December 2022 Diary

To say that the Brisbane music scene dies across the Christmas season is probably a trifle exaggerated. But, if you’re after some solid holiday fare, you might look in vain; I can’t recall ever living in (or near) a capital city so bereft of activity in the later summer period. It’s as though all the local musicians have decided en masse to take a two-month break from all action. Of course, a good reason for this famine is obvious: people would rather enjoy the Queensland sunshine than sit indoors. Further, ticket sales for serious music have obviously fallen off in direct proportion to the desperation shown by online publicity communiques. The times have changed – in a negative way – for most organizations in these allegedly post-COVID months; why risk putting on events for which any financial return is doubtful?

If not for Alex Raineri‘s music festival, the list below would be ludicrously small.

CHAUSSON’S CONCERTO

Natsuko Yoshimoto, Alex Raineri, Ensemble Q Quartet, Courtenay Cleary

St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Kangaroo Point

Monday December 5 at 7:30 pm

In the catalogue, Chausson’s large-scale work to be played tonight is not a concerto but a concert for piano, violin and string quartet; in simpler and less confusing terms, it’s a sextet. Can we writhe around linguistically for some time wondering why the composer styled his score a concert? Well, probably, but the best explanation I’ve found is that the work does not subscribe to the Classical/Romantic definition of a concerto but harks back to the Baroque, setting Yoshimoto’s violin and Raineri’s piano as soloists against the Ensemble Q group’s accompaniment/ripieno. I can’t definitively identify the quartet personnel, by the way; Yoshimoto has played first violin with the Ensemble for some time, and Trish Dean seems to be the resident cellist. As for the rest, anybody could show up. The only other work on offer here is Elizabeth Maconchy’s brief String Quartet No. 3 from 1938; an early contribution to the composer’s output of 13 works in the form, it gives an opportunity for us to encounter a voice that British historians and critics regard as a significant one. Yes, we’ve heard that one many times before but nationalistic special pleading may be justified this time. It’s possible that the other named artist – violinist Cleary – will be taking part in the short quartet; as with many of these Brisbane Music Festival recitals, the final reveal can be an intriguing part of the experience.

AN EVENING WITH AMY

Amy Lehpamer, Luke Carbon, Alex Raineri

St. John’s Cathedral, Ann St., Brisbane

Friday December 9 at 6:30 pm

You look across the relevant websites fruitlessly for much by way of nitty-gritty biographical information about musical theatre performer Lehpamer. All her appearances on stage are documented; not so much detail about her career as a violinist. But she’s an attractive and photogenic artiste; as well, the press have been complimentary/kind. For this Brisbane Music Festival night, she’s supported by the inevitable Alex Raineri, our pianist for all seasons, and Luke Carbon who is billed to play ‘woodwinds’ – and that’s exactly what he can provide: all four of the standard orchestral instruments, as well as the saxophone of many colours. How does this evening go? It seems to comprise excerpts from the top-drawer of music theatre writers as well as some oddities: Sondheim, Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Bacharach (a bit dodgy as far as musicals go, but many brilliant individual songs), Lizzo (the hip-hop artist? Good luck with that), Cohen (Leonard? Or George M.?) and King (even worse – Carole? B.B.? Paul? Marcus? Tony? And other possibilities that stretch out into the middle distance). More surprising than finding out which composer is which in these last-named, consider the venue inside which these musicians will do their best; Eliot has nothing on this.

BETWEEN US

Thea Rossen, Courtenay Cleary, Jeremy Stafford, Alex Raineri, Luke Carbon, Miriam Niessl, Daniel Shearer

St. John’s Cathedral, Ann St., Brisbane

Friday December 9 at 8:30 pm

Possibly part of the Brisbane Music Festival’s Up Late Series, this recital involves seven musicians including two violinists in Cleary and Niessl, Carbon restricting himself to clarinet, Raineri the essential pianist, percussionist Rossen, guitarist Stafford and a cellist in Daniel Shearer. As a focal point, the program gives us the world premiere of Corrina Bonshek’s The Space Between Us, about which I can find no information – not even its instrumentation or its length. Two things I can report: you are encouraged to walk around the cathedral while listening, and its forces are ‘spatialized’ – by which I believe that they will be spread out, not operating at one focal point. As well as this piece by the Brisbane composer, we are offered a potpourri of Bach, Saariaho, Messiaen, Taylor/Rose (is that Taylor Rose, the Ugandan gospel singer? Or a composite of James and Axl?), and Greenfell (presumably the Hobart-based musician Maria). Whatever the sonic logistics, this performance is scheduled to last for 90 minutes – which is fine when you have permission to wander; think how many vast late Romantic symphonies would benefit from being played to ambulant audiences, especially if the doors are left open.

SYMPHONIC SANTA 2022

Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Queensland Symphony Orchestra Studio

Saturday December 10 at 9:30 pm

Not to carry on too much, but is this the best that the QSO can do at Christmas? One concert in the whole month and that an entertainment for children? It wouldn’t afflict me so much were it not for the sell-out involved to the ghastly reductiveness of a commercial festive season. No, I’m not hankering for the Ensemble Gombert’s arcane resuscitation of Renaissance motets; not even the Melbourne Symphony’s dry combination of popular and less popular Yuletide classics; not even the Australian Brandenburgers’ principle of playing anything remotely Xmas-related that isn’t nailed down. But for this Santa celebration, only one musician is listed by name: James Shaw playing Sneezy the Reindeer, which is something of a crazy character transmigration since Sneezy is surely one of Disney’s Seven Dwarves. Izzy the Elf and the Claus couple also appear in this inter-active entertainment that mixes the familiar with the deservedly unknown. As the aim is to introduce the young to orchestral players and their instruments, great trust is being placed in the persuasive talents of the orchestra’s players. Good luck to everyone; the running time is 50 minutes and the appropriate age stretch is babies (you’ve got to be joking) to 10 years.

This event will be repeated at 11: 30 am and on Sunday December 11 at 9: 30 am and at 11:30 am.

CROSSING

Jane Sheldon, Jeremy Stafford, Thea Rossen

City Workshop, 139 Charlotte St. Brisbane

Thursday December 15 at 8:30 pm

Soprano Sheldon is collaborating with guitarist Stafford and percussionist Rossen in an hour of contemporary music. Pride of place goes to a world premiere of Jodie Rottle’s it has no end; this is a work written for Rossen and features her alone, as far as I can tell. The only misgiving comes inevitably from the title; with the composer’s penchant for events and a kind of musical pantheism, this recital’s 60 minutes could be stretched. Then there’s Phillip Houghton’s Ophelia (A Haunted Sonata), a work for solo guitar which has been espoused by Karin Schaupp; its five movements add up to about 10 minutes’ worth of playing from Stafford. Finally, Sheldon appears in her own collaboration with Julian Curwin: a sequence of eleven songs that gives this Brisbane Music Festival event its title. Essentially, this is an album recorded four years ago and enjoying a live-performance revival. In the original, Curwin played guitar, harmonium and melodica; Sheldon sang and also performed on a zither in the last song, L’Amour triste; and a viola contributed to three of the tracks, including Crossing. There’ll be a certain freshness as Sheldon works with two new musicians at this exercise, although it strikes me as rather lazy programming, particularly as it makes up the major component of the night’s music-making: the recording comes in at a tad less than 37 minutes. Still, perhaps it’s worth it, even if the publicised descriptor of ‘Medieval minstrel band meets Radiohead’ makes my gut uneasy.

BOAT ON THE OCEAN

Alex Raineri & Thea Rossen

City Workshop, 139 Charlotte St., Brisbane

Thursday December 15 at 6:30 pm

As far as I can see, Brisbane Music Festival director Raineri bears most of this recital’s heavy work, particularly as the night ends with Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit: a mighty challenge for many pianists, a lot of them skidding out of contention in the first Ondine round. Of course, it’s not hard to build up atmospheric presence in all three parts, thanks to the composer’s genius in acoustic painting. But, if Le Gibet is a lay down misere for any moderately gifted interpreter, the outer poemes are more taxing: in the first, a temptation to blur too much, especially across the near-conclusion scintillations; in Scarbo, the chance to let loose with a Bartokian percussive exercise. I don’t think I’ve heard a satisfactory Ondine for years; probably since Carl Vine played it at the North Melbourne Town Hall as part of a catch-all program in which nothing else came close to this display of interpretative brilliance. But I digress. Raineri also has charge of the premiere of John Rotar’s Piano Sonata No. 1, which the publicity calls ‘Ravelian’; phew, you can be lucky. This work is listed in the composer’s catalogue with the subtitle Gongs and Bells from the Black Bamboo Cathedral (Thailand or Trinidad?). And both Raineri and percussionist Rossen collaborate to spark things off with arrangements by Rotar of two parts from Ravel’s five-part Miroirs: the middle piece, Une barque sur l’ocean and the concluding La vallee des cloches which I can easily see suited to Rossen’s resources. About the marine soundscape, I’d be interested to see how the arrangement copes with page after page of arpeggios; give them all to the pianist, or share them out? Which rather makes you wonder: why pick this highly pianistic piece for re-fashioning? Because it’s there?

PHOENIX TRIO

Lina Andonovska, Alexina Hawkins, Harold Gretton

City Workshop, 139 Charlotte St., Brisbane

Friday December 16 at 6:30 pm

The Brisbane Music Festival here presents a rum trio. Andonovska is a flautist, Hawkins a violist, Gretton a guitarist. I haven’t come across any music written for this instrumental format but I believe that, after this night, that ephemeral knowledge gap will be filled to fine effect. Fortunately, this ensemble is an established one, not just created for the occasion, or yesterday. They will play Melbourne-based Samuel Smith’s Sun Opener, which remains a mystery but will probably include guitar as that is Smith’s instrument; the ensemble performed this work some years ago. Then comes Leo Brouwer’s Pasajes, Retratos y Mujeres (Landscapes, Portraits and Women), a 1997 three-movement suite that was actually written for flute, viola and guitar. As was Francesco Molino’s Op. 45 Grand Trio Concertant: an allegroromanzerondo construct in a happy D Major (the top line can also be played by violin, and some authorities think it’s best performed that way); or are we to hear the composer’s earlier Op. 30 which comprises a larghetto, theme and variations, minuet and rondo? Anyway, then comes veteran flautist/mathematician and Wagga resident Fran Griffin’s Snow Gum which is a trio involving guitar but presents something of a conundrum as it requires two flutes; the first plays alto and C, the second supplies bass and C – a test of Hawkins more than anyone else, although the piece is not over-taxing. Last of all is an Australian premiere: one half of the Assad brothers, Sergio’s Mangabeira which is another true flute/viola/guitar trio, if rather short and salonesque.

ORPHEUS

Eljo Agenbach, Alex Raineri, Ben Hughes

City Workshop, 139 Charlotte St., Brisbane

Friday December 16 at 8:30 pm

Not Monteverdi, not Gluck, probably not Offenbach, this event is presenting as an Up Late Series piano recital by Brisbane Music Festival director Raineri. Agenbach is credited as the night’s visual artist, Hughes its lighting designer. So you’d assume that the performer (if not his audience) is getting a sensurround envelope in which to unveil his wares. The only overt intimation concerning content is a quote from Rilke: the last tercet of the first of the poet’s Sonnets to Orpheus. The composers concerned are Natalie Nicholas, Samantha Wolf and Jane Sheldon. The last-named we know mainly as a soprano, but her compositional credits are observable at the Festival’s Crossing recital on the day before this. In her current catalogue, I can’t find anything directly Orphic but her latest album I am a tree, I am a mouth uses texts by Rilke, although these come from the poet’s earlier Book of Hours. Nicholas is based in Sydney and has enjoyed an active career in terms of commissions; on her confusing website, I can’t find anything documented as aimed towards this night, so I’m assuming her contribution will come from her existing catalogue. In piano works, this comprises five very short pieces and a Rhapsodie L’Insanite which might have some connection to Orpheus before his final encounter with the Thracian maenads. Wolf’s work is called Life on Earth and Raineri will be giving its first performance tonight. Does it have a connection to the bard’s post-Underworld existence? Maybe; it’s probably best to tamp down such suggestions; just because the recital has a suggestive title doesn’t mean that everything has to connect with it. Although . . .

SATURDAY SONATAS

Lina Andonovska, Luke Carbon, Alexina Hawkins, Alex Raineri

City Workshop, 139 Charlotte St., Brisbane

Saturday December 17 at 10:30 am

Last of the Brisbane Music Festival’s Morning series, this 90-minute program features three works. First up, Hawkins and Raineri perform Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata for Viola and Piano from 1919, one of the American/British composer’s most well-known works; which is not saying that much as Clarke’s music is notoriously hard to come by. Then Carbon and Raineri come together for Bernstein’s Clarinet Sonata, a two-movement construct from 1941/2 and the American master’s first published work. These musicians have recorded the sonata on a Move Records disc released at the end of 2021. After interval, flautist Andonovska presents her arrangement for her own instrument of Richard Strauss’s Violin Sonata in E flat Major Op. 18. All glory, laud and honour, of course, but I can’t see why you’d bother. The first movement has the violin occupied pretty high; it’s quite a while until the part moves outside the flute’s range to an A sharp and an A below Middle C and pretty soon after that we encounter a quadruple stop chord and a couple of triple-stop punctuations. At four points in the Andante cantabile, the violin line moves below the flute’s reach and there are some multiple-stop chords and a few bars of double-stopping to negotiate. Later, these two problem areas are exacerbated in the Andante/Allegro movement where a key theme is required to launch itself time after time into an upward-rushing scale-type vault that starts on an impractical low note. Further, you have to wonder how a flute will carry off the biting vitality of these pages.

VORTEX

Lina Andonovska, Luke Carbon, Natsuko Yoshimoto, Alexina Hawkins, Katherine Philp, Alex Raineri

City Workshop, 139 Charlotte St., Brisbane

Saturday December 17 at 6:30 pm

And so we say farewell to this year’s Brisbane Music Festival with a mixed sextet playing two works written for their particular combination, one of them by a young Australian writer specifically for this occasion. Taking up the lion’s share (two-thirds) of this hour-long event is Gerard Grisey’s Vortex temporum, one of the French composer’s last works and – to his probable irritation – a sterling example of the Spectralist movement. Which sounds ghostly but has nothing to do with the supernatural – rather, it is concerned with musical spectra – the which phrase, as far as I can determine, refers to frequency and timbre. I know precious little about this artistic movement or school because the spread of its music is non-existent, as far as Australian performances go, but it strikes me that the above mini-descriptor is akin to your good old-fashioned Klangfarbenmelodie. Or is that over-simplifying, trying to find an anchor in the past for a near-contemporary branch of activity? The Spectralist composers – even those unwillingly included in that grouping, like Grisey – have roused a low level of controversy, juiced up by those who want their music to be beautiful and enjoyable; yes, I too thought we’d moved beyond that sort of thinking but the lazy you will always have with you. No details are available about Bragg’s piece, except that the program and the composer himself call it new work and it fits into the Grisey operating instrumentation of flute (Andonovska), clarinet (Carbon), violin (Yoshimoto), viola (Hawkins), cello (Philp) and piano (Raineri). You’ll be exercised by this music, sent off a week before the big day of grace and gorging with a wealth of aesthetic knots to consider – or leave untouched.

BRISBANE SINGS MESSIAH

The Queensland Choir

Brisbane City Hall

Sunday December 18 at 2:45 pm

Reassuring to see that colonial habits have not all fallen totally by the wayside. Handel’s great oratorio – a chain of popular recitatives, arias and choruses – spells Christmas for very little reason except tradition. This performance doesn’t look like one of those original versions where the strings are all gut and non-vibrato, the organ a chamber one, the singers number about 16 (including the soloists), the oboes operate off-key in best historical practice, and the conductor leads from a harpsichord. No, I get the impression that this afternoon will be a solid 19th century reading, especially since members of the public have been encouraged to rehearse with The Queensland Choir and participate in the performance. All four soloists are new to me: soprano Leanne Kenneally-Warnock, mezzo Hayley Sugars, tenor Sebastian Maclaine, and baritone Leon Warnock. The orchestra is the Sinfonia of St. Andrew’s, whose home is the Ann St. Uniting Church and which regularly works with this choir. As for the conductor, none is specified but you’d have to think that long-time Choir eminence Kevin Power will do the honours in this final celebration of the Choir’s 150 years of operation, December 18 being the date of the organization’s first concert in 1872. This performance is scheduled to end at 5 pm – which it may, if nobody troubles with breaks and/or a certain amount of Part the Third (as usual) excised.