13 December 2021

A sparse musical year but a packed weekend

It's been a busy musical weekend with Mike's oratorio sandwiched by a pair of Musica da Camera concerts.  It's my last concert of the year.  MdaC always plays a local concert, in our rehearsal venue, a church in Cook, then we tour to a local town for a gig on the Sunday.  It's fun.  This time it was again at Gunning.  They have a decent music import system from Canberra and maybe Sydney.  We play in a hall that's awash with reverb.  I don't always like that, but did this time.  The group seemed so large and loud and sweet and mercifully resistant to highlighting mistakes.  This was a program that's been in preparation for yonks.  Originally for September with Lizzy Collier as director.   That was kyboshed by Covid, then Lizzy was to take this December concert but had an operation and is in moonboots for Christmas.  So, we got a new conductor, Craig Woodland, head of music at CGS and very expert.  Not many mistakes passed his ears!  The program was not an easy one but not too long.  Plenty of tricky early C20th complexities.  Penderecki, FS Kelly, Holst, Foote and Dvorak.  Not an immediate favourite, but I did warm to it.  Preparation, even after this extended time, was interrupted.  So a few slipups Saturday and a few others on Sunday, but pretty well covered.  We had some guests form NCO, Angela Liu and Elizabeth Alford, but especially Jodie Petrov playing excellent flute as the soloist.  The horn and harp also added new colourings.  So busy: Friday night final practice, gigs on Saturday and Sunday.  It's a busy weekend but you can only love it with such a capable ensemble and exciting visitors.  And the touring: I've done hardly any so I can still enjoy it. For the sights and more.

Musica da Camera performed Penderecki, FS Kelly, Holst, Foote and Dvorak under Craig Woodland (director) with soloist Jodie Petrov (flute) and guests Angela Liu (horn) and Elizabeth Alford (harp).

12 December 2021

Of a martyred Roman and her slave

I've known Mike for quite a few years and it seems his compositional daring and chops just keep expanding so even though I was overwhelmed to think a mate had written an oratorio, I was not really surprised.   And I've heard his music.  The jazz is melodic with nice chords and satisfyingly witty lyrics.  Then his classical.  He put out a few albums of classical in the style of the greats, Mozart and Bach and the rest.  I first heard workings at our digs for a Moruya Jazz Fest.  Then I played in the NCO behind his piano concerto.  Now this.  An oratorio.  Think Messiah and the like.  Big works of song and choir and orchestration.  They presented religious themes at times when secular themes were not acceptable or suitable for performance in church.  It's a big work.  I was impressed by Mike, again.  It's big and costly to stage, so Mike presented a few public iterations of a video of the recording sessions.  21 or so players, from CSO and Coro and the cream of local vocal soloists; 9 hours recording over 3 days at Canberra Girls Grammar School concert hall, acoustically treated if still with some residual noise issues; 35-or-so mics.  And a religious story, of saints and martyrs from ~200CE, the Roman noblewoman Perpetua and Felicity, perhaps her servant, and several other free men martyred for their Christian faith.  Mike used her first person narrative, some Biblical quotes and some Latin from Ambrose for the text.  The music was variously influenced: Mike suggested baroque and early music and film music (he has also composed for several films).  I melted with the first introductory piece with a theme that recurs to end and sometimes during.  I was enamoured by the vocals, the clear soprano of Emma Griffiths as Perpetua, but her soloist offsiders were similarly impressive, Veronica Thwaites-Brown and Dan Walker and Andrew Fysh.  All hyper-known names in this field in Canberra.  They were chorally accompanied on some tunes by Coro, a blissful vocal collection of harmonists, and instrumentally supported by a string of CSO and related Canberra players.  Bassist Kyle was in line of sight with Emma/Perpetua so I got so watch him often, but there were lots of familiar faces to observe.  Suffice to say the music and singing really was of wonderful quality and often-enough spine tingling.  The whole work is one CD length, ~1 hour, 24 pieces.  Some were short and sweet, a father's imploring or a mother's lamenting or a martyr's injuries or a dream of Heaven and angels or a maid's protection given birth.  Interestingly, there are two key women and both have children here: Perpetua is 22 and breast feeding and miraculously loses her milk prior to her death and Felicity is with child, then gives birth, thus avoiding some form of death or other.  This is a story from 203CE Roman Empire in Carthage, of course, so we can observe how some things change and some things are forever the same.  The core martydom for emperor story may be of another world (although a speaker before the presentation would deny this) but the humanity of belief, family, conscience is common.  Mike has written a fabulous musical work and, as always, done it with love and purpose.  I am hugely impressed and often touched.

Mike Dooley (composer) presented his new oratorio called Perpetua as a video presentation of the recording session.  The performers were Emma Griffiths (soprano), Veronica Thwaites-Brown (mezzo), Dan Walker (tenor), Andrew Fysh (bass), Coro (choir) and members of Canberra Symphony Orchestra and others.

10 December 2021

A shared fascination

This was a blast for someone who has played with studio work, recorded a few home studio albums and hundreds of local live concerts (me!).  ANU has been offering One on One production consultation sessions with Matt Barnes, Technical Manager Music at the ANU School of Music and for this keen amateur, that's a great opportunity.  We spent an hour talking over Zoom.  I had wondered how this would work; would we play with a DAW shared through Zoom or talk specific tracks and plugins.  In the end, we chatted through a raft of issues and some specifics on compression.  Compression is a difficult tool and apparently a common topic for discussion with others, too.  But the chat was broad and eager.  I've written a string of names of mics and speakers and plugins to chase up, especially Mellodyne for my specific queries on vocals.  My recordings are midi with vocals so it's the vocals that need the polishing.  And we mentioned a few local people who are doing wondrous things and even discussed the contemporary meaning of "producer" (it seems to mean anything you want it to).  Dropped artist names from Nine Inch Nails to Beatles, some locals Genesis Owusu and brother K and Max McBride and even John Farnham.  So I signed off with a buzz after a fabulous chat with a helpful and knowledgeable local about a common fascination.  A few things to add.  I'm glad there's some ACT Government funding and ANU Open school support behind this and congratulations on that.  And the partakers are virtually all locals, or with local connections, and that suggests a vibrant local recording community.  I'd love to see that as a community activity, FB or other.   The closest FB group I found was "Canberra Music Group (Producers, Artists, Bands and DJ's)" but it has a very broad coverage.  Still mulling our chat next morning as I write this.  Matt, many thanks.

Matt Barnes (Tech Manager Music @ ANUSOM) conducted a 1on1 Zoom session with Eric Pozza (home studio, live concert recordings) on audio recording matters.  And, BTW, it was a private session so I asked; Matt agreed to this writeup and a pic.

09 December 2021

End meets beginnings

It was the last Wednesday lunchtime concert of the year at Wesley and the Scholars were out.  I hadn't realised how large is the group.  This concert featured 10 players of various instruments (including one voice).  They played in various combinations, Bach, Holst, Rachmaninoff and Halvorsen but also Jimmy van Heusen and even an original by one of the performers.  Pianist Ronan had written a rhythmically exploratory piece called Cogs as a study of machinery to be played by him on piano with flautist Emma.  That was impressive and quite unusual in the classical field.  As for the jazz, it was still done in a classical style, but I noticed a change of presence for that number after a Schubert-like song from vocalist Elsa.  Maybe to be expected; she was singing in English about love.  And plenty of long arpeggiated flourishes in accompaniment.  I spoke to pianist Martin after and it turns out he's a jazz student; so was trumpeter Jess.  Interesting crossovers here but no longer at all unusual.  Jess had also played some Bach cantatas with oboist Zoe.  Who had also played with... And so it went on.  They were an impressive and capable bunch.  I noticed specially on a rendition of Holst St Pauls suite mvt 1, which I am sure I've played slower.  This take was lively and rollicking and quick.  Then there's the violinist pair of Anika and Brad who displayed  wonderful communication on the Halvorsen, then joining with cellist James and violist Yona for that Holst then again Zoe and Elsa for another Bach.  And then at least one performer doubled up, violinist Brad taking to piano to accompany James.  Sound confusing?  Lots of names and lots of changes but also lots of very capable playing.  I was mightily impressed.  Not sure what their training is, or what they get from the Wesley Scholars program, but our music future is looking to be in very able hands.  At year's end we hear our future.

This year's Wesley Music Scholars performed a Wednesday lunchtime concert at the Music Centre.  The scholars were Anika Chan (violin), Brad Tham (violin), James Munro (cello), Yona Su (viola), Zoe Loxley Slump (oboe), Elsa Huber (voice), Jess Hill (trumpet), Martin Magill (piano), Emma Warburton (flute, piccolo), Ronan Apcar (piano, composition).

08 December 2021

We should practice less

Practice less?  I'm joking, of course.  It doesn't work that way.  But when we haven't played for a bit, for Covid or whatever, we play like the clappers.  It was like this last night at Molly.  Hot from the top on Stella.  I noticed my hands were in shape despite all, strong, producing nice tone, arm not hand and fingers making the quick runs.  The amp just seemed set right from the start.  That's always a good sign.  I'm listening back to a little recording and James and Dave are spot on, interactive, inquisitive.  Good stuff.  But I do tend to often claim best eva recently.  Maybe we are playing well or maybe I have stars in my eyes.  Either way, we got some good comment, met some nice audience, even from Musica Viva.  But the excitement never ends.  We had Richard sit in for a string of tunes in the second set and his sax sounds like gold (he's converted by a recent setup) and I snuck in a few funky numbers of my new toy, a Cort Curbow fretless e-bass.  I like it, all punchy and fat, although it does lack some tone of the double.  I was rough, not having played e-bass for perhaps 5 years, but was working out how to rest the palm and blurt over these little strings.  Much fun, very au courant in looks and a surprisingly good instrument.  So, much enjoyed.

Tilt Trio appeared as the James Woodman Trio at Molly.  Tilt are James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Dave McDade (drums).  Richard Manderson (tenor) sat in.

06 December 2021

A return for Christmas

It was a rushed affair but not too difficult to pick up and with some inviting music.  Celeste asked me to sit in with Brindabella Orchestra for their end of year, Christmas concert.  I managed just two (?) practices and spent the week before in Melbourne but I managed to get through.  And, at its best, the music was delightful.  We did a few movements of Vaughan Williams songs (more stodgy than delightful, but that's the English style).  Sibelius Andante festivo was lovely, as was a Sound of Music suite.  Libertango was a blast but that's pretty much inevitable.  We also did a string of Christmas carols and a suite of them.  Those were all performed by orchestra or strings alone.  The winds and brass and percussion did an Abba medley and a swing piece.  We were preceded by the professionals, our conductor led his Grevillea String Quartet playing Haydn Lark quartet and a collection of tunes from the Nutcracker suite.  The quartet was classy, nicely intoned, sharply interactive and the rest.  Nice.  And they sat in with the orchestra for our performance.  I melted over some of the melodies, not least Sound of Music.  Surely not, but yes.  Is it a function of age, or maybe just a realisation of the beauty of good melody, think Richard Rodgers and Abba and Beatles and the like.  So, a first concert since April and very pleasant at that.

Grevillea String Quartet performed Haydn and Tchaikovsky.  GW comprise Shilong Ye and Matthew Witney (violins), Julia Clancy (viola) and Samuel Payne (cello).  Brindabella Orchestra was conducted by Shilong Ye.

02 December 2021

Belinda’s choices

We’re in Melbourne and my online trawl of the jazz clubs showed Niels Rosendahl was playing at Paris Cat. Niels' a friend of CJ and singing would be popular so we chose this gig, Belinda Parsons Beetet. In the end, Niels wasn’t playing but it was a great choice. I could tell from the first bars, with a groove set and then a wash of trom-tenor and three glorious female voices in perfect harmony and always that insistent beat. We’d struck a winner. That was jazz in that broad sense, of training and skills and precision applied to all manner of contemporary music. I recalled ‘60s/70s R&B or soul given those harmonies and grooves and horns, but there was pop and jazz feels and odd times and unison lines and solos, of course, even if one was likened by a mate to Pink Floyd. And the original tunes, virtually all written and arranged by Belinda (only one using her husband’s harmonies) with touching themes, of lost lovers and departed friends. I bought the album so lyrics will be an interest. So there was humanity here. And then I started hearing names for the Melbourne scene for faces I didn’t easily recognise. First up, Fem Belling and Nina Ferro. No wonder the harmonies were sweet! Then that fabulous bass. Philip Rex. Ah, yes, I knew that face after all. From a fellow bassist, I was floored, but hardly unexpected. And that drummer. Ryan Menezes was tack sharp, steady but driving, fluid but also powerful in repetition. A masterclass. An early solo just confirmed that. Delicious. No keys, but funky chordal guitar with solos that milked reverb and loops and the like, that Pink Floyd effect, and very insinuating. And those two horns, Jordan and Ron, sweet and arranged, filling spaces and echoing emotions and then telling true solos, although it was their ensemble work that got to me. Than back to Belinda herself. She was in her element, pleasing and personal but also profound at times. A firm voice, sometimes letting go into the clouds as in soul divas, spelling arranged lines with horns or singing a ballad with a smaller band and a big heart. This wasn’t the album launch, but almost. The tracks were pretty much in order but the relaxation was evident and spoken of. They were celebrating the return from Melbourne lockdowns, too. This was in the fabric-hung lower room at Paris cat, with jazz images on the ceiling. The audience was intimate (for this read small) and the atmosphere was relaxed, and I think of the chops and training on stage and the immense pleasure of it all and the commitment needed for the art. Let’s put the numbers down to a preceding thunderstorm. Numbers were small but in no way was the music. It was capable and original and purposeful, as music should be. Have a listen and maybe download a copy. Belinda Parsons Beetet is on Bandcamp and the other streaming sites. Loved it.

Belinda Parsons (vocals, compositions / arrangements) led her Beetet at Paris Cat. They performed tracks from her album Choices we make. Beetet were Belinda with Nina Ferro and Fem Belling (background vocals), Jordan Murray (trombone), Rob Romero (tenor), Gillian Gregory (guitar), Philip Rex (bass) and Ryan Menezes (drums).