A spirit of creativity and collaboration energises and transforms those lucky enough to hear WAAPA’s next generation of stars, writes Tess Palmyre.
WAAPA Music Gala Showcase
Perth Concert Hall, 30 July 2023
As I take my seat in the Perth Concert Hall, a shiver of excitement washes over me. The stage is packed to the rafters with WAAPA’s classical, jazz, contemporary and composition music students.
Tonight, the audience is being treated to a music gala showcase from the next generation of stars from the renowned institution. It’s been a long time since my own heady WAAPA days and I find myself reminiscing before the WAAPA Symphony Orchestra starts tuning, and a hush descends.
The lights dim and we hear unearthly conch shells, bells and cymbals ring out all around us. As the energy builds in the dark, the audience gets swept up in the excitement. Suddenly, the stage lights are on and so is the relentless, pulsing joy of Defying Gravity percussion ensemble. We’re off with a wonderful cacophony of taiko drums and cymbals!
A stunning performance of O Fortuna from Carmina Burana that combines the talents of the orchestra and Big Choir leaves us speechless. The sopranos just about blow the roof off the concert hall.
I get the feeling that the performers could keep this pace up all night but, perhaps for the audience’s sake, the energy relaxes for the next few numbers.
WAAPA’s Jazz Big Band and Jazz Choir deliver a sweet arrangement of Barney McAll’s Precious Energy; Clare Perrott charms the audience with her beautiful composition GPS, performing solo on country vocals and guitar; before the Gospel Choir delivers a soulful version of Amazing Grace.
The pace picks up again when Matt Styles and ’Phone Co saxophone ensemble perform a syncopated and energetic Cuban mambo arrangement called Paquito. Stewart Smith’s jaw-dropping pipe organ performance and original composition, Paean, is awe inspiring. We all hold our breaths as the magnificent pipes light up in red and Smith channels a little Count Drac. We’re only halfway through the concert – it can’t get much better than this, surely.
WAAPA’s coordinator of classical music, Tim White, is our emcee and his humour is infectious as he describes the Count in Marriage of Figaro as a ‘love rat’, before Emily Davis and Georgia Mercer perform a fabulous Letter Duet, accompanied by the orchestra.
The Jazz Big Band shine in a furiously fast-paced performance of Chick Corea’s Spain. There’s something magical about the sound of jazz flute and vibraphone in a big band arrangement. This is followed by a soulful performance of Something, made famous by Snarky Puppy and Lalah Hathaway, then moving swiftly to Matt Allen channelling Stevie Wonder in Lately.
WAAPA’s creative and collaborative spirit unexpectedly sings out in a duo performance of Fly Me to the Moon. Too often, the song is given the usual medium swing treatment, but tonight’s rendition is fresh and original. The unlikely pairing of jazz vocals and classical harp stands out, as does Kira Gunn’s elegant ‘flamenco guitar’ style accompaniment. Symbolically, this spirit is cemented when both performers stand, hold hands and bow together.
There are so many notable performances that it feels wrong to single out individuals. It’s clear that every performer and composer worked incredibly hard to prepare for the gala and gave it their all. We enjoy some spectacular compositions, including Jonathan Jie Hong Yang’s Cartographer’s Expedition.
As the night draws to a close, everyone comes together for Alice Humphries’ epic work Be Transformed, conducted by Tom O’Halloran. Inspired by Edith Cowan, the piece captures her drive to educate and transform. Supported by the various ensembles and orchestra, it features the incredible talents of Jamie Oehlers – WAAPA’s associate dean of music and internationally renowned saxophonist – as well as opera star Emma Matthews and Mikayla Boonstra (contemporary voice). We are beckoned by the performers to ‘be transformed’ by their performance – and that we are.
What a night! Hurrah to all WAAPA staff and students.
Pictured top: WAAPA’s musical talents were out in force at Perth Concert Hall. Photo: Stephen Heath
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