Saturday, 23 February 2013

Bartok Extravaganza

“It’s important for the festival to broker opportunities for people,” says Chris van Tuinen, “that’s what we are here for.” The program manager for the festival’s classical music program has coordinated the combination of the WA Symphony Orchestra and the WA Youth Orchestra into a massive conglomerate orchestra to perform Bartok’s opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and ballet suite The Wooden Prince.

The experience for the youth orchestra members will be immeasurable and Tuinen is quietly proud of his achievement.

“Bluebeard is huge, it requires quintuple winds with 115 players on stage. And no one in Perth has done The Wooden Prince before. Bartok was such a unique composer, perhaps the only one who was able to synthesise the different approaches of the twentieth century.”

The opera and ballet double bill will be presented as a concert performance at the Perth Concert Hall. To manage the undertaking van Tuinen has drawn on contacts from his time as a repetiteur with Opera Australia. English conductor Sir Richard Armstrong, a regular visitor to the east coast since 1985, will make his Perth debut conducting the combined orchestra.

“Richard is just a kid from Leicester who played piano to keep warm and then ended up at the Royal Opera as a repetiteur under Solti,” van Tuinen says. “I love that he’s tough as nails but quietly spoken. He manages the production side of things so well. I couldn’t think of anyone better to do it.”

The seventy year old Armstrong, who has directed both the Welsh and Scottish Opera companies, is delighted to be coming to Perth to conduct the rarely heard repertoire.

“Both scores have an enormous palette of colour. Bartok used the biggest orchestras of his composing life in these pieces. I have never had the opportunity to experience The Wooden Prince live in the theatre, it is so rarely performed still. Perth audiences are so lucky to have this opportunity.”
TheWooden Prince Suite (1914-16) is Bartok’s condensed version of his original ballet, which was a simple fairy tale with a moderately happy ending. In contrast DukeBluebeard (1911) is a deep psychological study showing influences from Strauss, Wagner and Debussy.

Armstrong says he has worked with youth orchestras before and will treat the young players exactly as he would those of greater experience.

“My job is to encourage the best from everybody's potential. I am most impressed that so many players from the WA Youth Orchestra get to perform works such as these with the is the most inspirational way to learn.”
The orchestra will be joined by baritone PeterColeman-Wright singing Duke Bluebeard and soprano Lisa Gasteen as his headstrong wife Judith. Gasteen is returning to the stage after several years break due to injury. The renowned dramatic soprano is based in Queensland where she has established a national opera school. She seldom performs since a nerve injury in her neck in 2008. Performing Bluebeard marks her return to a dramatic role in front of a large orchestra.

Van Tuinen says he lured her to Perth by offering an alternative to the Wagnerian roles she had been singing.

“I knew Lisa was singing again and that she didn’t want to get back into the cycle of endlessly doing the same eight roles.”

For the technically and dramatically complex role of Judith Gasteen will have to draw on the skills that made her one of the world’s most sought after Brunnhilde’s. The opera is sung in Hungarian and is a psychoanalysis of the grisly Bluebeard fairytale.

Van Tuinen has gathered the forces capable of impressive dramatic commitment. Now audiences must prepare for the impact.


Saturday 2nd March Perth Concert Hall

 This article copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Kronos Quartet an activist ensemble

"I believe music is one of humanity’s greatest discoveries,” says David Harrington.”There is something that happens when you put two violins, a viola and cello together that can add up to so many dimensions of human experience.”


The founding member of the Kronos Quartet is talking about the string quartet sound which has enthralled him since he first heard the late Beethoven quartets as a twelve year old.

“I put on a record of the Eb Opus 120 and fell in love with the sound of those Eb major chords. I wanted to make that sound. And it’s been the same thing ever since.”

The exploration of the string quartet sound has consumed Harrington, now 64, for his entire career. It was the driving force behind the formation of the Kronos Quartet which over the past forty years has become one of the most famous new music ensembles in the world.

Harrington formed the group after hearing George Crumb’s Vietnam War elegy Black Angels. “I was 23 and searching for a way to express myself after the confusion of the Vietnam War. I heard Black Angels on the radio and there was no question; I had found what I was going to do and how I was going to do it.” 

Harrington grabbed some friends – John Sherba and Hank Dutt are still in the ensemble, cellist Jeffrey Zeigler joined in 2005 – and formed a quartet dedicated to new music.

“It was impossible to do in American society at the time. Musicians are not something society cares much about. But I decided the only way was to totally jump in. It’s policy I’ve stuck to ever since.”

Leaping in the deep end has paid off. The Kronos Quartet now has a reputation that spans the globe with a hectic touring schedule supported by nine administrative staff at their San Francisco base. The Grammy-award winning ensemble has commissioned over 750 works from artists as diverse as Philip Glass, Nelly Furtardo, Nine Inch Nails, John Zorn, Astor Piazolla and Tom Waits.

One of Harrington’s favourites was a quirky piece by Australian composer John Rose.


“I learned from John Rose that barbed wire fences can be musical. I wanted our audiences to know that musicians can turn these objects of confinement into music. So we brought John’s fences to America and performed his Music for Four Fences on them. It was totally sane but it looked quite wierd on the surface.”

Harrington describes the group as an activist ensemble.

“We are attempting to rethink the role of music and instruments, to expand the frame of reference. I want our work to challenge earlier ideas about the function of the string quartet.”

On a recent trip to Copenhagen they premiered Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen’s Theatre of Voices which is based on Pachelbel’s Canon.

“The piece starts out as variations on Pachelbel and then goes totally berserk. It is absolutely thrilling. Many people know that melody yet somehow this piece makes you feel like you’re hearing it for the first time. It is really fun and beautiful; the musical past coming alive in a new way.”

The very latest commission involves American poet/composer Laurie Anderson and will be premiered with the composer first in America then in Perth in February. The piece (as yet untitled) is a sequence of songs featuring elaborate visual and electronic effects. The quartet will also perform a concert featuring Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11 – memories of September 11 – pitched against folk-inspired works.

“A lot of what the audience will hear will be new and I hope they won’t feel confined by the traditional definition of the string quartet. I hope they will be able to enjoy exploring and learning something new – I’ve never met somebody who doesn’t!”

After forty years of avant-garde music is Harrington ever tempted to sit down and play Beethoven?

"The idea of going back never occurs to me. The past and present are actually working together all the time, there’s no real divide. I prefer to spend my life thinking about the next great piece that needs to be made.”

In 2011 the Kronos quartet’s contribution to music was recognised with the Avery Fisher Music Prize and the Polar Music Prize, two of the most prestigious awards given to musicians. But Harrington says the real reward has been along the way.

“I’ve had so much fun. The work we’re a part of is so gripping, I can put all my imagination into this. The awards were the frosting on a cake that already tastes great.”

Kronos Quartet and Laurie Anderson Wednesday 27th February
Kronos Quartet plays Steve Reich Thursday 28th February

 This article copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013

Monday, 11 February 2013

New arrival

It has been awhile since my last blog but I make no apologies! I have been somewhat preoccupied with this:

Tahlia Joy Appleby arrived on Australia Day. It was a beautiful water birth and she and I and the rest of the family have been thriving ever since.

Tahlia means 'dew from God'. We feel incredibly blessed to be a little family of four.