Review: Perth Symphonic Chorus, “Magnificent Bach” ⋅
Winthrop Hall, May 18 ⋅
Review by Leon Levy ⋅
On an unusually busy choral weekend the Perth Symphony Chorus was in competition with both Voyces and WASO Chorus as well as – perhaps on a less elevated level – the unfolding Federal election count. Those audience members who turned up in a jubilant or despondent frame of mind would have found spiritual sustenance to support either mood; with Bach, Vivaldi and Dr Margaret Pride and her forces we were in the best of hands.
Bach dominated, as suggested by the title of the concert “Magnificent Bach”; but if this was intended to establish his Magnificat in D major BWV 243 as the focus of the evening, it was something of a misnomer. As the opening work, it was hampered in the first instance by a chilly Winthrop Hall that was not filled to capacity and latecomers who ought to have been led unobtrusively to the vacant seats further back.
The performance was prefaced by a brief but helpful introduction given by Dr Pride, illustrated by the musicians. The hall acoustic was sympathetic to the orchestra but had the choir sounding unexpectedly subdued. By the fourth verse ‘Omnes Generationes’ however, the forces were coming into balance and ‘Sicut locatus est’ was marked by firm singing and full tone. Similarly the challenges of the closing ‘Gloria’, before it reaches its jubilant and joyous home run, were finely controlled. The commendable idea of drawing soloists from within the chorus was not wholly successful. What no doubt worked well in a rehearsal studio did not readily command the comparatively vast spaces of Winthrop Hall, although alto Claire Lane and bass Brett Peart were especially successful in getting into their vocal stride and giving pleasure in the process.
Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 4 in G major BWV 1049 was given in tribute to Adrian Maydwell, musician and doctor, who during the week had tragically lost his life in an accident. A more eloquent salute than that provided by Bach, soloists Paul Wright (violin) and Emily Clements and Laura van Rijn on flute and the Perth Baroque Orchestra could hardly be imagined. The performance, perfectly judged and executed, featured glorious interplay between the soloists.
In terms of impact, it was Vivaldi’s Gloria that proved to be the choral highlight of the evening. This time the somewhat recessed choral sound cleared quickly to give way to wholly engaged and expressive singing. Claire Lane once again gave particular pleasure, while in ‘Domine Deus’, the extended solo part provided soprano Hyoshin Kang with an opportunity to settle into her role and perhaps be inspired by the exquisite oboe playing of Anna Rodger. In ‘Quoniam tu solus Sanctus’ the choir matched the vibrant orchestral opening, while in the concluding ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’ the energy and clarity of the choral lines supported by Jenny Coleman’s clarion trumpet, brought the work to a stirring conclusion.
Dr Pride brings distinction to whatever she and her collaborators tackle. On this occasion Wright and the Perth Baroque Orchestra provided a golden thread throughout the evening which was as much their achievement as anyone else’s.
18 May @ Winthrop Hall ·
Presented by Perth Symphonic Chorus ·
Indulge your love of Baroque music and come listen to the marvellous Perth Symphonic Chorus present Bach’s Magnificat and the Vivaldi Gloria, and Perth Baroque Orchestra perform Bach’s fourth Brandenburg Concerto. Bach’s virtuosic and exhilarating music never fails to entrance and the joyous nature of Vivaldi’s Gloria makes it an audience favourite.
Review: Perth Symphonic Chorus and Perth Baroque Orchestra, Handel’s Messiah ·
Perth Concert Hall, 22 December ·
Review by Leon Levy ·
For some 30 years Handel’s fame had been based on a large body of operatic works. Thus it is arguable that had not changing fashions pushed the composer in the direction of oratorio – for which his dramatic instincts were well-suited – the world might conceivably have been deprived of the masterpiece that is Messiah. For the work responded to the particular texts, drawn by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible and Book of Common Prayer, in a way that yet another operatic libretto was, surely, unlikely to.
The premiere, a charity occasion held in Dublin in April 1772, was well-received. In order to accommodate the expected crowd, ladies were requested not to wear hoops in their dresses and gentlemen to dispense with their swords (a tradition that was respected by the Perth audience on this occasion, along with the custom of standing during the Hallelujah chorus). The reception given to the first London performance, almost a year later, was, however, less enthusiastic: this was perhaps shaped by the belief that the work’s sacred subject matter was not suited to theatrical performance by secular singers. In any event, the work was described merely as “A New Sacred Oratorio”, shorn of its name “Messiah”. But there was no resisting its power, and from 1750 onwards there were regular London performances, followed elsewhere with increasing frequency.
Fresh from an exceedingly fine Remembrance Day concert, Dr Margaret Pride’s Perth Symphonic Chorus was, on this occasion, accompanied by the Perth Baroque Orchestra under Paul Wright. Taking one’s seat, one noted a band numbering just 25, well below the strength of most modern authentic performances. But towering above them was a group of some 125 choristers, many times the number of singers that the composer would have employed! However, any concerns regarding imbalances between instruments and singers were quickly banished, for Pride deployed her choral forces in a way that conveyed a sense of quiet strength, and throughout the performance the singing felt proportionate to the orchestral sound.
And what a fine sound the hard-working Perth Baroque Orchestra produced, setting the tone in the opening instrumental Symphony for all that was to follow. Similarly, tenor Robert Macfarlane established the standard for his fellow soloists, bringing colour and feeling to his “Comfort Ye” recitative, and even runs and convincing decorations in the following “Every Valley”.
“But who may abide” proved to be a less than successful introduction to bass James Clayton and counter tenor Tobias Cole, whose contrasting voice-types did not sit well together in the shared aria. Each, however, went on to contribute enormously to the evening: the counter tenor rapidly establishing his credentials in his next recitative and aria, and demonstrating well-matched duet-singing with the soprano in “He shall feed his flock”, and again in Part II with a heartfelt “He was despised”.
Clayton, too, went on to great things, revealing wonderful vocal splendour throughout, and using ornamentation, firm line and clear diction to bring life to all of his singing. And in “The trumpet shall sound” his vibrant projection was fully matched by Jenny Coleman’s gleaming and excitingly decorated trumpet accompaniment.
Soprano Janet Todd may have been a late replacement for two successive ailing soloists, but she rose splendidly to the occasion. With a fresh and pure tone, words feelingly articulated and a lovely stage presence, she met the most taxing of challenges.
The choir reflected all of the trademarks of Pride’s training. “Since by man” was just one of many examples of their pedigree, but throughout the evening their contribution brought unalloyed pleasure.
If it may be considered an honour to have brought a year of fine music-making in Perth Concert Hall to a conclusion, this truly fine Messiah was deserving of that distinction.
Pictured top is Perth Symphonic Chorus, conducted by Dr Margaret Pride, performing Handel’s Messiah at Perth Concert Hall (NB this photograph is not of the 2018 performance).
What were Seesaw writers’ favourite shows this year? What were the highlights and lowlights for the arts in WA? And which artists will our contributors be looking out for in 2019?
As 2018 draws to a close, Seesaw writers reflect on the year that was and the year that will be.
Xan Ashbury Top shows Cloud Nine, by Caryl Churchill. Directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler for West Australian Youth Theatre Company in July. Gutenberg the Musical, starring Jacob Jones and Andrew Baker. The musical was directed by Erin Hutchinson for Western Sky Theatre in June. Huff by Cree playwright and solo performer Cliff Cardinal and directed by Karin Randoja, staged at the Subiaco Arts Centre in March by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company.
Looking forward to… Our Town at Perth Festival. Black Swan State Theatre Company present Thornton Wilder’s classic play. Clare Watson directs a cast of professional actors and everyday citizens. Le Norat Perth Festival. Perth theatre-makers The Last Great Hunt tell interwoven stories of love in a world that’s falling apart, as they perform a faux foreign film live. Re-member Me at Perth Festival. Lip synching maestro Dickie Beau channels audio recordings of great historical performances of Hamlet. Billed as “humorous and haunting”.
Top Shows “No Second Thoughts: Artemis Women’s Project” @ LWAG – a stunning inquiry into the continuing history of feminist art in WA. The Second Woman @ PICA – If I could turn back time I would have made the effort to try to attend the whole 24 hours of this endurance piece! However, the four hours I spent watching Nat Randall and assorted men replay the same scene over and over was life-changing.
Can I say the entire Unhallowed Arts program? It was so amazing to have a festival (a monstrosity!) that encompassed institutions, ARIs (artist run initiatives), performance, experimental and visual art, and cutting-edge science and humanities research.
Nationally, the (slowly…) increasing number of ARIs that are now able to offer artist fees to exhibiting artists. I hope that a Perth ARI is soon able to access funding that will allow them to pay artists on a regular basis too!
Locally, it would be hugely biased of me* to say the opening of a new ARI in Perth’s CBD… but seeing a few more spaces opening up as exhibition venues has been heartening. I’m thinking of venues such as Old Customs House and the Lobby as well as Cool Change Contemporaryhere!
* Miranda is a co-director of Cool Change Contemporary.
The renaming of the Fringe World Pleasure Gardens to include a certain company’s name has been a recent reminder for me of the huge amounts of money that oil and gas companies give to the arts, and how they use the arts to appear “progressive” whilst contributing hugely towards climate change, making no effort to reduce emissions and paying very little tax. Of course it’s not news that this happens and that all our arts institutions rely on this source of funding in lieu of adequate governmental funding, but it’s been increasingly on my mind, and something that I think will require a reckoning amongst us artists and arts professionals – we are all implicated.
Looking forward to… “Cassils” @ PICA, as part of Perth Festival “Love, Displaced” @ Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, as part of Perth Festival The Violent Years@ The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights, as part of Fringe World
Leon Levy Another year of frequent absences from Perth has meant missing some significant productions and performances. Some of these – had I seen and heard them – would most certainly have jostled for inclusion in a “top 3” which was, in any case, challenging enough to achieve.
“Don’t Stop the Music” (ABC TV), for the moving depiction of the transformative impact of the introduction of music teaching at primary school level, and for the possibility that it will prove to be a catalyst for widespread adoption of music in the school curriculum. Such a development would also be an apt tribute and memorial to Richard Gill whose untimely demise was a grievous blow to music-education and to the nation… the “arts lowlight” of the year, if this loss can be thus characterised.
Since I’m only allowed to nominate three events, I’ll have to keep as a secret the fact that I’m also looking forward to Wot? No Fish!!, with Danny Braverman (Perth Festival), and can barely contain my excited anticipation of the glorious Elgar Violin Concerto, to be played by Nikolaj Znaider with WASO under Asher Fisch.
Nina Levy Top shows
Really difficult to choose this year! So many great shows.
Attractor by Gideon Obarzanek, Lucy Guerin, Dancenorth and Senyawa’s , presented as part of Perth Festival. Oh the Dancenorth dancers. Sigh. Huffby Cliff Cardinal, presented by Yirra Yaakin and Cliff Cardinal. Utterly compelling. You Do Eweby Unkempt Dance, performed by Co3 Australia as part of “The WA Dance Makers Project”. Ok, I didn’t actually see this work in the theatre because I was interstate for the season, but the studio show won me over with its highly relatable humour.
Arts highlight As I said at the time, the realisation, earlier this year, that we only have one more festival under Wendy Martin sent me into a period of premature mourning. At the risk of sounding unoriginal (because I’ve edited this piece and know how many other people have said the same), the appointment of Iain Graindage as the next Perth Festival director made my heart lift.
And seeing Strut Dance’s Sunset headline the 2019 Perth Festival launch was pretty special – a huge achievement for local independent dance.
The passing of the wonderful Richard Gillat age 76, conductor and music educator extraordinaire – such a loss to our community.
At a more personal level, I am also deeply saddened by the recent passing of my friend and mentor Lesley Goodman, a visual arts educator, who worked at the Art Gallery of WA for many years. For a short time I had the privilege of working with Lesley at AGWA, as her education assistant, and learned so much from her about how to talk to young people about visual arts.
Jonathan W. Marshall Top shows
2018 was an especially good year for dance, beginning with Vessel in the Perth Festival: a piece in which the dancers hunched forward so as to become faceless, moving sculptures.
Marrugeku’s trilogy of solos Burrbgaja Yalirra (Dancing Forwards) was also superb, featuring Eric Avery’s tremendous “burlesque” (or disrespectful re-enacting) of colonial tropes, performed while dressed in an animal hide tail coat, and using a violin and a microphone stand in ways which would feature well in a punk band.
Although there were strong musical showings from both Greywing Ensemble and Decibel (notably the latter’s wonderful Revolution), for sheer digital joy, Robin Fox’s lesson in live avant-techno was hard to go past.
2018 saw the first program at Black Swan Theatre actually devised by still relatively new artistic director Clare Watson (who had until now overseen much of the work programmed by her predecessor). While Xenides and Skylab were disappointing, it was still a bold selection of works, and the bleak queer/trans drama Hir was a stand-out.
Robert Lepage’s approach of taking significant cultural events, conflicts and exchanges and turning them into feel-good theatre about families continues to be massively over-rated (Far Side of the Moon, Perth Festival), while Fringe seem to be digging in their heels in their misguided belief that the more massive and completely uncurated the Fringe festival is, the better — even though this means that artists end up competing with each other for audiences and the program booklet is completely impossible to navigate. At least the Blue Room are curating their Fringe program; always worth looking out for!
Looking forward to…
WA’s gift to new music, the organisation Tura, turns 32 next year, kicking things off with Cat Hope’s bass and extended-vocal-technique opera Speechless(Perth Festival 2019), while our fabulously inventive MoveMe dance festival is almost certain to be back next year.
Meanwhile PICA continues to bring us some of the most exciting interdisciplinary performance, with new works from Aphids (who’s fabulously rag tag Howl featured at PICA in 2018) and Last Great Hunt already programmed.
Also worth looking out for is a new adaptation of Medeafrom Black Swan Theatre, who are also hosting Nakkiah Lui’s Black Is the New White, which made waves in Sydney in 2017.
Claire Trolio Top shows
Not only was Dizzee Rascal (for Perth Festival) my gig of the year – his show was one of the best live music experiences of my life so far. Let Me Finish was a powerful, hilarious and emotive feminist work that showed at The Blue Room. If you missed it, it’s coming back for Fringe next year so get tickets!
The appointment of Iain Grandage as Perth Festival artistic director for 2020-2023. Whilst I’m still sad that Wendy Martin’s time at the helm is coming to an end, I’m excited to see what direction Grandage will take!
David Zampatti Top shows Folias Antiguas & Criolas: “From the Ancient World to the New World”, Jordi Savall with Hesperion XXI and Tembembe Ensamble Continuo: It is impossible to imagine a more exciting or exquisitely performed concert than this. It was thrilling to listen to, and wonderful to watch. The Tale of Tales, Clare Testoni: A small, brilliant gem of storytelling, and a breakout achievement for its deviser and performer, Clare Testoni. Her images have a magical three-dimensionality, and move with an almost cinematic quality. It’s an honest show, and a heartfelt one. What Doesn’t Kill You (Blah Blah) Stronger by Tyler Jacob Jones and Robert Woods: Tyler Jacob Jones, as a writer of script and lyrics, and as a comic actor and singer, is the most prodigious talent in this town. His long-standing partnership with the composer Robert Woods and the versatile performer and director Erin Hutchinson has honed their skills to starry heights.
The appointment of Iain Grandage as Perth Festival Director for the next four years. We’ve got much to thank our recent directors for, but Iain brings his virtuosity as composer and musician, and makes history as the first born and raised West Australian to fill the position. Exciting times ahead!
Obviously I can be accused of self-pity here, but the retreat of The West Australian from coverage of the arts is both a symptom of a much wider malaise and a cause for particular concern. Still, change is good. Platforms like Seesaw have the capacity to fill the void and energise and grow the audience.
Looking forward to…
It’s hard to look past the festivals right now: Gatz: After the overwhelming experience of The Gabriels, who wouldn’t be looking forwad to another 8+ hour (with breaks for libations) American marathon. Icarus: Christopher Samuel Carroll’s Paradise Lost was one of the marvels of the ’17 Fringe. This time he’s taking to ancient skies. Our Town: I’m not sure that “looking forward” is exactly what I’m doing to Clare Watson’s take on Thornton Wilder’s classic American novel performed by a cast of professionals and “everyday Perth Citizens”. Including me…
Pictured top are Andrew Searle and Zoe Wozniak in “You do Ewe” by Unkempt Dance, performed by Co3 Australia. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.
22 December @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by Perth Symphonic Chorus ·
A joyous Christmas tradition! The wonders of this glorious oratorio are made almost endless when directed by Perth’s own brilliant choral director Margaret Pride OAM.
Exquisite arias such as ‘I Know My Redeemeth Liveth’ and ‘Rejoice!’ are contrasted with the majesty of arias like ‘The Trumpet Shall Sound’ and ‘Thus Saith the Lord’.The real genius of this work, however, is revealed in the great choruses sung to perfection in baroque style by Perth Symphonic Chorus, and accompanied by our very own nationally recognised Perth Baroque Orchestra led by the exceptional violinist Paul Wright with soloists Janet Todd (soprano), Robert Macfarlane (Tenor), Tobias Cole (Counter-Tenor), James Clayton (Bass).
Review: Perth Symphonic Chorus and Perth Philharmonic Orchestra ‘Centenary Remembrance Concert’ ⋅
Perth Concert Hall, November 11 ⋅
Review by Leon Levy ⋅
On Sunday November 11 crowds flocked to war memorials across the nation in order to attend centenary commemorations of the First World War armistice. Was it possible that those who would have made their way home from such ceremonies, many in deep reflection, would venture out again in sufficient numbers to fill the Perth Concert Hall and justify the judgement of the Perth Symphonic Chorus that there was still more to be said and absorbed? A great number of people clearly thought that there was.
Gabriel Fauré appears to have had a casual attitude toward the composition of his Requiem: the man clearly had a gift and required no particular inspiration in order to exercise it to most beautiful effect. On this occasion his popular Requiem received a refined and assured performance, both in the singing from the chorus and the orchestral accompaniment from the Perth Philharmonic Orchestra. A hallmark was the firm, focused choral sound maintained even at pianissimo.
Moments of distinction abounded: the perfect foil of the saccharine-free solo violin in the Sanctus; the Hosanna delivered with strength but without bombast and Pie Jesu beautifully essayed by soloist Sara Macliver. Libera Me was another highlight led by the bass-baritone Christopher Richardson with firm, youthful tone. The choir demonstrated fine unison singing and projected strength without breaking stylistic bounds.
If Elgar was the first British composer to reach an international audience, Vaughan Williams was arguably the second; and yet, despite his prodigious output, Vaughan Williams’ representation in the repertoire is scant, relying on a handful of regularly repeated shorter works.
But deep in the Vaughan Williams archive is a cantata composed in the mid 1930s as the composer, scarred from wartime service on the front line, responded to a growing concern that the worsening political situation in Europe was going to lead to yet another war. In making his plea for peace, the composer drew on a variety of literary sources that are unified by the repetition of the phrase Dona Nobis Pacem (give us peace) by which the work is known. Those disparate texts include Walt Whitman’s Civil War poems, Victorian orator John Bright’s Crimean War lament and biblical yearnings for peace.
The urgency of the opening Agnus Dei (from the Latin Mass) was conveyed in Macliver’s intense and assured singing. The movement closed with soft drum beats, a sinister suggestion of what was to come. In Beat! Beat! Drums! the approaching cataclysm was caught in full by the performers. In the central two movements the composer uses personal stories to take the listener to the heart of the matter and, in the process, pierces the heart. In Reconciliation a soldier reflects “for my enemy is dead, a man as divine as myself is dead” while Dirge for Two Veterans describes the tragic fate of a father and son. Here Perth Symphonic Chorus reached an emotional peak, articulating the searing centre of Vaughan Williams’ plea for peace. More than the Requiem, this was surely the defining musical statement for the occasion.
All performers were excellent under the expert and sensitive guidance of conductor Dr Margaret Pride. There were several dramatic and visual aspects to the presentation; the most successful was the prefacing of each movement with an eloquent declamation of the text by actor Igor Sas which proved a masterstroke in the context of what the day was all about.
Pride and her forces are to be congratulated for commemorating the centenary of Armistice in such a moving way and for lavishing on the memories of those who fell and those whose lives were forever changed such a heartfelt and magnificently executed tribute.
Pictured top: members of Perth Symphonic Chorus and the Kelmscott-Pinjarra 10th Light Horse Memorial Troop. Photo Margaret Pride