Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Beauty of Eight

Taikoz present THE BEAUTY OF EIGHT, in the York Theatre, Seymour Centre, Chippendale, Sydney. 23 -24 October, 2015.

It has been a while since I have attended a performance given by TAIKOZ, a group of Australian artists dedicated to the Japanese tradition of drumming, practising 'Kumi-daiko': a performance characterised by an ensemble playing on different drums and other percussive instruments. TAIKOZ was founded in 1997 by Ian Cleworth and Riley Lee.

THE BEAUTY OF EIGHT is a new work of three parts: Eternal Silence; Our Horizon and The White Bird, featuring a guest artist, Chieko Kojima, a member of the Kodo ensemble (which is where Riley Lee, first encountered her, whilst, too, a member of that ensemble) and her own female song-and-dance trio, Hanayui. The title,THE BEAUTY OF EIGHT, refers to the mesmerising shapes and movements that are synonymous with Chieko Kojima's Onna-ouchi [women's side-on] style of taiko playing. This drumming combined with her background in folk dance embroiders a seduction which is a visual embodiment of flow, round-ness, grace and power. In this performance the 'dance' is made with the double sided drum being struck with a partner, Ian Clemworth, in the style known as Hachijo-daiko, although Ms Kojima features as a dancer throughout the whole program.

The thrust stage of the York Theatre in the Seymour Centre, with the auditorium's steeply raked seating, is an ideal space for this company to be seen and enjoyed. The lay-out of the instruments, the 5 impressively large drums on stands curved across the back of the stage, with other instruments, including isolated cymbals under special lighting, with a diaphanous floating framed backgound curtain and canopy, lit in cooling colours, create an atmosphere of anticipation of elegant ritual and excitement. The concert of live instruments are backed with sophisticated electronica (John Cleworth - mixed live) that prepare us for the intricately stylised entrance of the performers who co-operate with the rigour and delicacy of artists steeped in the traditions and disciplines of their music making and its 'other' culture origins with great respect and humility. We become witness to an ensemble of focused energy and commitment, in their bodies, that is translated to the audience with an uncluttered clarity of purpose, to guide us to attend to what is about to be given, with a kind of 'religiosity' of transcending ecstasy. The visual artistry of the performers is a dramatic weaving of our senses to enhance our capacity to hear the sounds of the score with an alertness of all of our own body, that necessitates a significant contribution from us as listeners - the magic 'circle' of attended 'give and take' between the artists and, we, the audience, is palpable and fearlessly strong - rewarding. One becomes joyful with/at/for the joy of the artists, who find a release of their aspirations, honed by dedicated (and private) hard-work, in the playing and the reception from an audience in a trembling joint cathartic surrender.

When Riley Lee enters for his 'turns' with his bamboo 'flutes' to play shakuhachi, one is aware that we are in the presence of a 'master', similarly, one is moved to believe the mastery charisma exuded with the presence and playing, by the leader of this extraordinary company, Ian Cleworth, particularly with his mesmerising and startlingly wondrous solo on drum, on the stage edge. The honour to hear and see such dedicated and miraculous playing is an astonishment. That this astonishment is created by the sheer pleasure and admired skill of all the artists: Kerryn Joyce, Kevin Mann, Anton Lock, Tom Royce-Hampton, Sophia Ang (and Ryuji Hamada), is a gift beyond the ordinary experience one can so often have in the theatre. TAIKO is surely a jewel in the treasury of creative art in Australia, an equivalent in my experiencing of the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO). Both companies have 'craftsmen' of apparent great natural musical intuition, passion and undoubted and rare practised skill that lift them into the stratosphere of superhuman artistry. One wishes, longs, for an Australian acting company that demonstrated such dedication, humility and consistent and heightened skill.

True, for me, THE BEAUTY OF EIGHT, diminished its impression, in its third and newer work, The White Bird, but watching this newer work, built with and for the guest artist Chieko Kojima, was to see the beginnings of the possibility of a future dynamic of art through practised craft, to come.

When they next play make sure you go. It was, at my witnessing, to see and hear, a Musical Genius built from love of the form and the literal physical sweat and cost of dedicated practice. An entirely rare combination to witness in Sydney theatre going from an Australian company, in my recent history.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Dead Centre / Sea Wall

DEAD CENTRE / SEA WALL, two plays, one each by Tom Holloway and Simon Stephens, a Co-production presented by Red Line Productions and Red Stitch Productions, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Wooloomooloo, 20 Oct - 14 Nov.

DEAD CENTRE by Tom Holloway, and SEA WALL, by Simon Stephens, two monologues, are presented as a Co-Production from the Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Melbourne, and Red Line Productions, at the Old Fitz Theatre. SEA WALL was written by contemporary British playwright, Simon Stephens (ON THE SHORE OF THE WIDE WORLD, PUNK ROCK), in 2008. A monologue from a Man, a father (Ben Prendergast), telling of the loss of a child and the aftermath, toll, on he and his family. Red Stitch commissioned Australian writer, Tom Holloway (BEYOND THE NECK, AND NO MORE SHALL WE PART), to write a monologue as an accompanying play. With the permission of Mr Stephens - the authors are friends - Mr Holloway wrote DEAD CENTRE (2015), a piece concerning the breakdown of an English woman (Rosie Lockhart), in Australia.

DEAD CENTRE is told first, and the Woman tells us of her sudden decision to flee London to travel to Australia and of her gradual descent into grief in the dead centre of Australia, Uluru. We are drip-fed information about the circumstances of the trajectory of the woman's life, experience, and only at the end of the SEA WALL monologue, that follows, do we understand that the Woman and Man were the parents of the lost child. Both traumatised out of reason and the possibility of a continued relationship. (A statistical possibility, sadly.)

The two actors perform, what the Red Stitch prefer to call monodramas, with a disarming intimacy, directly to the audience - they take, collectively, just an hour to give. The conceit of the writing have the characters acknowledge our presence and we are beguiled into a relationship that can be costly to our empathy. My night, with them, became an extremely moving one.

 Red Stitch present the work within a very sophisticated aesthetic - a mesh-screen which captures projected images of the sea and shore (Digital Designer, Katie Cavanagh) and also allows us to see through it, to the presence of the actors, when they are not engaged with us at the front of the stage - the Set and Lighting Design is by Matthew Adey, who, also, was in charge of those elements in GROUNDED, another superlative work presented by Red Stitch, earlier this year. There, too, is an atmospheric Composition and Sound Design, by Ian Moorhead. All sensitively Directed, by Julian Meyrick.

My bug-bear with much of my theatre experiences in Sydney, for some time, has been the seeming avoidance of most of our plays, and especially, productions of them, to honestly deal with social, cultural and political confrontations, in full-on human depth, that rather, instead, elect to edit them out, or soften them, or worse 'piss-take' them - there are exceptions, of course, to prove my 'rule': e.g. THE BLEEDING TREE- so it was with welcoming pleasure that I embraced the tone of this production. Two of the most satisfying nights in my theatre going this year have been presented by this Melbourne company, despite, the dreaded writing formula of the monologue, story-telling go-to preference of so many of our contemporary writers.

DEAD CENTRE / SEA WALL has a stellar theatrical impact given by Ms Lockhart and Mr Prendergast, and as I encouraged you to attend GROUNDED, so do I, this production at the Old Fitz.

Go, and have a rare shared evening as a respected 'adult community' in the theatre.

Team Australia: Stories from Fairfield

Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT) in association with the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP), present TEAM AUSTRALIA: STORIES FROM FAIRFIELD, at the ATYP Theatre, Wharf 4, Hickson Rd, Miller's Point. 21 -24 October, 2015.

TEAM AUSTRALIA: STORIES FROM FAIRFIELD is the Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT) Ensemble showcase for 2015. It seems that this core group of six performers: Luke Cignarella, Monica Kumar, Mahdi Mohammadi, David Robertts, Barbara Schefer, and Amanda Sullo, young artists from South West Sydney, have met for two hours each Monday, over the past year or so, to research and train with professional arts practitioners. Says Karen Therese in her Facilitators Notes to the program: "This year the ensemble skills program focused on writing and developing seed ideas for each member's individual works." The writing, essentially monologues using their life experiences, have been mashed into an hour long 'showcase' by Kym Vercoe, Sean Bacon and Ms Therese.

The play space looks good and the performance begins with some sass, representing the general misapprehension of who these young people are mistaken for when they tell others that they are from South West Sydney. It is, they say, thought, that they are 'boat people' when, in fact, all of them, are Australians, legal Australians, diverse though their backgrounds may be! What follows, in the rest of the performance, however, is a paucity of arresting, interesting content. I am not saying that it doesn't have 'heart' - oh, no there is lots of that - it just doesn't have much 'head' or nous: social, cultural or political - that takes us beyond the patronising appreciation for the participants' 'charm' and 'courage'.

Using the THE WIZARD OF OZ famous tune, with choreography: SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW, as a springboard and recurring image for the Stories to follow, with references to a musical theatre repertoire as old fashioned as WICKED, CHICAGO and WEST SIDE STORY, scattered through the evening, was a bizarre framing tool, for these stories, or, was that another example of misapprehension, by me, of who these young South West artists were/are? That Dorothy and her companions are icons to these young people's lives, too? Hmm, we're not so different! Wow!
Maybe two hours a week is not enough, even over a year, for the young writers to invest some rigour and deep background revelations that would gain our attention beyond comfortable approval - like, you know, that The Wizard is part of all of our lives! Even now, and still!

Past work in this genre by PYT - i.e. text based work - THE VIOLENCE PROJECT and IN THIS FAIRFIELD, has not been so nakedly dependent on the personal writers'/actors' lives to carry the performance, and to show the 'extraordinary cultural diversity' of this ensemble. The contextual themes and the framing tools of both those other pieces held us in a kind of thrall that resonated with more meaning than this work found necessary to contemplate - the content of TEAM AUSTRALIA and its framing felt  flimsy/lightweight in the light of the PYT performance history so far, and of its mission statements for these "diverse, intelligent, sassy and endlessly creative" young people - and their facilitators.

Earlier this year, PYT, in collaboration with Force Majeure produced a positively stunning work: JUMP FIRST, ASK LATER. The young PYT artists who participated were all from the South West, and are self-trained physical practitioners in a variety of physical expressions that were brilliantly harnessed by the Force Majeure company. The skills of the young performers were, obviously, passionately honed - on a 24/7 basis, they say. They even have formed their own Company: The Dauntless Movement Company [DMC] - and within the structure imposed by Force Majeure were liberated to amazing affect for the audience. It is apparent, on the showing of TEAM AUSTRALIA, that none of these aspirant artists have practised with a similar due diligence in any of the skills demanded of their form: voice, speech and movement skills - simply trusting to their charming selves to capture us for an hour. It is, sad to say, not enough. Is it that everybody believes that they can be an actor/storyteller, for an audience? It's not true, it needs practised skills. The DMC have skills, let us create a similar regime for these young South West Artists.

TEAM AUSTRALIA: STORIES FROM FAIRFIELD, is a let down for us fans and admirers of the Powerhouse Youth Theatre. This work is only for family and friends . On the other hand, keep an eye out for JUMP FIRST, ASK LATER, at the Sydney Opera house next year - it's a knockout.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

English Eccentrics

Sydney Conservatorium of Music presents ENGLISH ECCENTRICS, by Malcolm Williamson, at the Music Workshop at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music,  October, 12, 14, 16, 17.

I was alerted to this student production of ENGLISH ECCENTRICS, an opera from 1964, by Australian Composer, Malcolm Williamson and made my way to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music on the recent sunny Saturday afternoon. The irritating and ebullient Michael Cathcart, of Radio National BOOKS AND ARTS, has been on-air on a, sometimes, hyper-ventilated mission to find the new Australian Opera. So, I hope he caught this - for it is a find, indeed, although, since I have not heard any heady grasps for breath on this subject from MC on RN this week,  I have supposed not - he is a Melbournian, afterall.

Edith Sitwell in 1933 published a book that confirmed that truth is stranger than fiction called ENGLISH ECCENTICS - she, herself, and brother Osbert, inheriting, perhaps, a family trait, could have easily included themselves in the volume. Their Father, Sir George Sitwell having a sign made and hung outside the family home:
I must ask anyone entering the house never to contradict me or differ from me in any way, as it interferes with the functioning of my gastric juices and prevents my sleeping at night. 
utterly suggesting it.

From this book Malcolm Williamson found inspiration to write in 1964, on commission from the Aldeburgh Festival what was requested to be an 'anti-opera'.

From the Notes in the program by Stephen Mould, Chair of Opera Production at the Conservatorium, and Musical Director of this performance:
Much of the opera of ENGLISH ECCENTRICS presents a pageant of [...] characters, many little more than thumbnail sketches of eccentric attributes and behaviours. However there are several scenes where characters are presented in stark detail, revealing layers of behavioural complexity and exploring the limits of eccentricity where what have been regarded as quaint, harmless, even creative attributes arrive at insanity. [...] The libretto was adapted by Geoffrey Dunn and preserves much of Sitwell's rich and musical prose verbatim. This poses a challenge in performing the work, as the richness and complexity of the text alongside the atmospheric music can compete for the attentions of the audience. [...] The musical language of ENGLISH ECCENTRICS draws upon the pastiche and not infrequent parody of a multiplicity of musical styles, summed up by Denis Hennig : ' perhaps in Williamson you are reminded of flashes of Stravinsky, Bartok, and Messiaen particularly but also Britten, Richard Rogers, Hindemith, Sibelius, Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein and Honegger. Or perhaps all these various attributes get into what we do not yet recognise as an Australian voice.'
The Australian Opera Voice!

The work was premiered to great acclaim, but is not in the published collections of Williamson's work, and hence, not as often seen as it could, should be. I, a neophyte of this form found the score and the libretto wonderfully charming and engrossing. Musically, pleasantly provocative and arresting. It was a very easy performance to absorb and indulge. For some reason I kept thinking back to Benjamin Britten's ALBERT HERRING (1947) and rather preferring this work. ALBERT HERRING, usually bores me to almost death. Here, is an Australian work that Opera Australia should be looking at, as part of our repertoire. The singing roles are impressive and the content moving, amusingly eccentric.

In this Sydney Conservatorium performance I found the young artists managed it all extremely confidently and competently under the care of Stephen Mould. It is a small orchestra of Violin, Cello, Double Bass, Clarinet, Bassoon, Trumpet, Percussion and Piano.

The clarity of the performance owed much to the extremely simple solutions of the Designer and Director, Kate Gaul. Within a black curtained surround, a plethora of chairs and a minimum of props, but some detailed costume offers, the performers were staged and directed to allow the music, the singing, to primarily realise the potential of the characters revelations. No Director's conceit going on here. Indeed, Ms Gaul's production was a model of simple, uncluttered and intelligent theatricality that brought the strengths of the composition and the young artists to promising bloom for the audience.

 Mr Mould has written:
 ... (from Malcolm Williamson there) was an abiding interest in opera, producing at least 10 major works in that genre, (including one based on 'Our Man in Havanna') along with numerous 'cassations' - small scale works often as short as seven minutes in length ..." 
Is there a treasure trove to be found in Malcolm Williamson's output for the Australian repertoire? Considering my hearing of ENGLISH ECCENTRICS, I am thinking, Mr Cathcart, Mr Terracinni, there probably is. Get with it, to it.

P.S. George Palmer has written that his Australian Opera based on the Tim Winton novel, CLOUDSTREET***, will be presented by the State Opera of South Australia, next May. The work has been in development for several years under the guidance and inspiration of the Internationally acclaimed Artist, Gale Edwards. Has Mr Teracinni any original plans for Opera Australia and the musical Australian voice?

A Rabbit for Kim Jong-Il

Griffin Theatre Company presents The World Premiere of A RABBIT FOR KIM JONG-IL, by Kit Brookman, at the SBW Theatre, Kings Cross. 10 Oct -21 Nov.

Says the writer, Kit Brookman about this new Australian play, his latest play, A RABBIT FOR KIM JONG-IL:
This play is not a true story, but it is inspired by one. In 2006, In Germany, a breeder of giant rabbits was approached by the North Korean government to acquire a number of his rabbits, ostensibly for a breeding program to be set up in North Korea. No one quite knows what happened next, except that his invitation to go to North Korea to oversee the creation of a rabbit-breeding program was abruptly cancelled without explanation. … This play does not aim to be a naturalistic representation of the events that inspired it, or of the true situation in recent times in North Korea ... It is a fable about guilt and forgiveness, about the things we are willing to ignore in order to succeed, and the price we pay for having ignored them when we do.
Lee Lewis, in her Director's notes says:
A RABBIT FOR KIM JONG-IL strikes at the heart of one of the great challenges of the 21st Century. Forgiveness. How do we forgive great crimes? How do we forgive the crimes of the 20th Century? How do we forgive betrayal? Do we even believe in forgiveness in a time when faith mechanisms which promoted it are so badly eroded? In the age of selfishness is it even possible? And if it is not possible, how then can we carry the burden of our crimes as we continue to live? Can we learn from our history and change or are we fated to repeat the same mistakes in each generation? ...
Ms Lewis, in her notes, poses some contemporaneously (and eternally?) pertinent and provocative questions, ideas, issues for contemplation, as does Mr Brookman in the last sentence of his above quote. So, it is baffling then, that none of that is at all an obvious context for discussion after this production of A RABBIT FOR KIM JONG-IL. None of the above philosophic musings, longings, of Mr Brookman and Ms Lewis, occurred to us - I was, mostly, in a state of shock  and like my friends, bemused - We spoke of whether we had missed the play's reason for being selected and shown. Was there something going on other than the literal? Were we 'dummies'?

We had been promised in the promotional material, "a cunning and comic thriller [...] a pointed parable about betrayal and forgiveness, greed and regret". The play, we had been told in pre-show interviews, began as a dinner table anecdote (discussion?), and that the two principal artists working  alongside each other for many years determined to realise it. I wondered whether the two central creatives had had enough objective viewpoints added to their passion around this work, for them to be able to see what was on the page, and then what was on the stage? Who else advised them, in this process? Were they too intimately connected to it to see what was not clear, what was not being communicated?

For if the play were 'comic' it definitely needed to be funnier. And if it were a 'thriller' - from my Macquarie dictionary: a book, play, or film, dealing with crime, mystery, etc., in an exciting or sensational manner - it needed more excitement and sensation. Both the comedy and the thriller aspect, that may be there, needed to be faster, and heavens, less, less sentimental in its tone, especially over our animal anthropomorphistic affectations - OMG: two cuddly, bunny-ears worn by a 'cute' smiling and animated Mr Brookman (remember James Stewart and his Harvey!), and even more alarmingly, the ultimate appearance of a real, really real, (frightened) ginger rabbit, oooohh! - so that we would have had less time, perhaps no time at all, to observe the preposterous lack of judgement of what is dramaturgically comic or logically acceptable or consistent to character or emotionally over-the-top etc. The pacing and style of the performance just gave us too much time/space to question the whole enterprise, while it was happening.

That the meta-heroic acting energies - imaginative (especially imaginative) and physical - on the parts of Steve Rogers (Johann Wertheim) and Kate Box (Sofie Amsel) were of no avail to keep this wearying conception afloat, and marks a tragedy of an enormous kind and worth noting, for Mr Rogers' and Ms Box's presence are usually insurance, and ensurance, of a good night in the theatre. But, when balanced against the relatively, one dimensional creations of Meme Thorne (Park Chun-Hei) and Kaeng Chan (Chung Dae-Hyun), with the added burden of a soporifically weighted sentimental reading of the surreal rabbit, Felix, by Mr Brookman ( the author, himself), even they couldn't bedazzle us long enough to produce a magic trick, a miracle, for our involvement.

When Park told Wertheim:  "... it's time for you to go home." I was thrilled.
When Wertheim stated: "I want to go home." I concurred.
Park: "It's time to go." Wertheim: "Time to go." Kevin: "Thank the Lord."

And that final offer of the Writer and the Director, of pulling, literally, a rabbit out of a box (hat) was not enough to win me over. "What were they drinking at that dinner party?", I queried, my companion.

Of course: Go see for yourself. I mean, I was impressed by Mr Brookman's play, SMALL AND TIRED - I became a fan. Ms Lewis' production of THE BLEEDING TREE, I reckon, one of the best productions of this year's offers in Sydney - I am a fan. In fact, my double 'fandom' was part of my excited anticipation to see A RABBIT FOR KIM JONG-IL, by Mr Brookman and Ms Lewis.

Well, the title, is fairly intriguing, don't you think? I wonder what the North Korean's have thought of it? Remember Seth Rogen's 2014, THE INTERVIEW and the North Korean attention it attracted? I went home and pulled out TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE (2004) to get my North Korean comic thrill fix, after this disappointing new play. Not a thought about guilt, betrayal, greed or regret, struck me at either viewing.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Tempest

Bell Shakespeare presents THE TEMPEST, by William Shakespeare, in the Playhouse Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House, 19 August -18 September, 2015.

This production of Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST (1611) from Bell Shakespeare, Directed by John Bell, is Mr Bell's farewell production for the company he founded twenty-five years ago. Mr Bell has played the role of Prospero three times in his career and it is interesting to read in his Director's Notes, in the program, his debunking of the notion that THE TEMPEST was Shakespeare's last play and that it is a valediction, with Prospero as a self-portrait of Shakespeare bidding farewell to the stage - and if one does read a parallel of a pang of regret in Mr Bell's choosing of THE TEMPEST  as his farewell, then it all was a subconscious urge, he says.

One has seen productions of THE TEMPEST where it is Prospero that is at its centre, or where in a revisionist approach, when viewed as an indictment of colonialism, Caliban has  been read as its true hero. In this production, it is Ariel, Shakespeare's airy spirit, that becomes the pivot and centre of the play.  Matthew Backer 'dressed' in the mode of a bewitching androgynous figure, further compounds the other-worldliness imagery of this 'Spirit, fine spirit...', with a deliberate and delicate adoption of a physical characterisation that gently impresses one, that we are watching a light-footed wonder - one that seems to have him hovering above the realities of the ground - and adds, with the tension of the 'instrument', his body, always angled forward, a visual offer of time-in-the-present as a fleet-footed future - a miraculous Superposition State! (check out, BLOG: SUPERPOSITION). That this actor/spirit then, can sing, too, in a voice of exquisite delicacy, caps the rightness of his casting and the centricity of his performance. Mr Backer makes Ariel a wonder to enjoy and believe in.

At the conclusion of this production one has being guided through the process of Ariel's estate, unmistakably. To begin Ariel has been subject to Sycorax and imprisoned and powerless. But when freed by Prospero, who has merely used his own powers for means to a base revenge against the Kingdom of Naples - an 'eye for an eye' banality, by conjuring a wrecking storm; and by producing the wonders of the banquet and the charmed swords like any common conjurer for the slight purpose of bewilderment, Ariel is sought. For the higher the nature of the miracle, as in the falling in love of Ferdinand and Miranda, it is he who is invited to improvise the miracle. Prospero has willed this love but the bringing of it into being is plainly Ariel's work - he has performed 'material wonders' and when the initiative is left to Ariel's device, he goes beyond them - to the delight of his master - who sees that it is Ariel's accomplishment, nothing of his power at all.

It goes on, I see,
as my soul prompts it.
Spirit, fine spirit! I'll free thee
within two days for this. 
At the first sight
They have changed eyes. Delicate Ariel,
I'll set thee free for this!                  
And, as in the case of King Lear and his Fool, late in that play,  the servant has become the master of the master, for when Prospero's enemies are powerless to budge, and we feel that he is about to enact his revenge for the injustices they have inflicted on him, Ariel speaks:

Him that you termed, sir, "the good old lord, Gonzalo."
His tears run down his beard like winter drops
From eaves of reeds. Your charm so strongly works them
That if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender.

Dost thou think so, spirit?
Mine would, sir, were I human.

And mine shall.
Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their affections, and shall not myself,
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply
Passion as they, be kindlier mov'd than thou art?
Though with their high wrongs I am struck to the quick,
Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury
Do I take part. The rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance. They being penitent,
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further. Go release them, Ariel.
My charms I'll break, their senses I'll restore,
And they shall be themselves.
I'll fetch them, sir.
Prospero thinks it is his reason that has overcome his fury, but it was his 'angel' that whispered the suggestion in his ear, and he obeyed, and the wonder of a spiritual miracle has occurred. Ariel, still ever respectful, enters with music and there follows the forgiveness and reconciliation of Prospero with his tormentors. That Prospero by forgiving them and being in a position of power does not take revenge, reveals that he holds the keys of peace:
           They that have power to hurt and will do none ...
           They rightly do inherit heaven's graces.
Mr Backer has, from his first appearance, carried Ariel's yearning for his freedom from the service of Prospero with such power and mounting angst, that we watch with gathering empathetic givings for it to be done after every achievement of his Master's demands, and it is with relieved joy, for us, when it is at last, finally, given :"Be free, and fare thee well!" The joy, the accepting and wearing of the longed for freedom from the charmed 'chains' of bound-duty is as liberty bearing to our sprit, in the audience, as it is to the good and faithful patient servant Ariel, created, embodied, by Mr Backer. There has been a shared intense arc of journey in this production of THE TEMPEST and it has been Ariel's: Mr Backer's, and so, ours.

Brian Lipson, playing Prospero, is an actor of intelligence and instinct, but lacks, on this occasion, the vocal capacity to easily persuade us to listen to him - if at all  - and at best this performance gives most of us only a gist of what has been written - most of the language poetics obfuscated. Similarly, with Eloise Winestock, as his daughter, Miranda - both having speech/vocal blurrings, and, so, their lack of oral/aural clarity defocuses their contribution and shifts them, unhappily, from the centre of the play, no matter their textual weight or theatrical intuition. One is forced, especially with Mr Lipson, to work too hard (exhaustingly) to comprehend the Shakespearean text and its poetry, and it is sharply brought into understanding why this is so when both these actors are in action with Felix Gentle's Ferdinand, for his speech/vocal clarify is so easeful, beautiful and effortlessly comprehensible, that the sound contrast between them all makes the problem that one has had to enter sympathetically into the worlds of Prospero and Miranda, palpably obvious. The vocal casting was flawed, for me.

In contrast further, the cleverness and clarity of Hazem Shammas and Arky Michael - two of Sydney's most interesting and underestimated performers - conquering, all, verbally, vocally and physically, the difficult roles of the drunken clowns, Stephano and Trinculo, were a gift of relief for the audience, while, generally, the offers of Robert Alexander, Maeliosa Stafford and Damien Strouthos were welcome, too. One does wish the Bell Shakespeare could 'field' one or two more actors so that the doubling of roles were not so necessary. 9 actors does not seem, comfortably, enough, for the play's - this production's - fluency and clarity. 11, or the Shakespeare standard of 12 (or more), would seem more desirable.

Julie Lynch as Designer, with her curtained, billowing blue tinted backdrop stagings and detail of costume, is beautifully supported with the flexible Lighting Design of Damien Cooper, while the composition of Alan John is apt, and the Sound Design, by Nate Edmondson, on the other hand overdone, with its tendency to over signal the atmospheric changes of the narrative.

The words of Caliban tells us of what we most lacked with this TEMPEST, flexible voices in two of the central roles:
...  the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices
That, if I had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

P.S. My first meeting with this story was at the age of 8, when at the Kings picture show, on Clovelly Rd (now an ex-serviceman's club), my dad took me to see THE FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956). Not that I could care, or detect, at that age, but William Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST had been used as one of the source materials for the story: Professor Moribus (Walter Pidgeon), as Prospero; Altaria (Anne Francis), as Miranda;  J.J. Adam (Leslie Neilsen), as Ferdinand; Robby The Robot as Ariel; Sycorax, as monster in control, Krell and Caliban as the invisible creature of the ID. I just remember being scared out of my wits by the tiger - yes, the tiger! This Science Fiction MGM classic is rated in the Top Ten of that Genre: Oh, Brave New World, indeed.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


Photo by Regis Lansac

Ken Unsworth in collaboration with Australian Dance Artists presents, DEPARTURES, with the original music of Jonathan Cooper, at 137 Belmont St. Alexandria. October 1-4, October 14-17.

DEPARTURES, at the workshop of the Australian sculptor, Ken Unsworth, is the fourth association/collaboration by that artist, and the Australian Dance Artists: Susan Barling, Anca Frankenhaeuser, Patrick Harding-Irmer and Ross Philip.

Conceived by Mr Unsworth, some large sculptural pieces, conceived for the dancers to utilise and invent about and upon, plus other exquisite hand properties have been 'manufactured', for choreographic impact, all supported by an original score by Jonathan Cooper played by Members of the Australian Piano Quartet: Rebecca Chan (violin), Glenn Christensen (Violin Oct 15, 16, 17), James Wannan (viola), Thomas Rann (cello) with Benjamin Kopp (piano), Genevieve Lang (harp) and Katherine Lukey (violin), with two singers: Clive Birch and Rioghnach Wegrecka.

Presented in gently compacted interludes, with scene changes/spaces between, the dance duet of Mr Harding-Irmer and, especially, Ms Frankenhaeuser, is one of the many highlights of the program. Too, the song duet between Ms Wegrecka and Mr Birch, which includes a surprising physical-balance feat by Mr Birch, is memorable.

Sitting in this magically made performance space, one, once again is transported to a place of wonder. Knowing that this rare and unique collaboration is happening today, in front of one, gives the impression of receiving a rare, opportunity, gift from these artists and strikes with a sense of the private salon one has read of in 'period' novels or from memories of some of the films of Luchino Visconti: THE LEOPARD (1963), L'INNOCENTE (1976). A privilege.

You know it is worth catching, if you have been before and, it is definitely not to miss, if you have never had the privilege. Rare and beautiful.

Other works (check out my blog):

SOIREE SFORZA - July, 2013.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Edward II

Photography by Marnya Rothe
The Seymour Centre and Sport For Jove present, EDWARD II written by Christopher Marlowe, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre.

Christopher (Kit) Marlowe born in 1564, died in 1593. Queen Elizabeth I herself was said to have pronounced Christopher Marlowe's death sentence ('prosecute it to the full') at court. He died from a puncture wound above the eye at the house of a widow in Deptford. The Queen's Coroner attributed the killing to a quarrel over 'the reckoning', a bill for food and drink, but many have long suspected that the murder had other more sinister/powerful motives.

Marlowe was christened two months before that recorded of William Shakespeare. He received scholarship and was a graduate student of Cambridge. We are told in the published text of EDWARD II, edited, with notes and introduction by Stephen J. Lynch:
Marlowe's literary career began while he was still a student at Cambridge, when he translated Ovid's AMORES and probably wrote his first play DIDO, QUEEN OF CARTHAGE. After moving to London in 1587, he rose to fame with TAMBURLAINE THE GREAT and the sequel TAMBURLAINE THE GREAT, PART TWO. [...] During the next five years, Marlowe wrote four additional plays, THE JEW OF MALTA, DOCTOR FAUSTUS, EDWARD II and THE MASSACRE AT PARIS - the dating/order of the plays are in controversy. He also composed the lyric poem HERO AND LEANDER and translated the first book of Lucan's CIVIL WARS. [1]
Judith Cook, in her AT THE SIGN OF THE SWAN, tells us:
There is no doubt that Marlowe revolutionised the theatre of his time. Before Marlowe, we have the gentle romances of Greene, some fairly good comedies, some rather second-rate tragedies - though this does not include Kyd's SPANISH TRAGEDY - and a large number of plays which are either almost forgotten or which have disappeared from trace. Marlowe pioneered the grand spectacle, the powerful show and, of course, the kind of writing for the theatre which had hitherto been unknown. [2]
 Maybe, a kind of Michael Bay of the sixteenth century!
Marlowe was happy in his buskined muse,
Alas unhappy in his life and end.
Pity it is that wit so ill should dwell,
Wit lent from heaven, but vices sent from hell.
The above anonymous playwright confronted the discrepancy between Marlowe's artistic genius and his odious moral reputation. William Shakespeare, his only serious rival, at that time, hailed the erotic poet who penned the magical verse, 'Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?' Ben Jonson praised the inventor of 'Marlowe's mighty line' The poet George Peele called the dead dramatist 'the Muses' darling, for thy verse.' Michael Drayton, another fellow poet, proclaimed that Marlowe " Had in him those brave translunary things,  That the first Poets had." Stanley Wells, a Shakespeare scholar says: "Christopher Marlowe was both our first great poetic dramatist and a defiant rebel against social norms of religion, sexuality and the law." [3]

The plays of Marlowe are episodic in nature and one of the most striking commonalities is that they are all based around one character who dominates the action. There, too, is a relish for the violence of the stories told in 'a fury of torrential speech, the glory of language released at this molten, brazen moment into poetry that was never to be forgotten.' Shakespeare had begun to write (Henry VI - Part 1-3) and was soon to transform the poetics and playwriting to undoubtedly greater heights, that would overwhelm, the works of Marlowe, who died so young.

The Sport For Jove Theatre Company have been a champion of the Shakespeare canon in Sydney, with Damien Ryan, its Artistic Director, Shakespeare's recent contemporary interpreter of the first rank. Mr Ryan's work for both Sport For Jove and Bell Shakespeare being winners of much popular admiration and critical prizes. He leads a company dedicated to the presenting of Classic texts, both old and modern (ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, HAMLET, TWELFTH NIGHT / THE LIBERTINE, THE CRUCIBLE, and OF MICE AND MEN).

With EDWARD II, we are shown a classic playwright, an important member of the contextual growth of the heritage of the English language and the development of the craft of theatre. I have never seen a Marlowe text staged before, either in Sydney, or elsewhere (though some may have been produced at University Theatres?) - the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford recently staged THE JEW OF MALTA. So it is within a dedicated mission that Sport For Jove now give us EDWARD II and the opportunity needs to be lauded, if for no other reason than that - it is a valuable first. Directed by Terry Karabelas, a long standing member of the company, the play has been, necessarily, edited down to a two hour traffic on the stage. The play concerns the Plantagenet King, Edward II (1307-1327), regarded, historically as a 'weak king'. Peter Earle in his essays in THE LIVES OF THE KINGS AND QUEENS OF ENGLAND, edited by Antonia Fraser, tells us:
No King of England has had such a consistently bad press as Edward II. Squeezed in between his two warrior namesakes he seemed to justify contemporary suspicion that he was a changeling. ... [4]
Marlowe focuses on Edward's (Julian Garner) erotic predilection for the male favourites of his court, especially, Piers Gaveston (Michael Whalley), in the first act, and in the second, Hugh Spencer (Ed Lempke-Hogan). It is not the homosexuality, however, that is the principal sticking point for the Royal Court, it has, we are told in the play, both historic and literary precedents, and the King has produced an heir, Prince Edward (Gabriel Rancourt) through the marriage with the Queen Isabella (Georgia Adamson), but that Edward recklessly insists in endowing his favourites with possessions and rights over and above the hierarchy of the system. Class and Order becomes the flashpoint of the civil war and rebel murder of an anointed king.

The production is handsome and disciplined (Set Design, Alicia Clements), dressed in subtle modern dress (Costume Design, Melanie Liertz), with some cross-gender casting in the disposition of the acting roles. The Sound Design by David Stalley, and the Lighting by Ross Graham both accurate in support of the intensity of the action of the story.

The two halves of the play have very different preoccupations. In the first act, we observe the court led by the Lord Mortimer (James Lugton) provoking the exile of Gaveston, only to have him returned by the favour of the King. Much emphasis in the writing of this first act is placed on the relationship between the King and his favourite. Unfortunately, there is in the staged and directed focus of this production a heavy-handed pointing to the 'lust' of the relationship which does not seem to bring the writer's intention to sufficient clarity, to the core of the tragedy, which, I believe is that of an infatuated and deepening 'love'. What Edward has for Gaveston, and Gaveston for Edward, appears to be a truly genuine love as palpable as that of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, or John Ford's Giovanni and Anabellla ('Tis Pity She's a Whore) or that of Abelard and Heloise, which blinds itself to the practicalities of this aberration and all the courtly dangers in its attendant favours. Without that understanding being clear, the behaviour of the King appears to be just an animal bloody-mindedness that, thus, for the audience, undermines the empathetic struggles in the first act of the play, which in this production is dwindled to a boring shilly-shallying of now he is here, now he is gone, now he is back again, with some 'lust' filled activity.

The second act finds more cohesiveness and the political manoeuvres of the rebel lord, Mortimer and the Queen Isabella, become easily understood, and the anguish and outpourings of Edward, now captured and imprisoned, engender an empathy of care from the audience, such that the ultimate act of the barbaric murder on the King, and the rise of the young Prince Edward to his rightful inheritance (Edward III), produces a satisfying storytelling and balance.

Julian Garner as the King takes hold of the language of the second act with some 'punch' and Angela Bauer, as his supporter, the Princess of Kent (in this production) stands out with deft strength and clarity of storytelling. Mr Lugton demonstrates authority in action and text, as does Mr Fancourt. In a smaller support role the work of Simon London was also appreciated.

Marlowe's EDWARD II is often paired with Shakespeare's RICHARD II, the last of the Plantagenet Kings, who is also known as a 'weak king', as a double act for the company of performers. The poetic beauty of the latter contrasts significantly the relative primitiveness of the language of EDWARD II. This production does bring to the Sydney stage an important figure of theatre history, so far neglected by our forebears - Christopher Marlowe. is anyone 'mad; enough to dare do TAMBURLAINE?

P.S. The character played by John Hurt in the Jim Jarmusch, 2014 film, ONLY LOVER'S LEFT ALIVE, is Christopher Marlowe, who tells us that he was not murdered at Deptford but rather 'vampired', and gave his later plays to William Shakespeare to present under his own name. It is another theory to add to the suspicions of who wrote those plays?! By the way, it is a film I entirely recommend - starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, who also played the Queen Isabella in the famous Derek Jarman film version of EDWARD II in 1991.


  1. Stephen J. Lynch (ed.), 2015, EDWARD II by Christopher Marlowe, Hackett Publishing Co.
  2. Judith Cook, 1986, AT THE SIGN OF THE SWAN, Harrap, London
  3. David Riggs, 2004, THE WORLD OF CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE, Faber and Faber
  4. Antonia Fraser (ed.), 1975, THE LIVES OF THE KINGS AND QUEENS OF ENGLAND, Book Club Associates, London

The Cunning Little Vixen

Pacific Opera, in association with the Sydney Youth Orchestra, presents THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN, by Leos Janacek, in New Hall, at Sydney Grammar School. 2, 3 October.

THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN, by Leos Janacek, was his last work and premiered in 1924. Opera Australia (or the Australian Opera) have presented it, several times. In this instance, Pacific Opera have secured the sure hands and experienced skills of conductor Alexander Briger to guide and bring it to coherent life, which is no small feat. Says Michael Campbell in his Director's notes:
... One aspect of [the complexity of this work] is the relationship Janacek creates between the natural world, populated by foxes, badgers, dragonflies, birds and frogs and the civilised world with the men and their wives. ...
Maybe, one needs to be a native Czech to be able to follow the tale.

The Chair of Pacific Opera, George Palmer, writes:
We are really excited by the opportunity this opera presents of collaborating with The Sydney Youth Orchestra and Sydney Grammar School. ... Bringing an opera of this scale and complexity to the stage has been an enormous challenge, not only for the singers, orchestral players, creative and production teams but for the company itself.... Pacific Opera Company is, first and foremost, dedicated to education.
And, there were some 170 young artists involved!

The musical preparation of the young orchestra, and the singers, by Simon Kenway, the Artistic Director of Pacific Opera, is greatly impressive - the level of difficulty is palpable, even to a naive ear such as my own. It is, certainly, those elements, drawn by Mr Briger and Kenway, from these young aspirants, that have a lasting impact, for the staging in this massive hall/cavernous space is a relative 'mess'. For the spatial relationships of the performers created by Mr Campbell, were very difficult to absorb, and, in addition, the singers were, necessarily, microphoned (Sound Designer, John Harrison) giving the added difficulty for the audience to be able to find the voices with their bodies, to be able to focus, to begin to comprehend what was occurring. Alexander Knight, singing The Forester; Sarah Wang, singing Fox and Alexandra Flood, singing The Vixen, make musical impressions. Particularly, Mr Knight.

A ninety minute work, it is played through without interval. Despite the enormous difficulties that the venue offers for the staging of the work, I felt wonderfully excited after the performance - undoubtedly, to hear the score so clearly and beautifully with this very large body of players, created a memorable visceral affect. The sheer excitement of the performers with their concentrated and committed effort was a great thing to witness and admire. I was energised, incredibly, for many hours after the performance. A kind of adrenaline 'high' from the musical talents of the Sydney Youth Orchestra. The music score was beautiful.

To conclude, from the Hon. George Palmer AM QC, again:
We owe a special debt of gratitude to the former Federal Minister of the Arts, The Hon. George Brandis, QC. for a generous funding grant without which this production would have been impossible.
The NPEA in action, already?

Friday, October 2, 2015

A Property of the Clan

Photo by Phyllis Wong
Don't Look Away and Blancmange Productions present, A PROPERTY OF THE CLAN, by Nick Enright, at the Blood Moon Theatre, The World Bar, 24 Bayswater Rd, Potts Point, 29 September - 17 October.

A PROPERTY OF THE CLAN is a Theatre-in Education play by Nick Enright, commissioned by Freewheels Theatre in Education, Newcastle in1992. Four actors play all the eight roles. The play's structure shows the lead-up to, and the aftermath of a teenage party at the local Surf Club which with a potent mixture of alcohol, drugs, music and sexual hormones gets out of hand and ends in a violent female rape and murder. Its thematics deals with the young men and the 'culture' they live in, that 'conspires' to permit such terrible violence to erupt, the clannish taboos and behavioural expectancies that come into play to protect the guilty among their peers, and of the burgeoning efforts of the women and girls within that environment to reveal and make right the moral crimes that are in that cultural continuum. The crime is never seen but the consequences and attitudes within the community are shown with recognisable, uncomfortable accuracy.

There had been a highly publicised rape/murder of a young girl when the play was first commissioned and there was some controversy about the play directed at the lack of sensitivity by the writer and producers in bringing such a story into the theatre. However, the universality of identification among its core audience (schools) has more than justified its performance values and need. And despite that this play is now 22 years old the effect of it, in this production at the Blood Moon Theatre, is still staggeringly relevant. It seems nothing much has changed. Male entitlement, male discriminating, bullying behaviour, and male violence, especially towards women, (and not excluding other minorities) is still a major issue that our society is working through and must solve.

This production by Phil Rouse, in a small Bar venue at The World Bar, in the Kings Cross area, on a shallow, short-raised Band-platform, is intense and wonderfully acted by this company of actors: George Banders (outstandingly scary and moving), Megan Drury, Samantha Young (beautifully crafted delineation of all their roles -finely judged) and Jack Starkey. The Direction is tight and fearsomely clear, even with a production metaphorical conceit of active painting on a see-through plastic cyclorama to back-story the text, that began to pall as the drama unwound.

This play was developed further, commissioned for the Sydney Theatre Company as BLACKROCK, in 1993, and made into a film in 1997. This production of A PROPERTY OF THE CLAN is a one act, 90 minute experience (reviews from the original production suggest it was only 45 minutes). It is, given the material content, and particularly because of the acting quality, worth a visit, despite the difficult make-shift venue.

ACO presents Olli Mustonen, Bach and Shostakovitch

Australian Chamber Orchestra presents Olli Mustonen, Bach and Shostakovitch, in the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House, 20 September, 2015.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) welcomed back Olli Mustonen, "a friend and musical partner of more than two decades standing". In this concert not only is Mr Mustonen the piano soloist of two major and highly contrasting works: JS Bach's CONCERTO FOR KEYBOARD NO. 3 in D MAJOR, BWV1054 and Paul Hindemith's THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS, but also the conductor and composer of his own SONATA FOR CELLO & ORCHESTRA, which is being given its World Premiere. To conclude the concert, the orchestra with guest lead violinist, Arvid Engegard, presented an arrangement by the orchestra's principal cellist, Timo-Veikko Valve, of Shostakovich's STRING QUARTET NO 9 IN E-FLAT MAJOR, OP. 117.

This concert was one that I was most eager to hear, for all of the music, except, of course, the World Premiere, have been a vital part of my musical history, and have strong resonances to my own artistic appreciation of other arts.

The Bach CONCERTO FOR KEYBOARD NO.3 IN D MAJOR (1733), is one of my favourite works, I was first introduced to it at the old Theatre Royal as an accompaniment to a ballet given by a touring dance company from Winnipeg (!) way back in the early 1970's and fell in 'love', not only with dance but also Bach, its propelling energetics capturing my imagination. This account of the work had a particularly edgy sprightliness from a very precise piano playing by Mr Mustonen, it having a sharpness that caused me to recollect my other encounters with the work, where there seemed to be a smoother, warmer tone to the musical combinations. Whatever the professional differences - explorations - that were going on, my amateur musical ear was arrested enough to note the affect of the choices. It felt as if I was hearing the work anew and was forced 'to compare and contrast'.

The last time I heard the Paul Hindemith THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS (1940), co-incidently, was also through dance, where it was an accompaniment to the Balanchine 1946 ballet, at the New York City Ballet, two years ago. Hearing this work in concert, with Mr Mustonen, for whom this work is regarded as one of his signature pieces was arresting. Without the distraction and intention of the Balanchine dance and dancers, all focus could be given to the music, and I found it most intriguing and thrilling. In the program notes we are told that: "Hindemith's music is often dismissed as being dry, difficult to navigate, academic and inaccessible. But there is much more to this man and his extraordinary range of compositions. In his book A COMPOSER'S WORLD, Hindemith says, 'We must be grateful that with our art we have been placed halfway between science and religion, enjoying the advantages of exactitude in thinking - and of the unlimited world of faith.' " Born in Hanau in 1895, Hindemith experienced the world events around him with a quelling sobriety: The Great War, the demise of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Nazis. The work uses the Hippocrates', 'the father of medicine', theory of bodily temperaments, whereby liquids flowing through the body are linked to particular states of human character: melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric.

The work is, of course, not as programmatic as that. Hindemith has been, for me, a discovery, a source of great curiosity. While listening to this performance, Mr Mustonen, evoked the imaginative connection I have to the playwright Odon Von Horvath (19001-1938) - particularly his plays: TALES FOM THE VIENNA WOODS (1931) and DON JUAN COMES HOME FROM THE WAR (1938) - and to the German School of painting known as NEW OBJECTIVITY (1919-1933) - Otto Dix, Rudolf Schlichter, George Grosz, Christian Schad, etc - where the heights and depths of the human soul can be found - side by side. Mr Mustonen in his playing and conducting of the orchestra, conveyed vividly the unbalanced and morally febrile dualisms, uncertainties, that one suspects the creative context of this work, and my other references, are seeded from. A  'tonal modernism', Terry Teachout calls it (writing in the journal COMMENTARY), that is usually connected to the innovation brought more famously to our attention through the works of Schoenberg and Webern. I am an admirer of Paul Hindemith's work because of its power to undermine my certainty of my world - forcing me to look, hear and, especially, feel with greater care. The 'science', precision, of Mr Mustonen's playing aligned with his undoubted championing, faith (religion), for this composer was significantly transporting, and underlined, for me, that his reading of the earlier Bach piece was not quite, stylistically, right - my contrast and compare. The approach to the Hindemith seemed acute and wonderful.

I have often, jealously, enviously, dreamt of being witness to the first performance of say Tchaikovsky's PIANO CONCERTO or the FIFTH SYMPHONY, or Beethoven's VIOLIN CONCERTO, or NINTH, the list goes on, and so, although my hearing of Olli Mustonen's SONATA FOR CELLO AND CHAMBER ORCHESTRA, was not its first playing, it was a Premiere in Sydney and conducted by the actual composer. I felt privileged and excited. The cello role was played by Timo-Veikko Valve. Mr Mustonen's sensibility "is born from his 'very Finnish' personal identity", James Koehne, writes in the program notes:
... his sense of place, deeply connected to nature's presence, surrounded by wilderness, but also not far from the settled world. ... The cellist Steven Isserlis describes the Cello Sonata in terms derived from Finland's landscape - as an imagined narrative of passing clouds and thunderstorms, bells that sound out across the valleys, and the diurnal  activity of 'little animals.' [ ... ] There is a sense of connection to the mythic tradition of the folk poets and their evocation of the Finnish national spirit [...] drawing the listener in to an experience that becomes gripping and transforming.
This work was composed for cello and piano in 2006 and dedicated to Heinrich Schiff and Mustonen's version of the Sonata for cello and chamber orchestra was commissioned by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. The scoring of this relatively compact work - 15 minutes, in length - included, besides the orchestra Strings: Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Bassoon, Contrabassoon, Percussion and Harp, evoking a sound 'bath' evocative of a world filled with the exotica of the Nordic light and mythical/folk rapturings of another country, strange to my cultural heritage, but attractive and seductive. Grieg and Peer Gynt were peeking through my imaginative response and feelings.  Certainly, too, I heard sound influences from Hindemith and, especially, Shostakovitch. Debussy, as well?

The Shostakovich STRING QUARTET No. 9 written in 1964, was arranged for orchestra by Timo-Viekko Valve. A late work of the composer, written in the relative ease of a post-Stalin world during the leadership of Krushchev, it resounds with a resignation to age and wisdom, and a reflective kind of melancholy of time's past. I have a collection of the String Quartets and preferred the sparer sound of the quartet. Prejudice, I guess.

Olli Mustonen believes, says James Koehne, that
Even a good concert can leave you untouched. To become memorable, I feel it should strive for an experience of transformation, the feeling that you have been taken to another world.' A musical work must undertake a search for something beyond - an experience, a moment of ecstatic revelation or feeling.
This concert did that, indeed.