AWESOME Review: Giovanni Consort, Cloud Nine ⋅
Centenary Galleries, Art Gallery of Western Australia, October 5 ⋅
Review by Robert Housley ⋅
Chilling out has little to do with temperature and more to do with relaxing. Adults desire and, arguably, need relaxation far more than children. The so-called wellness craze is upon us.
So the idea of programming a choral ensemble with a show designed to “soothe the senses and focus the mind” seems antithetical for a children’s festival. How are they going to sit still for long enough and will they be quiet while dulcet enunciations permeate the ether?
And then to program it at 10.30am when children are at their most energetic. Brave.
These were my first thoughts. But if inspiring a love of the arts in to “bright young things” is Awesome Festival’s ultimate goal then Giovanni Consort’s glorious expression of music is a great place to begin.
Inspiration is readily garnered by adults and children alike from the nine-member Consort’s offering Cloud Nine, which is a condensed, child-friendly version of its 2019 Fringe World festival show Sleep with Giovanni. So too is wonderment.
The audience members are provided with an eye-mask each before being ushered downstairs in to the bowels of the old section of the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Shoes are taken off in an adjoining room before the small opening-day audience is directed to the cavernous, acoustically generous performance space.
It is a chill-out zone. Yoga and gym mats are spread in concentric rings around a clear, circular central space from where most of the singing is presented. We are told to put on our eye masks and . . . relax.
And then it begins. Stirring voices that defy the capacity of the uninitiated to believe such a sound can emanate from so few people. The power, the beauty and the seamless integration of such a range of different voices is totally overwhelming. With your eyes closed the music simply inhabits your being. Relaxing? Not so much for this reviewer. Rather, gently invigorating.
The group performed four varied works including Sleep (Eric Whitacre), O Salutaris (André Caplet), Kondalilla (Stephen Leek) and Pais Dinogad, regular Consort member Joshua Adams’ arrangement of a 6th Century Welsh lullaby, composed specifically for this show, which was created and directed by Jonty Coy in collaboration with Giovanni Consort Artistic Director Hugh Lydon.
A brief Q&A with the audience afterwards offered a better understanding of the experience and was an important addition.
Junior review by Saskia Haluszkiewicz (aged 9)
Cloud Nine is a treat for all the senses. From the moment I entered the evocative room downstairs at the Art Gallery WA and saw the mats placed on the ground I knew this was going to be an unusual theatre experience. Audience members are asked to lie down and wear eye masks while listening to the beautiful voices of the Giovanni Consort and their quirky selection of instruments. For thirty minutes the stunning voices of the choir soar throughout the room and the eye masks help sharpen your senses and open your mind to a whole new world. You are completely in your own experience and quickly forget the presence of the audience around you.
At the end of the show your body is drawn back down to reality and the performers ask you questions about what you have heard and give you an opportunity to try the instruments. I would highly recommend this delightful show to anyone who loves floating in their imagination and being taken on a musical journey.
Review: Giovanni Consort, ‘Giovanni Album Launch’ ⋅
St Mary’s Church, South Perth, 28 September ⋅
Review by Sandra Bowdler ⋅
The Giovanni Consort has been performing in Perth for 24 years now, and is well-known for its choral stylings of Renaissance and later music. The ensemble launched their first commercial recording on the weekend at St Mary’s Anglican church in South Perth, one of the many music-friendly ecclesiastical venues in the Perth area, with a lovely acoustic for unaccompanied choral singing. It is also where the recording of the disc took place.
The first three items (the performance followed the album track order) derived from the English Renaissance, conducted by Hugh Lydon, artistic director of the Consort. Robert Parsons’ version of Ave Maria, William Byrd’s Laudibus in sanctis and Robert Ramsey’s Sleep fleshly birth all displayed the group’s excellent balance, warm accurate tone and a good use of the acoustics. The Byrd work, based on Psalm 150 (‘Praise ye the Lord’, in the King James version), highlighted the tenor and soprano voices in joyful fashion, contrasting with the Ramsey work written for the death of Prince Henry, heir to the English throne (1612), sad but exquisite.
We then leapt to the 19th century for a work by Bruckner, the motet Çhristus factus est (Christ became obedient), a work of more varied contrasting moods and tonalities than the earlier items, and this time showing off the bass voices. All the singers, it must be said, displayed great purity of tone as well as well-maintained discipline and commitment. This and all subsequent items were conducted by Kate McNamara (also music director of St Mary’s). A complete contrast ensued from the early 20th century, with Frederic Bridge’s light-hearted The Goslings, which musically references Mendelssohn with echoes of the Wagnerian Liebestod. From World War I came Hubert Parry’s My soul, there is a country, presented with sonority and feeling.
The last bracket of items spanned the last 150 years or so, beginning with Duruflé’s Ubi caritas (Where charity is), which, we were told, drew on Gregorian chant using a modern harmonic language. In some ways it was the evening’s highlight, displaying the choir’s virtuosity in close harmony and ability to communicate feeling. Something really completely different followed, Australian composer Stephen Leek’s Kondalila, inspired by a Queensland water fall and comprising bird and water sounds, discreetly accompanied by small percussion instruments played by the singers as they wove around the church, while we were encouraged to close our eyes and immerse ourselves in the magic bushland setting. The final item was another setting of Ubi caritas by Western Australian composer Perry Joyce, very melodic for a contemporary work, and providing a fitting ending for a remarkably varied concert.
The recording itself reproduces the warm ambience of the concert, and provides both an excellent showcase for the Giovanni Consort, and also a sampling of choral music down the centuries, even if one might have liked something from the Baroque period – perhaps a future recording?
The Giovanni Consort album is available via online streaming devices (Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play etc.)
Picture top: Members of the Giovanni Consort. Photo David Penco.
“Every year I say the Festival program’s not going to get any bigger,” says Awesome Festival Artistic Director Jenny Simpson, “But every year it does feel a lot bigger.” Indeed, this year’s Awesome Festival program seems to be fairly bursting with shows and workshops for children and their families.
Jenny took some time out of her busy pre-Festival schedule to talk you through the shows on this year’s Awesome programme. (Challenge: see if you can work out which of Jenny’s show descriptions had Seesaw’s Nina Levy helpless with laughter.)
Super Power Kids Exhibition
“This year’s Festival will be underpinned by a fantastic book and exhibition that we’re launching in WA called Super Power Kids,” says Simpson. “The exhibition will be at the State Library of Western Australia and it will feature 33 extraordinary young Western Australians who have super powers. We’re partnering with Kalparrin to present this exhibition. Kalparrin is one of Western Australia’s leading agencies and they have over 4000 families whom they help navigate the health and disability systems.
Super Power Kids is a book that contains photographic essays created by Rachel Callander and Nathan Maddigan, contemplating the super powers people have that might not be so obvious to the outside world. We’re going to be asking the whole of Western Australia, and anyone else who’ll listen, ‘What is your superpower?’”
“Our headline show in the Heath Ledger Theatre this year is called Cloud Soup. Wolfe Bowart, of Spoontree Productions, is the artist and he is an extraordinary physical performer. His work involves clowning and movement and animation and mime… and in a nutshell it’s exquisite storytelling,” Simpson says with a sigh. “So in this instance it tells the story of a tailor who discovers the adventure that he longs for lies at his feet. And I don’t want to give too much away but I will say that I think there’s a lovely message of empathy in this show. Wolfe has been living in America and under the current American regime he’s feeling quite strongly that empathy is something we need to be discovering and rediscovering for ourselves, and having a conversation with our families and children about.”
Peter and the Wolf
“The is a show that everyone is talking about – social media went absolutely berserk when it was announced – is West Australian Ballet’s Peter and the Wolf, choreographed by Andries Weidemann. It’s a free show in the Perth Cultural Centre. You’ll need to bring yourselves, along with a hat and some sunscreen because it will be outdoors. I went to an early performance of this when it was being made and it’s just delightful and warm and ticklish… and beautiful really. So I expect that there’ll be lots of people coming in to join us for Peter and the Wolf. And I love the fact that we’ve got one of the best ballet companies in Australia making their work accessible to everybody by putting it on in a public place for free.”
“I’m pleased to be presenting some amazing West Australian artists and another show I’d like to highlight is CATCH!by Maxima Circus. Now, Maxima Circus is directed by someone who’s very well known, Sally Richardson. Sally is one of WA’s best known and loved directors. She works across theatre, dance and movement, and circus. It was a real interest to me a few years ago when she formed Maxima as a way of integrating these art forms. Often I struggle to program circus because it seems it’s based on one trick after another and often doesn’t have any kind of deeper narrative or anything more to offer the audience. And sometimes I struggle to program dance because it can be very abstract for children. So the notion of bringing physical movement, dance and circus together, all woven through with a narrative, is a really interesting idea. And Sally’s made a very beautiful show for young children that has lovely messages, a really empowering show actually. I can’t wait to see it light up the stage at PICA.”
“This show is phenomenal. It’s a partnership between DADAA and Circus WA. Led by Sam Fox, the artistic team includes circus artist Nel Simpson, dance artists Bernadette Lewis and Laura Boynes, composer/musician Roly Skender, costume/set designer Tyler Hill and lighting designer/production manager Mark Haslam. They’ve been undertaking this project for the last two years with teenagers who have high support needs and Circus WA’s youth troupe. They’re working with these young people to gather their stories and to develop their performance skills. So I think this is going to be beautiful… it’s actually a moment in time when a group of young people will have a platform to tell something about themselves in the way that they want to. And it’s very evocative of the super power conversation as well.
“The whole circus troupe has learned signing over the course of the creative process and they were talking about this recently, saying that the the biggest learning for them is that language needn’t have anything to do with words. So Experience Collider is very much about physical language, physicality and movement. It’s going to be extraordinary.”
“We’re doing a big weekend at UWA, the second weekend of the Festival this year. And we’ll have two stunning shows. The first one is by Windmill Theatre Co. and it’s called Beep. It’s for young children, ages 2 to 7, and it’s just a beautiful, beautiful show. Windmill’s artistic director, Rosemary Myers, is one of the best children’s theatre directors in the world, bar none. Beep is a robot who enters a foreign world and has to make her way in this world. The characters are absolutely endearing. Adults and children will fall in love with them as did I. I swear you will come out of it with a smile that would light the power grid.”
Picasso and his Dog
“Also at UWA we have Picasso and his Dog. This show has been on my wish-list for a couple of years now. It’s by Lemony S, a puppetry theatre from Victoria. It’s for ages 4 and up, and it’s about a sausage dog named Lump. So it’s a story about a man and his dog and the man just happens to be Picasso. And it’s a very, very beautiful show. So I encourage people to get along and see Picasso and his Dog at UWA.”
Bear With Me
“We presented Bear With Me at the Awesome Festival back in 2012. It’s one of the best shows in this genre that I’ve ever encountered and I see a lot of shows around the world every year. So I came to the conclusion that if it’s the best I will bring it back because it’s for young children and the children who would have seen it back in 2012 are in high school now probably. The characters are Tyrone and Lesley and they are the most adorable ukulele playing performers. And audiences are invited to bring their teddy bear to this show because their teddy bear plays a major role in the performance. I don’t want to say too much but let’s just say it’s a musical journey and really great for parents and grandparents with their young ones. There’s a lot of creative play and singing, and it’s pretty adorable. Possibly my favourite audience response to this show was back in 2012, when I saw a little girl coming out with her teddy bear. And I looked at her and said, ‘How did you go with that show?’ And she said, ‘I was a little bit too old for that show.’ And she’s about six. And I said, ‘Oh okay. And what did your bear think of it?’ And she just grinned and said, ‘You know? He loved it.’ I think that speaks volumes. So do bring your teddy bears along because, take it from her, they will love it.”
“One of our international acts this year is called Tetris, by Arch 8. I saw the show in Edinburgh in 2014 and I watched it with programmers from the Opera House and the Arts in Melbourne and Adelaide Festival Centre. At the end of the show we pushed each other out of the way and nearly broke our necks running to the front of the stage to grab the choreographer to tell him how much we wanted to bring this show to Australia. And back in 2014 he said his earliest dates were 2017. So that gives you an idea of how popular this piece is.
Tetris is a piece of contemporary dance/ physical theatre, based on the game Tetris. It is a show for anybody who likes, movement, colour and having a go. It’s really really fun. Basically it’s the colours of Tetris and the dancers perform a series of moves. And then over the course of the performance the dancers invite children onto the stage – parents can join them if they like – to learn the dance moves with them. By the time the show finishes, the dancers are sitting in the audience watching the children… and we all applaud them. I don’t think that should work on paper but it actually just works in practice. I’ve never seen it not work. So we just need lots of people to turn up and have a great time.”
“I’m always looking for opportunities to engage children in interesting and exciting ways with art-forms that have long and proud histories and a devoted, passionate following… but not necessarily with younger audiences. So I made an approach to Western Australia’s wonderful vocal ensemble, the Giovanni Consort, because they strike me as the group that is really trying to break down barriers to accessing choral music. I asked them how they would feel about creating something a bit different for children. We’ve used the premise of a show that they performed at Fringe and adapted that to be a work for children.
“The show is called Cloud Nine. It’s going to be quite immersive. Children and their families and their grown ups will be invited into a gallery downstairs at the Art Gallery of WA. The lights will be low, they will wear sleeping masks and lie on yoga mats, and the Giovanni Consort will perform around them. This affords the audience an opportunity to physically feel the music as well as just listening to it. And by depriving the senses it cuts out that distraction and the fidgeting, definitely no screens, and enables children to actually be more embodied in experiencing this performance. Then at the end of the performance they’ll be invited to join with the Giovanni Consort to sing a single note and to make a big harmony together. And then we hope that they might go in and join one of the exhibitions at the gallery, feeling very present and able to more fully interact with the artwork at the gallery.”
From Lip to Lung
“Now there’s a bloke called Mal Webb coming to this year’s Festival. Mal has been top of my bucket list for a long time. I’ve sent him an email with monotonous regularity every year inviting him to the Festival. And he’s never been available until now.
“Mal is a science geek. He’s the most magnificent musical nerd I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. He’s been known to stick cameras down his throat to teach you how your vocal chords work. He’s a beat boxer. He’s a looper. He plays pretty much every instrument under the sun. And I defy anybody to be in a room with him and not want to make music and make noise. He’s crazy, he’s fun and he knows his songs. He will be joined by Kylie Morrigan. All the instruments that Mal doesn’t play, which is pretty few, Kylie plays. So this is a show (and we’re doing workshops as well) called From Lip to Lung. When you leave you’ll be in no doubt as to how your voice works and you’ll be able to do quite a few new things with.”
So I’ve programmed Alvin Sputnik to celebrate his tenth birthday. I’ve loved this show and I’ve seen so many audiences around the world adore it as well. Alvin has been shining a torch all around the world for Western Australia. And I think it’s time for us to shine that torch on him and say, ‘Congratulations little fella.’
I expect that the show will sell out. The Last Great Hunt and Awesome are doing side by side seasons so we’re presenting the daytime shows and The Last Great Hunt is presenting night-time shows. One of the great things about good theatre, like Alvin Sputnik, is that it appeals to all ages.
11 August @ Government House Ballroom ·
Presented by The Giovanni Consort ·
For 24 years, The Giovanni Consort has been delighting Perth audiences with beautiful harmonies and imaginative concerts. The Consort has become renowned for its exquisite, high-quality performances of unaccompanied choral music ranging from the medieval period to the present day.
Some of Perth’s best voices join forces to present diverse and engaging musical programs and the Government House Foundation is delighted to present this fine group in a popular and wide ranging program.
25 July @ Church of the Resurrection, Swanbourne ·
Presented by The Giovanni Consort ·
In the second concert of their 2019 series, The Giovanni Consort will examine the world of Winter, and how many composers reflect this season in their works. Composers such as Ola Gjeilo, Francis Poulenc and Benjamin Britten successfully portray coldness in their music, especially those that have a Christmas theme.
Joining this list of household names are lesser known composers including Sven David Sandstrom and Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson, who deserve an equal level of recognition for their captivating uses of harmony and melody.
Artistic Director Hugh Lydon will conduct The Giovanni Consort as they perform music that will warm the soul. Joining Hugh to conduct will be Ry Charleson, who will be directing the Consort for the first time. Ry has curated the program, and has carefully selected music that will bring a wintery perspective of Christmas to WA.
The Giovanni Consort will perform these hypnotic works in the iconic surroundings of the Church of the Resurrection in Swanbourne and the adjoining hall, which will be converted into a German style Christmas market for the first half of the concert.
Mulled wine and other delicacies will be served throughout the performance.
Review: Giovanni Consort ⋅
St George’s College, May 4 ⋅
Review by Leon Levy ⋅
Expectations were high for the opening recital of the Giovanni Consort’s 2019 concert series. Soprano Brianna Louwen, recently returned from the UK with considerable credentials, took the bold directorial approach of seeking to reflect the themes in tableau form as a means of taking the music and words to an enhanced level.
Christ (actor Paul Rowe) was led to the cross as Gesualdo’s O Vos Omnes commenced and, largely swathed in black, he and his background black panel became the canvas upon which artist Kristie Coakley expressed her interpretation. Later, during a section of Monteverdi’s opera Lamento d’Arianna, Arianna (Brianna Louwen), in billowing white, took up her position and received the same treatment.
Gesualdo and Monteverdi, 16th century composers hailing from what was eventually to become unified Italy, largely faded from view until comparatively recently, despite the prominence they achieved during their lifetimes. Gesualdo, with his bold use of chromaticism, unexpected progressions and challenging dissonances, perhaps took Renaissance music as far as it could go; Monteverdi on the other hand looked firmly towards the new style of Baroque composition.
The opening work, Gesualdo’s brief O Vos Omnes of 1603, is a striking example of the composer’s ability to incorporate the unanticipated to most stirring effect and it provided an inspired start to the evening. Then followed the two major works on the programme, Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories for Holy Saturday and Monteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna, the latter a surviving excerpt from a lost opera set as a madrigal. A bracket of madrigals by both composers brought the short recital to a conclusion.
One would have had to go far to hear singing of such accomplishment. With one voice to a part, no conductor and no instrumental support, there was no hiding imperfection… and there was truly none to hide. The octet was impeccable both in ensemble and exposed line, and cadences were a joy to behold, miracles of balance and poise.
As regards the non-musical component, the Consort was extraordinarily unaffected by the necessarily continuous movement of the artist, who made herself as inconspicuous as was possible in the circumstances. On the negative side, the evolving scenes before us tended to impose a rather homogenous atmosphere of unrelieved misery on the proceedings, and the contrasts that one might have expected to hear between the two composers did not readily emerge.
While both Gesualdo and Monteverdi have secured their places in musical history, performances of their works are sufficiently rare as to make the Giovanni Consort’s programme greatly welcome, especially in such technically immaculate performances.
Pictured top: the Giovanni Consort at St George’s College. Photo Bourby Webster.
Review: Australian National Choral Association, Choralfest “Gala Concert” ⋅
Fremantle Town Hall, April 13 ⋅
Review by Leon Levy ⋅
The Australian National Choral Association’s Choralfest must have been heaven for lovers of choral music. Four days in Fremantle filled with talks, masterclasses workshops, concerts and pop-up events can’t but have been an inspiring, illuminating – and probably exhausting – experience for all involved.
The festival ran from April 13-16 and the epicentre was Saturday night’s Gala Concert which showcased an impressive cross-section of the participating choirs, both local and national.
Young Voices of Melbourne provided a delightful opening as the men, lined up across the stage, started Away from the Roll of the Sea, conducted from the floor by Mark O’Leary, while the rest of the choir filed in through the hall and added their voices. Clear diction and disciplined singing did justice to the evocative melody, as did accompanist Julia Piggin. An arresting Aboriginal chant took Waltzing Matilda a considerable distance from comfortable nostalgia as, with didgeridoo effects and paired sticks, an atmosphere of both the indigenous and introduced bush world was created. The tricky arrangement was skilfully negotiated.
The Australian Waratah Girls’ Choir (conductors Lindy Connett and Jennifer Scott) opened with a work inspired by the Ash Wednesday Fire, with music by Matthew Orlovich who also assembled the words. Loss, defiance, and a good deal of feeling were conveyed, and flame-red dresses only underlined this reaction to the tragedy. Tundra, in stark contrast, displayed striking vocal leaps, cleanly achieved, with beautiful solo voices emerging from the choral backdrop.
The all-female Perth Harmony Chorus under Carol McIntyre, the largest of the evening’s ensembles, displayed well-integrated sound as well as relaxed enthusiasm. Three items showcased their joy in singing: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning was tenderly and affectingly performed, although the accompanying gestures from the choir were superfluous.
The Australian Voices choir has distinguished itself in the promotion of Australian new music and conductor Gordon Hamilton’s introductory explanations were appreciated, an essential adjunct to appreciation of the two unfamiliar works, Flight and We Apologise. The first, by Berlin-based Australian Jaret Choolun, was something of a technical tour-de-force; the latter, an ingenious slowing down and scoring of a recording of Kevin Rudd’s historic utterance, where the captured overtones were all represented in this setting. Fascinatingly, the conductor then replayed the choral sound successively faster until it matched the speaking voice of the former PM.
A pause in the programme allowed the announcement of the winners of the ANCA Choral Composition Competition Open Section, one of whom, Brian Connell, was in attendance to acknowledge his award. His setting of Siegfried Sassoon’s poem Secret Music written from the Western Front, is a work of gathering power and was conveyed by Voyces with great feeling and conviction.
The Giovanni Consort then eased us back into the compositional world that we are fortunate enough to have inherited, with music of almost ineffable beauty. The renditions of Holst’s I Love my Love and Perth musician Perry Joyce’s excerpt from The Song of Solomon were flawless: two gems within the evening.
Finally Voyces, with conductor Robert Braham and accompanist Jonathan Bradley, provided further balm for the soul in Jake Runestad’s adaption and setting of American naturalist John Muir’s Come to the Woods, whose opening few words could indeed be an anthem for Perth. The course of the day to sunset was faithfully reflected in both singing and accompaniment, and seemed a most appropriate conclusion to an evening of varied choral music, performed to a standard of high accomplishment.
All involved are to be congratulated and the only suggestion is that in future texts be provided, even if at a small cost.