Arts – Music

Blood on the Floor 

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
by
14 April 2021

The writer and academic Malcolm Bradbury once argued that we can find traces of the chaos, contingency, and plurality that typify the modern urban environment embedded in the structure of the modern novel or in the design and form of modernist painting. But in music? I think it is fair to say that classical composers have struggled to find similes as obvious, potent, or effective for the experience of living in a modern city as artists working in other media, or indeed as musicians working in other genres. It’s not for nothing that we commonly speak of urban rap, but not, say of urban symphonic music.

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Monteverdi's Vespers 

Pinchgut Opera
by
26 March 2021

In a Reith lecture she delivered in 2017, Hilary Mantel noted that we ‘don’t reproduce the past, we create it’. It’s an observation that holds as true for the historical performance movement as much as it does for historians more generally. An especially apposite example of it would be the rise of Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 to prominence as a concert piece over the past seventy-five years. That rise, incidentally, is also one in which an Australian woman, Louise Hanson-Dyer, played a very significant role. The 1954 recording of the Vespers released under her L’Oiseau-Lyre label stands as one of the signature events in the work’s rise to prominence.

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An evening of Charpentier 

Pinchgut Opera
by
07 December 2020

Hooray, operatic activity in Sydney is back! Well, perhaps not quite, but performances by one of Australia’s most vibrant companies, Pinchgut Opera, occurred over the weekend. Worldwide operatic activity abruptly ceased in March when Covid-19 struck, and has only recently tentatively emerged from this enforced hibernation. Opera Australia is slated to reopen early in 2021, sooner than many other companies, while others such as the Vienna State Opera endured the frustration of resuming performances as the first wave of the pandemic subsided, only to be forced to close their doors as a second wave surged.

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Late into Take Me to the World, the live-streamed isolation concert to celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s ninetieth birthday, Nathan Lane quips that the composer has ‘been so under-appreciated all these years. I can’t believe there’s never been a tribute to this unsung musical genius.’ It’s a delicious routine, because every fan of the indisputable master of the American musical knows just how many Sondheim tributes are extant, and how unlikely it is that this will be the last. For a while it seemed as though this one might just slot in with the others, a standard – if, given the format, unorthodox – collection of musical performances showcasing Sondheim’s particular talents.

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The Sound of History: Beethoven, Napoleon and Revolution 

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
by
10 March 2020

Towards the end of last year, in advance of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, a US-based musicologist caused a stir by suggesting that we should mark the occasion by following Chuck Berry’s advice and let Beethoven roll over, at least for a year. The declining social capital afforded to such ‘classical’ music across the West has not, it seems, stopped some music academics from continuing to be embarrassed by the prominence we give to this particular dead white guy. If nothing else, however, the ‘excuse’ of an anniversary gives an artistic planner an opportunity to promote canonical composers and works without controversy and indeed, as was the case for this concert at the Adelaide Festival, to explore why such music might still hold significance for us. 

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Sir Andrew's Messiah 

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
by
10 December 2019

‘Sir Andrew’s Messiah’ it was: the conductor’s affectionate choice (Andrew Davis had soloed in Messiah as a boy), and his own orchestration, of Handel’s masterwork for his farewell concert as the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor. Sir Andrew, who has caught an Australian habit, will return in 2020 as Conductor Laureate. Handel (who didn’t rate a mention on the MSO’s concert program cover) is perennial, so his return, and return, to Australian concert stages, churches, community singalongs, and recording studios is more guaranteed than rain.

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The trouble with musical longevity as it affects conductors, especially ones we see often, is they are always the age we expect them to be as against the age they once were. From the vantage point of the present, therefore, it is tempting to regard Sir Andrew Davis as having always been the person he is now; a sort of reverse-Peter Pan whose youth we are incapable of imagining.

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Leaf and Shadow 

Australian Art Orchestra
by
24 September 2019

This year the Australian Art Orchestra (AAO) celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary. Originally conceived as a jazz ensemble, it has developed – first under the visionary leadership of founder Paul Grabowsky, and now under artistic director Peter Knight – into one of the country’s leading new music ensembles ...

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Letter from Bucharest

by
12 September 2019

If one were to ask the average classical music lover to guess where, in the space of three weeks, she could hear orchestras of the calibre of the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Dresden Staatskapelle, and the Royal Concertgebouw, and artists of the eminence of Joyce Di Donato ...

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Ives Westlake Debussy 

Australian String Quartet
by
09 September 2019

Nigel Westlake’s new quartet, Sacred Sky, commissioned by the Australian String Quartet, had its première before an enthusiastic audience at Sydney’s Recital Hall on 4 September 2019. Westlake wrote it in honour of his sister, the artist Kate Westlake, who died of pancreatic cancer in January 2018 ...

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