Monday, 24 October 2016

Darlington Chamber Music Spring Festival review

St Cuthbert's Anglican, Darlington
It was the perfect way to celebrate the first sunny weekend this spring. The bush was bursting with blossoms under a bright blue sky as I drove up the hill to Darlington on Saturday morning. A capacity crowd had gathered in the quaint stone St Cuthbert’s Anglican church for the inaugural Darlington Chamber Music Spring Festival.

Cellist Jon Tooby began the Darlington Chamber Music series fifteen years ago and has built a loyal audience, an extensive network with WA's best chamber musicians, an impressive team of volunteers and a reputation for sumptuous catering. With this backing Tooby launched the spring festival on October 22nd, showcasing not only fine music but also his thriving hills community.

Tooby’s canny knack for pairing interesting repertoire with the perfect venue became apparent over the weekend. The intimacy of St Cuthbert's church made it a great venue to check out the newly formed Darlington String Quartet. Although it is a new ensemble the quartet - Semra Lee-Smith and Zak Rowntree (violins), Sally Boud (viola) and Tooby - have been playing and studying together in various configurations for decades.

I had high expectations so the unsettled opening to Haydn's String Quartet Op 33 No 3 caused me some worry. Differing tempos and scrappy phrase endings made me wonder if this was going to be a weekend of disappointments. The accents and contrasts in the second movement were a welcome distraction and by the the third the players (and I) relaxed into a well paced Adagio, lulled by Lee-Smith's sweetly doleful violin. The zesty energy of the finale flourished in the resonant acoustic with cascades of semiquavers delivered immaculately.

The standard had been set and the quartet didn't look back from here. The ensemble's musical empathy became apparent as the concert progressed. Lee-Smith led with subtlety and beautiful sonority with clean support from Rowntree while Tooby and Boud added a dose of intense expressivity. Their performance of Janacek's String Quartet No 1 dived into the confronting depths of a deeply psychological composer. The  melancholic melody was juxtaposed with aggressive interjections delivered with weightiness and tremendous volume. One of the great gifts of chamber music is the physiological impact from sitting so close to the performers. The 80+ audience members sitting just metres from the quartet experienced Janacek in our chests!

Mendelssohn's String Quartet Op 12 was a well-chosen work to end the program, performed by the quartet with achingly romantic elegance and a brillante flourish to the finale.

Darlington String Quartet

Later that evening the festival continued at Christ Church Grammar School Chapel. I wasn't able to attend the concert but reports were unanimous that the soaring purity of soprano Sara Macliver singing Baroque repertoire was perfectly suited to the splendour of the gothic architecture.

Sunday was morning was yet more pristine and by now the audience had a friendly familiarity as we gathered at the Darlington Estate Winery. The festival buzz was heightened by the impeccable hospitality of the restaurant staff and the relaxed manner of the musicians. A four course feast was interwoven with a three-part concert to make a decadent, leisurely lunch. The sultry and cheeky tangos of Piazolla (arranged for piano trio) were enjoyed over antipasto. A Rossini duet for cello and double bass featured Tooby playing alongside his brother Mark Tooby as a light-hearted accompaniment to soup. Main course (I had oven-roasted chicken with green pea and dill risotto) was completed by another bit of magical programming: Schubert's 'Trout' Piano Quintet performed with sheer delight by the now well-fed musicians. The 'Trout' runs the risk of being over-played but on this occasion it fitted perfectly. Gazing out over the forested valley I couldn't think of a better depiction of spring than Schubert's effervescent, buoyant writing. The clear delineation of the inner cello and viola voices avoided any muddiness while Graeme Gilling's supple touch and elegant pacing on piano lifted the performance to another level.

Darlington Estate Winery

It was a fabulous weekend. Perhaps next year (I am hoping and presuming the festival will become a regular fixture on Perth's musical calendar) music by an Australian composer will be included on the program. It was the only oversight in an otherwise outstanding celebration of music and community.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Celebrity Soft Spot Jon Tooby

Cellist Jon Tooby has been building Perth's chamber music scene for decades. This weekend the fisherman, carpenter and conductor is launching a new spring chamber music festival in his favourite hills community. Tooby has extensive networks with WA's best chamber musicians and a reputation for connecting the audience to the music. Which is perhaps why Tooby is promising "This festival will have it all!"

What music gets your heart racing?
Chamber music gets my heart racing, particularly Brahms.

What calms you down?
Getting away fishing up in the North West

The Darlington Spring Festival kicks off this weekend – what was the inspiration behind this new festival in Perth?

The Spring Festival is just a slightly more condensed version of the hugely popular winter series. I guess it was to bring us closer to our audience over one weekend and to play in a few different venues.

As festival director you seem to have gone to some effort to match the right performers with the perfect venue. For example Sara Macliver’s angelic soprano in the cathedral acoustics of Guildford Grammar Chapel, and the intimacy of string quartet in the quaint St Cuthbert’s Anglican Church. How important is the venue in a chamber music concert?

The space in which we perform is hugely important. One of the things which we pride ourselves on in our performances is in bringing our audiences closer to us and to really share in the magic of the music with them. We are blessed as chamber musicians to have this never ending supply of exquisite repertoire and as much as we love to immerse ourselves in it as players it is totally enhanced when you can bring others along for the ride.

The repertoire looks very appealing on paper: string quartets by Janacek, Mendelssohn and Haydn; Baroque motets by Dowland and Vivaldi; staples such as Schubert’s Trout Quintet and Brahms’ Sextet in G minor, and Argentinean favourites Piazolla and Golijov. What do you hope the audience will experience?

This festival has it all, starting with a full program of string quartets including works by Haydn, Janacek and Mendelssohn. This really is the purest form of chamber music as we know it - what a way to start. Then we have Sara Macliver join us in the stunning Guilford Grammar School Chapel in what shall be a night of special magnificence. With the wonderful acoustics of this Gothic architectural masterpiece combined with the music of Brahms, Vivaldi and Dowland it is sure going to be a night to remember. Our final concert is presented with a sumptuous lunch at the Darlington Estate Winery. It will be a celebration of fine food , wine and of course amazing music. Here we present probably the most iconic chamber work The Trout Quintet among other tasty musical treats.

The Darlington Trio: Tooby with Semra Lee-Smith and Graeme Gilling
You are taking part as a performer too – playing cello for all three concerts. How are you preparing?

We have a pretty busy rehearsal schedule this week, but I’m feeling confident it’s going to be a terrific weekend. We have an amazing team of very experienced musicians, for me the best available. Not only are they all fabulous players in their own right but they are also passionate about performing chamber music together. We really all have a lot of fun.

Mark Applebaum says music should be above all else be interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?

For me personally I think all the arts but especially music have the power to transform people, to take people to special places and to unlock held emotions and dreams. Yes I think music has to be interesting but only in as much as it can have this effect on people.

Tooby performing Brahms Piano Quartet in G minor with Brett Dean (viola), 
Natsuko Yoshimoto (violin) and Jonathon Anur (piano).

You have a soft spot for Darlington – you have been making chamber music up there for 12 years since the launch of the Darlington Chamber series. What is the appeal of this hills suburb?

Darlington is special to me partly because I grew up here but also because I love it for the sense of community. It is a very artistic community, many fine artists and musicians live in Darlington and it is just far enough away from Perth to feel like you’re in the country but not totally isolated. I used to go to chamber music concerts here in the 70’s and some very fine ones too. It’s a funky place with funky people.

Your love affair with the cello began at the age of seven and has been sustained through 18 years with the WA Symphony Orchestra, studying at the Royal College of Music and over 200 concerts with I Cellisti. Why the cello?

 I think all musical instruments attract certain personalities and I think most cellists are quite smug in the fact that they almost blindly believe there is no better instrument on the planet than the cello. In terms of the sound, colour and the texture range is immense and really I don’t think anything can get closer to replicating the human voice. The repertoire is endless and you get to sit down in a relatively comfortable position. I could go on but you might feel ill.

Tooby conducting Etica ensemble
More recently you have ventured into conducting, studying with John Hopkins, Richard Mills and Richard Gill. You founded and directed the new music ensemble Etica. Do you have plans to further pursue a career in conducting?

Conducting is very important to me and I will continue to work towards a career in it . Orchestras are amazing and I feel after 30 years playing in the profession I have a good understanding of what makes them tick. Clearly though, there is more to it that just being a good musician, something which I’m working on.

Do you have a partner/significant other/pet?

I have a wonderful wife, Penny Reynolds who is a soprano. Also two fabulous daughters, Laura 15 and Rosie 17. We laugh a lot together. Oh yes I also have a black cat Sandy, a dog Barney and a horse named Kat.

Where did you learn the skills to juggle a diverse freelance career that includes performing, directing, teaching and conducting?

I love my life with all it’s diversity. I am also a Builder/Carpenter and when I’m not conducting , playing cello or teaching you might find me up a ladder somewhere replacing someone’s ceiling or building a deck.

Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music?

 I love fishing and every year I go away with my brothers on a pilgrimage to Quobba or Dirk Hartog Island, 30 years and counting.

Thanks Jon Tooby for taking the time from your busy rehearsal week to participate in the Celebrity Soft Spot. 

Concert 1 Saturday 22nd 11am: Darlington String Quartet perform quartets by Mendelssohn, Haydn and Janacek
Concert 2 Saturday 22nd 7pm: Sara Macliver and ensemble perform Vivaldi: Nulla in Mundo pax Sincera; Brahms String Sextet in G minor; Dowland: Come Again, Weep You No More; Respighi: Il tramonto; Golijov: Lua Descolorida
Concert 3 Sunday 23rd 12pm: Schubert's Trout Quintet, tangos by Piazolla and a duet for cello and bass by Rossini served with lunch.

Tickets can be purchased at the door but are nearly sold out so probably better to pre-purchase at the Darlington Post Office or Mundaring Bendigo Bank Ph: 92956411.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Working with Musica Viva

On Monday night I had the privilege of presenting the pre-concert talk at the launch of Musica Viva's national Beilman & Tyson tour. I've often thought it would be a lot of fun to give a pre-concert talk, and I was right!
Selling books at Perth Concert Hall

I enjoyed preparing by reading scores and listening to violin sonatas by Mozart, Janacek, Saint Saens and Jane Stanley, and I enjoyed sharing my discoveries with the audience. The sonatas essentially chartered the development of the violin sonata genre from the 18th century to present day. They were well-crafted in their different ways. Each was built around a motif or pool of notes that generated the structure of the entire work. My goal was to highlight those themes so the audience could recognise them in performance. It makes such a huge difference to the listening experience if the audience feels they are following the musical conversation.

One of the pieces on the program was by Australian composer Jane Stanley, so I was also invited to sell copies of Women of Note at interval. What a fabulous opportunity! It's nights like these where I really love my job!

It is always hard to know whether these public speaking gigs have been a success or not, but I received overwhelmingly enthusiastic responses from the audience, including from a self-described 'concert virgin' who said I was his life-saver and had been very interesting. I was also told I was difficult to hear, a serious issue given most in the audience were elderly and probably struggling with hearing complications. I will have to project my voice more in the future!

My greatest challenge was to present the music of  Jane Stanley in a way that was going to help open the ears of the audience to a musical language they were less familiar with. Stanley's music is unique and incredibly beautiful. Here is an excerpt of what I shared:

JANE STANLEY b Sydney 1976 Cerulean Orbits

Stanley follows a tradition of female Australian composers who have made significant contributions to Australian music. 25% of Australian composers are women, more than almost any other western country. Women began being recognised as composers at the beginning of the 20th century. Margaret Sutherland was the mother of women composers in Australia and her impact was huge – she almost single-handedly pioneered Australian new music in the first half of the century.  She was one of the first composers to develop a uniquely Australian musical voice. She had a hard life, married to a psychiatrist who thought a woman wanting to compose music was a sign of mental illness! She once said 

My musical life has been a frustration of half promises, then bad performances, followed by no more performances. The world at large thinks a woman can’t be creative. A woman can contribute in a special way. I don’t think that women want to write the same thing as men, but their contribution is no less important.

I share that with you as an example of the difficulties women have had and in some cases are still having trying to find equal footing in the male dominated world of composition. Research done in the last few years shows there are still visibility issues for women composers who are under represented in commissioning, concert programs, radio programs and as staff in music education faculties. Which is why the Hildegard project and its commissioning of women composers is so important.  Because there are SO MANY fabulous women composers out there, particularly in Australia, where as I mentioned 25% of our composers are women, far more than for example the UK and Finland who clock in at 13% and the US which has 20%.  It really is our best kept secret and I am delighted to see Musica Viva celebrating this with the Hildegard commissioning project.

So where does Jane Stanley fit into this?

Jane fits into what I would call the emerging 4th generation of Australian women composers. She was born in the 70’s when the definition of classical music had broadened considerably since the days of Sutherland.  Jane is a fairly traditional composer in that she writes for traditional instruments as distinct from electronics or noise or performance installations. Jane has studied her craft very deeply - studied with the greats of Australian composers: Peter Sculthorpe, Ross Edwards and Bernard Rands in the US. She has participated at the Wellesley Composers Conference, Tanglewood and Aspen Music Festival. She also completed a PhD in composition at University of Sydney under Ann Boyd, from whom she learned an appreciation for space and silence.

 Ensemble Offspring perform Stanley's Helix Reflection

Stanley is now Lecturer in music at University of Glasgow where the Scots have embraced her and aren’t letting go – she has been there 10 years. Jane tells me she is very sad she is unable to return to Australia for the premiere of this work. The reason is because has a two month old baby who is still a little small for flying.

As a composer she has established very distinctive voice. In most of her works there is an absence of recognisable time signature or pulse. Which gives a floating, drifting, stasis. It has a hazy weightlessness. It is beautiful and otherworldly but also sometimes wild.

The composer indicates in the program notes of Cerulean Orbits that the two instruments are orbiting around each other. Their music is drawn from the same pool of notes and the composer allows them sometimes to blend, sometimes to antagonise each other.

You will notice the piano is emancipated from being a purely accompaniment instrument; both instruments are complete equals. In fact the piano often treated like violin – as a single line shared between the two hands rather than block chords.

The music is very carefully crafted – it is not just random notes! Piano begins with a sextuplet of semiquavers which is the thematic core of the work. (Play sample on piano). This is the pool of notes getting introduced that will be the core of the piece. Then the violin enters and hovers on B for 6 bars. In the score the piano part is marked ‘smeared’ and the violin par ‘featherlike’.  Jane’s textural style is coming through - it is very tactile; the composer wants us to experience this like it is coming into contact with our skin! There are huge variation of dynamics and articulation the composer has written into the score giving it an instant intensity even though it is flowing and gentle.

The piano part is typical Stanley - scattered notes over a sustained pedal, sounding like droplets. Notes are grouped in 3's, 5's, 6's, spread across the beat so the effect is unpredictable, ungrounded, pulseless, a bit of a nod to Luciano Berio’s piano writing.

The middle section is where it gets wild, the score is marked "pulsating... hammered... propulsive... fff "  It is excited and busy, the sort of music that causes audiences to say  “It’s not music, its too noisy.”  Did you know Mozart’s music was criticised for the same thing? Archduke Ferdinand criticised one of Mozart’s pieces for having "too many notes”! Mozart’s ideas exploded beyond the perimeters of what was usual or predictable and people found it hard to digest. It sounds so elegant and simple to us now. So don’t be put off by the ‘noise’, instead recognise it as fresh thinking that our ears aren’t yet accustomed to.

The sense of calm returns at the end of Cerulean Orbits, and the sextuplet from the opening is heard again. This time the piano gets the repeated B’s.  it is a floating, spacious ending.

The challenge with contemporary music like this is how to make the ideas and phrases clear even when the usual signposts that our ears are used to from traditional music aren’t there?

Two Tips:
Listen to the texture. Some of Jane’s music is sparse so you get to listen to the beauty and colour of each note as it passes. There are also great washes of sound and the contrast between the textures is like listening to a trickling stream compared to the crashing waves of the ocean.

Watch the performers - they help with this: it is their job to bring out the different colours in each phrase, to make each note extremely beautiful. Their body language will hopefully cue the mood changes, to draw us in so we are enthralled. 

Friday, 30 September 2016


The WA Symphony Orchestra heads off on an international tour next week and I am feeling a pang of pride!

It is the orchestra's first tour in ten years. Asher Fisch is conducting three concerts this weekend to showcase the tour repertoire: Mahler 5, Sulthorpe's Kakadu, assorted Wagner repertoire and Saint-Saens.

Fisch conducts tour repertoire at the morning concert today.

The tour begins October 6th in the United Arab Emirates where WASO has been invited to open the Abu Dhabi Classics Season, the first Australian major arts organisation to perform in the UAE. The tour continues to Beijing and Shanghai and is reminiscent of the 2006 trip to China when I accompanied the orchestra as a critic. Jean Yves Thibaudet is obviously still popular with Chinese audiences and will be soloist again in Saint Saens' Piano Concert No 5. The Chinese publicity folk have again been prescriptive with their repertoire advice; Shostakovich 10 has been swapped for the more traditional Mahler 5 which the orchestra performed last tour. And again a film crew is travelling with the orchestra, but this time the focus of the documentary seems to be the cultural rather than the business exchange.

The China leg also includes two school concerts and a masterclass. The tour is expected to build on the growing partnership between WASO, the China Philharmonic Orchestra and the Australia China Business Council. I am relieved to see the emphasis this time round on the cultural aspects of the tour, over and above the business and trade relationships which were the overriding focus in 2006.

Colin Barnett and Asher Fisch, with three Chinese musicians in WASO

The 2016 tour seems like a good fit for an orchestra who boasts less these days about their enviable sponsorship and business foundation and more about the quality of the music making. It's been a subtle shift over the past few years with the gradual change of administrative staff and under the leadership of Paul Daniel and now especially Asher Fisch. For people like me who love their orchestra it has been welcomed with a sigh of relief.

 In 2006 the cracks in the orchestra showed as administration fired conductor Matthias Bamert at the commencement of the tour, overlooked basic musician requirements like access to safe drinking water, and where the musicians played to empty concert halls.

I believe the orchestra is the strongest and most balanced it has ever been musically, administratively and financially. I don't envisage any of the dramas of the last trip. I wish them well and look forward to hearing of their international success.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

October Gig Guide

There is exciting news for classical music in Perth this month with the launch of the inaugural Darlington Spring Festival. Soprano Sara Macliver headlines the event which will run from 22-25th October. Three concerts will be spread across heritage buildings in Guildford and Darlington with a lunch concert package at Darlington Estate winery on the final day. It sounds very boutique, community-based and with a very promising music program (Trout Quintet, Vivaldi motet, Brahms Sextet).

The WA Academy of Performing Arts is also worth checking out this month with a fabulous array of concerts. New music by composition students takes centre stage at Spectrum Project Space on October 3-7th and in a series of works paying homage to Charles Ives on October 6th.

On the 4-5th London-based pianist Zubin Kanga performs a program of piano solos at WAAPA followed by a concert on the 5th in collaboration with Decibel ensemble. The concert includes the performance of a work by the student winner of the Difficult Commission award. 2nd year WAAPA music theatre students will tell the story of impoverished students living in an attic in their production of Rent (8-15th Oct), the modern remake of La Boheme.

Then from 10-15th WAAPA opera students present Britten’s comic chamber opera Albert Herring directed by Thomas de Mallet Burgess (Lost & Found). This is an ambitious opera for students to present but it has the potential to be fabulous theatre.

Finally on Oct 18th at WAAPA Australian composer and pianist Larry Sitsky brings his extraordinary playing and intellect to Beethoven’s piano works. “What would Beethoven have written if he had had a modern concert grand piano with its greater power, increased range and third pedal?”

On the 8th Art Song Perth present their final recital for the year: Lieder, L’Orient and Laughs. Local singers Caitlin Cassidy, Lucy Mervik and Herr Helmut Wunderlicher (aka Robert Hoffmann) will perform a range of vocal music accompanied by Marilyn Phillips.

There are two national tours this month.The Australian Chamber Orchestra will bring a reduced version of their national Baroque tour to Perth on the 19th. The Perth version doesn’t include soprano Julie Lezhneva and instead features five string players and recorder player Genevieve Lacey playing works by Bach and Vivaldi. Musica Viva’s national tour beings in Perth on October 3rd. The violin and piano duo Benjamin Meilman and Andrew Tyson have included on their program the premiere of a work by Jane Stanley, as part of Musica Viva's Hildegard project. The commissioning of women composers is a subject close to my heart after spending years researching this area for my book Women of Note.

October 25th is opening night for WA Opera's The Pearl Fishers. This is a new Opera Conference production directed by Michael Gow. The cast includes Emma Matthews as Leila and young local talent Wade Kernot as Nourabad, with Brad Cohen conducting.

The University of WA Wind students team up with St Mary’s Cathedral Choir on the 27th for a concert of sacred and instrumental works by Brahms and Barber.

The month ends with two children's concerts on the 30th: Cappuccino Concerts Children’s Corner on returns by popular request with three-piece string ensemble Fiddlesticks introducing kids to music with lots of stories, interaction, dress ups and dancing.  WASO’s kids program is more impressive each year and I have high expectations of their presentation of the popular kids book The Gruffalo,with the film projected on the big screen and live performance of Rene Aubry’s magical score.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

WA's new media monster

Western Australia's new media monster has arrived!

Seven West Media's proposal to purchase The Sunday Times and has been given the green light by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The statement released today said "Following an extensive review, the ACCC has reached the view that the proposed acquisition is, on balance, not likely to substantially lessen competition for either consumers or advertisers."

The Commission justified its decision saying "many consumers in WA are now getting their news online or elsewhere" and "most (advertisers) acknowledged that print advertising was of declining importance". The findings also mentioned Fairfax's and the ABC's dedicated online website as alternative online news sites.

Read the full statement here.

I guess it is now a case of wait and see what shape the new enterprise will take. Will it be a creative, exciting and thought-provoking journalism platform? Or will it just be The West Australian published seven days a week?

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Future of Journalism

Forgive the weighty title but a series of events recently have left me contemplating the future of the industry I work in.

Last month The West Australian lost forty staff or the equivalent of one quarter of its work force. The job losses were mostly redundancies taken by staff including a senior editor who expressed disillusionment with journalism's clickbait-generated focus on kittens, puppies and Kim Kardashian's behind. 

It's sad to see the paper losing such quality staff. But perhaps those taking redundancies are the lucky ones. The resultant reshuffle at the paper has resulted in overworked staff covering multiple roles often in areas they have no interest or knowledge.

It has also spelled the end for freelance contributors. After fifteen years of writing for the paper I was told my contributions were no longer required. In-house staff would now be covering the arts reviews. Almost the entire freelance section for the arts pages has been cut in a huge loss of industry knowledge for the paper.

Seven West Media's proposed acquisition of the Sunday Times is another issue creating uncertainty in the local journalism world. There are concerns about the impact of a media monopoly caused by the amalgamation of the state's two newspapers and Chanel Seven television. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will hand down its findings on Thursday 15th September. The West has given no indication what it plans to do with the Sunday Times and journalists everywhere are holding their breath.

The situation in WA is a mirror of what has been happening on the east coast and all over the world in the past 5-10 years. The rise of digital news has meant not only less readers for traditional print media but also less advertising revenue. There is now more news content available than there is advertising dollars to support it.

Arts Journalism in Crisis

The losses seem most acute in areas of journalism that require in-depth investigation and specialist knowledge. The arts in particular are taking a hit - very few papers or websites are publishing classical music reviews. It is an international crisis for the arts industry. Whether The West intends to allocate reviews to non-specialists or to cut the arts reviews entirely, it spells an unhealthy future for WA's thriving arts industry.

I believe criticism is an essential part of a healthy arts scene. Reviews don't just provide artists with grabs for their self promotion; a good review will also evaluate and creatively express the experience for the audience, interrogate the concepts being presented and hold accountable organisations who are often receiving substantial government and philanthropic funding to pursue their artform. The contribution of critics should provoke debate, inspire excellence, and above all celebrate the art form. My (rather lofty!) endeavour is that my words will have the same richness, integrity and excellence as the music being performed on the stage.  

The Arts pages were one of the few areas in The West's pages that were focusing on local news. Like local sport these events are created by locals, attended by locals and should be covered by the local paper. The WA Symphony Orchestra's artistic manager Evan Kennea predicted the biggest impact on WASO would be felt not by conductor Asher Fisch whose career is already internationally established, but by people like composer-in-residence Lachlan Skipworth whose composition for the 2017 program may not get reviewed. If the local paper doesn't cover it, who will?

Well of course there are the bloggers, some of whom do classical music reviews. There are issues with online writing though. Firstly it requires discernment by the reader because not every blogger is the expert they appear. Secondly, it doesn't pay! Digital revenue has bypassed news sites and gone to Facebook, Google, Seek etc. I don't know any online blogger making an income as a music journalist. It is mostly volunteer work, which makes it difficult to buy food! (Read an interesting post about disillusionment with blogging by UK critic Jessica Duchen here.)

Photo by Tom van Hoogstraten

What will the future be?

At a Future of Journalism panel discussion in Fremantle earlier this month there was a lot of shrugging going on. No one really knows what the future will look like. The trends are changing so often and the leading newspapers in the UK and US are madly leaping between online/print/paywalls/free content to try and stay ahead.

What was most clear from the panel is the conversation has changed. News is no longer the property of the traditional media figureheads. Facebook and Google hold the reigns of news distribution and the increase in public interaction around news gathering and sharing means journalists must now participate in a dialogue. Many journalists are morphing into 'content gatherers', 'infotainers', 'aggregators'. 

Apparently none of this is new. The arrival of CNN Cable News revolutionised the news 36 years ago. More newspapers died in the 60's when TV arrived than are folding today. The news industry has survived cataclysmic changes before.

There is hope.

Martin Turner, sub editor from Community News pointed out that social media has started to address the (im)balance of power inherent in newsrooms which until now has been dominated by white middle class men.

Joseph Fernandez, associate professor in journalism at Curtin University says there is hope; 'the fourth estate' is not in danger. There is still power in telling a story and giving information. So how do we maintain a (paid) presence for investigative specialist journalism?

I've recently heard two success success stories worth sharing.

Peter Law, head of news at the Sunday Times, painted a surprisingly healthy picture of WA's Sunday paper. The paper is bucking the trend and has in fact increased its readership by 3.5% or in real terms an additional 17 000 readers. Their online website Perth Now is Perth's most popular news site with a viewing increase of 16% this year. Together the Sunday Times and Perth Now have 1.5 million readers. Their staff team is small, young, innovative and attracting a younger readership. They are also breaking significant stories that are generating the WA news cycle. 

Peter argued that print carries gravitas and can be a force for change. His paper's focus is on content that is important but also readable. Sunday Times journalists are being creative about delivery and working alongside program designers to make their content attractive. 

When Andrew Batt-Rawden discovered in 2013 that Limelight magazine - Australia's national dedicated arts magazine - was on the verge of insolvency  he declared 'not on my watch'. He purchased the magazine and under his management and the editorial leadership of Clive Paget the glossy monthly has grown from a debt-ridden shrinking magazine to breaking even. Batt-Rawden has doubled advertising revenue and expanded the magazine's previously eastern-biased coverage of events to a a more national focus. It is now the only national print media to be providing coverage of arts events in Perth.

While the magazine's subscriptions continue to fall, the online website is hugely popular. The magazine is about to launch an Australian Cultural Fund campaign to overhaul its website and broaden its coverage. Batt-Rawden is also investigating nanotransactions as an alternative to a paywall and a philanthropically-inspired 'Friends' patronage system. He is one the few in the arts industry I've spoken to who is thinking innovatively about how to continue and enrich arts journalism in the digital age.

What do you think?

I'm interested in hearing stories about how the changes in WA's media landscape are effecting those in the arts industry and those consuming the news.

Is anyone else missing reviews from their favourite arts critic? Are there people worried about where to send their press release? Who is wondering what gigs to go to or how last night's concert was received?

Perhaps someone has a favourite source of arts news they can share. Or a story of hope?

And I'll do my best to keep you posted about how I go finding a way to do arts journalism in this uncertain world!