Sunday March 1
Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre at 3 pm
Hailing from the recently drought-stricken, now over-wet town of Dalby, Gilham has carved out for himself a respectable career as a recording and touring pianist based in London but making frequent return visits to home soil. Appearing under the local Medici Concerts banner, this 33-year-old musician is presenting an all-sorts program with some old-fashioned virtuoso favourites to further the melange’s attractiveness. Not one, but two Beethoven sonatas: the No. 17 Tempest in D minor with its spinning-wheel finale, and the No. 14 in C sharp minor yclept Moonlight. Gilham ends with a group of three ‘Schubert’ arrangements by Liszt: Auf dem Wasser zu singen, Der Muller und der Bach, and Widmung which, since my Eileen Joyce days, I’d always thought was written by Schumann. Anyway, as exotica, the pianist will perform the Chopin Barcarolle, and then two French bagatelles in the unexpectedly mobile Melancolie by Poulenc, and Chaminade’s lilting Op. 89 Theme varie; these last two serving the function of mid-program encore materiel, to my mind.
Tuesday March 3
Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre at 7:30 pm
French harpist Xavier de Maistre is returning to perform as guest with the Brandenburgers, wedging in one Brisbane appearance between his duties in Sydney and Melbourne. I’m not as hyperbolically responsive to this musician’s talents as most of my colleagues; his transcription of Smetana’s The Moldau – one of this musician’s signature pieces – works well as far as it goes but there are slabs of the original score that have gone missing. Anyway, this program looks less of a grab-bag than that for de Maistre’s previous tour because it does focus on Venice in the days of its musical (and economic) greatness; an inspiring vision of a city that these days is an unpleasant tourist trap. We will hear the Vivaldi Lute Concerto in D, RV 93 in D Major, transcribed for harp soloist; the same composer’s Winter from The Four Seasons, also transcribed from the violin solo original. There will be a Marcello transcription also of the D minor Oboe Concerto, the one that Bach arranged for solo keyboard. The evening ends with a concerto grosso from Gregori’s Op. 2 set for two violin soloists, this performance billed as an Australian premiere; possibly it will be given as originally scored. It’s a tad out of place, as this composer lived in Lucca, but what’s a separation of 300 kilometres between friends? Salzedo’s transcription of Pescetti’s keyboard Sonata in C minor gives us another Venetian voice from Vivaldi’s time. For non-Venetian filler, de Maistre plays Parish Alvars’ La Mandoline, called a gran studio in my score and a repeated-note test-piece par excellence. This 19th century salonesque aberration apart, the rest of the program is laudably homogeneous.
Friday March 6
Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre at 11 am
Conducted by Benjamin Northey, the QSO begins this entertainment with Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, irremediably linked in my mind with Walt Disney’s vision of it in his 1940 film Fantasia, ruined at the end by Stokowski condescending to an enthusiastic Mickey Mouse. The night ends with the Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3, complete with piano (two and four hands) and organ parts; such a fine constituent of contemporary Australian culture, thanks to Nigel Westlake‘s interpolation of its Maestoso into both Babe films. Lucky Brisbane to have the splendid Klais instrument at the orchestra’s disposal for this rousing score; to general astonishment, Melbourne’s Hamer Hall lost its Casavant organ in the building’s refurbishment 10 years ago, which consequently made performances of works like this one impossible in that city’s main orchestral concert-giving venue. The night’s soloist, principal horn of the Berlin Philharmonic Stefan Dohr, fronts the first Strauss Concerto in E flat, written when the composer was about 18. You’d expect a really authoritative reading; I’d be happy for an intonationally accurate one.
This program will be repeated on Saturday March 7 at 7:30 pm with the addition of Brisbane-born Cathy Milliken‘s Earth Plays, Þingvellir or Thingvellir, which refers to a park in Iceland where the country’s first parliament, the Althing, assembled from 930 to 1798. I’ve not heard the work but would anticipate that the writer might have concentrated on musically illustrating the site’s natural properties rather than its legislative achievements.
Saturday March 7
Old Government House at 3 pm
I came across flautist Henderson in Alex Raineri‘s chamber music festival towards the end of last year, during which he played difficult music in several consecutive recitals. Here, he partners harpist Granger for an hour-long program in which some of the composers have been named; several details are specific, others inferential. For example, the players begin with Ravel, who wrote nothing for this duo combination, but we are getting his Piece en forme de Habanera, originally a Vocalise etude for bass voice and piano. Marin Marais? A treatment of La Folia from its original viol publication into a version for solo flute. Then Bizet, and automatically you think of that intermezzo in Carmen between Acts 2 and 3; but that isn’t on offer. Rather, Henderson flaunts his gifts in Francois Borne’s showy Fantaisie brillante on Carmen tunes, mainly the Habanera and the Act 2 Gypsy Dance. Here comes Jacques Ibert who wrote some entr’actes for flute and harp, as well as a clutch of splendid harp solos, but who also wrote a piece that simulates the Spanish guitar; I can’t find much in his works that brings Spain to mind, except some Don Quixote-related songs. Chabrier is unrepresented in this combination’s stakes, so you get another habanera: the piano solo from 1885. De Falla is a near-absentee from the instrumental chamber music field, so we’ll be treated to the Nocturne piano solo of 1896 and all of the Seven Spanish Folksongs. In addition, we can sample Alphonse Hasselmans, a famous Belgian/French harpist and teacher who wrote a good deal for his instrument, but the only potentially flamenco-reminiscent work I can find is his Gitana caprice. Whatever comes out, it’s a lot to pack into an hour.
Sunday March 8
BEYOND MESSIAH: HIGHLIGHTS OF HANDEL
St. John’s Cathedral at 2 pm
On the premise that there’s more to the great German composer than his evergreen oratorio, the BCC are presenting other music by Handel. God knows there’s a lot to choose from but details are non-existent. Brisbane University’s Graeme Morton will conduct; there will be a supporting band, led by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Associate Concertmaster, Alan Smith. About the pieces to be attempted, I am as much in the dark as anybody else not associated with this event. Zadok? My heart is inditing? Judas Maccabeus? Solomon? Saul? The Water Music? The Fireworks Music?? Behold, I tell you a mystery.
Sunday March 8
THE KING’S TRUMPETER
St. Andrew’s Uniting Church at 2 pm
Here is another program about which details are very few. The guest soloist is trumpeter John Foster, who is also this body’s artistic director. His CV is an impressive one, with a lengthy list of appearances in the United States and Europe. For all that, I can’t recall seeing and/or hearing him in Melbourne. This afternoon’s music features works by Purcell, Handel, Corbett (presumably William) ‘and others’. The list of this ensemble’s members is substantial, even if none of the names is familiar to me; 20 strings, 4 woodwind, a brace of trumpets, Baroque guitar and harpsichord adds up to a considerable body.
Sunday March 8
THE MAN WHO CRIED
Conservatorium Theatre, Southbank at 3 pm
The title comes from a 2000 film with a soundtrack featuring some original pieces supplied by Osvaldo Golijov. The two extracts nominated for this occasion are Lullaby and Doina; the former is probably the soundtrack number called Close Your Eyes, while the latter has me stumped as it refers to a Romanian musical style well-documented by Bartok. It could be referring to another track called Without a Word which is an instrumental number from the film that features the Kronos Quartet – on the recording, not in the film itself. The concert opens with The Unanswered Question by Ives, that puzzling pseudo-philosophical scrap that asks for four flutes (with an oboe and a clarinet possible for the bottom two lines), a trumpet (or a cor anglais, oboe or clarinet) solo, and a body of strings. This is followed by a Beethoven string trio, the C minor last of the Op. 9 set; then Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder in one of its several arrangements – Henze, Christophe Lootem, Alain Bonardi, or maybe just as the composer wrote it: voice and piano. Hindemith’s Trauermusik for viola soloist and strings follows, written at short notice on the death of George V. Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A rounds out the central German/Austrian core of the entertainment; it can be performed a quattro, without the need for braces of oboes, bassoons and horns. In the Hindemith, Tobias Breider from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will be soloist; soprano Greta Bradman sings the Wagner cycle; Daniel de Borah takes centre-stage in the concerto. Violinist William Huxtable from Victoria is guest concertmaster.
Wednesday March 11
Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre at 7:30 pm
Look, I don’t know about this. Not the merits of it, but how the actual collaboration will work and make sense. Or perhaps I really am troubled by its value as my main question is: what is Folds bringing to the orchestra and to an informed public? The American singer-songwriter has appeared several times in this country, notably in 2006 when he performed with most of the state symphony orchestras. This time around, he’s fronting all these mainland organizations again. He has a piano concerto in his catalogue of compositions, and that might be interesting to experience. But what I’ve heard of his songs makes me think that the premier orchestral musicians of this country will be slumming. We’ve seen plenty of this in Melbourne as far back as when the MSO collaborated with Elton John and got so excited by the experience that the organization made him a life member. But then, Kiss also stood in front of the MSO, after which certain participants struggled to sound grateful for the experience. In any case, audiences will obviously come in droves to these concerts; otherwise, putting them on the annual program couldn’t be justified. It’s probably a pleasant enough event to sit through, but it’s mindless and, in these mentally tremulous times, we have to exercise our brains more often than we have done over the past seven decades. Oh, and I’ve just listened to the Folds Piano Concerto. It’s another case of somebody playing at being creative but with absolutely nothing new to say, the construct emanating from a musical type who shows no awareness of developments in serious music over the past century and hence is hard to take seriously.
This program will be repeated on Thursday March 12 at 7:30 pm.
Sunday March 15
Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre at 11:30 am
Here is the first of this year’s five ‘Music on Sundays’ concerts from the QSO. For one mad moment, I thought that the event would have dancers to bring the music into the dimension where it belongs. But a look at what is being offered put paid to that daydream. Popular local lad Simon Hewitt, currently principal conductor at the Hamburg Ballet, is one of the two directors listed; the other is Guy Noble, who also has the narrator’s job thrust upon him. You’ll have to be ready to do a lot of jumping around, with several ‘selections from’ on the menu. Bits from Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes preface selections from Delibes’ Sylvia and Coppelia, The concert ends with the Suite No. 2 from Roussel’s Bacchus et Ariane with its exhilarating and entirely appropriate Bacchanale. Speaking of which, we also get to hear the Bacchanale that starts the last act of Saint-Saens’ Samson et Dalila, an extract that cemented Near Eastern atmospherics for some generations of Hollywood composers. The Grand Pas de deux from Adam’s Giselle is ranged alongside the Dance of the Furies and its balancing Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck’s Orfeo. Also, the QSO brass get a chance to shine in the Fanfare pour preceder ‘La Peri’ by Dukas – music for a ballet before the curtain actually goes up. And, on this kind of program, you can always rely on an outsider sneaking up on you; in this case, another Saint-Saens in the Morceau de concert, today showing off the talents of Alex Miller, the orchestra’s associate principal horn, and having no relevance at all to The Ballet Beautiful.
Friday March 20
THE JUPITER SYMPHONY
Conservatorium Theatre, Griffith University at 7:30 pm
The most aristocratic of Classical period symphonies concludes this night’s work, its student participants under the control of Johannes Fritzsch, conductor laureate of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and currently guest conductor of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Preceding this elevating masterpiece, Fritzsch takes his charges through Stravinsky’s eight-movement Pulcinella Suite, extracted from the 1920 ballet which marked the composer’s descent into neoclassicism; this requires pairs of woodwind and horns, as well as a single trumpet and trombone, with a string corps. Requiring probably even fewer numbers, at the night’s centre stands Takemitsu’s 10-minute Tree Line for chamber orchestra. Put it all together and you get a bit over an hour’s playing time, which strikes me as rather short, especially for a university concert. However, you’d hope that the music-making itself will prove brisk and refreshing.
Saturday March 21
THE PEASANT PRINCE
Queensland Symphony Orchestra Studio at 9:30 am and 11 am
This is a musical re-telling of Li Cunxin‘s life story: how the country boy became one of the world’s most famous dancers. There’s no choreography involved but the exercise is reinforced with illustrations by Anne Spudvilas, and actor Bryan Probets will provide the narrative component. This work, written in 2009, is a ‘symphonic tale’ which lasts half an hour, involving single woodwind, single brass, timpanist and two percussionists, harp and 30 strings. The story has, of course, particular significance for Queensland as Li is artistic director of the state’s ballet company. But, even to outsiders like this writer, the dancer’s story is a gripping one: it illustrates how having the right people helping you at the right time makes the difference between a successful career in the upper echelons of Australia’s cultural world and a lengthy term of detention on Christmas Island or Nauru. Brett Kelly conducts.
Monday March 30
ARVO PART & SHOSTAKOVICH
Again, something of a mixed bag from the country’s leading chamber orchestra. One of the more revealing works will be Prokofiev’s 1947 Solo Violin Sonata being played by all ten of the ACO violinists. In fact, the composer wrote this work for massed performers, in line with Russian teaching practice (then? now?) where groups regularly played soloists’ music en masse. ACO Artistic director Richard Tognetti and Satu Vanska are the violin soloists in Arvo Part’s Tabula rasa Double Concerto, which requires a prepared piano as well as string orchestra support. Shostakovich provides the concert’s conclusion with his Chamber Symphony: the Quartet No. 8 arranged for string orchestra by notable violist/conductor Rudolf Barshai. Prefacing these major works will be Wojciech Kilar‘s Orawa, a work relating to a district on the border between Poland and Slovakia. Nevertheless, the most linguistically advanced work on this program is also its shortest: the Misterioso movement from Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho‘s Nymphea Reflection in which the textures are added to by the players’ whispering lines of a poem by Arseny Tarkovsky at the same time as articulating the composer’s wispy textures