2017 CANBERRA INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL - SELECTED REVIEWS (EXCERPTS)

The 2017 Festival enjoyed some fantastic coverage, both from local media outlets and nationally. City News in particular took on an ambitious project this year in publishing an online review for each and every Canberra International Music Festival performance. Here are just some of the highlights!

"To paraphrase a famous saying: if this music is the stuff of revolutions, give me excess of it."
-Concert 1: Opening Night. Reviewed by Clinton White, City News, 29 April

"This was a lovely little concert, well structured to introduce the very young to music quite different to their everyday listening and it succeeded in spades. Well done to all involved and especially to the CIMF for assuming responsibility for this informative aspect of education."
-Concert 4: Blinky Bill. Reviewed by Ian McLean, City News, 30 April

"This charming concert of Chinese traditional music, presented by the China Orient Orchestra, together with guest artists, soprano Shu-Cheen Yu and instrumentalist Nicholas Ng proved to be as visually engaging as it was aurally intriguing."
-Concert 7: Red Dragon. Reviewed by Bill Stephens, City News, 3 May

"(Chen) Yi’s 'Chinese Fables' are works of modern art, belonging just as much in the concert halls of Europe as they do in a Chinese market. This was the first time an ensemble from Singapore has been included in the Canberra International Music Festival but, judging from the audience response, it won’t be the last."
-Concert 10: The Lion's Roar. Reviewed by Judith Crispin, City News, 4 May

"It may be, as the Canberra International Music Festival proclaims, a 'Brave New World' in the education sphere, but if it's going to stay that way, music must be at the very centre. That was the message loud and clear emerging from a stimulating day at Canberra Grammar, where music-making mingled with some of the leading minds of our pedagogical world."
-Concert 15: The Education Revolution. Reviewed by Helen Musa, City News, 6 May

"The highlight was a performance of excerpts from Rachmaninoff’s 'The Liturgy of St John Chrysostom', by Canberra choir Coro, teaming up with the Russian Orthodox Choir of Sydney, conducted by the amiable Richard Gill. Sung a capella, this ensemble sang with extraordinary expression, balance and control, evoking the very heart and spirit of Russian Orthodoxy. It was a very moving performance, the audience in awe of the sound and seemingly forgetting to breathe, such was their silence, broken only by a joyful standing ovation."
-Concert 16: Barricades of Time. Reviewed by Clinton White, City News, 6 May

"In 'Game On!' as part of the Canberra International Music Festival, tribute is paid not just to the flourishing scene for composers of gaming music, but to the tremendous talent among young musicians as the Canberra Youth Orchestra, led brilliantly by Leonard Weiss, presented a solid afternoon of symphonic virtuosity. And whether you appreciated the compositions or not, the sheer joy and enthusiasm for performing this works shone through."
-Concert 17: Game On! Reviewed by Helen Musa, City News, 7 May

"Kats-Chernin was joined at the piano by Tamara-Anna Cislowska. It was visually as well as aurally exciting to see them get arms out of the way of each other as they tackled the varied repertoire with a lovely mix of aggression and excitement then gentleness.
-Concert 18: Russian Roots and Rags. Reviewed by Ian McLean, City News, 7 May

 

 

 

 

2017 CANBERRA INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL - SELECTED REVIEWS

Program hits highs, with few lows

POST-FESTIVAL OVERVIEW
THE AUSTRALIAN
BY Vincent Plush
Appearing in print and online 8 May 2017

Music
Canberra International Music Festival, April 27 to May 7

Canberra in the early autumn is a blaze of colour, the perfect place and time for a music festival. Twenty-five years ago a band of local music lovers formed the Pro Musica Society to present concerts in their homes, halls, embassies and institutions.

Like he Aspen Institute in Colorado, the Canberra International Music Festival is an exploration of music and ideas. it is unique among the many smaller chamber music festival in this country. It could happen only in Canberra, the repository of our heritage and the portal of our relations with the cultures of the world.

Under successive artistic directors - Nicole Canham, Christopher Latham and now Roland Peelman - Canberra's festival has moved from strength to strength. Last weekend it closed its 23rd season with more than two dozen events in 11 days.

In his 20-year stewardship of the Song Company, Peelman created programs of intellectual breadth and high performance standards. Those same qualities he has brought to his third CIMF.

Peelman's focus drew on the notion of revolution in world history and music.

The 500th anniversary of Lutheranism was observed in some uplifting performances by the Bach Akademie Australia, an impressive new Sydney-based ensemble directed by Madeleine Easton. Stirring renditions of Handel odes and Tallis-inspired music came from England. The French Revolution was represented by Mozart's French-influenced pieces performed by the youthful Van Kuijk Quartet from Paris. Rachmaninov and Shostakovich signified both sides of the Russian revolutionary divide, but where was Stravinsky? There was music also from China, principally the sunny music and personality of Chen Yi, this year's principal international composer-in-residence. Nothing, though, from the US, before or after the Trump revolution.

Elena Kats-Chernin, left, and Tamara-Anna Cislowska. Photo by Peter Hislop

Elena Kats-Chernin, left, and Tamara-Anna Cislowska. Photo by Peter Hislop

My highlights included many local artists. The unbridled and unscripted hilarity between pianists Elena Kats-Chernin and Tamara-Anna Cislowska performing a brace of Russian Rags could earn them a place in comedy and cabaret festivals. At the National Gallery, Robert Davidson and Topology transformed prime ministerial speeches into music. The role of women in music was interrogated at the National Portrait Gallery. The revolution in education in "the Asian century" was dissected at Canberra Grammar School. At the National Museum, 19 composers created short pieces to accompany a rare showing of the Harvest of Endurance, a scroll given by China for the Bicentenary. In the glass-cathedral foyer of the new international airport, several ensembles did battle with airline announcements.

Almost all the national cultural institutions and many embassies contributed to the festival program. There were exhilarating performances from the Simon Bolivar String Quartet from cash-strapped Venezuela, and East-West fusion pieces from the Ding Yi Music Company from Singapore. Not unexpectedly, there were a few duds including the strange program of computer game music from the otherwise splendid Canberra Youth Orchestra.

Future festivals will surely address educational dimensions for its audiences, largely comprising agile retirees, thirsty for new experiences and information. The content of the program book needs to be addressed, likewise the staging of each presentation. Enhanced amenities around the Fitters Workshop are needed, and even a kind of festival club would be appreciated.

The CIMF relies on a unique but sometimes unsteady mix of government, institutional and diplomatic support, as well as an army of volunteers. But it must strive for more than mere survival.

With an estimated one in four patrons coming from outside Canberra, the festival is already a major cultural drawcard to the capital. It is now more than its brave founders could have hoped for a generation ago. It is an event of national significance: stimulating, provocative and deeply satisfying at so many levels.

Read the article online here.

2017 CANBERRA INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL - SELECTED REVIEWS

Stunning end to an extraordinary festival

CONCERT REVIEW
CITY NEWS
BY Clinton White
Appearing online 7 May 2017

Festival Finale-Canberra's Farewell to Arms, Fitters'Workshop, Sunday 7 May 6:30pm

The Combined Festival Artists. Photo by Peter Hislop  

The Combined Festival Artists. Photo by Peter Hislop

 

A near-capacity audience was in, waiting in anticipation for this grand finale to the Canberra International Music Festival.

Three works were programmed, starting with Beethoven’s String Quartet in E Minor, op 59 no 2. It’s nicknamed “Razumovsky”, after the Count, who sponsored the world’s first professional string quartet and commissioned three suitably challenging works for it.

Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar String Quartet gave a nice account of the quite long work, in four movements. They played all the notes with well-defined expression and precision, but overall it lacked personality and spirit. In the last movement, marked presto, there was a loss of tonal clarity and the first violin had the occasional high-note pitch problem.

After the first interval, a totally contrasting piece was given its world premiere. Written by Hong Kong-based composer, Hing-yan Chan, “Double Happiness” is a charming, witty and humorous programmatic piece about the gastronomic traditions of a Hong Kong wedding. There’s everything from the whole roast suckling pig (signifying the bride’s virginity), to the winter-melon ring stuffed with whole scallop (signifying the curious presence of the groom’s ex-girlfriend).

Roland Peelman conducting The Combined Festival Artists. Photo by Peter Hislop  

Roland Peelman conducting The Combined Festival Artists. Photo by Peter Hislop

 

Narrated by William Yang, the mainly western instruments created some quite convincing far-eastern sounds. The only traditional instrument was the sheng, a sort of mouth organ with pipes, played by Loo Sze-Wang. Roland Peelman conducted the piece in flamboyant style and precision, producing some fascinating sounds in this highly entertaining performance. The composer liked it, too.

The third offering was the work of Chinese-Australian composer, Julian Yu. He had taken Mussorgsky’s programmatic work, “Pictures at an Exhibition” and put it into a completely new light. Yu’s reworking was nothing short of brilliant, bringing it right up to date. Instead of promenading through a dimly-lit, musty and stuffy museum gallery, we might be doing the rounds of a light-filled exhibition of contemporary art. Yu has given the original, sometimes-ponderous, composition new freshness and vitality, packed full of vibrant new colours.

Peelman conducted an orchestra he called The Combined Festival Artists through this fantastic piece. He obviously had studied the score assiduously, for he knew its every detail and his conducting and the orchestra’s response showed it. Without doubt, this was a world-class performance. Even from the very back of the Fitters’ Workshop, the sound was beautifully balanced and dynamics brilliantly controlled, encircling the hushed audience from beginning to end.

A standing ovation, which continued until all the musicians had exited via the long centre aisle, was the reward for what was a stunning end to an extraordinary festival.

 

Kate Moore wins prestigious Dutch composition prize for CIMF commissioned work “The Dam”

Dutch-Australian composer Kate Moore (1979) has been named the winner of the biennial Matthijs Vermeulen Prize for her work The Dam, awarded by the Netherlands Foundation for Stage Arts. She is the first female composer in the history of the award to receive this honour.

Acclaimed composer Kate Moore. Photo by Johan Niewenhuize.

Acclaimed composer Kate Moore. Photo by Johan Niewenhuize.

Kate Moore (1979) was born in Oxford UK and grew up in Sydney. She is an alumna of the ANU School of Music and the Sydney Conservatorium. She appeared as composer-in-residence at the 2015 Canberra International Music Festival. The Dam was commissioned by the Festival with the assistance of long-time supporter Betty Beaver, and given its premiere at the Opening Gala of the 2015 Festival, conducted by Artistic Director Roland Peelman. The work featured both baroque and modern instruments including saxophone, electric guitar and didgeridoo. One of the most memorable Beaver Blazes of recent festivals, the work is inspired by the natural sounds of cicadas, frogs, birds and insects in the bush in the vicinity of a dam in regional NSW. The work has since been adapted and performed in UK and Holland where the composer has spent most of her time during the last 15 years.

"The Dam is based on the rhythms of the sounds made by cicadas, crickets, frogs, birds, flies, spiders and other creatures that inhabit a waterhole in the bush," says Moore in her program notes about the composition. "Far away from human intervention, their evening song becomes a great choir joyously singing out into the vast universe. It is possible from far away to hear where the waterhole is without being able to see it and it is also possible to hear the shape of the landscape around it as many tiny creatures create a sonic pointillistic landscape. I am attracted to the almost but not quite polyrhythmic tapestry of sound they create."

The biennially-awarded Matthijs Vermeulen Award is the most prestigious award in Dutch music composition. Past recipients include Louis Andriessen, Otto Ketting, Micha Mengelberg and Michel van der Aa. Moore is currently in Holland for the premiere of a major new oratorium 'Sacred Environment' as part of the Holland Festival. She will be presented with the 20,000 Euro prize in December during the “Dag in de Branding” Festival in The Hague.

Canberra International Music Festival herewith extends warmest congratulations to the composer, a rising star in the international music world.

 

2017 CANBERRA INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL - SELECTED REVIEWS

Canberra Airport's departure lounge the star of the show

CONCERT REVIEW
CANBERRA TIMES
BY Ian Warden
Appearing in print and online 6 May 2017

Taking Flight-An International Showcase, Canberra International Airport, Tuesday 2 May 11am

Everyone knows about the Grey Nomads but it was the Grey Aesthetes (this columnist is one of them) that made up most of the enthralled audience at Tuesday's unique concert of the Canberra International Music Festival.

The free concert (free things are very attractive to Grey Aesthetes for so many of us are retiree battlers) was held in the spacious, daylight-lit atrium of the Canberra Airport's departures area. To get into the atrium one had of course to pass though airport security. Your unsuspicious columnist glided through, mercifully unfrisked, but another similarly senior, similarly Anglo-Saxon chap was not being so lucky.

Canberra Airport's departures lounge was the ideal place for a concert. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Canberra Airport's departures lounge was the ideal place for a concert. Photo: Rohan Thomson

"Do I look like a terrorist?" he was fuming as security folk were giving him a polite but thorough (shoes off) frisking.

I had some sympathy with the security people. The elderly like to imagine that they are dear old things above all suspicion but there is often something innately sinister about seniors. Dickens knew this and some of his nastiest bits of work are oldies. And how terrible it would be to bump into a John Howard (77) or worse still a Philip Ruddock (74) on a dark night!

But I am reporting the concert so as to sing our city's praises. Again and again Canberra turns on occasions that bristle with excellence and that make one glad to be here and not banished to Barnaby Joyce's hellish, yokel-infested regional centres. This concert Taking Flight: An International Showcase was the national capital at its clever and bustling best.

Splendid international artists included New Zealand bassoonist Ben Hoadley, the effervescent Simon Bolivar String Quartet of Venezuela, and, joy of joys, the colourfully-costumed damsels of the China Orient Orchestra.

But in a sense the artistes' venue, the spacious, lofty, gleaming white space of the atrium with its great glass wall (offering a panorama of skies and runways), was the star of the occasion. It was probably never imagined as a concert venue. On Tuesday it was still a public space with passengers and pilots coming and going and with (above the music) announcements of final calls for those flying to Brisbane.

But if never imagined as a concert venue it certainly is a grand, unusual, informal one. The comings and goings (including, through the great glass wall the comings and goings of the Virgin's red and white Boeings) made for a happy absence of the stiff and snobby ambience of formal concert halls. Fine music should, I insist, always be looking for novel and informal venues, and for different audiences. It should be happening at airports, at railway stations, among the pumpkins and cabbages at teeming farmers' markets. It should even happen (why not arrange this next year, festival organisers?) at half time in Raiders' matches and during period breaks in CBR ice hockey matches at the unfashionable but characterful Philip Ice Rink.

Ice hockey fans (I am one and so speak with authority on this) would love, while they queue for their pies, hot dogs and hot chips with tomato sauce, to be entertained by performers like Tuesday's Ben Hoadley and the China Orient Orchestra.

Hoadley, long and slender just like his bassoon (do virtuosos come to resemble their instruments in the uncanny way in which we dog owners come to resemble our dogs?) played a contemporary New Zealand piece. It incorporates the distinctive call of a bird species unique to New Zealand. When he rehearses this piece at home, Hoadley told us, real birds of the species respond to the bassoony bird call and come down to his window to listen to it.

The China Orient Orchestra, too, would be a great hit with the tattooed fans at the frosty hockey rink. On Tuesday the damsels sat, playing, at five horizontal string instruments (imagine horizontal harps or zithers) creating a resounding and celestial jingle-jangle ringing.

As they played the players swayed slowly back and forth in elegant unison, in the same way in which riverside reeds sway in a breeze. Through the glass wall one could see that even the clouds, hitherto gliding along, had paused to watch and to listen.

The Grey Aesthetes, too, were enchanted and mesmerised. If the frisked and angry senior citizen was still there among the Grey Aesthetes then these celestial zitherings must surely have calmed his troubled breast.

Read the article online here.

2017 CANBERRA INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL - SELECTED REVIEWS

Stalin’s Piano
★★★★½ A captivatingly scrapbooky interplay between piano and the voices of history

CONCERT REVIEW
LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE
BY Angus McPherson
Appearing online 1 May 2017

Stalin's Piano (WP)-Barbara Blackman's Festival Blessing, National Gallery of Australia, Fairfax Theatre, Sunday 30 April, 2PM

Australian composer Robert Davidson is almost as ubiquitous in this year’s revolution-themed Canberra International Music Festival as Shostakovich. The composer’s music is often political – broadly fitting the theme of social upheaval – and has attracted attention in the past for incorporating iconic political moments.

Davidson set former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s “apology speech” in a commission for The Australian Voices in 2012, giving Julia Gillard’s famous “misogyny speech” a similar treatment in 2014. His 2016 work Total Political Correctness combined music with video footage of Donald Trump – then campaigning in the Republican Primaries – using excerpts from the now President’s statements on women.

Sonya Lifschitz performing Stalin's Piano at the Canberra International Music Festival. Photos © Peter Hislop

Sonya Lifschitz performing Stalin's Piano at the Canberra International Music Festival. Photos © Peter Hislop

His new multimedia work for the Canberra International Music Festival, Stalin’s Piano – premiered by Ukrainian-born pianist Sonya Lifschitz – was in a similar vein, presenting a series of vignettes or portraits of 19 historical (including some living) figures, exploring the points where art and politics intersect. Harnessing the words of artists and politicians from Bertolt Brecht and John F Kennedy to Judith Wright and Joseph Goebbels, Davidson’s work focussed particularly – even obsessively – on the voices and speech of these key figures.

The opening vignette took footage and audio from Bertolt Brecht testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, Lifschitz providing a contemplative soundtrack as stills of Brecht, Hanns Eisler and Hitler flickered across the screen. In an approach not unlike that which Canadian composer Nicole Lizée employs in her Hitchcock and Lynch Etudes, Davidson’s images and music are intrinsically linked – the two formats duetting rather than one accompanying the other. But while Lizée’s focus is more filmic, delving into the fragmentation and deconstruction of visual and sonic material, Davidson’s work is wedded more closely to the spoken words and their historical and artistic significance.

Some voices were tightly bound to the piano part (architect Le Corbusier’s “I am a young man of 71 years old” became a rhythmic and melodic refrain over Lifschitz’s surging piano) while others drifted apart, motifs cribbed from the speeches emerging and receding from a wash of sound.

Davidson – helped in no small part by an incredibly precise performance by Lifschitz – matched the music and the cadence of the words with such exactitude that the words sounded almost sung, as if the speakers themselves were trying to follow the music. The effect brought the performative nature of speechifying into sharp relief, as musical motifs seemed to intersperse with the vocal deliveries and Lifschitz riffed on turns of phrase – Frank Lloyd Wright almost rapping in his 1957 interview with Mike Wallace and Goebbels’ thesis on politicians as artists had an unsettlingly performative feel.

Sonya Lifschitz channels Maria Yudina at the Canberra International Music Festival

Sonya Lifschitz channels Maria Yudina at the Canberra International Music Festival

A John F Kennedy/Cuban Missile Crisis vignette began with a single repeated note, played in time to a looping snatch of footage, an extra beat of video added with each new note. (JFK’s distinctive stuttering manner of speaking gave Davidson plenty of material to work with.)

At the centre of the work was Maria Yudina, Stalin’s favourite pianist – a strident and remarkably resilient critic of the Soviet regime, whose recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 – apparently made in haste in the middle of the night, according to a dramatic story from Solomon Volkov’s dubious Testimony – was on the dictator’s record player as he died.

Lifschitz deftly narrated the story as she played, duetting with both spoken word and a fuzzy recording of the slow movement from the Mozart Concerto, creating a haunting stereo effect when she joined the solo part in unison, before moving in different musical directions.

The static of the older recordings gave the cuttings a slightly harsh edge as clips appeared and disappeared or returned with the music, but the overall effect was captivatingly scrapbooky, and the often humorous interplay of piano and film/audio was as fascinating as the exploration of art and politics.

Though there were some darker moments – atomic blasts and images from the Holocaust reminders of all that is and was at stake – figures closer to home brought laughs of recognition from the audience, with Jackson Pollock, Gough Whitlam and Robert Helpmann making appearances, before Davidson turned to his more recent material, giving Gillard and Trump the pianistic treatment.

Read the article online here.

 

Cheers to a fantastic 2017 Festival!

As I write this little post-script on our 2017 Revolution festival, the Simón Bolívar String Quartet is flying across the Pacific back to Caracas, neither the safest or the happiest place on the planet at the moment, but a city they call home. The Quartet’s first ever appearance down under did leave us with happy memories of joyous, life-affirming musicality, something that could only stem from the hotbed that is Latin America. All the other places around the globe represented in this last festival seemed to have moved on from their revolutionary past: Beijing (China Orient Orchestra), Paris (Van Kuijk Quartet), Singapore (Ding Yi Music Company), Tel Aviv (Orit Orbach), Brisbane (Robert Davidson, William Barton, Topology - just kidding!).

But our Australian performers stood centre stage: the pianists Lisa Moore, Sonya Lifschitz, Canberra’s very own David Pereira, the always surprising and enterprising Ensemble Offspring, the newly formed Bach Akademie Australia, the many wonderful singers including the Song Company (a voice of experience), Luminescence Chamber Singers (a fledgling new voice on the scene), Jeremy Kleeman, Shu-Cheen Yu, Louise Page and more. According to Vincent Plush in The Australian, “The unbridled and unscripted hilarity between pianists Elena Kats-Chernin and Tamara-Anna Cislowska (…) could earn them a place in comedy and cabaret festivals”. We enjoyed the warm generous buzz that was palpable throughout the entire Festival - from the first notes in the Opening Gala to the majestic closing chords of Mussorgsky’s Great Gate of Kiev. There were many moments that moved us greatly (Rachmaninoff’s Liturgy and William Barton’s supreme incantation at the end of Dreaming Across the Horizon spring to mind) while some of the more creative strokes (Stalin’s Piano and Double Happiness stand out) have already instigated new ventures far beyond this festival.

Looking forward to the 24th Canberra International Music Festival next year, we can only express our sincerest thanks to all the artists, volunteers, supporters, sponsors and patrons who contributed in more ways than you can possibly imagine. Imagination and resourcefulness indeed form the hallmark of this festival. Help us spread the word!

Roland Peelman
Artistic Director

Read the rest of this email online here.