Jordi Savall
Classical music, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Foot stomping and whistles!

Perth Festival review: Jordi Savall ·
Perth Concert Hall, 17 February ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

Why do we like the music we like?  Ever since I can remember, medieval/early baroque music has resonated with me in a way that I have no explanation for.  I mean, sure, my forebears are from the UK (how fabulously exotic!) but my great-grandfather was making brooms not playing the viola da gamba.  There is something about the melody, even the tempo of European music from the 1600’s that feels both familiar and deeply evocative to me.

Jordi Savall is a master of this style.  The acclaimed Catalan musician formed the early music group, Hesperion XX in Basel, Switzerland back in 1974.  (The group rebranded itself as Hesperion XXI with the change of the century.)  The ensemble is renowned for its scholarship of early music from the 16th and 17th centuries, particularly that of Spanish origin.  For this series of concerts, Savall has brought in Mexico’s Tembembe Ensamble Continuo as collaborators.  Tembembe is a chamber group devoted to the performance of Hispanic baroque music and a form Indigenous to Mexico known as ‘son’.  A love of early music is not the only common thread binding these groups – both are known for their improvisation around old melodies and their reworking of early music.

The evening began with the players filing onstage, carrying instruments largely unfamiliar to contemporary audiences.  The only one I knew immediately was the harp.  But apart from that, it was all one could do from pulling out one’s phone and plugging “tiny guitar” into Google.  (Savall explained later – it’s called a mosquito)  There was a large wooden box upon which a player sat, drumming the softest, most melodic bass notes (marimbol); a plump guitar (huapanguera); a lute with an extremely long neck (theorbo) and an array of others.  And I haven’t even mentioned the horse jaw yet!

There followed a luscious assortment of songs and music from the 15th and 16th centuries, much of it improvised.  Kicking off with the sublime La Spagna by Spanish composer Diego Ortiz (ca. 1510 – ca. 1570), the program alternated between early music from Spain and that of Mexico.  Often, songs would follow on immediately from each other, highlighting stylistic and tonal similarities.  Between others there would be a pause, allowing the musicians to change instruments and the audience to break out into rapturous applause.  The Mexican contributions were frequently highlighted by the remarkable vocals of two singers – Ada Coronel and Zenen Zeferino.  From the first strains of Zeferino’s emotive tones, the audience was putty in his hands.  The play between the two singers was gorgeous to watch – these are sensual songs – and served to highlight the cool reserve of the European repertoire.

It goes without saying that musicians of this calibre are incredible to watch, but what was particularly noticeable about these groups was the camaraderie amongst the players.  (I guess when you’ve been playing together for 30-plus years, you’d want to get along.)  Harpist Andrew Lawrence-King (who, if you can picture it, would have been voted Person-Most-Likely-To-Play-Baroque-Harp in high school) is Hesperion’s resident jester, frequently prompting stifled giggles from guitarist Xavier Dias-Latorre.  Dias-Latorre, is should be said, is an astonishing player, extracting the most intricate melodies from his early baroque guitars with extraordinary ease.

We were entranced.  I expected the standing ovation at the performance’s conclusion, but not the whistling and foot stomping!  There’s nothing better than seeing a silver-haired elderly woman waving her arms and stamping her feet for more medieval music.  It made my festival.  Who says classical music is dying?

Jordi Savall plays Government House on February 18th.

Photo by Toni Wilkinson

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Music: Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets In Concert

10 & 11 November @ Riverside Theatre, Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre ◆
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ◆

The Harry Potter™ Film Concert Series returns to Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets™, the second film in the Harry Potter franchise. The West Australian Symphony Orchestra will perform John Williams’ unforgettable score while the film plays in high-definition on a 40-foot screen.

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Twists, turns and music: Jenny Simpson (Part II)

In “Twists, turns and music: part I”, AWESOME Arts CEO Jenny Simpson told Nina Levy about her past; a childhood cut short by loss, the music that saved her and a career characterised by contrast. Here is the second part of that interview, in which Simpson reflects on what it is that’s special about working at AWESOME Arts.

Ten years since her initial appointment at AWESOME Arts, Jenny Simpson is, if anything, more passionate about her work than ever. So what is it that keeps her interested?

“It’s the challenge,” she responds. “I’ve never got bored. The challenge is constant, of finding enough money to do what we need to do. You’ve got to be clever, passionate, and never give up.
“And then there’s the potential. Artists are amazing. It’s like breathing pure oxygen, sometimes, talking to artists, hearing their ideas. To be a part of a machine that generates oxygen for artists to breathe so they can go out there and change people’s lives is a real privilege. It’s meaningful.

“We did a project last week that profoundly moved me,” she continues. “I’m humbled by the work of the artists, I’m humbled by the creativity of the children. I’m blessed that the funder who provided the money stepped up. When it all comes together and you have a great outcome, you don’t need drugs, it is a drug. Yeah, that’s why I’m still here.”

‘Secret Life of Suitcases’ by Ailie Cohen Puppets at the 2015 Awesome Festival. Photo: James Campbell.

And what have been Simpson’s favourite AWESOME Festival shows over her decade with the organisation?

“It’s funny because one of my favourites was an abject box office failure. that show was called Echolalia,” she replies. “It was a one-hander by an artist from New Zealand called Jenny McArthur. It’s about the experience of autism. It was a show that brought me tremendous anxiety and sadness, all at once. It also gave me my best moment ever in the Festival, in my whole life in the arts, because that character, to bring herself down when she was escalating, she’d count to eight. And at the end of the show, she bravely steps out into the world – the whole show is about her trying to leave her house – and she finally steps out of her house and you see her waving her hand and you know she’s about to start counting. I was in a room full of children and they started to count to eight with her. They were totally on that journey with her. It was like they were helping her step into the world. That was a profound moment for me in the theatre, to see children and that artist as one in the space.

“Other favourites… Last year we had Barrowland Ballet, Tiger Tale, that was such a highlight to bring that show out. It was beautiful story telling, it was exquisite dancing, it was an amazing set and it was underpinned by this composer sitting in the room, who’d written the score, performing it.

“Another one from Scotland was The Secret Life of Suitcases which is about being busy. It had a really profound effect on a lot of the parents who realised, ‘Oh my god, I’m so busy, I’m not living.’ I think that’s such an important message for those parents to have because busy-ness impacts on everyone and we tend to make a bit of a god of being busy.

‘A Mano’ by El Patio Teatro at the 2016 AWESOME Festival. Photo: James Campbell.

“Another show we had last year was a Spanish piece called Amano. It was a really slow, gentle piece of puppetry where they made the puppets out of clay on the stage. I relished the opportunity to sit in the room with about 90 people and for the whole pace of that room to slow down. It’s very special to do that with children, it’s very hard to achieve. A lot of performance for children is about ramping them up and getting quick laughs. For two artists to take children into a space that’s meditative and gentle was just so special. And the ending was really unresolved and left more questions than answers. I love that about Amano as well. So often work for children ties everything up neatly… but that’s just not what life is.

As someone whose own childhood ended so abruptly with the loss of a parent, Simpson speaks from experience. “Losing mum… we don’t all get our happy endings. That idea of supporting conversations about what happens when things are unresolved [is important], of asking how do we go on? Sad things in shows reconnect me with my grief but they also reconnect me with moving past it. I think that’s so important… and for children and adults to know that bad things will happen but you can move past this.”

“That’s another thing about the festival program,” she concludes. “Sometimes it is going to be evocative and at times even a bit provocative because it’s about providing opportunities to have bigger conversations with children. There’s a piece coming into this year’s Festival – the premise is climate change. No way is it controversial, but gosh it will make you think, how do we adapt? What do we do in our everyday lives that is a part of this issue? It’s not about beating people over the heads. It’s about saying, hey here’s a story, or here’s a workshop that is going to gently lead you into a conversation.”

Nina Levy

The AWESOME Festival for Bright Young Things takes place 30 September – 9 October. 


Read Part I of this interview here.

Pictured top: Barrowland Ballet’s ‘Tiger Tale’, performed at the 2016 Awesome International Arts Festival for Bright Young Things. Photo: James Campbell.

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Twist, turns and music: Jenny Simpson (Part I)

This year Jenny Simpson is celebrating a decade at the helm of AWESOME Arts, an organisation dedicated to making incredible arts experiences for WA’s children. Nina Levy caught up with Simpson for a chat about childhood, career paths and what makes a great festival show.

With a splash of colour in her hair and a ready laugh, Jenny Simpson brightens any room. Gregarious,  hilarious, and passionate about the arts, it’s hard to imagine a person better suited to the role of chief executive officer of of WA’s AWESOME Arts. The organisation presents the AWESOME International Arts Festival for Bright Young Things, an annual feast of theatre, dance, music, film and activities designed for children aged 0-12 years and their families, and the Creative Challenge, a year-round program bringing arts experiences to children in regional and remote WA. Like Simpson, AWESOME is recognisable for its colour, joyfulness and engagement with the Perth community.

Simpson’s love of the arts began early in life. Born in Bowral, NSW, she had an idyllic rural childhood. “I grew up running around the paddocks,” she reminisces. “It was a lovely childhood. My family was very musical. I grew up with lots of bonfires, playing music, having musicians come and stay. My parents were involved in running a musical festival. I used to be on the door, ripping tickets. I performed in the festival too. I used to sing – I still sing.

“Community was big for us as well,” she adds. “One of the things that I did as a child and do to this today is performing in nursing homes. Mum would play the accordion and we’d put on a show. I learned a great deal of respect for older people.”

Simpson’s happy childhood was shattered, however, when she was 15. “My mum died. That was a shock. She was young and I was young. My world fell apart.” Looking back, Simpson believes that music played a crucial role in helping her through the difficult years that followed. “I had a very troubled teenage life,” she reflects. “My father wasn’t a particularly teenage-girl friendly father. I found myself playing my guitar and singing in my bedroom, for hours at a time. That’s what got me through.”

Barrowland Ballet’s ‘Tiger Tale’, performed at the AWESOME International Arts Festival for Bright Young Things in 2015. Photo: James Campbell.

After finishing school and completing a degree in history, psychology and English literature, and Simpson’s early career took a turn that may come as a surprise to those who know her now. “I was all set to head to Latrobe to do a graduate diploma in secondary education,” she says. “I withdrew the night before. The prospect of standing in front of children and presuming to know more than they did terrified me. I ended up being a commodity trader in Melbourne. I drove a red car, I had shoulder pads, I did deals,” she dead pans. “At the same time I played in bands.”

Simpson’s day-job saw her visit WA, precipitating her first move West in 1995. “I loved the place, I loved the vibe of Fremantle at that time. Some of the best musicians and artists I knew were from WA,” she recalls. “I figured there was something in the water and I probably needed to drink more of that water.”

Although Simpson remained engaged with music, becoming the co-conductor of the One Voice choir in Fremantle, by day she was still working in the corporate world, this time at Schweppes. “Gee, I was really good at selling soft drinks,” she exclaims with a grin. “And then I was coming up to 30 – I think a lot of women, when they get to a certain age, start to re-evaluate what they’re here for – and it hit me like a bolt from the blue that maybe being really good at selling soft drinks was not going to be something I was going to be proud of at end of my days. Coming from that background of believing in community and doing good things like my parents used to do, I had a bit of a crisis about that.

“I’d always had this interest in finding audiences for good artists. In my spare time I used to tour people, for fun. So when I was having this existential crisis about what to do with my life and I saw a job for touring manager at Country Arts WA come up, I thought. ‘Touring! I do that!’”

In spite of the fact that she was the self-described “wild card” in the interview process, Simpson got the job and she never looked back. From Country Arts she went on to direct the National Folk Festival in Canberra. Then Arts Queensland needed an interim director at Brisbane Multicultural Arts Centre, where she was offered the position of director… but Simpson’s heart belonged to WA. “Fremantle was calling me home,” she remembers. “I felt it in my gut. Even though I wasn’t born here this place had imprinted on to me. The light here is different, the landscape is different. I regard it as home, I just feel it in my bones.”

‘The Secret Life of Suitcases’ by Ailie Cohen Puppets, from the 2015 AWESOME Festival. Photo: James Campbell.

Simpson didn’t have a job lined up but after a short stint at Kulcha Multicultural Arts, she landed the position of general manager at AWESOME. Initially, she recalls, she wasn’t that excited about the role. “For the first couple of years I felt a bit detached. I was the general manager then, so someone else was curating the program… And then I started to see the impact of what we were doing on children. I started to realise that actually this is the future and we’re getting in at ground level and making a better community. The sense of purpose started to burn in me.”

Simpson believes that AWESOME’s role goes well beyond exposing children to the arts. “I’ve realised that if you have something inside you that’s creative, that actually becomes a spring from which you can draw when the external world gets tough,” she explains. “It becomes about having an internal locus of control, as they say in therapy. It’s not letting the world control you, but having something strong inside you.

“I feel what we do, at AWESOME, is about giving children that inner courage through having creative energy. I want kids to be in their rooms, drawing, they can make a film on an iPad, they can dance, whatever… but I want them to have something they’re passionate about, that helps them engage with others and create networks, friendships. I think that supports problem solving, communication and development.

I think every human being needs that… especially children.”

This is part I of Nina Levy’s interview with Jenny Simpson. Read part II here.


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Music: Megan Washington with WASO

27 October, Perth Concert Hall
West Australian Symphony Orchestra

Two-time ARIA Award winner and multi-platinum album selling artist Megan Washington burst onto the Australian music scene in 2008. She started her career performing jazz but evolved her style to indie pop and alternative rock. In 2017 she joins WASO with new songs and a selection of favourites from her three studio albums. Don’t miss one of the defining Australian female singers of our age in this special concert with WASO.

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Music: Karin Schaupp Plays Rodrigo

6 October, 7 October @ Perth Concert Hall,
West Australian Symphony Orchestra

An exhilarating concert of fantastical tales and exotic colours.
Ravel’s Pavane evokes the courtly world of Renaissance Spain with as much perfumed nostalgia as Rodrigo’s popular guitar concerto does. Rodrigo described his glorious concerto as capturing “the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds, and the gushing of fountains.”

Rimsky-Korsakov’s equally popular tone poem Scheherazade plunges you headfirst into the exotic world of the Tales of the Arabian Nights. Former WASO Assistant Conductor Christopher Dragon is joined by acclaimed Australian guitarist Karin Schaupp in this enchanting concert.

“… a flawless performance from Karin Schaupp, the like of which I have not heard before…” – Classical Guitar (UK)

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Music: Jump, Jam, Jiggle!

Thursday 28 September – 9.45am & 11.15am, Saturday 30 September – 9.45am & 11.15am @ Perth Concert Hall – Wardle Room

In these 50-minute interactive workshop performances, children will enjoy a hands-on musical journey of instrument playing, song and dance inspired by the music of Holst’s The Planets. At the conclusion of the performance, children can “Meet the Musician” to learn more about the instruments of the orchestra and the people who play them.


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Music: Lux Aeterna

Sunday 24 September, 2pm @ St Mary’s Cathedral Perth,
West Australian Symphony Orchestra

An inspiring blend of the old and new.

Choral singing touches the soul like nothing else, and Bach’s masterful Chorales are some of the greatest choral music ever written – a joy to both sing and experience. These great masterworks are framed by music of twentieth-century masters, including Samuel Barber’s sublime Agnus Dei, (the choral version of his much-loved Adagio for Strings) and a new work by WASO’s Composer in Residence, Lachlan Skipworth.

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Music: Wagner’s World

Saturday 9 September
@ Perth Concert Hall,
West Australian Symphony Orchestra

Everything that was written after Wagner’s great opera Tristan was, in some way, influenced by it. Leonard Bernstein called Tristan “the central work of all music history”, and the Prelude and Liebestod contains some of the most achingly beautiful music ever composed.

Following arias from Die Walküre and Die Meistersinger sung by acclaimed Australian bass-baritone Shane Lowrencev, Asher Fisch explores Wagner’s musical legacy through the spacious grandeur of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony (his memorial monument to Wagner) and the overture from Chabrier’s opera Gwendoline. We conclude with Richard Strauss, who drew upon Wagner’s expanded orchestral palette, added his own dash of flamboyant audacity and composed the work that made the then 25-year old a star – the virtuosic orchestral showpiece Don Juan.

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Music: Asher Fisch conducts Mozart & Mahler

25 August, 26 August @ Perth Concert Hall
West Australian Symphony Orchestra

A titanic struggle with the forces of fate.

Conceived on a gigantic scale, Mahler’s Sixth is a symphony of extreme expressive intensity, demanding enormous interpretive commitment from both conductor and orchestra. Its legendary hammer blows are moments of raw brutality: theatrically exhilarating but emotionally devastating. Sonically spectacular and vividly imaginative, this is one of Mahler’s most awe-inspiring creations.
To open this concert, Japanese-born American violinist Karen Gomyo offers a sophisticated entrée – Mozart’s exquisite Third Violin Concerto.

“★★★★★ …Fisch and the WASO could not be faulted…. It was music mastery of high order.” – The West Australian 2016

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