SYDNEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA CHIEF CONDUCTOR, DAVID ROBERTSON

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-11-39-24-amSymphonies are much like Shakespeare’s plays. They appear cyclically in the repertory of orchestras and yet as oft repeated as they may be, the house will fill. In the corridors and down the stairs the remark “I love it every time” will be heard. Just as with the plays, a director will return to the text to draw out new nuances and form his/her own interpretation, so a conductor returns to the score. For David Robertson, about to embark on his 4th season as Chief Conductor of the SSO, the aim is to “become very aware of what the composer wrote and start from that. This means that the experience of preparation is both objective and subjective at the same time. It is objective because rather than using some artefact like a recording or another performance – even a performance that I have done myself – I try to go objectively in to what is in the score and figure out why the composer has decided to write the score in the exact way she or he has done. That is inevitably subjective, but it means I am trying to engage with the work in a fresh way every single time and not take it for granted even though I may have done it a number of times before.”

This method will guide Robertson’s approach to Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony, to be performed by the orchestra in February. A favourite with audiences for the emotional trajectory it takes from sorrow to triumph,the symphony is ripe with possibilities for discovery. What, to the audience, is experienced as a journey is coded in the score as a theme that exists in different permutations in all four movements. In musicological terms, this is known as cyclical. Then there is the harmonic progression, from the mournful E minor (in the Baroque period, known as the key of lament with a glimmer of hope) to the joy of E major (the key of full delight). But these are merely plot devices and so Robertson will dig deeper, contemplating how the instruments are paired, why Tchaikovsky instructs a crescendo for three bars but a diminuendo for three.

Where this may be Robertson’s approach music historians would take a different tack. They might be fascinated by the history of the piece, that it was written in the summer of 1888, at a time when Tchaikovsky had won favour with Tsar Alexander III and had begun to actively promote Russian music. They would wonder whether this period of somewhat stability in Tchaikovsky’s tumultuous life led him to contemplate the idea of destiny and compose a symphony about the resignation to fate. Where Robertson may give a nod to this idea, he is not bound to it for this is not the ‘truth’ of the score. As a man who does not believe in fate, Robertson is far more likely to see the symphony as more in line with “Hamlet’s speech, To Be or Not To Be, and a question that goes all the way back to the Greeks: What do you do in a situation when things are stacked against you? The human condition is one where there’s a necessary struggle which is the struggle to live and that struggle in itself has a great quality of nobility. Whether or not you can discuss a fate as something unavoidable is only possible from a vantage point outside of the person who is undergoing the fate.” Tchaikovsky might be inclined to agree for, as the music historian would point out, the second performance of the 5th Symphony was given alongside the premiere of Tchaikovsky’s tone poem, Hamlet.

Tchaikovsky’s 5th may be Robertson’s first concert with the orchestra for 2017, but the season will be in fact be launched by Assistant Conductor Toby Thatcher with Haydn’s Symphony No. 68. Audience members lucky enough to attend both concerts will thus get to experience how the form evolved with time. As Robertson explains, “the development of the symphony through the classical period of the 1770s through 1790s in to the beginning of the 20th century has meant that the form can take on a huge number of different dramatic, lyric and even philosophical questions. The symphonies we are presenting span a very wide range of approaches to the symphony, from very concentrated to enormous and mammoth, and it’s particularly the breadth and spread of approaches that I find fascinating in this season.”

As much as symphonies evolved, so did concerti and as the Haydn Symphony will be paired with a fellow classical work (a Mozart piano concerto), so the Tchaikovsky is matched with a Romantic wonder. Brahms’ Violin Concerto was written in 1878 for his good friend Joseph Joachim. Predominantly a pianist, Brahms consulted Joachim on the writing of the violin part. What is now established repertoire began its life as some jottings that travelled by post, being expanded on at one end and commented on at the other. Not all Joachim’s suggestions were taken by Brahms but his friend’s cadenza was deemed a success and remains in the work today. Performing the concerto in Sydney will be the great violinist Maxim Vengerov. As with Robertson, it will be interesting to see what Vengerov draws out of the part for this specific rendition. Injury led Vengerov to turn his hand to conducting and one wonders how seeing the orchestra from the other side has influenced Vengerov as a performer. Do his eyes fix on different aspects of the score? As a concerto soloist, does he now relate to conductors differently? With Vengerov’s professionalism and thirst for music it can be trusted that any changes are enhancements.

 

From his personal experience with injury, his work as a UN ambassador and a tutor at the Royal Academy (London), Vengerov easily sees the emotional power of music. He once said that music has “the power of healing because we learn something not only about music but about ourselves”. As conducting a work is as much a journey as performing it, Fine Music asked Robertson what he thinks he might learn from the Brahms Concerto. His answer is thoughtful. Whilst he agrees with Vengerov’s notion, he “thinks that what we learn is something that happens while we are engaging with the piece of music and it often comes as a surprise to us. It would be impossible for me to say what I learn from a piece of music before I’m actually engaged with that piece in that performance. Even then, the wonderful thing about music is that often times the feeling of the lesson that you learn or the thing that you perceive or the enlightenment that you have, feels quite often as though it can’t adequately be expressed in verbal language.”

Brahms would certainly have agreed. So much of what he composed was inspired by an inexpressible emotional landscape. His love for Clara Schumann (Robert Schumann’s wife) inspired many of his great piano works and he wrote his Double Concerto for violin and cello to restore his friendship with Joachim. Similarly, Joachim tried to use music to make statements on Brahms’ behalf. The premiere of Brahms’ Violin Concerto was given with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, for Joachim hoped that the juxtaposition of an established work with a new one would aid its reception. Criticism, however, was mixed for many were not ready to see the solo instrument taken off its virtuosic rostrum and infused into orchestral texture.

 

One such critic of the work was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky himself. The two men reportedly disliked each other, Tchaikovsky thinking Brahms a scoundrel and Brahms dismissive of Tchaikovsky’s composing. Wondering if there was a deeper, musical reason for their animosity, the question is put to Robertson. Whilst considering that “many composers have a very personal way of looking at music and that’s partly there to protect their own gifts,” Robertson is not too concerned with whether “Britten liked Brahms or Tchaikovsky liked Wagner as opposed to whether or not we can hear the sound world that these individual artists were able to imagine and realise so incredibly well.” Personal politics may be entertaining and spice up a program but Robertson in his wisdom is encompassed in the musical. Though if one may speculate, it seems likely that Brahms and Tchaikovsky were in fact too similar to get on and it is for that reason that their music pairs so beautifully.

Joachim and Brahms, Vengerov and Robertson. Great performers and conductors make formidable pairs. Robertson is looking forward to working with Vengerov for whilst the two have crossed paths this will be their first collaboration. One wonders what they will talk about in the dressing room. Might they pontifiscreen-shot-2017-01-21-at-11-39-42-amcate on the concept of fate or consider their own musical journeys? Perhaps they will be found, heads buried in the scores pondering their secrets. Or perhaps as two Jazz lovers they will have Chet Baker’s Moon Love playing in the background. It was inspired by Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony after all.

– Nichy Gluch


This article appeared in the November edition of Fine Music Magazine – you can subscribe to our monthly magazine and have it posted to your home or business or click the link here to read online.

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Jazz CD Reviews: November

Interludes
Lyn Stanley
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The former United States ballroom dancing champion’s third album is arguably her best, not only because of the timeless quality of the songs but the way in which she stamps her own personality on them with effortless phrasing and flawless intonation. Not easy when you consider many of these songs are synonymous with great artists of the past, but it doesn’t appear to be a problem for a polished performer like Lyn Stanley who is among that unique band of vocalists who not only tells a story through the lyrics but does so with emotional warmth and class! And to think she has been singing professionally for little more than five years. The album begins and ends on a high note; Gershwin’s How long has this been going on with impressive trombone from Bob McChesney, and a duet with guitarist John Chiodini on I’m A Fool To Want You from the Sinatra canon. I first heard many of these songs as a teenager and these, with other gems from The Great American Songbook, have proven a refuge from the barbaric garbage which passes for popular music these days, and to hear them stylised by Stanley in a contemporary setting is a more than satisfactory experience. Take Boulevard of broken dreams,where its atmosphere is enhanced by the combination of Hendrick Meurtens’ harmonica and the cello of Cecilla Tsan- and with the same pair she elegantly remakes Ellington’s In A Sentimental Mood.

A beautifully recorded album.

– Kevin Jones


Classic! Live At Newport
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Blue Note 50383
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This is another outstanding offering from the Joe Lovano Quartet featuring the late great Hank Jones. Jones passed away at the ripe young age of ninety-one in 2010, five years after this album was recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2005. What we’re left with is another collaboration between Jones and Lovano that gave us the Blue Note album’s I’m All for You (the title track which finds its way into this live set), the now iconic Joyous Encounter plus the duo outing Kids: Live at Dizzy’s Club. Drummer Lewis Nash replaces Paul Motian in the quartet’s previous line up on this album, accompanying them in a different way to his predecessor’s sonic landscaping. He is more at home driving hard, and the other band members seem to thrive on it. Technically this is a classic jazz quartet in every sense of the term. It is blessed with the inclusion of Hank Jones, one of the modern jazz geniuses of all time. His playing emanates imagination and inspiration and all his solos are full of love and musical poetry. The Brazilian-influenced Don’t Ever Leave Me has some outstanding input from all players, and Oliver Nelson’s Six And Four allows Lovano to get raunchy and raucous on the tenor, Jones to skillfully spiral across the keys, Nash to pulsate and throb on percussion and George Mraz on bass to just keep on walking. This culminates the album’s mission – that of being the perfect jazz for a summer’s day – not just in Newport.

– Barry O’Sullivan


Bravo Nino Rota
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Armchair Records
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Nino Rota was an Italian composer, pianist and conductor who is best known for his film scores; most notably for the films of Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti. He also composed the first two film scores of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy, receiving the Academy Award for Best Original Score for The Godfather Part II, with the American Film Institute ranking Rota’s score number five on their list of the greatest film scores ever. This album focuses on Rota’s work for Fellini’s most popular films Amarcord, La Strada and La Dolce Vita plus Juliette Of The Spirits and Otto e Mezzo. Rota could write a great tune, and his driving force was a unique sense of melody combined with elements of folk, circus music and opera. He embodied these elements with lush orchestrations, marching bands, and Italian swing, whereas The Umbrellas’ approach is more of a salon chamber ensemble incorporating bits of wild saxophone, playful trombone and pocket trumpet. But there are also vibes, marimba, mezzo-soprano voice and drum & bass to enjoy, all accompanied by the piano, organ and accordion of maestro Peter Dasent who was responsible for all the arrangements. This recent re-issue of the 2001 recording of Rota’s music is a potpourri of sonic magic extracted by the band from Rota via Fellini via Dasent, giving it new breath and continuous life. For happy music on a Summer’s day, it is highly recommended.

– Barry O’Sullivan


These reviews appeared in the November edition of Fine Music Magazine – you can subscribe to our monthly magazine and have it posted to your home or business or click the link here to read online.

FINE MUSIC’S YOUNG COMPOSER WINNER: Elizabeth Younan

Each year Fine Music FM, screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-5-03-22-pmin collaboration with Willoughby Symphony Orchestra, offers young composers up to the age of 30 years the opportunity to enter an original composition set to a theme for the prospect of winning generous prizes, including $5,000 and a world premiere performance for the winning original entry. The winner for 2016 is Sydney Conservatorium of Music student Elizabeth Younan, for her new work in Clarinet concerto.

Elizabeth Younan is currently completing a Masters by Research degree in composition at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music under the tutelage of Carl Vine AO, with the assistance of the prestigious and highly competitive Australian Postgraduate Award.

As one of four participants of the Con’s inaugural National Women Composers’ Development Program, Elizabeth has had the opportunity to compose for renowned musicians Georg Pedersen, Claire Edwardes, the Goldner String Quartet, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and Sydney Philharmonia Choirs. Her first string quartet Interwoven was chosen by the Goldner String Quartet to be premiered at Musica Viva Australia’s Coffee Concert series in Sydney in 2017. Elizabeth’s woodwind quintet Shoreditch Grind received its international premiere at the inaugural BBC Proms Australia Chamber Music concert series by the Melbourne-based Arcadia Quintet, and will be featured in Musica Viva’s Melbourne Coffee Concert series and its Festival in 2017.

Elizabeth completed a Bachelor of Music Composition with First Class Honours at the Con in 2015, where she was awarded a scholarship with the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions for her thesis ‘Peri’s L’Euridice (16screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-5-03-09-pm00): An Analysis of the Compositional Techniques used to Express the Effect of Anguish.’ She received the 2014 Jean Bogan Youth Prize for Piano Composition by the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music for her set of Five Persian Preludes that were premiered by Australian pianist Michael Kieran Harvey. She is also the recipient of the Ignaz Friedman Memorial Prize for academic merit in composition from the Con in 2014.


This article appeared in the November edition of Fine Music Magazine – you can subscribe to our monthly magazine and have it posted to your home or business or click the link here to read online.

PINCHGUT OPERA PRESENTS HANDEL’S MASTERPIECE

Pinchgut roundscreen-shot-2016-11-25-at-4-34-35-pms off a spectacular year with Handel’s Theodora, a succession of dramatic arias and choruses that promise to be a profoundly moving and achingly beautiful experience.

In the last twenty years, Handel’s second last oratorio and his favourite work, Theodora, has come to be recognised as one of the baroque composer’s greatest masterpieces. Lindy Hume directs this tale of innocence, love, faith and courage in ancient Rome struck down by blind hatred and the thirst for power.

The beautiful young Theodora has inspired many to embrace the Christian faith – including the Roman officer Didymus, who has fallen deeply in love with her. When the order comes through that all Christians are to be arrested and executed, the two lovers find themselves locked in a battle to the death – each determined to sacrifice their own life to save the other.

An extraordinary company of international and Australian talent has been engaged to present this stunning, rarely performed opera.

Australian soprano Valda Wilson will perform the role of Theodora and mezzo-soprano Caitlin Hulcup is her devoted friend Irene. One of the world’s leading countertenors Christopher Lowrey will sing the role of Didymus, English tenor and Pinchgut audience favourite Ed Lyon performs the role of Septimius, with bass baritone Andrew Collis as Valens. Pinchgut’s official chorus Cantillation and the Orchestra of the Antipodes will complete the experience.screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-4-34-26-pm

Pinchgut Opera focuses on new creations of rediscovered masterpieces, bringing the music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to life with intelligence and passion. Pinchgut performances are presented in the intimate surroundings and superb acoustics of Sydney’s City Recital Hall.


This article appeared in the November edition of Fine Music Magazine – you can subscribe to our monthly magazine and have it posted to your home or business or click the link here to read online.

WORLD PREMIERES, BICYCLE BELLS AND HIGH ENERGY MUSIC: Nexas Quartet’s Debut Album “Current”

Since their inception over twelve years ago, Nexas Quartet (Michael Duke, Andrew Smith, Nathan Henshaw and Jay Byrnes) have premiered countless new Australian works and collaborated with the finest musicians here and abroad. The culmination of all of this hard work and dedication is now being presented in their CD Current which is being launched at the Utzon Room at the Sydney Opera House. The CD is made up of all Australian works, including world premieres. Featuring the music of Elena Kats-Chernin, Matthew Hindson, Matthew Orlovich, Lachlan Skipworth and Daniel Rojas, Current is an eclectic recording showcasing the diverse nature of Australian music and the vibrant and engaging sound of the saxophone quartet.

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From Left to Right: Nathan Henshaw, Jay Byrnes, Andrew Smith, Michael Duke

Nexas first performed Elena Kats-Chernin’s From Anna Magdalena’s Notebook in Strasborg at the World Saxophone Congress. While it was originally written for string quartet, Kats-Chernin adapted it for Nexas. “This offers a fresh take on one of Elena’s most popular works and also explores new possibilities of timbre and enhanced dramatic effects,” says Andrew Smith. Nexas have a strong association with Elena Kats-Chernin, with Michael Duke premiering her saxophone concerto Macquarie’s Castle with the Sydney Conservatorium Orchestra earlier this year.

In 2014, Nexas teamed up with internationally renowned composer Matthew Hindson and presented a ballet version of Romeo and Juliet. Nexas loved the piece so much that they asked Hindson to turn it into a suite. The result, Scenes from Romeo and Juliet Suite was premiered earlier this year. “In this piece, I tried to use some aspects of Elizabethan dance forms mixed in with my more contemporary dance responses. It is still always classical music, however. My hope is that the music sounds very emotive of the drama and action implicit in the story,” Hindson says. Scenes from Romeo and Juliet Suite is divided into six movements, each depicting aspects of the characters and the drama of the narrative.

Byrnes, Henshaw and Smith tell me that Lachlan Skipworth wrote Dark Nebulae while he was based in Germany and this is very much removed from his typical musical style. “Dark Nebulae alludes to deep space and dark matter. That’s why the sound world for it is based upon multi phonics and these slowly evolving musical lines that emerge from nowhere and from within each other,” says Smith. “There is this cluster of sound. This is probably the most ‘out there’ piece on the recording”, Smith adds.

Also featured on the recording is Matthew Orlovich’s Slipstream, also written especially for Nexas. Orlovich’s saxophone music is making its mark on the world stage and he has become a prominent voice for contemporary saxophone music. “I’ve written this piece called Slipstream, in three movements, and the first movement is a fanfare introduction and an up-tempo lively feeling. The second movement is a ‘split personality’, with two types of character, which I have juxtaposed. There is a ‘funky’ character and a straight laced character. The third movement is a bit of a race to the finish line,” Orlovich explains.

“The jostling counterpoint and textural ideas in my score are inspired by the art of slipstreaming or drafting, as it is known in cycling parlance. Between the saxophone quartet world and the world of cycling, there are parallels to be found, not the least of which are the pursuit of precision teamwork and a love for “the thrill of the ride”, Orlovich writes about his work.

Daniel Rojas, known for his energetic and Latin American influenced music, demonstrates a tender and lyrical side to his compositional style in Little Serenade. He writes of his piece: “Little Serenade is my homage to our memories of childhood. The contrasting middle movement, Nostalgia, is a bittersweet tribute to an innocence that dissolved long ago; vague traces of those childhood joys and tears, however, are etched into the delicate fabric of adult life.” For this recording, the slow movement, Nostalgia has been arranged and adapted by Jay Byrnes. “The translation from strings to saxophone often works quite well, and this piece is quite effective for a saxophone quartet,” says Byrnes. “The biggest challenge in arranging this is capturing the harmonies and nuances from the eight parts of the string orchestra to only four parts for the quartet.”

“The pieces on this album are all substantial works that we feel very passionate about,” says Byrnes. “One of our aims is to bridge the divide between the intensely challenging contemporary works as well as the more accessible and nd a middle ground.screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-3-29-15-pm So
that there’s something in there for everyone,” adds Andrew Smith. “There’s a lot that goes into recording new works and putting them in a permanent manner,” he continues. “We’re hoping that this recording cements our reputation as leading saxophone quartet in Australia and the world stage,” he adds further.

-Samuel Cottell


This article appeared in the November edition of Fine Music Magazine – you can subscribe to our monthly magazine and have it posted to your home or business or click the link here to read online.

AUSTRALIAN WORLD ORCHESTRA: Chamber Music Festival in the Southern Highlands

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-3-06-44-pmWhen Auguste Bernadel applied the finishing polish to his violin in Paris in 1864 he couldn’t have known the same violin would one day grace the stages of the NSW Southern Highlands, “I fell in love with it immediately when it was shown to me and luckily, I’ve never needed to search for another instrument in over 25 years,” says Anne Harvey-Nagl, a Vienna based Australian violinist who will return home in November to perform in the Australian World Orchestra Chamber Music Festival in the Southern Highlands on 26th and 27th of that month.

The festival, now in its third year and curated by Artistic Director Christina Leonard, has built a solid reputation as a weekend event featuring fine music played by some of Australia’s most highly acclaimed classical musicians living at home and abroad, complimented by beautiful food and wine in the company of like-minded people.

The festival also aims to introduce works by Australia’s foremost living composers. In previous years the festival has hosted Mary Finsterer, George Palmer, Tim Dargaville, Andrew Ford, and Elena Kats-Chernin.

This year’s festival features the music of Australian composer Paul Stanhope who will introduce his works alongside others by Beethoven, Saint-Säens, Schumann, Ravel and Kodaly to name a few.

The three programs titled ‘My Song Is Love Unknown,’ ‘The Sweetest Nightingale’ and ‘Into The Sunset’ draw inspiration from Leonard’s experiences in the Southern Highlands.

“It’s such a spectacularly beautiful part of the world. For me, this natural beauty is something that inspires relaxation and creativity and makes it the perfect place to host a festival. I love the challenge of programming both cornerstones of the chamber music repertoire – well known music as well as music that is rarely heard, and also I really value the opportunity to introduce our audiences to the music of some of Australia’s nest living composers, as well as the composers themselves!” says Leonard.

Leonard, a saxophonist from Sydney who plays custom made instruments by Japanese instrument maker Yanagisawa, and the only ones of their kind in Australia, has a strong vision for this year’s Chamber Music Festival, “I’m looking forward to continuing to present concerts that showcase musicians from the AWO (Australian World Orchestra) in a really up-close-and-personal way and to enjoy beautiful food and delicious wines with interesting people, because I always meet so many of them after a concert! Festival-goers will enjoy the intimacy of chamber music, the skill of the performers and the beauty of their sounds. You always hear the mastery the players possess in chamber music repertoire.”

The musicians from the Australian World Orchestra are some of Australia’s finest– a unique orchestral initiative that brings Australian musicians from home and abroad to perform together under the one roof.

In its short 5 year history, the orchestra has attracted stellar conductors such as Maestro Zubin Mehta and Sir Simon Rattle.

Violinist Harvey-Nagl says, “Every single player is at the highest level of professionalism and expertise and it’s simply a wonderful experience to work with like-minded, open, friendly, funny Australians, many of whom I have known since my student days.”

As concertmaster of the Vienna Volksoper, the home orchestra to the Viennese Opera House of the same name, Harvey-Nagl is a seasoned international performer, “I am thrilled to be part of the Southern Highlands Chamber Music Festival, and to performscreen-shot-2016-11-15-at-3-06-28-pm some of my favourite works with outstanding musicians. I’m especially looking forward to the diverse programmes, the opportunity to perform some Australian works, and to be working with these wonderful musicians in an intimate setting.”

Harvey-Nagl will be joined on stage by Leonard; violinist Lerida Delbridge, Assistant Concertmaster of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra; violist Lisa Grosman of Monash University and formerly of the Irish Chamber Orchestra; cellist Andrew Hines of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra; clarinettist and Associate Principal of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Frank Celata; and piano soloist Bernadette Harvey.

The festival is billed as a weekend of fine music, delicious food and uplifting experiences and will be presented at the Bowral Memorial Hall, St Jude’s, Bowral and Wombat Hollow, East Kangaloon.


This article appeared in the November edition of Fine Music Magazine – you can subscribe to our monthly magazine and have it posted to your home or business or click the link here to read online.

PORGY AND BESS: Gershwin’s opera in the Concert Hall

The Concert Hall oscreen-shot-2016-11-12-at-10-16-46-amf the Sydney Opera House is a most dynamic venue; as Sydney’s stage, it hosts virtuoso pianists, rock musicians and HSC students – and that’s just in one week. In November it will morph into yet another guise – an opera theatre, as conductor David Robertson and director Mitchell Butel bring their vision of Porgy and Bess to life.

George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess is inherently hybrid because musically, it blends jazz, African-American Spirituals and musical theatre while retaining the qualities of an opera. Through Robertson’s vision, its hybridity will extend beyond the music because his Australian orchestra Sydney Symphony (SSO) will be combined with an American cast. Opera will blend with concert. In technical terms, this is known as a ‘semi-staged’ performance. In layman’s understanding, this means a world of possibilities.

Before we turn to the 2016 production, it is interesting to peel back the layers and discover how Porgy and Bess came to be formed. Like Shakespeare, its intersection of ideas, characters and politics makes it quite timeless. George Gershwin was a product of New York of the early 1900s. Born Jacob Gershwine, he was the son of Russian- Ukrainian immigrants, a boy who cut his musical teeth in Yiddish theatre, learnt the art of classical music and then scored his first job writing popular songs on Tin Pan Alley. In his twenties, Gershwin began collaborating with his older brother, Ira, and together they produced over a dozen Broadway musicals and some of the most memorable songs of their generation.

Around this time, further down the Atlantic coast, a man by the name of DuBose Heyward was hard at work writing a novel, Porgy, a local tale that would reach the world. Set on the streets of Heyward’s hometown in Charleston, South Carolina, Porgy told the tale of a disabled African – American beggar and his efforts to rescue his beloved Bess, from the hands of both her lover Crown and a drug dealer by the name of Sporting Life.

For its time, Porgy was a brave work and indeed, it was the first novel to validate the experience of the African – American population. When Heyward’s wife, Dorothy, adapted the novel into a play it broke further ground and, in a bold move, the Heyward’s insisted upon an African-American cast and Dubose subsequently crediting them as collaborators who transformed the drama.

Back in New York, Gershwin read Heyward’s Porgy and decided it would make a great opera. The Heyward’s stage play was already underway in development, so Gershwin decided to name his project Porgy and Bess to distinguish between the two. He decided, however, that this would be a folk opera and as he explained to the New York Times, ‘Porgy and Bess is a folk tale. Its people naturally would sing folk music. When I first began work on the music I decided against the use of original folk material because I wanted the music to be all of one piece. Therefore I wrote my own spirituals and folksongs. But they are still folk music – and therefore, being in operatic form, Porgy and Bess becomes a folk opera.’ Seven years would pass before Gershwin and Heyward signed a contract with the Theatre Guild to write the opera but finally, in September 1935, the show opened at the Colonial Theatre.

Eighty years later, and an ocean away, staging Porgy and Bess is perhaps a timely reminder of how little the world has really changed. Fine Music spoke with soprano Nicole Cabell who will be performing the role of Bess in the SSO production. Upon being asked what the story means to her, Cabell responded, ‘Porgy and Bess is a story of love in the hardest of circumstances. Sometimes the characters triumph in love, and sometimes they fail, but the message always is of hope. The story is also an expression of joy when faced with unfair, heartbreaking circumstances. This small community in Catfish Row looks after one another, living and fighting through tragedy, always managing to come out stronger in the end. I can personally relate to some of the struggles expressed in this story, and can attest that it is only strong relationships that matter, that can get you through hard times.’

Cabell’s answer captures succinctly why the work remains so humanly and emotionally timeless. When asked what draws him to the work, Robertson provided an understandably musical answer. ‘The brilliance of invention of the melodies and the way in which Gershwin is so incredibly fecund in coming up with all of these brilliant tunes, is what makes it so appealing.’

As it is Cabell who will be voicing these tunes, it is interesting to try and understand how she relates to the character of Bess. Female characters in opera seem to exist somewhere on a spectrum of sweet to manipulative but as Bess sits on the crossroads, Fine Music asked Cabell which one she prefers to play.

‘Antithetically I actually have more fun playing the good girl,’ she replied.‘It’s more natural for me, I guess. That said, it’s also fun to play “bad” even though many of the rougher female characters in opera, such as Bess, have a heart of gold. I’ve come to embrace the challenge, to step outside my comfort zone, and it’s certainly becoming easier.’

From the way she describes Bess, it is clear she feels an emotional kinship with the character. ‘Bess is only a little manipulative,’ she defends, ‘and it’s really a survival tactic. Most of her hard exterior comes from pain and struggle, both of which she constantly fights to overcome. She wants to be sweet and loving, but has suffered a lot of abuse. You can see, watching the opera, that she has a wealth of love to give, but fights quite hard to tap that well. Her weaknesses are the weaknesses we all suffer, or would suffer, in her circumstances. Given the right circumstances, she can be, and is, very sweet.’ With this powerful evocation of the female lead, it is left to wonder in what way Porgy’s character provides a counterpart and it is Robertson, perhaps, who provides the answer when asked what audiences should take away from their night at the opera: ‘The resilience of hope within the human spirit.’ That’s Porgy, through and through.

Joining Cabell in Sydney will be Alfred Walker as Porgy, Eric Greene as Crown, Karen Slack as Serena, Julia Bullock as Clara, Leon Williams as Jake and Jermaine Smith as the acrobatic Sportin’ Life. Being a semi-staged production, there will be neither costumes nor set but as Cabell explains, this is far from a disadvantage. ‘When an audience isn’t given the full distraction of a set, lighting and costumes, they are encouraged to listen more closely to the music.’ And what music it is! As Robertson emphatically explains, ‘He thinks it is unlikely that there is an audience member alive on the planet who is unfamiliar with Gershwin’s music – they may just not know those beautiful melodies are associated with that particular composer. Gershwin is at once sophisticated and direct and very human.’

This directness and humanity is what permits the story to be told with only minimal dramatics. At the helm of those stage movements is Australian director, Mitchell Butel, who, much like Gershwin, has also explored the breadth of his field. Acting in everything from Romeo and Juliet to Oklahoma! and The Mikado, Butel turned his hand to directing in 2015. That same year he won Best Director of a Musical for his work in Violet performed at the Hayes Theatre. Butel is clearly well equipped to tackle this hybrid production and it is fascinating to try and imagine what he has in mind. Robertson is clearly pleased with the direction the collaboration is taking, saying he and Butel have ‘already had preliminary discussions and what he is putting forward is going to be screen-shot-2016-11-12-at-10-22-11-aman essential part of what I think will be a huge success.’

Robertson may be confident about his venture but it took a long time for Gershwin’s work to truly take off. Opinions were divided as to whether it was a racist work or an empowerment of race. As such, the opera fell into relative obscurity during the race riots of the 1960s. Its revival came at tscreen-shot-2016-11-12-at-10-22-23-amhe hands of the Houston Grand Opera in 1976. For the first time the opera was being performed by an American opera company, rather than a Broadway production, and it secured the work in the opera repertory. Houston Grand Opera deservedly won a Tony award for the production.

From Cabell’s description, as would be hoped, it seems that today the work is seen as empowering, a foray into exploring race relations and manifesting aspects of humanity. Beneath the sails of the Sydney Opera House it is hoped that the opera will take people beyond the streets of Catfish Row and into their own hearts. This is the tale of two brothers, a husband and wife and two lovers brought together in a fusion of music and drama, popular and classical. It is a hybrid work for an ever re-incarnating hall. Come on down.


– Nicky Gluch


This article appeared in the November edition of Fine Music Magazine – you can subscribe to our monthly magazine and have it posted to your home or business or click the link here to read online.

THE HUSH FOUNDATION: Hush 16 – A Piece of Quiet

When music tells an ascreen-shot-2016-11-11-at-4-14-33-pmmazing story, when every note has a deeper purpose, and listeners are transported to another world. These are the goals of Hush, an astounding collaboration between Australian children, young cancer patients and our nation’s most accomplished musical minds.

Hush 16: A Piece of Quiet is a new collection of original music featuring singer-songwriter Lior, composer Elena Kats-Chernin and The Idea of North. These are very bright musical stars indeed but the courageous children shine even brighter.

What exactly did the collaboration look like? The artists themselves posed questions to the children in a series of informal conversations about life. The remarkable answers they were given became an irresistible source of musical inspiration.screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-4-14-45-pm

Each composition in Hush 16: A Piece of Quiet strives to express wonder and wisdom as only children can, uniting people of all ages in the joy of life. They may be ARIA winners, household names and regular fixtures at Fine Music FM but music like this can only arise from the minds and hearts of little ones.


This article appeared in the November edition of Fine Music Magazine – you can subscribe to our monthly magazine and have it posted to your home or business or click the link here to read online.

CD Reviews: November

Bruckner: Symphony no. 8
Australian World Orchestra
Sir Simon RattleScreen Shot 2016-11-07 at 3.44.19 PM.png

ABC 4814532
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What a task! Coupled with a great aspiration to present a gargantuan work by incoming international musicians who don’t normally act as a team, but with a ‘Manager’ who knows how to get the best out of his players. That is what we have on the table with Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Australian World Orchestra- ‘one of the great orchestras of the world’- in a recorded performance of Bruckner 8 in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House. And no wonder that the performance was crowned ‘Best Orchestral Concert of the Year’ at the 2016 Helpmann Awards.

Bruckner began work on the Eighth Symphony– the last symphony the composer completed- and it was premiered under conductor Hans Richter in 1892 in Vienna, and dedicated to the Emperor in 1885.The 1890 premiere was twice scheduled to occur under the direction of the young Felix Weigartner, but each time he substituted another work at the last minute, eventually telling Bruckner that he was unable to undertake the performance because the work was too difficult and he did not have enough rehearsal time! In particular, the Wagner Tuba players in his orchestra did not have enough experience to cope with their parts. Did Sir Simon become affected by similar difficulties in his Sydney performance? I don’t think so! One anonymous writer described the symphony as ‘the crown of music in our time’ whilst Hugo Wolf wrote to a friend that the symphony was ‘the work of a giant that surpasses the other symphonies of the master in intellectual scope, awesomeness, and greatness.’ Need one say any more? Acquiring this recording could be a valuable memento of a great Australian musical occasion.

– Emyr Evans

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The Seattle Recital
Works; Beethoven, Chopin, Proko ev, Debussy, Ravel & Bach
Emil Gilels, piano

DG 479 6288
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Recently, I came across a web page listing the greatest 25 pianists of all time. Whilst the usual suspects were there, one was strangely absent. I found it incomprehensible that the Ukrainian virtuoso Emil Gilels would not be included and I immediately dismissed the list. This previously unreleased recording, a live recital from Seattle in 1964, dispels any theories that he is not up there with the very best concert pianists of all time.

The recital opens with a powerful and energetic reading of Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata. His recordings of the Beethoven sonatas are legendary and this is no exception. Whilst some of the intricacies of the work are lost (and I put this down to the recording equipment) his powerful surges in the outer movements are counterbalanced tremendously with moments of delicacy and serenity in the short slow movement which serves as more of an introduction to the finale.

Other highlights on this disc include a jaw dropping account of Prokofiev’s brief one movement Sonata No 3, and a brash, virtuosic account of Stravinsky’s popular Russian Dance from Petrushka. There is more Prokofiev, with excerpts from his Visions Fugitives, as well as shorter works from Debussy and Ravel. He finishes with a Bach Prelude in B Minor which displays his ability to encompass music from all periods of Western music. His account of Chopin’s rarely performed Variations on Là ci darem la mano evokes sensitivity combined with a majestic grandeur and sense of occasion. Whilst the music itself is spectacular, I feel as though DG could have done more to clean up this recording and remove more of the background noise, especially the incessant coughing from the audience. This was particularly noticeable towards the end of the first movement of the Waldstein Sonata.
This is an important release in the 100th anniversary of his birth. Connoisseurs of Gilels will be tripping over themselves to get hold of this. They won’t be disappointed.

– Frank Shostakovich

 


Richard Strauss: Symphonic Interludes from Intermezzo & Ein Heldenleben
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis
ABC 481 2425screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-3-44-52-pm
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Coupling these two choice opuses from the pen of Richard Strauss is not coincidental. Their link is that they are semi- autobiographical….and before I am accused of being vague with words, let me just add that the incidental music from Intermezzo is based on a fictionalised version of what happened to Mr and Mrs Strauss’ relationship, while the longer Ein Heldenleben is Mr Strauss’ self-glorification in the role of hero. Strauss once told a friend: “I don’t see why I should not compose a symphony about myself. I find myself quite as interesting as Napoleon or Alexander.”
Initially, I should praise the Melbourne Symphony and Sir Andrew Davis for the way he has moulded this excellent orchestra. It has biff, bash, and no lack of bravado. As for Intermezzo, it is based on a misunderstanding on the supposed affair that Strauss had with a ‘pen- pal’ which almost led to divorce proceedings. Strauss, on his part, objected to his flirtatious wife having a dalliance with a younger singer. And so the plot (which Strauss was forced to write as he could find no collaborators) was born. The incidental music is light, frothy and highly appealing. Which, alas, is more than I can say for Ein Heldenleben. Strauss loved his brass and that has front-of-house status in this symphonic poem. Hopefully for me, it is like a hair shirt ……. an acquired habit!!

– Randolph Magri-Overend


These reviews appeared in the November edition of Fine Music Magazine – you can subscribe to our monthly magazine and have it posted to your home or business or click the link here to read online.

What’s On: November

THE SONG COMPANY: An Orthodox Christmas screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-9-09-10-pm

Where and When:
Sydney 3 November, 7.30pm
North Sydney 13 November, 3pm
Blackheath 12 November 3pm
Newcastle 10 November, 7pm
Wollongong 6 November, 3pm
Tickets: $45-$60
Booking and Information: phone 02 8272 9500 or click here

Glories stream from heaven afar – a sumptuous programme of carols with Georgian, Greek, and other connections. The traditional Christmas story is not just about one transfigured night in Bethlehem, but stretches from the Annunciation some nine months earlier, to the visit of the wise men and Herod’s subsequent attempt to wipe out the rival boy-King – by then possibly a year or two old.
Arvo Pärt and John Tavener’s music is well-known for its iconic beauty; that of Ivan
Moody and Artistic Director Antony Pitts also draws on the resonant solemnity of the Orthodox liturgy, while the more earthly and rousing carols bring the celebrations home. Program includes:
Arvo Pärt: Magni cat
Jonathan Pitts: Hark the Herald Angels sing!
Ivan Moody: The Manger: A Carol for Christmas
Antony Pitts: O Holy of Holies
John Sheppard: Reges Tharsis
John Tavener: The Lamb
plus a seasonal selection from The Naxos Book of Carols


SYDNEY SINGS…MESSIAH!screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-9-08-55-pm

Sydney University Graduate Choir, guest choir and orchestra
Music Director Christopher Bowen OAM
Soloists:
soprano – Anita Kyle, alto – Tim Chung, tenor – Andrew Goodwin, bass – David Hidden

Where: Sydney Town Hall
When: 13 November, 3pm

Tickets: $25-$45
Booking and Information: phone 02 9351 7940 or click here

The iconic Sydney Town Hall once against sets the scene for the Sydney University Graduate Choir’s performance of an equally iconic work, Handel’s Messiah. Composed in 1741 and premiered in Dublin just after Easter in 1742, Messiah has become one of the best-known and most frequently performed works in the choral repertoire.

With the words from the King James Bible and Psalms from the Book of Common Prayer, as adapted by librettist Charles Jennens, Messiah counterpoints rich choruses – ‘And the glory of the Lord’, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ – with glorious arias – ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion’ (soprano), ‘Why do the nations so furiously rage together’ (bass), ‘O death, where is thy sting’ (alto and tenor).

The Sydney University Graduate Choir and Orchestra, under the leadership of music director Christopher Bowen OAM, will be joined by a large guest choir drawn from across the city of Sydney.


MOSMAN CONCERT SERIES’ PLEKTRA

screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-9-09-25-pmWhere: The Blessed Sacrament Church, Mosman
When: Sunday 6 November, 2.30pm

Tickets: At the door only; $25, seniors $20, children free. Includes afternoon tea and lucky door prizes
Information: click here

Mosman Concert Series’ annual presentation of Plektra, one of Sydney’s very finest plucked string ensembles, now enlarged to eight players to include an additional mandolin and a new player, Jacques Emery, on percussion, takes place in The Blessed Sacrament Church, 62 Bradley’s Head Road, at 2.30 on Sunday 6 November. Stephen Lalor, brilliant mandolinist and Plektra’s Director has chosen a fascinating program which includes Vivaldi’s Mandolin Concerto in C, two of his own suites with evocative titles and movements: Winter Collection – Overture – The Dancing Man of Kew – The Flight of the Magic Hat; World Music Suite – East-West – Atherton Tableland Waltz – Kolo Kolo, and numerous pieces which give Plektra its classic south eastern European flavour. Intriguing, relaxing, exciting and always enjoyable!


2016 AWO CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-9-08-42-pm

Where: Various locations in the NSW Southern Highlands
When: Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 November 2016
Tickets: $60-$150 per concert or $266-$284 for festival pass; includes all 3 concerts and catering
Booking and Information: phone 8283 4527 or click here

Inspired by the iridescent music of this year’s composer-in-residence Paul Stanhope, the 2016 AWO Chamber Music Festival in the Southern Highlands promises to be an unforgettable weekend.

“My Song is Love Unknown”, “The Sweetest Nightingale” and “Into the Sunset” continue our philosophy of presenting beautiful music performed by musicians from the AWO complimented by ne wine, delicious food and the country hospitality that has become an integral part of the AWO’S Chamber Music Festival.

AWO chamber musicians at their best accompanied by a country morning tea
at the Bowral Memorial Hall on Saturday 26th November; a canapé supper at St Jude’s Church hosted by Fine Music 102.5 on Saturday evening; and for the ultimate relaxing Sunday – a rustic lunch at Wombat Hollow on Sunday 27th November.


This article appeared in the November edition of Fine Music Magazine – you can subscribe to our monthly magazine and have it posted to your home or business or click the link here to read online.