View of orchestra and chorus
Calendar, Music, November 19, Performing arts

Music: Verdi’s Requiem

29 & 30 November @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra

Operatic in its earth-shaking intensity, Verdi’s great sacred masterpiece is staggeringly beautiful, dramatically exhilarating and heartfelt in its outpouring of human grief and devotion. Join Asher Fisch, four world-class soloists plus the massed voices of three choruses for an incomparable concert experience.

VERDI – Requiem

Asher Fisch – conductor
Siobhan Stagg – soprano (2019 WASO Artist in Association)
Stefanie Irányi – mezzo soprano
Paul O’Neill – tenor
Warwick Fyfe – baritone
WASO Chorus
St George’s Cathedral Consort
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Chorus

More info
W: www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/Verdis-Requiem
E:  waso@waso.com.au

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Orchestra playing outdoors
Calendar, December 19, Music, Performing arts

Music: Lotterywest Christmas Symphony

14 December @ Langley Park ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

Following the success of last year’s inaugural Christmas Symphony which drew a crowd of 30,000, WASO is delighted to return for an even bigger and better event in 2019!

Led by conductor Guy Noble and soprano Emma Pettemerides, Christmas Symphony will feature a  complete program of Christmas classics from ballet, opera and the big screen. Families can sing-along to Jingle Bells and Joy to the World while also enjoying classical favourites including Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess: Summertime and Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular 1812 Overture, featuring a spectacular fireworks-filled finale.

This magical evening will feature more than 150 performers on stage including West Australian Symphony Orchestra, WASO Chorus and special guests including the one and only, Santa!

More info
W: www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/christmas-symphony
E: waso@waso.com.au

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Child playing xylophone
Calendar, Children, Music, November 19, Performing arts

Music: EChO Kids’ Concerts in Kwinana

12 November @ Darius Wells Library & Resource Centre, Kwinana ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

After a booked out performance in 2018, we are back with two performances of March Along with EChO!

Join EChO (WASO’s 15-piece Education Chamber Orchestra) and presenter Libby Hammer. Featuring a selection of well-known nursery rhymes alongside fun original works, and the chance to sing along. March Along with EChO! is a perfect introduction to the instruments of the orchestra.

FREE EVENT
Suitable for 0-6 year olds
Book now – call 9326 0002
Bookings essential for this free concert

More info:
www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/echo-kids-concerts-kwinana

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Black and white image of Hollywood film star in 1920s style
Calendar, December 19, Music, Performing arts

Music: Hooray For Hollywood

6 December @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

Play it again, Sam. For old times’ sake. Welcome to your essential Hollywood Walk of Fame concert experience with the silver screen’s most indelible themes writ large for the mainstage.

Relive the movie moments that made you laugh, cry, shiver and swoon with some of the greatest soundtracks of all time including Casablanca, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Gone with the Wind, James Bond, Sunset Boulevard and more. Here, WASO salutes the Golden Age of cinema as an end of year treat. Here’s looking at you, kid.

More info
W: www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/hooray-for-hollywood
E:  waso@waso.com.au

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Conductor standing with raised hands in front of orchestra
Calendar, Classical music, November 19, Performing arts

Music: Discovery Concert: The Art of Orchestration

22 & 23 November @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

In this illuminating concert, Principal Conductor Asher Fisch explores how great composers  transformed works originally conceived for solo keyboard into the orchestral masterpieces that we know and love.

The concert features Leopold Stokowski’s spectacular, “Hollywood” version of Bach’s famous  Toccata and Fugue. Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg performs sublime Strauss songs in both  their original and orchestral versions. Asher himself explores how the raw intensity of Mussorgsky’s most radical piano work was transformed into a sophisticated orchestral showpiece by one of the masters.

More info
W: www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/Discovery-Concert-The-Art-of-Orchestration
E: waso@waso.com.au

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View of organ pipes
Calendar, Classical music, November 19, Performing arts

Music: Organ Symphony

15 & 16 November @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

To hear Perth Concert Hall’s 3000-pipe organ in all its glory is an experience in itself;  to hear it in the exhilarating finale of Saint-Saëns’ grandly romantic Third Symphony is  completely unforgettable! This spectacular and richly melodic work is brought to life by the exciting young French conductor, Lionel Bringuier.

After dazzling WASO audiences in 2017 with his lyrical touch and stunning virtuosity, Alexander Gavrylyuk returns to perform Prokofiev’s brilliant First Piano Concerto.

More info
W: https://www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/Organ-Symphony
E:  waso@waso.com.au

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Composer stands next to performer holding her cor anglais
Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Pomp and gloom

Review: West Australian Symphony Orchestra, ‘Beethoven’s Eroica’ ⋅
Perth Concert Hall, October 11 ⋅
Review by Varnya Bromilow ⋅

If you’re lucky enough to find them, there are some pieces of music so personally transcendent, so transportative, that they seem to have been created with your specific ears in mind.  For me, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams is one of these.  This means of course, that I can’t possibly describe the music to you.  But hang on, that’s my job.

Williams (1872-1958) had strong opinions about the English music of his time.  In short, he found it wanting and so set out to create his own “national music”, drawing on the folksongs of the past, as well as the Golden period of Tudor music and interweaving these with the Romantic stylings of his time.  The piece referred to in the title is from a 1567 hymn tune Tallis created for Psalm 2.  A little like the way Michael Nyman was to riff off Mozart’s melodies a century later, Williams transposes Tallis’ gorgeous vocal strains for strings.  The effect is a song of strings – the violin and the viola in a heavenly call and response that makes your heart burst. Williams intended the music to evoke the beauty of the British countryside (the word pastoral is used almost constantly to describe his music) but for this listener, with no such associations, the music is simply a step into the sublime.  As though he managed to distill all the tiny beauties and griefs of the world into 15 minutes.

The West Australian Symphony Orchestra, under the accomplished direction of guest conductor Douglas Boyd, (music director of L’Orchestre de chambre de Paris and artistic director of Garsington Opera), gave it their all.  Of particular note were genuinely extraordinary performances from concert master and violinist Laurence Jackson and associate principal violist Alex Brogan.

So for this reviewer in particular, Williams is a tough act to follow.  Luckily, Iain Grandage’s brand new work Orphee – Concerto for Cor Anglais is, to use an underused term in classical circles, an absolute humdinger. Grandage introduced the work with a piano accordion in tow – his punishment for the time needed to reset the stage for his own composition. Using his prop, he gave the audience a charming but perhaps slightly bewildering account of the work’s tonal similarities to Williams, whose work is a frequent inspiration for the Perth-born composer.  Grandage created the work as homage to his music professor, UWA Professor Emeritus David Tunley.  Tunley specialises in French Baroque and the Orphee concerto embraces this tradition with the criminally neglected cor anglais at its centre.

Where Williams is beatific and reassuring, nothing is as certain in Grandage’s world. The piece is gorgeous yes, but with a pervading sense of menace. The cor anglais was played with a sinuous fervour by the brilliant Leanne Glover, glittering in green. Trembling drums, a single bell, sliced across by a draught of strings. It felt ominous, the slightly mournful horn carried on a bed of dense strings, at times lushly beautiful, at others like a buzzing, frenzied cloud that brought bees to mind.  Grandage has an acute ear for melody and pacing – again and again we were brought back to the cor anglais’ pleading refrain, almost jazz-like at times.  The end result was a genuine triumph – a charged, evocative work that challenged as much as it delighted.

It was a special joy to witness the composer’s own response to this world premiere of his work, especially one so personally dedicated. Grandage, seated across the aisle from me, twisted his beard, leaning forward nervously, in response to the work’s more ambitious movements.  Wonderful too, to relish the prospect of a Perth Festival curated by an artist who seems as eager as he is accomplished.

And then there was the Beethoven.  Caveat – I’ve got Beethoven baggage.  More specifically, symphonic baggage. I’m not sure whether it stems from my horror of A Clockwork Orange or from sheer overexposure, but when I hear the crashing chords of any of his symphonies it’s all I can do to stop myself from keeling over in boredom.  In admitting this, I don’t mean to be contrary for the joy of contrariness. Beethoven’s contributions to Western music are perhaps unsurpassed, (with the possible exceptions of Mozart, Miles Davis and the Beatles) laying down formative melodies and musical structures that inform music of all varieties.  Maybe it’s because his symphonies are so ingrained in our musical imaginations that it’s difficult to find them interesting now? The bombast; the driving cadence; the building crescendo and then, the requisite moment of delicacy.  Listening to a Beethoven symphony is like slipping into a warm bath – you don’t do it because it’s exciting, you do it because you know exactly how it will feel and it’s lovely.

WASO performed Eroica (Symphony No. 3) with great verve.  The work (1802-1804) is often heralded as a stylistic dividing line between the Classical and Romantic periods, reflected in the different tonal flavours of the four movements.  Primarily, it’s a Classical work but there are generous hints of the incoming subtlety of the Romantic period – oh, the glorious strings early in the second movement! It’s almost like you can feel something more tender trying to escape from the heavy majesty. The players worked hard to extract every last gasp of pomp out of the score, under the feverish direction of Boyd, rousing them on towards the last grand notes.  And grand it was.

But ultimately, I tend to side with Charlie Brown’s famous curmudgeon Lucy.  In her words: “Beethoven…he’s not so great.”

 

Pictured top: Iain Grandage with cor anglais soloist Leanne Glover. Photo Rebecca Mansell. 

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Aboriginal painting
Calendar, Dance, February 2020, Music, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Perth Festival: Buŋgul

8 & 9 February @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by Perth Festival and Skinnyfish Music ·

Buŋgul
Gurrumul’s Mother’s Buŋgul
Gurrumul’s Grandmother’s Buŋgul
Gurrumul’s Manikay

‘Yolngu don’t have books or computers. They carry it here (in the heart) in their song, their dance, their paintings.’ Don Wininba Ganambarr

A buŋgul is a ceremony, a meeting place of dance, song and ritual. Created on country in North East Arnhem Land with the Yunupiŋu family, Buŋgul is a ceremonial celebration of one of the transcendent albums of our time. You’re invited to experience the traditional songs, dances and paintings that inspired Gurrumul’s final album, Djarrimirri (Child of the Rainbow), in a live performance by Yolŋu dancers, songmen and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra directed by Senior Yolngu Don Wininba Ganambarr and Nigel Jamieson.

This project was initiated by the Yunupiŋu family and Skinnyfish Music. Produced by Perth Festival and Skinnyfish Music.

More info
W: www.perthfestival.com.au/event/bunggul
E:  festival@perthfestival.com.au

Pictured: Baru painting by Priscilla Barrapami Yunupiŋu

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Gun Brit Barkmin
Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Virtuosic Vocals

Review: West Australian Symphony Orchestra, ‘An Evening with Gun-Brit Barkmin’⋅
Perth Concert Hall, 23 August ⋅
Review by Sandra Bowdler ⋅

Gun-Brit Barkmin carried all before her in last year’s concert performance of Tristan und Isolde with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, and many were looking forward to this recital of Beethoven, Richard Strauss and Wagner.  The German soprano, young in career terms, did not disappoint, with each item leaving one wishing more of the same, only to be carried on to new heights with the next. Not only her gleaming silvery voice but her charismatic and enthusiastic stage presence illuminated the works performed, with WASO at its biggest and best under Asher Fisch.

The program opened with a crisp and energetic rendition of Beethoven’s Overture to Fidelio, followed by Barkmin and Abscheulicher! from that work.  Her very clear soprano with no unnecessary vibrato was powerful and penetrating, and the aria was delivered, as were they all, with full-on dramatic intensity. Nor did she, here or later, let a sheet of music get between her and the audience. Mahler’s Blumine provided a rather inconsequential filler but was delivered with grace and delicacy.

This was followed by Strauss’s Four Last Songs, a work of sumptuous melancholy. Barkmin returned (having traded her basic black pantsuit for a glittery black gown) and embarked on a superbly evocative interpretation. Her voice easily rode the large orchestra, sometimes blending as one special instrument, and on the words ‘und die Seele unbewacht will in freien flügen schweben’ (in Beim Schlafengehen) appropriately soaring above it. In the same movement she lit up the final ‘zu leben’ with a beautiful heartfelt note. Beim Schlafengehen was further distinguished by Laurence Jackson’s violin solo, while Andrew Nicholson delivered a beatific flute in Im Abendrot.

After an interval the orchestra embarked dramatically on the fanfare of the ‘Entrance of the Guests’ from Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Barkmin joined them in delighted wonderment for Dich, teure Halle, which was over only too soon, leaving one wishing for more Wagner. Instead we were assuaged by more Strauss:  ‘The Dance of the Seven Veils’ from Salome (orchestral only!) maintained the excitement and exoticism of this 114 year old work. It was followed by the last soliloquy and final scene from that opera, with Barkmin returning now in glittering white and gold to act out the unhinged passion of the princess of Judea. She sang with controlled legato and emotional intensity, from the triumphant ‘Ich lebe noch, aber du bist tot’ to the electrifying last sentence ‘Ich habe ihn geküsst, deinen Mund’.  Rarely has Perth seen a concert with such virtuosic singing and dramatic intensity.

 

Pictured top: Gun-Brit Barkmin. Photo supplied.

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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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