ABR Arts Music

Messe De Minuit (Pinchgut Opera) 

Michael Halliwell
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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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 

Morag Fraser
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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Musician of the world: A tribute to Andrew Davis

Michael Shmith
09 December 2019

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 

Des Cowley
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

Ian Dickson
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 

Sheila Fitzpatrick
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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An Evening with Gun-Brit Barkmin 

Humphrey Bower
27 August 2019

Those of us lucky enough to attend WASO’s concert performance of Tristan und Isolde with principal conductor Asher Fisch at the Perth Concert Hall in August 2018 were blown away by German soprano Gun-Brit Barkmin’s musically and dramatically riveting Isolde. She returned last week for this year’s ...

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Symphony orchestras around the world, presumably in order to mitigate financial pressures, have turned to Hollywood in the last few years, and Australia is hardly immune. At times it seems that one of our major orchestras is playing the score to another Harry Potter film every other week. There may have been an artistic case to make when ...

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