Monthly Archives: October 2003

W.A.Symphony Orchestra – The Four Seasons

W.A.Symphony Orchestra



At the Gallery 3: The Four Seasons
Daniel Kossov (conductor/violin)

Art Gallery of W.A.


reviewed by Neville Cohn


The program leaflet for this concert contained a detailed note by Cathie Travers on After the Requiem, her most recent work. But I deliberately refrained from reading it until I had heard the piece which was given its world premiere performance by the strings of the W.A.Symphony Orchestra for an audience that occupied every seat at the Art Gallery of W.A..


It opens with a sustained single note thus claiming a distant kinship with the opening measures of Borodin’s On the Steppes of Central Asia and Smetana’s String Quartet No 1 (From my Life), the finale of which also has a high-pitched sustained note of dramatic significance; it is the sound that rang in Smetana’s ear as a form of tinnitus that presaged deafness which, more than anything else, tipped him over the edge into terminal madness.


In the right hands, the use of a single note can be a powerful device. And in Travers’ piece, the quietness of this ushering-in of the work was, in its way, more effective than a blaring klaxon in focussing attention on the piece. It gives way to an episode in quasi-folksy style that falls agreeably on the ear, as do measures of a louder, more rhythmically emphatic sort. I particularly liked the effect of high-pitched harmonics that sounded like the twitterings of some angelic aviary. Certainly, listening to the WASO strings upfront and close made for rewarding listening.


A program note provides intriguing information about the genesis of the piece – but it isn’t necessary to know anything about its rationale to derive satisfaction from listening to it. Considered as an essay in musical abstraction, it is more than able to hold its own.

I understand that all fifteen miniatures commissioned by the WASO to mark its 75th anniversary are to be preserved on compact disc. Travers’ piece will be one of the highlights of this collection.

Daniel Kossov, in a white suit, with black, open-neck shirt and shoes, conducted the work and then, directing the WASO strings from the violin – as well as playing from memory (no small feat) – presented Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor as well as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Although the latter set of four, 3-movement concertos inspired by the changing seasons, is one of the world’s most loved and frequently heard works, it is only very infrequently heard ‘live’ in Perth. So Kossov’s account was of more than passing interest. I found this account as satisfying as that provided by Felix Ayo with I Musici which visited Perth in 1985.


From the opening bars, it was clear that this young musician was the man for the job, bringing a rock solid technique and a fine grasp of style to his presentation. Throughout, Kossov’s colleagues responded to his direction
in an unfailingly musicianly way.

Alan Dodge spoke at length before each work, frequently alluding to this painting or that to illustrate (no pun intended) the points he makes. But, as I am not an art expert (and I imagine this might apply to others who attend these Art gallery concerts) Dodge’ s dissertations, in the absence of images of the paintings, are exasperating rather than enlightening. Would it not make more sense to let us SEE the paintings being talked about. And rather than rabbiting on at length before each piece is played, could it not be arranged for Dodge to give a PRE-concert talk, say at 7:15pm, in the Gallery foyer so that the concert proper can begin on time and be allowed to continue without interruption?

© November 2003



West Australian Symphony Orchestra: Celebrating 75 Years by Marcia Harrison

Australian Symphony Orch- Celebrating 75 Years

Australian Symphony Orch- Celebrating 75 Years

reviewed by Neville Cohn

WASO Holdings Pty Ltd

rrp $49-95 plus $8 postage and packing

telephone (08) 9326 0011 or e-mail [email protected]

Although, compared to earlier times, Western Australia’s music flagship currently sails in relatively tranquil waters, this was far from the case when what was to become the West Australian Symphony Orchestra was first launched. Over three-quarters of a century, this was a craft that, particularly in early days, almost foundered in turbulent weather, might well have been withdrawn from Service – even scuppered – by those of little faith who held the purse strings. It survived a near-mutiny by crew intensely dissatisfied with its captain/conductor, weathering these and other squalls and sails today with a ship’s company that is as dedicated and skilled as at any time in its eventful three-quarters of a century.

Marcia Harrison’s carefully researched chronicle of the WASO’s 75 years makes absorbing reading for the most part. Brimming with figures and facts about an orchestra at work and play, it abounds in photographs that will take many an older musician or concertgoer on a journey down memory lane. And younger readers will find abundant information about pioneering days when the WASO travelled often terrible roads to far-flung outposts of the state to bring good music to many who would otherwise have gone without the experience of live music.

This is a book that, while fastidiously marshalling the details of what was played by whom and where, focuses no less minutely on the extra-mural activities of those who made up the orchestra. Many a musician in early days had to resort to moonlighting to keep body and soul together. Tony Federici was a case in point. The WASO’s principal trombone, he was also a barber who made a specialty of cutting the hair of the children of his many WASO colleagues. He could, also, double on mandolin. Another versatile figure was violinist Paul Spittel who could, when needed, also turn his hand to clarinet – and play bassoon parts on bass clarinet. And long-time principal clarinet Jack Harrison was no less virtuosic on harmonica.

In the WASO’s earlier days, there were subscription series – sadly no longer ­ that were offered beyond the confines of Perth, such as in Albany. Especially in early days, the significance of the WASO to the state could hardly be exaggerated. It was not until 1962, for instance, that Perth concertgoers had their first chance to listen to an overseas orchestra, in this case the London Philharmonic.

Harrison’s chronicle provides a refreshingly warts-and-all survey of the many who guided the destiny of the WASO, their failings and foibles as carefully and entertainingly described as their more attractive attributes.

But in a book of this nature, it is for the most part impossible to do more than make passing mention of the pageant of characters who crowd its pages. Yet, many of these musicians, past and present, have professional and personal stories that are variously novel, tragic, inspirational and/or sensational. They deserve to be placed on the record – and this could well be fertile fare for a fascinating afterword for future editions of this splendid book.

© October 2003

The Magic Touch by Wallace Tate

The Magic Touch and DVD at AUS$67 – Digital Download

The Piano Magic Touch

reviewed by Neville Cohn

I must declare an interest: I have known the author Wallace Tate for twenty years – and Lionel Bowman has known me since my childhood. As a music critic in Cape Town, I often reviewed associate professor Bowman's recitals and concerto performances. And at the South African Broadcasting Corporation studios in Cape Town, I was music producer for many of Bowman's recitals being recorded for later transmission. This took place a good many years ago. Some time after settling in Perth, Australia in the early 1980s, I learned that Wallace Tate was working on a book about Bowman's idiosyncratic piano-teaching method. My initial reaction was one of scepticism. In many years of listening to, and writing about, music, I had come across many books relating to piano playing, most claiming foolproof solutions to technical problems in prose that ranged from the absurdly superficial to the impenetrable. As well, I had never encountered anyone who claimed a significant improvement in command of the keyboard as a result of resorting to any of these primers. Was Tate's book to be added to this dreary collection? I am happy to report that my reservations were groundless. To my astonishment – and gratification – I discovered as I read slowly and carefully through this remarkable tome, most of it while at the keyboard, that Tate had achieved what I had considered near-impossible: a compendium of useful, practical advice on solving a range of technical problems. Throughout, the language used is straightforward and unambiguous. In fact, the lucidity and cogency of the text puts Tate's work in a special category of excellence. It is the end-product of a years'- long study of Bowman's method. Its clarity and logic are as rare as they are significant. Methods – and books such as this – don't just fall from the sky. For Bowman, the route to keyboard control was no musical equivalent of some instantaneous Pauline conversion, some magical revelation from on high. Hardly. Bowman has been frank about the genesis and development of the teaching method that Tate has so admirably captured in print. Experiencing increasing physical discomfort at the keyboard – and finding nothing in his background that offered meaningful solutions to his dilemma – and needing to externalise his system for the benefit of his many students with their manifold problems, Bowman, through trial and error over years, gradually evolved a way of approaching the piano that resolved many of his own physical difficulties at the keyboard. These solutions brought him acclaim as an artist and gratitude and relief from innumerable students whose playing had been bedevilled by muscle tension and physical and emotional pain. It is Tate's great achievement that he recognised the significance of Bowman's approach to the piano (and that it might disappear with Bowman's retirement from teaching) – and captured its essence in this book. Let it be said clearly, though, that the method is no instant, all-embracing, panacea for success at the piano; such a utopian solution does not exist. Rather, in the most approachable of terms, it enables the serious teacher, student and professional to set about solving a range of otherwise intractable technical problems in a meaningful way. There is, incidentally, a video that comes with the book which provides a handy visual dimension to Tate's text. For copies of The Magic Touch and DVD digital download, head over to The Magic Touch Website.



© October 2003

Terrace Proms reviewed by Neville Cohn St George’s Terrace

Terrace Proms

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Various foyers
St George’s Terrace

Sun 19th Oct, 2003



Can there be a drearier thoroughfare than St George’s Terrace on a Sunday? In summer, when the wind is still, its buildings radiate heat ­ and when stiff breezes blow down the Terrace, it’s like a wind tunnel.

Apart from folk emerging from the Chifley on the Terrace or going into or out of church, the highway is deserted on 51 Sundays of the year. But for the last six years, there’s been one Sunday of the year when the Terrace comes to life in a way that is diametrically different to all the other Sundays.

On this day, the foyers of the palaces of commerce that line the CBD’s premier thoroughfare are thrown open for a day-long musicfest. It worked – and worked well – as, for a few hours, grand vestibules were host to throngs of music lovers instead of the more usually encountered streams of people either entering or leaving the foyers on matters of commerce and the law.

On that single Sunday, these entrance halls become intimate concert venues where internationally respected artists and some of the city’s best musicians offer an eclectic range of performances.

There was a carnival atmosphere, with marching bands and marching girls and throngs of school-age musicians taking part in a variety of ensemble endeavours indoors or on the pavements.

For those on modest budgets, many of the events were free of charge. Internationally acclaimed artists and the best of the city’s own gave performances at impressive levels of expertise that catered for many tastes.

With much of the Terrace blocked to traffic and handed over to the people, many made the most of strolling along and across the roadway as they pleased. There was a very real, almost tangible, air of excitement about the proceedings. People enjoyed being on the Terrace – and cafes and restaurants in the immediate vicinity did a roaring trade. An ABC-TV documentary on the Proms (made in the late 1990s) brought Perth priceless publicity around the country when it showed that the city was far from being some provincial backwater.

Now, due to diminished funding, the Proms, the brainchild of emeritus professor David Tunley (who has laboured for years to raising the profile of fine music in the city) is imperilled. The signs of its decline were apparent in the very limited pre-publicity (due to very limited monies for the purpose) and the much reduced number of performances for the same reason.

Music festivals, small or large, don’t just happen, even if much of the behind-the-scenes and front-of-house work is done by volunteers. Funding is their lifeblood, not least to publicise the event. And because advertising was so limited, few people knew the Proms were on. As is the way with the arts in the 21st century, subsidies are essential. Professor Tunley believes that triennial funding and corporate sponsorship are needed to enable the event to be planned well in advance.

As an inveterate concertgoer (as are many others), I look forward each year to this event. And if, due to insufficient funding, the Proms fail, everyone loses. But if there is appropriate funding to enable the Proms to continue, it will almost certainly become an established tourist attraction, the like of which may well be unique in national terms.

Even though there were fewer events than usual, standards, for the most part, were as high as ever.

Classical guitarist Craig Ogden accompanied his wife Claire Bradshaw in songs by Purcell and Schubert. Another singer of distinct promise is young baritone David Thelander, of the Australian Opera Studio. Accompanied at the piano by Michael Schouten, Thelander communicated strongly in lieder by Mozart, Schubert and Schumann.

In the vestibule of London House, which is one of the most beautifully appointed on the Terrace, Paul Wright (violin), Darryl Poulsen (horn) and Anna Sleptsova (piano) did wonders in a trio by Charles Koechlin. In the same venue, Cathie Travers (accordion) and her Equinox ensemble played Piazzolla as if to the manner born, Preludio No 9 given the stamp of distinction.

At nearby Forrest Centre, Elisa Wilson and Mark Alderson sang with customary enthusiasm in a semi-staged version of Wolf-Ferrari’s Susanna’s Secret. Tommaso Pollio at the piano did wonders in bringing the piano reduction of the full score to life.

Also at Forrest Centre, young cellist Louise McKay, playing excerpts from Tchaikowsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, took top honours in the inaugural Janet Holmes a Court Terrace Proms Young Classical Performer of the Year Award. The adjudicators were Graham Wood and Jack Harrison.

© October 2003

Roger Smalley: 60!

Roger Smalley: 60!

Callaway Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Birthdays are fun – even more so when gifts can be shared with an auditorium crammed with concertgoers, including friends, colleagues and former students, all gathered to mark the 60th birthday of composer/pianist Roger Smalley.

Gift of the evening was a striking new work by Cathie Travers played by the Australian Piano Quartet. The Tower is a substantial piece, a delightful and engrossing revisiting of the now almost vanished palm-court style of musicmaking but with a sensuous, smouldering overlay that places it firmly in some smoky Buenos Aires bar. With its affectionate obeisance to tango meister Astor Piazzolla, The Tower is a work which, whether darkly brooding or extrovert in zany fashion, will surely be a temptation to choreographers; it cries out for dance treatment with its irresistible rhythms, glowing harmonies and a sure feel for what works in tango-like terms. If this gem doesn’t make it into the standard piano quartet repertoire, I would like to know why. It certainly deserves to be there.

The greater part of the program was devoted to Smalley’s own music and began with his performance of a minuet he’d written when he was all of nine years old. His Variations on a Theme of Chopin is music of a very different stripe. It was given a stunningly virtuoso reading by Adam Pinto who steered a sure and nimble way through this musical minefield as, at the work’s many explosive climaxes, he hurled great chunks of sound into the auditorium. As well, we heard Smalley in his Piano Pieces 1 ­ V which have a Webernian brevity ­ and the Barcarolle, one of his most successful keyboard works.

Another Smalley composition that is almost certain to last is his Music for an Imaginary Ballet. Written for a battery of percussion ranging from marimba, vibraphone, brake drums and glockenspiel to cymbals and bass drum, its exotic, darting arabesques and trills sounded quite magical as Paul Tanner brought extraordinary mallet-wielding skills to bear on the score. And in Smalley’s Trio for horn, violin and piano, with the composer at the keyboard in ensemble with Darryl Poulsen (horn) and Paul Wright (violin), we were taken on a journey through often bleak and grimly austere musical landscapes, leavened by impish, treble traceries on the piano, splendid call-to-attention utterances by the horn and an overall standard of excellence we’ve come to expect of violinist Wright.almost as a matter of course.

A fascinating and crowded program also included Echo II, expertly played by cellist Jon Tooby with digital delays of two and a half and 5 seconds giving an intriguing ensemble feel to the proceedings.

Six Minutes for Smalley, described as a celebratory suite of one-minute- long birthday tribute pieces by half a dozen local composers, took longer than its allotted time and included delights such as a little samba played by Paul Tanner on marimba, vibraphone and brake drums ­ and another samba, played at the piano by composer Cathie Travers with Tanner providing rhythm accompaniment on two miniature sand shakers. Catherine Cahill did wonders on the clarinet, producing a stream of velvety smooth sound to bring Lindsay Vickery’s miniature tribute to life. As well, we heard husband and wife team Evan Kennea and Emily Green-Armytage in Kennea’s two- piano-tribute. And Darryl Poulsen directed French horn sound into an opened concert grand, with composer James Ledger demonstrating wondrous skill at depressing the piano’s damper pedal. Also in on the act were soprano Merlyn Quaife singing a haiku-type text to the accompaniment of two cellos played by Jon Tooby and composer Iain Grandage.

Throughout the evening, Smalley, who has over the years worked tirelessly to raise the profile of new music in the city, provided a linking commentary about the genesis of this work or that. It says much for the future of new music in Perth that such an enthusiastic audience turned out for this event on one of the year’s most miserably wet and gusty evenings

Copyright 2003 Neville Cohn.