Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

Living in the material world

I finished marking the last of my Boston University students’ essays earlier than expected so last weekend saw me having pockets of time of something that felt like a Normal Life! I went to see the film George Harrison: Living in the Material World and I’m so glad I did. It was fascinating, inspiring, thought-provoking – I’ve had it replaying in my head ever since.

The trailer gives you a taste. It’s one of those films that I want to be able to watch all over again, but for the first time.

Also over the last few days I’ve been working on ideas for the AccessFest workshops (AccessFest is a series of music projects for people with disabilities in Armidale NSW that I’m directing) – we are going to explore a theme of Strength, and Being Strong. I’ve been coming up with simple musical ideas and strategies to help us develop some new music for performance. I’m also compiling a list of music material that we can adapt. One idea – in fact the whole idea of Strength – came from a short performance that some of my Melbourne Uni students created, inspired by the Maya Angelou poem Life doesn’t frighten me at all. They sang that title/refrain to the tune of Funge Alafia, a children’s song from West Africa that I’d taught them earlier in the semester. It’s a catchy melody and the words fit perfectly, so I’m planning on using that up in Armidale.

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Thoughts on concert-going

It’s occurred to me recently that going to a concert is no longer the huge attraction it once was. In the past, concerts were opportunities for connection with other performers, with friends and colleagues (both on the stage and in the audience), and to be moved or transfixed by the music.

Nowadays, I feel more reticent to head out. Perhaps this is a result of too many Melbourne Festival tickets bought for performances that failed to please. Perhaps it is a delayed reaction to the many, many orchestral concerts I went to, in the days that I worked for an orchestra. Mostly though, I have to confess that it is a response to the growing sense that I often have after going to a concert (or any other performance) of a kind of blankness, when I wake up the next day and have absolutely no reaction to it. It is simply…. nothing, really. An experience that hasn’t really impacted on me (in the true sense of the word) in any way. It isn’t about ‘like’ or ‘dislike’.

It seems a ridiculously tall order, but I want my performance-going to be life-changing. I want to come home and have it rolling over in my head, again and again. Questions, or issues, or ideas, or challenges, or puzzles to ponder. Or delights, or a remembered experience of connection with the music and the expression of the artists.

It has become a kind of assessment tool, in a way, prior to buying tickets. “Will it be worth it?” by which I mean the investment of effort and the time on my part, rather than the actual cost.

Last week I went to the Melbourne Recital Centre to hear the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra perform three works under the baton of Sir Neville Marriner. Andrew Marriner (his son) played the Mozart Clarinet Concerto.

How was this concert for me, given the above criteria? Well, I know that I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the company I was with, and I very much enjoyed the orchestra’s playing, as I haven’t heard them for quite a few years.

I loved Andrew Marriner’s performance of the clarinet concerto. It’s a piece I know very, very well, and it was truly a delight to hear such familiar lines being performed so well. There is a delightful fluency, or lightness, in the writing. (I know, it is silly to comment on the delicious craft of Mozart’s writing as we all know he was a genius… but truly, this is such a wonderful piece, and as I listened to it I was reminded of this again, and again, and again…). I enjoyed noticing some of the interpretive decisions Marriner made – his choices in articulation, or in cadenza. I know that he studied with the same teacher I studied with for a year, so I listened for ‘Hans-isms’ in his playing too.

But here is the life-changing bit: it made me want to go straight home and dig out my well-loved score of the concerto, and my Music Minus One CDs, and play it again! I think this is a fine concert experience to have. It reminded me of how I loved playing this piece, way back in my classical performing days, how much I love its phrases, harmonies and structures still, and that these are still there for me to return to, whenever I want.

I haven’t yet had time to get my clarinet out, but I shall, very soon. And I am looking forward to revisiting the Mozart Concerto when I do.

On another note, I realised that night that the traditional concert length no longer suits me. I would have been happy to go home after the Mozart, as there was so much to digest and process from the experience of the first half of the concert. This is absolutely not meant as a disparaging comment on what took place in the second half. The second half of the program was a new work by the Melbourne-based composer (and virtuoso organist) Calvin Bowman. He wrote a song cycle, English in tone and turn, with echoes of Finzi, Delius and even Michael Head and Warlock (to my ears) which was absolutely gorgeous, filled with light and shade and colour. We had the treat of hearing the songs performed by a lovely soprano, Jacqueline Porter… so really, it was all quite delightful.

However, as we walked to the car, I commented to John my companion that the first half of the concert now felt like a distant memory, our heads were so full of the most recent piece we had heard.

Thus, I find myself fully in favour of shorter concerts that allow patrons adequate time for reflection and digestion. Or perhaps concerts with a dinner break between the first and second halves.

Ringing the Changes

One of my favourite performances in this year’s Melbourne Festival was the music/performance piece by Strange Fruit, Ringing the Changes. It was created especially for the bell field of Federation Bells at Birrarung Marr. Each of the bells in the field has a specific pitch and sits at the top of a tall pole, and Strange Fruit perform mesmerising dance/visual/physical theatre pieces atop long bendy poles, so really, this was a match made in heaven. Composer Graeme Leak was commissioned to write the work, taking into account which bells the different performers would be able to reach within the radius afforded by their bendy pole.

The whole piece was masterfully conducted by Timothy Phillips. Here are a couple of photos:

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I like the way Tim appears to be suspended in midair. It was quite a feat to conduct the work (including several sections of audience participation, which required him to swivel around to face the audience instead of the performers) without losing his centre of balance. I also like the iconic view of the MCG and its ring of lights, in the background of this photo.

The City Beats children were involved in the first performance, taking part in the audience participation sections which required them to play on tin cans with chopsticks and teaspoons. They were so thrilled by the whole event.

Exquisite sound poetry

A couple of weeks ago I was driving to Melbourne airport in the middle of the afternoon. I had Radio National on and found myself listening to a most intriguing, beguiling, beautiful sound poem on the Poetica program. I’m posting the link to the audio here. The poet’s name is Jayne Fenton Keane. Her creation uses sounds from the US Navy’s marine audio archive and includes all sorts of magical underwater sounds that she describes at the start of the program.

So many compelling, descriptive textures and sounds. However, I particularly loved the voice of the mermaid. In the interview she describes who this actor is and how she came to take on the role. It’s quite perfect. Anyway. Enough raving. It’s stunning work. I’d love to set her (Fenton Keane) and all her equipment, up in a room with children. The results would be gorgeous, I’m sure.

Recognition for young adult author

Anyone who missed the interview with Simmone Howell in last week’s Age can check it out here… here’s to ever-increasing profiles for young adult writers (and equal prize money)!

I re-read her latest book Everything Beautiful last week. It’s a truly lovely book, gutsy and honest, like its protagonist.

Does it get better than this?

Last night I went to hear the Schoenberg Ensemble perform, as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.

Man, it was good! The sound from this band was extraordinary, their virtuosity had us enthralled. Andriesson’s Zilver, John Adams Chamber Symphony, Kagel’s Divertimento? Farce fur Ensemble, and then Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony op.9, taken at a cracking pace. It was a small audience, but incredibly appreciative. Long extended clapping ensued at the end of each half.

I think the thing that bowled me over the most was the sheer joy of their playing. They were just having such a great old time up there, playing this incredibly technically demanding music, but smiling away, exalting in their own and others’ lines.

Why can’t we see joyous performances like this more often? A colleague I bumped into at lunch today said, “We should remember that this is repertoire for them. They’ve played these incredibly demanding works loads of times, so there is a familiarity there that makes it more possible for one to relax into the performance…”

Ah, true. But then, I am not sure I see other orchestras smiling away as they play the gorgeous melodies and harmonies of Beethoven 6, for example. Which is repertoire performed pretty frequently.I don’t know. Perhaps for a lot of orchestras, playing concerts is just what they do, and it ceases to be special after awhile. Or the audience ceases to be of any great significance. Or they just get tired. Or bored. I don’t know. It’s a privilege, really…. to do that kind of work. Maybe if your life is contemporary music, you have to love it so much to begin with…. and then you just feel compelled to communicate that love.

Maybe it comes down to personalities. I don’t think there could have been a soul in the audience who did not fall a little bit in love with the violist in the Schoenberg Ensemble. Right from the moment she walked on stage she invited us to participate wholly in the music she was playing. She beamed at everyone – the conductor, her fellow musicians on the stage, people in the audience. We couldn’t take our eyes away from her for long. She was bringing out the best in everyone.

I think everyone could do with a shot of that kind of engaging, warm, joyfulness in their lives! Certainly we in the audience were all the better for it. So much so, I am planning to go and hear them again tonight.

Watch out for these names…

I have just come back from a wonderful concert of Schubert Lieder at the Australian National Academy of Music. The big sensation of the afternoon was a set of three songs performed by tenor Christopher Saunders accompanied by Berta Brozgul, a pianist at the Academy.

Oh. My. God. It was stunning. It was one of those moments in a concert where suddenly you realise that something really special is taking place and you are compelled to hang on to every word, every note. (I used to work at the Wigmore Hall in London, where every great artist performs, so I heard a lot of concerts. I quickly realised that great performances have something that sets them apart, so that the air in the hall shifts suddenly, and every single person is held in the moment. They aren’t all like that. It is rare, and incredibly powerful).

Christopher Saunders is a young tenor. They are both young. Afterwards the audience buzzed around, and theirs were the names on everyone’s lips.

How wonderful, to be so in agreement with everyone! How wonderful to go to a concert and find yourself truly transported by it! These are sad days for me, in general – lots of difficult things happening that I have to get through –  but this afternoon nothing mattered except the beauty of this music, and the magical, inhabited way it was performed. Bravi to the duo. I’m so glad I went.

Blue sky Friday morning

I’ve woken up with lots of energy this morning. I slept with the window open which brought in a lot of noise from the street, but also lots of cool air which was refreshing counter to the relentless centralised heating in this building. (I am staying on Ile-St-Louis again).

Last night I went to the theatre again – another performance by Theatre de l’arc-en-ciel, this time of Les Tolstoi – Journal Intime (The Tolstoys – Intimate Diary), which told of the marriage and life shared between Leo and Sonia Tolstoy. It’s an epic story indeed that starts with their meeting and marriage (when Sonia is 17 and Tolstoy is 34) and ends with Tolstoy’s death and a fleeting image of the great changes under the newly arrived communists.

Tolstoy poster

I loved it! It was written by CP’s mother and she is in Paris at the moment. I read the script in English beforehand, and unlike Monday night’s play, I found I could follow the dialogue and action quite successfully.

Seeing theatre in another language is interesting as it really encourages you to read everything that is taking place on the stage. All the nuances of interaction. I am always amazed, after reading a script, at the ability and skill of the actors and creative team to bring the words from the page into life. When I read it, and hear the words in my head, it sits quite flat.

So, it looks like today will be sunny and fine! I now have a plan for the next rainy day (to explore the undercover passages and arcades that criss-cross one section of the city).

Today I could:

  • Walk to Bercy village which has undergone a transformation in recent years and now has many small boutique shops and cafes and village feel. I need to buy some presents for people and this could be the place to do it;
  • Head to Belleville, where there is a park on a hill with views across this mostly flat city. This area is known as Paris Mondiale, a microcosm of the many nationalities that call Paris their home, from North Africa and Asia and all over…
  • Montmartre and Sacre Coeur?
  • Head to the galleries on foot. There is an exhibition of art from Iran (in the Sephardic tradition) that I’d like to see… as well as a return visit to the Musee d’Orsay, in part to enjoy once again the cafe on the top floor that is illuminated by the large railway clock/window, a very photogenic place to enjoy a coffee or chocolat chaud.

So many possibilities. I’ll choose soon.

Post-Hunger…

The Age published a very glowing review of Hunger (read it here).

The Theatre Notes blog also published a review – here.

Two quite different points of view. The Theatre Notes review has been commented on further by a reader – making for an interesting dialogue. Blogs are particularly interesting avenues for reviews and commentary because they offer readers the possibility of responding to the views expressed with their own.

Feeling quite knackered today. Musicircus on Friday night went well – but I think the role of creating and leading a new project so soon after Hunger did my head in. I spent the weekend feeling weepy and tired and overwhelmed. I’m still fragile today.

On Wednesday I drive 3.5 hours to Albury (surely it doesn’t take that long??) where I spend the rest of the week working with AYO’s Sartory String Quartet and local children on a creative project. Hopefully my brain will be back in gear tomorrow.

More thoughts on shows I’ve seen…

And yet more hindsight! The interesting thing I am discovering at the moment is how many fragments of This Show Is About People have stayed in my head. I keep returning to certain images. Today I was replaying my favourite moment, when the audience realises for the first time that two of the cast members are twins, and that what we thought was a reflection in a mirror-surface was in fact exquisite, perfectly toned placement of two identical actors, the illusion broken when one moves independently of the other, and we wonder if she was there all along, and how she got on stage in the first place.

In my initial commentary on the work, I suggested that it needed further digestion time. Now, as images keep returning to me, unbidden, I wonder if in fact I am the one needing more time. Time to sit with the work – if not in the theatre, then in my head. Or perhaps this infectious subtle, sneaky quality of the images that were made is part of the creator’s magic touch.

It was certainly a show that divided the small group of friends I spoke with afterwards. Some loved it, one saying it was the best show she had ever seen, that it was everything she wanted a piece of theatre to be. Others were more like me, critical of its earnestness. But I bet we will talk about it again.