Calendar, Music, October 19, Performing arts

Music: Symphonie Fantastique

4 & 5 October @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by The West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

Two dream-filled French works frame a world premiere conducted by one of the stars of the new generation, Fabien Gabel.

Inspired by unrequited romantic love, Berlioz’s radical masterpiece Symphonie fantastique is full of passions, dreams and phantoms – a lovesick musician’s hallucinatory fantasies. Astonishingly modern and revolutionary at its premiere in 1830, it is still breathtaking nearly 200 years later.

Multi award-winner James Ledger is one of Australia’s finest composers. His new Viola Concerto is his 11th work to be premiered by WASO and was composed especially for one of Australia’s greatest musicians, Brett Dean, himself an acclaimed composer, soloist and former member of the Berlin Philharmonic.

More info
W: www.perthconcerthall.com.au/events/event/waso-symphonie-fantastique
E:  boxoffice@perthconcerthall.com.au

Pictured: Symphonie Fantastique

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Features, Music, News, Performing arts

WASO’s 2020 vision

The West Australian Symphony Orchestra have launched their 2020 program. On the eve of their program launch Rosalind Appleby caught up with principal conductor Asher Fisch and Evan Kennea, executive manager artistic planning.

The program, as you would expect, is packed with international soloists and some of the greatest orchestral repertoire in music history. But the season also includes opportunities for local composers, new outreach initiatives and a depth that reflects the orchestra is taking seriously its role of building a musical community.

Over coffee Asher Fisch and Evan Kennea exuded the relaxed confidence of a team who have been working together for years. With immense enthusiasm Fisch revealed that he will be conducting a concert performance of another opera, this time Beethoven’s Fidelio in collaboration with the Perth Festival, starring German soprano Christiane Libor.

“I’m very excited about Fidelio, I want this to catch on and do [an opera] every year. It is so expensive but I think it is important and in the end it will be the best seller in our program. It might take a few years but I know from other opera concerts in America, Europe, Israel, they are the first best-seller in the orchestra’s program every year.”

Asher Fisch and WA Symphony Orchestra. Photo supplied.

The opera is part of a focus in 2020 on Beethoven, celebrating the 250th anniversary of his birth. The Beethoven-mania will include the mighty Missa Solemnis and Fisch will continue his tradition of cycles, this time dedicating a week to Beethoven’s five Piano Concertos performed by Behzod Abduraimov. It is part of Fisch’s vision to reach beyond the programming straitjacket of the overture/concerto/symphony, and to bring in particular new opera repertoire to Perth audiences.

“I must say the management is so understanding because every crazy idea I have had that is expensive and big and everybody was afraid wasn’t going to sell well, they went for all of them, they supported it. It proved, thank God, to be successful in each case. They said nobody is going to come to a Brahms cycle in Perth but we sold very well. These big projects, in the end, that is what pushes us.”

WASOs new recording of Tristan und Isolde for ABC Classic.

Fisch cites the orchestra’s 2018 performance of Tristan und Isolde which recently won two Helpmann Awards and was released as a recording by ABC Classic earlier this month.

“With Tristan we had two great concerts and we have a recording that is now out. There is no better way for us to herald our great orchestra than to put it on a Tristan recording because people in the U.S. and London will listen to it because there is a new Tristan recording – they don’t come out that often because it is a massive thing to do – and with Stuart Skelton who people know is one of the world’s best Tristan’s and deserves a recording.”

Supporting local artists

Kennea revealed with pride that the Beethoven focus is balanced with some exciting Australian repertoire.

The orchestra has commissioned Perth composer Olivia Davies to write a new work which will be premiered by conductor Cristian Macelaru, who will then give the work an international platform by performing it at the prestigious Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in California, where Macelaru is the director.

Iain Grandage’s spectacular percussion concerto Dances with Devils, inspired by Australian gothic stories, will be performed by Claire Edwardes. And in a landmark event Deborah Cheetham’s groundbreaking 2018 work Eumarella, a war requiem for piece with its fusion of Western classical tradition and First Nations culture, will be performed in Perth with chorus, soloists and children’s choir.

The international contemporary repertoire includes Rautavaara’s Cantus arcticus and John Adams’ Absolute Jest, a witty concerto inspired by the ecstatic energy of Beethoven’s music, featuring the members of Australian String Quartet as soloists. British composer Anna Clyne’s This Midnight Hour, written for the Orchestre national d’Île de France balances out the gender parity in the contemporary repertoire nicely.

Building a musical community

WASO has expanded its efforts to reach new audiences in 2020 with the launch of two new concert series: Afternoon Concerts and Naked Classics.

“We are not sitting on our hands hoping an audience will develop somewhere, we are getting in there and trying to help build an audience in Perth.” Kennea explains. “When you finish work come to the hall, bring your colleagues, have a drink and enjoy a short, sharp, punchy concert that is done by 7:30, so you can head out for dinner.”

And for those who love WASO concerts but don’t always have someone to go with, Music for Every 1, a meetup at Perth Concert Hall connects solo attendees with others who share a passion for classical music.

Kennea also talks with excitement about the orchestra’s role in musical education. WASO’s Crescendo music education program was recently recognised with an Art Music award. Created by WASO in 2014 and inspired by the Venezuelan El Sistema, Crescendo delivers free, ongoing and regular music education to more than 400 students in Kwinana.

“Our education program is a crucial plank in the company. Simon Rattle when he went to Berlin [Philharmonic] said: ‘You have been the most phenomenal high priests of music, now you have to become the evangelists as well.’ It is true, you have to have a great orchestra, that is the basis of everything, but then you are part of a community. And particularly [WASO] is a critical part of a much bigger musical world, and how the orchestra helps keep the health of that musical world is a really important thing.”

Grammy Award-winning violinist Gil Shaham. Photo supplied.

The orchestra’s outreach into the community will unfold along several avenues, including a Discovery Concert, building on the popular series initiated in 2019, this time with Fisch at the piano and podium providing a guide through the concept of musical variation. Fisch will also conduct Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra narrated by Iain Grandage, and educator Paul Rissmann will return as artist in residence for a family concert.

The roster of soloists includes the star power of conductors Vasily Petrenko and Ludovic Morlot, Grammy Award-winning violinist Gil Shaham playing Brahms, Australian pianist Jayson Gillham performing Liszt, and Macedonian superstar Simon Trpčeski in Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2.

Returning seasonal favourites include another Easter collaboration with St George’s Cathedral (Bach’s Easter Oratorio); the ever popular Last Night at the Proms; Chris Dragon conducting Comic Cons, and WASO at the Movies performing the soundtracks to the next instalments of Star Wars and Harry Potter.

“We still have Asher doing his core repertoire,” Kennea explains, “Repertoire he has used to build the orchestra over the past five and a half years, so reinforcing that kind of playing. But [we are] pushing the envelope out a little bit which is good.”

It is good indeed.

The WASO 2020 program is available online.

Pictured top: Evan Kennea and Asher Fisch relaxed over coffee. Photo by Rosalind Appleby.

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Music, News, Performing arts, Theatre

Sweeney sets the blood racing

Review: WA Opera, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street ·
By Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 13 July ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·

It is the 40th anniversary of the premiere of Sweeney Todd,  prompting revivals of the musical thriller around the world. Composer Stephen Sondheim also collaborated with Hugh Wheeler on the musical’s lyrics and scenario to produce a truly unified piece.

Based on Christopher Bond’s ghoulish 1973 play and a 19th century British melodrama, Sondheim’s version follows Todd’s quest for vengeance upon his return to London from an Australian penal colony. Todd is seeking the corrupt Judge Turpin, who had Todd transported, raped his wife and stole his daughter Johanna as a “ward” to be groomed to fulfill Turpin’s desires in marriage.

Todd teams up with failed pie-maker Mrs Lovett to kill unsuspecting patrons to his barbershop, whilst awaiting Turpin. The bodies provide the irresistible ingredient for Lovett’s now booming trade.

Director Hal Prince’s 1979 Broadway production was both epic and gothic, featuring a highly flexible stage with dynamic set elements. Few comparable venues exist in Australia, and director Theresa Borg’s current Sydney production is hampered by the poorly designed if spacious Darling Harbour Theatre.

The West Australian Opera has the opposite challenge with His Majesty’s Theatre, which dates back to the halcyon days of melodrama. Sound designer Jim Atkins works the acoustics well, and director Stuart Maunder and designer Roger Kirk retain almost all of the elements from Prince’s 1979 production but have responded to the narrow stage by compacting them. They have divided the original expanse of gantries into distinct banks left and right so that the effect is more of a columnar, crisscrossed set of points, than of Prince’s wide swirling maelstrom.

The performers, led by Ben Mingay as Todd and Antoinette Halloran as Mrs Lovett, are fantastic, and so is the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under the music direction of Brett Weymark. But while the spatial compromises largely work, there are points where the performances seem cramped.

Todd’s trunk, in which he hides the bodies, all but destroys the sightlines in his barbershop, where it should act as a significant but peripheral object. The chute connected to Todd’s mechanical chair for disposing of bodies is rather clunky, lacking the smooth efficiency which produces so much irony as he sings of his love for Johanna. The final scene where the waif Tobias (Joshua Reckless) goes mad at the sight of the bloodshed, and then surprises both the audience and Todd with use of the cut-throat razor, is anticlimactic given that Tobias must first sidle along a narrow band at the back of the set.

Mingay triumphs as Todd. While not a dynamically nuanced or varied delivery, his almost continuous basso profundo, launched feet apart and shoulders squared, makes for a wonderfully demonic barber. As an avenging angel come to punish the rich, the powerful and the whole of venal humanity, he recalls Rod Steiger’s Judd in the film Oklahoma! and it comes as no surprise that this is a role Mingay has played on stage.

James Clayton is a rather perverse Turpin, whipping himself like a penitent as he rationalises his wicked lust for Johanna. Fiona Campbell portrays the mad beggar who takes a strong interest in Todd’s shop, nailing the ranting song “City on Fire”. Emma Pettemerides as Johanna and Nathan Stark as her beau Anthony are rather more randy than in the original, making the repeated, interrupted refrain of “Kiss Me” more comedic than touching.

For all of Mingay’s brooding presence, the production is all but stolen by Halloran as Lovett. The role was famously written for Angela Lansbury, who produced a wonderfully blousy, pragmatic character whose true wish was a domestic, well-to-do life. Halloran by contrast is explicitly sexual and is clearly after Todd for his erotic allure rather than just his ability to secure her prosperity. She is constantly amused, flirtatious and suggestive: I lost count of how many times she rubbed her behind against Todd. Halloran  provides a live wire of electricity and sass running throughout this otherwise dark and unredeemed narrative.

Although WA Opera’s production does not establish any significant new precedents, it is a triumph of effective and affecting staging.

Sweeney Todd continues on July 16, 18 and 20. 

Picture above: Ben Mingay as Sweeney Todd and Antoinette Halloran as Mrs Lovett. Photo by James Rogers.

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Joseph Nolan
Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Easter story trimmed but taut

Review: West Australian Symphony Orchestra and St George’s Cathedral, St Matthew Passion
Perth Concert Hall, April 16 ⋅
Review by Sandra Bowdler ⋅

Bach’s St Matthew Passion (Matthäus-passion) is generally regarded as one of the outstanding monuments of Western music. It uses text from the Gospel according to St Matthew to re-tell, indeed re-enact, the story of the crucifixion, with voice parts for a narrating Evangelist, Pontius Pilate, St Peter and Jesus himself. Musically, it is constructed in a framework of choruses, Lutheran chorales, recitative (accompanied and otherwise) and aria.  The narrative is basically carried forward by stretches of unaccompanied recitative. It is a complex construction, but in performance can be a transfixing experience whatever one’s spiritual beliefs.

It is also undeniably long. This led to some hesitancy in its reception in the eighteenth century, during which the most often performed passion was Graun’s Tod Jesu (1755). The Bach version’s more recent popularity is said to be due to Mendelssohn’s recuperation and abridgement in 1829, the centenary of its original premier. In modern times, unabridged versions are frequently performed and extensively recorded; it usually runs somewhere between two and a half and three hours, usually with at least one interval.  Why then abridge at all? Audiences are able to sit through Wagner and extremely long movies like the Lord of the Rings series. For this performance by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, the reason offered in the printed program is that “WASO rehearsal schedule is not limitless”. Why then do it at all? Why not the much more convenient (shorter) St John Passion, for instance? Obviously these are rhetorical questions but, on the one hand, audiences who know the work may be discombobulated and perhaps disappointed and, on the other, Bach’s intentions are embodied in a work which is very long but which is his best idea of how to present them. Any abridgement is second guessing the composer, who is after all generally regarded as a towering genius.

Rather than the Mendelssohn version, the shortening in this case is the work of respected conductor Joseph Nolan, who has achieved wonders with the featured St George’s Cathedral Consort. In rejecting Mendelssohn’s version, he argues in the program that he has kept the “mainframe of the story intact and that the key relationships are seamless”. In so doing however about a third of the work – it came in at two one hour parts with an interval timed part way into Bach’s part two – has been lost, including such narrative segments as the Annointing in Bethany, the initial Betrayal of Judas, the Last Supper and half of the Interrogation by the High Priests, along with six arias and two chorales.

So how does that work out in practice?  In Part One, it seemed a breathless leap from the initial chorus and chorale to the soprano recitative and aria ‘Ich will dir mein Herze’, and similarly with the other cuts, so while the key relationships might not jar, the lack of continuity does, certainly for those who know the work. The other problem on the night, which might be related, was that Part One was dramatically inert; a lot of well delivered narrative, beautiful sounds and exquisite singing and playing overall, but no real excitement. Part Two, which was more intact, also fared better dramatically; from the soprano’s Erhat uns allen wohlgetan … Aus Liebe on was more gripping (albeit lacking the baritone’s Ja, freilich … Komm, susses Kruz and the alto’s Ach, Golgotha …Sehet! Sehet!). The concluding chorus Herr, wir haben gedacht was as riveting as it should be.

On the plus side, the decision for the chorales to be sung a capella was more than rewarding, with the Consort’s well attested discipline and vocal beauty to the fore. The modern instruments of the small sized orchestra were played with Baroque sensibility if not pitch, and special mention should be made of concertmaster Laurence Jackson, particularly with respect to his solo accompaniment to Aus Liebe, Liz Chee exquisite on oboe throughout but noticeably in Ich will bei meinem Jesu and Mache dich, and flutemeister Andrew Nicholson. All was well supported by a continuo group comprising cello (Noeleen Wright) and chamber organ (Stewart Smith).

Tenor Paul McMahon as the Evangelist with Andrew Foote (baritone) as Jesus held the work together with sterling performances. Sara Macliver’s ethereal but tensile soprano was as exquisite, and sung with as much feeling, as ever. As mentioned, her aria Aus Liebe raised the dramatic tension in Part Two creating, with the flute and oboes, a stunning aural effect. Mezzo-soprano Fiona Campbell is another local glittering star, and her creamy golden tone was well to the fore, particularly in the crowd-pleasing Erbarme dich.  James Clayton’s resonant bass sounded somewhat restrained; the frequent positioning of the soloists behind the orchestra didn’t help. Richard Butler sang the solo tenor parts with a pleasant plangency but was not quite comfortable in the passage work. Smaller roles were competently sung by members of the chorus. The performance received warm if not quite rapturous applause.

Some in the audience may have been remembering the Perth Festival performance of 2005, conducted by Graham Abbott and semi-staged by Lindy Hume, which included some of the same soloists and orchestral players with period instruments. It clocked in at something over three hours including one interval, with which everyone seemed to cope, and indeed it was totally absorbing. Perhaps the world, and Perth, have changed too much, but a future uncut or even less cut St Matthew Passion is surely not too much to hope for.

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Classical music, Music, News, Reviews

Beyond the bombast

Review: West Australian Symphony Orchestra, “Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Dvořák’s New World” ⋅
Perth Concert Hall, November 16 ⋅
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ⋅

Australian symphony orchestras only rarely premiere new work. The West Australian Symphony Orchestra‘s premiere of Lachlan Skipworth’s Hinterland was therefore an anticipated and revealing event. Australia’s orchestras are conservative in the precise meaning of the term: their aim is to conserve a musical tradition which began in 17th century Europe and which arguably reached its apotheosis at the start of the 20th century. This does not imply slavish reproduction, but rather an alternative definition of modernism where progress is defined less in terms of radical new discoveries and more in terms of reworking known forms into new configurations.

Employing these criteria, Skipworth’s Hinterland was a triumph. It is a rousing, fundamentally neo-romantic work. Melodramatic, rhythmically strong crescendos and rattling bass kettle drum moments define its structural units, this kind of material bookending both the first movement, and then exploding out in the finale. The WASO’s placement of this premiere alongside Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No 9 From the New World (1893) and Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor (1868) was instructive in this sense because, despite popular terminology, WASO and its peers are less committed to properly Classical composition, and instead tend to highlight the emotionally rousing approach which the Romantics developed in 19th century Europe.

Perhaps unsurprisingly therefore, quite a bit of Hinterland feels rather like one of John William’s works (Star Wars, etc), a composer well known for producing a modern, digestible form of neo-romanticism. Skipworth’s materials are a bit darker, and certainly there is a tendency to dwell in the deeper tones of the orchestra more than what Williams’ lighter touch tends towards, but there is a clearly shared approach to blending between the two.

Hinterland is basically a three part work. It starts dirgy and heavy with massed strings and ends in much the same place only much more aggressively and powerfully. As Skipworth puts it, the “dense chordal mass of the opening returns to build a powerful climactic peak.” For those such as myself, who dream of finding the radical potential of that wonderfully conservative machine that is the orchestra, I did find some such elements in the interregnum. Hinterland is essentially a piece of what was once called “program music”: material designed to evoke a narrative about how the landscape changes over time. The middle section relates how “shimmering strings capture sparks of [morning] sunlight in shallow rock pools.” Because of this, there is true attention to not just rhythm and harmony, but sound qua sound. The sharp clack of the rocks briefly used by the percussionists, the rich, colouristic quality of the horn peals, and other gestures, come out here and rest in their own sonic world. The audience is encouraged to listen and attend to the specificity of these modest, subtle but wonderfully beautiful acoustic events. For those such as myself whose allegiance lies more with Morton Feldman and Xanis Xenakis than John Williams or Georges Bizet (whose work is also evoked here), it was deeply disappointing that the most exciting element of this performance came across as little more than a diversion from the true melodramatic focus of this neo-romantic work. Still, of course, different strokes for different folks, and while the WASO certainly could have used a lighter touch, Skipworth’s challenge for the performers was well handled.

Much the same was true of the program overall. Pianist Andrey Gugnin played Grieg’s extremely varied and at times fiendishly complex Piano Concerto from memory, ably supported by the orchestra. For my taste, the final solo piano section is by far the most interesting, the harmonic richness of the rest of the work here constrained into a very jazzy, finger-plucked section that sits well amongst piano works of the late twentieth century.

Dvořák’s New World symphony concluded the program in a commemoration of the foundation of WASO, which began with a performance of this piece in 1928. Dvořák’s composition is an intensely interesting one which I do not know well. It is at times sparse, with a real sense of urban drive, recalling what America once represented to nineteenth century Europe: the “New World.” There are hints of (now considered ill-informed) attempts to evoke American Native chants (taken from unreliable sources of white American poetry about Hiawatha), of folk-like music (Dvořák’s own speciality in his native Czechoslovakia), of calmed and modified jazz and African-American music, as well as the sweeping Romantic motifs that tended to define music of the period as a whole. Dvořák apparently found the US both scary and bracing, and the music certainly evokes this.

There was a sense that WASO was if anything too Romantic in its interpretation. Having hit the crescendos and crashing strings so early, it was not clear where the orchestra had to go when it came to the finale. But then to some degree this is the point of such music. It is composition with the volume turned up to 11 out of 10 (to quote Spinal Tap). The aim is for an ever more overwhelming explosion of musical force and its corresponding affective impact. If the concert was not quite able to deliver here, this was, I would suggest, at least as much a consequence of the musicological bombast which WASO bravely broached as it was that of the performers. Skipworth’s own contribution then can only be read as a canny compromise. He neither rejects these musical approaches, nor does he slavishly devote himself to them. I look forward to his next endeavour.

Pictured top: Asher Fisch conducts the WA Symphony Orchestra.

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Ned Kelly
Calendar, Music, Opera, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Music: Ned Kelly

15 – 19 February @ No 1 Mill, Jarrahdale ·
Presented by Lost & Found Opera ·

Lost & Found’s mission is to discover lost or forgotten works and present them in unique found spaces. This specially commissioned world premiere invites you into an old timber mill to discover a very different side to one of Australia’s iconic figures.

Composer Luke Styles and librettist Peter Goldsworthy weave together the common myth with lesser known extraordinary facts about the politics, loves and quirks of Australia’s legendary bushranger. Cross dressing, pig stealing, bee keeping, opium smoking, devout republican supporting, armour wearing loyal family men — that’s just part of the story of the notorious Kelly gang.

Superstar Australian baritone Samuel Dundas takes on the title role in a new-found space on the outskirts of Perth that provides the perfect setting, backdrop and link to Australia’s frontier past.

A Perth Festival Co-Commission

Presented in association with West Australian Symphony Orchestra

More info:

Pictured: Ned Kelly, credit: Jacqui Stockdale, Historia


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The Magic Flute
Calendar, Music, Opera, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Music: Mozart’s The Magic Flute

20 – 23 February @ His Majesty’s Theatre ·
Presented by Komische Oper Berlin, Barry Kosky, 1927 ·

Presented in association with West Australian Opera and West Australian Symphony Orchestra. Mozart’s master comedy opera is richly reimagined in a boundary-busting production created by internationally-renowned opera director Barrie Kosky and British theatre group 1927.

Blending animated film and live action in a gloriously ingenious kaleidoscope of 1920s silent movies, Weimar cabaret, dark humour and German expressionism, this visual fantasia is made for film buffs and art lovers, as well as fans of fine opera.

Kosky’s Komische Oper Berlin comes to Australia for the first time, accompanied here by West Australian Symphony Orchestra and 1927’s magical projected animations. Immense three-storey spiders, flappers and demons, butterflies and wolves – this wildly inventive The Magic Flute is like no other.

With its captivating and innovative staging, where film animation interacts with live singers, this production has thrilled audiences around the world. Now Australian audiences have the chance to see this most popular of operas performed as never before.

Presented by arrangement with Arts Projects Australia.

More info:

Pictured: The Magic Flute, credit: Iko Freese

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Echo Drummer
Calendar, Children, Music, October 18, Performing arts

Music: EChO Kids’ Concert – Kwinana

24 October @ Darius Wells Library & Resource Centre ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

Join EChO (WASO’s 15-piece Education Chamber Orchestra) and presenter Libby Hammer for a selection of favourite, well-known nursery rhymes alongside exciting original works and fun new songs.

24 October at 10.30 am at the Darius Wells Library & Resource Centre, 2 Robbos Way, Kwinana

FREE – bookings essential: phone Lily 9326 0002

More info: Lily: protterl@waso.com.au or 9326 0002

Pictured: EChO Kids’ Concerts Kwinana

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Classical music, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Stepping outside the box

Review: West Australian Symphony Orchestra, ‘Cédric Tiberghien Plays Rachmaninov 3’ ·
Perth Concert Hall, 25 August ·
Review by Tiffany Ha ·

Sergei Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto (“Rach 3” for short) begins like a lot of other canonical piano repertoire from the late-Romantic era: with a simple, unadorned melody. Visiting French pianist Cedric Tiberghien played the opening subject in cleanly articulated octaves, with an understated piano dynamic that shone through the swirling textures of the orchestra behind him. In such a dense and challenging work, each iteration of the main melodic material becomes a beacon of light to the listener – guiding them through the landscape, unifying the events of the piece through the lens of a kind of hero’s journey. Tiberghien was a captivating, capable hero. He certainly looked the part: young, tall and fit, with a blonde, Luke Skywalker-esque mop of hair. Indeed, as he grappled with the immense technical and expressive demands of the twenty-five minute concerto, displaying remarkable physical and mental stamina, he was reminiscent of a troubled Skywalker in Return of The Jedi, dressed in black, having to recall all his previous training and experience to conquer some of the biggest challenges of his life. And when you see Tiberghien execute those fierce double octave runs at break-neck vivacissimo, it’s hard to believe that he’s not using “the force”.

At the conclusion of the third movement, Tiberghien released the final thundering chord with a dramatic upward swing of the arms, his head and torso recoiling. He sprung from his seat to give conductor Asher Fisch a warm embrace – a refreshing, endearing alternative to the traditional handshake. You could tell they had good chemistry; Fisch seemed to regard the young soloist as both a teammate and a protégé. After several rounds of applause and some scattered ovations, Tiberghien returned to the stage for his encore: a transcription of a Bach prelude, arranged by Alexander Siloti – Rachmaninov’s piano teacher and first cousin. The prelude – with its slow harmonic progression and sparse, transparent texture – served as a lovely palate cleanser after a heavy first course.

The second half of the concert featured two works by Hungarian modernist composer Béla Bartók: the orchestral Dance Suite and The Miraculous Mandarin: Suite. The 1923 Dance Suite was commissioned by Budapest municipal authorities to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the union of Buda, Óbuda and Pest. The suite’s six contrasting movements flow on from one another, weaving in threads from Hungarian, Romanian and Arabic folk tunes to create what Bartók described as “a kind of idealised peasant music”. The orchestra, led by Fisch’s animated yet measured baton, played with their usual level of musicianship – cut-offs were crisp, the sound was unified, they were true to the score. It was also exciting to see the not-so-common instruments featured, such as the celeste, harp, bass clarinet and contrabassoon. The orchestra’s enjoyment of this piece was evident in the joy and vibrance of their performance.

The Miraculous Mandarin ballet, which Bartók scored, first premiered in 1926. His orchestral suite version – essentially a collection of musical scenes from the ballet – premiered two years later. The ballet depicts the tale of a girl and three ruffians who attempt to swindle unsuspecting passers-by, through seduction and violent robbery. The rather taboo subject matter and the often jarring musical style of The Miraculous Mandarin is reminiscent of Stravinsky’s work with the Ballet Russes (most notably The Rite of Spring). While the orchestra did well to evoke a range of moods and scenes – sleazy trombone slides, heart-fluttering flute flutter-tonguing (try saying that quickly three times!), clamouring percussion – it can be hard to understand and fully appreciate the music without the visual element of the ballet. It’s akin to listening to the soundtrack for a film you’ve never seen. However enjoyable it may be, you can’t help but feel that you’re missing part of the package. As a fan of Bartók, and as someone who will read the concert program cover to cover, I still struggled to fully engage with this suite.

Nevertheless – I love that WASO are taking chances with their programming and stepping outside the box.

Pictured top: Cedric Tiberghien. Photo: Benjamin Ealovega.

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A woman, a man and a bird surrounded by flowers.
Circus, Music, Musical theatre, News, Opera, Performing arts, Theatre

First peek at 2019 Perth Festival

Perth Festival has given us a tantalising glimpse of its 2019 programme, revealing four of the works on the line-up.

Returning to open the Festival will be Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak, a nocturnal wonderland that will, once again, light up Kings Park over four nights. This free, outdoor event is a celebration of Noongar culture and the beauty and biodiversity of the South West of WA, that sees audiences take a kaleidoscopic walk through projections, animation, sound and lighting effect along Fraser Avenue and deep into Kings Park.’

Balls of light in a park at night
‘Boorna Waanginy’. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

That weekend will also see two international shows, both Australian exclusives, open in Perth. The first, Lang Toi, by Nouveau Cirque de Vietnam, is a daring display of acrobatics, physical theatre, live traditional music and playful bamboo constructions, that transports the audience into the heart of a Vietnamese village.

an acrobat standing on one hand
A scene from ‘Lang Toi’. Photo: Nguyen Duc Minh.

The second work, The Great Tamer, sees Greece’s Dimitris Papaioannou explore the mysteries of life, death and the beauty of humanity with enigmatic, dreamlike scenes and visual riddles. Using ten performers and a shape-shifting floor that undulates to Johann Strauss’s “Blue Danube”, Papaioannou’s magical stagecraft brings to life a series of inventive live paintings.

Last – for now – but not least, flying elephants, gaudy 1920s flappers, comic-book villains, gigantic spiders, butterflies and wolves run rampant as performers interact with animated characters in Barrie Kosky’s exhilarating production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, presented by Kosky’s Komische Oper Berlin, British theatre group 1927 in association with West Australian Opera and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

The full 2019 Perth Festival program will be announced 1 November 2018.

Pictured top is a scene from Komische Oper Berlin’s “The Magic Flute”.

A man throwing seeds over his head
A scene from ‘The Great Tamer’. Photo: Julian Mommert.
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