Evocations of Spain, from Ewan Clark and the Wellington City Orchestra

Wellington City Orchestra presents:
TURINA – Danzas Fantasticas
BIZET – Carmen Suite No. 1
RODRIGO – Concierto de Aranjuez
(Owen Moriarty – guitar)
BIZET – Carmen Suite No. 2

Wellington City Orchestra
Conductor – Ewan Clark

St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace, Wellington

Saturday, 16th September 2023

There were probably quite a number of people attending this concert who were in exactly my situation regarding our relationship with the music we were about to be served – the Chabrier, Bizet and Rodrigo Items I had heard many times before and knew reasonably well, but the Turina work,  Danzas Fantasticas, never.

Audiences are more often than not disparate and largely unconnected fraternities, but here from the outset one sensed a kind of “anticipatory listening camaraderie” hovering about St.Andrew’s Church  in view of the afternoon’s programme. I liked imagining that it promised both the pleasure of hearing so many well-known items, and the thrill of discovering and getting to know at least one work of Turina’swhose title alone promised more of the same qualities as its companions in the programme.

Well, I can’t speak for my companions in the church this afternoon, but by the time the Danzas Fantasticas had strutted its stuff, I was flabbergasted! I kept on thinking, listening to conductor Ewan Clark’s expert “putting the players through their paces” reading of the work, why have I never before investigated this music ? What a peach of a work! I had actually heard of it (probably the only Turina work I could name if pressed to do so), but it didn’t for me provoke anything like the “instant recognition” that any of the other pieces on this afternoon’s listening menu did. It would therefore be fair to say than Joaquin Turina isn’t as yet a “single-work composer” in the popular regard of things, as one could say about Chabrier with his Espana” or Rodrigo with his “Concierto  de Aranjuez” – and, in many people’s minds, perhaps even Bizet with his “Carmen”.

However, it wasn’t for me the only reason that this Wellington City Orchestra concert gave such particular pleasure on this occasion – though not yet entirely consistent in its responses to the demands of the music, I felt that the band under conductor Ewan Clark had captured the character of every piece we heard, from the vibrancy of rhythm and colour evident in Chabrier’s Espana” to the sheer variety of emotion and situation portrayed for us in Bizet’s music for his opera “Carmen”. A friend afterwards remarked upon the vividness of the playing’s recreation of the opera’s powerful atmosphere and intensely dramatic situations. And besides the vividness of Turina’s picture-postcard evocations of Spanish life, the playing of guitarist Owen Moriarty brought home to us the intensely-wrought emotion embedded in the famous “Aranjuez” Guitar Concerto, the orchestral response to the soloist’s and his heartfelt ruminations impressively of a piece with the music’s character and depth of feeling.

A few remarks regarding what I heard here and there in the music and its playing – at the very beginning of “Espana” there were a few tentative moments with the difficult syncopations between strings and wind (I played in this work once in my halcyon days as a percussionist, and remember never feeling entirely sure of what I was doing in relation to my fellow-musicians, including the conductor! – AND I also remember not being able to get Perry Como’s famous “Hot Diggety Dog” song out of my head for some time so I could properly concentrate on Chabrier!). Here, the introduction came together beautifully as the players overcame these uncertainties and started to develop the music’s engaging feeling of “schwung”, the piece’s occasional “rolling crescendi” also carrying us along with great exhilaration! Ewen Clark got a treasurable moment from the strings with a “comma” inserted at one point just before the players’ big-hearted taking-up of the juicy lyrical theme! – and I also liked the elan with which the brasses made their alternating calls just before the coda.

Next up was the Turina work, about which I must report that my anticipation was all the more whetted by the appearance on the platform at that point of a contrabassoon that seemed twice the size of the player who was carrying it! Despite my slight bewilderment at the programme note not being entirely “on the button” with its descriptions of the openings of each of the first two movements, I still thoroughly enjoyed the sounds that I heard! The first opened with mysterious string chordings, followed by a sudden irruption, stimulating rhythmic sequences of sounds by turns lively and sultry, with a lovely, romantic melody dug into by the strings varied by some beautiful lines from a cor anglais  – then the strings returned with their mysterious opening chords before bidding us a kind of sweet and nostalgia-ridden series of “adios”. A bracing call to attention began the second movement, which then morphed into a more relaxed and somewhat angular 5/4 rhythm with beautiful writing for both strings and winds. Yes, the finale was indeed of a “lively and rhythmic character” – very Spanish, with the themes contrastingly sultry and charming, with an exciting coda, a brief cello solo, and a coruscating orchestral pay-off!

We then got the first of the two Carmen Suites from the opera, beginning most appropriately with the baleful “Fate” theme (which I recall never before hearing until I encounted the opera proper!) – great brass and lower strings here! The Aragonaise theme came next, delivered with great brilliance and atmosphere – it was followed by the beautiful “Intermezzo” a moment of flute-and-harp calm in the opera amidst a sea of troubles! Carmen’s tempting invitation to Don Jose, the Seguedille followed – after a slightly shaky start, oboe and strings nailed it! Les Dragons  d’Aicala, Don Jose’s marching tune, featured both bassoon and clarinet in fine fettle, while the suite’s most popular number Les Toreadors made an excellent first-half concluding piece, not too rushed, but delivered with real swagger!

After the interval Owen Moriarty took the platform with his guitar, to perform the much-played but ever-enchanting “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Joaquin Rodrigo – this occasion was no exception, as the soloist despatched his part with a remarkable amalgam of spontaneity and fluency throughout – did the wind players occasionally get slightly ahead of the soloist at times when he seemed to “give space” in  the turning of a phrase-end? – even if such was the case, no violence to any particular bar or phrase that I could pinpoint was enacted by any of the players in the making of this music! A deservedly-mentioned highlight of the performance was the playing by Rodney Ford of the cor anglais solo in the second movement, for which the latter received acknowledgement at the work’s end – the playing had a plangency I couldn’t remember being bettered in any previous performance I’d heard. In fact the “live” occasion gave the music an extra level of intensity throughout that made a huge difference to how one responded to the work as a whole, the occasion thus more deeply “touching” my sensibilities than has been usually the case with the music.

Nothing could have “rounded off” the concert better after this than the second of Bizet’s “Carmen” Suites – though Owen Moriarty did his best to help us return to our lives with an encore by a Serbian composer Miroslav Tadic – a most entertaining and vigorous piece called “Walk Dance”, which certainly “cleared the air” of any Iberian excess that may have hung around after the concerto’s final notes had died away. Then it was all orchestral hands on deck again for the Bizet, beginning this time with a more-than-usually circumspect piece for this opera, the Marche des Contrebandiers  (Smugglers’ March), but whose relative unfamiliarity was made up for in spadefuls by the deservedly famous Habanera. Afterwards came some of the most beautiful music from the opera, that given to Micaela, Don Jose’s would-be sweetheart, in the throes of searching desperately for him in the mountains – lovely horn-playing, at first, followed by the solo violin with the melody, the Concertmaster Paula Carryer here doing an excellent job!

More familiar to those who hadn’t yet seen the opera would have been the following Chanson du Toreador (Song of the Toreador) expressing the necessary courage and bravado of Escamilo, the bullfighter, with solo trumpeter Neil Dodgson making a brilliant job of it, as do the brass in general in the following La Garde Montante (The Changing of the Guard) together with the winds, giving the scene plenty of ceremonial elan! Finally, we heard one of Bizet’s most exciting creations, the Danse Boheme, sung in the opera by Carmen and two of her gypsy cohorts in a vivid description of a wild and abandoned gypsy dance, Ewan Clark and the orchestra responding by pulling out all the stops, as they say in the classics, and bringing the concert to a suitably brilliant conclusion. We clapped and shouted our approval of it all, a great and deserved success for all concerned – well done on all counts to guitarist Owen Moriarty, to conductor Ewan Clark and to the stalwart players of the Wellington CIty Orchestra.




Sounds of Home from man and guitar transcend wet and gloom

SOUNDS OF HOME – Guitar Music from Aotearoa New Zealand

Works by Michael Stoop, John Ritchie, Amanda Riddell,
Kenneth Young, David Farquhar, and Bruce Paine

Christopher Everest (guitar)
at St. Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace, Wellington

Sunday, 4th June 2023

(Event sponsored by Jack C. Richards, and SOUNZ (Centre for New Zealand Music)

The most obvious thing to say about Christopher Everest’s guitar recital at St Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace on a wet and windswept Sunday afternoon on a recent King’s Birthday Weekend would be that so many factors contributed to its sparse audience attendance – arriving as I did with ten minutes to spare, and surveying the half-dozen or so people already in attendance I immediately felt sorry for the artist, who would have obviously put a lot of work into the presentation, for what at first  seemed sparse reward regarding his efforts.

However, two things then occurred to me, one at the point when the guitarist made his entrance, and the other at some unspecified time when a particular ambience involving both the music-making and its reception brought the thought into my head………

Firstly, I became conscious from the volume of applause that greeted the artist that the audience had at least tripled, if not quadrupled, in the time since I entered the church – and however small the number remained there was definitely a mini-buzz of excitement, one which Christopher Everest most positively responded to upon appearing to play, complimenting all of us upon our forbearance in braving such inclement weather conditions.

Then, at some stage after Everest had begun playing – perhaps it was as early as during the first item that the thought visited me – I was struck by the memory of something that, long ago, a visiting pianist, Frederic Rzewski, whom I’d heard give a recital – again, I think, in St. Andrew’s, and to a similarly sparse audience on that occasion – told a radio interviewer, when asked afterwards whether small numbers of audience members at concerts he gave bothered or annoyed him. Rzewski replied that he thought there was, at every concert, always the “right” number of people in the audience.

I presumed he meant that, whether ten or two hundred people were in an audience, he always made sure that he played “for everybody present”, so that no-one was disadvantaged, least of all the artist, who was, after all, there to communicate with the audience, whether they were few or many.  And there in St.Andrew’s was Everest, playing, it seemed, for us all, a few who seemed at that moment  the “right” number of people……..

A word about the artist, whom I hadn’t before encountered – beginning his studies as a pupil of Dr. Jane Curry at the NZSM, Everest received a grant to study with the eminent guitarist and pedagogue, Paul Cesarzyck, at Mahidol College of Music in Bangkok, Thailand. Returning to New Zealand, he graduated with First-Class Honours in 2022 from Victoria University, and plans to take up various Masters programmes in various institutions worldwide, while continuing to concertise when he can back in New Zealand as both a soloist and an ensemble member with the New Baroque Generation and the Kowhaiwhai Duo.

So to the concert – whose title “Sounds of Home” suggested a musician suitably well-grounded in music that reflected his place of origin. Everest began with an excerpt from a work by Michael Stoop, who had been one of his composition lecturers at Victoria – the Allegretto movement from Stoop’s Sonatina No. 1. I enjoyed Everest’s voicing of the questioning rise towards the repeated top-of-the-phrase note, a sequence whimsically contrasted with more flowing interludes – making the whole a beautifully reflective piece, touched here-and-there with contrasting timbres.

Next came John Ritchie’s “Whimsies”, three meditations inspired by Shakespeare. The first, “Full Fathom Five” began with slowly rocking rhythmic patternings, suggesting the sea’s action, repetitive notes and chords resonating the “rich and strange” subaqueous atmosphere. “The second “Where is Fancy Bred” features music turning in upon itself, proffering no answer to the question, but implying more fancy, resonating the repetitive melody in different registers towards the piece’s end, with a touch of “Dies Irae” further deepening the mystery. A more energetic “Blow, blow, thou Winter Wind” wasn’t especially “wintry”, more bracingly-textured than bleak and shivery, and of lighter substance, with widely-spaced ritual-like ”knockings” and vigorous strummings – a positive response to seasonal duress, which ends reflectively and philosophically (Shakespeare nay-sayers, take note!).

Further girdles were put around the earth by Amanda Riddell’s work “Vanya’s Lament”, inspired by Anton Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya”, the pieces reflecting an essential mood from each of the four acts of the play – presented as a continuous span, it seemed to me as if the music would work on each listener individually, the titles a “starting-point” rather than an out-and-out description, the sounds by turns quixotic, rhapsodic, wistful and energetic, but seeming to return to a general overall sobriety.  The theme of melancholy persisted with the next item, Kenneth Young’s “Three Sad Waltzes”,  again allowing the listener free rein in characterising emotions by giving the music plenty of contrast. As with Amanda Riddell’s work, Everest brought out the music’s quixotic nature, contrasting more strictly-organised running passages with improvisatory-sounding sequences, very much the “plan” of the first Waltz. By contrast the other two Waltzes expressed their dance-forms more self-consciously, the second’s gentle melancholy the perfect foil for the third’s rather more “insinuating” progressions of rhythm and melodic shaping, such as a deliciously droll bass line.

Everest described David Farquhar’s Suite as the first big “hit” in the New Zealand classical guitar world . It was written in 1966 for Ronald Burt, whose influence as a teacher pioneered classical guitar composition in this country. Farquhar became especially fond of writing for the instrument, his output including more solo guitar and several ensemble pieces, including a guitar concerto (1992).

A work in five sections, the Suite began with a stately opening Prelude, a kind of ritual processional at the outset, though with the sounds taking on a sensuous element, contrasted with a kind of ”tumble down the hill” middle section, before echoing some of the opening’s more haunting sounds.  The following Capriccio, at first restless and exploratory, then took on an almost balladic quality, a strummed accompaniment to a song (with high, harmonic-like sounds in places), before returning to the restless opening.

The Ostinato third movement set repeated notes against discursive, wayward harmonies, creating relationships both combatative and complementary – a “friendly rival” relationship; while the following Rondino seemed to take us some of the way towards the world of Manuel de Falla’s “Three-Cornered Hat” Ballet, Everest excitingly bringing  out the percussive element in a piece where rhythm was all-important. Just as telling in an entirely different way was the piece’s Epilogue, a valediction with a sounding gong marking time in between the musings, not unlike a dialogue between reality and fantasy, or reason and imagination – thoughtful and moving…….

Christopher Everest concluded his recital with a workSeringapatam” (misspelled on the programme cover as “Seringapatum”) by another New Zealand guitarist, Bruce Paine. The piece was written with an historic Auckland homestead in mind, one that came into being through both Scottish and Indian influences, in the latter case from a town of the same name in the Mandya district in the Indian state of Karnataka, the place where the house’s founder, the son of a British Army Lieutenant-Colonel originally from Scotland, was born. The music thus contains both Scottish folk-song and Indian sitar music influences.

The music began in what seemed minstrel-like ways, but with the melody played as if it was “sounded” on an Indian sitar, with the notes having characteristic microtonal “shifts”, giving the folk-song (”The Blue Bells of Scotland”) an additional exotic quality. A more energetic central section evoked something of the exhilarating drive of a characteristic Indian “raga”. The folk-tune then briefly reappeared, and the undulations of the accompaniment gradually faded.

We had, by this time, become totally accustomed to our listening-spaces, and our musician and his instrument, so much so that the concert’s end came as a surprise! In short this presentation had transcended the state of the world outside, so involved we seemed to have become with the music and Christopher Everest’s compelling realisations of it all. Frederic Rzewski had obviously been right all along – “it was, you might say, satisfactory………”


“Strings for Africa” joyously fill the vistas of St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace

Sinfonia for Hope and Stringendo presents:

JS BACH – Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D Minor BWV 1052
Antonio VIVALDI – Concerto for 4 Violins and ‘Cello – No.10 of Op.3 “L”estro armónico” RV 580
Gabriel FAURE – Cantique de Jean Racine (arr. for ‘cello ensemble)
JS BACH – Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 BWV 1051 (arr for viola/’cello ensemble)

Diedre Irons (piano),
Amelia Hall, Martin Riseley. Monique Lapins, Konstanze Artmann, Rupa Maitra, Martin Jaenecke, Lucas Baker, Claire Macfarlane, Sandra Logan, Sarah Marten, Robin Perks, Lucy Maurice (violins),
Sophia Acheson, Peter Barber, Elyse Dalabakis, Xi Liu (violas)
Inbal Megiddo, Heleen du Plessis (‘cellos)
Chris Everest (continuo guitar)
Sinfonia for Hope
Donald Maurice (conductor)

St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace, Wellington

Tuesday, May 18th, 2021

Back In November of 2019 I attended an event called “Cellos for Africa”, at Te Rauparaha Arena in Porirua City,  one described by its organisers as “a multi-institutional and multi-cultural collaboration”, featuring a variety of performing individuals and groups brought together by Heleen du Plessis and Donald Maurice. The event’s primary purpose was to raise funds for a school in Africa which had been established in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2011 by New Zealander Denise Carnihan and her husband Chris. More than $8,000 was raised by this Porirua concert to support the venture, named the “Tamariki Educational Centre”, and situated in the poorest part of Nairobi. This latest concert, “Strings for Africa”, was a kind of follow-up, the funds intended to help establish a fully-fledged music programme at the school.

Both Denise and Chris Carnihan were present at this latest concert, and at the conclusion expressed their heartfelt thanks at the efforts of the event’s organisers and the assembled musicians, as well as acknowledging the support of the members of the audience. We were, throughout the evening,  treated to what could be best described as a kind of “string-fest” – if one forgot official designations and regarded Diedre Irons’ piano as a “stringed instrument”, one could indeed say that the entire company of musicians were string-players!

As befitted the occasion’s focus on the establishment of a school music programme, a goodly number of the evening’s instrumentalists were school-aged children, members of a group called Stringendo, a Wellington-based children’s string orchestra, one which opened the evening’s programme with a performance of JS Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D Minor, conducted by Donald Maurice, the soloist with the ensemble being none other than the aforementioned Diedre Irons! Playing the St.Andrew’s grand piano set back amidst the ensemble players as befitted a kind of “sinfonia concertante” work,  Irons gave a sturdily-focused and clearly-articulated reading of the first movement’s solo part, duetting most charmingly with the violins in a number of places, and plunging into a mini-cadenza which sparked and scintillated like a firecracker, the pianist’s characteristic spontaneity of manner keeping us nicely guessing as to the moment of her instrument’s reunitement with the orchestra!

The sombre, unison statement of the slow movement’s opening theme gave it all great gravity, and a modicum of tension as to its eventual destination! I enjoyed the accompanying strings “sighing tones”, a touching sensitivity evident in the young players’ relating their phrases to the soloist, and the latter in turn elaborating upon the simple, emotionally-direct string figurations. The final  episode enchanted as well, with the strings quietly joining Irons’ melodic line in unison, the utterances spare, and extremely moving!

Sprightly, energetic and animated at the outset, the finale began with the piano creating its own frisson of excitement, and the orchestra its own version of exhilaration, the notes clearly played and their energies well-conveyed. The soloist was never left unattended by the strings for long, the fount of Bach’s invention astonishingly vigorous and varied throughout, and the detailings never less than ear-catching, such as the observance of different dynamic levels and the setting of soaring lines against rapid-fire accompaniments. Irons’s solo part became somewhat fired up towards the piece’s end, but the orchestral musicians maintained active participants right to the final exchanges – well done!

One couldn’t help catching one’s breath as the soloists for the next work on the programme, Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins RV 580, came on to the platform – it was as though the concert had momentarily “cornered the local market” regarding violinistic talent! With Amalia Hall and Martin Riseley on one side, and Monique Lapins with Konstanze Artmann on the other, sparks were ready and set to fly in this work, the music catching into conflagration from the very opening, Amalia Hall and Martin Riseley setting things in motions, answered by Monique Lapins and Konstanze Artmann with the ensemble’s support, straightaway establishing a dynamic variation in the exchanges by way of indicating that no stone of interpretative contrast would be left unturned.

Every solo was characteristically “eventful”, not only notes-wise, but in dynamics and antiphonal direction and its augmentation by any one or more of the “company”, the interchanges filled with the drama of variety of utterance – what to the casual listener might have at first seemed a “sameness” of texture and figuration, with the propulsive opening theme driving the music along, drew us with each repetition further into the panoply of the music’s fantastic world.

The slow movement began with a series of dramatically-delivered gestures, the big dotted-note chords alternating with shimmering arpeggiated figures for both the soloists and the ripeno  – a central episode contrasted this solemn mood with a ghostly dance, as if a chorus of sprites lurking behind the great columns of sound briefly and impishly showed themselves, enjoying their “moment” before dancing out of sight once more.

The sprightly, triple-time finale reinvigorated the sound-picture, the company bending all backs in delivering the vigorous opening theme, before each of the soloists launched by turns into an elaborately modulated discourse, Amalia Hall getting the lion’s share at first, but with the others joining in the rapid-fire exchanges, Inbal Megiddo’s cello as well reminding us at times that the concerto is actually designated “for four violins AND ‘cello” in its place in the Op.3 “L’Estro L’Armonico” collection! What else could one feel when it was all over but privileged to have “been here” to witness the euphoric joy of such music making!

The next item was “unprogrammed” in a written sense, being intended as something of a “surprise”. A group of ‘cellists currently under the tuition of Inbal Megiddo, here gave us a transcription  of an 1865 choral work by Gabriel Faure, Cantique de Jean Racine, originally a four-part work for mixed choir and keyboard. I forgot to actually count the cellists in the group, but there must have been at least eight, including Inbal herself – a gorgeously rich sound! The players infused their various lines with plenty of feeling, nicely inflected and tellingly shaped – I thought there was remarkable strength and confidence in the lead cellist’s playing (at the opposite end of the line from where Inbal was sitting). I liked the group’s intensities in the softer moments of the piece, catching the feeling as readily as during the more outwardly-expressive moments in the music, concluding with a particularly touching final phrase.

Finally, it was the turn of the Sinfonia for Hope to perform for us, an orchestral group established in 2018 for fundraising purposes supporting humanitarian causes, the present Nairobi project being the group’s 2021 focus. Before the group’s item got underway conductor Donald Maurice expressed thanks to both Inbal Megiddo and Heleen du Plessis, describing them as central to the organisation of the evening’s music-making, after which he invited the organisers of the Nairobi Project, Denise and Chris Carnihan, onto the stage as well, the couple expressing their thanks to the musicians, organisers and the audience for their support for the Nairobi venture via the evening’s musical activities. It was gratifying to be told that, as a result of this evening’s concert, the projected music programme at the “Tamariki Educational Centre” in Nairobi would be able to be established.

The Sinfonia’s item was one with a difference, a performance of JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 played by an astounding assemblage of no less than twenty-four viola players, along with a large group of ‘cellists, plus a continuo guitar, all conducted by Donald Maurice. It all began with a will, the rich massed viola sound rolling around and about the church’s vistas, each group’s phrases gleefully bouncing off the other’s with almost bumptious heft in places, though allowing ample spaces for the lines of the two ‘cello groups to come through as well. At the outset I found the reiterations of the main theme exciting when re-emphasised by each of the groups, but my ear began increasingly to listen for and appreciate the less assertive lines and phrases and their interplay, finding a different kind of excitement in the play of the “terraced” sounds at the varied dynamic levels.

The slow movement then provided the greatest possible contrast to what we had heard thus far, with solo strings and guitar continuo, the four players, Peter Barber and Sophia Acheson (violas), Inbal Megiddo (‘cello) and Chris Everest (guitar) transporting our sensibilities in the most delightful fashion, a truly memorable performance expressing such finely-wrought contrasts of light and shade, warmth and focus, and strength allied to delicacy as to disarm critical processes…..

After this, the finale’s “jolly hockey sticks” effect of the massed strings’ return brought us back down to earth in the most appropriate way, with sequences of tumbling warmth vying with moments of delicacy and playfulness.  I enjoyed the music’s modulatory swerves into more distant realms, and the dogged meticulousness of the figurations’ homeward journey to the point where the main theme relievedly gathered the threads together and roared out for the last time – what palpable pleasure there was in its final delivery, and in the audience response , a moment to acknowledge and truly cherish as a memory of the evening’s delights!

“Cello for Africa” at Porirua City a spectacular and moving multi-cultural collaborative event

The Sinfonia for Hope presents:
CELLO FOR AFRICA – a multi-institutional and multi-cultural collaboration
Director – Donald Maurice

Performing Individuals and Groups:
Te Kura Māori o Porirua (kapa haka and waiata)
Inbal Megiddo, Rolf Gjelsten, Jane Young (cellos) Stringendo (director: Donald Maurice)
Linkwood Guitar Duo (Jane Curry and Owen Moriarty)
Sam Manzana (Congo drum)
Virtuoso Strings (directors – Craig Utting and Elizabeth Sneyd)
Cellophonia (director – Inbal Meggido)
Amalia Hall (violin), Tinashe Chidanyika and Sarah Hoskyns (mbira)
Ruby Solly (taonga puoro), Hannah Neman (percussion)
Lyrica Choir, Kelburn Normal School (director – Nicola Holt)
Sinfonia for Hope  (conductor: Hans Huyssen)
Heleen du Plessis (‘cello)

Music by Antonio Vivaldi, Jack Body, Craig Utting, Anthony Ritchie, Hans Huyssen

Guest Speakers:
Dr.Taku Parai (Chairman, Kaumātua, Ngāti Toa)
Her Worship Anita Baker, Mayor of Porirua
Associate Professor Hon. Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban
Professor Sunny Collings, Dean and Head of Wellington Campus, University of Otago
Professor Donald Maurice, director of Sinfonia for Hope

Te Rauparaha Arena, Porirua City

Sunday, 24th November, 2019

“Cello for Africa” was, in the words of co-organisers Heleen du Plessis and Donald Maurice, an event designed “to bring people from different cultures together using music, and specifically, ‘cellos, to help create a platform for cultural interaction and human connection in support of causes in Africa”. The concert’s specific target was to raise funds for a school established in Nairobi five years ago, the Tamariki Education Centre, by New Zealander Denise Carnihan (who was present at the concert).

The event brought together four youth performance groups augmented by a goodly number of professional performers to perform, among other things, at least one world and one New Zealand performance premiere (not a Venn diagram in words – I meant TWO separate pieces!). New Zealand composer Anthony Ritchie contributed the world “first” with his piece “Kia Kaha Tamariki”, and South African composer Hans Huyssen the New Zealand premiere of his “Concerto for an African ‘Cellist”. There was a Vivaldi concerto for two ’cellos, a work for two guitars by Jack Body, and a piece for strings called “Goodnight Kiwi” by Craig Utting. And extending the diversity of the occasion were various haka and waiata performed by Te Kura Māori o Porirua Kapa Haka, a colourful sequence of Congo drumming by master percussionist Sam Manzanza, and a bracket of songs performed by Kelburn Normal School’s Lyrica Choir, directed by Nicola Holt.

We were welcomed at the outset by Dr Taku Parai, the Ngāti Toa Chairman and Kaumātua, accompanied by Ranei Parai and the splendid Te Kura Māori o Porirua Kapa Haka group. I was struck by the similarities in places between the sound of the Maori chant and some of the Gregorian chant I’d heard, with similar nuances and impulses in places, and underlined by the plangency of the young women’s tones – by contrast the haka passages were incisive and striking for different reasons! After the group had moved off to the side in the time-honoured manner, the Mayor of Porirua, Her Worship Anita Baker spoke to us, most impressively, drawing resonant parallels between Ntairobi in Kenya, and Porirua, here in New Zealand, and welcoming our support for the “Cello in Africa” venture. At this point I felt it would have been good for the event to have had a properly-appointed MC, merely to provide a kind of ongoing flow during the transitions between the numbers – the members of the Stringendo group simply “appeared” with the continuo ‘celllist, Jane Young, after whom came the two soloists for the next item, ‘cellists Inbal Megiddo and Rolf Gjelsten, together with conductor, Donald Maurice.

The two soloists began the work vigorously and adroitly, Megiddo taking the more assertive lead with Gjelsten seeming somewhat “laid back” of projection in reply, both in this way most effectively “terracing” the exchanges, while Jane Young’s continuo kept a watching brief over the exchanges. The tutti passages had great effect, with the extra weight of numbers producing a real “What does the crowd think?” kind of response in the sound’s impact – I’m certain the spontaneous applause at the first movement’s end would have underlined for the players our enjoyment. The slow movement featured the soloists and continuo only, the players again differentiating their lines via a fetching minor-key melody, with Megiddo’s sumptuous tones stimulating a thoughtful, more circumspect response from her companion. Some of the younger players weren’t expecting or had forgotten about a repeat in the music, as several moved to make a grand tutti entry at one point, but lowered their bows again when the music turned on its tracks and repeated a second-half section – very sweet! The younger players got their chance at the “true” beginning of the finale, playing the repeated theme as the soloists overlaid the  music with decorative passages, then intensifying the repetitions with a couple of modulations – all sounding very daring on their part, and garnering considerable applause at the end!

Next was a transcription for two guitars by Jack Body, made from recordings of the Madagascan “vahila”, a kind of “zither” made from a bamboo tube, and regarded by many as the country’s “national” musical instrument. A tumbling, rhythmically teasing piece called “Ramandriana”, it kept shifting its emphasis and thus varying its gait, the players, Jane Curry and Owen Moriarty, finding a wealth of variation of tone and timbre, which would have stemmed from the original instrument recording. (The duo should, I think, have been at least introduced to the audience as “The Linkwood Guitar Duo”, but, again, there was no “MC”.There were names and  information in the programme to be sure, but again, a welcoming voice would have, I think, made a more easeful difference.

We were delighted to welcome Sam Manzanza, the Congloese drummer, resident in New Zealand since the 1980s, where he’s been popularising traditional African music for a number of years with his AfroBeat Band – here he was performing solo with a single drum, and producing an amazing variety of sounds , accompanying his rhythmic patternings with various chants, and encouraging audience participation most successfully! Continuing on an African “wave”, we responded warmly to the next speaker, Associate Professor Hon. Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban’s congratulations to South Africa for winning the World Rugby Cup! Her acknowledgement of the work of the organisers of this evening’s concert also elicited an enthusiastic response, as did her confirmation of the Te Ata Festival Project for 2020.

Composer, and co-director of Virtuoso Strings, Craig Utting introduced his ensemble in preparation for the nest item, a version of TV NZ’s famous shutting-down-transmission piece, “Goodnight Kiwi”. Accompanied by the lowering of lights for the music’s beginning, the piece established an all-energies-spent feeling, the string figurations drowsy and  droopy at the phrase-ends, the fragments of one phrase answering another across the vistas created by the ensemble standing in a wide half-circle to perform. The music suddenly energised into angular waltz-like movement, the rhythms and themes lazily dovetailing, its bitter-sweet ambience underlined by a “wilting” kind of inclination, until finally a driving, toccatalike 7/4 rhythm awoke a voice singing the famous Hine e hine words, with heartfelt feeling – the singer beautifully maintained her line and steadiness of tone , right until darkness overtook the music and the players on the stage………

After an interval, and a welcome and brief address from the Dean and Head of Otago University’s Wellington Campus, Professor Sunny Collings, we were treated to composer Anthony Ritchie’s Kia Kaha Tamariki, a musical tribute to the Kenyan School whose founding five years ago in Nairobi has changed the lives of so many African children. The work (a world premiere) was performed here by Cellophonia (40+ cellists!) along with violinist Amalia Hall, cellist Inbal Megiddo, mbira players Tinashe Chidanyika and Sarah Hoskyns, taonga puoro player Ruby Solly, and percussionist Hannah Neman.

Ritchie’s work emphasised the ideas of exchange and accessibility of different musical sounds – a pity the orchestral “platform” was so far away from its audience, across the vistas of what was another performing-space, as it reduced the visceral effects of the more exotic instruments, such as a view of “how they were being played” (the Huyssen Concerto which concluded the evening had a similar kind of “removed” aspect to it – we were, indeed, in the same “space” as the performers, but arguably with too much “air” between us all!). Still, the sounds made an impact, and the conventional and exotic instruments created wholly unique worlds,  even if I felt the music sounded more “Caribbean” than African (ethnomusicologists may well apply to have my travel visas revoked upon reading that statement, though it’s just my (admittedly uninformed) opinion!).

Moments of “Elgarian-sounding” string-writing for the ‘cellos rubbed shoulders with more exotic rhythms and timbres as the non-string-players took up their instruments, the whole given an additional ambient context by Ruby Solly’s taonga puoro sounds. After a colourful sequence featuring the more exotic instruments alone, the drums intensified the rhythms and the cellos intoned an eminently singable/danceable melody, immediately suggesting a ready response in kind from listeners – the work was rounded off by a brief irruption of percussive impulse and gesture – altogether a direct and approachable tribute to a worthwhile cause.

There were hurryings and scurryings from certain people in preparation for the next item, the outcome seeming a little Houdini-esque as it turned out, with everybody’s attention focused on a completely different entrance to that through which the members of Lyrica (Kelburn Normal School Choir) and its director, Nicola Holt, finally appeared! – the group sang three songs bringing out poignancies and sweet colourings in the first two and plenty of rhythmic energy in the third, all accompanied on an electric piano most adroitly played by Nicole Chao, though I thought the second song, a lullaby could have just as effectively been performed voices-only. The choir recently took part in the Orpheus Choir of Wellington’s performance of Orff’s Carmina Burana, which I attended, and remember enjoying the children’s singing a great deal.

I wondered whether programming a fully-fledged three movement instrumental concerto at the end of a tumultuous evening was the best course, as the attrition rate among the audience was certainly noticeable at that stage, despite people’s best efforts – still, the work was meant to be symbolic of a fusion of voices and languages and cultures, and therefore judiciously placed at the concert’s climax. It represented a herculean effort of technique, emotion and crossover sensibility on the part of the solo cellist, Heleen du Plessis, who gave what sounded like a totally committed performance, from the “Partida”, or exploratory opening movement in which she enabled her instrument to “speak its language”, through the exchanges with other instruments over the second and third sections (the latter movement including a vocalised section from mbira-player Tinashe Chidanyika), and into the final Mapfachapfacha (in the Zezuru language, “a sudden arrival of many”), which sounded like a celebration of the coming together of diverse voices.

Composer Hans Huyssen’s use of non-standardised instruments (and the human voice) as constituent parts of such a formalised composition as a “concerto” has plenty of precedent in Western music, as witness, for example, the various instances of use of such things in the Mahler symphonies. And there were precedents of all kinds for the use of voices in such works as well, from Beethoven onwards, giving the words intoned by the orchestra players at the end of this work, referring to the music’s journey in search of a commonality amid the diversity, and its discovery within, their own unique resonances – the whole occasion generated so much warm feeling it was difficult to be analytical or judgemental regarding what we had heard! Its task, as far as I could discern from everybody’s response at the evening’s conclusion, was completed most successfully.










Popular guitarists with delightful though unfamiliar music at St Andrew’s

Owen Moriarty and Jane Curry – guitars

Music by Fernando Sor, Almer Imamovic, Emilio Pujol and Napoléon Coste

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 21 November, 12:15 pm

Guitarists Jane Curry and Owen Moriarty are familiar figures at the St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts, and the sounds they make are particularly suited to the church’s acoustic. Furthermore, for anyone open to discoveries, more of the guitar repertoire than that of almost any other well-known instrument is unfamiliar. It’s not that only in recent years has it become a popular instrument in the classical music world; in fact, it was familiar in recital by the early 19th century, by a number of excellent guitarist/composers.

And that’s where this recital started.

Composer/guitarists flourishing at that time included François de Fossa, Francesco Molino, Mauro Giuliani, Ferdinando Carulli, Antoine Meissonnier, among many others; even Boccherini and Paganini played and wrote for the guitar. At this Wednesday concert Curry and Moriarty played pieces from that era by Fernando Sor and Napoléon Coste.

Owen Moriarty played three solo pieces before being joined by Jane Curry to play Coste’s Grand Duo Concertante. His first piece was Sor’s Grand Solo, Op 14. Moriarty played its slow Introduction very quietly with great delicacy: little hint of its ‘Grandness’. The arrival of the Allegro was like a sudden powerful beam of light, illuminating it with bright Spanish colours, but yet with a distinct sense of its period – Haydn and the spirit of the French Revolution. There were striking dynamic changes, abrupt pauses and emotional shifts, switching from plaintiveness to confidence. And Moriarty took pains to highlight harmonic changes and the teasing cadences that presaged the end the piece, but carried on regardless.

A piece called Scott’s Guitar was composed by a friend of Moriarty’s, Almer Imamovic, Bosnian by origin, if I heard Moriarty’s preliminary comments correctly; he now teaches in California. It was hard to locate this charming, pensive piece in a national or stylistic context. It lay in the centre of the guitar’s range, relishing the lovely sonority of Moriarty’s instrument and the piece’s emotional subtlety and sense of regret.

A Seguidilla by Emilio Pujol, who was a pupil of Tarrega, and died after a very long life in 1980, reflected a style that most would associate with guitar music: a Spanish dance. Strongly rhythmic, melodically delightful, seeming to endorse a view that merely to be brought up a Spanish musician is to access inexhaustible melodic inspiration. And Moriarty’s playing captured it fluently and with very evident relish.

Then Jane Curry emerged to join Moriarty in a splendid piece by Napoléon Coste: his Grand Duo Concertante. Coste was born in the midst of the Napoleonic era – hence his name; he was a contemporary of Berlioz and Schubert, of Bellini and Donizetti.  It was very emphatically a duo, by no means one instrument accompanying another, so stylistically intimate was it. Naturally, the melody line was handled by each in turn, though it seemed more often to fall to Curry. Its character encouraged me to hear the difference in tone between the two guitars.

The Duo’s form was a very traditional four contrasting movements: Allegro, Andante, Barcarolle and the Finale, Allegro. The opening Allegro was lively enough, but it was its charm and the excellent rapport between the two players that made listening such pleasure, and it made me wonder whether hearing a piece like this might have inspired Chopin’s famous remark that ‘nothing was more beautiful than a guitar – except perhaps, two guitars’. (though given Chopin’s famous acerbity and ungenerosity, that sounds uncharacteristic).

The Andante was thoughtful and seemed an even more delightful example of musical sharing. The Barcarolle created yet another sort of delight, though like any art, there were moments of hesitation and doubt; I was glad it was not played too quickly. The Finale however, was lively and spoke of contentment, highlighting the splendid unanimity of musicianship and spirit between the two.

Diverting, varied, guitar recital by NZSM students

New Zealand School of Music Guitars

Music by Brahms, de Falla, Ravel, Philip Houghton, Barrios

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 10 October 2018, 12.15pm

It was not easy to understand what were the alterations to this concert’s programme, caused in part by illness; the microphone not working (as indeed it did not the previous week) didn’t help matters.

First up in this varied programme were Rameka Tamaki and Oliver Featherston.  They played as a guitar duo Theme & Variations from Sextet Opus 18 (second movement) by Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897), arranged by the great guitarist John Williams.  The work was in B-flat major, and was composed in the summer of 1860, while Brahms was staying near the River Elbe. It was premiered later in Hanover, by an ensemble led by Brahms’s colleague, the violinist Joseph Joachim.

The second movement andante was played in a very pleasant arrangement. The fact of it being a theme and variations based on Hungarian rhythms and sonorities made it somehow suitable for guitars. There was perfect co-ordination between the players, despite plenty of technical demands.  For the most part the music was gentle and delicate, throughout this quite long movement.

Music from Falla’s opera La Vide Breve is quite well-known, particularly the orchestral music from it, such as this Spanish Dance, adapted for performance by two guitars by Emilio Pujol, and played by the same duo as was the first piece on the programme.  It was a thoroughly pleasing performance of this delightful, bright piece.

Next were two solos, both by Agustin Barrios (1885-1944), who was born in Paraguay, but lived in other parts of Latin America for most of his life.  He wrote many works, mainly short ones, for guitar.  Chris Everest played his La Catedral and Rameka Tamaki played Julia Florida.   The first consisted of three movements; after a short Preludio came an Andante, followed by Allegro.  This was an attractive solo, the player obtaining gorgeous resonance from his instrument.  The middle movement was slow and pensive, beautifully executed.  The third movement was fast, with a sustained melody over  running accompaniment.  This demanded, and achieved, great skill.

Like the first, the second soloist played from memory.  Gentle and lilting Julia Florida qualified as a pretty piece (that is not meant to sound demeaning!).  Like the previous piece by Barrios, it was full of interest, and quite demanding on the player – I thought I noticed a few missed notes, but overall, it was another fine performance.

Megan Robson, Finn Perring, Chris Everest played an arrangement of String Quartet in F, (second movement) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), arranged by Winton Yuichiro White, a contemporary American composer chiefly associated with film music. Ravel completed the quartet in 1903.

The movement is marked Assez vif – très rythmé. The pizzicato theme is eminently suited to the guitar; what was striking in the arrangement was the long passages played at a very high pitch – not so common perhaps in guitar music.  It was a spirited rendition, ending in a flourish.  As the programme note stated “White made use of the classical guitar’s large range of colours and techniques, utilising a 7-string guitar, to create a convincing impression of the piece.”

The programme ended with a delightful Suite by Australian Phillip Houghton (1954-2017): A Masque for Lady Nothing.  It was made up of seven short movements, and was played by Joel Baldwin and Oliver Featherston (violin and guitar).
1. Fanfare
2. Bonsai Garden
3. Tinkers’ Dance
4. Le Tombeau de Juliet
5. The King’s Blue Frog Galliard
6. Lovers Dance
7. Spanish Spaniards Pilfer Portuguese Parrots

The work was commissioned by the Sydney Guitar Trio, for the 1999 Darwin International Guitar Festival and is inspired by ancient modal music illustrating seven scenes for a masque (a Renaissance celebration of dance, song, art and all things magical), held in a long-lost kingdom. Below I reproduce the programme note, slightly edited.

“Each movement depicts a different story – Fanfare: the entire kingdom gathering in the woods outside the castle. Jugglers, incense, dancing and a body painter named Bosch. Let the celebrations begin! Bonsai Garden: a world where everything big is small, where stillness is a fragrant breeze. Tinker’s Dance: bawdy and swaggering, not too fast though, they’re all drunk.  “Le Tombeau de Juliet” depicts the tomb of Juliet in silence, all hearts each recall their own true love. “The King’s Blue Frog Galliard”: is a gleeful and slightly clumsy dance, obnoxious and rude. The typical instrumentation of the lute is imitated with bright ponticello and harmonics. “Lovers Dance” is flowing, graceful and entwined. Spanish Spaniards Pilfer Portuguese Parrots depicts how in olden days, not only did Spain have a superior armada than Portugal, but also a superior network of parrot smuggling.”


Piquant and entertaining programme from guitar and viola d’amore at St Andrew’s

Jane Curry (guitar) and Donald Maurice (viola d’amore)

Music by Locatelli, Hindemith, Bruce Paine, Pablo de Sarasate, Ciprian Porumbescu and Miroslav Tadeć

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 9 May 2018, 12.15 pm

I heard these two musicians last year, and once again I can only say that their playing is highly skilled and utterly delightful, and the repertoire charming.

A sizeable audience, including numbers of young people, heard them play a diverse range of music, not all of it composed for precisely this instrumentation, but all of it well worth hearing and apt for the combination.

The Locatelli Sonata Op.2, no.4 was enchanting.  Originally written for flute and continuo, it worked very well in this instrumentation, the guitar performing the continuo part, amply producing a sound closer to the harpsichord than the piano would in an arrangement that exists for violin and piano.  The sweet tone of the viola d’amore in the hands of a thoroughly competent musician is a treat to hear.  The movements, adagio-allegro-largo-allegro were beautifully contrasted, the subtle nuances and variety of tone of the viola d’amore giving everything character and life.

Paul Hindemith was one of the first of the modern composers to write for the old instrument; his Kleine Sonata Op.25, no.2 was indeed short.  There was much lively interplay between the two instruments, and discordant passages part of the humour of the composition

Bruce Paine is an Auckland =based guitarist and composer.  His Finchdean Duet is named after a peaceful village in England, and was originally a solo piece.  Maurice employed the deeper, richer tones of his instrument in this work, which I found attractive but not adventurous.

Pablo de Sarasate was a nineteenth century Spanish violinist and composer.  He wrote many pieces based on Spanish dances, for his instrument.  ‘Playera’ was one in a collection of such dances for violin and piano – though according to my Spanish dictionary, the word literally means ‘canvas shoes’.  It was appealing music.

Romanian composer Ciprian Porumbescu had a short life, and his ‘Balada’ was  probably written in confinement to his home region, where his political views kept him.  He contracted tuberculosis, which accounted for his early death.  It was a sad piece (written for violin and piano), but eloquent and plaintive.  It had these two instruments sounding so well together; the effect was lovely, and elegant.

The final offering in the concert consisted of two ‘Macedonian Pieces’ by Miroslav Tadeć, a Serbian now resident in the USA.  He is a prolific guitarist, composer and recording artist.  Maurice’s parts in ‘Jovka Kumanovka’ and ‘Cajdarsko Oro’ were originally written for flute.  The first one was rather wistful but folksy in character.

The second sounded like a folk dance, fast and very rhythmic.  The viola d’amore made it sound quite skittish. It rounded out a piquant and entertaining programme.






Intriguing improvisatory performances by Robbie Duncan and Bernard Wells at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts
Sonic explorations – original music for guitar and piano

Robbie Duncan (guitar, effects) and Bernard Wells (piano, keyboard)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 21 March 12:15 pm

This is a belated, ‘sort-of’ review of the St Andrew’s concert on Wednesday 21 March. So I have filed it out of date order for a few days so that it will be noticed.

I didn’t arrive at the concert till after 12.30; the first few minutes were spent tuning my head to the sounds and to the character of the playing, and trying to sense the players’ personalities and that of the music, so I lost further time before my receptors were working properly. Nevertheless, from the start, I felt in the presence of genuine, serious and imaginative music making. For one who has neither been gifted with nor been able to cultivate improvisatory musical abilites, these gifts in others have always seemed to be a kind of magic making.

Improvisatory talent is not especially rare, but as with every kind of art, the degree of talent varies hugely.

Being rather unfamiliar with the language of jazz commentary, I had initially decided that I couldn’t offer any kind of sensible review. But I gathered that guitarist Robbie Duncan had spoken interestingly and perceptively at the start of the concert; and because I had found the performances more than commonly interesting, I decided to ask whether Robbie could send me an outline of what he (they?) had said. The indirect email messages between us took some time to get through however, and so this is two weeks late.

Robbie began by remarking on the sound qualities of the church, noting that for many years he had used digital emulations of a natural reverberation in recording music. “Now at St Andrews we get to play with the real thing – a beautiful natural reverb, and a real Steinway piano.” Now they could play into and work with the natural reverberation, “allowing silence and space be part of the music”.

Then he touched on the nature of extemporisation as it is more commonly called in classical music. “Not all music has to be written down”, he said. “Jamming is what some musicians do purely for fun – it can be a social activity that those with the language and the interpersonal skills can do simply for fun. Listening is as important as speaking.”

“The scary thing is taking it into the public domain”, he said, likening the process to quantum physics where the observer (the audience) changes the outcome.

“I was initially introduced to improvisation in the 70’s by a Wellington band named Highway, and was then was inspired by Keith Jarrett’s solo piano playing where he would just make it up –  the music has a flow and a trajectory of its own.”

Then he turned to the music that they had played in the concert. “The first piece we played was to settle us down and to tune us into the sound, the acoustic space and to each other. The piece East Cape originated from a back injury I had sustained.” He found that through being in constant pain his guitar playing would speed up, and East Cape was composed with the intention of slowing himself down, with pauses, “where I could remember my breathing and reset myself tempo-wise”.

“The second and third pieces were totally improvised; we knew the start point – that is, the guitar tuning – but from there the music has a life of its own.

Improvising is all about the present moment, he said: relying on both the conscious and the subconscious mind. But more, he suggested, by the unconscious, “for by the time you have analyzed what the other musician is playing the moment has gone – for me, I just have to trust my fingers will know what to do”.

“For me this is extreme sport for musicians – there is no pre-planned structure, It’s like surfing  – you catch the wave and flow with it – sometimes you fall off but that creates the space for the next wave and the next wave.”

Another analogy would be like a dance, Robbie remarked; “sometimes one leads and sometimes one follows”.

Then he touched on his role as master of ‘effects’. “I used the ‘Empress’ echo system for the guitar effects – I believe our brains subliminally like the subtle tensions which can be created both rhythmically and harmonically.”

And unorthodox tunings also featured. He is exploring alternative tunings.
“Creating a new tuning means you can’t play your usual chords or scales,” meaning the fingers don’t instinctively go to the right places on the finger board. “It forces me as a guitar player to develop a new vocabulary, and each new tuning creates a constraint within which to work.”

Bernard responded a bit later to my approach, offering comments on the art of improvisation, and specifically on their own approach to it. He stressed that they practise together to make ‘composition in the moment’ a conscious process, “a dialogue that can continue in conversation long after we have stopped playing! There is however, always an unconscious or intuitive element entering when we play”.

All sorts of different music can be their point of departure, and he mentions everything from Gregorian Chant, through Renaissance and Baroque music to dance traditions, popular songs, jazz….

The process of improvisation “can begin with a meditative, spiritual aspect, a sense of listening to something outside ourselves (the music of the spheres or sensing a ‘potential for music’) that is always there, waiting to manifest through musicians in the physical world”.

The spiritual element begins, he says, “with musicians and the audience in silence and involves trust that we will somehow begin and honour this creative process through to its completion”.

Bernard then described the different or additional challenges with collective improvisation: “We adapt our individual styles to the fact that we are often improvising together and we thus play perhaps fewer notes, e.g. single finger piano lines to make space for the other. This approach leaves us open to invite others to participate in an expanded lineup and yet preserve our transparent musical texture where every voice is heard. We play together with an awareness for transparent quality in the combined musical line and dynamics and pitch register allowing the different qualities of the piano and guitar to be heard (timbre, attack, dynamic, sustain etc.).”

Bernard referred to listening and intuition in exploring “the unspoken communication between musicians improvising as we listen, react and respond to one another in the moment”, which involved practice and the development of intuition, “to sense who is leading at a particular moment and where the music is going (taking us)”.

So although I had missed the first 20 minutes or so of their performance, I found these perceptions by the two musicians retrospectively illuminating, and they resonated with my impressions of the ways in which the two reacted and interacted in the process of spontaneous creativity. Though one has heard improvisation of all kinds over the years, I had the feeling that these two were, more that is often the case, allowing themselves to be genuinely inspired by what had been played by each other, and by what felt like some kind of inevitable elaboration of what had just fallen from their fingers.

There was no question of trying to identify consciously just what was happening in the shape of shifting tonalities, of contrapuntal moments, elaboration of melodic fragments and all the other musical processes that musicians have devised and practised over the centuries. The resultant music had simply left the impression of something that was aesthetically attractive and emotionally rewarding.

I’d certainly like a chance to hear Wells and Duncan again in this environment.

Two resounding recordings from Rattle – classics and a feisty newcomer

Sonatina – piano (1960) / Three Pieces – violin and piano (1967)
Black, White and Coloured – solo piano (selections – 1999/2002)
Swan Songs for voice and guitar (1983)
Dance Suite from “Ring Round the Moon” (1957 arr. 2002)
Jian Liu (piano) / Martin Riseley (violin)
Jenny Wollerman (soprano) / Jane Curry (guitar)
Rattle RAT-D062 2015

MODEST MUSSORGSKY – Pictures at an Exhibition
Henry Wong Doe (piano)
Rattle RAT-D072 2017

How best does one describe a “classic” in art, and specifically in music?

Taking the contents of both CDs listed above, one might argue that there are two “classic” compositions to be found among these works, one recognised internationally and the other locally, each defined as such by its popularity and general recognition as a notable piece of work. If this suggests a kind of facile populist judgement, one might reflect that posterity does eventually take over, either continuing to further enhance or consigning to relative neglect and near-oblivion the pieces’ existence in the scheme of things.

Though hardly rivalling the reputation and impact in global terms of Modest Mussorgsky’s remarkable Pictures at an Exhibition on the sensibilities of listeners and concert-goers, it could safely be said that New Zealand composer David Farquhar’ s 1957 incidental music for the play Ring Round the Moon has caught the imagination of local classical music-lovers to an extent unrivalled by any of the composer’s other works, and, indeed by many other New Zealand compositions. I would guess that, at present, only certain pieces by Farquhar’s colleague Douglas Lilburn would match Ring Round the Moon in popularity in this country, amongst classical music aficionados.

The presence of each of these works on these recordings undoubtedly gives the latter added general interest of a kind which I think surely benefits the lesser-known pieces making up each of the programmes. In both cases the combinations are beautifully thought-out and judiciously placed to show everything to its best possible advantage. And visually, there’s similar accord on show, the art-work and general layout of each of the two discs having its own delight and distinction, in the best tradition previously established by the Rattle label.

So enamoured am I still with Farquhar’s original RIng Round the Moon for small orchestra (that first recording featuring the Alex Lindsay Orchestra can be found by intrepid collectors on Kiwi-Pacific Records CD SLD-107), I thought I would give myself more time to get used to the idea of a violin-and-piano version (arranged by the composer in 1992). I therefore began my listening with the more recent disc, Pictures, featuring pianist Henry Wong Doe’s enterprising coupling of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and a 2016 work by Auckland composer Eve de Castro-Robinson, A zigzagged gaze, one which similarly presents a series of musical responses to a group of visual artworks.

Mussorgsky’s collection of pieces commemorated the work of a single artist, Victor Hartmann, a close friend of the composer, whereas de Castro-Robinson’s series of pieces, commissioned by the pianist, were inspired by work from different artists in a single collection, that of the Wallace Arts Trust. In the booklet notes accompanying the CD the composer describes the process of selecting artworks from the collection as “a gleeful trawling through riches”. And not only does she offer a series of brief but illuminating commentaries regarding the inspirational effect of each of the pictures, but includes for each one a self-written haiku, so that we get a series of delightfully-wrought responses in music, poetry and prose.

Henry Wong Doe premiered de Castro Robinson’s work, along with the Mussorgsky, at a “Music on Madison Series” concert in New York on March 5th 2017, and a month later repeated the combination for the New Zealand premiere in Auckland at the School of Music Theatre. His experience of playing this music “live” would have almost certainly informed the sharpness of his characterisations of the individual pieces, and their almost theatrical contrasts. For the most part, everything lives and breathes, especially the de Castro Robinson pieces, which, of course, carry no interpretative “baggage” for listeners, unlike in the Mussorgsky work, which has become a staple of the virtuoso pianist repertoire.

While not effacing memories of some of the stellar recorded performances of the latter work I’ve encountered throughout the years, Wong Doe creates his own distinctive views of many of the music’s sequences. He begins strongly, the opening “Promenade” bright, forthright, optimistic and forward-looking, evoking the composer’s excitement and determination to get to grips with the business of paying tribute to his artist friend, Viktor Hartmann whose untimely death was commemorated by an exhibition of his work.

The pianist relishes the contrasts afforded by the cycle, such as between the charm of the Tuileries scene with the children, and the momentously lumbering and crunching “Bydlo” which immediately follows. He also characterises the interactive subjects beautifully – the accents of the gossipping women in “The Market-Place at Limoges” tumble over one another frenetically, while the piteous cries of the poor Jew in “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle” are sternly rebuffed by his well-heeled, uncaring contemporary.

I liked Wong Doe’s sense of spaciousness in many places, such as in the spectral “Catacombs”, and in the following “Con Mortuis in lingua mortua” (the composer’s schoolboy Latin still manages to convey a sense of the transcendence he wanted) – the first, imposing part delineating darkness and deathly finality, while the second part creating a communion of spirits between the composer and his dead artist friend – Wong Doe’s playing throughout the latter properly evoked breathless beauty and an almost Lisztian transcendence generated by the right hand’s figurations.)

Only in a couple of places I wanted him to further sustain this spaciousness – steadying a few slightly rushed repeated notes at the opening of the middle section of “Baba Yaga”, and holding for a heartbeat or so longer onto what seemed to me a slightly truncated final tremolando cadence right at the end of “The Great Gate of Kiev”. But the rest was pure delight, with the fearful witch’s ride generating both properly razor-sharp cries and eerie chromatic mutterings along its course, and the imposing “Great Gate” creating as magnificent and atmospheric a structure of fanciful intent as one would wish for.

Following Mussorgsky’s classic depiction of diverse works of art in music with another such creation might seem to many a foolhardy venture, one destined to be overshadowed. However, after listening to Wong Doe’s playing of Auckland composer Eve de Castro Robinson’s 2016 work, A Zigzagged Gaze, I’m bound to say that, between them, composer and pianist have brought into being something that can, I think, stand upright, both on its own terms and in such company. I listened without a break to all ten pieces first time up, and, like Mussorgsky at Viktor Hartmann’s exhibition, found myself in a tantalising network of connection and diversity between objects and sounds all wanting to tell their stories.

The work and its performance here seems to me to be a kind of celebration of the place of things in existence – the ordinary and the fabulous, the everyday and the special, the surface of things and the inner workings or constituents. As with Mussorgsky’s reactions to his artist friend Hartmann’s creations, there’s both a “possessing” of each work’s essence on de Castro-Robinson’s part and a leap into the kind of transcendence that music gives to things, be they objects, actions or emotions, allowing we listeners to participate in our own flights of fancy and push out our own limits of awareness.

As I live with this music I’m sure I’ll develop each of the composer’s explorations within my own capabilities, and still be surprised where and how far some of them take me. On first hearing I’m struck by the range of responses, and mightily diverted by the whimsy of some of the visual/musical combinations – the “gargantual millefiori paperweight” response to artist Rohan Wealleans’ “Tingler” in sound, for example. I’m entertained by the persistent refrains of Philip Trusttum’s “The Troubadour”, the vital drollery of Miranda Parkes’ “Trick-or-Treater” and the rousing strains of Jacqueline Fahey’s “The Passion Flower”. But in other moods I’ll relish the gentle whimsicalities inspired by Josephine Cachemaille’s “Diviner and Minder” with its delight in human reaction to small, inert things, and the warm/cool beauties of Jim Speers’ “White Interior”, a study of simply being.

Most haunting for me, on first acquaintance, however, are “Return”, with Vincent Ward’s psychic interior depiction beautifully reflected in de Castro Robinson’s deep resonances and cosmos-like spaces between light and darkness, and the concluding tranquilities of the initially riotous and unequivocal rendering of Judy Miller’s “Big Pink Shimmering One”, where the composer allows the listener at the end space alone with oneself to ponder imponderables, the moment almost Rimbaud-like in its powerful “Après le déluge, c’est moi!” realisation.

Henry Wong Doe’s playing is, here, beyond reproach to my ears – it all seems to me a captivating fusion of recreativity and execution, the whole beautifully realised by producer Kenneth Young and the Rattle engineers. I can’t recommend the disc more highly on the score of Eve de Castro-Robinson’s work alone, though Wong Doe’s performance of the Mussorgsky is an enticing bonus.

Turning to the other disc for review, one featuring David Farquhar’s music (as one might expect of a production entitled “Ring Round the Moon”) I noted with some pleasure that the album’s title work was placed last in the programme, as a kind of “all roads lead to” gesture, perhaps to encourage in listeners the thought that, on the face of things, the journey through a diverse range of Farquhar’s music would bring sure-fire pleasure at the traversal’s end.

Interestingly, the programme replicates a “Remembering David Farquhar” concert on the latter’s seventh anniversary in 2014, at Wellington’s NZSM, curated by Jack Body and featuring the same performers – so wonderful to have that occasion replicated here in preserved form. The disc is packaged in one of Rattle’s sumptuously-presented booklet gatefold containers, which also features details from one of artist Toss Woolaston’s well-known Erua series of works, and a biography of the artist.

Beginning the disc is Sonatina, a work for solo piano from 1950, which gives the listener an absorbing encounter with a young (and extremely promising) composer’s music. Three strongly characterised movements give ample notice of an exciting talent already exploring his creativity in depth. Seventeen years later, Farquhar could confidently venture into experimental territory with a Sonata for violin and piano which from the outset challenged his listeners to make something of opposing forces within a work struggling to connect in diverse ways. A second movement dealt in unconventionalities such as manipulating piano strings with both fingers and percussion sticks, after which a final movement again set the instruments as much as combatants as voices in easy accord.

The Black, White and Coloured pieces for piano, from 1999-2002, are represented in two selections on the disc – they represent a fascination Farquhar expressed concerning the layout of the piano keyboard, that of two modal sets of keys, five black and seven white. By limiting each hand to one mode Farquhar created a kind of “double” keyboard, with many opportunities for colour through interaction between the two “modes”. Altogether, Farquhar had twenty-five such pieces published in 2003.

I remember at the NZSM concert being less than enamoured of these works, thinking then that some of the pieces seemed too skeletal and bloodless compared with the originals, especially the settings of Negro Spirituals – but this time round I thought them enchanting, the “double harmonied” effect producing an effect not unlike Benjamin Britten’s treatment of various English folk-songs. A second bracket of these pieces were inspired by diverse sources, among them a Chopin Mazurka, a Landler from a Mahler Symphony, and a theme from a Schubert piano sonata, among others. Again I thought more highly of these evocations this time round, especially enjoying “Clouds”, a Debussy-like recreation of stillness, stunningly effective in its freedom and sense of far-flung purpose.

Swan Songs is a collection of settings which examines feelings and attitudes relating to existence and death, ranging from fear and anxiety through bitter irony to philosophical acceptance, using texts from various sources. Written originally for baritone voice and guitar in 1983, the performances I’ve been able to document have been mostly by women, with only David Griffiths raising his voice for the baritonal record. Here, as in the NZSM Memorial concert, the singer is Jenny Wollerman, as dignified and eloquent in speech as she is in song when delivering the opening “The Silver Swan” by Orlando Gibbons (it’s unclear whether Gibbons himself wrote the song’s words or if they were penned by someone else). Throughout the cycle, Jane Curry’s beautiful guitar-playing provides the “other half” of a mellifluous partnership with both voice and guitar gorgeously captured by producer Wayne Laird’s microphones.

Along with reiterations of parts of Gibbons’ work and a kind of “Swan swan” tongue-twister, we’re treated to a setting by Farquhar of his own text “Anxieties and Hopes”, with guitarist and singer interspersing terse and urgent phrases of knotted-up fears and forebodings regarding the imminence of death. As well, we’re served up a setting of the well-known “Roasted Swan” sequence from “Carmina Burana”, Jenny Wollerman poignantly delineating the unfortunate bird’s fate on the roasting spit. As in the concert presentation I found the effect of these songs strangely moving, and beautifully realised by both musicians.

As for the “Ring Round the Moon” set of dances, I suspect that, if I had the chance, I would want to hear this music played on almost any combination of instruments, so very life-enhancing and instantly renewable are its energies and ambiences. I’m therefore delighted to have its beauties, charms and exhilarations served up via the combination of violin and piano, which, as I remember, brought the live concert to a high old state of excitement at the end! And there’s a lot to be said for the process of reinventing something in an unfamiliar format which one thinks one already knows well.

What comes across even more flavoursomely in this version are the music’s angularities – though popular dance-forms at the time, Farquhar’s genius was to impart the familiar rhythms and the easily accessible tunes with something individual and distinctive – and the many touches of piquant harmony, idiosyncratic trajectory and impish dovetailing of figuration between the two instruments mean that nothing is taken for granted. Martin Riseley and Jian Liu give masterly performances in this respect – listen, for example, to the ticking of the clock leading into the penultimate Waltz for a taste of these musicians’ strength of evocation! Only a slight rhythmic hesitation at a point midway through the finale denies this performance absolutely unreserved acclaim, but I’m still going to shout about it all from the rooftops, and challenge those people who think they “know” this music to try it in this guise and prepare to be astounded and delighted afresh.

Splendid Bartók; evocative New Zealand piece; guitarist substitution perhaps not a misfortune

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Shelley (conductor), with Pablo Sáinz Villegas (guitar)

Leonie Holmes: ‘Frond’ from Three Landscapes for Orchestra
Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez
Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra

Michael Fowler Centre

Saturday, 29 July 2017, 7.30pm

The programme for the concert obviously did not appeal to everyone; there were a lot of empty seats, and even more after the interval when it became obvious that many devotees of the guitar, and of the Rodrigo work, did not wish to encounter Bartók, which was a great shame.  Not so tonight’s soloist, who joined the audience after the interval of this, the final concert of his tour.  He made apparent how much he had enjoyed working with the NZSO.

Leonie Holmes’s work was written in 2004, and recalls her feelings as a child in the bush.  It began with a tubular bell sounding, and a single violin, reminding me rather of a karakia.  Then piccolo was added, and strings entered quietly, followed by some of the brass, solo cello and piano.

Harp, celeste and percussion all had their moments, and there were extensive passages for solo and duet violins plus cello..  Xylophone and marimba both had important roles.  The piece ended in mid-air, with the piccolo.

I found the short piece (11 minutes) evocative and attractive; it was played with impeccable attention to detail.  It is worth noting here the important role played by Kirsten Robertson, as player of both piano and celeste.  She had to do a lot of moving between the two instruments – but the composer had spared her from having to play both at once!  Her playing was lucid and contributed a great deal to the work.

Since a considerably smaller orchestra was needed to be set up for the concerto, conductor Alexander Shelley took the chance to speak to the audience.  He spoke briefly but interestingly about each of the works on the programme.  He commented that our solo guitarist was ‘one of the best alive.’

Initially I was disappointed at the change of programme (due to the illness of the scheduled soloist) from a new guitar concerto by Howard Shore, of LOTR fame to the rather hackneyed Rodrigo concerto.  Not that I have heard it performed live, but it is programmed far too frequently on RNZ Concert.  The Shore was premiered in Canada quite recently, by the intended soloist for this concert, Miloš Karadaglić.  Wikipedia rates the Rodrigo as ‘easy listening’, and I daresay the work by the prolific film composer might well have been in the same category.

However, I tried to listen with fresh ears, and the delight of watching the orchestra, and even more the soloist in action soon charmed away any ennui.  To watch Villegas play was to be astonished; his fingers at times flew faster than the speed of light.

The concerto begins with an introduction from the soloist with flamenco-style strumming of chords, the strings of the orchestra playing spiccato beneath.  Very quickly we were introduced to the great range of dynamics this guitarist is able to produce from his instrument.  The memorable themes are repeated rather frequently.

The second movement opens with a most effective, wistful theme from cor anglais, accompanied by guitar.  This is repeated and varied.   The different timbres of the two instruments is most appealing.  Villegas produced a remarkable, soulful tone when using vibrato, and when playing pianissimo.  The final movement recalls courtly dances, but in a chirpy manner.  Strumming is interspersed with melodic use of individual strings, and includes a brilliant cadenza for the soloist.

The audience greeted the performance firstly with absolute silence through the playing, and secondly with enthusiastic applause at the end, many standing.  It was only then that it was pointed out to me that there were two microphones at the edge of the small podium on which the soloist was seated.  The amplification was very sensitively done, and not apparent through the performance; thanks to the composer very seldom having full orchestra and soloist playing together, it could have passed not being amplified in a smaller auditorium.  The MFC is rather too large for it to be the case here.

Our superb soloist then played quite an extended encore: a Jota, or Aragonese dance, made famous in orchestral circles by the Russian composer Mikhail Glinka’s Jota Aragonesa written in 1845.  I did not hear any composer mentioned for this one – was it the soloist’s own improvisation on a traditional dance theme?  It was electric; lively, and much fresher in character than the Rodrigo.  Its playing included some astonishing techniques, such as fingering notes with the left hand, which sounded, while the right hand was rapping the body of the instrument.  There were many variations incorporated.   An enraptured audience rose to cheer this astonishing performer.

Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra is described by Wikipedia as one of his best-known, most popular and most accessible works.  It was also one of his last.  In five movements, it truly lives up to its name, highlighting different sections of the orchestra, constantly passing between sections to give wonderful variety and contrasts; probably more variety of this sort than any symphony in the canon.

The sombre opening of the Introduzione to the first movement is even ominous. Chromatic woodwind and incisive brass followed.  Two harps added to the variety of aural pleasures as the andante non troppo and allegro vivace sections of the movement proceeded.  Hungarian folk melodies appear – and elsewhere in the work.

The second movement, called (in Italian) ‘Game of couples’ (i.e. pairs of instruments), allegretto scherzando opened unusually with bassoon, along with percussion and soon other woodwind instruments.  The character was of a slightly lugubrious dance, followed by a brass choir playing a hymn-like sequence.  Still the side-drum kept tapping its irritating little rhythm, as if drawing attention to something more ominous that was about to happen.  There is much pizzicato for the lower strings.   Later, the movement is loud and passionate.

The third movement (Elegia) introduces many colours, while the humour is apparent in the fourth (Intermezzo interrotto), with syncopated strings and a raspberry from the tuba.

In the finale, there are fugal passages intermittently; one in which bassoons and clarinets feature prominently.  Harps had a brief moment to themselves before another fugal section, beginning  for strings only.  All was magnificently played.  A splashy, somewhat bombastic ending finished this work of many exotic and exciting sounds.  Certainly some passages could be regarded as discordant or atonal, but there is much that is cheerful, even humorous.  Yet other sections sound like traditional symphonies.  There were many opportunities for players to shine as soloists or sections and they were rewarded by the conductor walking around the orchestra giving individuals and groups their own separate bows to the applause.

The programme notes shall have the last word: “ Triumphant, fantastically detailed and unfailingly optimistic, this is the work of a composer at his very best”.