Craft with clarity


Sydney Chamber Choir and Camerata Antica

Verbrugghen Hall, Conservatorium of Music, Sydney

Saturday March 25, 2023

Sam Allchurch

This concert, broadcast by the Australian Digital Concert Hall, was encased by Giovanni Gabrieli. At the beginning, the Choir and Camerata performed the Venetian composer’s Jubilate Deo for 10 voices/parts; in the middle, the four-member Camerata played the little Canzon seconda; to finish, we heard the Magnificat a 14 for three choirs, with some brass support, balancing another block-chord gem heard previously: Schutz’s Deutsches Magnificat for a simple double choir.

In between times, Sam Allchurch took his forces through two Australian works written for the SCC – Claire Maclean‘s Christ the King of 1984, and Brooke Shelley‘s Heavenly Father composed last year – as well as Tavener’s A Hymn to the Mother of God from 1985, the first in his pair of such musical devotions to the Virgin. All are written for multiple voices. Christ the King opts for a normal SATB format but one that splits into several parts so that the individual staves become layers of sound fabric, expanding and contracting to sometimes brilliant effect. Shelley’s construct uses eight vocal lines but not the expected division into two choirs; rather – like Maclean’s work – interweaving textures and offering timbral differentiations, most obviously employing vocal gender as a textual discriminant. The British composer wrote for a double choir, each containing six lines equally divided between male and female singers.

The last time I heard Allchurch conducting was also on an ADCH telecast, albeit one that was already a year old: Messiah from Christ Church St. Laurence in Haymarket. That was a run-of-the-mill reading with not much to distinguish it from many another. This chamber choir is a different body, although there might be some crossover between the two, as there was with Douglas Lawrence’s Ormond College group and the Scots Church Choir (and, I suspect, the Australian Chamber Choir). A good, early indication of quality came with the Jubilate Deo, in particular the piercing high As from the sopranos during each of the refrain repetitions. Possibly a hesitation at the bars’ 31-2 qui timet raised a frisson of doubt but this detail disappeared in the luscious fabric that obtained in the tutti-voice parts.

I have to admit to being impressed highly by the clarity from tenor and bass lines, even when reinforced by the occasional sackbut. The Camerata quartet gave a kind of outline to the score’s purely instrumental first 15 bars, Matthew Manchester‘s cornetto sounded quavering at bar 10 but the group gave quiet support to the choral forces, although I found it hard to pick out exactly which of the lines they were reinforcing – apart from the in laetitia bursts from bar 142 onwards when all I could discern of the top line was Manchester in full flight senza sopranos.

Organist Thomas Wilson supported the brass quartet in their essay at the Canzon seconda about which there’s not much to report except that the group got through its 49 bars competently enough; not totally unscathed, mind you and lacking any brio to inform what came across as something of a plod.

Allchurch split his forces into three discrete groups for the Magnificat finale – one in front of him on stage, two on either side of the organ gallery. Not that it made much difference to those of us who were listening online – and possibly not very effective for those on hand in the Verbrugghen space. Some of us have visited St. Mark’s Basilica which boasts the galleries from which Gabrieli’s choirs and instrumental groups operated to provide that much-vaunted ultra-quadrophonic assault on those standing/sitting on the wavy floor below. Fewer, I believe, would have enjoyed an actual Gabrieli concert in this venerable church but, judging by domestic attempts to replicate the Venetian experience (thanks, John O’Donnell), the effect can be remarkable with sheets of sonorous fabric pouring into your ears from different quarters.

By this stage of the evening, the multi-choral techniques had been well exercised. Not that this last work failed to make its grand effect but the chordal juxtapositions and linear imitations proved less striking than might have been the case with less peripheral matter. At places, I again thought that Manchester was taking the top line by himself; but the mesh is so thickly packed at many points that the voices might have been present.

I don’t have much sympathy with Tavener’s works; still, I’m also not sympathetic to any of the Baltic school of religion-inspired writers, either. All that hushed stasis fails to link into my concept of theological discourse, as it verges on the simple-minded or the exploration of a single idea stretched way beyond its initial potential. A Hymn to the Mother of God sets verses from the St. Basil Liturgy, full of striking hyperbole and metaphor that enjoys a simply organized setting – a canon in which the solitary points of interest come when harmonic clashes arise between the inexorable paths of the two choirs. You had to admire the singers’ steadfastness of pitch throughout these purging dissonances, although it seems to me that, once you’re settled into Tavener’s playbook, you simply aren’t that hard pressed to follow his none-too-difficult path.

Maclean’s text emanates from two poems by James Keir Baxter, a New Zealand writer. These particular lines are loaded with symbolism from the natural world and the speaker’s psyche, a series of tragedy-tinged prayers and observations on the poet’s relationship to God – not the happiest, it seems, and reminiscent of St. Peter’s view of the flesh. The composer sets the opening lines to a monophonic chant for female voices, transforming into a canon before the texture spreads for the first interjectory Alleluia. You get the impression that each syllable gets a note but that isn’t exactly true; yet the result is of a quiet vocal martellato.

The composer’s melodic and harmonic spread is not large but the whole piece holds your attention through its turns from simplicity to deftly placed melismata; suddenly, at the words Father, you know that it is so, the work’s movement mutates into the note-per-syllable mode in a reflection of Anglican chant, but the separate stanzas merge into more Alleluias which serve as a kind of transformation, from the core pleading and bleak self-awareness to the transcendental which eventually obliterates everything else in the score’s unsettling, incomplete conclusion. Honestly, I’m much more responsive to this grappling with faith, struggling to place yourself in a metaphysical context, than in the extended panels of placidity found in Tavener where you have to be content with admiration of a thought-shuttering iconostasis.

In some contrast, Shelley’s composition struck me as more four-square. Its opening and closing German strophes suggest a good old-fashioned Lutheran chorale, while the central English octet is processed quite slowly. I think that the work’s impact could have been diminished by its positioning after the Martin Mass, particularly as the new work reflected much of the Swiss master’s close-knit complexes.

Earlier in the program, Allchurch took his forces through the Schutz Magnificat setting with brass and organ accompaniment. All forces worked with fine verve through this score, even if I thought that the second choir’s tenors and basses had the edge over their opposite numbers; for example, the contrast at bars 71-73 on Die Hungeringen. Still, the divided sopranos were equally strong and definite in their articulation and the exchanges of Abraham beginning at bar 97 sounded seamless, capped by the choirs’ handling of the repeated zu Ewigkeit acclamations across the score’s restrained final bars. An impressive demonstration.

Time was when the Martin Mass was seen by many choirs as a high challenge. Its terrors have, to a large extent, vapourised over the decades, and you have a good chance of hearing the work from some organization in this country once a year. The SCC handled its many tests with aplomb, even if the opening Kyrie took a while to settle into a true concordance at the bar 37 Avec mouvement C Major chords. The ensemble displayed excellent pitch control in the built-up chords starting the Gloria, followed by a powerfully moving account of Agnus Dei, Filius Patris through to this segment’s conclusion at bar 84. The following Quoniam for basses at the octave showed appropriate firmness without stridency, and the final two-bar Amen proved to be very Retenu indeed.

The composer’s Credo moves rapidly through the text and I could find only one questionable bar up to the Et incarnatus, somewhere in the Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine passage. You have to wonder, at several stages in this mass, just how ‘old’ it sounds; e.g., the et sepultus est, which strikes me as ersatz Renaissance. But the choir followed Martin’s clear path with dedication, moving into bouncy suppleness at the Et in Spiritum Sanctum verses before a jubilant conclusion to this happy declaration of faith. A respectful, reverent initial move from the male forces began the Sanctus, moving to a controlled handling of the 5/8 rhythm in the Hosanna.

Perhaps the most moving section of this work arrives with the Benedictus and its move from muttered open 5th chords in the lower vocal layers to melodic cells in thirds echoing in both sets of sopranos. This interplay makes for a splendidly dramatic point where ritual intersects with rhapsody; on paper, it presents as difficult to position in rhythm and pitch, but the accession to a final Hosanna proved to be most exhilarating in this reading. I heard no signs of stress during the Agnus Dei, apart from an unhappy conclusion to bar 39 from the first choir sopranos. Otherwise, this movement rounded off a fruitful and vivid interpretation of a ‘difficult’ music, although its trials are just about commensurate with Webern’s Op. 2 written 14 years earlier, and a doddle compared to the same composer’s two cantatas – but then, what isn’t?

This Sydney ensemble has been functioning for almost 50 years and its performance standard is on a level with some of the better Melbourne choirs I’ve come across (certainly superior to anything I’ve heard in Brisbane) if not quite up to the mark of the Ensemble Gombert. Its program worked very cleverly to a specific brief – music for more than one choir – with each performance well-rehearsed and – insofar as any such thing was offered – insightful. The organization’s presentations later in the year are filled with works both intriguing and bland (Jacques Brel? Arvo Part??), but what you cannot doubt is the singers’ enthusiasm in their work – a sine qua non of public performance.

Where to now?


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Monday March 13, 2023

Joseph Tawadros

I’ve heard this program before. Well, perhaps not the exact thing but something close to it. When the penny dropped during Spring, the preliminary program booklet statement from ACO Managing Director Richard Evans suddenly struck a nerve: ‘We are thrilled to bring back this spectacular concert . . . ‘ If the energy had been there, I might have tracked down when the ACO and the Tawadros brothers launched their first shared national tour, but I know they committed their Four Seasons collaboration in Melbourne (and everywhere else) during 2015 when the Vivaldi concerti were also surrounded by, amongst other things, compositions from oud expert Joseph Tawadros.

The organization knew that it was on to a good thing with this partnership; hence a re-presentation to packed houses across the country. Brisbane proved no exception: as far as I could see, apart from a few empty seats in the organ gallery, the Concert Hall was packed. With enthusiasm as well, for everything from the individual Vivaldi compositions to Tawadros‘ flashy works that seemed to be divided into two sections: rhapsodic slow, pacey fast. These latter seem to follow a pattern that turns up in musical settings from India’s alap/taan to the lassan/friska of Hungary – uncomplicated, an easy juxtaposition/ capable of revisitings and recapitulations to taste. Tawadros proposes that some of his work has its roots in personal experiences. Good for him, although it has to be said that such inspirational roots are hardly uncommon. You might almost say that the fertile Venetian seasonal depictions come from living through plenty of Veneto campagna weather variants: it’s true, but just what you’d expect.

As well as the four concerti, we were also promised other Baroque music. Well, we got a scrap: the 22-bar long Grave from Vivaldi’s D Major Violin Concerto RV 208, nicknamed Grosso Mogul and therefore relevant to this program. Maybe: did the composer know about this distinctive title? Most organists know the work in a Bach transcription, BWV 594 where whatever Oriental flavour is dissipated. In any case, ACO artistic director Richard Tognetti took the solo line and turned it into an improvisational exercise, packed with bazaar-style flourishes and whines, alongside abrupt curvets in and out of focus, dynamic hurtling and soft rustlings in turn; all very creative, but it couldn’t disguise an inbuilt taut structure of (almost) predictable sequences.

Apart from the six Tawadros numbers – Kindred Spirits, Permission to Evaporate, Eye of the Beholder, Give or Take, Point of Departure, Constantinople – the only other extraneous pieces were a prelude or taksim, named Nihavend, by Mehmed VI Vahideddin, the last sultan of the Ottoman Empire; and Makam-i-Rehavi Cember-i-Koca, an Ottoman march by Tanburi Angeli which was played – like the four other Angeli(s) pieces I know – as a single line taken on by all instruments. Both pieces were among the briefest on the program: 3 minutes and 2 minutes respectively.

A continuing performance peculiarity was Joseph Tawadros’ penchant for following Tognetti’s line (or somebody else’s) in the Vivaldi concertos, as well as brother James‘ support, particularly in thumping bucolic movements, on his riq or bendir. To me, the percussion reinforcement sounded superfluous for most of the time: the originals are bouncy enough, like the first movement of Mozart’s 40th; a percussive underpinning, no matter how subtle in dynamic, seems like gilding an already glittering lily. Still, you got a perverse pleasure from hearing the lute attempting to match Tognetti’s flickering, fast output.

Not that all of the artistic director’s work was audible. In the later Seasons especially, his production moved into inaudible territory and I was sitting in a fairly close stalls position. Virtuosic scale passages often disappeared in their downward trajectories, casualties from the effort to make this firmly-based concerto sequence take on the character of an improvisation. Maybe it might have worked with a set of scores not so well known but this demonstration wound up by irritating; notes you know should have been audible failed to come across, although a famous passage like the three-violin bird exchange at the start of Spring was crystal-clear. Then – the oddest moment of all – between Movements One and Two of Winter, the orchestra inserted what I suspect was another Tawadros composition. Rather than cementing a pathway between East and West, the disjunction proved incomprehensible.

Which brings us to the most difficult aspect of this entertainment: the projected musical connection between Venice and the Orient. As light entertainment, the program contained an essay by Robert Dessaix which, before it reached its didactic core, described a Good Friday concert in the Scuola Grande of the Four Seasons; it sounds glorious until you reckon with the standard of Vivaldi performances in pretty much all reaches of the lagoon. Dessaix writes further of the mercantile achievement of the city and its artistic magnificence – the paintings, the buildings (some of them), the occasional solid fantasias – but there is precious little about the music.

I probably carped about this when covering the previous Four Seasons appearances of the ACO and Tawadros brothers, but you scratch hard and painfully to find a relationship between Vivaldi and a non-European music. The modes and scales are different; the harmonic languages don’t touch; when Tawadros goes in for metrical complexity or simple syncopations, you’re a world away from continuo homophony. Even the fusing of textures serves as aural confrontation; you could say it was Vivaldi’s fault for not experimenting with the oud’s texture, contenting himself with an archlute (Simon Martyn-Ellis theorboing and Baroque guitaring behind Joseph Tawadros all night), and not using any member of the Arabian percussion panoply. But he didn’t.

At the end of the printed program, after the rousing flurries of fabric and driving rhythmic freneticism, a standing ovation from a house packed with patrons who have learned their reaction techniques from State of the Union broadcasts or (more credibly) Australia’s Got Talent. So you can argue that, even if the cross-over is not persuasive, it makes for popular success. For me, as with the first time I came on a Tawadros/Grigoryan mixture, the original experience was indubitably interesting for its level of accomplishment and the willing endeavour from all concerned; this time around, the output was expert if unsurprising. Next time? I don’t know. Where do you go after the Four Seasons? Going back to the Gabrieli family is impossible; and there’s not much that is well-known after the so-called Venetian Golden Age. Furthermore, what about Tawadros’ contribution? By the time he began his last number on this night, I felt as though we were spinning on the spot, that nothing new was happening.

A palpable hit, this whole affair, punctuated by some splendid music-making. And there’ll always be fans who appreciate and love these artists working together: God knows that the world of popular music demonstrates daily how long you can get along by repeating yourself. Further, you will always have couples like the pair in front of me who got carried away into ecstatic applause with the Near-Eastern excerpts and relaxed with knowing smiles every time Tognetti launched into a tune familiar from TV ads. Makes a fellow proud to be Australian.

Competent but uneasy


Musica Viva Australia

Queensland Conservatorium Theatre, Griffith University

Tuesday March 7, 2023

Karin Schaupp

Please excuse the disproportionately large snap above of Musica Viva’s guest guitarist; I’ve lost control over the size of inserted photographs on this WordPress system. Still, there’s little argument that the Brisbane artist was the pivotal figure in Tuesday night’s recital, the penultimate in a series of 8 outings in the usual MV national tour, albeit one that had suffered from the alarums and excursions that COVID and its variants have imposed on us all. At this point, we were hearing a program that – barring its final outing in Adelaide – was as finely honed as possible.

Several points in the evening showed plenty of ensemble finesse; at other stages, the level of accomplishment drooped. Flinders Quartet followers would be well aware of the accomplished ensemble output of viola Helen Ireland and ccllist Zoe Knighton, both foundation members of this 23-year-old group. From the violin lines, however, I detected occasional uncertainty – not just in pitch but in uniformity of production and what I can only call ‘mirroring’: that agreement in all particulars that typifies an ideal duo. Many of us would have been hearing this configuration of performers for the first time. Second violin Wilma Smith has been a stalwart of Melbourne’s musical life for many years and has accumulated an impressive curriculum vitae; Thibaud Pavlovic-Hobba is a less familiar quantity, although I seem to recall his first appearances with the Australian Chamber Orchestra in about 2014/15. But I can’t recall hearing him at close quarters.

What I thought was going to be an introductory romp, Carulli’s A Major Guitar Concerto Op. 8, seemed to offer unaccountable problems. Maybe it was the reduced personnel in use – no oboes, horns or double-bass – or the absence of the second movement polonaise, but the fabric proved imperfect, violin octaves occasionally not exactly in tune and even Schaupp having trouble generating a consistently perceptible line in semiquaver scales and then handling with requisite fluidity that odd triplet passage of four bars that breaks up Carulli’s rhythmic strait-jacket.

Richard Charlton’s Southern Cross Dreaming, a solo for Schaupp, is an amiable miniature and comfortable for the instrument. So it should be: it was written for Schaupp, at Schaupp’s suggestion; she premiered it in 2012 and her performance is also available on CD. Comfort music, then. At its heart, the piece is a tremolo study and its connection to the constellation is a matter of your own emotional reaction. Charlton’s use of ‘dreaming’ suggests a mesmerised state, rather than any Aboriginal connotations, and I was happy to collaborate.

My paternal aunt had an old LP of Segovia playing in Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Guitar Quintet of 1950. But since that time. it hasn’t shown up on any guitar+string quartet recitals I’ve attended (admittedly, they’ve been few in number). Reacquaintance didn’t reinforce an inherited dislike for the score’s astringency; indeed, the initial Allegro showed this ensemble at its best with a fine clarity from everyone and a delicious piquancy at each return of the first subject of this formal but infectiously happy set of pages. The succeeding Andante featured Ireland’s line prominently, perhaps over-emphatic and ripe with vibrato but managed without the self-indulgence that the direction mesto often brings. But I feel that none of the other movements – including the sprightly Scherzo and final Allegro – maintains your interest as fully as the first.

Certainly, a good deal happens and the composer is lavish with his material, especially in the Spanish inflections of the third movement. Added to which, the melding of guitar and strings is remarkably balanced and fair, Schaupp a consistent strand in the concerted passages and making the most of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s deftly abrasive solo stretches. It’s an attractive work in competent hands and, if this performance wasn’t as vividly definite as you hear it on some recordings (Pepe Romero, I’m thinking of you), these players worked their way through it with assurance and something approaching enjoyment.

The Italian writer’s composition might have been the program’s most substantial element, but its central point arrived after interval with Carl Vine’s new composition Endless, a latter-day deploration on the death of architect/environmentalist Jennifer Bates, killed in a Newcastle hit-and-run disaster in December 2016. The score for this recital’s instrumental resources was commissioned by Kathryn Bennett, the victim’s mother. Possibly deploration suggests something morbid, definitely morose; there is little in Vine’s pages that suggests gloom. Melancholy, perhaps, but even in the meditative pages that surround the score’s central dance celebrating Bates’ passion for salsa, the work avoids requiem mode.

As you’d anticipate, the instrumental fabric is expertly managed, the guitar treated as a fulcrum voice from the outset while the full ensemble is put to active work in the dance section. The effect is not simply bipartite – the professional and the dancer – but a carefully welded musical portrait where one aspect folds into the other. In the final sections where Vine attempts to represent the ‘endless knot’ of Buddhist belief, a concept sympathetic to Bates’ credo, the instrumental layering and foregrounding of individual lines makes a telling emotional impact for reasons that are inexplicable; the moment isn’t exactly religious or suggestive of transcendence, but as a final salute, a hopeful farewell, it makes a powerful impression of that state where the fire and the rose are one.

The Flinders gave an airing to Imogen Holst’s one-movement Phantasy Quartet of 1928. This served the purpose of showing the players at ease in a generous score that took its various bases from the folk-infused examples of Vaughan Williams and other British bucolic composers. Fortunately, the composer had inherited her father’s ear for relieving astringency so that listeners aren’t swamped in sweetness. Did it add much to your depth of chamber music experience? Probably not, but this writer is overdue for exposure; even ABC Classic FM got onto the bandwagon the other day through an airing of the Fanfare for the Grenadier Guards – no, not a substantial contribution to Holst’s renaissance but an attempt, if measly, in this week of International Women’s Day.

To finish, the group performed the last two movements – Grave assai and Fandango – from Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet in D Major G. 448, which the Flinders and Schaupp recorded in 2010 with different violinists. The slow movement is really a 9-bar introduction to the dance which has the occasional infectious bite even if its repetitions start to oppress. Cellist Knighton is still taking up the castanets for part of the fandango, just as when I last saw this group perform the full quartet at Montsalvat in Eltham. Even in these non-too-difficult pages (for the strings), the upper lines didn’t come across to the back of the hall as dynamically balanced, although their pitching proved efficient enough.

As you can see, this was a multifaceted program, beginning and ending with guitar classics, two Australian compositions set alongside a 20th century repertoire staple for this combination and a curiosity from British music’s back blocks. For all the variety, it struck me that the participants were still not comfortable in all their offerings, despite the long association between three of them and the substantial preparation time enforced on the whole group by our country’s chain of medical disasters.

Diary April 2023


Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Sunday April 2 at 11:30 am

So far, we know of five works that are being presented as part of this paean to the earth. You will have to wait to find out more; possibly the programmers haven’t fleshed out their own concept fully – if they have one. You won’t find much that is elemental here – not even a wayward excerpt from Mahler’s big Lied and very little that summons up awful mental images of Gaea or Goethe’s Ewigweibliche. As for coverage of the world’s environment or its cosmic positioning, you’d be underwhelmed. Someone believes that Smetana’s Moldau tone poem would be a fine illustration of primordial essence rather than what it is – an amiable jaunt, courtesy of a Scenic Tours precursor, down a totally civilised European river. Peter Sculthorpe’s From Uluru begins with a Copland-reminiscent fanfare, then moves to a repetitive ostinato punctuated by slapsticks to give us that Outback/Dreamtime/Never-Never atmosphere; not a particularly successful piece, least of all in sustaining a depiction of Uluru which, in this sound-world, could be situated in any continent. Still, the suggestion of a refined barbarism does take the goddess out of the drawing room. To which we return with excerpts from Respighi’s The Birds suite, arrangements of 16th and 17th century pieces to do with various avian species; sparkling orchestration, of course, but this Mother is corseted and powdered. Lili Boulanger’s Of a Spring Morning miniature presents as a frisson-rich jeune fille en fleur covered in a lightly applied orchestral veil. And the final element we are assured of is the concluding movement to Mozart’s last piano concerto, No. 27 in B flat. At this point, we leave all thoughts of earth mothers behind; this allegro is more aristocratic and eloquently self-contained than even music’s more sophisticated maternal figures like the Marschallin. Soloist in this bleeding chunk of Mozart will be Hannah Shin, winner of three prizes at last year’s Lev Vlassenko concours. And superintending the variegated riot of offerings will be Johannes Fritzsch, the QSO’s principal guest conductor. The exercise runs for 80 minutes straight, so there’s a fair amount of unscheduled music to flesh out this program and tickets range from $75 to $105 with discounts available and, of course, a transaction fee applies with about as much fiscal justification as the Stage 3 tax cuts.


Rebecca Lloyd-Jones

Ian Hanger Recital Hall, Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University

Wednesday April 12 at 7:30 pm

This musician is lecturer and coordinator of percussion at the Conservatorium, so this a significant occasions – where the teacher shows how it’s all meant to be done. I don’t know Lloyd-Jones or her work but she’s obviously a product of the current crop of percussive artists that flourish all over the country; in Melbourne, I got to know them under the Speak Percussion label. I have no idea what she’s playing; such mundane details are unavailable, possibly until you’re about to enter the Hanger Hall, but it would be a pretty safe bet that most of the evening’s content will be current. At least that’s what I’ve found to be the case at most percussionists’ forays into the public arena. Still, I’ve always admired academics who offer public displays of their craft. My first experience must have been hearing Max Cooke performing Pictures at an Exhibition in Melba Hall in 1963 or thereabouts. But every so often you come across others, like cellist Howard Penny who never seems to leave the principal’s desk no matter what is going on at the Australian National Academy of Music. Or the Dean brothers at the same institution (in Brett’s case, occasionally helping out in the back desks of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s violas). Speaking of percussionists, I got to see an awful lot of Peter Neville who, for many years, was omnipresent at Melbourne’s contemporary music gatherings, often supplemented by Eugene Ughetti, later Matthias Schack-Arnott. What always fascinates about contemporary players in this field is the minute pains they go to in arranging their resources – the endless tweakings in suspended cymbal placement, the rearrangement of the rolling stock marimba, the twitchy checking of sticks and mallets, the endless shufflings in music-stand sequence as the player prepares to alternate between three operational platforms. All this – and more – could be yours at Lloyd-Jones’ demonstration. Tickets are to be bought at the door: two prices only – $22 and $17


Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Friday April 14 at 11: 30 am

All of us know – and perhaps love – Holst’s suite that delineates the other seven planets in our solar system. Do you remember those days when some bright spark – Colin Matthews, to be accurate – composed a Pluto, the Renewer to flesh out Holst’s unavoidable ignorance of the ‘new’ planet’s existence? And how pointless that exercise proved to be when, 17 years ago, Pluto was downgraded in status? And who could forget the rhapsody of compliments with which the British critics greeted the arrival of Matthews’ short-lived interloper? Happy days. At all events, we are set to hear the original in this strange program, conducted by Shiyeon Sung, currently guest principal conductor of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. The extended orchestra (especially in the percussion section) will be assisted by The Australian Voices for the Neptune finale; when I say ‘The Australian Voices’, I’m referring, of course, to the female members only; Holst was a famous equal opportunist, thanks to his daytime job. The other major piece being essayed in this mid-day straddling enterprise is Osvaldo Golijov’s Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra, all written for different occasions and brought together by the composer for a 22-minute cycle: Night of the Flying Horses (Lullaby, Doina and Gallop), Lua Descolorida, and How Slow the Wind. The work has a checkered history: the publishers list the year of composition as 2002-2 (2009) – a mystery that I tried to solve but yielded any pursuit of knowledge in the face of scholarly verbiage. Whatever you care to make of it, the second song was composed to highlight the idiosyncracies of Dawn Upshaw’s voice, the first comes from a film soundtrack, and the final Emily Dickinson setting was possibly written for laughs. In any case, the soloist will be Sara Macliver, whose participation ensures an emotionally powerful, technically precise interpretation. As a starter, the QSO performs Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture in the (original) Dresden version that comes to an emphatic conclusion. The concert lasts 80 minutes without interval, and ticket prices go from $89 to $130, with concessions available and transaction fee compulsory.

This program will be repeated on Saturday April 15 at 7:30 pm. This performance is distinguished by having an interval of 30 minutes.


Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra

Conservatorium Theatre, Griffith University, South Brisbane

Friday April 21 at 7:30 pm

This concert has a highly honourable purpose in that it has come about through a partnership between ten composers and the inspiration each has found in the most cherished sighted memories of visually impaired Australians, including paratriathlete Katie Kelly, guitarist/speaker Lorin Nicholson, and jazz pianist/composer Jeff Usher (a lecturer at this Conservatorium). As well as the Con orchestra, Associate Professor Peter Morris conducts the Queensland Youth Orchestra (which one?) and Biralee Voices (presumably the Brisbane chapter) in compositions by Usher, Nicholson, John Rotar, Lisa Cheney, Tim Davies, Hudson Beck, Steve Newcomb, Paul Jarman, Catherine Likhuta, and Ralph Hultgren. Well, you may know all of these musicians; I know/have heard the work of half their number. You’d have to assume that Usher and Nicholson will be writing about their own impressions of sightedness; as far as I can tell, the other eight composers aren’t visually impaired. In any case, it makes for an intriguing, if not unnerving, experience – bringing (or having brought for you) into the aural field a happy memory of something that you recall from a time when your visual field was not totally blighted. Fine if it’s a scene or a landmark; much more difficult if you’re remembering a person . . . but then, you have the outstanding example of Elgar. Not that I think there’ll be much Enigmatic tonight, given the vocabularies of several among these writers. No indication how long this decathlon will last but tickets are a flat $58 without any apparent add-ons for the privilege of negotiating your entry pass via email.


Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, South Brisbane

Saturday April 22 at 1:30 pm

This is where the whole saga starts to unravel for me. We’re back to Square One with the goodies driven from pillar to outpost, improbable escapes, resurrections and deaths, gimmickry that belongs in online games, as well as a charmless heroine and a spoiled brat villain. Where is the credibility? Where is the menace? Where is the creativity? Anyway, none of us would be going for the film, right? No: it’s the immortal (ho ho) soundtrack of John Williams that draws us in for this inter-galactic entertainment. I’ve never been to the BCEC but I suppose it’s similar to the Plenary Hall at Melbourne’s Convention and Exhibition Centre. Perhaps not: the Brisbane Great Hall seats 2000, Melbourne over 5000, but then the southern city has more deluded punters who go along with this latter-day Star Wars belief that size matters more than anything else. The composer of Hamilton, currently wowing more undiscriminating witnesses at QPAC, composed the cantina scene score; yes, Lin-Manuel Miranda was invited to put his oar in for a part of the work that Williams wasn’t interested in providing. If only the rest of us could handle our responsibilities with such cavalier panache. Oh: we do, as can be seen from nearly every supermarket, medical clinic, clothing store, chemist, cafe and entertainment centre across this wide brown Gold Coast. Lucky conductor of this feat of synchronisation will be Nicholas Buc. Tickets range from $59 to $120, which is a lot to pay for a film, especially if common practice is followed and the dialogue has to be subtitled. Your popcorn and choc-top treat will be subsumed by the unavoidable $7:40 transaction fee. Enjoy.

This program will be repeated at 7:30 pm.


Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Friday, April 28 at 7:30 pm

Don’t know why I’m including this here as both performances are sold out. Still, you might be one of those desperates who loiters around box offices, waiting for discards and returns. Tickets range from $79 to $279, plus the transaction fee that will be sorely needed to expand the travelling-expense coffers of this British band of players. The current tour is the organization’s fourth visit to Australia (I heard them in 1983 and, after 40 years, little [well, nothing] remains in the memory) and I believe that this time around the players are kicking off their endeavours in Brisbane. Simon Rattle is retiring from his six-year-long stint as London Symphony Orchestra music director; hence, I suppose, the interest (manifest in sold-out houses) at seeing him in that role for the last time. This opening program begins with Adams’ Harmonielehre, a draining 40 minute, three movement work infused with a mixture of didacticism and whimsy. Its main attraction for me is its large orchestra, including two harps, 15 woodwind (almost double the number you’d usually bring on tour), 2 tubas, four percussionists plus celesta plus piano. What Adams accomplishes with his inflated ensemble doesn’t much appeal to me; that afore-mentioned combination seems to misfire half the time. Still, as long as patrons aren’t short-changed by having local musicians brought in to fill out the ranks, you’ve got nothing to complain about when you’re getting your money’s worth for a truly all-London body. A video of the third movement, Meister Eckhardt and Quackie, performed by Rattle and the LSO, is available on YouTube. You’d have to assume that interval follows this inflated American score. Then we go all-French with Debussy’s La mer, using 12 woodwind and those two harps, although the percussion demands are nowhere near as great as those for the Adams construct. And Rattle brings the whole LSO experience home with the Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 by Ravel – Lever du jour, Pantomime, Danse generale – which also requires two harps, 15 woodwind, and a wind machine. Again, you can watch this conductor and orchestra on YouTube getting through the score in a lickety-split 17 minutes. Forget the pace and revel in the generous timbral mesh of one of Britain’s leading (and most successful) orchestras.

A second program will be performed on Saturday April 29 at 7:30 pm. This comprises Mahler’s Symphony No. 7.


Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Queensland Symphony Orchestra Studio, South Bank

Saturday April 29 at 5:30 pm

Any choral volunteers can have a field day with the QSO under Brett Weymark for this performance. You begin at 9:30 am with a rehearsal of Haydn’s Mass in D minor Hob XXII:11 and you wind up eight hours later with a public performance for a paying audience. This work is the popularly-known Nelson Mass, really the Missa in angustiis. written when Napoleon was succeeding everywhere except in Egypt. It’s an individual orchestral palette using five woodwind, three trumpets, strings and organ. But, like its many companions, it calls for soloists – the usual SATB set in this instance. Will the lucky four be chosen from the 9:30 assemblage, or have they already (and unfairly) been selected? Hard to tell; still, the parts are not easy, although competent choristers could master them in the given time, I’m sure. Less importantly, you have to wonder about performance arrangements. The QSO Studio is not that large a space and the 5:30 pm audience will be up close and very personal with the performers. I suppose it all depends on how many prospective choristers turn up. Of course, the ideal would be for about 500 of them to gather for a real Albert Hall bun-fight, but presumably the ABC organisers have a control mechanism in place and established cut-off points for both singers and audience. Tickets are a flat $49 with a swingeing $7.95 transaction fee. I would have thought that the smaller ticket price would attract a smaller fee; how stupid – when you’re on an unfair thing, stick to it with all stops out.


Ensemble Q

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Sunday April 30 at 3 pm

Top of the line at this recital will be George Crumb’s Vox Balanae; a rather restrictive work, even for conscientious musicians. In his 20-minute mimicry of the balenic voice, the American composer (who died only a year ago; it seemed as if, like Elliott Carter, he would go on forever) asks his interpreters (electric flute, electric cello, amplified piano) to wear half black masks (top half of the face, one would hope, if only for the flautist) and to operate under blue lighting, if possible. Its eight movements conclude with a Sea-Nocturne (for the end of time) in a nice Messiaenic suggestion. After this, we may return to normal transmission by way of Ensemble Q founder Paul Dean‘s 2019 composition for bass clarinet and percussion, The Sea Meets Infinity. In keeping with the program’s emphasis on muted sounds, the pre-interval classic is Margaret Sutherland’s brief violin-and-piano Nocturne of 1944. Balancing Crumb’s whale sounds, mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean sings Chausson’s half-hour cycle Chanson de l’amour et de la mer, which gives us a healthy prefiguration of aquatic excursions by Debussy and Ravel, among others. I’d assume that the version offered here is the original for voice and piano. And the entertainment concludes with Frank Martin’s smooth Pavane Couleur du Temps which was originally written in 1920 for string quintet with two cellos, then arranged for string orchestra and also for two pianos. There are no indications of exactly who will be performing; Ensemble Q is nothing if not a malleable, expandable group, so the versions offered could be any of those listed above. Dean will probably play his own work, but I’m worried about that Chausson, mainly because of the Lent et triste interlude between the two songs; an instrumental pause which will sound rather vapid on piano alone. Tickets are $75, concession $55, plus the $7.20 transaction fee for reasons that continue to escape me.


Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Queensland Symphony Orchestra Studio, South Bank

Sunday April 30 at 3 pm

That’s a bit of unadulterated puff, isn’t it? Calling your own musicians ‘sensational’? Or are the publicists referring to the music being performed? This afternoon begins with the velvet warmth of late Richard Strauss in the Prelude to Capriccio, his last opera. After this lushness, we’ll enjoy a cutback to Frank Bridge’s plangent Lament for two violas from 1912 – well before the composer fulfilled his true destiny by teaching Britten. A pick-me-up follows in Telemann’s Gulliver’s Travels Suite for two violins which offers an intrada, then four movements to illustrate the travels of Swift’s hero. This work is notorious for the extraordinary time-signatures employed for the Lilliputian and Brobdingnagian movements. And it’s an indication of the composer’s widespread interests. Finally, a string septet will take on Adams’ Shaker Loops, although enough QSO members will be present to allow for a string orchestra performance of this sometimes exhilarating series of four movements – the summit, so they say, of minimalism. Speaking for participants, it’s quite a roll-call: violins Rebecca Seymour, Katie Betts, Gail Aitken, Natalie Low, Sonia Wilson; violas Charlotte Burbrook de Vere, Nicole Greentree, Nicholas Tomkin; cellos Hyung Suk Bae and Matthew Kinmont; double bass Justin Bullock. The event is scheduled to run for 75 minutes, although that strikes me as optimistically generous – unless there’s going to be a lot of desk and seating rearrangements. Tickets range from $30 to $55 with a transaction fee of $7.95: the rort that keeps on growing.