Wednesday, 27 May 2015

June Gig Guide

June is a big month for the local music scene with enough grassroots gigs to cover the concert hall in lawn! 

The Fremantle Chamber Orchestra will be giving the Australian premiere of Louise Farrenc's Symphony No 1 on Saturday 6th June. 17 year old violinist Emily Leung will feature as soloist in Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto.
The SwanSongs series returns at Perth Town Hall with Cheryl Barker as soloist on June 7th and James Clayton on June 28th. Also on the 7th new ensemble Cadence Chamber Music comprising Ashley William Smith (clarinet), Louise McKay (cello) and Adam Pinto (piano) will perform Brahms' Trio at Penrhos Chapel.

Members of the WA Symphony Orchestra will perform alongside local amateurs in their Rusty Orchestra gig on June 27th. The orchestra are busy this month: Paul Wright performs Mozart's Violin Concerto with the orchestra on 5th June; Lord of the Rings: Return of the King live screening at Riverside Theatre on June 12; Carmina Burana and Resphigi's Ancient Airs and Dances on the 19th and the music theatre show Rhythm in your Rubbish for children 5-12 on the 28th.

Two national tours round out the month: Musica Viva will bring legenary cellist Steven Isserlis to perform in recital on June 8th and on June 17th Richard Egarr tours playing Haydn's Piano Concerto with the Australia Chamber Orchestra.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

THNMF cello recital - Friedrich Gauwerky

It’s not often you hear a concert for solo cello. Even rarer to witness one where the music is drawn entirely from the twentieth century. And German cellist Friedrich Gauwerky raised the stakes higher again for his recital as part of the Totally Huge New Music Festival by limiting his program to Australian and German composers predominantly from the New Complexity school.

Gauwerky, with sonorous tone and inclusive glances at the audience, translated complex musical notation and dissonant sounds into conversational and often dramatic storytelling. The program drew on works from the seventies and eighties with the exception of Hindemith's early modernist Sonata for Cello (1922) with its echoes of Romantic melodism and Felix Werder’s dissonant Violincello Solo 1 (1993).

The German repertoire included Klaus K. Huebler’s iconic Opus Breve where the score directed physical activity rather than specifying a desired sound, and Stockhausen’s surprisingly lyrical Amour arranged for cello by Gauwerky in cooperation with the Stockhausen estate. Hans Werner Henze’s lively Capriccio was played with theatrical energy although Gauwerky’s quality of tone and pitch accuracy suffered in the upper range of the cello.

The Australian composers included Thomas Reiner, a student of Henze, who’s contrasting Three Sketches included siren effects from slides up and down the cello neck. The concert highlight came from German-Australian Volker Heyn who’s Blues in Bb was an exploration of the eerie harmonics resonating from extremely soft pedal notes.

This bravely executed program was difficult for performer and audience alike. It felt one-dimensional at times - there was a notable absence of multimedia or electronic effects - but that in itself was subversive; just a cello, a man and notes on a page. And there is plenty more on the menu because  THNMF's’s expansive program continues until May 24th.

This review copyright The West Australian 2015.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Medee: Australian premiere by Lost & Found opera

“Nothing is as formidable as the anger of a woman scorned”. The chorus singers sang the famous line sympathetically before dunking the fuming Medee under water until she calmed down. Darius Milhaud’s 1938 opera Medee was given a gripping Australian premiere by Lost & Found Opera at the Fremantle Arts Centre on Wednesday night.

Medee family portrait. Image by Grant Taylor
This is the fourth production by the company who specialise in presenting unfamiliar operas in unusual settings. Medee, based on Euripides’ tragedy Medea, was set in rooms that were previously mental asylum cells for women, giving deeper resonance to the conflicted state of the heroine. The princess Medee is betrayed by her husband Jason’s marriage to Creuse the daughter of the ruler Creon and undertakes revenge.

In the hands of director Thomas de Mallet Burgess the patriarchal Greek society was in disarray and Medee existed within it as a powerful and subversive foreigner. Matthew McVeigh’s set reflected the dysfunction: a chandelier dangled sideways; a golden curtain was dropped to reveal graffiti painted walls; Jason and his bride arrived drunk from their wedding ceremony and the maids emerged from under the table to wait on them.

In an adjoining room Chris van Tuinen (piano) Katie McKay (violin) and Ashley Smith (clarinet) performed a reduced but dramatic version of Milhaud’s score. The composer’s distinctive polytonality suited the conflicted nature of Medee; the clash of key signatures mirrored the multiple strands of thought in her mind.

In total the performance space was not much larger than a lounge room. But with a cast of impressive actor singers the horror unfolded around the small capacity audience with greater impact than the most elaborate home entertainment system.

Jason was sung by Richard Symons whose striking vocal range create a tortured, youthful figure. Creuse was given flighty innocence by Katja Webb singing with velvet sweetness. Creon was a stern Simon Meadows and Ileana Rinaldi was a sympathetic nurse. The chorus ensemble, for which Milhaud reserved some of his most pleasant harmonies, was immaculately sung by Kris Bowtell, Bonnie de la Hunty and Amy Yarham. Isuelt de Mallet Burgess and Beatrice de Mallet Burgess wore bird masks as they chillingly enacted the non-singing role of Medee’s daughters. Fiona McAndrew gave a deeply-inflected performance of Medee, depicting Queenly poise and deranged witch with a hint of celtic priestess in her tangled curls and flowing skirts.

Yes it was sickening watching a woman being pinned down and dunked and to hear her resolve to murder her children, ‘the last remnant of our love’. But in McAndrew’s hands Medee’s struggle between love and hate was also compelling. And perhaps familiar too, because this Greek tragedy plays out persuasively the power battle that marriages have been experiencing for centuries. The production continues until May 24 and shouldn’t be missed.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Celebrity Soft Spot - Irina Vasilieva

Five years ago Irina Vasilieva dreamed up the Cappuccino Concerts series, a brainwave that has since become an integral part of the Perth concert scene. What began as an opportunity to give performers a professional platform has been embraced by Perth audiences. The concerts are set in intimate venues like bookstores, cafes, music shops and invariably sell out. This week Cappuccino Concerts presents a unique Mother's Day concert featuring music from Women of Note.  I thought it was time to get to know the Russian pianist who is recreating the tradition of chamber music in Perth.

What music gets your heart racing?

Oh, it depends on the mood I am in! Most of the time it is the music I am preparing for my recital. So usually I am getting obsessed with it as I fall in love more and more with what I am about to play. If it is in between recitals and just ordinary day then it can be Rachmaninov concerto quite often or something jazzy that's on radio playing at the moment. When in doubt -  Russian rock always wins too :)

What calms you down?

Reading bedtime stories to my children and holding my daughter's foot as she falls asleep. 

What do you sing along to?

I'm old fashioned and love old fashioned love songs. Sorry for being cheesy but I do love Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, Armstrong

What inspired you to start the Cappuccino concert series?

Lack of opportunities for high standard classical musicians here in Perth was the main reason. Also my background and upbringing I suppose. When I came to Australia it was disappointing to see extremely talented, gifted musicians go interstate or abroad to perform. I come from Moscow, a city that has internationally acclaimed and also local amazing musicians giving recitals so often – it is normal to have a few concerts in one day and go from one to another. 

Here I feel (forgive me for being snobby) that there is not much joy and excitement of listening to  classical music. The cost and to a lesser extent the programming has detracted from the music being available to the broader community. It seemed to me that here in Perth attending a concert was only a privilege and an elitist’s pastime. So, I love coffee and I love classical music – it was suggested by my then-husband to call our series Cappuccino Concerts. Why not? :) Here we go – celebrating 5 years of bringing classical music to people of all walks of life and it is very rewarding. Every time I see people smiling and their happy faces I know I will keep going.

There are very few female artistic directors in Perth. You have a unique voice as a woman and with an international perspective. What do you think the people of Perth are looking for in a concert experience?

I think they need more exposure and opportunity to enjoy talented Australian musicians performing at various venues.

What type of artists do you have performing?
I give the priority to local performers, usually Perth-based but also performers from other states.

You have a soft spot for chamber music– what is the appeal of this repertoire?

I love chamber music. As a performer I learn a lot when playing with other musicians in an ensemble. An intimate setting for both musicians and the audience brings people together. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe described chamber music (specifically string quartet music) as "four rational people conversing". It is something that we are losing – communication. The idea of composing music that could be played at home has been largely abandoned. What do we usually have at home? TV, iPads, all takes away from humans interacting with each other even in a home setting. The role of chamber music in society has changed profoundly in the last 50 years. So the idea is to bring people together in an intimate setting and encourage them to interact with each other. Chamber music can do that with a little bit of wine added to the mix :)

You grew up in Russia; are opportunities for women musicians greater there than in Australia?

I left Russia many years ago so I can't say what the situation is like there at the moment. I can only judge from how I grew up. And I was brought up mainly among remarkable women who inspired me – they were scientists, musicians, physicists. There were politics of course but I grew up with women being equally important in their profession as men.

At what age did you start learning piano? When did you decide you wanted to pursue a career with the piano?
Piano was always there. I remember my mother playing piano. So probably naturally I asked to learn that instrument and haven't regretted it since. 

 Irina Vasilieva performing Shchedrin's Basso Continuo at WA Academy of Performing Arts

What brought you to Australia?

My parents. They've made a decision and moved first but I refused being a stubborn teenager. It took me five years to catch up and join them later :)

You have two young children (see photo right). What do you suggest is a good way to introduce children to classical music?

Sing, play along, play games, create stories at the piano. Be silly :)

I have two preschool children myself and know how hard it is to juggle work and family. How do you manage the work/life balance?

I have no idea :)

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

To me it is all about music and family

You have a very unique concert planned for Mother’s Day at Snaden's Pianos featuring music from my book Women of Note. What can audiences expect?

It is going to be a fantastic opportunity to hear inspiring stories and music from Australian women composers and to enjoy a very nice high tea in a good company.


Thank you Irina Vasilieva for making time for Celebrity Soft Spot. For more info on the pianist/director go here. Tickets for the Mother's Day Women of Note Soiree at Snaden's Pianos are selling fast. Go here for more details:

Monday, 4 May 2015

Mother's Day Concert featuring Women of Note

A live concert inspired by Women of Note is being held in Perth on Mother's Day, Sunday 10th May 3:30pm.

The music from the book - finally a chance to hear it performed live by world class musicians!

Hear the triumph and tragedy of some of Australia's most inventive and overlooked composers. Three generations of composers will be performed by Perth superstars Ashley William Smith (clarinet), Irina Vasilieva (piano), Lindsay Vickery (bass clarinet) and Laura McGrogan (cello). The program includes Elena Kats-Chernin, Margaret Sutherland, Miriam Hyde, Anne Boyd and Cat Hope. It is music that continues to stun me with its beauty and power.

So come and celebrate the special women in your life and be inspired by music from Australian women composers. Enjoy high tea as I present the music and stories from my book Women of Note.

I am joining forces with Irina Vasilieva director of the popular Cappuccino Concerts for this event. Their concerts sell-out so be quick for tickets:

This one-off concert is being held in the iconic showroom at Snadens Pianos in Nedlands. It will be an exotic Mother's Day experience you (and I!) will remember for a long time - I hope you can come!