April Diary

Thursday April 5

Debussy & Brahms

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

There’s a sort of safety in programming easily imbibable matter at the start and end of a concert.   Conductor Jun Markl has recorded both the Debussy Nocturnes that open this program and the Brahms Symphony No. 4 which closes it; in  other words, he’s not being stressed.  Nor are the MSO or the Ladies of the orchestra’s chorus who get to ooh-aah in the third of the Debussy collection, Sirenes.  The occasion’s real interest comes in the middle with a premiere: Australian composer Mary Finsterer’s Double Concerto Missed Tales III – The Lost.  This work asks for viola and cello soloists; the MSO’s principal viola, Christopher Moore, is on board but apparently the orchestra’s cellos were unable or unwilling to take up the challenge as the lower-string soloist is Timo-Veikko Valve from the Australian Chamber Orchestra.  There’s a Missed Tales I – Lake Ice for orchestra but I can’t track down a middle one in the series, although Finsterer’s trend in this regard appears to involve concertos for string/s.

This program will be repeated in Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, on Friday April 6 at 7:30 pm


Saturday April 7


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

The Debussy observances continue at ANAM with a solid recital headed by visiting guru Roy Howat in collaboration with some of the Academy’s bright young things.  For example, a cellist will be required for two rarities: a very early Nocturne and Scherzo which appears to have no nocturne, and an Intermezzo from the same year (1882) which should involve an orchestra behind the cello.  Before the complete Book 1 Preludes, we hear a grab-bag of stand-alone piano solos: the Ballade, La plus que lente, Masques, and D’un cahier d’esquisses.  You’d have to assume that the fare on offer will be shared around, or will Howat take on the lot?


Monday April 9

James Ehnes

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

This very personable Canadian violinist is next in the MRC’s Great Performers series, justifiably so.  He is focused on Bach for this solo recital and begins with the composer’s blockbuster Partita No. 2 in D minor, the one that ends with the massive Chaconne that  impressed a generation of pianists so much that they re-vamped it for their own instrument – Brahms for the left hand alone, Busoni and Siloti for the keyboard’s full range; not to mention Segovia’s guitar transcription or Stokowski’s orchestration.  Ehnes ends with the Partita No. 3 that starts with the Preludio familiar as the Sinfonia from the Wir danken dir, Gott cantata and holds the well-known Gavotte en rondeau among its pages.  Speaking of the centre, Ehnes uses the two partitas to bookend the Sonata in C, notable for its gripping and lengthy Fuga.  In essence, what he’s playing is the second half of Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas.  He’s also up for a masterclass the following night in the Salon at 6 pm.


Monday April 9


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

This pair of Melbourne appearances from the ACO is temporally out of whack; the Monday second-night comes first and the usual Sunday first Melbourne concert appears a fortnight later.   Whatever the scheduling ins and outs, the program revolves around Australian soprano Car and Richard Tognetti has done his best to match her solos with some relevant or comfort-inducing orchestral surrounds.   For example, the night begins with Handel’s 1728 opera Alcina – the Overture and Dances; then Car emerges for Mozart’s 1778 Basta/Ah, non lasciarmi concert aria.   Satu Vanska uses her Stradivarius for Beethoven’s salonesque F Major Romance before the soprano launches into the composer’s own concert aria,  Ah! perfido – almost contemporaneous with the violin solo.  Hildegard’s response Ave Maria, O auctrix vite should also employ a lot of Vanska in its transcription for strings, but then we make a ludicrous jump forward 700 years for Car to sing Desdemona’s Ave Maria from Verdi’s opera Otello.  The evening ends with more Mozart: another concert aria – Misera/Ah! non son io – and the Symphony No. 27, although why we couldn’t have heard the aria’s almost-contemporaneous Haffner Symphony No. 35 beats me.

This program will be repeated on Sunday April 22 at 2:30 pm.


Friday April 13


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

James Ehnes features in this series from the MSO, fronting a violin concerto by a Pulitzer Prize winner.  Conductor for the three concerts will be Muhai Tang who was active with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra for some years but, as far as I can recall, did not venture south of the Murray.  He opens his account with the Brahms Tragic Overture, and sends us all home with the Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony’s resounding triumphalism to keep our spirits up.  The concerto comes from Aaron Jay Kernis, a Yale-connected composer/academic whose vocabulary is described as eminently agreeable with something to please everybody.   Not the best encomium but I warmed to him when I learned that he took on a complaining Zubin Mehta who was whingeing about the lack of detail in one of Kernis’ scores, to which the young composer responded, ‘Just read what’s there.’   In other words, do your job – an instruction that should be etched into the music-stand of every musician prepared to posture at the podium.

This program will be repeated on Saturday April 14 at 7:30 pm and on Monday April 16 at 6:30 pm.


Saturday April 14

Avi Avital & Giocoso Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

The popular mandolin virtuoso has the good fortune to be playing at this Musica Viva recital in collaboration with the group that won the Musica Viva and Audience Prizes at the last Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition in 2015.  Sharing the load, the Giocosos start the ball rolling with Schumann’s String Quartet No. 1 in A minor.  Avital joins them at night’s end for American-born writer David Bruce’s Cymbeline from 2013, written for this particular mandolinist.  Apparently, the composer means no reference to be made to Shakespeare but to the meaning of the word itself: Lord of the Sun.  Someone is playing the Chaconne from Bach’s D minor Violin Partita; I’m assuming Avital will undertake his own transcription, rather than Sebastian Casleanu or Teofil Todica putting on an extra-ensemble solo.  Elena Kats-Chernin’s Orfeo will enjoy its first performances on this tour; it also is written for the mandolin/string quartet combination.

This program will be repeated on Tuesday April 24.


Tuesday April 17


Opera Australia

State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne at 7:30 pm.

Elijah Moshinsky’s production is back for yet another outing with Michael Yeargan’s sets and Peter J. Hall’s costumes.  But who cares?  It’s the singing that counts and, as Violetta, the company is offering Corinne Winters, a young American soprano who sang the role last year at the Royal Opera; well, it’s a start.  Alfredo falls to Korean tenor Yosep Kang until the last two performances when another Korean, Ho-Yoon Chung, takes over; Kang has sung the role at Deutsche Oper Berlin, Chung in Verona.   OA regular Jose Carbo enjoys the ultimate in spoiling roles as Germont pere; Dominica Matthew has the thankless task of Flora and John Longmuir takes Gastone. The season is conducted by Carlo Montanaro who has directed this opera at La Scala, Warsaw, Oviedo and Cincinatti; he probably has much to bring to the work – he’ll need to.  Why this insistence on previous experience?  Hard to explain but I’m hoping for a cast that doesn’t simply go through the motions; a shame as this stilted production works against any performing liberties.  And we wait with bated breath for the Act 2, Scene 2 Spanish/Gypsy dancing!

The opera will be repeated on Saturday April 21, Monday April 23, Saturday April 28. Monday April 30, Wednesday May 2, Friday May 4, Tuesday May 8 and Friday May 11. All performances are at 7:30 pm except for Saturday April 28 which is a 1 pm matinee.


Thursday April 19


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University at 7:30 pm

Has the MSO taken these contemporary music concerts to Monash before?  Not sure and am even more unsure how individual works will sound in this hall made for large-scale music.  This year, the festival’s guest is South Korean composer Unsuk Chin, whose Su will enjoy its Australian premiere; a concerto for sheng, the soloist will be Wu Wei whose playing persuaded Chin to write for Oriental instruments.   And she does herself proud with an impressive percussion battery as well as a normal-sized orchestra, although some of the strings are positioned around the auditorium.   Chin’s ParaMetaString for string quartet and tape dates from 1995, one of the earlier works in the composer’s catalogue; it will call on the services of the Australian String Quartet which is headed by the MSO’s concertmaster, Dale Barltrop.  The ASQ will also play Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, Metamorphoses nocturnes, to begin this program, which also contains the world premiere of young Australian Ade Vincent’s Hood Yourself in Stars.   American/British musician Clark Rundell conducts


Saturday April 21


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Robert Blackwood Hall at 7:30 pm

Tonight, an even heavier dose of Unsuk Chin with three Australian premieres of her music.  The MSO under Clark Rundell begins with the South Korean composer’s Rocana, Sanskrit for ‘room of light’ which asks for a large orchestra and a massive percussion battery.  Then, Puzzles and Games, written last year, which is based on Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland and, as well as the percussion-heavy orchestra, asks for a soprano soloist; in this instance, Tasmanian-born Allison Bell.   Ligeti’s Atmospheres, memorable for its use in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, will also enjoy an outing, nearly 60 years after its premiere.   And Chin winds up the night – and these concerts (only two?)  –  with her Violin Concerto, American virtuoso Jennifer Koh as soloist.  I’m not sure how the festival is expected to survive this spatial division, with the two major orchestral concerts at Clayton while the smaller recitals remain at Southbank.  Or perhaps the MSO’s annual, shrinking gestures towards music of our time are becoming too expensive to run.


Sunday April 22


Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm

More chamber than most MCO concerts, this afternoon boasts the rarely-performed Octet by Schubert, which calls for a string quintet and three wind.  The strings are MCO personnel: violins William Hennessy and Markiyan Melnychenko, viola Merewyn Bramble, cello Michael Dahlenburg and bass Emma Sullivan, while the three wind will be Lloyd van’t Hoff on clarinet, Matthew Kneale’s bassoon and the horn of Anton Schroeder.  The string quartet format isolates itself for Beethoven’s Serioso Op. 95 and the occasion is spiced up by a new work from pianist/composer Christopher Martin which bears the not-exactly-revolutionary title of Passepied.  Eventually, the program will be played in  Daylesford on Saturday April 21 at the Anglican Christ Church in that sleepy hamlet, but you can also hear it in the Salon – well, the Octet only, it seems – with canapes and wines on Tuesday April 24, although this is only for the seriously well-heeled MCO enthusiast as admission comes in at $199 a pop.


Tuesday April 24 


Opera Australia

State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne at 7:30 pm

The national company is not exactly breaking the originality bank so far this season.  Here comes Puccini’s melody-rich and popular sample of opera noir with American soprano Latonia Moore as the heroine and Diego Torre as her lover Cavaradossi.  Moore sang the title role in the Lincoln Centre two years ago, while Torre has sung his part every year since 2013 with Opera Australia, or Florida Grand Opera, or at the Saarlandisches Stadtstheater in Saarbrucken, or in the Teatro Communale di Bologna.  Scarpia brings Marco Vratogna to the State Theatre, another Royal Opera House bass-baritone who has sung this role there twice and also notably in Baden-Baden under Simon Rattle.  So far, so good.  The filler roles are company regulars: Gennadi Dubinsky (Angelotti), Luke Gabbedy (Sacristan), Benjamin Rasheed (Spoletta), Michael Honeyman (Sciaronne), Tom Hamilton (Jailer).  Andrea Battistoni conducts and he has the opera in his considerable repertoire, surprising for a musician who is barely over 30.   John Bell directs the production set in Nazi-era Germany, last seen here in 2014.

The work will be repeated on Thursday April 26, Saturday April 28, Tuesday May 1, Saturday May 5, and Thursday May 10.  All performances are at 7:30 pm except for Saturday May 5 which is a 1 pm matinee.


Friday April 27


Australian National Academy of Music

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

The ANAM Orchestra is making a splash with this concert, moving to the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall at the MRC and having no soloists so that attention focuses on conductor Jose Luis Gomez, music director of the Tucson Symphony.  As you’d hope, there’s some Bernstein on the program – the Divertimento for orchestra, an 8-movement flamboyant suite written for the Boston Symphony’s centenary; and the Overture and a 5-movement suite from Candide.   The night begins with my favourite Ginastera construct, the Variaciones concertantes of 1953, then dips its lid to other Americans through Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) and Barber’s Adagio for Strings (1936).  What all these have in common with Bernstein’s output escapes me; everything could be related, but I can’t see how.  Still, it’s all calculated to keep the young ANAMers on edge.


Sunday April 29


The Melbourne Musicians

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Southgate at 3pm

Casting an eye over the father of Western music and his sons, Frank Pam and his orchestra begin with what I assume will be the Dissonant F Major Sinfonia by Wilhelm Friedemann, F.67, notable for his eccentric trail-blazing.  Then Carl Philipp Emanuel’s Flute Concerto in A Major H. 438 will be headed by Sydney flautist Bridget Bolliger.  Bach Senior is represented by arias from the Coffee Cantata; as the only soloist advertised is soprano Sarah Lobegeiger de Rodriguez, you’d have to assume that these will be Ei! Wie schmeckt der Kaffee susse and Heute noch, lieber Vater; the first of these requires a flute to flesh out Pam’s string ensemble.   Johann Christian Bach, the family’s semi-success, appears with a Sinfonietta in C Major which I can’t trace at all in the long list of the composer’s orchestral works although there are three likely possibilities.  Finally, we hear from Johann Christoph Friedrich, a Sinfonia in D minor that must be the Wf 1:3: the manuscript of this piece was one of the few orchestral works by this composer that survived the World War II bombing of Berlin.  It all makes for an excellent chance to hear the source and his products together in one place.