Category: Music

Australian Chamber Choir Presents Mozart’s Requiem

The famously unfinished choral work reaches spectacular heights

By Leeor Adar 

The sheer uplifting majesty of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem sends shivers down the spine of the audience, because no matter how many times the choral numbers feature in ads, or our cinematic memories, nothing is quite as breathtaking as hearing it live before you in the echo chamber of a place of worship.

The Requiem’s completion is notoriously debated, as 25-year-old Franz Xaver Süssmayr completed what is approximate to one third of the work after the sudden death of Mozart in 1791.  Süssmayr’s finishing work is masterful in itself, although it is unclear if Mozart left some direction to the youngster. The overall piece, true to Mozart’s form, ends with a glorious fury, so Süssmayr certainly stayed true to the master, and it is performed and marvelled at centuries later.

Taking on its sheer intensity, the Australian Chamber Choir (ACC) accompanied by the Melbourne Baroque Orchestra performed its final show of Mozart’s Requiem at the Scots’ Church Melbourne on Sunday 22 of April to a brimming audience. The piece was previously performed in Castlemaine and Macedon, finally ending the tour with gusto in Melbourne.

The ACC under artistic direction of Douglas Lawrence OAM has attracted great talent over the years since its inception in 2007.  Lawrence’s ability to commission new works from Australia’s talented up-and-coming composers certainly garners respect. With a multitude of tours through Europe, the ACC was recognised in 2015 as honorary life members to Denmark’s oldest classical music festival, the Sorø International Music Festival, cementing its place amongst the classical music elite.

One current standout talent coming through the ACC is soprano Elspeth Bawden, who joined the choir in 2016. Bawden has been admitted into the Royal College of Music in London, and it is no surprise with her rich and beautiful clarity of voice that such an opportunity should present itself to her. Bawden’s solo contributions to the Requiem are heavenly in their sound and character. Bawden is accompanied by wonderful fellow soloists, Oliver Mann (bass baritone), Timothy Reynolds (tenor), and Elizabeth Anderson (contralto).

The rhythmic beauty of all the voices came to the fore in the Kyrie, which followed with an arresting Sequentia Dies Irae. The Dies Irae is possibly one of the most recognised and magnificent pieces of choral work, imposing itself like a battle cry upon its audience. In contrast, the moving fragility of the Agnus Dei, takes the audience to a most heavenly height.

Having experienced an array of emotions, I exited the church with a classical music and Mozart enthusiast who exclaimed, “that, was amongst the best I’ve heard.”

Mozart’s Requiem was performed in Castlemaine, Macedon and closed in Melbourne 22 April. To learn more about the ACC visit their official website.

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The Thin White Ukes Present The Other Songs of David Bowie

The Thin White Ukes prove that ukuleles can, and do, rock and rock hard in The Other Songs of David Bowie.

By Narelle Wood 

The combination of David Bowie and ukuleles does not seem like it should work, after all the ukulele is most commonly known for its island sounds or as a kid’s instrument. The Thin White Ukes prove that this is anything but the case; ukuleles can, and do, rock and rock hard.

The three-piece ukulele ensemble consisting of Betty France (soprano uke), Michael Dwyer (tenor uke) and Robert Stephens (baritone uke) have put together a playlist of some of Bowie’s lesser known hits with some old familiar favourites thrown in, including Moonage dream, Slip away, Andy Warhol, Fame and Space Odyssey. One of the things that stood out in this performance was how their arrangements highlighted the intricate rhythms and chord progressions of Bowie’s music, reminding me what a musical genius Bowie was, how hard his music is to play and demonstrating just how talented these ukulele players actually are.

The hour show was pure music, with no additional storylines or gimmicks, only a couple of lightning bolts, a silver jumpsuit and some pretty captivating performance skills from all three band members, but especially France. The Butterfly Club is a small venue but you definitely get the feeling that France could hold an audience no matter what the venue size.

It is really hard to pick a favourite moment of the show, I would have been quite happy – along with most of the audience it seems – to sit there for at least another hour. In saying that I was really quite taken with the performances of both Slip away and I’m Afraid of Americans: the combination of the songs, the arrangements, performance and ukuleles were perfect.

There is so much to like about this show and it is safe to say that I will be seeking out all The Thin White Uke shows in the future. I never got to see Bowie perform live, but this may be the next best thing.

The Other Songs of David Bowie plays at The Butterfly Club until 4 March.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9663 8107.

Midsumma Presents John Barrowman in Concert

Hamer Hall hosts a glittery Captain

 

By Owen James

While most of Melbourne was screaming at the Australian Open, 2500 people were screaming at international star, John Barrowman. For one night only Hamer Hall played host to the international star made famous by Doctor Who, Torchwood, Arrow and numerous West End and Broadway shows. Adorned in glitter from head to toe, Barrowman could say anything to his Melbourne crowd and have it received with both rapturous applause and cheers louder than the music.

Journeying across a world of musical styles, Barrowman never stayed in one stylistic continent for long. Over almost three-hours, we were treated to musical theatre, pop, rock, jazz and even a traditional Scottish ballad. His Australian seven-piece band were more than capable of seamlessly transitioning from genre to genre, backing Barrowman’s powerful vocals with punch and passion. This seven-piece band were in fact so capable that the pre-recorded backing vocals and synthesised strings were largely unnecessary and at times, distracting. Perhaps a second keyboard might have better provided those additional sounds – so that although synthesised, at least they were performed live alongside all other music.

Barrowman himself provided an unforgettably energetic performance, entertaining every seat in the house. The incredible power and timbre of his voice transcended genre and would have surely amazed those who knew Barrowman only for his screen roles. Scattered between songs were anecdotes and stories of what life as the famous John Barrowman is really like. His love and passion for all things important in his life: equality, music, his pets and his family, shined stronger than his sequins (if that’s possible).

After a third standing ovation, Barrowman conceded to an unplanned third encore – a simple piano ballad satiating his hungry crowd. Barrowman promised numerous times of his plans to come back to Melbourne soon with a “bigger and better” show, featuring dancers and more singers. So John, if you’re reading this – please do.

John Barrowman in Concert ran for one night only on 16 January, 2018 for the Midsumma Festival.

Xiu Xiu Presents THE MUSIC OF TWIN PEAKS

For the love of Lynch

By Tania Herbert

A gig touting “The Music of Twin Peaks” is always going to bring out the cool creatures, and this was a solid display of Melbourne’s pre-hipster arthouse crowd. The show opens with a projection screen looking up a staircase, with a revolving fan and fading light. A deep booming repetitive base note sounds out for several minutes.

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Then enter Xiu Xiu, an insanely good-looking trio of artists (Jamie Stewart, Angela Seo and Shayna Dunkelman), who take us through a reinterpretation of the music, sounds and poetry in a musical episode of David Lynch’s cult masterpiece Twin Peaks.

The gig was an extremely theatrical and slick program of music, with pieces floating between romantic classical to smooth jazz, to grunge rock to experimental soundscape – with a bit of spoken word in case there wasn’t already enough range.

Rich, complex, even funny in moments, the quirky mystery and depth of Twin Peaks was caught in full. The multimedia was simple, but cool and ambient and complemented the wonderful performance and wacky onstage antics the performers added to each number.

It wasn’t a great start in terms of sound – the balance was way off, with ear-piercing percussion meaning the piano couldn’t be heard, feedback issues and indecipherable vocals. However, credit to the sound crew – it was rapidly sorted through the first couple of numbers, after which the balance was spot on to bring out the most interesting parts of what was often a cacophony of sound.  The vocal clarity was never quite resolved, though this was only a slight detraction from a masterful musical performance.

The gig was supported by a work by Alessandro Cortini from Italy, with a 45-minute sonic-dreamscape composition set to Italian Super-8 home videos from the family archives of the artist. The piece was all about the contrast – videos of children playing the snow or families at the beach against the extreme intense music – creating a set-up where you found yourself feeling intense anticipation for what was to happen next, even though these were simple home movies. Musically, it’s a style I personally find becomes repetitive and I didn’t feel it built much – it felt more like an interactive museum piece, but was certainly a good ‘stage setter’ for the show to come.

Looking around midway through Xiu Xiu’s performance, I see a crowd of arty people in a high- domed, red-velvet-draped reclaimed electrical substation, all standing stock-still and staring upwards, mesmerised by black and white footage of a ceiling fan and a series of random noises… it was deliciously David Lynch-y.

Xiu Xiu was a reminder that the music of Twin Peaks is definitely concert-worthy – particularly when captured in such a great piece of musical performance art.

Xiu Xiu is playing tonight (Friday 23 June as a double bill with Sarah Davachi (Canada)

Date:       Thu 22 – Fri 23 June, 8pm
Tickets:   $45 plus booking fee
Bookings: www.thesubstation.org.au

The Substation Presents LONG STRING INSTRUMENT

Experimental soundscape a work in fascination

By Narelle Wood

It was with much curiosity I went to see the Long String Instrument, curious mostly about how long the strings actually were and what sort of music they would produce.

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‘Long string’ perhaps doesn’t evoke images of just how lengthy these strings actually are, spanning almost the full 27 metres of The Substation main room. Creator Ellen Fullman walks carefully as if on a tightrope between the collection of strings, running her rosin-coated fingers across the tense metal. Fullman’s soft and delicate movement belies the strength in her fingers to produce the continuous tonal hum from the instrument.

Fullman, along with Theresa Wong on the cello, perform the duet “Harbors”, a collaboration between the two musicians exploring the ‘soundscapes, stories and atmospheres’ around bodies of water. For me, though, the sound was far more industrial, which was perfectly suited to the Substation surrounds. The Long String instrument seemed to me to produce sounds similar to an electrical buzzing, albeit of different tones. I found the cello at times to be quite jarring, at a discord with the sounds produced by the Long String. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy it or find the musical experience interesting; I was simply expecting something far more tranquil from the composition.

This was a fascinating musical experience, and I would have very much liked to have had some explanation of how The Long String worked, how it’s transported, tuned and indeed if it works on a scale or if Fullman changes the tones depending on the composition. The most interesting part of the performance was when Fullman used what looked to be loops of string to create a plucked, staccato sound, rather than long continuous notes.

Unfortunately this was only a one-night performance. While I didn’t find the music relaxing, it certainly piqued my interest, both in composition and the production of sound and have since discovered how the Long String works, and its relationship to Star Wars. I highly recommend checking out both Fullman’s work and the fascinating sound of the Long String.

Long String Instrument was performed on January 27, 2017 at The Substation, 1 Market St, Newport. For upcoming events at the venue, visit http://www.thesubstation.org.au/.

Image by Keelan O’Hehir

Melbourne 2016: THE TALLIS SCHOLARS

Divine music in all senses of the word and experience

By Leeor Adar

Born under Peter Phillips‘ directorship, The Tallis Scholars wonderfully transcend the passage of time and deliver audiences the English Renaissance polyphony.

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Since 1973, Phillips has been proving that polyphony draws audiences in the droves. If anything is to be said for Hamer Hall on that balmy Melbourne night, the audiences of varying generations filled the seats to indulge in these beautiful harmonies. Sixteenth-century composer Thomas Tallis, a man who won the patronage of the powerful and elite (and also held the monopoly of printing music), inspired the title of Phillips’ troupe.

Phillips challenges his singers and convention by having only two singers perform a part. Phillips aptly states that two singers for a part are ‘more precise’ and ‘vulnerable’. The fact that the performers must work harder to crystallise their sound is an even greater credit to their ability and to their director. We were treated to some of the most ethereal sounds a human voice could deliver; I was elsewhere for much of this performance, hoisted by these angelic voices to higher ground. The mysticism inspired by Catholicism clearly still affects audiences today through the sacred verses performed.

Phillips began the night with Peter Philips’ Cecilia Virgo, a piece whose text was inspired by the patroness of music, Cecilia. The piece is a perfect opener to the polyphonies that come after, signalling the skill of the alternating groups of voices. Pieces I felt that highlighted the skill of the Scholars and delivered the most compelling music to me would have to be Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah, the modern composer John Travener’s As one who has slept, and William Byrd’s Tribue Domine.

Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah I felt captured the melancholy of the destruction of Jerusalem at a greater depth than Dominique Phinot’s, which Phillips has included after Tallis’ in the program. This was an exercise I suspect in contrasting how the Lamentations could be performed differently, with Phinot’s polychoral style dominating his piece.

The inclusion of Travener’s 1996 As one who has slept was a beautiful nod to a modern composer. The piece carries with it the weight of tremendous mysticism – the varying tones that take us to sudden and melodious highs and lows were a beacon of light in the evening for me. At one point I felt chills in my body: a testament to how overwhelming choral music can be.

The Tribue Domine by one of Tallis’ contemporaries, Byrd, closed the official part of the evening. With soaring voices that harmonised so beautifully, audiences were guaranteed to leave the Hamer Hall in an otherworldly state.

While Phillips indulged us with one last encore, I was adament it will not be the last time I journey to listen to this marvellous choral music.

The Tallis Scholars performed at Hamer Hall on November 6, 2016.

Tinalley String Quartet and John Bell in SPEAK LESS THAN YOU KNOW

The letters of Beethoven, alive in words and music

By Leeor Adar

A Tinalley String Quartet and John Bell collaboration is an iconic pairing that would excite any theatre or classical music aficionado.

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Tinalley’s Adam Chalabi (1st violin), Lerida Delbridge (2nd violin), Justin Williams (viola) and Michelle Wood (cello) are exceptional. Thirteen years of performing worldwide and multiple awards later, it is unsurprising Tinalley have reached the status of one of ‘Melbourne’s Most 100 Influential People’. The precision, intensity and elegance of their music do justice to the brilliance of Felix Mendelssohn and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Tinalley first treat us to Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in a minor, Opus 13. Without a doubt, this is Mendelssohn’s journey through the soaring heights of passionate love. Further inspired by the passing of Beethoven, Mendelssohn’s Opus 13 features the occasional tribute to the old master, whilst carving his own fervour into the Quartet tradition.

One can imagine walking in the night air, bathed in the moonlight during the Adagio – Allegro vivace. Into the second movement, the Adagio non lento, there is a maddening energy that is both overwhelming and reminiscent of Beethoven’s Quartet, Opus 95. Succumbing to the varying moods of Mendelssohn’s romantic Quartet so far, the third movement, Intermezzo: Allegretto con moto – Allegro di molto, is an insistent melody that intertwines rapturously. The dazzling Quartet closes with the intensity of Beethoven’s leaning, and forms an amalgamation of all previous movements with Mendelssohn’s distinct flair.

When Tinalley finishes the Quartet, I am under Mendelssohn’s spell. It is fitting that Mendelssohn’s Quartet, so inspired by Beethoven, should be the splendid gatekeeper to Beethoven and his letters.

Enter Bell, letters in hand.

Bell’s timeless, cool voice embodies Beethoven’s deeply personal letters, reflecting his tempestuous temperament. From the earnest longing for the company of his friend Karl Amenda at age 31, to a different kind of longing for his Immortal Beloved at age 42, the insight into Beethoven’s lonely, and intense emotional inner life is palpable. It is not difficult to hear how Beethoven’s music reflected the torment and passion he experienced within himself.  The audience was given some comic relief in Beethoven’s letters to his nephew’s boarding school owner. The letters show the intensity of Beethoven’s hatred towards his sister-in-law, and later, a copyist who dared fail his expectations.

Interspersed amongst the reading of the letters, Tinalley performs Beethoven’s String Quartets, with each reflecting the mood of the letters read by Bell. Conceptually devised by Anna Melville, Melville brought Beethoven to life in a way that his music alone could only do in suggestion. The rich insight his letters provide confirm the temperament of the man who shared so much in his music.

Speak Less Than You Know was an outstanding and enjoyable insight into the Quartets of two masters. I, like others in the audience, left the Melbourne Recital Centre with a renewed passion for the men and their music that existed almost two hundred years before us.

‘Speak Less Than You Know’ was performed at the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne Recital Centre across three nights.