Friday, 28 April 2017

May Gig Guide - A massive month!

Welcome to May and a massive month of gigs.

The focus this month appears to be new music, kicking off with the Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble who are currently giving a national tour. They perform a program of Russian composers and a new work by Aussie composer Michael Smetanin on May 2nd at the Subiaco Arts Centre.

The new music continues on 4th – 6th with Defying Gravity percussion ensemble from the Academy of Performing Arts in collaboration with Kaboom percussion. Also at WAAPA on 8-12th is
the Sound Spectrum Festival, the first of two festivals celebrating the composers and performers from WAAPA including an audio visual concert on the 10th titled Video Killed the Radio Star.

Meanwhile on May 5th the St George’s Cathedral Consort will perform Faure’s Requiem and Walton’s The Twelve and on the  7th the prodigious 14 year old Shuan Hern Lee will give a piano recital at 4pm as part of UWA's Keyed Up! series.

The Perth Symphony Orchestra are presenting Bach by Candlelight on the 6th at St Matthew's church Armadale with a sumptuous program full of surprises including Bach's double violin concerto led by Paul Wright and Jasmin Parkinson-Stewart, plus a guest appearance by jazz musician Jamie Oehlers and complimentary wine, tied together by narration from Chris Isaacs!

This month the WA Symphony Orchestra will perform in some special events including a concert with The Whitlams on the 3rd as part of the band's 25th Anniversary Tour and performances on the 5/6th of John Williams' live soundtrack to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. On the 28th the WASO Chorus under Christopher van Tuinen will perform Faure's Requiem at St Mary's Cathedral (yes that's the second performance this month!).

It's also an exciting month for opera. Lost & Found opera company's much-anticipated first production for the year will be a novel presentation of Trouble in Tahiti running from the 12-20th May at a suburban house in City Beach. And Freeze Frame opera make their first whole opera debut with an abridged version of La Boheme running the 25th-28th at the art deco Camelot Theatre, Mosman Park.

On the 14th the Darlington String Quartet will perform their first concert for the year featuring Shostakovich, Webern, Haydn and on the 21st the Perth Symphonic Chorus perform classics by Bach and Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna feautring Sara Macliver and Paull Anthony-Kneightly under the direction of Margaret Pride. 

Alexandra Da Costa will feature in repertoire by Beethoven in concerts at WAAPA from the 19-20th while at UWA  on the 22nd UWA students will compete at the Perth Concert Hall in the grand final for the Vose Concerto Competition.

Guitarist Slava Grigoryan joins the Australian String Quartet for a national tour kicking off in Perth on the 23rd and also that night Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt will perform Bach and others as part of a Musica Viva national tour. I recommend attending the fascinating and incredibly witty pre-concert talk for this concert which will be presented by yours truly ;-)

The month ends with some more new music with Tura new music presenting the GreyWing Ensemble (includes Lindsay Vickery, Jameson Feakes and Catherine Ashley) in a Scale Variable concert built around the music of Brazil.

Happy listening!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Celebrity Soft Spot Shuan Hern Lee

Shuan Hern Lee's life with music began when he was two years old. Now at age 14 the pianist, composer and singer is studying a voice degree at the University of Western Australia. Last year he made his debut with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and won the San Marino International Piano Competition and the International Piano Competition for Young Musicians (Netherlands). He also loves nerf guns. Meet Perth's teenage prodigy.

What music gets your heart racing?

All types of  Classical Music, especially music of Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff.  Pieces such as Hungarian Rhapsodies by Liszt and Spanish Rhapsody by Liszt, and also Islamey by Balakirev.  Basically all virtuosic pieces make my heart race fast.

What calms you down?

Slow pieces by Chopin such as slow movements of sonatas, nocturnes, Barcarolle and other slow pieces of other composers calm me down. 

What do you sing along to?

I sing along to all the pieces I practice as this helps me feel the cantabile style in music and tonal projection. 

You made history last year when you were the youngest person to be awarded the Fellowship in Music Australia (FMusA), the highest and most prestigious award offered by the AMEB. Do you consider yourself to be a musical genius?

I don’t believe in the word genius. It is all about working really hard. I took the exam as an experience and did not bother about the result. I enjoy performing a lot and especially solo recitals and therefore the full 80 mins program requirement for the F.Mus.A diploma exam gave me a platform to perform many pieces which I thoroughly enjoyed. It is certainly an honour to obtain such a prestigious award and all the hours of practice made it possible.

Shuan Hern Lee on The Voice (kids)
Your incredible career has so far included a performance in Carnegie Hall (aged 7), a concert with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra and starring on the Voice Kids show in Delta Goodrems team. What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?

I have performed concerto works with many professional orchestras in various countries but I really enjoyed performing Grieg’s piano concerto with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra in the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow and also Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto with WASO last year because it is a really great orchestra and the acoustic of Perth Concert Hall is fantastic. 

How are you preparing for your UWA Keyed Up concert on May 7th?

I choose pieces that I really enjoy performing and practice really hard and many hours daily. I work out details of each piece and search for the meaning of each work and prepare technical and musical aspects of the pieces. To perform for the audience is such a joy for me and to bring them into a musical journey filled with many variety of pieces, moods and styles is what I aim to present for this concert. 

You do a lot of performing how do you deal with nerves and performance anxiety?

I never become nervous or have performance anxiety.  I have been performing since 3 and it has become a natural thing for me to do. I always pray before each performance that I will perform very well and communicate with my audience and I prepare and practice really hard before each performance so I have no regrets. 

Watch excerpts from Shuan Hern Lee's winning performance at the San Marino International Piano Competition 2016

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

I totally agree that music should be interesting. The most important role of music is that of a language that is universal and it surpasses all nationality and race. It is most important that music speaks to us and the musician communicates to us through the tool which is the music. By speaking to us, music should make us feel different emotions at different periods of time.

You have been homeschooled and began your music education at the age of two and a half, studying piano, voice and composition with your dad. What is it like having a dad who is also your music teacher?

Shuan Hern Lee with parents
I am very fortunate to have been born into a musical family and also with my dad as my music teacher.  It is certainly very handy as you get 24 hours advice and I believe that many famous musicians come from musical parents too.  I have always enjoyed lessons with dad and also with him practicing with me, because he has always made the piano like a toy for me.  Having lessons with dad was always wonderful and it is a huge advantage because I could have as many lessons as I want. During the lessons, we discuss about music, historical aspects of piano playing and he incorporates all sorts of fun games when teaching me and practicing with me. For example he uses stuffed toys as puppets to make my practice fun and he incorporates running for 15 seconds after I have managed a part musically and then get back to the piano again.  Sometimes he makes me sit on a gym ball while practicing Chopin etudes. Therefore we have sport and piano practice simultaneously.  It was so fun!

This year you have begun a degree at UWA studying voice. What is it like being a university student?

It is very enjoyable to be a university student and good to meet different students, lecturers and discuss music as our common interest.  It is rather strange for me as a 14 year old to be amongst the older tertiary age students. My mum has to drive me to UWA and accompany me to lecturers and tutorials for the reason to provide duty of care.  But I feel really honoured and privileged to be at a tertiary institution and the youngest at the UWA school of music.

What do you enjoy most about music?

I enjoy being able to communicate with the audience and to be able to interpret various styles when learning.  Also I enjoy taking up the challenge to master a piece of sophisticated music. 

You have a soft spot for the voice. Why have you chosen to pursue voice above all your other musical interests at university level?

I have always liked to sing since from a very young age. I sing in church and attends my dad’s Bridge Choir and our local church choir regularly. My dad has taught me singing for many years and I would like it to compliment my piano performance. But of course I may end up being both a singer and a pianist professionally in the future. Chopin always wanted his students to take up singing lessons, so I strongly believe that it will help me with my piano performance. I have perfect pitch and I memorise pieces and songs quickly, so I thought singing would be the most appropriate subject for me. I also played the violin and cello for a few years but I still prefer singing and obviously top of the list is still piano.

Shuan Hern Lee aged 8.

Where did you learn the skills to practice for six hours a day?

To practice six hours a day is a discipline that I have developed since young and anyone could do it with determination. I find it the same thing as how a runner prepares for a cross country marathon race. The amount of spirit and motivation it takes for one to run from the beginning to the end of a race, is similar to the motivation that it takes to complete a 6 hour practice. I break up the 6 hours into a few slots, with breaks in between. I think that practicing many hours is very essential, due to the large amount of repertoire I want to work on.

What would you say to young children who are learning a musical instrument?

I would say that besides having the love to play the instrument, you need to be committed to practice it. Without practice and hard work nothing is possible. You must be able to transfer the love for the instrument into the motivation of mastering the instrument. Sometimes, music can also be fun, so try to find and incorporate different ways of practicing that will inspire yourself to practice and love the instrument more and more.

What is your favourite place in Perth?

My favourite place in Perth is the area around Riverside Drive and Elizabeth Quay. I go there quite often. I love to cycle down Riverside Drive then take relaxing walks around the quay. I also love to go down to beaches. I find it so soothing around rivers and beaches. The waves and currents calm me down and I always feel nostalgic around beaches.

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

I think no matter how much one practices piano, one will never perform well unless one has other experiences in life which will then enhance one’s performance. So even if I find myself very busy, I still find time for fun things like table tennis and nerf guns. I also like taking walks in parks, going to beaches, watching opera and playing archery. Sometimes I invite friends over for a nerf gun battle or a table tennis game. I hang out with my friends at church sometimes and I attend concerts with my dad’s students too. I like to travel on the plane and visit different airports all over the world. But eating is definitely on the top of my soft spot list. I love all kinds of cuisines especially Japanese. 

Thank you Shuan Hern Lee for participating in the Celebrity Soft Spot series. Shuan's next performance is at the UWA Keyed Up! concert on May 7th. For more details about Shuan go to his website and you can watch more performances on his YouTube channel.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Asher Fisch and WASO: what is the magic formula?

It's Friday morning and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra are in rehearsal. Principal conductor Asher Fisch arrives at the podium and picks up his baton, which has been accessorised with a ping pong ball. He holds it up for the orchestra to see and joins in the general laughter.

It is four years into the maestro's contract with the orchestra and the relationship has produced quite incredible results. Fisch has an obvious camaraderie with the orchestra, but there's also a marked improvement in the string blending, a more cohesive warmth from the winds and brass and profound detail in the musical interpretation. In a recent Limelight review Fisch was credited with transforming the orchestra into the best interpreters of German romantic repertoire this side of Germany. How has he done it?

WASO tuning up for their Friday rehearsal.

I sat in on a rehearsal this week to discover the magical formula. The concert this weekend includes Mozart, Stravinsky and Sibelius, a welcome relief for those of us who have found Fisch's programming focus on Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner a little conservative. It was the final rehearsal but there was still time for Fisch to relate the last time he was on the receiving end of an orchestral prank: his baton was substituted with a sausage during a performance of Manon and he used the sausage to conduct the remainder of the opera. More laughter from the orchestra and then the rehearsal began.

Mozart's Symphony No 29 took up most of the session. Much of it was nuts and bolts; correcting bowing and articulation, checking balance. Fisch often deferred to assistant conductor Elena Schwarz who was sitting in the auditorium following the score. The assistant conductor position was created under Fisch's tenure and the Swiss/Australian Schwarz is the second recipient following on from Christopher Dragon. Fisch turned often to look for her nod of confirmation: "Can you hear the violas?"; "How is the volume here?"

assistant Elena Schwarz
Fisch's direction was energised and even-handed, leaping lightly from his rehearsal stool to give direction to a phrase. At times he would try out an articulation with the orchestra before marking it in their parts and there was a sense of working it out together. "Yes that is better don't you think? Write it in." He used words sparingly and effectively: "Don't take this personally but it (the andante movement) sounds like Versailles and the nobility are eating chicken. Too relaxed. Which is how it was back then, but I want more."

Fisch listened to the opening of the symphony from the auditorium before asking for two-thirds less volume from the second violins, viola and cellos. The tempo was already quite moderate and the softer tone gave a hushed expectancy before erupting into the fully fledged theme, exploiting the pristine acoustics of the Perth Concert Hall.

The opening eight bars of the Minuet and Trio were worked over in detail to get the exact rise and fall. At bar 26 he stopped again: the violins needed to take time on the dotted rhythm before landing on the trill. They played it again and this time it had lift and elegance. "Perfect". Gradually the often lightweight minuet movement was transformed into a deftly elegant dance. Again in the fourth movement a simple request for a more energetic upbeat from the violins meant the whole phrase bristled with energy.

Slowly the symphony took on a distinct shape. The clean simplicity of Mozart can be unforgiving but FIsch's attention to detail was paying off. This was Mozart so distilled so that, like a miniature painting, the impact was compact and vivid.

Rehearsing Sibelius Symphony No 2

During the break I chatted with assistant concertmaster Semra Lee-Smith who confirmed that the orchestral players are just as delighted as the audience.

"I've been here 14 years and the last six or so years have been amazing. Now the emphasis is more on the music."

She describes Fisch's opening concert with the orchestra when he performed as a soloist in a Mozart piano concerto as a turning point.

"He started as one of us. I have so much respect that he performed as a pianist with us first. It feels like he is one of us. And he allows us to make mistakes and will laugh with us. That is really important."

After the break the rehearsal continued with a
top-and-tail of Stravinsky's Violin Concerto featuring concertmaster Laurence Jackson as soloist (a little hard to recognise casually attired in jeans and sneakers!). Jackson's incisive rhythm and bright sound gave a shining clarity to the rarely heard concerto. The ex-Birmingham Symphony Orchestra concertmaster joined the orchestra in 2016 and is no small part of WASO's transformation. Quietly spoken, unassuming and with faultless musical intuition he is respected and admired by the players. They warmly applauded him at the end of the rehearsal.

There was just time for a few touch ups to Sibelius' Symphony No 2. This is the first time Fisch has performed a Sibelius symphony and it marks a departure away from standard German romantic repertoire. Fisch has often commented about the chemistry he felt with WASO from the beginning and the more adventurous programming makes it is clear that now there is also trust.

His approach to rehearsing Sibelius showed the same detailed faithfulness to the score with an instinctive ear for balance and dynamic contrasts. Nothing that magical then. But combined with a world class concertmaster, orchestral players who feel like they are integral to the team and an organisational structure that puts the emphasis on the music the results are consistently outstanding. Later in the year the focus will be on Wagner's symphonic repertoire and there is a Tristan und Isolde planned for 2018. But I hope Fisch continues to expand his repertoire choices because as far as I can see the sky is the limit.

WASO will give their final performance of the Sibelius, Mozart and Stravinsky program tonight at the Perth Concert Hall.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Celebrity Soft Spot William Yeoman

William Yeoman is Literary Editor and arts writer at The West Australian newspaper.  His widely respected views on music can be read in Limelight and Gramophone magazines. Behind his dignified persona is a yoga-loving guitarist whose love of the arts is such that he will walk out of a rubbish performance. Will shares with us his thoughts on the much-maligned and desperately unappreciated role of the music critic.

What music gets your heart racing?

Vivaldi violin concertos performed at breakneck speed and with plenty of improvised ornamentation!

What calms you down?

Much of Ravel, Debussy and Chopin’s solo piano music, every time…

What do you sing along to?

Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter, Finzi’s Houseman and Hardy settings, Bach’s Matthew Passion, Handel’s Messiah (of course!)

You are currently books editor at The West Australian plus contributing to Weekend West and writing features and reviews covering the classical music scene. You seem to fit three jobs into one – a mammoth undertaking! Why is it so important to you that the WA arts scene is covered in the newspaper?

There is something of Schiller and Schopenhauer in this, but I believe the arts are fundamental to civilization because they allow us the freedom to explore, experiment and grow our creativity in a way that benefits every other aspect of society. As I have written elsewhere, “no endeavour, whether scientific, political, social, economic, military or recreational, can be realised in a way that benefits every member of the community unless it arises from, and is inspired by, that creativity and freedom which only the arts can engender. The arts are not a luxury. They are a necessity.” Therefore the more we can do to support and promote the local arts scene through the newspaper, the better it is for everyone. And readers seem to be responding positively.

William Yeoman on Seven West Media's Travel Club
What does a day in the life of Will look like?

3am Meditation and creative writing
5am Breakfast and reading
7am-between 3 & 5pm: Work (writing, editing, administration, interviews, meetings) Lunch somewhere in there too!
After work: Yoga, dinner
Evening: guitar or piano practice, freelance writing OR concert if reviewing for the paper.
Before bed: reading, listening to music

Watch William in action conducting a hilarious interview with Helmut Wunderlicher here.

How do you select content and discern what readers are interested in?

I look for a) the most significant events from an audience perspective ie WASO, WA Opera; and b) the most unusual events which are nevertheless likely to expand someone’s understanding of the arts and should therefore be pointed out ie a concert of contemporary classical music or an avant garde opera. It is also important to take risks, not just with style but content. Your readers will let you know when you’ve got it wrong!

Why is it important to be reviewing concerts and productions? Is it to register the event on the public record or is it more than that?

A review is often the only record of an event, so it is important for that reason. But reviewers should also be able to contextualize a particular event for those who were there as much as for those who were not, retrospectively, and evaluate it in light of similar kinds of performances and similar kinds of music. I also believe reviewing is a form of literature which should educate, entertain and form an integral part of the larger cultural conversation.

Fewer and fewer media institutions around the world are covering arts and providing specialist reviews. Is music journalism a dying artform?

There has arguably been a decline not just in content but in respect for serious music journalism. But I think that as long as the quality of the writing, the quality of the knowledge and the quality of the ideas are strong and original, music journalism is here to stay.

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

See above – the role of music should be to challenge rather than console. But music has to be interesting first, because otherwise nobody will bother listening to it. Then it has to be original, challenging, well-crafted and philosophically and theoretically well-grounded. And hopefully still fun!

You have a soft spot for guitar. When did you first begin learning?

I started learning guitar at the age of 10 from a crazy Yugoslavian guy in Northam. I studied all styles and only started focusing on classical and jazz in my early 20s.

I remember when you were working at a Nedlands music store and moonlighting as a music critic after hours. Where did you learn the skills to be an arts journalist and make the transition to The West?

I suppose I had a modest talent for writing, and always read and wrote a lot from a young age. Studying Latin at university level certainly helped improve my grammar and develop a sense of style. But my time working in the Classical Music retail industry, both here in Perth and in London, proved invaluable for my arts journalism: apart from the endless hours of comparative listening possible in such an environment, nobody should ever underestimate the musicological knowledge and essayistic skills one can glean from the finest writers of CD liner notes. I’m thinking of Graham Johnson, for example. I was lucky enough to start freelance reviewing for The West about 12 years ago. I guess they liked my work enough to offer me a fulltime job as a staff writer when one came up! After that, it was onwards and upwards, as they say. I have always loved all the arts, especially music and the visual arts, and there is never any shortage of great arts stories out there.

Inside goss on the The West – the paper is losing pages and readers by the month. Will our local daily survive the rise of digital media?

This may have been true in the past, but more recently we’ve had more and more space devoted to the arts, which in turn has been bringing former readers back to The West while attracting new ones. I know this from the amount of feedback I’ve been getting, telling me precisely this! There has also been a noticeable levelling-off in the print vs digital arena, and it is no longer seen as a marriage of convenience – more a match made in heaven!

What is your favourite place in Perth?

New Edition Bookshop in Fremantle.

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

I enjoy yoga and meditation too – though I suppose they are art forms in themselves as well!

Thank you William Yeoman for appearing on Celebrity Soft Spot. Follow William on Twitter @Sesquialtera  and in the arts pages of The West Australian newspaper.

Monday, 17 April 2017

International new music legends in Perth

First we had the American all-stars Eighth Blackbird, now we have the Russians and the Brits! It is an exciting time over the next few weeks as Perth welcomes some of the legends of the international new music scene.

British experimental musician and filmmaker Mike Cooper arrives in Perth this week for a 10 day residency with Tura New Music.

Mike Cooper. Photo Leila Buongiorno

A week of workshops, masterclasses and solo performances will culminate in the presentation of Cooper's genre defining live original soundtrack to the 1928 black and white classic, White Shadows In The South Seas. Audiences will be able to hear Cooper create vast sonic landscapes using his trademark Hawaiian Lap Steel guitar and electronics. He calls his music ambient electronic exotica style which is appropriate for a Brit living in Rome who collects Hawaiian shirts!

Cooper began his career as a folk-blues guitarist and singer songwriter and his output has expanded to include improvised and electronic music, live music for silent films, radio art and sound installations. He is also a music journalist, a visual artist, film and video maker and appears on more than 60 records.

Residency details:
22 and 23 April - Group Improvisation workshops at Subiaco Arts Centre
23 April 5pm - Workshop Showing, Subiaco Arts Centre
24 April 8pm - Solo set at iMprov Bar 459, Rosemount Hotel
26 April 8pm- White Shadows In The South Sea – Film and live performance PS Art Space, Fremantle.

The Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble will be arriving shortly after Cooper for a concert on May 2nd as part of the ensemble's first Australian tour. The group will perform as part of Tura's Scale Variable New Chamber Music series, providing a rare opportunity to hear Russian new music performed by their fellow countrymen. The program includes works by Russian composers Edison Denisov, Alexei Sioumak, Dmitri Kourliandski and Sergei Newski. plus the premiere of a new work by Australian composer Michael Smetanin.New Music

The group formed in 1990 and have since premiered over 800 works. The Perth line up will feature Ivan Bushuev (flute), Oleg Tantsov (clarinet), Mikhail Dubov (piano) and Vladisal Pesin (violin).

Tickets are available here.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Wood meets Metal in a night of Aussie/German percussion theatre

I managed to snap a selfie with composer Kate Neal last night at the world premiere of her work Never Tilt a Chair. The work sat most satisfyingly alongside Mauricio Kagel's iconic Dressur which was receiving it's long-overdue Australian premiere.

with composer Kate Neal

Hooray for Tura New Music and PICA for bringing it about. I am impressed again by Louise Devenish  - yet another awesome contribution to the Perth new music scene, with the support of her fellow leading theatre-music percussionists Leah Scholes and Vanessa Tomlinson.  I love concerts like these: so much to see, so much to hear.

The set for Never Tilt Your Chair

Leah Schole, Vanessa Tomlinson and Louise Devenish

My review is published by Limelight here.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Kate Miller-Heidke and WASO

Kate Miller-Heidke’s national orchestral tour is a polished package. The tour (which includes Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart and Canberra) features Miller-Heidke’s guitarist husband Keir Nuttall, classy orchestral arrangements, a slick sound and lighting team and visuals by video artist Amy Gebhardt.

The WA Symphony Orchestra was the first to sign up for a show with the classically trained opera turned indie pop singer after her Helpmann Award-winning orchestral debut with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra last year. WASO has sizable experience in the crossover genre from collaborations with the likes of The Whitlams, Katie Noonan, Tim Minchin, Chick Corea and many others over the decades. Under conductor Benjamin Northey the components came together seamlessly with the versatile Miller-Heidke at the epicentre, part pop princess and part operatic diva.

The concert attracted a sold-out audience of fans to the Perth Concert hall and Miller-Heidke walked on stage to rapturous applause. The opening number Bliss was unsettled - a rushed beginning and balance issues between orchestra and an overly amplified soloist – but as the orchestra melted from pizzicato to lush chords and Gebhardt’s cloud images floated by Miller-Heidke’s voice softened into ethereal shades.

Benjamin Northey ran a tight ship steering a sympathetic orchestra. The songlist spanned the breadth of Miller-Heidke’s output and her theatrical writing style was enhanced further by the orchestral accompaniment. In O Vertigo the bird-like coloratura vocal line was echoed joyfully by the flute while the strings and percussion rocked along with Nuttall on guitar. Mama, arranged by Northey, had echoes of Queen with vocal screams, heavy rock drumming and dense string backing.  In contrast the acoustic version of Caught in the Crowd had a folk narrative style that brought to mind The Waifs. The lilting arrangement of In The Dark was particularly effective with a brass chorale creating a moody lullaby.

Two songs from The Rabbits, an opera written in collaboration with Iain Grandage, revealed the immaculate vocal technique underpinning Miller-Heidke’s spinto soprano with feather-light scale passages, an earthy low range, steely top notes and a wide vibrato. The arrangement of Where was particularly stunning with pastoral woodwind, strings and moments of cinematic vastness.

Gebhardt’s videography included slow motion images of nude bodies and Andalusian horses, evocations of beauty, power, gentleness and freedom that worked particularly well with more spacious numbers like Bliss and Last Day on Earth.

Miller-Heidke’s irreverent sense of humour, expressed musically in songs like You Underestimated Me, Dude and Are you F*cking Kidding Me manifested onstage in banter with the orchestra - who apparently party harder than rock n roll artists - and droll stories about touring and family life (their son Ernie was described as their latest release arriving ten months ago). Miller-Heidke’s wit will be put to the test later in the year with the debut of her first musical Muriel’s Wedding: The Musical.

Nuttall delivered several generous guitar solos, including an extended improvisation in Johannes Luebber’s jazz-inflected arrangement of Words revealing impressive guitar chops. Jazz licks morphed into heavy rock grooves and even flamenco theatrics, laden with effects from the mixing desk. In fact the sound engineers were busy all night adding often overt effects to both the vocal and guitar parts.

It was a night richly laden with artistry and entertainment. Miller-Heidke can add another feather to the proverbial cap, although she would probably prefer a flamboyant headdress.

 This article first published in Limelight magazine 2017.

Monday, 27 March 2017

April Gig Guide

The WA Academy of Performing Arts is in full swing this month. Concerts include Clocked Out Duo percussion stars Vanessa Tomlinson and Erik Griswold performing on the 4th and renowned English conductor Nicholas Cleobury leading vocal students in a performance featuring Tippett's Negro Spirituals on the 6th.

The school of music at UWA is also hitting full steam with a Mainstage Concert on the 9th featuring Shaun Lee-Chen and the student orchestra performing a world premiere by jazz composer Joe Chindamo. On the 28th the Schoenberg Project will feature student arrangements of Schoenberg's Six Little Piano Pieces plus an arrangement by Brett Dean from when he was a student - it could be very revealing!

Thank you Louise Devenish for this update: On April 10-11th an unusual gig at PICA called Never Tilt Your Chair Back on Two Legs brings together three of Australia's leading female percussionists for Maurice Kagel's music theatre piece Dressur.  Set at a formal dinner table, the theme of dinner time etiquette will also be explored in a new work by Kate Neal.

The Australian String Quartet take over Margaret River from the 21-23rd for a Chamber Music weekend - what's not to love?!

The WA Symphony Orchestra go retro with The Best of British on the 7th before a Sibelius fest on 20/21/22 with Asher Fisch conducting the second symphony and concert master Laurence Jackson in Stravinsky's Violin Concerto. On the 28/29th the Zuckerman Trio join the orchestra for Beethoven's Triple Concerto with Pinchas Zukerman also featuring in Berg's Violin Concerto.

Let me know if I've missed anything. See you at a concert soon!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Celebrity Soft Spot Carolyn Chard

This year the West Australian Opera celebrates its 50th anniversary and at the helm is Carolyn Chard, general manager for nearly two decades. Carolyn worked in arts management across multiple platforms in Perth before discovering opera. She shares a glimpse of the inner workings of the company and why 'music is the strongest form of magic'.

What music gets your heart racing?

Dance music with a heavy beat, the kind you feel in your body on a dance floor.
Beautiful music, music that speaks to your soul  (too many to name plus depends what mood I am in; today maybe Parsifal overture, Mahler 5; tomorrow I would name others). Some renditions of Ave Maria just melt me; at other times I dissolve listening to Nick Cave’s Into My Arms.

What calms you down?

Walking on the beach
Beautiful music

What do you sing along to?

‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams (although you don’t want me to).

This year WA Opera celebrates its 50th year. The company has been collecting stories and memories from past cast and audience members. What have you learned about WA Opera from these?

That there is an appreciation for the company and a memory bank that is very personal and individual to many patrons; that the company has made an impact on collective memory. The stories are all on the website and worth reading at

Carolyn with the ‘hero image’ marketing team

What is the role of an opera company in a city like Perth?

To present the artform in a beautiful theatre, to maintain the tradition of grand opera in an isolated city.

You walk something of a tightrope balancing traditional repertoire with bold contemporary repertoire like new works by Richard Mills and Iain Grandage. How do you navigate the responsibilities of expanding your audience while also retaining traditional subscribers?

It’s a risk every time and actually hard to navigate or balance through the level of risk you are willing to expose the company to. How do you measure what that success looks like? Is it financial success at the box office? Artistic success? What if you have one without the other? Is it still worth the investment event at the cost of forgoing other work?

The WA Opera team is a small family. International singers often talk about the warm welcome they receive when performing here. What is special for you about your team?

I try to engender a caring culture where we welcome and look after people, Many years ago a theatre director pointed out to me that we trade in human emotion, that’s our widget, our product. It means that we have to look after that carefully and that boils down to looking after people. I work with some wonderful, committed, energetic and enthusiastic people who love the company and the theatre, who have a passion for opera and who take great  pride in our singers, our chorus, our creative colleagues and WASO musicians.

In your other life (before opera) you were in banking and fashion design. You worked in management roles for Barking Gecko and Deckchair before heading into opera in 2001. What was the appeal of opera?

At Wesfarmers Centenary Dinner with her daughter
I studied fashion design. I worked in banking. I promoted bands, events and DJs in clubs during the dance music and rave scene in the eighties and nineties (The Prodigy, Blackbox, Kevin Saunderson, Dream Frequency, Sasha). I did the arts management degree at WAAPA and moved into theatre management at Deckchair Theatre and Barking Gecko Theatre (during this tenure we established the Awesome Festival). I worked with Black Swan Theatre, Perth Theatre Company and Kulcha. I met Richard Mills when we co-produced the Britten children’s opera Noyes Fludde/Noah’s Flood and he encouraged me to consider the management role with opera. He taught me much about the artform and engendered a passion for producing and presenting opera. I worked with my Australian opera colleagues at Opera Conference and was invited to a dual senior management position with Opera Australian based out of Sydney and Melbourne offices. I was invited to resume the general manager’s role with WAO when my successor moved to the CEO position with WASO.

What are you proudest of in your years with WA Opera?

I have worked in opera now for almost two decades, in two stints as General Manager with this company split by a few years with the national opera company based out of both Sydney and Melbourne. I am proud of presenting and producing two of Richard Mills’s works, both new operas with the Perth Festival – Batavia, which was commissioned by Opera Australia as part of the Centenary of Federation and first presented in Melbourne in 2000, and The Love of the Nightingale which was part of the Wesfarmers Arts Commissioning Series. Both operas were composed and conducted by Richard Mills and both directed by Lindy Hume. They had a special rapport which translated well on stage. On opening night of Batavia in Perth the CEO of Opera Australia turned to me and shook my hand and congratulated me on getting the work into the theatre and onto the stage (it was a production that I had been told ‘would not fit the Maj’ and, with my clever Production Manager Mandy Farmer, we found a way to store some of the scenery between Acts in containers on the street)

You are one of a very few women heading up an arts company in WA. Any ideas why there aren’t more women in management roles?

Sometimes it just cyclical – there have been times when the four major companies in WA have been headed by women. Right now three of the four majors have women leaders (Nat Jenkins at Black Swan and Jess Machin at the ballet while my predecessor Craig Whitehead heads WASO).

WA Opera's first mainstage production for the year is opera Tosca which opens on March 28th with Antoinette Halloran in the title role, Paul O’Neill as Cavaradossi and Teddy Tahu Rhodes returning as Scarpia. Perth audiences last saw Tosca in 2011. What does this New Zealand production by Stuart Maunder have to offer?

Stuart is a wonderful colleague with great insights into character and story as well as understanding the music and the genius of it. For this particular season Stuart and I actually negotiated a production swap – he has enabled us to present the New Zealand Opera production of Tosca which he directs and I have enabled him to take the WAO Lindy Hume production of Carmen so effectively we swapped productions.

Teddy has sung Scarpia here for me before and I am so pleased that we have Antoinette in her debut with this company – and in role suited so well to her – and also delighted to welcome Paul O’Neill back after many years in Germany (he left as a young man and has returned, with his beautiful family including four children, to make his home base in Western Australia again)

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

I think music should make you feel. Or just ‘does’ make you feel.

I love a quote from Marilyn Manson that ‘music is the strongest form of magic’.

I mentioned the song ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams and there’s a quote from Rusty Rueff contemplating why that song become such a global hit; he said ‘I think its because at the time the world was looking for something…we were recovering from a recession, war and many other things…and we needed a movement of hopefulness that allowed us to stop the madness for a moment and pick us up. Will it be timeless? Maybe for the generation who were in the heart of the trouble. Maybe they will reflect back on this time and remember this song and make it timeless’.

Where did you learn the skills to manage an opera company?

I did the three-year arts management degree at WAAPA which, some twenty five years ago, included foundations of law, economics, human resource management, marketing, business management in the main ECU stream as well as full involvement in arts campus life doing front of house, publicity, ticketing and so on. Before that and after that it was about learning on the job. Plus I think you need a natural aptitude for the skills required. You need to have a passion and love for the work each day. The hours are long and there is no corporate paypack so it’s usually an intrinsic reward we chase.

You were involved in the #artsmatters push to get arts into the pre-election political debate. What’s it going to take to get arts on the radar of our major political parties? 

The central premise of that campaign is very simple; that the arts matter. The arts matter to all of us. We all need to lead on this. Everyone is impacted by the arts. It’s up to each of us to engage, promote and participate in the arts, all arts: performing arts, visual arts, literary arts, music, film, design, libraries, dance, comedy, circus, puppetry, mime, books, magazines, apps, games, fashion, writing, singing, dancing, acting.

With a new state government we have a fresh start to engage. I want everyone to get the message that so many others articulate better than me:

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life
 (Pablo Picasso)

Art is the only serious thing in the world
 (Oscar Wilde)

If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams 
(Yann Martel, Life of Pi)

Running through Melbourne streets to an Opera Australia meeting.

What do you have a soft spot for?

I love words and music. Two of my favourite quotes are from The Little Prince: ‘The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart’. And another, which to me applies not only to music but to values I hold true like kindness and truth and love, is: ‘And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye’.

Thank you to Carolyn Chard for participating in the Celebrity Soft Spot series. Tosca opens on March 28th. For more information go to WA Opera

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Celebrating in style - women in composition

A big thank you to all who attended so enthusiastically the Musical Soiree at Joondalup Library yesterday for International Women's Day. There was a lovely spirit to the gathering and fabulous reactions and interactions to music by Cat Hope, Elena Kats-Chernin, Becky Llewellyn, Margaret Sutherland and Ros Bandt.

Thanks to Joondalup Library for hosting so elegantly and to Jacquie Davidson for being my paparazzi!

There were a number of comments about the celebratory and creative atmosphere around the topic of International Women's Day, which can often be a gloomy/bombastic affair. Certainly women in composition continue to suffer from visibility issues. But in Australia we have  the benefit of up-to-date documentation (The Australian Music Centre and Women of Note) and given 25% of our composers are women - more than almost any other western country - we have plenty to celebrate. I look forward to this being represented more accurately in our concert programming and commissioning. And meanwhile, I'll keep celebrating!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Music for International Women's Day

International Women's Day is tomorrow: 8th March, Here are some ways to listen to music by Australian women composers as part of your day.

Andrew Ford from the Music Show has done a fascinating interview with composer Liza Lim, recently returned to Australia to take up a post at the University of Sydney. She is profiled alongside pianist Jeanell Carrigan who has written a book and recorded an album of early 20th century women composers and their piano music. To listen to the interview go here.

The new music podcast Making Waves have released their March playlist titled Social Activism Waves: music that interrogates or reflects on different aspects of society including gender politics.

Tune in to ABC Classic FM to enjoy listening to their all-women program. While I'm driving to Joondalup Library to present my Musical Soiree I'll be listening to Mairi Nicolson broadcast music by women composers (Betty Beath, Ann Carr-Boyd, Cathie Travers, Ros Bandt) who are featured in my book Women of Note. A perfect way to set the scene!

For those whose voice isn't being heard, I can think of nothing more appropriate and healing than Betty Beath playing her Lament.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Manganiyar Classroom Review - the life affirming power of community music making

My last show for the 2017 Perth Festival was the Indian theatre group The Manganiyar Classroom. It's the second in a trilogy of works by director Roysten Abel about the musically rich Manganiyar tribe. This time the show featured the Manganiyar children and I took Matthew as my guest. He was one of many kids in the audience watching children who were only a few years older share their cultural story.

The show was set up as a classroom and the children used music to protest against the education system. Two adult musicians sat to the side accompanying on the bowed khamaycha and dholak hand drum. A bell tinkled and the haunting sound of the khamaycha set the scene as the children (all boys) filed into class.

The roll call elicited musical responses from the children, much to the irritation of the teacher. "Who told you to sing? Shut up."

But the protest continued. A boy was berated for bringing a harmonium to school but he sat on the floor and accompanied himself singing while the children grouped around him to learn the song. Feet tapped, hands gestured and heads waggled as they sang.

"We are Manganiyar children," they explained, "we need music in our education."

When the teacher finally walked out the children danced on their desks in delight and began to teach each other songs. Their voices were bright and strong, confidently singing the long phrases and complicated decorative inflections.

A new teacher arrived and taught new songs using call and response. A highlight was the rhythm lesson where his khartaal (castanet) rhythms were echoed by the students on a variety of percussion instruments. The children responded with intense concentration and real joy as the layers created intricate textures. Eventually the older students brought out two enormous bass drums that shook the chairs in the theatre with deep vibrations. It was spontaneous, virtuosic music making and a powerful demonstration of the life affirming power of community music making. The audience response was ecstatic.

Abel's concern for the homogenised Indian education system and its failure to meet the needs of fringe tribes has resulted in his vision to establish a new school and education system for the Manganiyar chilrdren.

The topic resonated with me as I have been watching my six year old boy struggle with the intense fine motor skill demands, excessive homework and the confidence crushing speed of our current education syllabus. Abel described in the program notes the disturbing transformation of first generation school-educated Manganiyar children from brilliant musical kids to washed-out adolescent drop outs. I am glad the Manganiyar parents have Abel to advocate for them, to give voice to their musical gifts. And I am encouraged to do the same for my child.

Matthew's favourite part was when the children got the big drums out. He wondered where the girls were? And he wished that next time the story would be told by Australian kids so that he could understand the words. The most important part, he explained, was when the adult listened to the children and started singing with them.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Unsent love letters

I’m always interested to follow the progress of composers from Women of Note. Elena Kats-Chernin’s output continues at an incredible speed. Her many fans will be pleased to know her latest album is another collaboration with pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska, this time with Eric Satie as the muse.  Unsent love letters contains 26 miniatures by Kats-Chernin inspired by Satie’s extraordinary life and music.

“Satie’s life was a fascinating, fervoursome affair,” says pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska, who recorded the album, “from the first strike of love and then lifelong estrangement with artist and muse Suzanne Valadon, to the unexpected celebrity and conflict of his last ten years. After he died friends, gaining access to his apartment for the first time in almost three decades, found conditions both perplexing and romantically fastidious in their own way: two grand pianos one atop the other, one chair, one table, seven velvet suits and the love letters – many, many unsent love letters.”

The album reflects on idiosyncrasies and anecdotes from Satie’s life, with music that ranges from seductive orientalism to hypnotic melodies reminiscent of the ground-breaking, transcendent beauty of Satie’s own piano pieces.  Kats-Chernin's miniature ‘imaginary building’ reflects on Satie's sketches of imaginary buildings (which he even advertised in the newspaper for rent and purchase); ‘very shiny’is a reflection on one of his characteristically opaque performance directions and ‘postcard to a critic’ is named after Satie’s explosive response to a negative review (leading to a spell in gaol).

Kats-Chernin and Cislowska

The buoyant rhythms and rhapsodic harmonic style that have brought Kats-Chernin a reputation as one of the best-loved composers of her generation provide the perfect lens to reflect on a musical great of the previous century. Together Kats-Chernin and Cislowska The album is released today by Universal Music and available from ABC Shops and iTunes.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

March Gig Guide

As Perth Festival winds down the rest of the arts community winds up! It's a busy month, starting with the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra on March 4/5 featuring violinist Rudolf Koelman teaming up with FCO soloists for concertos by Vivaldi, Bach and Elgar’s Serenade for Strings.

On March 10/11 the WA Symphony Orchestra performs Tchaikovsky with Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov plus the very exciting world premiere of Lachlan Skipworth's Spiritus. On the 16/17/18 Yu-Chien Tseng features as violin soloist with the orchestra in Bruch's Scottish Fantasy and Daniel Cohen will conduct Beethoven's 7th Symphony. WASO finishes the month on March 31st with classically trained singer Kate Miller-Heidke who will traverse the worlds of contemporary pop, folk and opera with her original songs.

After outstanding performances for West Australian Opera in The Marriage of Figaro and The Riders soprano Emma Pearson will be in recital on March 12th as part of the Swan Songs series. I could listen to Pearson's satin soprano all night, definitely my current favourite singer!  Her program includes songs from Strauss and Mahler and a beautiful set of songs shot through with all kinds of dance rhythms.

The Perth Symphony Orchestra are having An Irish Night on March 15th at the Fremantle Town Hall, celebrating Irish history and its journey to Australian shores.

The show schedule for the WA Academy of Performing Arts has been released and March is packed full of gigs including Mad About Coward on March 21st featuring International director and Noel Coward tragic Stuart Maunder and accompanist (and Associate Dean of Music) Stewart Smith promising an elegant, moving and very funny exploration of all things Coward.

On March 23rd Geoffrey Lancaster directs WAAPA classical and acting students in Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, an evening of musical melodrama featuring music written as accompaniment for the spoken word. There are also excellent two WAAPA percussion gigs on the 23rd and 25th.

The Giovanni Consort will present Baroque vocal music from South America - often overlooked with our Euro-centric approach to western music history - in a concert on March 26th.

On the 28th WA Opera will launch their first house season with Tosca sung by Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Scarpia), Antoinette O'Halloran (Tosca), Paul O’Neil (Cavaradossi) and Wade Kernot (Cesare Angelotti). WA Opera presented Tosca just six years ago but this production is from New Zealand with Stuart Maunder directing. Hopefully it is worth revisiting!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Musical Soiree for International Women's Day

International Women's Day is just around the corner and I'm proud to be participating with a Musical Soiree at Joondalup Library.

If you are in the area on Wednesday 8th March pop in to Joondalup Library at 6pm for a glass of wine and a chance to hear some stunning music and  stories from my book Women of Note.

It's essentially an author talk but more fun with musical samples and (sometimes scandalous) stories which invariably provoke plenty of discussion. My presentation gives a quick history of Australian composition by tracing three generations of women composers. The musical range is enormous. I find people are surprised by how much they enjoy my talks - I guess most people assume classical music is going to be a bit dull, but the lives and music from Women of Note are anything but dull!

I can't think of a better way to celebrate women in Australia than to profile the work of our women composers. It's our best kept secret: we have more women composers than almost any other western nation! Definitely something worth celebrating and I do love putting together the missing jigsaw pieces of our musical history.

Feel free to circulate among your networks. The details regarding registration and location are here.

Reviews for Women of Note; the rise of Australian women composers (Fremantle Press 2012)

“A welcome – and overdue – publication. Appleby displays an expertise probably honed by her years as a journalist. She writes engagingly, achieving a fine balance between conveying information about the women’s personal lives and their music.”
Jillian Graham
Australian Book Review March 2012.

Women of Note makes an excellent starting point for anyone interested in exploring the music of Australian women composers. The musical lives and survival stories of all the women are inspiring. One can almost believe anything is possible. At the very least women of all ages can find in it a variety of survival tips...”

Jenny Game-Lopata, Musicological Society of Australia Journal July 2013