Monthly Archives: April 2001

The Latin Gypsy Experiment

The Latin Gypsy Experiment


Kulcha, Fremantle

reviewed by Stuart Hille 

Jessica Ipkendanz, has managed to ‘create’ a type of fusion music – Latin American/Romany ­ that, without doubt, will become widely popular and, probably, quite lucrative. It works successfully, not just by the quality of the performance and the obvious accomplishment of the performance, but also by the ‘je ne sais quoi’ ambience that trawls a wide cross-section of community tastes and ages. While the style of the music is somewhat too accessible for this reviewer, it was, nevertheless, a privilege, on this occasion to leave satisfied with the unusually happy confidence that this particular musical/cultural fusion is destined to go places (and not just nationally).

However, salutations aside, this concert revealed the urgent need to engage the service of a top-flight manager. Someone of the experience and visionary calibre of Lynne Schwan or Lynne Burford, would have foreseen and circumvented, with a deft hand, the problems that arose on this occasion.

There were unnecessary encumbrances, before and during this recital, that need to be highlighted here for the benefit of the performers and the education of the audience. An advertised 8:30pm start is considered late, but isn’t a 30 minute delay – as there was on this occasion ­ pushing boundaries a little too far? Moreover, the bar should be closed at least 5 minutes prior to the concert so patrons can take their seats. The seating arrangements should optimistically take into account a maximum audience volume to avoid people standing at the back of the performance space (or still waiting at the bar!). Furthermore, a better venue, unfettered by the surrounding traffic and people noises on a busy Fremantle night, should be found. Programme notes must be provided because an audience needs some sort of information on what is on offer and, most essentially, amplification should only be used if it enhances – not sharpens or piques – the aural experience. An accomplished manger knows how to negotiate these issues.

Amplification imbalance created some harmonic unevenness throughout the concert. Ipkendanz’s co-performers – Marco Quiroz and Gabriel Segovia – gave excellent support but were muted by using free-standing microphones as opposed to the contact microphone (at least I think it was, from the back of the auditorium) on the violin.

In fact, acoustical electronic strengthening is inconsistent or antithetical to the nature of this music. The essence of such, essentially, is one of spontaneous, robust expression and therefore, amplification should only be used if it has some sort of creative, assessed with careful thought, practical enhancement.

Nevertheless, Ms Ipkendanz and her co-performers shone. Collectively, they displayed spirit, technical prowess and enthusiasm.

Ipkendanz shows confident and well-executed virtuosity. Her double-stopping, smooth change of register and general bow technique are impeccable, but there is a need to address rapid pizzicati (an essential element of this fusion) and properly turned ornamentation.

Off-loading the annoying dance couple at the side of the audience, removing amplification, presenting a wider scope of contrasting styles and employing a focussed manager (the key element) will assure this imaginative project a secure future.

Castanets and Cadenzas

Castanets and Cadenzas


DEANNA BLACHER (castanets) and NEVILLE COHN (piano)

His Majesty’s Theatre – Dress Circle Bar

reviewed by Stuart Hille 

As with many percussion instruments, the castanets are poorly understood or stereotyped by the general audience. Perhaps one reason for this, by peculiar inversion, is that percussionists, generally, are personally introverted and unassuming musicians – unlike the music they are required to perform. Another reason might be that listeners often assume that percussionists only hit a few a pots and pans in the orchestral kitchen and do not require very much training or technical study.

Let us take the tenor drum, for example, for while its structure – a simple wooden cylinder with a stretched membrane – is almost the most basic of all instruments, we often fail to realise the attendant skill required to perform upon it.

The make of the instrument, where it is struck, the type of mallets used (there are almost infinite variations here) and let us not forget, the years of ongoing training and discipline required to accurately and sensitively execute a performance, are generally not appreciated by most listeners.

So when a universally acknowledged castanetist, such as Deanna Blacher, gives an informal lunchtime presentation replete with a short discussion, we should listen with care, because there is far more to castanets playing than most of realise.

The rhythmic patterns are intricate, the stylised body movement tightly calculated, the makes and sizes of the instruments extensive and dynamic shaping extremely important. Therefore, the technique and artistry required, at a professional level, are fiercely demanding.

This particular concert highlighted all these qualities.

Ably accompanied by pianist Neville Cohn, Ms Blacher introduced the audience to several styles and periods ranging from the classical through to the full-blooded late romantic / 20th century Spanish genre.

The classical works – a substantial portion of the programme – didn’t really allow the castanetist much room for independent expression, as pleasant as they were upon the ear. It was more a matter of both performers maintaining a tight relationship within strict tonal structures.

In works by Freixanet, Soler, Cantallos and Casanovas, this quality was well established. The piano lines were crisp and not over-pedalled (although the instrument seemed to have an intrinsic muted quality) and the castanet parts showed obvious dexterity and appropriate restraint.

And this was definitely the best approach, for while these pieces contained hints of eighteenth-century Spanish style, their overriding determinant was that of a general late baroque / early classical harmonic and melodic technique.

A surprising inclusion in the concert was Schubert’s Marche Militaire Op.51, No.2. In retrospect, the addition of this work (which comes off unexpectedly well with the embellishment of castanets) formed an intelligent stylistic bridge between the restraint of the previous pieces and the exuberance of the concluding compositions.

More surprising however, is the pianistic skill required by Schubert – large broad chords, a la mode military band, in rapid succession with the occasional melodic relief. While not all the chords reached their definitive target in this performance, there was no lapse in tempo and certainly no lacking of spirit.

Which brings us to the final two works by Lecuona where spirit and apparent freedom of line found excellent accord with both performers. In fact, in the Gitanerias, one felt the composer could have allowed himself to give the castanetist more room for greater abandonment.

Nevertheless, both accounts were given a sense of panache and boldness that, intuitively, felt exactly right. They also showed the castanets to have a unique percussive voice – one, as with many percussion instruments, we should better understand in order to appreciate fully.

It will be interesting to see if a purely solo work for castanetist, within a well-structured and timbrally varied framework, would be a possibility. Obviously, it would require the soloist to use, simultaneously, albeit in a fairly basic manner, other percussion instruments. But the concept, on the strength of this recital, is well worth investigating.




The Totally Huge New Music Festival

The Totally Huge New Music Festival

Breaking Out



reviewed by Stuart Hille

The term ‘Young Composer’ has always perplexed me, particularly as I have had the label cast upon me when receiving scholarships, fellowships and overseas grants. Perhaps ‘student composer’ (without a sense of condescension) or ’emerging creative voice’, as this concert showed, would be more accurate. After all, several ‘young composers’ represented on the evening were not really all that young.

It is akin to the much used term ‘pre-compositional plan’. After all, once you start thinking about a composition and toying with attendant ideas then you are composing and not dwelling in some subconscious hinterland. But, having raised this question of tautology, one could not help but notice definite similarities shared by all the works on the evening.

While there was a plethora of colourful and original ideas throughout, there appeared to be a consistent notion that these alone could carry a convincing, dynamically shaped and, let us be honest, audience engaging piece of music. When being confronted by contemporary music, audiences, in general, are not concerned by mathematical or ‘pre-compositional’ structures. They need exposition, development, climax and a sense of sonic direction.

The first work for example ­ Bunch of Fives ­ by Jennifer O’Connor started with ideas that lured the listener for the first thirty seconds or so, but thereafter became a litany of Stravinskian gestures. It missed Stravinsky’s sense of proportion, direction and, especially, positioning of climaxes, though.

Moreover, it is all very well to explain in the programme notes that an augmented fifth is meant to be magically, mathematically different to a minor sixty but the human ear, imperfect as it is, only registers the sound ­ not the concept.

To put it another way, what looks elegant and well-rationalised on paper does not automatically translate into a convincing aural experience.

Similar to O’Connor’s work, Robert Thorpe’s Holiday in Cambodia showed strong and convincing germination (exposition) but became unravelled in the structural fruition (development). There was so much action on stage, remembrances of Les Noces, harmonic unevenness and rhythmic inflexibility ­ in all a veritable onslaught of sensory information ­ that one could not focus clearly on the shape and direction of the music.

One suspects that the composer became too involved with secondary parameters rather than a sense of direction, signposted by sub-climaxes, zeniths and nadirs. One cannot leave primary parameters in subordination.

The works that followed by Stuart James, James Lee, Hannah Clemen and Rachael Dease cannot be detailed within the scope of this critique but the major point has been made. The heart of the matter concerns a reluctance to fully plan an overall architecture ­ one that is satisfying to the listener (not just the composer) and demonstrates an interplay of simple ideas and their development.

Perhaps the best cross-section can be drawn from Negative Tendencies by Stuart James. There was a strong and imaginative use of harmony here, but the dynamic shaping was so slow, deliberate or even laborious that one experienced that uncomfortable feeling of not knowing when the piece was going to end. This may indeed reflect the tragic circumstances of the work’s impulsion but, with respect, an audience will not be moved by the deeply felt emotion of the composer if he or she denies them a convincing sense of direction.

Stylistic and structural considerations aside, there is one vital concept that should be impressed upon all these composers. If you want your creative endeavours to reach a wider audience and achieve better media attention then you must attend to it yourselves. Contemporary music concert organisers can only do so much, because their time, funding and manpower are far from infinite.

Approach ABC TV, radio stations, national newspapers, university departments or wherever you might find an empathetic voice, otherwise you will not reach beyond the already converted.

Mozart at Twilight

Kings Park

reviewed by Stuart Hille

It might be pleasant enough sitting on the lawns of Kings Park, enjoying a late summer sunset, wining and dining and listening to the music of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. Indeed, al fresco BYO dinner concerts are delightfully arcadian in concept but the reality, from a purely musical point of view, can be something quite different.

One feels that organisers and patrons perhaps become caught up with an idyllic notion and in doing so, forget some basic but important points.

As we experienced during this particular concert, the principal considerations here are Perth’s notoriously fickle summer evenings and its growing reputation for providing less than ideal amplifying systems.

Putting the two together and placing the musicians, in period costume, within a large gazebo, produced, on this occasion, the impossibility of a reviewer giving an accurate critical analysis and the distinct possibility of the performers being noticeably uncomfortable.

The Amadeus Players opened the concert with an account of Mozart’s Divertimento in D, K136 that simply wafted away in the strong breeze. There also appeared to be some slight distortion coming from the speakers. Moreover, these early divertimenti by Mozart, most likely written as the classical version of ‘dinner music’ aer fairly lightweight to begin with, so combining this with Perth’s summer wind and questionable electronics made for a hapless auditory experience.

Anna Sleptsova bravely followed with a rendition of Beethoven’s ‘Les Adieux’ piano sonata. The frustration, knowing this pianist to possess a fine talent, of being unable to perceive the nuances of her interpretation, became quite acute. And one can hardly blame her for adopting some unusually fast tempi. After all, a quick exit from the stage from a difficult situation was probably the most prudent approach.

Baritone Andrew Foote singing two Mozart arias (which are arduous even under the best circumstances) and Jane Rutter, performing a selection of works with Sleptsova and The Amadeus Players, were similarly disadvantaged. Costumes and wigs were going wild in the wind, amplified sound would grow and disappear according to the prevailing gust and Rutter even managed to entrap a flying cockroach in her coiffure.

In fact, this critic felt beaten before he began and decided to leave during the interval before the disenchantment increased. If the situation had become only marginally worse, it could have provided material for a Monty Python sketch.

One does not say this vindictively or to engage the reader in a piece of cheap humour, but rather to earnestly plead with organisers to put the musicians foremost: what setting best enhances their talents, what amplification can best cope with the elements and what music is better suited to outdoor performance. Even a full brass concert would have struggled under these circumstances.

Being lulled by a BYO dinner and wine supped on the beautiful lawns of Kings Park, without thorough planning, is throwing caution to the wind, so to speak, when attempting to mount a serious concert.

(It should also be noted, that as matter of simple courtesy, ALL performers’ names should appear on the programme leaflet.)

Royal Schools Music Club 75th Anniversary Gala Concert

Royal Schools Music Club 75th Anniversary Gala Concert

Callaway Auditorium


reviewed by Edmund Percy



In years of concert going, I cannot readily recall an event that so warranted the adjective ‘gala’. How rare it is nowadays to encounter an audience in all its formal finery, a striking departure from conventional concert dress these days where such downmarket apparel as tracksuits and sneakers are far more often encountered than evening suits and evening gowns. Certainly, this sartorial splendour was altogether appropriate at an event marking two important milestones for the Royal Schools Music Club: its 75th anniversary year (no small achievement at a time when many other music societies have either vanished or are withering on the vine) and the launch of the RSMC’s Scholarship Fund. The importance of the latter ­ launched with customary urbane charm by Emeritus Professor David Tunley ­ can hardly be exaggerated. In a legendarily tough profession, practical assistance in the form of monetary grants is important. Professor Tunley pointed out that it is hoped to raise $20,000 in order to make available a sum of some $2,000 in alternate years.

A host of Perth’s leading musicians volunteered their time and expertise to the fundraising initiative. Roger Smalley was in fine form at the piano; his account of Poulenc’s Les Soirees de Nazelles was a model of its kind. From a bracket of lieder by Mahler (settings of poems from Des Knaben Wunderhorn), Elisa Wilson took up an interpretative standpoint at the emotional epicentre of ‘Wer hat dies Liedlein erdawcht?’, singing as if the words really meant something. In the piano accompaniment, though, one felt a need for rather greater clarity of exposition and a closer identification with the mood of the music. Pianist Anna Sleptsova was a stylish and fluent soloist in an Etude Tableau by Rachmaninoff and also offered a performance of Debussy’s ecstatic L’Isle joyeuse. Dunhill’s Suite Op. 93 for flute and piano is typical of the composer’s rather bland style. Flautist Emily Gunson and Lisa Rowntree at the piano did their best to give point and meaning to a less than consistently inspired score. One would have hoped to hear the duo in a work rather worthier of their abilities. Paul Wright and Suzanne Wijsman played Ravel’s Sonata for violin and cello and at evening’s end, Elisa Wilson in ensemble with husband John Kessey (tenor) and with Tim Cunniffe at the piano, seemed positively to relish their presentation of the ‘Drinking Song’ from La Traviata, Romberg’s ‘Wanting You’ and riotously funny versions of ‘Were You Not to Koko Plighted?’ from The Mikado and ‘O soave fanciulla’ from La Boheme.

RSMC President Christine Sanders welcomed the audience that filled Callaway Auditorium to capacity, Club Patron John Winstanley at the piano accompanied the anthems in emphatic style and Co-Patron Margaret Winstanley proposed a gracious vote of thanks for a more than usually worthwhile evening of fine music and congenial company, its organisation a tribute to the dedication and logistical skills of the tireless Judy Thonell.