May Diary

Sunday May 1

Three of the Best, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chamber Series, Iwaki Auditorium, Southbank, 11 am

This recital’s name promises much.  I’d be prepared to go along with 2/3rds of its claim: the program contains the Ives Piano Trio, now enjoying a re-discovery as players realise that it is negotiable, if hard work; and it ends with the Smetana Piano Trio.  But the opener is an unknown quantity, to me at least: the Francaix String Trio of 1933, written when the composer was 21.  Of course, in the limited world of such trios, it may be outstanding.  We’ll see.   Performers are violin Robert Macindoe, viola Lauren Brigden, cello Rachael Tobin, with chamber music expert pianist Caroline Almonte doing duty in the morning’s major works.  This series usually attracts a sell-out crowd, although this menu is a pretty rarified one.


Monday May 2

Schubert’s Flights of Fantasie, Kristian Chong & Friends, Melbourne Recital Centre, 6 pm

A local reflection of the Sydney-based Selby & Friends series, this sequence of three recitals spread across the year starts tonight with the personable pianist-host in alliance with Sophie Rowell, the MSO’s current Associate Concertmaster.  Their title, with its specific last word, holds little mystery: the evening’s main content will be the famous duo in C, D. 934, preceded by a Mozart violin sonata, the last one to be written in B flat, and also Andrew Schultz’s Night Flight, which Chong premiered with Dmitry Tkachenko at an Australia House London Remembrance Day recital in 2003.   Both artists bring plenty of experience to the scores,  Rowell’s violin a familiar sound thanks to her years with the Australian String Quartet.


Tuesday May 3

La Boheme, Opera Australia, State Theatre, 7:30 pm

This starts the national company’s autumn season here.  Gale Edwards’ production with Brian Thomson’s sets moves the locale forward to 1930s Berlin; keep an eye out for Schoenberg et al in Act 2’s crowd scene, I don’t think.  Conductor is Andrea Molino and the Mimi/Rodolfo pairing features singers not heard in this city, I believe: Lianna Haroutounian and Gianluca Terranova.   Musetta is Jane Ede, Marcello will be sung by Andrew Jones.  There are 10 performances, the last on Saturday May 28.   I think this version has been played here before but can’t be sure; so much Puccini and middle-period Verdi has been temporally and geographically relocated over the past 30 years or so to cater for a generation of directors and their acolytes who have an unnerving fascination with the Weimar Republic and World War Two.  Still, if the look upsets your sensibilities, you can always shut your eyes and trust that the singing will be of a decent quality.


Wednesday May 4

Through Nature to Eternity, Tinalley String Quartet, Melbourne Recital Centre, 7:30 pm

Back in Melbourne, this ensemble that took its name from the University of Melbourne’s only straight-through thoroughfare is hosting singer/songwriter Lior Attar, who contributes his well-known My Grandfather from the Scattered Reflections album, Sim Shalom which opens his Songs of Compassion collaboration with Nigel Westlake, and a new song cycle written in partnership with Melbourne composer Ade Vincent.   Framing these sung pieces, the Tinalley group plays Ravel in F, three of Dvorak’s twelve Cypresses, and the Barber Adagio.  The recital is in the Murdoch Hall; just as well, as the Australian/Israeli musician has a considerable following and possesses undoubted musical ability, as shown in his 2014 performance under Westlake when the composer/conductor led the MSO in the Compassion construct during that year’s Myer Bowl free concerts.


Saturday May 7

The Pearl Fishers, Opera Australia, State Theatre, 7:30 pm

Bizet’s second-best-loved work, although the way Australian companies keep on pushing it, you’d have to think it now takes precedence over Carmen.  The run lasts for 8 performances, ending with a matinee on Saturday May 28, and the production is directed by Michael Gow with Robert Kemp’s set and costume design.  This version fits the opera with a 19th century French colonial backdrop, although the main action stays in Ceylon/Sri Lanka.  Emma Matthews has the role of the priestess Leila, torn between two men and gifted with the fine Comme autrefois aria.  The best friends/rivals will be Dmitry Korchak as Nadir, who scores that wonderfully languid solo Je crois entendre encore,  and Jose Carbo sings Zurga, the poor high-minded bastard who stays behind to face the music while the feckless lovers run off; which just goes to show how ephemeral is friendship, even when it gives rise to such a superb achievement as the Au fond du temple saint duet – music that permeates this opera to wrenching effect.   Conductor is Guillaume Tourniaire, a firm presence in this company’s operatic personnel.


Sunday May 8

Richard Tognetti: Beethoven Mozart V, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Hamer Hall, 2:30 pm

Settling down after the all-in-together nature of the recent Cinemusica program, the ACO reverts to the venerable canon with an afternoon of Beethoven, Bach and Mozart.  The content begins and ends with fugues by Beethoven: the middle-to-late Op. 137 for string quintet featuring two viola lines, here arranged for string orchestra, and the Grosse Fuge which was the original last movement to the String Quartet in B flat Op. 130 and which, I suppose, will here be tacked on to the scheduled performance of that chamber music masterwork in its revised form.   Maintaining the afternoon’s path, we hear the first four Contrapunctus from Bach’s The Art of Fugue; these open the entire work and are simple fugues, all based on the subject that Bach treats throughout his incomplete compendium. At the centre of the event, Richard Tognetti is soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto in A Major, the last of the five and a sprightly effervescent joy in this company.

The program is repeated on Monday May 9 at 7:30 pm


Saturday May 14

Beethoven and Crumb 2, Australian National Academy of Music, 7 pm

Paavali Jumppanen is back, bringing a pianistic lift to ANAM with two programs juxtaposing a name synonymous with Western classical music and a senior member of the American avant-garde.   On Friday May 13 at 11 am, Jumppanen shares the stage with Academy pianists putting Beethoven’s last three sonatas alongside parts of Crumb’s Makrokosmos, Zeitgeist and Celestial Mechanics cycles.  On this night, he is soloist/director for the Emperor Concerto and Makrokosmos III: Music for a Summer Evening, scored for two amplified pianos and a pair of percussionists – yet another Bartok semi-reference.  What do the two have in common?   Having listened to the Crumb construct, I’d have to say: not much.   But that is clearly not the point; perhaps its simply a preconception-boggling juxtaposition of two completely different, original voices.  If so, you couldn’t hope for better.


Saturday May 14

City Life, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Recital Centre,  8 pm

The first of three Metropolis New Music concerts where the MSO takes on the contemporary – maybe.   The podium presence for all of these events is Robert Spano, chief conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.  This year’s over-arching theme is music dealing with the urban, tonight’s title referring to the program’s final work by Steve Reich that puts 1995 New York into the minimalist-style cross-hairs.   Another American, Michael Daugherty, does much the same for Los Angeles in his 1999 frolic, Sunset Strip.  For light relief, Spano changes focus to South Korea, with Unsuk Chin’s Graffiti for chamber orchestra – let’s hope she has some positive sounds about what is for most of us a civic blight.   And Alex Turley’s city of ghosts, first heard earlier this year at the Cybec 21st Century Australian Composers concert in the Iwaki Auditorium, gets another guernsey; this time around, one hopes, with a fuller complement of strings.


Sunday May 15

Germanic Cello, Team of Pianists, Rippon Lea, 6:30 pm

They don’t come any more German than Schumann and Brahms.  The MSO’s Rohan de Korte and the Team’s Darryl Coote work through both Brahms Cello Sonatas, which is worth the price of admission in itself.    As for the senior composer, the pair review his Op. 70 Adagio and Allegro, originally written for horn and piano but less stressful for the listener in this garb.   Further in this alternative instrumentation penchant, de Korte and Coote will play Schumann’s Fantasiestucke Op. 73 that, in its original form, asked for a clarinet rather than a cello, although the composer said either a viola or cello could also get the job done.   I’ve missed quite a few of the TOP’s events over the past few years but this one is very inviting; and, a friendly warning:  it doesn’t take much to pack out the stately home’s ballroom.


Monday May 16

Luisa Miller, Opera Australia, State Theatre, 7:30 pm

A mid-career Verdi opera and one among several in the composer’s earlier output from which I don’t know a bar; well, apart from the tenor show-piece Quando le sere al placido. Based on a Schiller play, the work proceeds in three fraught acts to a Romeo and Juliet-style conclusion.  The company knows that interest will be limited and has scheduled four performances only.  Original director Giancarlo del Monaco prepared this production for the Opera de Lausanne; its revival is being managed by Matthew Barclay.   Andrea Licati conducts a cast headed by Nicole Car as the heroine, Riccardo Massi as Rodolfo, the object of her affections, Steven Gallop sings the intriguer Wurm and David Parkin his partner in secret criminality and blackmail, Count Walter.  Like the company’s La Boheme production, this version of the opera’s setting moves the time to the 1930s, rather than the 17th century; the promotion photos suggest that the setting is no longer a Tyrolean village; and, similar to The Pearl Fishers in this season, the opera is told in flashback.


Wednesday May 18

Cityscapes, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Recital Centre, 8 pm

Second in the series, this concert continues its metropolitan theme with Copland’s Music for a Great City of 1964, based on his own soundtrack to Something Wild, the last film for which he provided music and which depicts an unappealing New York.  Conductor Robert Spano has also programmed two Cries of London: Orlando Gibbons’ early 17th century God give you good morrow and Berio’s 1974 cycle.  The Italian composer’s work was originally written for the King’s Singers sextet; two years later, he expanded it to 8 lines.  As the Song Company is performing them, I’d suspect the earlier version might appear.  Michael Kurth, bassist with the Atlanta Symphony, is represented by his three-movement Everything Lasts Forever which Spano premiered in 2013; the piece shares a link with the first Metropolis concert’s Graffiti by Unsuk Chin in that it too was inspired by ‘street art’. The program is completed by Jennifer Higdon’s City Scape, written for the Atlanta orchestra in 2003, celebrating that city in three substantial movements, and also premiered by Spano.


Thursday May 19

Paavali, Poulenc, Debussy & Beethoven, Australian National Academy of Music 7 pm

Another product of the Finnish pianist’s visit.  Beethoven begins and ends the night with the early Trio for clarinet, cello and piano, the Gassenhauer, and the Quintet for piano and winds Op. 16.  Poulenc, fecund in the chamber music field, is also represented by two pieces: the Elegie in memory of Dennis Brain for french horn and piano, distinctive for a 12-tone row flirtation, and the early Trio for oboe, bassoon and piano.  And, would you believe, Debussy has two brackets as well: the all-too-brief Cello Sonata of 1915, and selections from the Preludes.  How much Jumppanen takes on will be an interesting question: the Preludes, you’d expect, but it’s significant that every other work involves a piano.  Certainly, the night gives some of the ANAM musicians a chance to shine, especially the wind players.


Saturday May 21

Heavenly Cities, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Recital Centre, 8 pm

Yes, it’s Messiaen time in this final Metropolis New Music concert.  Couleurs de la cite celeste is a 1963 composition for piano, 13 wind and 6 percussion, first performed at the following year’s Donaueschingen Festival with Boulez conducting his Domaine Musical people and the composer’s wife, the phenomenal Yvonne Loriod, at the keyboard.   It is based on five quotations from the Apocalypse and sets about the Celestial City depiction with sharp-edged aggression, rich in the whole Messianic panoply: Hindu and Greek rhythms, bird song, Gregorian chant, grinding and repeated dissonances.  Oliver Knussen’s The Way to Castle Yonder is a potpourri extracted from his children’s opera Higglety, Pigglety Pop!, a collaboration with Maurice Sendak.   Barry Conygham’s Diasporas (about which I can find out absolutely nothing) will enjoy its world premiere while Michael Bakrncev’s Sky Jammer, the pick of the Cybec 21st Century Australian Composers concerts in January, will enjoy its second hearing.   Fleshing out the night is senior German composer/academic Heiner Goebbels’ Surrogate Cities: Samplersuite of 1993/4.  The suite is, in fact the real thing: a set of ten Baroque period dances using sampler and orchestra, the electronic implement allowing the use of non-orchestral sounds while Goebbels gives us his aural insights into the ‘phenomenon’ of the city; Heidegger’s still around, no matter where you look.


Sunday May 22

Sax and Sensitivity, The Melbourne Musicians, St. John’s Southgate, 3 pm

Through sheer forgetfulness – here comes Alzheimer’s – I missed the Musicians’ last concert on March 20 which promised a fine program.  Today’s one offers Molly Kadarauch of the Sutherland Trio, Monash University and guest spots with the Melbourne Symphony and Melbourne Chamber Orchestras in C.P.E. Bach’s Cello Concerto in A minor, refined and tempestuous at once.   Saxophonist Justin Kenealy, a young musician with an impressive list of awards and educational personnel and institutions behind him, takes centre-stage for the one-movement Glazunov Concerto, a staple of the instrument’s repertoire and lavishly Romantic in its language.  Frank Pam and his players also offer an alternative Russia to that of Glazunov in Shostakovich’s Sinfonia Op. 110, which I assume is Rudolf Barshai’s arrangement for string orchestra of the composer’s even-more-fraught-than-usual String Quartet No. 8.


Monday May 23

Homage to the Classics, Inventi Ensemble, Melbourne Recital Centre, 2 pm and 6 pm

This group is new to me, although it has been active since the start of 2014.  Its brief comprises concerts, workshops, community outreach and corporate/wellness performances.   Founded by flautist Melissa Doecke and oboist Ben Opie, the personnel for this recital include violinist Jessica Bell, violist Phoebe Green and cellist Blair Harris.  What they have set their combined talents to perform is a Quintet in D, the last of the Op. 11 set by J.C. Bach which offers freedom of choice for its top lines – two violins, or an oboe or a flute (or both) substituting for one of the strings (or both); Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D, the first of the ever-fresh series of four; Britten’s Op. 2 Phantasy Quartet for oboe, violin, viola and cello, written for Leon Goossens when the composer was 19; and Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony No. 1 arranged for the five musician-participants in this recital.  An ambitious program with a well-proportioned mix of names and styles.


Thursday May 26

The Lonely Planet, Flinders Quartet, Melbourne Recital Centre, 7 pm

Cutting down on its number of performances, this popular ensemble starts off its MRC appearances under the Local Heroes banner with Mozart in G, K. 387, the first of the Haydn set and distinguished by its fugato finale opening.   Local composer/academic Stuart Greenbaum’s String Quartet No. 6, which gives the night its title, comes next – the first performance after the Flinders players premiere the work (which the ensemble commissioned with support from Julian Burnside) four days previously at the Montsalvat Gallery.  Complementing the Mozart comes Haydn’s No. 2 from the Op. 33 set which, all things being equal, should be that one nicknamed The Joke with its audience-deceiving finale-rondo.   And, as a capstone, we hear Beethoven No. 4, the only one from the six-strong Op. 18 set in a minor key.  Because of the rarity of Flinders appearances, I find it hard to keep up with changes in personnel but, as far as I know, Helen Ireland continues on viola and Zoe Knighton on cello.  The first violin is Shane Chen and the second chair is now occupied by Nicholas Waters.


Saturday May 28

Finishing the month with an old-style program after the Metropolis detours, the MSO plays a solid but odd program, juxtaposing three disparate works of the highest quality. Guest conductor Christoph Konig begins with Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, four movements in memory of friends who died in World War I and still, almost a hundred years on,  a series of hurdles for any orchestra.   Soloist is British violist Lawrence Power, celebrated among other things for his work in the Nash Ensemble.  He is fronting the Bartok Concerto, a work he has recorded on the Hyperion label.  The score, left in sketch form by the composer at his death in 1945, has been subjected to revisions and amendments, not least the one by Bartok’s son, Peter.  For the inevitable symphony, Konig & Co.offer Brahms in E minor, the most clear-headed of the composer’s four, climaxing in that magnificent, sombre chaconne which possibly provides an emotional link to the world-weariness of the night’s concerto . . . if you’re feeling charitable.

This program is also performed on Friday May 27 in Costa Hall, Geelong.


Monday May 30

Joe Chindamo and Zoe Black I, Melbourne Recital Centre, 6 pm

Tonight is the first of two appearances across the year in the Salon by this pianist/violin partnership; like the Flinders Quartet, they also appear under the MRC’s Local Heroes catch-all category.  The musicians perform original works by Chindamo and also re-imagine classics, as they did with Bach’s Goldberg Variations, recently performed both in New York and here.   As with every sustained experiment, some of these re-creations work better than others but the duo has the talent of persuading  you – sometimes – to re-conceive familiar works that have become stale through repetition over the years.