19 August 2017

War out the door

It was the Canberra Symphony Orchestra playing another Llewellyn concert, this one nominated Horn and it was just a series of pleasures. First up was the crowd-pleaser, Borodin Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor. Well, it's a rollicking thing with memorable themes, enough to make it into the popular repertoire as Strangers in paradise and it's got particular relevance for me. I'd heard it played very capably by choir and orchestra of the combined Canberra Grammar Schools in the wonderful CGGS hall when it was a revelation to me as a newcomer to classics. Easy listening, perhaps, but exciting and melodious and inviting. CSO did a great job. Then the matter of the horn. Hector McDonald played Richard Strauss Horn concerto no.1 Eb major. HM has been 27 years as a principal at the Vienna Phil amongst his illustrious career in Europe, but he started out here, in Sydney and later Canberra, playing in Llewellyn Hall and with the CSO. Some old band mates were playing behind him on this night. He's obviously not so well, as he explained later, but his playing is sweet and pure, so another pleasure. He encored with a bit of Vienna, playing Johann Strauss Sweet tears with harp accompaniment. Then the final pleasure, not at all a frivolous thing: Prokofiev Symphony no.5. Apparently it was written with WW2 outside the door, first performed with cannon in the background. It's big, unrelenting, mobile and flexible and tactical as war is and battles are. An overwhelming experience only enhanced by taking a seat in the front row, under the cello, in Dave's line of sight, not too successfully trying to follow Nicholas Milton. But what a work! I'd listened to some that morning and it seemed heavy and tortured but in life it was powerful, forceful, varied and, again, unrelenting. Fabulous and capably done by the orchestra. So, a wonderful concert with all manner of styles and all manner of receptions. Great stuff.

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra played Borodin, Strauss and Prokofiev, under Nicholas Milton (conductor) with soloist Hector McDonald (horn).

17 August 2017

Classics all

These were Miro's classic hits, and classic they are. Just seven tunes, but every one hugely attractive, all different, all locking into a groove and spelling a hugely inviting melody. Also from somewhere, referencing something or someplace. Bronte gets in there. Bronte Cafe is a famed piece, having been used on Radio National for some program theme tune (was it Landline?). It's about a local cafe when Miro lived in Bronte by the sea in Sydney and it drives with the greatest of infectious grooves. Then there's one about Mandela and South Africa with the perfect title, Pressure makes diamonds. Wow! Again a work of mastery with an amusing story that Miro can recount for you sometime. The mysterious, caravanserai-relaxed Dakkar, all slow tones merging to form a long pensive theme against the unshifting regularity of an underlying groove. Or Delicatessence, somewhat similarly, thoughtful and gentle and inquisitive in melody and gently insistent in drive. Mambo Gumbo is a street-wise New Orleans beat and For Woody is a driving swing with a quintessential syncopated jazz melody overlying it. And Miro's masterpiece, Peace please, a ballad of optimism confronting sorrow. All great tunes, all heard often enough but never enough for me. And the playing was equally satisfying. Miro leading the lineup with John up front, always stunningly inventive and effective. Newcomers to Canberra, Hugh on piano and returnee Brendan on bass, both stunners, in solos and accompaniment. And Col again welcomed on the scene. I loved the African percussion colours in his intro and outro on Dakkar on a slit percussion box. In all, a intimate and communicative outing with Miro's great music and this hugely satisfying local band.

Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet, flugelhorn) led a band with John Mackey (tenor), Hugh Barrett (piano), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Col Hoorweg (drums) at the Canberra Grammar School Gallery.

15 August 2017

Sundae jam

Another drop in to the Sunday afternoon jam session at Smiths. Again with house band Josh Buckler, Hugh Barrett, Anthony Irving and Andrew Howard. Today's visitors included singers Erissa and Claire, a guitarist (sorry, forgotten your name), Tom on guitar, Geoff on drums and two bassists, Phil Dick and me. Given recent visits by Brendan Clarke and Ben O'Loghlin, there seem to be a session, a six-string, a collective of bassists around. This was great fun. I got two tunes in, with bassist Anthony doing a quite decent job on piano. Sunday afternoons suit me: it's a quiet time. Just one of two regular jazz jams in town. The other is Wayne, Ben and Mark at Old Canberra Inn on Wednesday nights. Both are capable and welcoming. Get to one or both when you can, to play or just listen.

The Smiths Jazz Jam house band was Hugh Barrett (piano), Andrew Howard (drums), Anthony John Irving (bass) and Josh Buckler (tenor). Sit-ins included Erissa and Claire (vocals), Tom Sherringham (guitar), Geoff (drums), Phil Dick and Eric Pozza (basses). (Names updated, thanks for the comment / Eric)

12 August 2017


Listening improves with experience, like many other capabilities. Last night was the Australian Haydn Ensemble. I've heard them many times but I noticed I'm hearing more now. Not all the time, but more frequently. I play music something like this (although don't play it quite like this!) so my awareness has been honed, my hearing attuned. So I marvelled at the way the phrasing moved between players; how the phrases were spelt out together, in conformity, yet not lifelessly cloned; how individual instruments would spell out their parts (Anthony's cello was impeccable) so even a note had form and life, or would bounce with staccato; how the whole was dynamic and expressive and how a few passing glances would hold this all together. The tunes of this are often not so very difficult to read or to play, mostly with harmonies and melodies that fit scalar or arpeggiated patterns except for the occasional oddball phrasing that may trips you up or some cadenza that flies with semiquavers. This is not music of dissonances or odd times but of order and dignity and some humour, except maybe for the slow middle movements that can be things of exquisite beauty. There were the tuning interludes, which are so much a part of this period music, but the rounded tone is the end result and so lovely. And these are friends: those glances were often little smiles and the guys joshed at the end and they all glowed with pleasure. The theme was the baroque oboe and a few quartets named "the Hunt". The format was quartet for all, string quartets or three strings with oboe. The music was Haydn String Quartet ‘The Hunt’ Op.1 No.1 Bbmaj, Mozart Oboe Quartet K.370 Fmaj, Janitsch Oboe Quartet Gmin and Mozart String Quartet ‘The Hunt’ K.458 Bbmaj. This was a small incarnation of the AHE, a core with oboe, but they are always intellectually thoughtful and musically wonderfully satisfying. That delicacy and unity that a string quartet can portray, this time with music and instruments located somewhere in the early classical period. Just a joy as always and an education in just performance.

Australian Haydn Ensemble performed Haydn, Mozart and Janitsch at ANU University House. On the night, AHE comprised Skye McIntosh (violin), Simone Slattery (violin), James Eccles (viola), Anthony Albrecht (cello) and Amy Power (oboe).

9 August 2017


It's not so much that I have anything new to report, but we played again at Molly, that dark underground speakeasy, and Rich took some neat pics with his camera phone that works a treat in very low lighting. So here are a few.

Tilt Trio comprise James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Dave McDade (drums). Tilt played at Molly).

7 August 2017

Why the ado

The why for the much ado. The first why was National Capital Orchestra performing its third concert for the year. This was called Emperor in reverence to the Beethoven Emperor concerto which featured after the interval, but there were other wonders. The first half consisted of two modern Australian compositions, complete with composers in attendance. It's always a thing of honour and some little trepidation to play for the composer, and I presume it is for them to hear their works played live. First up was Nigel Sabin and his Symphony 1996. It's a portrayal of Australian life, of land and sea, of pasts that never were (sounds like much of our current politics), of light and even the Republic that's yet to be, given our nostalgia for our multi-citizened head of state (I jest, a Queen doesn't have citizenship, does she? We are her subjects in whatever land). I particularly loved my first notes, a few bars of pizz which just spoke busy offices in old films, but there was much more, with heaps of odd changing counting. Quite a challenge at times. Then Christopher Gordon's Suite from Moby Dick. It was an early work from him, sometime in the 1990s, to accompany a TV miniseries put together by Americans in Australia. Again, some changing counts, but more flowing and sea-faring and story-telling, specifically of the white whale and Ahab and the Pequod and the chase. Here it was obvious how the orchestra plays its best with the nerves of performance. Both these fell together neatly, the counts played well and the narratives were evident. This is a community orchestra, but the intent and challenges and performance was very worthy. Then interval and one of the major piano concertos, Beethoven's last one, his Fifth in Eb major, the Emperor Concerto, played by Katherine Day. Katherine was trained in Melbourne and London and is now resident in Canberra and now works at the ANUSOM and more. And what a pleasure to play this music with her, both in performance and in rehearsal, so we have played this with her several times. A fine, sometimes rollicking, sometimes profound work with some fine playing, on the night without music. My vision was less on stage, but in rehearsal it was fascinating to listen while Katherine mused, looking into the distance or to Leonard. Again, great playing by the orchestra, too. It's a full day for the performers. It amuses me to see the profs arriving with the audience for a concert at the Opera House or Llewellyn or other. Our experience was not like this. We arrived before 11am to set up the risers and stage and for a revisit and warm up. Then lunch and a beer at the pub and Christopher Gordon speaking at 2.15 and the concert at 3pm then pack up. A full day but immense pleasure, from the music and the great playing, from the excellent little theatre, TheQ, from the good cheer amongst musos in black at the pub and the rest. A great day. Congrats to all and special thanks to Nigel, Christopher and Katherine and Leonard and Martin and the Committee who brought it all together.

National Capital Orchestra under Leonard Weiss (conductor) performed Nigel Sabin Symphony (1996, Canberra premiere), Christopher Gordon Suite from Moby Dick (Australian premiere) and Beethoven Piano Concerto no.5 "Emperor" with soloist Katherine Day (piano). The composers (other than Beethoven) attended. And the bass section comprised Roger Grime, Geoff Prime and Eric Pozza (basses).

5 August 2017

Much ado 4

Last minute practice, Friday night before Sunday afternoon gig. This time with our other Australian composer, Nigel Sabin. We are playing his Symphony 1996, again filmic and sea-themed and with some varying modern counts. Back at our usual rehearsal haunt. And a run through of Beethoven Emperor Concerto. I think of myself as liking the moderns, and I do, but I was carrying a beaming smile as I played the Beethoven. It really is fabulous. There's a reason for Beethoven's reputation. Not that piano soloist Katherine Day didn't have some part in that, too.

Nigel Sabin (composer) and Katherine Day (piano) rehearsed with National Capital Orchestra under Leonard Weiss (conductor) prior to a concert two days later.

3 August 2017

Much ado 3

Now it's getting serious. National Capital Orchestra is coming within a week of performing. The program is Beethoven Emporer concerto and two modern Australian pieces, both very filmic and seafaring: Christopher Gordon Moby Dick suite and Nigel Sabin Symphony 1996. But most interesting is the involvement of the composers. Both will be there on the day; CG was at our last practice; NS will be at our next. Beethoven isn't coming. The apprehension is higher for Leonard, our conductor, as his interpretation is on show and open to comment by the composer, but the whole orchestra is on display. Not exactly nerve wracking, but another experience with some demands. We did it last concert with Carl Vine. It's an interesting twist on a rehearsal. The concert is NCO, TheQ, 3pm, 6 Aug.

Composer Christopher Gordon attended a rehearsal of National Capital Orchestra under Leonard Weiss.

2 August 2017

Much ado 2

I've played jazz for yonks and now classical and I'm amused to find a similar joy and comradeship in both fields. They have lots in common: application to a demanding artform; commitment of significant time, often for little financial reward; inner satisfaction, especially when you play well, or the performers click; shared goals for those who play in ensembles. Of course, they have their differences - reading and interpretation on one side; improv and groove on the other - but they also overlap. I'm finding some technical aspects of my jazz playing benefitting from classical, but finding less time for improv and some jazz-specific matters. But to the matter in hand: a Maruki afternoon playing session. Not a formal practice, but a get together with some chamber charts to sight-read with food and drinks and socialising on the side. I sat out for some that didn't have a bass part, but did manage a few movements of the Trout (the quintessential double bass chamber piece) and most of Dvorak Serenade in E major with several recognisable sections. Somewhat like the Smiths jazz jam session that clashed for time. Players of one field or another enjoying musical interactions. Challenging and fun.

Some members of Maruki Orchestra met for a playing afternoon.

1 August 2017

Much ado 1

Here's a visit to another music institution in Canberra. There are many. This is a choir, again there are many. Now called Canberra Community Chorale; previously it was the University of Canberra Chorale. I sat in on tenor for one session. The normal guide is AJ America with accompanist Lucus Allerton. They were off somewhere performing with Luminescence Chamber Singers so Tobias Cole filled in for the day, on both roles. This was good. Toby did an excellent job, training in odd times (7/4 required for this piece) and modes (dorian and mixolydian were practised and phrygian required for this piece). Also, interestingly, rounds of the modes, resulting in some delicious harmonies and a complex musical environment. The choir sings songs for the first semester and a major work for the second. Last year's was Mozart Requiem; this year's is Bob Chilcott Requiem. To be played with a chamber orchestra at Wesley Church in November or thereabouts. Nice. Best of luck.

The Canberra Community Chorale was led in practice by Tobias Cole.