22 May 2018

Not shirking, waving

You can't say Maruki Orchestra shirks at challenges. After all, it's a local, community orchestra but it takes on the big, real works and gathers them into intimidating programs. This concert was a star example. First set was Mussorgsky Night on Bald Mountain, a demanding, often virtuosic tone poem with all manner of feels throughout. Apparently telling a story of a gathering of witches: the assembly; chatter and gossip; Satan's cortege; Black mass; Sabbath. Then a symphony, no less, before interval. This was a little cutie, Bizet Symphony in C major, written when he was aged 17 and only performed after his death. It's a lively thing, pretty, reminiscent at times of horse riding. I thought little of it early on, but it grew on me. Then interval and afternoon tea. Then the continuation of an unusually built program. Bach Concerto for Oboe d'amore BMV1055r played by Ben Stewart. Bach is deceptive, sounding lithe and light and bouncy so apparently easy, but it never lets up and there are always some tricky phrases. No less here, especially in the quick first movement. The second is lovely; the third quick again but more malleable. Ben did a great job on his first concerto outing on this relatively rare instrument. Then, to finish, the most challenging piece of the day, Elgar Enigma variations. Everyone knows Nimrod, of course, and it's deliciously inviting. Enigma is a work of 14 variations on a simple theme that's outlined first up with each movement is dedicated or influenced by someone known to Elgar. Some are hugely tricky or quick or varied. There are accelerandoes to cause fear and polyrhythms and all manner of intricacies appearing to just disappear with another variation. Not easy but well known. The orchestra always rises to performance, playing remarkably better on stage. Not professional, of course, but presentable. The feels were solid and time didn't drag although some intonation wasn't quite perfect. But a worthy outing and an excellent immersion in a huge classical program. Thanks to John and all.

Maruki Community Orchestra performed Mussorgsky, Bizet, Bach and Elgar under John Gould (conductor) at the Albert Hall. Ben Stewart (oboe d'amore) soloed in the Bach concerto.

20 May 2018

Pizza with the lot

Of course, Italian pizzas aren't offered "with the lot" - they are far more refined and tasteful than that. But I was surprised to find our pizza at Antica Ricetta in Manuka came with a singer from Milano. Just vocals with a backing track from a mobile phone. We caught a string of standards, Night and Day, Cat Stevens, don't remember the others, with a delightful northern Italian accent and that certain seriousness the Italians give to having fun. Nice. Mara Presti was the performer and the pizzas were great and the grog (6 Italian beers; a string of Italian wines) was all Italian at reasonable prices so I was happy.

Mara Presti (vocals) sang at Antica Ricetta pizzeria in Manuka. My apologies: I originally misnamed the restaurant as Antica Rustica. It's actually Antica Ricetta and the change is in place.

19 May 2018

Best of company anywhere

I was unavoidably late for Miro's amusingly named local band, the Burley Griffins, but was hugely gratified that I made it. The BGs are Miro with John and Hugh and Brendan and Mark. A local jazz supergroup if ever there was one. I amuse myself by wondering what some of the Indie acts or listeners think as they enter or pass by Smiths hearing this intense, virtuosic music in evidence. This is music that would comfortably grace any jazz festival stage and it's just a Thursday night in Canberra. I came as they were playing some simply structured bluesy hard-bop of '50s style. I was floored to hear this clarity and relaxation with intensity. Brendan settling the groove but with easy augmentation; Mark all percussive enumerations; Hugh adding restrained colour and rhythm; Miro's melody; John's intensity and overwhelming harmonic excursions. These days it's from another era but it's music all raw but hugely elaborated and deeply intellectual. Bird said it with his practice all day then forget it all and just play. Then one of Miro's originals of deep beauty, his meditation in 9/8 called Dakkar. Then some seldom-played masterpieces of the modern era, Zawinul In a silent way and Wayne Shorter Pinocchio. Then to end, the uber-common modern jazz standard, Footprints. I missed the adventure of the earlier tunes , but they played Footprints with a ravishing energy that again stunned me. So, a night with the locals. I know how good they are but it's still a surprise. Why is it so? Another stunner at Smiths.

The Burley Griffins were led by Miro Bukovsky (trumpet, flugelhorn) with John Mackey (tenor), Hugh Barrett (Rhodes), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) at Smiths.

18 May 2018

Not drowning

For me coming up are three weekends with five gigs: three classical and two jazz. It's busy but I'm enjoying it immensely. Hope to see someone at one or another. Just a pic of the Forrest National Chamber Orchestra in rehearsal. I'm providing bass for a friend who had to pull out so not much preparation but some lovely music by Handel, Faure, Marcello and Sibelius with Dvorak Serenade for Strings as the feature. It's all new to me, but this is a fabulous piece.

Forrest National Chamber Orchestra (FNCO) is performing under Gillian Bailey-Graham (conductor) with Rebecca Lovett (concertmaster) at CGGS Chapel 2pm 27 May.

16 May 2018

In the mix

What a pleasure to be asked to record Igitur nos. I've recorded them many times in concert, of course, but this was in rehearsal, in the organ loft at St Paul's. I was there with them, veritably engulfed in the sounds so that individual parts, especially the higher voices, the tenors and sopranos, were clear and immediate, and with forceful pipe organ driving it all from just metres away. This is blissful when all is prepared and they are going for a decent take. There were some stops and starts, some practices of segments, but also some terrific takes on various religious musics: 2 psalms, Palestrina and 2 from Stanford. Mostly in English. They are to be recordings for demos. Such a pleasure to be amongst it all.

Igitur nos was led in rehearsal by Matthew Stuckings (conductor) in the organ loft of St Paul's Manuka.

8 May 2018

An end

I attended too few events for this CIMF but I did get to the finale and it was stunningly and deeply interesting. The first half was particularly a challenge for some. For that, read contemporary! First up, Ned McGowan performed a solo flute piece, Salvatore Sciarrino Come vengono prodotti gli incantesimi. It was to be performed on bass flute, but was on standard concert flute in the end. This was all tonguing and valve slapping and occasional sudden crescendoes. More rhythm then melody. Then a premiere by resident composer Mary Finsterer called In praise of darkness inspired by Jorge Luis Borges' book of the same name about his loss of sight. Played by the Festival Sinfonia and directed by Roland Peelman. Five movements, often a tuned percussion background (marimba?) with strings in slow crescendoes and sudden decrescendoes (in synth parlance, where we most hear this, long attacks and sudden releases), occasional manic church (tubular) bells accompanied with sudden green lighting then hand drumming; later angry whale sounds, long notes over a choppy semiquaver rhythmic phrase, Chinese gongs and woodwinds and bass drums. I guessed the work was mainly in 6/4, but I could be wrong. Counting must have been hard. It was extended (~40mins) and some questioned that but I liked it, all darkness and depth and anguish and resolution. Then interval then Alice Giles featuring with a string section on two Debussy Dances sacrées et profane. Deliciously played and closer to home for some of the audience. And to finish, the Festival Sinfonia appeared again under Roland with solo violinist Tim Fain playing Bernstein Serenade (after Plato's Symposium). This was a new work to me and several others I talked to, but still familiar. The colours and instrumental combinations of West Side Story (think Rumble or Krupke) were evident. And the references were classic too, if older than WSS's Romeo & Juliet. It comprised five movements named for characters and themed about love and formed as an unlikely violin concerto. Tim Fain was strong and comfortable and I thought he looked very satisfied at the end. But a fascinating work that will get a workout on my Naxos or Spotify streams. Then an after-party for the players and supporters. There's fun in that, of course. Next year is CIMF no.25. A truly impressive tradition that I can only hope grows and grows.

The CIMF2018 Festival Finale at the Fitters' Workshop featured Ned McGowan (flute), Alice Giles (harp), Tim Fain (violin) with the Festival Sinfonia under Roland Peelman (conductor) playing Sciarrino, Finsterer, Debussy and Bernstein.

6 May 2018

Ciao Cecilia

Our CIMF this year was quiet in terms of concerts, not least because of other commitments, but was none-the-less involved. We are part of the crew that billets and drives musicians for the festival and it keeps us busy. This year we were blessed with billetting Dutch/Italian violinist Cecilia Bernardini, a lovely guest and a stunning performer. I may have bored her with amateur chatter about music, but she was gracious and informative: about violins and the lovely one she was performing with (an Amati from Cremona's golden age); tech matters like the various bows she uses for different musics and how frequently she changes her (gut) strings; her life on the road as a professional musician; her partner's and family's relationships with music; her involvements with various groups. She plays regularly with Scotland's Dunedin Consort and also in groups in Rome and Paris (ah, modern European life! Why Brexit, I wonder?) and has twice led Canada's Tafelmusik which is visiting Canberra for Musica Viva in a few weeks time. And just those friendly discussions of life and the rest that ordinary people indulge in. The sound of her practising was a pleasure: a serious performer on a serious instrument preparing Beethoven and Schubert and the like. It's wonderful to welcome guests, musical or otherwise, and a great pleasure and honour to host Cecilia.

Cecilia Bernadini (violin) was our guest for the Canberra International Music Festival 2018. BTW, Cecilia is the in the middle, in green, in the pic above.

5 May 2018

Beyond basics

This was a favourite concert from the CSO and not just because of the double bass concerto, but it had an array of musics. Beethoven Symphony no.2. Beethoven is always good and this was a blow out. Nicely played, tight, neat, together, with some prodigiously fast lines in bass. The Ninth has its moments but perhaps this has more. I'll have to revisit the 9th to check. Beethoven was the last thing for the night. First up was Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis. Again neat and thoughtful playing. I noticed the four string principals playing a string quartet role but the orchestra also entered as well as a reduced orchestra of first desks. The Tallis theme is played three times and a secondary theme appears on solo viola and forms the climax. Prior to Beethoven was a short work in three movements by Paul Stanhope called Morning Star written as his response to Indigenous music in Arnhem Land. The double bass concerto was a star for me, obviously. Phoebe Russell played Vanhal Double bass concerto Dmaj. PR is trained in Victoria, VYO, ANAM and two years on a scholarship associated with the Berlin Phil, no less. Only 24 and she's returned, seasoned, as the Principal bass in the Queenland Symphony. A modicum of both talent and hard work, no doubt. I unavoidably missed her recent solo concert but was in the front row for this one. Some technical matters: a very small double bass from 1700 with large F-holes and 40" scale (I'm told), just less than 3/4; flat back; narrow neck that suggested to me a conversion from 3 strings; classical bow; Belcanto strings? (orange wrapping). I loved her technique, too: flexible and apt to the phrasing; thumb and some freer techniques up high; harmonics beyond the neck; third finger used on some vibrato; neat finger changes to hold notes or continue phrases. A pleasant and gentle tone with form if not too loud. Seriously intriguing playing throughout. Long practice and some serious training shows, and I think a preparedness for technique to be flexible subject to notes and phrasing. Not sure I'm saying much, but a great pleasure for me with a great view. And an attractive piece. Perhaps I'm coming around to double bass as a solo instrument, at least in hands like these. A great pleasure as was the concert itself: a great pleasure all round.

Canberra Symphony Orchestra performed Beethoven, Vaughan Williams, Vanhal and Paul Stanhope. Johannes Fritzsch (conductor) conducted and Phoebe Russell (double bass) soloed on the Vanhal Double Bass concerto in D major.

3 May 2018


Another chat session, this time with two Australian string quartets: Orava and Pietra. Orava played the other day so I know them for that. They are the seniors (relatively) having established themselves, studied in the US with the Takacs Quartet, got an agent and a CD with Deutsche Grammophon Australia (impressive) playing Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich, making their name at festivals, committed and needing to eat. The Pietra Quartet are still students at Sydney Con, developing the group, still to decide on a whole range of things like their image and style and key repertoire. I know violist Justin as he performed the Stamitz concerto on our Musica da Camera CD. Younger and developing but on the path. This all came out in discussion with moderator Vincent Plush, ABC radio presenter, ex-music lecturer and the rest. The discussions were brief but relevant: identity and presentation; naming (Orava means squirrel in Finnish); getting together and staying together; approaches to music and sound; choosing repertoire; experiences with the Australian repertoire; interestingly, "where is home"; AYO in their development (most had been AYO performers); cultivating audience; women in string quartets (not at all an issue for youth, but some historical relevance); instruments, old and new; Queensland's Year 3 string program; performing live vs recording. Lots of thoughts there, so no time for any short performance. I didn't ask my question, but it would have been "do you still play weddings", or, survival skills for musicians. Lots of interesting chatter.

Vincent Plush (moderator) interviewed the Orava and Pietra String Quartets. Orava comprises Daniel Kowalik and David Dalseno (violins), Thomas Chawner (viola) and Karol Kowalik (cello). Pietra comprises Anna Da Silva Chen and Ben Tjoa (violins), Justin Julian (viola) and Miles Mullin-Chivers (cello).

1 May 2018

The classics

The concerts at CIMF are varied, often with mixes of performers. This was called Classic Souvenir: obviously classical but again well varied. First up was Schubert on fortepiano, then Beethoven on fortepiano and violin, then a string sextet from Tchaikovsky. Perhaps he's romantic, but it's related. Keiko Shichijo performed Schubert Impromptu op.90 no.3 in the damnable key of Gbmajor. But then it's different on piano. It was likely developed from improvisation but the effect is an attractive melody with a busy left hand. Then Cecilia Bernardini joined for Beethoven Sonata for violin and piano in G major. Now here's a gentle key! It was written for the Archduke and a specific violinist as a "musical dialogue with refined classic gestures" (Roland Peelman from the notes). There was a lovely and generous musical playfulness and awareness between these two musicians who play together in Europe. They are capable, mature players and their ease together and deep skills are evident in the comfort of the interaction. I've noticed the best players are something like transparent as the music speaks through them. This was like that: easy and evident. The final work was a somewhat odd: a string quartet extrapolated to a sextet, with paired violins, violas and cellos. It changes the standard form of first and second violin by expanding this relationship to the lower instruments. It's quite a fascination to hear two cellos talking different lines, sounding moderately different. Otherwise, a busy and intense work presented by the Orava (String) Quartet with friends. Someone commented that it couldn't have been played by women as it carried evident testosterone. Not sure of that one, but it was busy and energetic and approached with rabid glee. Either way, a fascinating and different take on the classics theme.

Keiko Shichijo (fortepiano) played Schubert solo then Beethoven with Cecilia Bernardini (violin). The Orava Quartet with friends played Tchaikovsky. The Orava quartet are Daniel Kowalik and David Dalseno (violins), Thomas Chawner (viola) and Karol Kowalik (cello) and their friends were James Wannan (viola) and Miles Mullin-Chivers (cello).