Arts – Music

St Matthew Passion 

by
21 April 2022

There are some circumstances that shift a musical performance into another dimension of significance. Mstislav Rostropovich playing Bach’s cello suites in Berlin on 11 November 1989, two days after the fall of the Wall, is perhaps the twentieth century’s most vivid example.

... (read more)

An American in Paris 

by
21 March 2022

It is called An American in Paris, but perhaps a more apt title would be The Americans in Paris. Not because the story is about two ex-servicemen who decide to ditch the victory parades back home and stay in a recently occupied city that is in desperate need of revival; but because the show itself is a triumph of the American musical as an art form, a kind of staking out of territory. It is, in its own way, an act of cultural imperialism, a banishment of old conventions in favour of something shiny and new. Proof of this comes deep into the second act, when a French character who fancies himself ‘a song and dance man’ suddenly launches into a fully fledged tap routine that ends with a high-kicking chorus line straight out of Radio City Music Hall. We are still in Paris, right?

... (read more)

The Grainger Trap

by
24 February 2022

Australians might be forgiven for thinking that the history of classical music – as an art form with origins in Europe – is something that happens elsewhere, that we are little more than observers (and listeners) of a tradition that is essentially the property of others. Melbourne-born Percy Grainger (1882–1961), however, presents us with an unambiguous claim to being a classical composer of lasting historical significance. And yet his music is also not performed, or celebrated, here with anything like the frequency and enthusiasm that it is overseas.

... (read more)

In 1961, Ornette Coleman was scheduled to play in Cincinnati. According to one story, the concert turned into a near-riot after patrons refused to pay, having observed the marquee out front billing the performance as ‘Free Jazz’. Whether apocryphal or not, it goes to the heart of the long-running confusion about jazz terminology. Free jazz, of course, refers to the experimental or avant-garde work of innovators, like Coleman, who rebelled against the conventions of bebop, hard bop, and modal jazz.

... (read more)

AWO’s national tour 

Australian World Orchestra
by
03 June 2021

‘Bringing the world back home’ was an early strapline of Australia’s SBS network. In those early multicultural days, it emphasised that being Australian did not restrict you from being culturally plural. It had the unfortunate implication, however, that Australia was not actually part of ‘the world’. We stood apart. Zoom forward to Covid-struck 2021, and Australia desperately wants to stand apart. Bringing that world back home has proven quite a technical difficulty, in sport, business, culture, even family reunion.

... (read more)

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.

... (read more)

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.

... (read more)

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.

... (read more)

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.

... (read more)

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. 

... (read more)