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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Conductor Asher Fisch seated at piano
August 19, Calendar, Classical music, Performing arts

Music: Schumann & Strauss

30 & 31 August @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

Maestro and soloist trade places.

In an unmissable trading of places WASO Principal Conductor Asher Fisch and  Danish violinist Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider switch roles as Maestro and soloist! One of the world’s finest violinists, Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider is now also a much sought-after conductor, while our very own Maestro, Asher Fisch, is also renowned as a sensitive and stylish pianist. Schumann’s rapturous Piano Concerto is the perfect vehicle for Asher Fisch’s boundless musical passion, and Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider and WASO will positively revel in the swaggering orchestral sound of Strauss’ Don Juan.

MENDELSSOHN Ruy Blas: Overture
SCHUMANN Piano Concerto
STRAUSS. R. Don Juan
STRAUSS. R. Death and Transfiguration

Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, conductor (2019 WASO Featured Artist)
Asher Fisch, piano

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

Pictured: Schumann & Strauss

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Conductor Asher Fisch seated at grand piano
August 19, Calendar, Classical music, Performing arts

Music: Asher Fisch Plays Schumann

29 August @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

A profoundly personal piano concerto.

In an unmissable trading of places WASO Principal Conductor Asher Fisch and Danish violinist Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider switch roles as Maestro and soloist! Schumann’s rapturous Piano Concerto is the perfect vehicle for Asher Fisch’s boundless musical passion. Nikolaj  Szeps-Znaider then leads the Orchestra through the intense poetic visions of Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration.

This concert commences at 11 am Thursday 29 August

SCHUMANN Piano Concerto
STRAUSS, R. Death and Transfiguration

Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, conductor
Asher Fisch, piano

More info
W: www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/Asher-Fisch-Plays-Schumann
E: waso@waso.com.au

Pictured: Asher Fisch Plays Schumann

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Man playing violin
August 19, Calendar, Classical music, Performing arts

Music: Szeps-Znaider Plays Elgar

16 & 17 August @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

An exceptional concerto. An extraordinary instrument.

Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider is one of the most sought-after violinists in the world. He returns to WASO to perform Elgar’s Violin Concerto on the same extraordinary instrument – the 1741 Guarnerius del Gesù – that the great Fritz Kreisler used for the Concerto’s premiere over a century ago.

Asher Fisch proved himself a  brilliant interpreter of Brahms when he led WASO through its first-ever Brahms symphony cycle in 2015. He now returns to the music of this great composer and leads his Orchestra through Brahms’ glorious Second Symphony.

“Occasionally, a recording comes along which radically changes a great piece: Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider’s amazing account of Elgar’s Violin Concerto is revolutionary.”
– The Guardian

ELGAR Violin Concerto
BRAHMS Symphony No.2

Asher Fisch, conductor
Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, violin (2019 WASO Featured Artist)

More info
W: www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/Znaider-Plays-Elgar
E:  waso@waso.com.au

Pictured: Szeps-Znaider Plays Elgar

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Pianist with grand piano in background
August 19, Calendar, Classical music, Performing arts

Music: Javier Perianes Plays Beethoven

2 and 3 August @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

Poetic lyricism and the perfect pianist.

Spanish pianist Javier Perianes returns to WASO following his acclaimed 2016 debut. Described as “a pianist of impeccable and refined taste”, his poetic sensibility makes him the perfect pianist for Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. In 2016 Simone Young brought us a superb interpretation of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. Now she turns her insightful musicianship to his Sixth, the most original of all his symphonic works. Bold and dramatic, it also features one of Bruckner’s most sublime and heart-breaking slow movements.

“In the Spanish soloist Javier Perianes, the work found an ideal exponent… seldom, if ever, have I encountered such a combination of evident modesty and utter brilliance.” – The Sunday Times

BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No.4
BRUCKNER Symphony No.6

Simone Young, conductor
Javier Perianes, piano

More info
W: www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/Javier-Perianes-Plays-Beethoven
E: waso@waso.com.au

Pictured: Javier Perianes Plays Beethoven

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3 musicians with paintings in the background
Calendar, December 19, Music, Performing arts

Music: Eskimo Joe With WASO

1 December @ Kings Park ·
Presented by Mellen Events ·

Fresh from an exhilarating sold-out show where they performed their 2006 album,
‘BLACK FINGERNAILS, RED WINE’, in its entirety, Eskimo Joe have announced a huge show with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra at Kings Park & Botanic Garden on Sunday 1 December 2019.

More info:
www.mellenevents.com/

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A man conducts with both arms raised and an animated smile
Features, Music, News, Performing arts

The sound of the symphony

Whether you’re curious, fearful or an expert on classical music, Asher Fisch has the perfect concert for you. The principal conductor of the WA Symphony Orchestra chats to editor Rosalind Appleby about bringing the drama back to the symphony.

There is something contagious about Asher Fisch’s enthusiasm, the way his eyes crinkle with a smile and his arms wave in the air as he talks.

The Israeli maestro is discussing the West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s new Discovery Concert series which kicks off this weekend with “The Classical Symphony”. Fisch’s vast knowledge and love for the symphony will be on display as he takes the audience on a journey through the classical era discovering how it has paved the way for the symphonic music of today.

“I’m not trying to educate, I’m trying to illuminate,” Fisch explains when we meet backstage at the Perth Concert Hall. “Trying to give the audience a special, good kind of experience. It is a concert still.”

Since the Israeli maestro joined WASO as principal conductor in 2014, his musical authority and charisma have cemented a significant relationship not just with the orchestra but with audiences too. Fisch, one of the top conductors on the international circuit, has made a particular effort to connect with the audience from the podium, an uncommon habit in Europe but one that is building him a loyal following in WA.

“I notice when I speak to the audience – Australian audiences are much happier to be spoken to than European audiences – they like the fact that the conductor turns around and speaks to them in normal day-to-day language. They like it and they react to jokes very well.”

Asher Fisch working with the WA Symphony Orchestra. Photo supplied.

Fisch honed his speaking skills during four years of conscription in the Israeli Army where he worked as a radio journalist. He brought those skills to the concert hall in 2017 with WASO’s  “Wagner and Beyond” series where his teaching from the podium was a huge success with both the live audience and those who heard it via the ABC radio broadcast. This time Fisch will tackle the music of the great symphonic composers Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Illuminating the drama

“What I want people to understand is that they are hearing a tale, and a drama. The drama is not between characters but it is between scenes, and harmonic changes. If you are really into it you can go and hear a Mozart symphony and enjoy it as much as you enjoy a Mozart opera, minus the characters. Just try to find drama and a story. So you’re not just sitting there to be entertained, try to follow the symphony as if it were a tale and a drama.”

Fisch will use a string quartet and early symphony from Haydn to demonstrate the origins of the symphony, followed by some Mozart – but with a twist.

“I will experiment by playing the ‘Paris’ Symphony No 31 with Mozart’s ‘dream orchestra’. There is a letter he writes about his dream orchestra and he imagines 40 violins. The Australian Chamber Orchestra play with six violins and say that is the authentic way (which it was), but that was not Mozart’s dream; he wanted 40 violins. So we will play a movement of the ‘Paris’ with a fuller section to hear how it sounds.”

The second half of the concert will be dedicated to a full performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, which Fisch says is the perfect prototype of the classical symphony.

The Discovery series will continue with a second concert in November, the “Art of Orchestration”, where Fisch will demonstrate how composers transformed works for piano into orchestral masterpieces. The program will include a Bach Toccata performed on organ followed by Leopold Stokowski’s arrangement for orchestra, made famous in the Disney film Fantasia. Siobhan Stagg will sing some Strauss songs with Fisch at piano, followed by an arrangement for orchestra. Rounding out the program will be Ravel’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, which Fisch describes as ‘the best orchestration of all time’.

“The beauty of these concerts are they are for anybody from your young musician son or daughter, through to audiences who are interested but didn’t dare yet, or weren’t sure because they didn’t know what was going on, to very established audience members who want something different. These are the two concerts in the season that are open to everybody.”

A concert facelift

Fisch’s vision isn’t just about audience education. With classical music audience numbers dwindling worldwide he says it’s time to do something different.

“I’m concerned about the structure of the regular concert program; the overture, concerto, symphony. You have to vary, do something a little different. This is my attempt to break from the mould. We cannot have an overture, concerto, symphony in every concert.”

“In Germany there is a big chunk of the population who really like to go to concerts. But even there audiences are dwindling. Not in opera but in symphonic concerts. We are constantly fighting. In theatre you get a new production, you don’t get the same thing. In Europe audiences go to see the same opera again and again to see different singers, and a new production. But we have nothing parallel in the symphonic world to offer them. What they hear at home on their CD’s and what they hear in the concert is exactly the same. So you have to try and enrich this with something different.”

The sound of the symphony. Asher Fisch and WASO. Photo supplied.

Expanding the mould been a consistent message during Fisch’s tenure with the orchestra, which last year was extended until 2023. Fisch’s programs have included a Beethoven Festival (the complete symphonies across two weekends in 2014), a Brahms Festival (across two weekends in 2015) and opera in concert (the much-lauded Tristan und Isolde in 2018). Next year he will conduct a family concert. This democratic, broad-sweep approach to sharing classical music is what has endeared him to audiences. And he can trace it back to his first exposure to the classical repertoire, as a child in Israel.

“My parents took me to the Israel Philharmonic every time they came. We sat very close in the 3rd row. I was always fascinated by the conductor because I was sitting right behind him and watching what he was doing. But for me it was the sound. I was playing the recorder and then piano and a bit of mandolin, but the symphonic sound…just the sound…”

For a moment he is lost for words. How does one articulate the glory of a full orchestral sound?

“That’s why I am a sound conductor, rather than rhythmic or shaping or phrasing” he concludes. “For me it’s all about the sound.”

Asher Fisch presents Discovery Concert: The Classical Symphony on June 28 & 29.

Pictured Top: Asher Fisch conducts the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

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Calendar, Classical music, July 19, Music, Performing arts

Music: Tchaikovsky Symphony No.5

4 July @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

Grief, joy and triumph.

Estonian-born Hendrik Vestmann makes his WASO debut with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. This irresistible work explores the agonies and ecstasies of fate, journeying from a bleak funeral march to a powerful conclusion. We open with the kaleidoscopic textures of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Nyx, named after the Greek Goddess of the night.

The performance commences at 11 am.

More info
W: www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/Tchaikovsky-Symphony-No.5-morning
E: waso@waso.com.au

Pictured: Hendrik Vestmann – Tchaikovsky Symphony No.5

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