October Diary

Tuesday October 2


Australian String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Visiting as part of its national series, if a remarkably truncated one these days, the ASQ plays a standard classic to begin in the Schubert Rosamunde; not the most cheerful nor the most aggressive of the composer’s extraordinary mature forays into this field.  Balancing this comes Shostakovich in A flat, No. 10 in the series of 15 and one of the more formally adroit and emotionally satisfying of the lot.   James Ledger’s String Quartet No. 2, sub-titled The Distortion Mirror, will enjoy its world premieres as the ensemble tours the country.   Sad to say, I don’t know this writer’s work at all well; he appears to be based in Perth, which doesn’t help, but in 2011 he was Composer-in-Residence at the Australian National Academy of Music, during which time he undertook a collaboration with Paul Kelly that somehow evaded me – or was a bullet dodged?.  Adding to the mystery, on the Australian Music Centre site, this new quartet is called Transmissions.


Friday October 5


Los Angeles Master Chorale

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Here we start the small number of serious music offerings for this year’s Melbourne International Arts Festival.  Once again, the organization has done us proud with a heavy number of stage works, exhibitions galore, the essential rock events to drag in the crowds (but do they?), and a measly handful of serious music programs which, more often than not, turn out to be middling-to-poor quality.  This group is being touted as ‘one of the world’s leading choral ensembles of the last half century’; yet again, modesty and understatement are not proving to be part of the festival’s house directory.  The night’s content are the 20 sacred madrigals and concluding motet by Orlando di Lassus that offer expressions of Peter’s guilt at his betrayal of Christ.   As a summation of the composer’s career and his technical mastery, the work holds manifold musicological attractions; director Peter Sellars seems to have got the LA singers to memorize the work and do some acting to illustrate its passions.   The experience lasts 75 minutes, with no interval.

This program will be repeated on Saturday October 6.


Saturday October 6


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

For the Festival, Tan Dun is back to conduct this substantial work in its Australian premiere from the MSO and Chorus.  It’s a joint commission from the Dresdner Musikfestspiele, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the MSO.  The title promises a paradox but is the composer’s contribution to world music by way of being the first passion to use the teachings of the Buddha.  This exercise is the fruit of two years spent in the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang in Gansu Province.   No half-steps here: the work lasts 2 1/2 hours with a 20 minute interval and the texts will be sung in Chinese and Sanskrit.   Which is asking for a good deal from those of us with a wafer-thin scraping of Tourist Mandarin.  While not looking for impediments to any true minds’ marriage, I can’t help wondering about the efficacy of this enterprise, the most serious question being the attempted fusion of Christ and Buddha.  Would you feel any different if faced with a title like Jesus Diamond Sutra, or does that smack too much of the flirtations of loutish rock-stars with Oriental philosophy?   Best not to overthink; after all, it’s Festival time.


Monday October 8


Van Diemen’s Band

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

This period ensemble, new to me, is under the direction of Julia Fredersdorff, doyenne of the Peninsula Summer Music Festival for the last 11 years and leading light of the trio Latitude 37.   This Festival contribution is a 90-minute one-night-stand, no interval, featuring the music of Corelli (one of the concerti grossi from Op. 6), a concerto grosso from Geminiani’s Op. 3, a sinfonia each from the two Scarlattis, and Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet No. 9 (yes , that tired old La Ritirata di Madrid).  Pride of place, however, goes to music by Nicola Fiorenza, a sparsely documented and historically shadowy Neapolitan writer of the 18th century’s first half; the Band will play three of his cello concertos, although I only know of one in F Major and another in A Major.   As for the other writers, I was unaware of Corelli’s connection to Naples;  Geminiani certainly spent three years there; both father and son Scarlatti are inextricably linked with the city; I can’t find any reference to Boccherini ever visiting the place.   But, once again: it’s holiday time – let’s not get bogged down in pedantry and facts.   As for the Band’s personnel (as set out in the organization’s web-site), most of them are unknown to me – as is the greater part of Tasmania itself.  Some familiar faces are Laura Vaughan on gamba, double bass Kirsty McCahon, violinist Lucinda Moon, and lutenist Simon Martyn-Ellis.  The other 14 members occupy yet another O’Connell terra incognita.


Thursday October 11


Victorian Opera

Palais Theatre, St. Kilda at 7:30 pm

Not the most invigorating night, even if the opera has stretches of unadulterated magic.  Fortunately, the whole is greater than its parts and I’m sorry to be missing out on seeing (and hearing, more importantly) what the state company makes of this neglected work.  As the self-deludedly cuckolded Golaud, Samuel Dundas gets to exercise his rich bass.  Pelleas, Golaud’s younger brother, will be sung by Angus Wood who strikes me as being on the robust side for this shadowy work.   Siobhan Stagg sings Melisande; Liane Keegan takes on Genevieve, the mother of Pelleas and Golaud who gets to sing one of the few sustained passages of solo work in the opera.   Sophia Wasley appears in the short-pants role of the child Yniold and David Parkin works his magic as the chronic valetudinarian, Arkel.  The company’s artistic director, Richard Mills, conducts; Elisabeth Hill directs.

The opera will be repeated on Saturday October 13.


Thursday October 11


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

The MSO’s principal violist and ex-principal with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Moore is being given a time in the sun after an impressive career (so far) of excellent performance on his instrument coloured by some eminently forgettable hairstyles.   Like Dale Barltrop and one-time co-Concertmaster Eoin Anderson, this prominent member of the orchestral cast gets to direct and star in his own program which begins with the Brahms Serenade No. 2, the one that omits violins so their larger cousins get all the exposure.   Moore takes up the soloist’s responsibilities with Associate Concertmaster Sophie Rowell for the glowing Sinfonia Concertante K. 364 of Mozart.  Sandwiched between these glories comes the world premiere of Iain Grandage’s All the World’s a Stage which you’d expect would be for chamber orchestral forces and have something to do with Jaques – or is that hoping for too much directness of reference?   At the moment, I can’t find any solid information about it.

This program will be repeated on Friday October 12 in Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University..


Monday October 15

Silkroad Ensemble

Hamer Hall at 7 pm

This ensemble has been supporting one of the Festival’s big drawcards: the Azerbaijani dance-opera, Layla and Manjun.   Silkroad was established by cellist Yo-Yo Ma but the publicity for this event makes it quite clear that the great man himself will not be appearing.   We are given the repertoire for this occasion which includes traditional music from Vietnam, China and Tibet along with material composed by modern writers: suona/shen expert Wu Tong, clarinettist Tony Scott, pianist Gabriela Lena Frank, violinist Colin Jacobsen, shakuhachi/electronics exponent Kojiro Umezaki.   Composer (from where?) Sapo Perakaskero’s most famous work, Turceasca, will provide the finale, informed by the input or presence of the Romani/Romanian ensemble Taraf de Haidouks.  Also, somewhere along the way, Chick Corea’s Spain comes in for Silkroad treatment.  The list of musicians who have participated in the ensemble’s work since its founding is large and some of those mentioned above are notated collaborators.   Now, I hate to be a leveler but it all sounds to me a lot like the sort of thing Phillip Glass did here at Melbourne Festivals some decades ago: give us a sample of musics from all over the place and expect applause for finding a communality of spirituality, despite cultural differences.  Good luck with that.


Wednesday October 17


Selby & Friends

Tatoulis Auditorium, Methodist Ladies College, Kew at 7:30 pm

Sadly, the title gives away the night’s main handicap: Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, which I’ve heard too many times by now to be tolerant.   The famed tango writer put together a suite that shows that BA is mono-seasonal; there’s no difference between any of the movements.   Still, you can always sit back and admire the standard of play from pianist Kathryn Selby and her guests for tonight – violinist Alexandre Da Costa-Graveline who is currently working at Edith Cowan University in Perth, and Sydney Symphony Orchestra principal cello Umberto Clerici.    Apart from the Piazzolla, the group joins up for Mendelssohn in D minor while the solos will be Debussy’s Cello Sonata – all 11 minutes of it – and the Falla Canciones Populares which seems to be an arrangement for violin and piano from one already organised by Falla and Paul Kochanski that sprang out of the Siete canciones populares espanolas song-cycle.   Or it could be the same authorised arrangement under another name.   If that’s the case, then it’s about the same length as the Debussy.  Not that such a matter should be a consideration in chamber music-making of this quality, particularly as this will be S&F’s last Melbourne appearance this year.


Saturday October 20

Andras Schiff

Hamer Hall at 7 pm

Once again, Musica Viva comes to the Festival’s rescue with a real star.   The organization is offering special access to the Hungarian-born pianist’s presence with a post-performance reception/celebration on the Hamer Hall stage.   Or you could attend the pianist’s masterclass at the Australian National Academy of Music on Friday October 19 at 2 pm.   Or you could have a gourmet lunch with matched wines somewhere down the Mornington Peninsula, although I can’t work out whether Schiff is also going down the freeway for this expensive fund-raising exercise.   What about the music?  He’s giving a different program in Sydney two days after this one, but we score Mendelssohn’s F sharp minor Fantasy and, speaking of F sharp, the Beethoven Sonata No. 24, A Therese.  Then, in case you hadn’t heard enough from Paul Lewis, a swag of Brahms: the Eight Piano Pieces Op. 76, followed by the Seven Fantasias Op. 116 which I don’t think I’ve heard live for many years.   Icing on the cake comes through the final Bach English Suite.  This is Schiff’s first appearance here in over 20 years and, even if he has cut a few neo-Fascist countries from his visiting schedule, you ought to take this chance to hear him live; he’s 64 and, about now, long-distance travel becomes unattractive, if not irksome.


Tuesday October 23

Tasmin Little & Piers Lane

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Even for a Brit, Little’s life, achievements and activities seem to be remarkably home-based.   So we should be more than happy that she has broached the Channel and made it out here.   Her associate is very well-known if mainly as a concerto soloist and solo recitalist.   The duo is offering one major masterwork in Franck’s Violin Sonata in A: a real duet with pitfalls all over the place and a finale to lift you out of your seat with something close to elation – on a good night.  The other interesting piece is Szymanowski’s D minor Violin Sonata, first performed by Kochanski (see above under Wednesday October 17) and Artur Rubinstein; well, it was probably a patriotic duty at the time for all concerned.  The rest comprises encore material: Kats-Chernin’s Russian Rag Revisited, the Ravel Piece en forme de Habanera, Brahms’s Scherzo contribution to that hybrid F-A-E Sonata, and – somewhat longer –  the Schubert Sonatina in D, the easiest of the composer’s three sonatas in this format.


Thursday October 25


Opera Australia

Merlyn Theatre, Coopers Malthouse at 7 pm

It’s been a long while between drinks with regard to this piece.  The last time I saw it was in 1983 at St. Martin’s Theatre in South Yarra when it was presented by the Victoria State Opera.   Now, the work is enjoying a resurrection at the hands of the national company, currently under the artistic direction of the first exponent of the hero Gregor in Brian Howard’s take on Kafka.  This time around, Gregor will be sung by Sydney baritone Simon Lobelson who, as far as I can find out, has made absolutely no mark in Melbourne.   Julie Lea Goodwin sings Greta, Gregor’s sister.   Christopher Hillier and Taryn Fiebig are Gregor’s parents, Adrian Tamburini the noisome Chief Clerk, while Benjamin Rasheed will be the Lodger, standing in for the original novella’s three gentlemen boarders.  Paul Fitzsimon conducts and Tama Matheson directs.  Full marks to the company for this revival of  Howard’s score and Steven Berkoff’s libretto; it’s a tight, percussion-rich drama which copes with the Czech author’s naturalistic nightmare world utilising memorable subtlety.

The opera will be repeated on Friday October 26 at 7 pm, and again on Saturday October 27 at 2 pm.


Thursday October 25


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Yes, the whole ballet;  even those dull bits where nobody does much memorable except go to sleep, change the lighting, move the scenery.   Still, the big attraction here is watching Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekke Saraste at work on this lavish post-impressionist relic of the Rimsky school which stretches to about 50 minutes.   Dejan Lazic makes his debut appearance with the MSO, enjoying the central role in Bartok’s remembrance-of-things-past Piano Concerto No. 3.   Also, we are treated to a real Stravinsky curiosity in the Funeral Song: written in 1909 as a memorial after Rimsky’s death, played only once, then lost until a clean-out of the St Petersburg Conservatory Library three years ago.  Recordings have failed to rouse much excitement, although Alex Ross of The New Yorker sees it as a revelatory work in the context of what was to follow.  Maybe so; to me, the influences are all too clear, the orchestration clever-clever, the emotional content bordering on bathos.

This program will be repeated on Saturday October 27 at 2 pm


Friday October 26


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

The night ends with these magnificent studies, immensely demanding for any artist and a labour of love to present in one hit.   But that’s apparently what ANAM’s resident keyboard guru, Timothy Young, intends to do.   Beforehand, we enjoy some petit pois.  A pair of ANAM musicians will play the not-quite-two minutes Petite piece for clarinet and piano and the more substantial and contemporaneous Premiere rhapsodie for the same coupling.  Then comes a block of piano solos in the 1890 Reveries, the 1888-91 Deux arabesques, Hommage a Haydn from 1909 and the composer’s first published piano piece  –  the utterly forgettable Danse bohemienne of 1880.   Fleshing out our experience of the composer’s chamber music will be the G minor Piano Trio which also dates from 1880 during Debussy’s time in the household of Nadezhda von Meck.   Decried as character-less juvenilia by anybody who matters, the work is inoffensive enough, if not much of an indication of future fireworks.


Sunday October 28


Team of Pianists

Glenfern, 417 Inkerman St., East St. Kilda at 3 pm

The Team’s Rippon Lea series has ended and what remain in the organization’s year are a few recitals at its home base: the National Trust demesne at Glenfern.   This afternoon, Robert Chamberlain represents the TOP, collaborating with local baroque violinist Shane Lestideau who also has an interest in Scottish folk music.   Their program begins with Telemann, a fantasie for solo violin; the theme is continued – nay elevated – with the Gigue from the Partita No. 2 by Bach – the little frivolity that precedes the colossal Chaconne in D minor.   We make a swift shift into the folk realm with some traditional violin solos from Scotland and Ireland before a lurch into O’Carolan’s Concerto and a pivot back to the baroque with A Highland Battle by James Oswald, Chamber Composer for George III, the poor lad.   Move across the North Sea for Anders Wesstrom, an Oswald contemporary, and his Variations on a Swedish polonaise for violin and piano.   The Oz bit comes with Sydney composer Alice Chance’s Saturation, a duo commissioned for the composer’s Evergreen Ensemble and premiered at the 2017 Port Fairy Music Festival.   Oh, Chamberlain will provide some as-yet unnamed solos by Bach and Ross Edwards.  Lots to hear; it could go on and on.