Friday, 27 September 2013

Etica ensemble

Etica ensemble is showing the tenacity required to survive beyond the ‘honeymoon’ period. In the three years since forming the group has pared back to a more flexible sextet and are currently ensemble–in-residence at the WA Academy of Performing Arts. Their second concert for the year featured American music inspired by the New York Downtown minimalist scene.

David Lang’s Cheating, lying, stealing is one of the better known examples of post-minimalism. The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer used a riff of short percussive notes to drive the piece but lack of precision in the two brake drum parts and a slow tempo choice by conductor Jon Tooby meant the offbeat swagger became a stagger. It was left to Paul Tanner (marimba) and Adam Pinto (piano) to propel the work to its conclusion.

Tanner and Pinto were again a force to be reckoned with in Damaged Goods by Roshanne Etezady, enabling the contrast in textures which was at the core of the work. Heavy piano chords played against light wind solos, sustained notes were the backdrop for a meandering marimba solo, and a repeated pitch was hammered out over a fast walking bass line.
Carlo Boccadoro’s Zingiber began with cow bells and built like a fugue as bass clarinet, cello, violin and piccolo gradually added their lines. Tambourin and a shrill whistle joined the fray and a well-rehearsed cacophony unfolded as the players intently maintained independent streams of notes.

Jennifer Higdon is one of America’s most-performed composers and her work Zaka produced the most interesting ideas of the night. The jolting opening piano chords referenced drum and bass while flute and clarinet zoomed above. Hand cupping on the joints of the clarinet and pencil tapping on strings gave lightness to the texture. An inner section of eerie piano chords, gently melodious string solos and bowed crotales slowed the momentum before a sprint to the finish.

Despite the program of audience-friendly music this concert didn’t have the gutsy impact it could have. Etica’s aim is to provide world-class new music but some more spit and polish was needed on this occasion.

This review copyright the West Australian Newspaper 2013.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Phantom at the Cathedral

St George’s Cathedral resounded with a dark music on Friday night. The cathedral’s pipe organ provided the live sound track to the 1925 silent horror film The Phantom of the Opera.

 The novel concert idea was the brainchild of cathedral organist Joseph Nolan, who has seen similar screenings in the UK. The classic movie (actually the 1929 re-released version was used) with its melodramatic stock gestures and blurred footage was projected on a screen and accompanied by guest Italian organist Giampaolo di Rosa who improvised the entire film score.

Giampaolo Di Rosa

The film is an adaptation of the same Gaston Leroux novel which inspired the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. A phantom manipulates events at the Paris Opera to turn the woman he loves into a star. Christine is wooed to his dungeon lair but eventually escapes with her lover Raoul.

The quintessential gothic cinematography included a massive opera house chandelier which crashed into the audience, an underground lake and torture chambers. Large-scale crowd scenes - including hundreds of ballerinas and a masked ball - showed the groundbreaking scope of the original movie. The famous unmasking scene was still horrifying even in this post-digital era; the Phantom’s fangs, pinned back nostrils and black-ringed eyes were ghastly.


The organ soundtrack was a theatrical triumph. From the tense minor chords in the opening credits to the ear-tingling assault of the coda, Di Rosa delivered a 100 minute tour de force. His improvising was well-paced with events onscreen and his use of pedal notes, chords and scurrying passagework was dramatically convincing. He occasionally painted musical pictures: a descending scale when the clown fell through a trapdoor and swelling cluster chords as the opera house lights mysteriously flickered on and off. But the majority of the improvising was esoteric and atonal, lending a gritty expressionist edge to the vintage film.

The concert was sold out a month in advance showing Perth’s appetite for this kind of value-added concert. Another success for Nolan and the cathedral team, who will conclude their concert series in December with Mozart’s Mass in C minor and Requiem.
This review copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Meet the conductor

WASO's new principal conductor (starting 2014) is in town and his concert on the weekend caused a sensation. Asher Fisch was introduced to the media at a banquet lunch today and the Perth Concert Hall was brimming with excitement.

"I could hear the difference in the orchestra from the first note in the cello section," declared Evan Kennea manager of artistic planning.

CEO Craig Whitehead enthused over Fisch's reputation for Romantic repertoire.

The orchestral players credited him with being a clear communicator and comparisons were made with Simone Young because of his fastidious rehearsal technique and vision for a specific sound and shape.

The ultimate compliment came from a wind player: "At the tea breaks everyone is smiling, there is no moaning - everyone is happy!"

And the feeling appears to be mutual. Fisch described WASO as a diamond. "And if you are someone who likes to polish diamonds - the diamonds in the UK and US are polished to death (there are some in Italy but they are very rough!) - if you hear about a diamond in Perth that is of great value, then you go there."

The Israeli conductor first conducted WASO 14 years ago and says any weaknesses have disappeared as players retired and replacements raised the bar.

"I hear no weaknesses, it is all a very high level. I want to create a profile for this orchestra where people will hear their sound and know this is WASO."

Slowly the enthusiasm began to rub off on me and my concerns about his lack of symphonic experience (see Fisch out of water?) began to fade. Fisch doesn't seem to be under any illusions; he described his arrival at WASO as 'graduating' to a symphonic position after many years as an opera conductor. His 'apprenticeship'  credentials are impressive (he has 85 operas in his repertoire and has done stints with Israeli Opera, Vienna Opera, Seattle Opera) and as a protégé of Daniel Barenboim he is brimming with ideas.

Fisch also seems to have a depth to him that the orchestral players are relishing after the effervescent but one-dimensional Paul Daniel.

However his repertoire is unashamedly 19th century. The 2014 season is packed full of German romantic repertoire: Wagner, Schuman, Schubert and a complete Beethoven symphonic cycle. As far as Fisch is concerned music starts with Haydn.

"I leave anything before that to the Baroque specialists," Fisch says. "And don't ask me to conduct modern music. I have a clear line, I will not conduct Shostakovich or Prokofiev, or Stravinsky."

Shostakovich is modern? Then Schoenberg must be space-age. Fisch's perspective seems limited but his fervour is welcome. In fact he is comfortable with music by his peers and Evan reassures me Fisch is referring to style; the sardonic irony of the 20th century Russian repertoire involves a degree of musical façade which doesn't suit Fisch's approach to communicating musically.

Lets not forget there is a reason the warhorse symphonies are core repertoire. When done with the red-blooded vitality and intellectual candour Fisch promises it could be a sensational year.

 For WASO's full 2014 season brochure go here.

For a  review of Asher's weekend concert go here.

Apologies for the 'selfie' but had to put it in despite the soft focus (poor form for a journalist/photographer Will Yeoman!!).

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Women of Note now has classroom activities!

In twentieth century Australia being a female composer was a dangerous game. One composer was diagnosed as mentally insane by her psychiatrist husband, several achieved success only after their divorces, and for others the only way to get their music published was to lie about their gender. Still, the allure of writing music enticed women from all walks of life.
From the convent and the nappy-change table, women began to compose. Now 25% of Australia’s composers are women, more than almost any other country in the world.

Listen to a selection of compositions at the following YouTube links:
Composer: Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Work: Drama for Orchestra
Composer: Elena Kats-Chernin, Work: Eliza’s Aria
Composer: Cat Hope, Work: In The Cut
Each of the women featured in this book was so passionate about their music that they pursued their goals to the detriment of their personal lives. They were Australian pioneers. Using chapters from the book Women of Note, consider the contribution they have made not only to twentieth-century music but also to the role of women in Australian society.

Download the complete teaching activity.
For school presentations contact the author at rosalindappleby(at)

History Year 10
The Modern World and Australia
Depth study 3: The globalising world Students investigate one major global influence that has shaped Australian society in depth, including the development of the global influence during the twentieth century. Students study ONE of these electives: Popular culture or
The environment movement or Migration experiences.
Popular culture (1945–present)The nature of popular culture in Australia at the end of World War II, including music, film and sport (ACDSEH027)
Australia’s contribution to international popular culture (music, film, television, sport) (ACDSEH123)
Continuity and change in beliefs and values that have influenced the Australian way of life (ACDSEH149)

 Source ACARA v5 2013

 Buy Women of Note                         Women of Note teaching activity