Monthly Archives: February 2003



The Boardwalk Theatre, Mandurah


Reviewed by Anne Hodgson

It is always a pleasant occasion when a young artist presents a concert in the home town. Benjamin Foo introduced himself to the Mandurah audience very much as a local lad and, with microphone in hand, spoke comfortably and amusingly about the short pieces which he performed, although the frequently used ‘song’ was not strictly descriptive, since Mr Foo is a pianist and not a tenor.

In the case of a public recital, when people are asked to pay for their tickets, the question of correct presentation must be a serious consideration, especially by a young artist who is in the process of establishing his reputation on the concert platform. A bad mistake was made when it was decided to put a microphone in the piano for the purposes of amplification. Not only was it unnecessary, and perhaps a bit of an insult to the architect of the Boardwalk Theatre, but it falsified the characteristic timbre of the piano and confused the textures of the various pieces. One hopes that in future recitals Mr Foo will allow the tones of the concert piano to sound unaided, otherwise whatever understanding he may have of the pieces which he performs will simply not become apparent.

There is nothing wrong with a concert of short pieces, and the title “A French Affair” was a good description of what was presented – well-known works mainly by Debussy and Ravel – but with a bit of Satie and Cecile Chaminade (not forgetting Beethoven and Mussorgsky) also included, the programme was fragmentary and lacked real cohesion. It would have been better if Mr Foo had performed the whole of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit instead of just the first movement, and the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is fine on a recording of popular favourites, but in the context of a recital, all three movements should be played.

As a performer Mr Foo displays a technique which is appropriate for the works which he presents, although there are sometimes lapses in memory, when interesting new melodic and harmonic moments occur. He has a powerful attack and, despite passages where the percussive nature of the piano is sometimes overplayed, he has good control of the thicker textures. The intricacies of difficult keyboard passages are also generally performed confidently and clearly. However, during the performance it was obvious that the question of how to deal with musical time is still somewhat unresolved in Mr Foo’s mind. Many of the works were too steadily measured; they did not display the temporal elasticity which is absolutely essential for pieces such as Debussy’s Clair de Lune. Satie’s Gymnopédies No.1 also lacked the delicacy of touch which is needed for the sparse texture of the piece, although that particular problem could have been caused by the microphone rather than by a failure of understanding on Mr Foo’s part.

As a presentation to an audience of friends the concert was successful, but one hopes that Mr Foo will not always chat so freely to his listeners. He tends towards a self-deprecatory delivery, and while that can be appealing it has very little to do with the pianist’s real concern which is to present music and not just to entertain.

COPYRIGHT © February 2003 Anne Hodgson





The Boardwalk Theatre, Mandurah,

reviewed by Anne Hodgson 

Steve Reich does not need to present his credentials as a musical creator. What he writes is the music of our time and probably, as indicated by some commentators, also of the future. Reich’s music has taken his ideas around the world, and his ideas have gained acceptance and legitimacy in the contemporary mind.

As part of his appearance in the 50th Anniversary of the Festival of Perth, Reich and an ensemble of extremely talented musicians and technical practitioners moved seventy kilometres south to the city of Mandurah to present the concert entitled Drumming. This could have been a bit of a misnomer, seeing that half of the recital featured a string quartet, but whether stated or suggested, a strongly percussive element was present in all the works on the programme.

The works performed ranged from the early 1970’s to 2002, providing a broad view of Reich’s compositional thinking, and each item was fascinating from the point of view both of its construction and the skills which the performers brought to its execution. The concert began with Drumming (Part 1) from 1971- a rather stunning display of sound produced by four pairs of tuned bongo drums, played with sticks, with five performers moving in and out of the action in a sort of choreography which considerably helped one’s understanding of the highly complex texture. This was vital, driving music, but carefully controlled and calculated throughout and never in any danger of spilling over into excess, although the vibrant and curiously amusing energy of the piece was thoroughly stimulating.

It was in the second item, the Triple Quartet from 1999, that the importance of technology to Reich’s music became apparent. The version that was performed was a string quartet working with a pre-recorded tape of two other string quartets in a piece where Reich showed his mastery of contrapuntal writing and of the repetitive process. Although the composite sound of tape and live players was sometimes too hard around the edges, the musical substance was powerful and satisfying, and certainly proved that dissonance does not make for disengagement.

The third work Piano Phase/Video Phase (1967/2002) was extremely interesting, but perhaps for the wrong reason. Initially written for two pianos, it had been translated into technology and was performed brilliantly by David Cossin. The presentation was through a back-lit screen on which appeared a video image of the percussionist playing drum pads which nevertheless sounded like a piano, with a ghostly doppelgänger of the same percussionist playing the same musical material live but not at exactly the same time. The world of sound and vision technology had taken over; it was showy, it was clever, but the visual effect tended to dominate beyond the normal level of a stage performance, and rather at the expense of the musical content.

The out-of-phase aspect of time which Reich builds into much of his music was also a major element in Nagoya Marimbas of 1994, where the two players gave an outstanding performance of the piece, handling the dynamic variety and the temporal complexities of melody against melody with remarkable ability and flair.

The final work, the Different Trains of 1988, was the most programmatic item in the concert. As well as giving cause for some deep reflection on the text itself, this music set a trend for Reich which has been pursued in later works, where rhythms or images from reality generate the musical expression. The demands of this type of performance are heavy, but the string quartet, again working with a prepared tape, once more displayed a remarkable technical expertise and ensemble unity.

To hear Reich’s music live and under the composer’s control was an opportunity definitely not to be missed. Perhaps some might have felt disappointed that Reich did not discuss his work from the platform, but the music stands on its own, and the written notes were comprehensive. There is no doubt that in these compositions there are the roots of possible future trends, particularly in the area of the multi-media expression, but because Reich demonstrates his styles so thoroughly and so completely he could be a hard act to follow.


COPYRIGHT © February 2003 Anne Hodgson