Friday, 30 December 2016

The Best of 2016

If you were to pick your favourite gig for the year what would it be?

It's been a privilege to attend so many concerts this year - often as a critic - where I've been delighted (and sometimes surprised!) by the quality of the shows. What a fabulous job I have! It's often a huge effort to extract small children from my legs and get out the door, but I have not yet been disappointed. Perhaps it is because I choose the best concerts! Or perhaps it is because Perth is producing increasingly high quality gigs.

Ileana Rinaldi, Emma Pettermerides, Emma Pearson, Harriet O'Shannessy,
Simon Morrison-Baldwin and Jun Zhang. Photo Eva Fernandez

The launch of Freeze Frame Opera in November was one of the surprises. I knew the cast would be excellent but I didn't expect the effort that had gone into the production; the lighting, choreography, props (a combi van!), the narration all communicated powerfully with the audience. It was an edgy and exciting combination of venue, performers and music. Due to popular demand a sequel is being planned for February 2017!

Another surprise was a venture into theatre reviewing for Limelight Magazine which introduced me to the satirical genius of Moliere's Tartuffe. I will long remember the glossy white set and fabulously comic performances from this Black Swan Theatre show.

Simon Tedeschi demonstrated the ultimate piano recital at the WA Academy of Performing Arts with his candid audience interactions and soulful performances of Gershwin.

There was a very enthusiastic audience response to a program of  Australian contemporary composers at a concert by Katie Noonan and the Brodsky Quartet. The many layers of artistic richness - Judith Wright's poems reinterpreted through composition and then shaped by the artistry of the musicians - resulted in an intensely beautiful concert.

The gong this year goes collectively to Perth's blossoming opera companies.  Brad Cohen's magic potion at work at WA Opera resulted in a hilarious Elixir of Love and a gripping production of Tim Winton's The Riders. Perth's operatic renaissance is also thanks to the grassroots company Opera Box who blew me away with an ambitious and very funny Ariadne auf Naxos, and my favourite this year: Lost & Found's Don Procopio with a bombshell cast and more layers of meaning than you would find in an onion.

That's my overview for 2016, but I didn't make it to everything so let me know what I might have missed and what your favourites were.

Cheers to all  involved in creating, producing and enjoying live music in Perth. THANK YOU for a fabulous year and toi toi toi for 2017

Monday, 19 December 2016

Christmas listening - something different

What are you listening to this Christmas?

James Morrison's grooving Christmas album has been filling our house and the delightful kids album Christmas in the Scrub is on repeat in the car. Andrew and I went to the WA Symphony Orchestra's Messiah earlier in the month so we have been listening to Handel too.

I just watched the Nutcracker ballet with my children and was so relieved to be swept away in the gentle magic of its imaginary Christmas world. The lavish production by the New York City Ballet had my children entranced and Tchaikovsky's music had us dancing around the lounge room. I much prefer this version of Christmas screen time to the many junky Christmas movies around.

But here is something different again. Katie Noonan has put me on to Thad Jones' beautiful jazz standard A Child is Born that contemplates the birth of Jesus and the miracle of new life.

Lyric by Alec Wilder
Now, out of the night, soft as the dawn, into the light,
This child, innocent child, soft as a fawn, this child is born
Here he lies, trusting and warm, blessed as the dawn
A child is born.
One small heart, one pair of eyes, one work of art, here in my arms
Here he lies, trusting and warm, blessed this morn.
A child is born.

 And finally a work by the great English composer Judith Weir. Her setting of the medieval carol Illuminare is performed here by the Choir of King's College, with an excerpt of the medieval lyrics below.

1. Jerusalem reioss for joy: 

Jesus the sterne of most bewte
In thee is rissin, as rychtous roy,
Fro dirknes to illumyne the. 
With glorius sound of angell gle 
Thy prince is borne in Baithlehem 
Quhilk sall thee mak of thraldome fre. 
Illuminare, Jerusalem.

We join with centuries of artists, composers, and musicians when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. May your festivities be rich with the joy, creativity and mystery that is Christmas.
Merry Christmas!

(If you are reading this in your inbox you may have to go to my blog to access the youtube clips. Happy listening!)

Monday, 12 December 2016

Your 2017 Concert Calendar - a snapshot

The year is drawing to an end and the 2017 concert seasons have been launched. Here is my helpful shortcut to planning your 2017 concert calendar.

The WA Symphony Orchestra are heading into more German romantic territory in 2017, following the talents of conductor Asher Fisch.  They will premiere a work by composer-in-residence Lachlan Skipworth (as do most other organisations it seems!) but other than that a fairly dull contemporary program with NO women composers. (I am biased I know but you must agree that is pretty shocking gender representation.) Their full program is here. The orchestra is in peak form so any concert on the program should be a real treat.

In contrast Musica Viva will continue its Hildegard Project with national tours intentionally including works by 2 women composers in 2017. They will also include a Skipworth premiere (#composeroftheyear). Their program is here.

Perth International Arts Festival has launched their program (for February and March) with a fabulous theme of 'art without borders'. The classical program is quite comprehensive including an intriguing interpretation of Schubert's Wintereisse and an expanded version of the 2016 chamber music weekend featuring national and international ensembles, plus a premiere by - you guessed it - Lachlan Skipworth!!

And of course there is PIAF's sister event the Fringe WORLD, one of the fastest growing events in the southern hemisphere. The January - February festival program has just been released with its bags of burlesque and circus fun which invariably includes edgy and unusual music gigs. There is even a performance of Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder and Mahler's Kindertotenlieder in a program called Dream of Childhood's End.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra will bring five concerts to WA in 2017, check out the Perth program here.

The St George's Cathedral music series is always worth booking in. In 2017 the program includes Faure's Requiem and Handel's Solomon.

The West Australian Opera will celebrate its 50th Anniversary in 2017 so expect lots of glitter at the opening Opera in the Park and a season that includes Tosca, The Merry Widow and Lucia di Lammermoor.

The music institutions haven't yet released their programs but keep an eye on the websites for WAAPA and UWA. And I will keep you up to date on the grass roots gigs (Freeze Frame Opera, Lost & Found Opera, Tura new music, Voyces) that will pop up as the year unfolds; they often contain the musical highlights of my year.

Hopefully that provides you with some inspiration for your Christmas shopping and the year ahead. 2017 without live music would be a bleak outlook indeed. Dive in!

Perth Festival 2017 highlights reel

Friday, 9 December 2016

Celebrity Soft Spot Louise Devenish

Louise Devenish's impact on the Australian percussion scene can't be quantified in one blog post, but I thought I'd give it a go! Devenish is head of percussion at the University of Western Australian and her doctorate on the development of Australian percussion music will soon be published in book form. She is part of four nationwide ensembles and about to launch her fifth group Intercurrent this month. Best of all she is based in Perth and you can read about her contagious energy here, in this last Celebrity Soft Spot post for 2016.

Louise Devenish c Nik Babic

What music gets your heart racing?

I like a lot of different musics, anything that is played with passion and commitment is exciting to listen to. As far as playing goes, anything that I am learning for the first time and have almost memorised gets my heart racing! When something is almost but not quite memorised there is definitely adrenalin in those final run-throughs…

What calms you down?

In terms of calming music, I like Susumu Yokota, Oren Ambarchi, Toru Takemitsu and Erik Satie.

What do you sing along to?

I am a big car singer – and I love singing to pop music or anything instrumental I can figure out a way to sing to in the car! Snarky Puppy, Avishai Cohen, Flume and Bobby McFerrin are always in there.

What first drew you into percussion?

I can’t remember exactly why I chose percussion, but I can very clearly remember the form I filled out listing it as my first preference to learn at high school - it was an opportunity to try something new, my dad suggested percussion and that was it. Percussion was a natural progression from piano, and once I started I was hooked.

Performing David Pye's Rebana Loops

You have carved out a thriving international career as a freelance percussionist with The Sound Collectors, Decibel and Speak Percussion. Despite performing with orchestras including the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra you have chosen a freelance rather than an orchestral career. Is it the appeal of chamber music, the freedom, the repertoire or…?

The thing with freelancing is that sometimes it chooses the direction that you go in! I love orchestral music and chamber music, but in different ways, and I’m certain that the skills I learned in an orchestra benefited my chamber ensemble skills. New chamber music is really great for a percussionist - the ever-evolving role of percussion in new music can lead to so many different things. Last week, my instruments were built using fluros, LEDs and strobe lights, this week it’s marimba and vibraphone. It changes week to week because we don’t really even know where the boundaries of percussion actually lie yet, and it is really exciting to explore that. I also love the close collaborative relationships that develop in making chamber music, and that chamber music can really be performed anywhere (anywhere with a reasonable load-in, that is!).

Exploring the boundaries of percussion in 2015 Sound Collectors:Confluence Project

What inspired the formation of your new group Intercurrent?

Friendship in music. Lachlan, Ashley, Emily and I have known each other a long time and have worked together in various combinations over the years. We decided it was time to do something together and there truly is nothing like making good music with great friends.

How are you preparing for the launch on December 14th?

At the moment, a lot of marimba practice! Lachlan has composed a new work for this concert and there are a fair few notes to learn. We will be rehearsing at the UWA School of Music, along with guest percussionist Adam Tan.

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

Mark Applebaum is one of my favourite composers, and he certainly makes interesting music! One of the great things about music is the way it connects you to other people, and can challenge or change your perspective on the world.

You dedicate a lot of time to teaching – you are head of percussion at the University of WA where you are regularly nominated for excellence in teaching awards. What inspires you? 

My students inspire me – I have some truly wonderful students at UWA who are full of ideas and questions and it is part of what keeps me questioning and learning too. Plus it is heaps of fun! I love teaching at UWA and feel lucky to be able to teach across a wide range of areas that I really enjoy, including performance, listening, world music and music research. We have a really cool season of concerts with Pinata Percussion lined up for 2017 that I’m looking forward to.

Devenish performing a work she commissioned from Kate Moore

You have a soft spot for the music of Australian composers – you’ve commissioned over 40 new works and completed a Doctor of Musical Arts researching the development of Australian contemporary percussion music. What is the appeal of this repertoire?

It’s really good. Sometimes when you are close to something, it can be hard to see it clearly and I think that sometimes happens with Australian music. There are some world-leading composers living and working in Australia (and there have been for decades), making unique music unlike what is coming out of other cultural hotspots around the world, and there are some truly astounding performers like Vanessa Tomlinson, Genevieve Lacey and Marshall Maguire championing this music. As far as making my own projects goes, it just makes sense to me to work with the excellent Australian artists surrounding me, because it can done in person!

You have a super supportive music teacher husband – where do you two call home?

Luke is super supportive – not only does he come to all the concerts, but he is such a legend with helping move percussion gear and any logistics on gigs when help is needed. Without his help I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near as much done! We are happy to call Bayswater home, especially when the sun is out.

Where did you learn the skills to build your own career?

I think I’m still learning that! My strategy is to try anything that might be interesting because it usually is.

Devenish with Steve Reich

What is your favourite place in Perth?

Our back yard.

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

Music is certainly a big part of my life, but I am also into yoga and chatting with friends and family in cafes.

Many thanks to Louise Devenish for participating in the final Celebrity Soft Spot for the year. You can watch Louise perform at the launch of Intercurrent as part of the final Scale Variable concert for the year on 14th December. For more information on Louise go to her website There is also a fabulous ABC Classic FM podcast on Louise and her research into Australian percussion music here.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Handel's Messiah review

It’s a long way from Bruckner and Wagner to Handel. But such is the life of orchestral players and with the help of English choral specialist Stephen Layton the WA Symphony Orchestra made the leap from last week’s Germanic romanticism to this weekend’s Messiah.

conductor Stephen Layton
On Friday 2nd December a 25 piece orchestra and the WASO chorus joined with Layton and four English vocalists for a Messiah that, despite some untidy moments, had enthralling dramatic clarity.

From the opening Sinfony Layton revealed his flair for crafting through dynamics, particularly the use of restraint. Repeated phrases became whisper soft echoes while exciting crescendos were built from repeated sequences. Layton’s sense of dramatic direction was applied to the megastructure of Messiah too. The outer sections were performed with joyful vigour (although the fugues revealed a vulnerable chorus tenor section) while Part Two was the dramatic epicentre with pianissimo fragility and drawn out harmonic suspensions.

The soloists sang with the purity of the English choral tradition, sometimes barely audible over the orchestra but effective in their use of light and shade. Mezzo soprano Helen Charlston’s langorous ‘He was despised’ had stillness and intimacy while Tenor Gwilym Bowen’s tremulous performance of ‘Thy rebuke has broken His heart’ over extremely soft string accompaniment brought to the foreground a section of Messiah I’d never previously given much attention to. Robert Davies sang with a clean, smooth baritone bringing stateliness to ‘The trumpet shall sound’ with resplendent trumpet contributions from Brent Grapes. Soprano Eleanor Dennis ushered in Part Three with a shimmering ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ although her wide vibrato clouded her diction.

The dramatic clarity was interrupted by moments of disparity between the chorus, who were following the precise downbeat of Layton’s conducting, and the orchestra who tended to play behind the beat. Stewart Smith’s crisp contributions on harpsichord were an important anchor.

The work moved into hope and resurrection helped by the chorus’s assertive, agile fugue ‘Let us break their bonds’. The Amen, perhaps the greatest ever composed, was an unleashing of radiant splendour helped by the dense organ chords from Jonathon Bradley who had moved from the orchestral keyboard to the pipe organ loft for the finale.

In the program notes Layton, who will soon notch up 200 performances of Messiah, described the final moments of the work as a ‘vision of what heaven may be like’. His dramatic conviction made Handel’s musical centrepiece of the Christian faith a powerful testimony. It’s no wonder that a work of such intense spirituality remains banned in places like China. The enthusiastic response of the capacity audience indicated the ongoing appeal of Handel’s Messiah – perhaps especially during a season that can be so easily overwhelmed by consumer chaos.

This review was first published in Limelight magazine.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

December Gig Guide

December tends to be a quieter month musically. The university music programs have finished for the year, the national tours have ceased and organisations are winding up and preparing for next year. 

Fortunately Tura New Music doesn't follow these rules and have two major events this month! The first is the Keith Tippet residency. Tippet is a UK based pianist described as one of the most radical pioneers in improvisation and contemporary jazz. He will perform a solo concert Rehearsal Room on December 1st at the State Theatre and Mujician Mosaic on the 7th featuring the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra, iMprov and the specially formed Mujician Mosaic ensemble.

Tura will also host the final Scale Variable Concert for the year featuring the debut of Intercurrent, a group including Louise Devenish, Ashley William-Smith and Emily Green-Armytage. The stunning Darkened Descent program on the 14th at the State Theatre includes works by Lachlan Skipworth, Mortan Feldman and John Luther Adams.

The WA Symphony Orchestra are also going strong, with a concert with Missy Higgins in Kings Park on the 3rd December plus a performance of Handel's Messiah on the 2/3rd with English conductor Stephen Layton (City of London Sinfonia). WASO concludes their year with the popular free performance Symphony in the Park on the 10th at Langley Park.

To get us into the Christmas spirit there is what looks like a beautiful choral concert on the 16th by Voyces featuring Emma Matthews singing traditional and new carols at St Joseph's Subiaco.

And that's the year wrapped up!

I'll soon be reflecting back on all the gigs that have been and picking out some favourites... do you have any standout shows I should include in my 2016 highlights?

And stay tuned because I'll soon be posting all the programs for 2017 so you can start booking your concert diary.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Celebrity Soft Spot Andrew Batt-Rawden

Three years ago a Sydney composer in his twenties purchased Australia's long-established but struggling arts magazine Limelight. The magazine was verging on bankruptcy (again!) but Andrew Batt-Rawden had a vision. Limelight is now a profitable business with a significant presence in the national art scene and Batt-Rawden has become one of Australia's leading arts entrepreneurs. Batt-Rawden has been based in Perth for the past six months as artist-in-residence at Gallop House in Nedlands, and has recently decided to stay permanently in Western Australia.

Andrew Batt-Rawden

What music gets your heart racing?

Bjork - Mutual Core
Saariaho - D’om le Vrai Sens
Reich - Music for 18 Musicians
Meredith - Jet Black Raider (Unicorn)
Stromae - Racine Caree
The Presets - Apocalypso

What calms you down?

Part - Fratres
Sigur Ros - Agaetis Byrtjun
Carla Bruni - Comme si de rien n’├ętait
Massive Attack - Collected
Laurie Anderson - Big Science
Pleq & Segue - The Seed
Zoe Keating - Into the Trees

What do you sing along to?

The Irrepressibles - Nude
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Laurie Andersen - From the Air
Royksopp & Robyn - Monument
Sia - 1000 Forms of Fear & This is Acting
The Presets - Pacifica & Apocalypso

What are your first impressions on Perth’s arts scene?

What astounded me when I first got here about Perth’s arts scene was how easy it is to create and experiment here. It is a very open-minded scene, and I felt very welcomed immediately as I just picked up the phone and started speaking to people. From an industry perspective, there’s a lot of people willing to have a go and see what happens.

From an audience perspective, there’s a heap of diversity, both easily accessible and a bit “underground” (where, to even know an event is happening, you need to know the artists already). There’s heaps of pockets of Perth I’m yet to discover, and I love it. The quality of work I’ve seen has been very high.

I also LOVE the Department of Culture and the Arts, and I have to say, the Chamber for Culture and the Arts is a unique industry structure not found in other states; I’m very impressed WA created that infrastructure.

Philanthropy on this side of Australia is a bit different to Sydney and Melbourne; it’s nice to see those differences, and learning so much nuance nationally is delightful.

What have you been working on while artist in residence at Gallop House?

I’m working on building three new big projects at the moment. I’m workshopping with groups and individual artists, and building new skills for new expressions of composition and performance. 

Recently I had a workshop between two life models/dancers who created forms and movements of varying tempi to a narrative I’d written whilst a quartet of harp, piano, violin and flute played a text-based improvisation score I’d prepared and six visual artists created visual interpretations of the experience - “Connect/Disconnect”. The workshop was to nut out some of the technical problems between amalgamating the three art forms… we’ll continue onto a development and a showing, possibly even the premiere next year.

I’m about to go into a workshop period with Strut Dance and the much acclaimed Maxine Doyle from Punchdrunk Theatre (UK) in collaboration with a bunch of very talented local dance and theatre artists in early December. There will be a showing advertised on the Strut website. 

I’m currently in the middle of writing new music for The Song Company, Canberra Symphony/Roger Woodward, as well as a few new songs for me to perform (whenever I get the opportunity) and a number of grant applications!!!

What drew you into composition? Who have been your teachers/influences?

Score for the song Les Mots
I got into music because I heard Ennio Morricone’s “Gabriel’s Oboe” from The Mission soundtrack. I was 8 and it put tingles over my entire body - I remember still how powerful that experience was for me, transcendent. 

It moved me so much because I’d been living in a very depressive world as a child - bullied, no friends, suicidal… and this piece; the forlorn sound of the oboe, the message of hope and connection with spirit I got through the music - it expressed to me everything I needed to hear at that moment and changed my life.

At the Sydney Con I learnt the basics. When I graduated I started producing my own events outside a university context, first in France (I was working at Maccas in Cannes whilst producing contemporary electroacoustic string quartet concerts and writing for ensembles in Sydney), then back in Australia I started a company Chronology Arts and wrote heaps of music over the years for heaps of different people/instrumentations, whilst also producing events and writing grants and fostering audiences. 

Composition for me is not just dots on a page, it encompasses an understanding of and engagement in the whole process of creating. Although I’ve been called a “Composer” a lot, I’d say I’m more of the broader term “creator” or “creative artist”.

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

“Interesting” is an ambiguous term for a good reason; music can be interesting in a variety of ways. Before my residency at Gallop House I was often focussing on an exploration of technique, narrative and technology in my music, but now I’m more interested in allowing my music to express deeply held and protected emotions to offer a space for cathartic experiences for listeners. I aim to express, without filtering, my core (#nofilter ?). I think my most successful work in that paradigm was a song I wrote about meth addiction, which I’ll be recording next year. 

You have a soft spot for being a still life model, how did this come about?

When I came to Perth, I got off the plane, dumped my stuff at Gallop House and then went to my first life modelling session. I was doing it to prepare for an event in August where I would be life modelling for Wendy Sharpe whilst the Australian Art Quartet premiered one of my quartets (“27”). We sold out the event (3 times) so it was just as well that I had some preparation!

Batt Rawden's string quartet "27" with the composer as life model. Artist Wendy Sharpe

After the event I didn’t stop - I’d lined up a bunch of life modelling gigs and I discovered there was something in it that I really enjoyed - the expression of my body - and I could use my body to express a variety of things in a variety of ways. Nudity creates a space of openness, vulnerability, and when you’re with a receptive audience who are conscious of the nudity (as opposed to objectifying the model as a sex-toy), you’re able to feel safe to explore form, expression, tension, beauty, gender, exhaustion - so many things. I don’t always pose still, I have been working on movement poses and incorporating dance of different speeds with visual art.

I’m using my posing for the research/development of three major shows next year where I’ll be doing some posing, singing, dancing, vocal performance, piano performance. “Connect/Disconnect” is one I’m collaborating on with a bunch of local Perth artists and I’ll definitely let you know when we have a showing early next year.

You had an almost prophetic vision of the role Limelight could play as one of the few remaining sources of print arts journalism in Australia. The magazine has now established a strong and growing digital readership. What are your plans for Limelight in 2017?

In 2017 I am taking a major leap; making a digital financial model available to our readers. We’ll be putting up all articles from each issue, but under a paywall, which can be lifted through a monthly supporter subscription or pay-per read system. I’m increasing digital content through a variety of partnerships around the country, and improving the website/mobile site.

We’re also, for the first time, negotiating contracts with non-performing arts clients that involve experiential marketing; making new composition/performance, touring it and marketing it through Limelight. That’s a dream come true for me, and not one I expected to achieve to be honest!

The print mag has a very loyal audience, and it will continue in 2017. We are developing new plans for marketing it better because the opportunity to market print media has been decreasing over the past years (as newsagents shut down).

As newspapers around the world continue to cut arts journalism leading to a major decline in music criticism what is your vision for how we can continue to champion the arts in Australia?

Arts Illuminated is an arts company that publishes Limelight magazine… sure it happened to be for-profit and I’m the sole director, but my approach is that it is an arts company. I think that arts journalism has to be accepted as part of the arts ecosystem.

In saying that, we need more people stepping up who will take risks, put in crazy hours, accept responsibility, be brave, be smart about it, ask for help… and more people willing to step up and put their money/time where their mouth is when it comes to supporting the arts and arts media.

Where did you learn the skills to be a magazine owner?

Mum and dad are both publishers as well… but they work in the business to business area (they both have corporate events mags). Dad is strong in finance and people management and mum is strong in sales and a different style of people management to dad.

But the real skills were learnt on the job. Limelight is a business to consumer magazine which means it’s totally different revenue model to my parent’s mags and hence different company structures and motivations.

I’d been running businesses for about 8 years before buying Limelight; a production company, a few festivals, admin for various arts companies… so I’d accumulated a lot of skills over time.

The relationship between Clive and I is like one between an Artistic Director and General Manager, and that relationship is one I’ve been on both sides of and, well, it’s the same stuff as all businesses really, just different content.

Are rumours true that a significant new relationship might be one of the major drawcards to you remaining in Perth!?

My personal relationships would exist despite my career but honestly I am staying in Perth because of the art!

Love Spiral by Batt-Rawden. Pianist Jocelyn Ho performs 
to her live heart beat, and fibre optic attire responds.

What is your favourite place in Perth?

North Swanbourne nude beach - love being natural in nature! It's a great place to go replenish/relax, be alone with some music, reconnect with and be comfortable in my own skin.

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

Music is a way of expressing my soft spots for everything else. Younger emerging artists, victims of child sex abuse, people unable to express themselves, marginalised people, nature that hasn't been transformed by humanity's greed. I have a lot of empathy and a huge heart. I guess the shorter answer to that question for me would be what riles me up - and that'd be greed.

Thank you Andrew Batt-Rawden for taking part in Celebrity Soft Spot. For more details go to Andrew's website. and check out his soundcloud -