Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Conversation dives into the gender and music debate

The online journal The Conversation published an article today about the under-representation of women composers in Australia's music scene.  The sound of silence: why aren't Australia's female composers being heard uses statistics from  performing ensembles and Australian institutions to show that roughly 10-15% of music being performed is by women, despite the fact that 25-29% of compositions students are women.
It is a well-researched article which highlights some of the  gender assumptions still being made today, including the outrageous comments by an English journalist I mentioned in my post on women composers in March.  
The article also highlights the efforts being made by some institutions and individuals to give exposure to women composers. 
The authors  (Cat Hope, Dawn Bennet and Sally Macarthur) argue the solutions need to extend beyond academic institutions. They suggest:
  • Performance groups and organisations representing Australian composers need to let go of tradition and become more aware of gender diversity.
  • For every male composer selected for a performance or commission, there should be a representative number of female composers. Perhaps there should be a quota mandated for government funded institutions that deliver music to audiences.
  • Every music school needs to teach and include women’s music in history and performance courses, and to do so beyond a token amount.
  • Music critics and scholars need to challenge the tradition of effacing women’s music. As academic Lauren Redhead notes, this includes enhancing awareness of the patriarchal discourse.
  • Finally, there is a need for research into the working lives of composers, particularly women. Without this, it is hard to advocate for changes to funding, education and career support. 
What do you think, would mandatory quotas be effective? Or would they ghettoise women into a category of 'other'?

Read the entire article here. It is worth a look.
One thing I'm certain about; I'm pleased the debate is continuing, particularly with the academic rigour these three authors bring to the topic.

Friday, 27 May 2016

June Gig Guide

It's all about the kids this month and it's not even school holidays!

On June 15th the WA Symphony Orchestra will perform the iconic sound track to Raiders of the Lost Ark with live screening at the Convention Centre. Introduce your kids to a cult movie and the music of John Williams, or just re-experience it yourself!

Then sign up for orchestral story-time with two of the greatest symphonic poems: Peter and the Wolf and Carnival of the Animals. On the 19th Music on the Terrace presents Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals with violinist Paul Wright leading an orchestra of young musicians and on the 26th WASO will give Peter and the Wolf a modern remake with dancers, masks and colourful sets.

And lastly for the kids  it's party time on Saturday 25th at WASO's Kids Cushion Concerts with the Echo Ensemble turning 21. There are two morning shows and one is already sold out so book fast.

Also on WASO's music stands this month is Tchaikovsky’s dramatic 6th Symphony and Behzod Abduraimov playing his signature Prokofiev piano concerto on June 3rd. On the 10th WASO will perform Vivaldi’s Gloria with full chorus and soloists. The orchestra hit success last year with it’s Baroque programming - something I wasn't expecting! Asher Fisch’s hard work with the orchestra is enabling them to excel beyond the standard romantic repertoire. On the 26th WASO's popular Rusty Orchestra returns with a free concert given by community musicians having the time of their life sitting side-by-side with WASO players.

The long-weekend will include the opening of Grove Classics series (5th June) with violinst Ronald Thomas accompanied by David Wickham. And on the 6th you can take advantage of the public holiday with the Organ Society's Country Organ Crawl! Join the tour of historic pipe organs in York and Northam. The tour includes lunch and refreshments.

A must-see this month is Decibel paying tribute to Roger Smalley in a concert of his works at the State Theatre Centre. The Intermodulations concert (part of the Scale Variable series) will be a landmark event for the Perth music scene and also internationally.

WAAPA present their semester showcase at the Regal Theatre on June 11th with Bring It On The Musical. Expect flair, exuberance and a lot of sass.

Perth's favourite new opera company Lost & Found are staging Bizet's comic opera Don Procopio at the Italian Vasto Club in Balcatta, where if you desire you may purchase 'dining' tickets and join in the wedding banquet during the opera!

On June 18th Voyces choral group (directed by Dr Robert Braham) presents Spin. The concert promises an interesting experience of contemporary choral music with repertoire written in the past 15 years presented with lighting and choreography.

Finally two touring chamber concerts. Firstly Musica Viva (13th June) bringing over the US-based Enso Quartet with a program including a new work by Aussie Brenton Broadstock alongside Ravel and Beethoven. And on 26th June the Australian Chamber Orchestra in trio form and directed by Giovanna Sollima will give a concert of Italian works from Monteverdi to Berio

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Miriam Hyde's letters

It is as though I have just heard from Miriam Hyde!

Miriam Hyde circa 1930's

The Australian composer (who featured in my book Women of Note) died in 2005 but today her daughter Christine Edwards contacted me to let me know Miriam's letters from 1932-1935 have been digitized by the National Library. Every envelope and page of the letters have been photographed and are now available to view.

Papers of Miriam Hyde, NLA. MS 5260-
Series 1/Subseries 1.1/File 21
The letters were written to her Adelaide family while Miriam was studying at the Royal College of Music in London. It was a momentous time for the young pianist and composer. She performed her own Piano Concertos with the London Philharmonic and London Symphony and studied composition with R.O. Morris. In fact she worked so hard she suffered a nervous breakdown and had to take a break form her studies.

In her email today Christine described the letters as "not only about her studies and the London music scene (concerts, new music etc) but much social history - the cost of clothes/food, transport from A to B, a pea soup fog, brief holidays with friends outside London, etc."

The 3399 pages of hand-written letters look something like this:

'Letter 3/9/35, Papers of Miriam Hyde, National Library of Australia, MS 5260.

Reading them gives an intimate insight into the mind and heart of this remarkable woman. It makes me want to listen to her music and read her autobiography and her chapter in Women of Note and just drench myself in her all over again!

The NLA collection also includes a detailed journal of the boat trip to London, letters to colleagues and scores of the works Miriam wrote during this time. It also includes correspondence with Currency Press  about the publication of Miriam's autobiography Complete Accord.

To check out this amazing resource for yourself go to

Friday, 20 May 2016

Celebrity Soft Spot Janet Holmes à Court

Janet Holmes à Court is a true renaissance woman. She has a background in science teaching, a career as an extremely successful business woman and an interest in art which spans music (Chairman of WASO board), fine art (Holmes a Court collection), architecture (Ambassador to Venice Biennale) and theatre (founding patron of Black Swan Theatre). She is an advocate in the community for health, conservation and education and is also a devoted grandmother.

What music can bring you to tears?

Anything! Beethoven can bring me to tears. His works always remind me of my mother who thought he was the greatest! One of my earliest memories was seeing my mother weeping into the kitchen sink as she listened to the final movements of a Beethoven piano concerto. I realised then the power of music to move. Richard Tognetti playing The Lark Ascending by Benjamin Britten certainly can bring me to tears.

What music gets your heart racing?

Hearing the orchestra tuning up. This is a very exciting time for me. Hearing and seeing 84 or 100 musicians – or however many are needed for tonight’s concert - settling down and preparing to perform for us, the audience. I love the excitement of this – then the arrival of the Conductor to take charge. Let the music begin!

What do you sing along to?

Me singing along would not be pleasant for anyone. I’m more of a finger tapper. Having studied piano for many years, I tend to “arrange” the music I am listening to for piano, and play silently on my knee. I find it extremely difficult to sit still in concerts.

Your highly successful business Heytesbury (now owned and run by your son, Paul) has had interests in horse breeding cattle, wine production and engineering contracting. For decades you were known as the richest woman in Australia. But perhaps your greatest legacy is your involvement with the arts world. Where did your love of arts come from?

 The “richest woman” tag was always a ridiculous statement and was never made by me.
Because Robert died without a will, his estate (which included masses of debt) was divided in intestate proportions i.e. ⅓ to me ⅔ to my 4 children. I was never the richest woman in Australia! My love for the arts was fostered by my parents.

This month (May) the Holmes à Court Gallery at Vasse Felix is opening a new exhibition titled Rachel Coad – RETROspective. What motivated you to open the gallery initially? And what is the appeal of Rachel Coad’s work to inspire this new exhibition and residency?

Almost ever since Robert and I started to collect art, I dreamt of having a gallery. We always considered the collection to be private/ public; that it was something to be shared. A public gallery such as LWAG and AGWA cannot possibly show all its works. Neither can it show its works in spaces that are not perfectly climate controlled. Their duty is to preserve, as well as educate, stimulate, amuse and display.

We are never careless with our works of art, but we are able to share them with others in spaces NOT environmentally perfect for the purpose. This enables people in many more places to enjoy the works. For example years ago we had an exhibition of works in the old Masonic Hall in Dalwallinu. There are now works on loan to King Edward Memorial Hospital, Government House in both Perth and Hobart, Perth Modern School, Kings Park, John Holland Offices, the Art Gallery of Western Australia and so on. These are all places where a broad audience can see and appreciate them.

Holmes a Court Gallery Vasse Felix

In 2000 I opened a gallery in East Perth. For ten years we held exhibitions and hosted Artist in Residence programmes, Day of Ideas discussions, artist’s lunches, seminars, etc. In 2010 I enjoyed hosting six 300th Birthday parties for a Cappa violin I own which was made in 1710. In the East Perth gallery we exhibited works from the Holmes à Court Collection and works by artists from elsewhere who were NOT represented by galleries here in WA. The gallery in East Perth was complemented by the gallery at Vasse Felix. When the East Perth building was sold the gallery at the winery became the sole space for exhibiting and running residencies. It also happens to have pretty wonderful acoustics, so serves as an excellent venue for musical performances for example the Australian Chamber Orchestra Festival in December each year.

Many artists whose works I admire have been Artist in Residence during the time I have operated galleries: Brian McKay, Stuart Elliot, Helen Britton, Leslie Meaney, John Parkes, Clyde McGill, Ben Pushman, Thomas Hoareau. Next on the agenda is Rachel Coad. I have become a great fan of Rachel and her work ever since seeing and purchasing a painting at Perth Galleries several years ago. She and her partner Chris have become great friends. Rachel’s portraits are exceptional descriptions of their subjects. One feels one is looking into the souls of the people she paints – capturing their inner selves. I love her technique, her palette, her empathy with the subjects. Apart from the Harrier JumpJet her subjects are ordinary Australians, many of whom are deceased.

 ABC interviews Janet about her interest in Aboriginal art.

Also this month in Venice you will be involved in la Biennale di Venezia as part of the International Architecture Exhibition. What will be your participation here?

I have the great privilege of being the Commissioner for Australia for the Venice Architecture Biennale. This will be my 4th Biennale. It is a wonderful role. I sometimes joke that I am Commissioner for parties and thankyous, but that is to diminish the role. The Commissioner is a member of the committee which sifts through the many applications and chooses the Creative Director of the Australian Exhibition and then oversees the development of the exhibit. As there is no funding from Australia Council for the Architecture Biennale – they don’t consider Architecture to be art - the funds for Australia to be represented in Venice must be raised by the Australian Institute of Architects. The Commissioner is intimately involved in this fundraising. Funds come from various governments (sadly NOT that of WA), philanthropists, sponsors and the profession. In Venice itself, the “thankyous” and parties and opening speeches begin!!

You are a member of the boards of nine different organisations including chairman of two. (Centenary Trust for Women, Australian Major Performing Arts Group, Australian National Academy of Music, Australian Urban Design Research Centre, Chamber of Arts and Culture WA, New York Philharmonic International Advisory Board, Rio Tinto Community Investment Fund, Chairman - Australian Children’s Television Foundation, Chairman - West Australian Symphony Orchestra.) Where did you learn the leadership (diplomatic, political, psychology!) skills to work with diverse groups of people toward a common goal?

Possibly my three years as a high school science teacher helped.

You are the recipient of multiple awards including being made in 2007 a Companion of the Order of Australia in recognition of your “service to business, particularly as a leader in the construction, wine and cattle industries, to the advancement of Western Australia's musical and theatre culture, to the visual arts, and to the community.”
What part of your life are you most proud of?

I don’t sit around thinking about what I’m proud of – but I am delighted and relieved that all four of my children are happily married, are not on drugs, and haven’t killed themselves or anyone else in a car accident. And that they are all useful contributing members of the communities in which they live.

So much of your time and money goes into championing the arts. Why do you believe the world of the arts is so important?

This is the worst question to ask me. To me, the Arts are as important as breathing – essential for life and a big part of it. I once asked my great, and sadly now deceased, friend Brian McKay what Art was. “Something that moves you in a way you can’t explain,” was his reply.

A work of art which captures our attention may be extraordinarily complex – as is the response it evokes. There are so many possibilities that we might decide that the mystery is after all unfathomable and had best be left alone. Or we may ask – what is it in us as humans that leads us so insistently to seek out encounters with paintings, plays, poems, novels, works of sculpture, dance, music? What is it in them that so engages us, brings us so much satisfaction, and what is the nature of our satisfaction?

Research shows us that people in hospital rooms with a window onto a view have faster rates of recovery. If there is no window, a painting can have the same effect. Children who are exposed to classical music in utero and in their childhood develop better and faster neuron connections than those who are not. The Venezuelan El Sistema project (a version of which WASO is operating in two schools in the Kwinana region) which exposes children to orchestral music performance, has had a remarkable effect on reducing crime and antisocial behaviour throughout Venezuela.

There has been some crippling government funding cuts recently to the Australia Council resulting in the demise of the ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers, an award you have supported with your patronage for many years. What are your thoughts on this?

Naturally I am very disappointed that this has been discontinued.

What is your perspective on the health of the arts scene currently in Australia and WA in particular?

There is music in Perth 365 days of the year. Think of it. We have the WASO, ACO, UWA, Musica Viva, Fremantle Chamber Orchestra, WAAPA, Ellingtons, Fremantle Arts Centre, St George’s Cathedral, etc, etc. Sadly, the theatres in Perth are dark a great deal of the time. The State Theatre Centre was built by the Government at a cost of more than $100m, but the theatre companies are not funded sufficiently to occupy the spaces for much of the year.

You have a soft spot for the WA Symphony Orchestra, where you have been chair of the board since 1998 – when did you first discover our state orchestra?

My parents took me to concerts of WASO from age about 8 or 9. I remember hearing   Sir John Barbirolli conduct, the violinist David Oistrakh, pianist Claudio Arrau, etc. I am privileged to have started my association when I was so young.

        Janet shares her memories of WASO on YouTube.

I know you have four children – are there any grandchildren?

Four  children and seventeen grandchildren. Fortunately my youngest son, Paul and his wife Zara have chosen to live and bring up their 5 children in Perth. That is a blessing for which I am truly grateful.

What is your favourite place in Perth?

Wherever I happen to be is my favourite. If I’m home, it’s here. If I’m at a concert – it’s Perth Concert Hall. If I’m at the Heytesbury Stud – it’s there. If in Kings Park – it’s there. If in Boranup Forest – it’s there. I have a passion for Darlington, the Sunken Garden in UWA and Gnaraloo on the Ningaloo Reef.

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

I have a soft spot or many things – family and friends, music, theatre, visual arts, architecture, the environment, the bush, construction, wildflowers, the night sky in the southern hemisphere, colours of the ocean, good food and wine.

Richard Tognetti plays The Lark Ascending

Thank you Janet Holmes à Court for making the time for Celebrity Soft Spot. For more information go to the Holmes a Court Vasse Felix gallery website or to Heytesbury. Or keep an eye out for Janet at a concert or theatre show in Perth!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Women in Music success

I thought I'd share a few pics from the inaugural MSS Women in Music event on Tuesday. The very classy cocktail event was enthusiastically attended by students from the UWA Music Department. What a privilege to present alongside fellow UWA graduates percussionist Louise Devenish and conductor Jessica Gethin.

Louise Devenish, Jessica Gethin and me

Louise gave a hefty introduction to the topic of gender and music before a moody performance of a percussion work by Cat Hope. Jessica shared her journey as a conductor with tips on how to survive a cut-throat industry. I was delighted at the responsiveness of the audience to my presentation of Australian women composers in Women of Note.

There was a student composer among those who came up afterwards to thank me for addressing a topic so relevant and inspiring to their lives. It's certainly nice to have an audience of passionate musicians!

Congratulations to Rishma Pragash and the well-organised MSS team for a fantastic launch. I hope there will be many more.

Selfie with students Hannah Tungate and Clare Tweedie

ACO interprets Bach, Beethoven and Mozart

The Australian Chamber Orchestra put its stamp on the great standards of classical repertoire in a concert of works by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. The Art of Fugue was concert opener and artistic director Richard Tognetti’s inclusion of oboes and horns in his arrangement of the first four movements added organ-like fatness. Bach’s contrapuntal lines were deftly delineated and in a surprising touch the fourth movement was plucked rather than bowed with the musicians singing along in a strange quasi-jazz vocalise. Well why not? Bach didn’t specify instrumentation which leaves plenty of room for interpretation.

Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 5 featured Tognetti as soloist. In the opening Allegro his fluid bowing was graceful and dance-like making the pyrotechnics of the brazenly fast (self-composed) cadenza something of a shock. The Adagio was likewise laden with vibrato colouring, dynamic extremes and micro-phrasing which risked swamping the melody line. I prefer my Mozart more unadorned, although I did enjoy Tognetti’s dreamy, high cadenza. The accents and exotic colours of the “Turkish” Rondeau gave it the necessary brassy gleam.

Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge was performed in its original form as the finale of the String Quartet Op 130. The weightiness of Tognetti’s string orchestra arrangement was balanced by the forthrightness of his musical direction. The ACO were flawless and explosive in the first movement's transitions between tenderness and extroversion. They took the Presto breathlessly fast, the detail almost lost in the rush of notes while the Andante’s open-ended phrases were given a questioning air. The dance had a lurching kick to it and the introverted melody of the exquisite Cavatina unfolded slowly, circling around on itself with an endless wondering. And finally the cataclysmic fury of the Grosse Fugue, the orchestra red-faced with effort as the tug and wrestle of the fugal parts were worked out in gloriously dense layers of melody.

This review copyright The West Australian 2016.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Katie Noonan and the Brodsky Quartet

The first time she toured West was with her indie-rock band George, next she was fronting the WA Symphony Orchestra then the Australian Chamber Orchestra and venturing into jazz. Now Katie Noonan has taken on (re-invented?) the string quartet genre and, as usual, the Brisbane singer had audiences begging for more. 

Noonan and the UK-based Brodsky Quartet created a remarkable tribute to the poet Judith Wright by commissioning ten Australian composers to set her words to music. With so many layers of input – each poem reinterpreted through composition then shaped by the intelligent artistry of the musicians - the result was acutely intense but also very beautiful.

The vignette of Australian composers included Elena Kats-Chernin at her more melancholic in a setting of Late Spring, while the irony of the clipped phrases in After the Visitors was quintessential Andrew Ford. The scurrying string writing in Company of Lovers was Paul Grabowsky’s abstract response to Wright’s ominous Company of Lovers while the regular rhyming couplets of To A Child drew a sweet hymn-like melody from David Hirschfelder.

Noonan’s fabulous coloratura range was exploited in John Rodger’s Failure of Communication and her free-wheeling improvisatory style on display in her own joyful composition The Surfer. Her immaculate control was evident in her incisive delivery of Paul Dean’s atonal Sonnet for Christmas.

Noonan and the versatile Brodsky Quartet (Daniel Rowland, Ian Belton, Paul Cassidy and Jacqueline Thomas) formed a compelling quintet. Noonan’s voice was like an extra instrument sometimes tucked within the ensemble as in Iain Grandage’s Night After Bushfire, or intoning over sparse accompaniment in Richard Tognetti’s Metho Drinker.

After interval the mood mellowed with covers from Bjork, Elvis Costello and Sting played (and arranged) with rock-n-roll swagger by the Brodsky Quartet. Three short gems from Peter Sculthorpe, Andrew Ford and Robert Davidson rounded out the second half.

I don’t remember the last time a program of predominantly contemporary classical Australian music attracted such a young and enthusiastic crowd. Nor can I think of a better tribute to one of Australia’s great poets. 

This review copyright The West Australian 2016.