For the first time in fifteen years, Australia will be able to listen to the rare artistry of Sabine Meyer, clarinettist extraordinaire. This superb musician came to worldwide notice after she was voted out – 73 to 4 – by her fellow musicians in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s widely acknowledged that this had absolutely nothing to do with her musicianship – she is, at best, peerless – but was due to the refusal on the part of her fellow players to tolerate admitting a woman to the ranks of the BPO. It was their loss; years on, Sabine Meyer is celebrated internationally as one of the very greatest exponents of the clarinet.
Musica Viva presents this fine musician in ensemble with the Paris-based Modigliani String Quartet. Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet will give Perth concertgoers the opportunity to savour Meyer’s musicianship. Ian Munro, Musica Viva’s resident composer for 2010, will be represented by his own Clarinet Quintet subtitled Songs from the Bush.
Munro is perhaps better known for his skill as a pianist. He will front up with the Goldner String Quartet in his own Piano Quintet as well as the much loved Piano Quintet in A by Dvorak.
Multiple international prize winning pianist Stephen Hough will play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata as well as Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, two sonatas by Scriabin and his own Broken Branches, a suite of 16 short pieces.
String Quartets have been the backbone of Musica Viva’s presentations since its inception and we will have the opportunity to listen to Beethoven’s superb Quartet No 16, opus 135 played by the Brentano Quartet which is based in the USA. There will also be works by Mozart and Ian Munro.
Another great favourite of Australian audiences, counter tenor Andreas Scholl, will, as ever, enchant audiences with his unique artistry in music by Purcell and Handel. His program will be presented in association with the W.A.Opera Company. And recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey will appear in ensemble with the Concerto Copenhagen in music by Bach, Vivaldi and Telemann.
Brochures with full details of Musica Viva’s 2010 concerts are now available in the foyer of Perth Concert Hall.
Not quite 80 years ago, a young employee – Walter Legge – of His Master’s Voice records came up with an idea to boost sales: a limited edition of HMV recordings of German lieder, all by Hugo Wolf, and these would be made available only to those who became members of the Hugo Wolf Society. Top liners such as Elena Gerhardt, John McCormack and Alexander Kipnis made these recordings. Most of the piano accompaniments were by Coenraad Bos. It was a revolutionary idea at the time. Those sets are now collectors’ items.
Cyrus Meher-Homji in Monte Carlo
Years later, there was another good idea at the dawn of the LP era: advertisements arrived by post offering an LP with accompanying booklet at a knockdown price. The writer, as a schoolboy growing up in provincial Cape Town, recalls the enthusiasm with which thousands ordered their first long playing records. But the recordings were of third rate musicians and the recorded sound was terrible. So, what ought to have been a clever and effective entree to the LP world was a fizzer.
The thought and care lavished on the first initiative and the slapdash nature of the LP venture exemplify the best and worst of the recording world.
A very much more recent development is the Eloquence series of compact disc recordings that are reaching an ever-growing number of listeners.
The brainchild of Cyrus Meher-Homji, these recordings are not only invariably of high standard but the product of the most careful consideration in relation to what works share the same disc.
Meher-Homji, whose energy and enthusiasm are bywords in the industry, works tirelessly to find, and present to best advantage, the cream of recorded music. Most, but not all, the material, would originally have been recorded on LP – but there are also tracks from as far back as the 78rpm shellac era. Unsurprisingly, the care lavished on Eloquence CDs has drawn favourable comment from leading figures in music journalism.
Tully Potter, author of the newly published book on Alfred Busch and contributor to several leading classical music publications, points out that “before I ever had anything to do with Cyrus Meher-Homji, I used to bring back copies of Eloquence CDs from my trips to Australia. The label seemed to be very well directed, with elegant, attractive packaging and good engineering, and it restored useful recordings to the catalogue”. As well, Potter makes the point that it is “difficult to explain to the modern record executive constantly talking about ‘product’, that many of us really love records.
“We loved 78rpm discs, we loved LPs and we have grown to love CDs. When we speak to Cyrus, we know instinctively that he is one of those rare people in the record industry who shares our enthusiasm.
“The CD explosion has been extraordinary, providing us with an unheard-of wealth of available music. Although I constantly hear irritating technocrats foretelling the death of the CD, I think it will see most of us out; and Eloquence will continue to please those of us who prefer something tangible to a mere download.”
With the unquenchable enthusiasm and optimism that he brings to his constant search for ever more material for the Eloquence range, Meher-Homji reminds one, in a sense, of Heinrich Schliemann. That famed archaeologist tracked down the golden treasure of ancient Troy and sent the naysayers, those who said it was a pipe dream, a wild goose chase, packing. Certainly, there’s musical gold in the LP and 78rpm treasures that Meher-Homji, a latter day musical Schliemann, has rescued from virtual oblivion.
Rob Cowan, Gramophone critic and BBC Radio 3 broadcaster, says:”There’s a common gripe amongst collectors in the UK about CD manufacturers and their planning staff: why do they keep re-issuing that same old material and, even more perplexing, why do they insist on coupling what they do reissue so badly?
“Then along comes Cyrus Meher-Homji and suddenly it seems that all our prayers are being answered at once………well, not all maybe, because his influence can’t extend beyond the Universal stable!
“Here is someone who is willing to cast a careful and knowing eye across back catalogues not merely in search of ‘big names’ (though they often feature on his schedules) but in the interests of the longer-term collectors whose vinyl days are over and who yearn to revisit a favourite recording that has long been deleted.”
Cowan points out that Ernest Ansermet’s 50-year-tenure as head of the Suisse Romande Orchestra yielded an avalanche of recordings, performances “notable for their logic, clarity, musical intuition, authentic feeling and, not infrequently, a sense of excited involvement.“ Now, Meher-Homji is doing sterling work in getting this musical treasure trove to a new audience.
Eloquence CDs are competitively priced. Meher-Homji says the low cost “attracts students especially, as well as the casual buyer. People shopping for Eloquence anecdotally seldom buy just a single CD. They feel courageous enough to flick through the range and purchase a handful.
“Retail price is $10 for a single, $15 for 2-CD sets up to $30 for 5-CD sets. By way of comparison, a single “full price” CD ranges anywhere from $24 to $38”, says Meher-Homji.
Getting Eloquence CDs from an idea to a place on the retail shelf is hugely time consuming – “sourcing the material from the archives, ordering the masters, often checking LP copies for timings where they don’t exist for older masters, commissioning the liner notes (and sometimes using the original LP notes), proofing the booklet, checking the masters with very keen ears”.
Meher-Homji points out, too, that almost 90% of his work on the Eloquence range is done after hours and at home. “There’s simply not the time to do it at work. In a sense, it’s my contribution to the record industry – sometimes at the expense of a life!”
Sales statistics speak for themselves. Over the last decade, an average of over 200,000 Eloquence CDs have marched off the shelves each year.
Meher-Homji is that rarity, an ideas man who has the capacity to bring those ideas to fruition.
Consider this: For some time now, those who attend opera productions at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth have had good reason to think well of the Eloquence series as Meher-Homji has ensured that an Eloquence CD featuring highlights of whatever opera is on, is available, as well as programmes, in the theatre foyers. For growing numbers of opera lovers, the CD is as much about the opera experience as anything.
Extolling Meher-Homji’s skill in compiling CDs – in relation, say, to Ansermet’s vast recorded output, Cowan writes: “Now there have been other Ansermet series around but only Cyrus has the imagination to – for example – produce a Prokofiev double-pack that includes both the mono and stereo versions of the ‘Classical Symphony’, interpretations that are chalk and cheese. All you need to do is play the first minute or so on both recordings to realise that. Most secondary exploitation’ managers would have chosen one or the other version, leaving you to follow your own curiosity, often at great expense.
“That’s the big difference”, writes Rob Cowan. “Cyrus’ CDs are well-planned, well filled, invariably well annotated and full of little unexpected extras, such as the (hitherto) unissued tracks on his Kirsten Flagstad CDs.
“But more than anything, they are the work of a man who cares, who has the collector’s interests at heart and for that reason has earned himself many well-deserved accolades. Long may he thrive.”
He has turned 80 but he brings to his life in music an energy that would wear out many half his age. “I can’t imagine retirement in conventional terms. As long as my mind remains clear, I’m sure I’ll be using it in one way or another”, said this most amiable and industrious of dons.
Emeritus professor David Tunley, steeped in the musical tradition, is hard at work on his eighth book – on that most celebrated of all Australian pianists, Eileen Joyce. “It’s not so much a biography as a study of her artistic development since her childhood in Kalgoorlie,” explained Tunley who is collaborating on the book with colleagues Victoria Rogers and, for the first chapter, Jean Farrant “who has researched the musical life of that city in considerable depth.
“While researching Joyce’s early days in Kalgoorlie, I discovered that before little Eileen came to Loreto Convent in Perth, one of her piano teachers was a brilliant pianist Rosetta Spriggs. And while looking into this, I discovered to my surprise that Leah Horwitz, a fellow student in my days at the Sydney Con, was the daughter of the very same Miss Spriggs who was later to marry, becoming Mrs Horwitz. A telephone call to Brisbane, earlier this year, got Leah and me talking together for the first time since student days of 60 years ago”.
One of Tunley’s most vivid recollections is of hearing Eileen Joyce perform when he was a music student at the Sydney Conservatorium.”Years later, I met her when she came to Perth for the National Eisteddfod and again when she received an Honorary Doctor of Music (for which I wrote the citation) from UWA”.
In the most positive, indeed indelible, ways, Tunley has made his mark on music in W.A.. The much loved York Winter Music Festival was his brainchild as was the Terrace Proms which on one Sunday in the year brought vibrant life and music to an otherwise drab weekend wind tunnel. Tunley also founded the University A Capella Choir which was later renamed University Collegium Musicum.
Much of Tunley’s life has been devoted to the music of France. “I have a special love for baroque music, especially the French baroque”. His book on the French Cantata has been internationally hailed. Indeed, Tunley’s work in French music has been so distinguished that France has honoured him by appointing him a Chevalier in the Napoleonic Order of Palmes Academiques. Closer to home, the Order of Australia and the Australian Centenary Medal have also come his way.
“I’m afraid I spend much more time at the keyboard of my computer than on that of the piano”, said Tunley. “As for writing, I take advantage of what time is left from what seems to be an endlessly busy life, for I am also involved in voluntary work and, of course, time with the family is more important than ever”.
One of Tunley’s dearest wishes is that UWA School of Music and the music department at the W.A.Academy of Performing Arts “pool their wonderful resources to create a single institution that could meet the varied needs of the many gifted students we have in W.A.”
Another of Tunley’s hopes is for greater government support “to underpin the extraordinarily fine achievements in recent years by our orchestra, opera and ballet companies.
“These and other artistic resources are the very life-blood of our cultural community. Yet the WASO still lacks a home – and the opera and ballet companies need more room. It may be difficult to convince hardheads that it is not money that makes a city great – there are plenty of rich but soul-less cities around the world to confirm this.” Tunley points out that a much stronger underpinning of our cultural life is needed by governments and philanthropists to transform our boom state into Australia’s cultural centre.
At an 80th birthday tribute concert for the Royal Schools Music Club at Callaway Auditorium, a small army of musicians gave performances of works from Tunley’s pen as well as a bracket of French vocal delights from the 18th and 19th century, music typical of the material that Tunley has researched and written extensively about with a distinction that has earned him international plaudits.
As a child growing up in Cape Town, I recall – as if it were yesterday – being taken by my revered music teacher to a chamber music concert at Temple Hall.
It was a thrilling and unforgettable experience. That performance was one of a series of chamber music concerts given under the auspices of the Concert Club which was run by Hans Kramer and his wife Greta.
Fleeing as refugees from Hitler’s Germany, they arrived on South African shores virtually penniless but they brought with them a deep and abiding love for music. And despite the difficulties inherent in founding and maintaining an annual chamber music series, they persevered until the Concert Club became a crucial part of Cape Town’s music life.
When I settled in Australia, I very soon discovered that the Musica Viva series of chamber music concerts had had much the same genesis as Cape Town’s Concert Club. And over more than a quarter century, I have had the good fortune to attend a plethora of ensemble performances brought here by this great organisation. It’s a priceless musical gift for music followers in Perth.
Among the delights coming Perth’s way this year is a program presented by the superb Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge. Founded more than 450 years ago – yes, in 1538! – this peerless vocal ensemble has enchanted listeners and worshippers all across the world not least through a miscellany of fine recordings. Its program for Perth includes music by Byrd and Tallis as well as music written centuries later – in our time, in fact – by John Tavener and Paul Stanhope.
Pavel Haas was a composer who, like so many other Jewish musicians in Czechoslovakia, was murdered by the Nazis. One of the finest ensembles on the international concert circuit has named itself the Pavel Haas Quartet in tribute to a remarkable composer. The program includes works by Dvorak and Haydn as well as by Stanhope, Musica Viva’s composer in residence.
Aficionados of the piano are in for a treat as British pianist par excellence Paul Lewis will give a recital which includes Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata and works by Mozart, Schumann and Liszt.
Another delight is The Harp Consort, an Ireland-based ensemble which brings to its concerts an irrepressible joie de vivre to match its sublime musical skills.
Many Perth concertgoers will relish the opportunity to hear pianist Cedric Tiberghien who has dazzled many listeners here, not least through his superb skill as an interpreter of Messiaen. For Musica Viva, he will team up with violinist Alina IBragimova in sonatas by Beethoven and Schumann.
My first encounter with John Exton as performing musician was at a recital about 25 years ago in which he played a work that Bach had written for unaccompanied cello. John, though, most unusually, played it in a transcription for viola. I was at the time struck by the profound musicianship he brought to the task. It was a novel take on an established masterwork – but John, more often than not, approached life on his own, often unusual, terms.
Alan Bonds, who teaches violin at the University of Western Australia, recalls long ago domestic chamber music sessions presided over by John.
“It might start with a snack and a drink followed by an hour or two of Haydn and Mozart quartets, more refreshments, then Beethoven or Schubert dragged out, then, after a midnight snack, Brahms might make an appearance – the quartets or sextets – which often saw us to dawn. A swim at the beach might follow. I vividly remember John’s son Peter, then about 10 years old, appearing at the door of the living room around 2am, asking ‘Are you all totally mad?’ ”
John viewed the world through a singular prism, a man of very strongly held views, not easily swayed by a contrary opinion and not infrequently obdurate in defence of a point of view.
Young John took up the violin at the age of eleven and in 1950 became leader of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. He then read music at Cambridge, as a scholar, research student and later Fellow at King’s College.
He studied composition in London with Matyas Seiber who is believed to be the only composer to have met his end as a result of being sat upon by an elephant – and, after winning the prestigious Mendelssohn Scholarship for composition, he studied with Luigi Dallapiccola in Florence.
Two years’ National Service, involving work in acoustics with the R.A.F., bore fruit some fifteen years later in connection with an electronic studio in Perth.
Returning to Cambridge in 1960, John married Gillian Chadwick, a cartographer at Clarendon Press, and spent the next three years composing in an ancient thatched cottage with roses over the door and a huge open fireplace. He was awarded a Doctorate of Music by Cambridge University in 1964. He was then Director of Music at Bedales School in Hampshire for three years, before coming to Perth with sons Peter and Stephen. Gill recalls “we saw there was more room here, so we filled some of it with Jane. We bought an old house in Claremont, and John did things to it which gave him enormous satisfaction.“
During study leave from UWA in 1972, John visited several electronic music studios in USA and worked in one in Cardiff, Wales – and bought a fine 18th-century viola, an instrument after which he had long hankered but only played consistently from this time.
John would often swim against the tide. Although a product of Cambridge University, where the retrieval and preservation of early music performance practice was an article of faith, John would have none of it. His interest was in live performance – and he disapproved of recordings which he felt fossilized the experience of a piece of music.
As Alan Bonds points out, however, although John might have had little time for the music of, say, Elgar or Vaughan Williams, he would nonetheless use some of their works for the Student Chamber Orchestra at UWA and direct them with diligence and fidelity to the score – and there were adventurous excursions into lesser known repertoire by, inter alia, Purcell and Skalkottas.
Bonds, too, recalls with pleasure John’s immaculately prepared recitals with, among others, Madame Alice Carrard in repertoire which ranged from Bach to Webern.
John’s compositions range from orchestral pieces such as “Ryoanji” for 40 strings and percussion to works for solo oboe and solo violin. There are also seven string quartets and some electronic music works. An affinity for instrumental music and instrumentalists did not deter him from creativity in vocal music, producing, for instance, a setting of Hilaire Belloc’s Bad Child’s Book of Beasts for a concert by Kings College choir and a “Story of Christ’s Nativity according to St Luke for Bedales School. A highlight of his work in Perth was presiding over a performance of Bach’s St John Passion.
John’s interest in Buddhism, mainly Zen, had its origin around 1970 and developed
steadily. After a second trip to India in 1993, he encountered Theravada Buddhism which became important to him.
At John’s funeral, wife Gill said: “Our family has always been close and dear to us and some of our most valued times have been around the candlelit dining table, camping in the bush together and building our house in Kalamunda which we completed as a family team.”
Gardening was a long term delight and wife Gill says “he admired nature taking its course and interfered minimally with a mower or hand saw when grass grew or trees fell down. He grew vegies in Kalamunda when the family was at home but not by method. Results were variable.”
His garden, John said, had no weeds, for weeds were plants you don’t want and his were all welcome – and kangaroos came regularly to keep the grass short.
John Exton is survived by wife Gillian, children Peter, Stephen and Jane and eight grandchildren.
Stuart Hille contributes this recollection:
On, or very close to, John’s last teaching day within the (then) Department of Music, I came into his office to ask him a question about a particular student. By this time, I had just returned from my studies in the USA and had taken up a teaching fellowship at UWA. Of the many tutorials and lectures I gave, at least four were related to John’s course titled ‘Techniques of Musical Structure’. Every student undertook this course over his/her first two years of the Mus.B. program. It was a rite of passage about which, even to this day, I have never heard a word from a past student that wasn’t praiseworthy.
Without this two year course students would have had no understanding of modern counterpoint (or how counterpoint, in general, functioned, for that matter), harmonic and linear – including dodecaphonic – negotiation of atonality, and a assortment of related areas of creative techniques of prolongation. John had designed and re-designed the course in his quest to make its content as creatively and mentally stimulating as he could, mindful of the knowledge he would, initially, need to clear away the musty, derivative and lazy thinking of the secondary school system. And it was presented to students with a wit they wouldn’t have previously encountered, and in a manner that left no doubt about the depth of knowledge, and adoration of the art of music, of its presenter.
So, on this final day, I knocked on the door and entered the room. There was John, standing up and leaning on a floor to ceiling bookcase (a position he often adopted when completing the cryptic crossword of The Australian newspaper) and he was discarding, what I assumed to be, a clutter of useless papers and files….clearing out the premises, as it were. But, to my astonishment – no, my horror – he was throwing out ALL the folders and sheets, two year’s worth of indispensable education, of the entire course.
“What are you doing?” I asked with genuine dismay. “It’s useless now. This ‘lot’ (sic) won’t know what to do with it” he replied. I then responded: “Well I do and I’ll take it” as I, presumptuously, reached into the rubbish bin and rescued every file. I added: “And I’ll take these too” as I reached across for the other files awaiting to be similarly disposed of. John then said: “You’re welcome to them Stuart. Good luck!”. My telling of the incident is poor because it disguises the fact that he and I were both somewhat outraged that such a vital body of information had nowhere else, other than the trash bin, to go to be further utilised. The reader would need to have been present to hear the tone with which these words were spoken.
Over the years since, I have browsed through this course material and I have thought of ways to up-date it in places and to extend its reach to include ways of rhythmic variation, timbre as a unifying parameter, and even, during an additional year to start to introduce some higher level analysis (rather than the usual abrupt bolt to Schenkerism). On the whole, I think John would have been pleased with the evolution of his course and I feel it’s about the finest tribute I could make to commemorate such an intensely gifted and creative thinker.
Each page brings back a memory of the day it was presented to me, as a student in class: “Stravinsky went slowly downhill after Le Sacre” or, my personal favourite: “The organ’s nothing more than a box of whistles…it’s true, think about it”. So many gems, as they appear now, that felt like nasty stings at the time. These memories show an important part of John’s educative strategy: to hit them when they least expect it and, while the gap thus created – between conscious searching and shock – is there, insert the new information. This is the essence of masterful teaching.
I don’t know what I’m going to do the new ‘Techniques of Musical Structure’ and perhaps, for the time being, it doesn’t matter. I didn’t extricate the files to assuage John’s dark feelings about the department, for that was not my concern. I delivered them for what they contained and how they could be further enriched. It was unimaginable to me to try to visualise this mass of intelligence, insight and experience being ditched with the daily collected refuse of sandwich wrappers and cigarette butts.