Category: Music

Reivew: Joe Hisaishi Symphonic Concert: Music from the Studio Ghibli Films of Hayao Miyazaki

Heartfelt and tear-inducing but ultimately healing

By Bradley Storer

As part of the collaboration between Arts Centre Melbourne and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne audiences are extremely lucky to experience this concert of the music of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films as conducted by their original composer, the legendary Joe Hisaishi.

After a preliminary speech by both MSO Managing Director Sophie Galaise and Consul-General of Japan in Melbourne, Kazuyoshi Matsunaga, maestro Hisaishi entered the stage to rapturous applause before launching into a suite of dramatic themes from the epic Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds. The first act of the concert was a journey of contrasts – this suitably dynamic start to the evening contrasted with a soothingly peaceful but bright suite from Kiki’s Delivery Service, before flowing into the chilling, explosive violence of Princess Mononoke.

Hisaishi was a commanding and masterful presence throughout the evening, switching seamlessly between conducting and accompanying the orchestra on grand piano. Australian guest artist Antoinette Halloran appeared to lend her powerful operatic soprano to several pieces, a charming fairytale vision in her pink gown. The Australian Air Force Band made a surprising entrance to provide a wonderful rendition of the Laputa: Castle in the Sky score under Hisashi’s direction, before a small section of the MSO returned to deliver a very intimate performance of the jazzier Pocco Rosso as the act one finale.

The second act began with the stunning Howl’s Moving Castle opening theme before morphing into the gentle beauty of The Wind Rises. Scenes from the original films projected overhead reflect how inextricably the scores are intertwined with the story and scenery of each world, a testament to the enduring power of Miyazaki and Hisaishi’s partnership. Japanese guest artist Mai Fujisawa was introduced to provide her blissful airy vocalizations to selections from Spirited Away – Hisashi uttered his only words for the evening after her initial performance to introduce Fujisawa as his daughter, drawing delighted gasps of shock from the audience.

The evening was brought to a close with the entire ensemble of musicians and vocalists performing the cheerful and rambunctious songs of My Neighbour Totoro, before Hisashi ended the evening offering a message of support for the Australian public after the Bush Fire crisis along with the final image of Princess Mononoke: a destroyed forest returning to life. An absolute pleasure of an evening, heartfelt and tear-inducing but ultimately healing in its vision of simplicity and harmony – a treasure for die hard fans and first timers alike!

Venue: Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Kings Domain Gardens

Dates: 29th February and 1st March

Times: 7:30pm

Bookings: artscentremelbourne.com.au or 1300 182 183

Photography courtesy of The Arts Centre Melbourne

Review: Conchita Wurst & Trevor Ashley with Kate Miller-Heidke

Voices of Austria and Australia combine

By Owen James

Musical events where two great artists unite always make for an evening of enthralling entertainment. Last night however, Melbourne was treated to three world-class artists at Hamer Hall, and over two hours and through various musical styles, we were taken to music wonderland. The six standing ovations throughout the night are a testament to the magic of these renowned vocalists.

The audacious Trevor Ashley kicked off with classic tunes and brazen cabaret-style anecdotes of bad dates gone wrong, warming the audience up for a wild night of dauntless divas. Ashley channelled the great Shirley Bassey, gave a stirring rendition of the toe-tapping Peter Allen rousing anthem ‘Quiet Please, There’s A Lady On Stage’, and dazzled us with cabaret classic ‘The Man Who Got Away’. Ashley’s vocals especially impressed with Broadway classic ‘People’ from Funny Girl, receiving a deserving rousing ovation.

Eurovision legend Conchita Wurst delivered stunning anthem after anthem with her unmatched, heavenly soprano tones. This was Wurst’s first time performing here, and her warm and gracious personality has undoubtedly enamoured her first Melbournian audience. Performing recognisable hits including ‘Out Of Body Experience’ and infamous winning Eurovision ballad ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’, Wurst also wowed with lesser-known tracks peppered throughout the evening. Ashley and Wurst also dedicated a substantial portion of the evening to a timely tribute to the music of James Bond, including Adele epic ‘Skyfall’, and piano-bar favourite ‘Goldfinger’.

Kate Miller-Heidke’s brief two-song stint in the second act stole the show for me. Miller-Heidke’s seamless blend of classical and contemporary vocal styles is mesmerising, showcased in both the finale from her 2016 Opera ‘The Rabbits’ and Eurovision ballad ‘Zero Gravity’ from 2019. She joined Ashley and Wurst for a gentle delivery of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ that made the perfect conclusion for the night.

Conductor Michael Tyack lead the magnificent 40-piece symphony orchestra who backed every piece with delicate nuance and soaring, rich explosions and crescendos. There’s no recorded alternative that that can match a stage full of live professional musicians in perfect synchronisation, and through every alternating musical style this set list demanded, this heavenly group were precise and moving.

Keep an eye out for the next live performance of any of these heart-warming artists.

conchitawurst.com
trevorashley.com.au
katemillerheidke.com

Photography courtesy of Arts Centre Melbourne

Review: The Choir of Man

A musical escape with a few new mates

By Narelle Wood

To be honest when The Choir of Man started the show with a high-octane rendition of Welcome to the Jungle I was little concerned that the next 80 minutes would be a series of tropes reinforcing the lad-at-the-pub stereotype. I couldn’t have been more wrong. While there is something definitely familiar about these nine guys, what follows is a musical journey that explores the importance of community spaces, and the joy and support these spaces bring. Each of choir member brings a different character to the stage that adds a unique dimension to the unfolding story. Not to mention that these guys can really sing. As a result it feels as though you are sitting in a small pub, any where in the world having a drink with your mates, while listening to some brilliant tunes.

The songs themselves range from perhaps the more expected repertoire for a men’s choir of Guns ‘n’ Roses, Queen and Eagle Eye Cherry to some unexpected numbers from Adele, Katy Perry, Sia, and even a good Aussie rock ballad; it’s these songs that provide some of the most joyous and most poignant moments of the show. While most songs elicited laughter, clapping and sing-alongs, you could hear a pin drop during the rendition of Chandelier. The audience participation, something that can be awkward to watch, was so much fun and these guys seem to be experts in picking willing participants and making them feel at ease on the stage.

I haven’t commented much about the singing, because I’m not sure there are words to describe it. The musical arrangements and harmonies are nuanced and the ensemble so tight that the performance is flawless. Add to this the choreography the perfectly captures the pub environment and the mood of each of the songs, and you have a show that is not to be missed.

The Choir of Man are in Australia for the next four months and Melbourne until next week. This is their first run in Melbourne and hopefully not their last, but just in case it is, you want to make sure you get along and spend some time with these guys who can hold the audience’s attention just as well as they can hold a tune.

The Choir of Man are performing until 12th January. Tickets at www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2020/contemporary-music/the-choir-of-man

Review: Nils Frahm

Making the familiar strange

By Caitlin McGrane

When we arrived at Hamer Hall the space was nearly empty and I took the opportunity to snap some photos of the stage where Nils Frahm would soon appear. His set-up is unlike any band or composer I have seen play live. There was a piano on the right, which I didn’t even realise was a piano until well into the show; a huge synthesiser; at least 3 other keyboards; and a mini organ that he introduced to the audience last year as his “pan flute army” because of the unintended sound it makes.

This is the second time I have seen Frahm play in Melbourne in Hamer Hall, and both times the music and Frahm’s performance reminds me of the reasons why his work means so much to me. Frahm’s ambient, electronic and percussive music has been my chosen soundtrack to long stretches of time spent in deep concentration – marking assignments, writing my PhD confirmation, and spending evenings lying totally still trying to stop my brain from fizzing. His music, fusing elements of electronic and classic composition are perfect for maintaining focus in the present. And yet there is also something about his arrangements that invoke a sense of reminiscing about the past and dreaming far into the future.

As the hall filled, the crowd seemed familiar, the ambiance was relaxed and possibly even aloof – classic North Fitzroy. Frahm came out on stage, he bowed quickly and warmly to the crowd, thanked them for coming by clasping his hands together. He sat down at the mini organ and began to play a gentle introductory melody; one that I might have heard many times before, from last year’s All Melody, but in such a way that gave me a feeling like it was new.

This feeling of what I can only describe as an internal ‘familiar dissonance’ with the music pervaded the entire performance. It was an extraordinary and exciting experience, and brought to mind the sociological concept “making the familiar strange”. To me it felt like this is what Frahm does with his work, only live on stage. In comparing last year’s show to this one, it seemed as though the tracks were the same, but somehow different, like they were in a different register, maybe a little ‘muted’ in places. I knew the melodies so well that my brain was anticipating them, but Frahm’s improvisational skills made each moment subtly different. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the show, during the encore, where I noticed how the muted quality had been underscoring the entire show. It felt like putting the final piece in place in a huge jigsaw.

During the show, Frahm, in his deep yet quiet German-accented voice, mentioned that this show was a continuation of the tour started last year and that he had played it many times, but that he still manages to make a mistake each time he performs. To me there seem to be very few, perhaps no, mistakes in his shows, but rather his admission was a peak behind the curtain of his creativity – something he seems to enjoy – and this may also explain why he often played with his back to the audience. Frahm, at times, asked for the help of Jonas, a sound engineer but, this to me also seemed part of the performance.

Watching him move about the stage, moving his whole body as he put the tracks together, it was clear that Frahm is a performer, and that every element was carefully and masterfully controlled by him. Sometimes during the bassiest of his tracks it felt a bit weird that the only person moving in the 2,488-seat room was the man on stage. But the lack of movement also made it much more affecting and pleasant to sit with my eyes closed and let the sound wash over me like a bath. Around two-thirds of the way through the show I felt like the boundary between me and the sound had ceased to exist. Seeing and hearing, on their own do not fully capture the experience of Frahm live. There is a proprioceptive quality to his shows where the whole body and senses are involved in the experience – like you can feel your body and the sound interacting. For me it is an incredibly enjoyable experience, and yet I can also imagine it being disquieting for those who like to keep things familiar. Frahm is a natural performer, and watching him move I could tell that he was moving not just to the sound he was producing in that moment, but also to the sounds he was planning several bars ahead. He was deeply present yet also somewhere deep in the future. And I am obsessed.

Nils Frahm’s performances demonstrate that he might be one of the most talented performers of his time. He has a deep commitment to the entire experience of sound and how it interacts, engages, and changes the body. If you can get to see him wherever he is playing, I strongly recommend that you do.

Nils Frahm will be performing in Sydney on 5 December at the Sydney Opera House. Tickets and more info: https://www.nilsfrahm.com/

Review: George Michael: Listen to Your Heart 

Enjoyable night of unforgettable music

By Samuel Barson

Careless Whisper. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. Last Christmas. All synonymous with your Mum’s record collection, all synonymous with one man… George Michael.

Like many artists of his time, Michael’s music, fashion and unique approach and outlook on life has allowed for him to remain a stronghold in the hearts and minds of music lovers of all ages. The tributes are naturally endless and on October 17th, Melbourne held a very special tribute of their own.
George Michael: Listen to Your Heart was a 2 hour long tribute to not only the music behind the man, but also the man behind the music. Household names Rob Mills and Hugh Sheridan joined a cast of former Voice contestants and music theatre personalities to take audiences through Michael’s extensive discography, making some spoken word tributes to what the man meant to them as artists. The cast were joined by a tight and impressive full orchestra, all under the helm of maestro John Foreman OAM.
Whilst many of these tribute shows run the risk of being self indulgent on behalf of the cast (the people on stage making it more about themselves than the artist they are honouring), this show’s biggest strength was that it did the exact opposite. It was only ever about Michael, and the connections the cast made between themselves and Michael never felt too facetious or fabricated. There was a genuine and palpable love for Michael being shared by the cast and the audience.
Production values of lighting and choreography never took too much focus away from the main focus; the entire night was undoubtedly Michael himself.
The cast did a solid job, and it was enjoyable seeing such a diverse musical cast representing different parts of Michael’s musical talent and skill – I think you would be hard pressed to find one artist who could encapsulate Michael in his entirety these days. Special mention must be made to Sheridan for perfectly showcasing Michael’s smooth and sexy jazz side.
A great night for all ages, it was fantastic seeing such a diverse demographic in the audience, all attending to enjoy a night of unforgettable music in recognition of such an important musical icon.
George Michael: Listen to Your Heart played at the Arts Centre’s Hamer Hall for one night only.

Review: High Tea Live – Steaming Jazz with Stevenson’s Rockets 

Toe-tapping jazz that’s good for the soul

By Narelle Wood

There is perhaps no better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon in Melbourne than sitting in The Pavilion at the Arts Centre, overlooking the city, eating scrumptious food and listening to “Steaming Jazz” with Stevenson’s Rockets.

The Stevenson’s Rockets are as smooth as they come, entertaining with numbers such as Scott Joplin’s Solace and the more laid back Riverside Blues, mixing it up with jazz styles from songs with upbeat Latin-American rhythms, to the Dixieland stylings of Ice cream. The quartet, consisting of Jo Stevenson (reeds), Steve Grant (piano), Chris Ludowyk (bass, trombone) and Ian Smith (drums, trumpet and vocals), effortlessly moved between styles, instruments, and solos, each song just as entertaining as the last.

This is perhaps to be expected given that Stevenson’s Rockets have been around for some time. But what added to this already stellar performance was that the Stevenson, Grant, Ludowyk and Smith also seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, the music, and each other’s company, as well as the performance itself.

And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we were treated to a rocketing-rendition of Irving Berlin’s Puttin’ on the Ritz, compete with Smith on the washboard. It was certainly a crowd pleaser that left me wondering where exactly one might find a washboard.

If the toe-tapping Jazz performances are not quite enough to tempt you into purchasing as ticket, then the addition of high tea should certainly seal the deal. There are bubbles on arrival, with non-alcoholic options also available, and continuous tea and coffee refills. There are both sweet and savoury options, of sandwiches, pastries and cakes. And of course, any high tea wouldn’t be complete without scones, jam and cream.

So if you’re looking to spend a couple of hours soothing the soul, decadently eating and listening to, not just good, but great music, I highly recommend high tea on a Sunday afternoon at The Arts Centre.

Venue: The Pavilion, The Arts Centre, Melbourne

Tickets: from $79

To book tickets for the November or December High Tea Live go to www.artscentremelbourne.com.au

Review: Amazing Grace

Just Franklin and the power of her voice

By Narelle Wood

Some 47 years after filming, the documentary capturing Aretha Franklin’s seminal gospel recording of Amazing Grace has finally made it to screen.

In 1972, over two nights, Franklin, along with James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir (directed by Alexander Hamilton), recorded live gospel songs such as Precious Memories, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and, of course, Amazing Grace. Keen on making it an authentic experience, Franklin insisted that the recording take place inside the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, in front of a congregation; a congregation including Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and gospel singer Clara Ward.

In an attempt to capture what would become a landmark event – the album going on to be the biggest selling gospel album of all time – Warner Bros commissioned director Sydney Pollack to document the recording. Pollack, an experience director, was not however accustomed to making documentaries, and this is where the trouble with the film begins. The original delay in the film’s release were due to ‘technical difficulties’; Pollack hadn’t used clapboards to mark sections of the film, making the task of syncing the visuals and sound almost impossible. Eventually Alan Elliot would take on the project and work tirelessly to bring it together, even amidst threats of legal action from Franklin herself due to missing contracts and payment disputes.

What Elliot and editor Jeff Buchanan have created is an immersive experience, giving an all to brief glimpse into the immense talent of Aretha Franklin and her voice’s ability to literally move people. Pollack’s lack of experience as a documentary maker is evident; it feels like the cameras have been given to some random onlookers with the only mandate to ‘hit record and capture this’. The footage is sometimes blurry and often jerky as a camera man moves from one location to the next. Some of the close-ups are uncomfortably close, and some of the camera angles are really awkward. But Elliot and Buchanan capitalise on this lack of polish, reminding the audience that this was first and foremost a recording session, and a documentary last.

The film hits all the right notes, quite literally. The pacing is good and there are a few cutaways that provide momentary insights into the work behind the scenes to produce such an event. There are no experts or commentary on Franklin other than that which occurred during at the original taping. It focusses purely on the recording and Franklin’s performance, which does not disappoint. My favourite part was seeing just how excited the choir was to be a part of the two night event.

In a time where stylised and sleek recreations of the lives of musical legends’ have begun to grace our screen, Amazing Grace offers a refreshing contrast with its authentic 70’s hair and clothing, offering no narrative and no explanation. It’s just Franklin and the power of her voice.

Amazing Grace is now playing in cinemas such as the Classic, Lido and Palace. Check websites for listings and prices.