30 June 2019

Revisiting youth

I've enjoyed my last few years playing in orchestras but I really thought I'd left my run for the Canberra Youth Orchestra a little late. But no! Last night I played with CYO in Carmina Burana! I joked about that with someone and they commented on the interchangeability of orchestras in Canberra. Perhaps because we are a smallish community where people have common connections and are physically mobile and flexible. Also that we are pretty well endowed with classical opportunities. I hope this lasts. At least last night, the complete viola and bass sections were friends or alumni. And they often just drop in at the last minute. I only sat in Friday night and Saturday morning before the performance on Saturday night. But it's quite readable for bass and I'd played it before. Not sure the singing was so easy. Canberra Choral Society provided most of that and they performed a treat. There were less frequent kids voices from the Canberra Children's Choir and some accompanying aged voices from Seasoned Voices. That was fascinating: the two ends of a singer's life represented in these mediaeval words put, fairly recently, to music (Carl Orff wrote Carmina Burana in the 1930s using mediaeval texts). Plus there were solo singers, soprano Rachael Duncan, tenor Tobias Cole and baritone Andrew O'Connor. They impressed massively, not least Rachael's glorious and touching resolution with the endless (8 bar+) sustained high note and Tobias' black boa and matching theatricality. The choir had been prepared by Dan Walker and he sang amongst the tenors. Otherwise, there was the CYO itself with its friends and alumni. Great job by them and all. I sat by the percussion and they were wondrously varied and sharp. The winds did a great job with their features. The basses done good, too. I'm pleased to notice my own improvement over recent years. I played CB with NCO in July 2016 but I felt far more in command this time. That's a personal satisfaction. And again Lenny is passing a baton: this was his last concert with CYO before going off to study in Baltimore. And perhaps just one oddity to mention: a classical concert with no interval, just the uninterrupted Carmina. This was a great pleasure and a wonderfully evocative and successful rendition of this popular classic.

Carmina Burana was presented by Canberra Youth Orchestra, Canberra Choral Society, Canberra Children's Choir and Seasoned Voices with soloists Rachael Duncan (soprano), Tobias Cole (tenor) and Andrew O'Connor (baritone) under Leonard Weiss (conductor) and Dan Walker (chorus master). The bass section was Hayley Manning (principal), Kyle Daniel, Chelsea Kennett and Eric Pozza.

28 June 2019


I've lamented the poor visuals of organ concerts before. This was another RSCM concert, at St Paul's Manuka with organist Anne Marie Neilsen. I was lucky enough to be in the loft with Anne Marie so had a decent view. The respectable turnout below couldn't even see an organist's back, sitting as they were in pews facing the altar with the organ loft behind. But that's how it is. But in the loft it's a workingman's experience, close to the pipes so they are genuinely stereo, hearing the clumping on pedals and the noise of blowers (or heaters in the Canberra cold) and feeling the vibrations of the boards below us responding to the pedalling. But what a sound! MA played Bach, Mendelssohn, Durufle, Franck and Vierne without interruption. The driving inevitability of a Bach fugue, the pensive melody and harmonic sequences of the Mendelssohn, the mighty religiosity of this Durufle, some variety from Franck and the amusing play on the instantly recognisable bells of Westminster. All played so convincingly by AM. I'm intrigued by the organ playing, fingers stretched to sustain notes, diverse manuals with their pre-set sounds and pitches and the variety of tones and those deep and powerful pedal notes. It's a thrilling thing and must have been an outlandish experience for mediaeval listeners in churches in the days before amplification, when nothing other than nature (and gunpowder) was so loud. As with much (European) art of the time, it was just further proof of the power of God. In our more secular age, we hear these things as art or entertainment but are aware of their power and beauty. I feel religious art is not of our time: a visit to the modern galleries at the Vatican Museum were just evidence to me. But the experience remains true and beautiful. Loved it.

Mary Anne Neilsen (organ) performed for the RSCM (Royal Society of Church Music, ACT Branch) at St Paul's Manuka.

  • Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) Australia
  • Organ Historical Trust of Australia
  • 27 June 2019


    My singing is not the most renowned, but I struggle with the tenor parts and Harmonica Monday gets it pretty right on the night. HM is a modest group, practicing mornings and performing for friends and relatives and taking on the most satisfying on repertoires. This concert covered the waterfront for choral eras, from mediaeval through to modern, extant, Canberra compositions: de Victoria, Bennet, Handel, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Faure, Barber and Canberran international choral master, Stephen Leek. His piece was a quirky song from the northern Australian islands, Monkey and turtle. Fabulous fun. There were some seriously interesting harmonies and considered parts displayed. Nice one.

    Harmonia Monday (choir) is directed by Sheila Thompson and Oliver Raymond (conductors) with accompanist Jenny Kain (piano).

    25 June 2019

    Double barrelled

    I don't like weapon references, but this is too good to miss. Musica da Camera has just played one of its weekend concert pairs and the country segment was a Gunning. Thus double barrelled. Lenny chose the music, as musical director, and conducted. This was our last concert with Lenny before his further studies overseas. Katia Beaugeais, Selmer artist saxist and Sydney Con composition lecturer, provided our original for the day, first recorded by ACO Collective for ABC, none-the-less. Helena Popovich soloed on our recomposed Seasons. Tim Lamble recorded the Saturday (Cook) concert for ArtSound (expect that sometime in coming months). The music was delightful and varied and modern. First up was Arensky Variations on a theme by Tchaikovsky. Lovely and eminently doable. Variations are an interesting exercise in classical music. Then Katia's Like snowdrops you will shine. This was deceptively challenging with its odd syncopations over changing time signatures (mainly 5/4) and pentatonics with a gull-call finish of harmonic slides. This was quite a challenge on day 1 but reasonably settled on day 2. It's a glorious, soft, heart warming piece dedicated to hospital staff and celebrating their good work. Lovely. Then the long work, Max Richter Four seasons recomposed. This was a hit of the CIMF a few years back: all minimalism and drones with odd, changing times as features and the well-known melodies peeking through. An impressive and convincing and often mesmerising reworking of the standard. Helena did a great job on the most demanding of parts. Again, an artistic and intellectual pleasure to play with Lenny and Helena and the MdC crew, and to feature Katia and such interesting new music.

    Musica da Camera performed Arensky, Beaugeais and Richter at Cook and Gunning. Leonard Weiss directed (conductor), Helena Popovic (violin) soloed. Katia Beaugeais (composer) attended both outings. Tim Gamble (recordings) recorded for ArtSound.

    21 June 2019


    Organs are different things. The organ player's back is usually facing you; the music is variously grand or delicate and variously toned. It's different from other keyboard instruments, too. Sustain is achieved by holding down notes; notes are on/off rather than with a natural decay; volume is not controlled by the playing hands but by the foot pedal; there are several keyboards (=manuals) for hands and one for the feet. It must be confounding for pianists or harpsichordists, although obviously some aspects carry over. The ACT Organ School at Wesley Music Centre presented a student concert comprising 10 players over an hour-or-so. Again, they were varied: several school kids and some advanced students and ANU SOM students. The music was mostly Bach and Buxtehude, but the advanced performers branched out, into Hindemith, Messaien, Widor and Franck. I love baroque (we all do), but I particularly enjoyed the modern takes with the differing harmonies, the demanding dynamics and the rest. Wesley provides the organ and manages the Organ School. The teachers come in from interstate: tiring but obviously enjoyed. Brisbane organist Christopher Wrench is the senior tutor and he emceed for this event. A great pleasure from all players and an inspiration from several.

    Christopher Wrench (organ tutor) compered a student concert for the ACT Organ School at Wesley Music Centre. Performers were Christopher Taylor, Ariana Odermatt, Kate Cole, Jacob Wu, Timothy Kelly, Rebecca Anderson, Jayden Lohe, Jonathan Lee, James Porteous and Linus Lee.

    19 June 2019

    A few laughs

    Political cartoons provide a few laughs but, of course, they serve a much greater purpose, to explain or comment on the news and events of the day. They can be uproariously funny, snidely cutting, embarrassingly illuminating. There are great cartoonists across the world and Australia is right up there. Perhaps it's a thing of the culture, but I prefer ours to most others. Except maybe New Scientist or The Economist or sometimes New Yorker. Cartoons also require that you know the topic. The National Library has a large collection of cartoons and I got to their exhibition called Inked. It's arranged in date order, so the early rooms are largely unknown and no understood, at least for me. For me, it starts at Whitlam, although there's some awareness back to Menzies. For others, earlier or later. For Labor Party animals, it's earlier. But I got a good few belly laughs from some of those displayed. But they can be black, too, like Best we forget or Progress. Here are a few. Sadly some other favourites didn't photograph well. Worth a visit to the NLA along with the annual display of best political cartoons downstairs at Old Parliament House.

    Inked is a display of political cartoons at the National Library of Australia.

    17 June 2019

    Fine romances

    It was NCO again and this was exciting. We were playing the world premiere (in full symphony orchestra format) of Mike Dooley's first piano concerto. I'd heard it before in a smaller format but this was the full thing, beautifully melodic and inviting and played so well by Andrew Rumsay. Mike gave an excellent pre-concert talk, talking of his preference for consonance, or at least resolution of dissonance, complex with examples on piano. The work had some complex counts, too. Mike joked that he had a coffee cup with a caption of difficult counts - 11/16 and a few others - and apparently that's what we played. I'd missed playing Sally Greenaway with NCO so I was glad I didn't miss this one. Andrew is a Kawai artist, and Kawai had shipped in a new 8' grand for the event. And after interval, one of my most difficult but favourite plays, Rach 2. Madly romantic, teeming with ideas that are combined with sudden crossovers, slow to rabid times. Great fun and sweepingly attractive. The third movement is famous as providing the theme for the pop hit, All by myself / Eric Carmen. So, a great program with Mike's alluring new piano concerto played by Andrew combined with the romantic bliss of Rachmaninov Symphony no.2. What a great afternoon and a satisfying challenge.

    National Capital Orchestra performed Mike Dooley (composer) and Rachmaninov under Leonard Weiss (conductor) with Andrew Rumsey (piano) as soloist. BTW, the bottom end was Roger Grime and Eric Pozza (basses). National Capital Orchestra, Mike Dooley, Leonard Weiss, Andrew Rumsey

    15 June 2019

    One house museum

    House museums are lovely contained things and often oddly personalised being usually usually a collection of one person. Many are just a house with furniture but some are intriguing collections. John Soane's in London is famed as this. Closer to home, The David Roche Foundation in North Adelaide deserves to be. It was collected over many years by David. He came from a wealthy family, some of whom had started collecting earlier. He went to Geelong Grammar and was a famed dog breeder and judge. He'd worked although I have the feeling these were other interests: a classy menswear outlet and a time as aide to the SA governor. He'd met royalty and collected from the great auction rooms (Sotherby's and the like) and had agents sent to bid for him. He collected wisely and built his collection, mainly from C17th or thereabouts, so his Roman statues were copies of that era. He finally created and funded his foundation to maintain his excellent collection. It's been open to the public for 3 years-or-so. So what is it? Statues, porcelain, paintings, various oddities; works of significant previous ownership, like Catherine the Great, Princess who-ever. His old house is the venue, along with an attached museum rooms for some particularly special items or changing displays. Any house museum is reasonably sized, so not too tiresome. We were led through by a guide and offsider: obviously essential for security. The works are just there: close, no ropes. I was wary of knocking china off pedestals. Art pervades the house: bedrooms, kitchens, various dens, even the bathroom. The toilet has a sign saying not for use. The spaces are exhilarating and overwhelming. There are too many horses and dogs at one stage, but those were his interests. The Russian items were amazing, not least one painting that hung in the Hermitage and its space is still left blank (he has it legally). Catherine the Great's bottom likely sat in a few of the chairs. He certainly used some of the walking sticks in later years. And one of my favourite porcelains, The Music Lesson / Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory (Soft-paste porcelain by Joseph Willems from engravings by François Boucher), is held (also held by the Met [NYC] and NGV [Melbourne]). A huge pleasure.

    The David Roche Foundation is a house museum in Melbourne Street, North Adelaide.

    10 June 2019

    More keys

    This was a little unexpected. A free recital of French and Russian music on a Saturday afternoon at Wesley. The pianist was Anthony Chen and the recital was in preparation for his entry in the Lev Vlassenko Piano Competition. I didn't know of it but it must be worthy: certainly it has a decent prize. The music was modern and wildly virtuosic: the French half ran from Cesar Franck of 1884 through to Shostakovich on 1952. It was interesting to hear the development amongst the French pieces, from Franck to Ravel (1902) to Debussy (1915): to my ears, from a baroque structure (Prelude, chorale and fugue) through to deep impressionism in Debussy. On the Russian side, from Scriabin (1903) through Rachmaninoff (1917) and Prokofiev (1942) to Shostakovich. Not such dense impressionism but plenty of dissonance and huge energy. Prokofiev amused me with some interesting descriptions for the movements of his Piano sonata no.7 Bb min op.83: 1 Allegro inquieto; 2 Andante caloroso; 3 Precipitato. As for Anthony, he did superb justice to a mammoth program and played from memory. I could only sit in awe at the skills displayed. So, anther pianist, if in a very different world: Herbie Hancock one night, Anthony Chen the next afternoon. I am floored.

    Anthony Chen (piano) played Debussy, Ravel, Franck, Scriabin, Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev at Wesley.

    08 June 2019

    Many happy returns

    It might be 12 years late, but I finally saw Herbie Hancock here in Canberra. I missed him last time. Twelve years, but the band is little changed: Herbie, Lionel Loueke, Vinne Colaiuta, James Genus (was Nathan East). Herbie is 79 but you wouldn't know it. This was authentic, power-charged music with references to his history, some great solos and driving rock-strength grooves. Herbie played Korg Kronos and a fabulously forcefully-miced grand piano and a Roland keytar. it looked like Lionel played guitar but the solos sounded like synth (I had to look twice at his first solo) with perhaps traditional guitar sounds coming through quietly in chordal acompaniment. Nary a pick passed his fingers: this was all fingered chords and single notes. James was busy, bassy and a little bass-endy and lost in the mix (at least from where I sat) until he took to soloing where his sound was eminently bell-like clear, playing mostly finger style, but also thumbs or classical-like finger style. Then Vinnie, solid and strong, not overly polyrhythmic if more adventurous in solos (two) which featured some incredibly challenging ostinatos an stabs from the band. Lionel did several solos with loops, richly complex, and accompanied by his voice in harmonised. Herbie did vocoder voice, too, that strangley otherworldly vocal sound. James blew out everyone with another stunning looped solo and his other was no work of slouch. Various tunes form Herbie's history appeared for a line or two through the concert, then diffused into grooves, perhaps to reappear and diffuse again. The Headhunters era featured, but there were others too, better recognised by others of the jazzer family who attended. But it was a full house and there aren't so many jazzers in Canberra, so there were lots of unknown faces with a few jazz regulars amongst the crowds. They were all impressed. Two promised to burn their instruments next day (hopefully the instruments have survived). Suffice to say, this was a lesson in strength and power, complexity and familiarity, richly arranged but still open and fresh. A blast.

    Herbie Hancock (keys, vocals) played the Canberra Theatre with Lionel Loueke (guitar, vocals), James Genus (bass) and Vinnie Colauita (drums).