Reviews/Fringe World Festival/Music

Purrfect delight

1 February 2020

Tiffany Ha discovers kittens are the perfect antidote to the sometimes stifling formality of Baroque concerts.

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Review: Australian Baroque, Cat Concerts ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 31 January 2020 ·
Reviewed by Tiffany Ha ·

Have you ever been to a Baroque music performance and thought to yourself, “Needs more kittens”?

Neither had I, until yesterday.

In the age of cronuts, goat yoga and wifi kettles, I wondered if Cat Concerts would fall victim to the modern-day adage “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should”. But my curiosity (and love for cats) snuffed any initial cynicism.

I knew this show was a great fringe concept because when I told people about it, their reactions fell into one of two camps: “That sounds like the best thing ever!” or “Why on earth would you do that?”, with not much variance in between.

Australian Baroque has been delighting Perth audiences for a little over a year with its unique offering of traditional-meets-trendy. Following the likes of Perth Symphony Orchestra and Freeze Frame Opera, these professional musicians are carving their own niche in Perth’s cultural landscape. Their efforts to make classical music accessible to younger and more diverse audiences set an example for some of the more established West Australian institutions that – year after year – face the reality of declining attendance and ageing audiences.

A kitten snuggles on a woman's shoulder
The kittens were passed between the
spectators during the concert. Photo supplied

For Cat Concerts, Australian Baroque partnered with a local cat haven to put on a show for cat and music lovers alike, where you could “cuddle a kitten while you immerse yourself in the amazing sound world of the 18th century”. They certainly delivered on that promise.

Before the music began, a representative from Cat Haven introduced us to four of the tiniest, cutest, most helpless looking kittens I’d ever seen. All the children in the audience, most of whom were sitting up the front on cushions on the floor, rushed to call first dibs on pats. The kittens were passed around spectators throughout the performance; the Cat Haven representative did a good job spreading the love evenly around the room (and preventing any kitten-hogging).

The four-piece ensemble featured Robin Hillier on flute, Helen Kruger on violin, Sophie Curtis on cello and Matthew Jones on theorbo (a massive 14-stringed Baroque lute/harp). Jones announced the two halves of the program – which he termed “pastiche suites” – made up of selections from French Baroque composers Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, Jacques Hotteterre and Robert de Visée.

The performances were lovely; the musicians played with great sensitivity and awareness. The acoustics of the gallery showcased with marvellous clarity the characteristic timbre of Baroque instruments. The violin and the cello – fitted with traditional animal gut strings – bathed the room with rich, warm, resonant tones; the wooden flute had a much mellower, recorder-like sound than its metallic modern-day counterpart; and the theorbo was thrilling in both its size and its versatility as a basso continuo instrument.

At times my focus was taken away from the music (because … kittens) and it seemed like the ensemble was just there to provide an exceptionally high-calibre live soundtrack for our kitten therapy sesh. But the musicians seemed happy to oblige, and I think most of us were relieved not to have to partake in the usual stifling formality of these kinds of affairs (kitten selfies encouraged). A purrfectly respectable way to spend an afternoon.

Pictured top: the members of Australian Baroque. Photo supplied.

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Author —
Tiffany Ha

Tiffany Ha is a pianist, composer, arranger, music educator and vocalist with a soft spot for anything a cappella. She has degrees in Music (Composition) and Arts (English) from UWA and works as a freelance musician. Her favourite playground equipment is anything that involves climbing and balance: monkey bars, rope towers, trees, human pyramids!

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