the Koehne most, Whirling dance, from his String quartet no.2 Shaker Dances, all odd times and mingling tempos and simple joys. You could feel the interest and raw newness of this group with music that seemed still new and developing and this was part of the excitement. They formed in October at the request of government, so this is a business proposition amongst the artistic purposes, but no loss there (much music is and has to be). I enjoyed this immensely and look forward to future outings, for the players and the localness and the interesting music they unearthed, but also for the exposed musicality of the string quartet format.

The Canberra Strings are Barbara Jane Gilby (violin), Pip Thompson (violin), Lucy Carrigy-Ryan (viola) and Alex Voorhoeve (cello). They performed at Wesley.

14 February 2017

Jazz Club'n'it

We tend to forget that jazz was once the popular music of its day. We went to a Canberra Jazz Club event at the Southern Cross Club at Jamison and you almost felt it still is. Terry Wynn was playing with the Wayne Kelly Trio and guest vocals Angela Lount and the dancers were up and the kids were running around and the swing dancers were at a near table with their natty period outfits and it was busy. The place was swinging. The brackets featured a few bebop instrumentals, there was at least one original, this time from Ben, the swinging standards had everyone in a good mood and at least a few couples were always up on the dance floor. How different from the cerebral sobriety of much contemporary jazz. I love that, of course, but this is music for people, clever and well played, and also for entertainment. So, a different side of jazz and well enjoyed and the beer's on tap, too.

Terry Wynn (sax, clarinet) played with the Wayne Kelly trio, comprising Wayne Kelly (piano), Ben O'Loghlin (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) and Angela Lount (vocals) was out front.

11 February 2017


Next day at SoundOut, part way through the late session. First up was a quintet with Luiz and a series of locals, Chloe, Sonya, Gail and Miro on bass, toy piano and other toys, vocals, electronics and trumpet. Again, this was a meeting of musicians, an experimental jam, and it started with some hesitation, leaving space to hear each other. Until Miro spelt some melody and this was cathartic. Miro later said he's a melodist. It seems to me that trumpeters are: it seems to be a function of the instrument. But here were clear notes, spacious, with some relationship one to another. Luiz picked up on this, bowing, plucking, then alternative techniques of tapping, slapping timber and strings, reaction from Sonya, with vocalisations that filled and swelled around them, again Miro's bell-like notes. Lovely. Chloe and Gail were more subdued and ambient, encompassing this with various noises of various toys on the one hand, tapping or sliding or clacking, or using electronics to meld and twist and revisit, or to add processed voice and glass clinks and pats and thumps. Luiz Gabriel Gubeissi (bass), Miro Bukovsky (trumpet), Sonya Holywell (vocal), Chloe Hobbs (toy piano, toys) and Gail Priest (electronics) performed.

Then a stunner. French pianist Frederick Blondy returned for an overwhelmingly powerful final set. this was meant to end with other performers gradually coming on stage for a collective improv, but rather it ended alone, everyone overwhelmed by the power and purpose and sweeping adequacy of it all. Again, he started under the lid, with bow hair on strings and something that looked like a stick with a can on top, a few electronic bows (?) and I expect some other tools for preparation, then moving to the keyboard for growing intensity of handfulls of notes, tone clusters, increasingly flailing and jumping at the piano, this time with rhythm, to an intensity of violence and excess. Then a stop. He seemed a little surprised at that, as we were. Some minutes then applause. My camera gave out so no pics.

After a short rest, the collective improv to finish it all for this year. Most playing their standard style, but amusingly and informatively, right in front of me, was Christian Svendsen dissembling his travel bass as in performance, formal, slow, precise, ordered. I'd wondered how it came apart and now I'd seen it. Amusing. Then a fall to quiet, a packup, a party. The end of SoundOut incarnation no.8. Hopefully to return in 2018. And congrats to Richard Johnson for his drive and effort to make this festival happen every year.

10 February 2017


Younger locals up next. This was not the hive of virtuosity of the last sets but intriguing and true. Sonya, Rhys and Bonnie on vocals, guitar and drums. I heard dense forest, slightly threatening, rolling thunder of toms and mallets. Guitar played traditionally in place then dropped to the lap for bow and fingerpicking. Unearthly slides and drone voice. A clear and rich voice, more vocal than noise, slow, spreading. Taps on sticks against hardware or string ends, beads on drum skins, tapping, twisting voice. Voices of forests, African finger harp, metal bowl, deadened taps on guitar strings to whoops and cries. A credit card put to good use to damp guitar strings. Then a reprise. More mobile, at times drums verging on a rhythm, fingerpicked guitar that's sometimes chordal if distinctly atonal, structured vocals with hints of repetition almost echoing guitar. The staccato voice, scraped cymbals and, oddly and unexpectedly, some words (bit I missed them!). The band was Sonya Holywell (vocal), Rhys Mottley (guitar) and Bonnie Stewart (drums) out of Sydney.

Then some Euro virtuosos: Irene Kepl and Christian Meaas Svendsen, violin and bass, Austria and Norway. From the top, this was massively energetic. It started explosively, violently with bass and accompanying vocalisations. Christian was all over the bass, feet, hands, knees surrounding and supporting the instrument, even playing with a dance-like step. Bent over, primitive as in some King Kong film. Then a feel somewhere around 6/8, that equally proficient and euphoric violin, bowed harmonics, superb atonal bowed playing, slow attacks and fast releases like some Beatles recording trick. This was a meeting of distinctly virtuoisic equals. Irene Kepl (violin) and Christian Meaas Svendsen (bass) are from Austria (Vienna) and Norway (Oslo).

Then a final collective improvisation to finish the night, Irene and Christian gradually joined by other players, building, swelling, moving, changing, interestingly those two voices of Guylaine and Sonya, till people started dropping out, standing aside and it ended for applause for the day one set two.

09 February 2017


The Canberra Bach Ensemble returned with a program of Nunc dimittis cantatas. I had to read the informative program and a little more to understand the history of all these, of the Canticle of Simeon (Nunc dimittis) and the Feast of the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Candlemass) and Martin Luther's reworking of Nunc dimittis as Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin (in peace and joy I despair). Suffice to say this was nothing like the joyous series of advent cantatas that made up the last CBE concert. All four cantatas were restrained cantatas and one or two seemed to have just one chorus. But this is Bach so there were memorable passages none-the-less. I particularly noticed one with pizz strings in a tenor aria. The program says this "despicts the passage of time like a ticking clock, anticipating the 'allerletzten Glockenschlag' ('very last bell-strike')". Also different is the tuning: CBE had moved from A=440 to 415, standard baroque pitch. Not all instruments were gut, but plenty were, and same with the associated baroque bows. I particularly noticed Dave's huge- but downy-sounding gut-strung bass. A pair of viole da gamba appeared for the first cantata and I was surprised how hushed they were: sounding well under the cellos who were well under the single bass. The first cantata (BWV106) was supposedly written for a funeral; the next two (BWV125&82) were written two years apart for the Purification feast (Did Mary need to be purified? Apparently so.) The final cantata (BWV95) featured those authentic period instruments, cornetto, baroque oboes and the like, and finished with a chorus. Ah, there's a touch of that exhilarating joy that Bach cantatas are known for. The singing was wonderful throughout although I especially noticed the males, not least one duet for bass and tenor. And in some ways, it was a feat of endurance, being a very hot afternoon in Canberra. So a different series of cantatas, a learning experience for those who followed the Nunc dimittis connections, a concert of transition for the CBE and, as ever, a wonderful outing.

Canberra Bach Ensemble performed four Bach cantatas (BWV106,125,82,95) at St Christopher's, Manuka. Andrew Koll (conductor) directed, with Leanne Bear (violin, leader) and singers Keren Dalzell (soprano), Maartje Sevenster (alto), Robert Macfarlane (tenor) and Andrew Fysh (bass).