Introducing Kirsten Williams – Concertmaster

We are indeed fortunate to have the talented Kirsten Williams leading our orchestra. Not only is Kirsten a gifted musician but her charm and style give pleasure to both players and audience. As our new concert master it’s time to learn a little more about her.

Kirsten Williams

Kirsten Williams

Where were you born and do you come from a musical family?
I was born in Sydney. My mum was a fine pianist although she decided not to pursue music as a career, instead choosing English and History high school teaching. My dad (who was a feature writer on The Australian and later The Sydney Morning Herald) adores classical music and always has it playing on the radio at home. Much of my upbringing involved hearing my mum play the piano, particularly as we children went off to sleep, and the record player always had a concerto or symphony being played during Sunday lunch. My grandparents were keen choir and ensemble singers. My brother and sister both learnt music but chose medicine for their careers.


How old were you when you started violin lessons?
I was 4 years old when I started having violin lessons and played on an eighth size violin.

Your memories of music at school
I went to Pennant Hills Primary School where we fortunately had a string orchestra that my mum and some of the other mums started up. I then went to the Conservatorium High School until Year 10 which was when I started my diploma, the Diploma of the State Conservatorium of Music. It was a fortuitous time to be at the Conservatorium—there was a lot of emphasis on the actual learning of one’s instrument, access to two private lessons a week, orchestral and ensemble work and many performance opportunities.

Your studies in Switzerland…and did you ski?
I commenced Post Graduate violin lessons with Prof Igor Ozim in Switzerland when I was 19.He is one of the finest violin professors in the world, particularly good with the technical side of violin playing. I didn’t ski when I was there (actually I’ve never skied!). I was always taught to not take part in sports where I may break an arm or damage a finger!

You’ve played with some of the best orchestras…
I fortunately won a 1st Violin position in Covent Garden, London when I travelled there. It was an incredible experience and very busy schedule. Carlos Kleiber and Bernard Haitink were two of the conductors who were extraordinary to work with and many wonderful singers. I stayed there only for 6 months as I won a position with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields with Sir Neville Marriner as conductor and with leaders Iona Brown and Ken Siletto who also lead and directed the smaller conductorless ensembles.

When playing as soloist do you suffer from nerves?
I have always had to contend with nerves, since I was a teenager, I think it just goes with the territory. I have gone through stages where it has been quite crippling and have learnt various coping strategies that worked for me. These days I am rarely overcome with nerves, but—being one to always have to factor in a certain amount of stage fright—it means I am always well prepared for performances. I have also learnt to welcome a certain amount of adrenaline and to channel it into passion and joy in performing.

Favourite composer and piece
I have always particularly loved playing pieces, concertos, chamber works and symphonies of the Baroque, Classical and Romantic composers. Two of my favourite works are actually the Fauré and Brahms Requiems: the music is extraordinary and the combination of choir with orchestra is uplifting to the max!

Musical interests?
I am completely drawn to playing music in healing capacities and I’m always looking for where this might lead me. I have been playing to the premature babies at Westmead Children’s Hospital in the Intensive Care and High Dependency Units for a number of years now. I play very softly with a muted violin; I make up little lullabies and gently lilting music at around a heartbeats speed. I also set an intention for healing before I start as I am a strong believer that the vibration of our thoughts and intentions also impact our environments and those around us. Often the babies will become more settled with the gentle loving music and the parents seem to really enjoy it also.

For last two years I have travelled down to Goulburn for the day to teach disadvantaged children Grades 2 and 3 to play the violin. I try to get down once a week but it is sometimes impossible with my SSO schedule, nevertheless I get down there as often as I can. It is such a privilege for me to be welcomed in to help give these children the opportunity of music, to be present with them, simply because they are extraordinary despite the difficulties in their home lives and/or their emotional and mental challenges. All the little violins have been donated and are locked up in one of the classroom after their lessons.

What make of violin do you have?
I play on a beautiful violin by an Italian maker by the name of Raffaele Fiorini and it was made in 1857.The Sydney Symphony now own a fair few amazing string instruments and I have the good fortune of playing on this one.

Thank you Kirsten!

Dawn

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Tángalo!

Members will be aware that our talented and charming rehearsal pianist, Amy Putt, is a member of the Sydney-based modern tango quintet, that goes by the name of Tángalo. The quintet has no Hispanic members but aims for and achieves an authentic Argentine sound. They visited Argentina in 2014, as recipients of an Australia Council award, which gave them a great opportunity to immerse themselves directly in the culture of Buenos Aires and its tango culture.

Amy has promoted interest in Tángalo in the choir by selling its CD, which has the splendid title ‘Good enough for Gringos’ and can be recommended to any chorister silly enough not to have bought it yet. The ensemble gave a concert on 25 May for the Roseville Music Club, of which Andrew Mackenzie (tenor) is the treasurer, and a number of gringos from Grads joined the audience, which included quite a few members of other choirs, with which Amy works. The venue was St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church, a spacious, modern building with a good acoustic.

The five musicians demonstrated a number of skills–bandoneon, guitar, violin, double bass, flute, piano, vocals and arranging. The music presented was expressive and varied and included milongas, folk song and/ waltzes, as well as tangos. A couple of these were by the very popular tango composer (and darling of ABC Classic FM presenters) Astor Piazzola, one of whose pieces set words by Argentina’s great writer, Jorge Luis Borges.

Amy’s piano playing was technically assured and stylish and she obviously makes a central contribution to Tángalo’s sound and character. The ensemble’s co-founders, Emily-Rose Sarkova and Owen Salomé, are responsible for the bandoneon playing and arrangements, with Owen also doubling on flute and guitar, while Susie Bishop plays the violin and shares the vocals with Emily-Rose, and Johan Delin plays the double bass, both pizzicato and bowed.

In short, Tángalo are a terrific band. Grads members who have not yet acquired a copy of their CD, are urged to do so without further ado. It is to be hoped that the Choir will provide larger numbers of gringos in the future to swell Tángalo’s audiences.

Viva Tángalo!

John Bowan

Tángalo

Tángalo

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Franz von Suppé’s Requiem—‘Thus is the power of music’

The Grads 2016 concert season opened on Sunday 8th May with absolute éclat and elan, a promising introduction to an exciting season highlighting some little known, rarely-performed works.

We believe that our performance of Franz von Suppé’s Requiem was an Australian first—and it proved surprising in many hoped for, but unexpected, ways.

Anna Dowsley Sarah Toth

Anna Dowsley Sarah Toth

A common theme in the feedback we received was the unexpectedness of it. With von Suppé’s reputation built on light operettas and similar music, the profundity and grace of his Requiem – as well as the complexities of both the instrumental and vocal writing – caught many by surprise.

Our soloists included established and emerging talent.

We were pleased to welcome soprano Sarah Toth who has performed numerous operatic roles across the spectrum both here and overseas. Amongst other awards, Sarah was also a semi-finalist in the 2015 Joan Carden Award competition. It was a particular pleasure to welcome her to the stage.

Anna Dowsley is well known to audiences of the Grads, having appeared as guest soloist on a number of occasions, including our 2013 performance of Verdi’s Requiem, the memorable Mass in C (Missa Dei Patris) by Jan Zelenka, also performed in 2013, and our December 2015 performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt. Recipient of a number of prestigious awards, Anna is forging a very successful career as principal artist with Opera Australia. Her performance lived up to expectations, with her rendition of the ‘Lacrimosa’ of particular note.

David Hamilton Christopher Bowen

David Hamilton Christopher Bowen

Distinguished tenor, David Hamilton last performed with the Grads in our performance of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater just one year ago in May 2015. It was a great pleasure to have him sing with us again.

Bass Adrian Tamburini, currently principal artist with Opera Australia, who performed so memorably in the August 2014 premiere of Christopher Bowen’s An Australian War Requiem, and subsequently in our 2015 performance of  Dvořák’s wonderful Stabat Mater, excelled. His performance of the ‘Hostias’ brought tears to many eyes, and it will be long remembered for its passion and depth.

When singing as an ensemble the soloists blended beautifully, no one voice overpowering the other, allowing each full rein to shine.

A warm welcome to our new orchestra leader, Kirsten Williams, Associate Concertmaster with the SSO, who brought her extensive experience and a marked enthusiasm for the performance of a little-known and rarely performed work to lead a very polished and confident orchestral ensemble.

The orchestra performed with a real edge, and evident pleasure at playing something unexpectedly powerful. It comprised very distinguished musicians, including violinist Rebecca Gill, also an SSO member, as well as cellist Hyungsuk Bae, the SSO’s 2016 Fellow. Many other musicians in the orchestra are regular members of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra.

Adrian Tamburini

Adrian Tamburini

Particular tribute should be paid to the prominent brass sections, including trombonists Michael Wyborn, Mitchell Nissen and Pius Choi, who rose to take well-deserved applause at the conclusion of the concert.

But the whole orchestra is to be commended, particularly when you take into account that this was a completely new work to all of them.

A new work to all of us, choir included! The choice of a virtual unknown work was a brave and adventurous step for all involved. It gave the Choir the opportunity to show its mettle and it more than met the challenge, and all within a relatively limited rehearsal period. The precision of the choir’s vocals, particularly on the rapid quaver and semi-quaver passages, the nuanced contrast of subjects in the fugues, and the very effective dynamic control (particularly the diminuendos) give ample evidence of the Graduate choir’s expanding capacities. Of particular note were the dense rich textures of the a capella sections.

There was evident enjoyment in the performance, even from the conductor who bore the responsibility for making it all dance together.

This was an enjoyment shared by performers and audience alike. We’ve received a large number of congratulatory messages, commenting on how remarkable and powerful the work is, and how enjoyable it was to sing it/share in it/hear it. It’s easy to agree with the conductor’s assessment that this work should be a major addition to the repertoire of great choral works.

One particular message shows that the music had considerable impact. Two guests of our bass, Adrian, attended. ‘They had never been to a classical concert in their lives. So, on my recommendation, they came to see the concert. I found them at the conclusion of the performance in the quadrangle, both of them had tears streaming down their faces saying that they had never imagined that music like that could have moved them so much. I didn’t want to embarrass them by asking where their tears had come from but I was honoured and proud that our collective performance had touched their hearts and made such a strong impact on them. Thus is the power of music.’

A great start to our 2016 concert season, setting a high benchmark for the rest of the year.

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Changing of the guard in the leadership of the orchestra

One of the important factors, which makes attending concerts by the Sydney University Graduate Choir a rewarding experience is the consistently outstanding contribution made by our excellent orchestral musicians. Christopher Bowen has established such a good rapport with them that many of the musicians perform so regularly at our concerts and perform at such a high standard of professionalism, that one might take them for a permanent orchestra.

Orchestra Leader Stan Kornel

Orchestra Leader Stan Kornel

For the past few years, we have had the good fortune to have had Stan W. Kornel as Concertmaster. Stan has been a member of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) since 1988. He is an early music specialist, and the Sydney Consort, the early music ensemble which he founded in 1996, is a valuable contributor to the musical life of New South Wales. (A number of choir members have become regulars at the Consort’s concerts and we can recommend them to anybody interested in scholarly informed and beautifully performed early music).

Stan’s musicianship, enthusiasm and experience have been important assets to the orchestra and of great assistance to Christopher Bowen. Stan has been centrally involved in the important milestones of the Choir’s concert-giving in recent years: our Verdi Requiem of April 2013; the premiere of Christopher’s An Australian War Requiem in August 2014, and the Joan Carden Award Finals concert, for the first time  with orchestra and before an audience in August 2015.

Unfortunately, Stan has come to the regretful but unavoidable conclusion that the pressures on his time associated with performances of the SSO and the Sydney Consort will no longer permit him to lead the orchestra in our concerts. He says that he has derived great pleasure from the association and sends his best wishes to the Choir. We would like to place on record our thanks for Stan’s splendid contribution and to wish him all the best for the future.

It is good to be able to report that the connection between the first desk of our orchestra and the SSO’s violins is set to continue. .Pamela Traynor (soprano), the Choir’s Orchestra Manager informs us that, beginning with our next concert, a performance of the Requiem of Franz von Suppé on Sunday, 8 May, the orchestra will be led by Kirsten Williams. Kirsten has been Associate Concertmaster of the SSO since 2000. She has also been a member of the orchestra of the Royal Opera House , Covent Garden, and spent two years as a member of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Kirsten has also been a member of the Australian Chamber Orchestra as Associate Leader, and Guest Concertmaster of the Australian Opera and Ballet and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

We would like to welcome Kirsten to our choral world. We trust that she will enjoy making music in the Great Hall with a distinguished group of instrumentalist colleagues – and us.

John Bowan

 

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An exciting beginning to the year— Franz von Suppé’s Requiem

We’re just one month away from our first concert of 2016—it’s incredible to think that this year is almost one third of the way done!

Franz von Suppé

Franz von Suppé

Our 2016 concert series encompasses a range of well-known masterworks as well as exciting discoveries, commencing in May with what we believe to be the Australian premiere of Franz von Suppé’s magnificent Italian-style Requiem.

Von Suppé is not a particularly familiar name to Australian audiences, however his finely crafted compositions, particularly the Requiem, deserve greater prominence on the concert stage.

Franz von Suppé was born in 1819 in the Kingdom of Dalmatia (now Croatia), which at that time was part of the Austrian empire. He spent much of his musical working life in Vienna, where he composed for the Theater in der Josefstadt, the Caritheater in Leopldstadt and the Theater an Wien.

Completed and first performed in Vienna in 1855, the Requiem in D minor marks a shift away from von Suppé’s more established oeuvre of overtures and light operettas (he composed in the vicinity of four dozen of them) into an intense, yet refined treatment of the liturgy.

We will be joined in our performance by four outstanding soloists, well known to our regular audiences: Sarah Toth (soprano), Anna Dowsley (alto), David Hamilton (tenor) and Adrian Tamburini (bass).

Please join us at the Great Hall, University of Sydney, at 3pm on Sunday 8 May for a wonderful afternoon of music.

Following our Mother’s Day performance of von Suppé’s Requiem, we will turn our attention to CPE Bach’s Magnificat and JD Heinichen’s Missa no 9, to feature at our winter concert on 21 August at 3pm. The year ends with Joseph Haydn’s celebrated Creation, to be performed on 4 December 2016 at 5pm. All three concerts will take place at the Great Hall, University of Sydney.

Sydney Sings…Messiah!
A special event for this year—and an optional inclusion in the annual subscription fee—is ‘Sydney Sings…Messiah’ at the Sydney Town Hall, on Sunday 13 November 2016 at 3pm. This will be the 4th time that we have staged this truly epic work in this format, and we are anticipating that interest from potential guest choir members and, ultimately, our enthusiastic audience, will equal (if not surpass) previous years.

The Sydney University Graduate Choir is committed to sharing the joy of music with our community, and ‘Sydney Sings…Messiah’ is an important way for us to reach out and involve everyone in a very exciting way.

Subscribe to our complete concert series for 2016
I hope you’ll consider subscribing to our complete concert series. As well as costs savings over the year, holding a subscription ticket means that you always have a seat reserved for you, as well as discounted program prices. And, for the first time we have included this ‘Sydney Sings’ concert as an option for subscribers—a bonus fourth concert, to be held in the spectacular Sydney Town Hall.

Our subscribers help us to continue to present music of a high standard with professional soloists and the splendid orchestral players you have experienced. A Graduate Choir subscription also makes an excellent gift for music lovers. Just fill in the form in the brochure (click on the image below) and return it to us.

Concert series 2016

Concert series 2016

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Handel’s ‘Israel in Egypt’ – 6 December 2015

Israel in Egypt

Israel in Egypt

The Choir successfully concluded a ground-breaking and musically satisfying year with its December Great Hall performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt. Following our initial encounter with Dvořák’s choral music in May, and the logistical challenge of organizing the final of the Joan Carden Award before an audience and with orchestra for the first time in August, it might have been expected that reverting to a famous Handel oratorio would have been a straight-forward matter.

This was not the case. The work is very long and has an unusually large proportion of the music devoted to the choir. Moreover, Christopher Bowen, with his penchant for the novel and unusual, had elected to perform the work in its three-part original version, with the inclusion of Handel’s reworking of his funeral anthem for Queen Caroline, The Ways of Zion do Mourn, as the First Part. So the task of getting all the notes under our choral belts in the few weeks available was particularly tough. Christopher managed to soften the blow with a few judicious cuts and the allocation of substantial parts of the choral score to the Chamber Choir. Ros Moxham (soprano) once again provided yeoman service in assisting with training the Chamber Choir.

A particularly pleasing aspect of the performance was the participation of six excellent soloists: Anita Kyle and Emma Moore (sopranos), Anna Dowsley ((mezzo), Richard Butler (tenor), and David Hidden and Simon Lobelson (basses) Four amongst these are old friends of the choir: Emma was the 2011 winner of the Joan Carden Award and is coming to the end of several years of study in Berlin; Anna has sung with us on a number of occasions, including in our memorable Verdi Requiem in 2013, and has begun a very promising career, singing principal roles with Opera Australia; Richard was an impressive Evangelist in our Johannes Passion of 2013,while Simon was a soloist in the same performance. This sextet made an important contribution to a successful concert.

Final rehearsal

Final rehearsal

Our orchestral players were also once again an invaluable element in the success of the performance. Regular Leader, Stan Kornel, was unable to play, but sent a warm message, indicating that pressures on his time will make it difficult for him to play for us in the future but that he had greatly enjoyed his association with Christopher and the Choir and wishing us well. When Choir President, David Moser, read Stan’s message out to a rehearsal, it was greeted with warm applause by the Choir. The orchestra was effectively led on this occasion by Maria Lindsay. Other old orchestral friends played in the strings: Inge Courtney-Haentjes (violin), Robert Harris (viola), John Benz (cello), and Dorit Herskovits (double bass). The wind section included Leah Lock and Bronwyn Needham (flutes), Duncan Thorpe and Anna Rodger (oboes), and bassoon legend John Cran, whose just-in-time arrival on concert day threatened to produce panic.

The brass section included regulars like David Pye (trumpet) and Michael Wyborn (trombone). They and Steve Machamer (tympani) had opportunities to blaze forth in the more martial passages. Peter Kneeshaw was kept busy on the organ throughout the performance.

The performance was well received by the packed Great Hall audience. This included our Patron, Professor the Hon. Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, who has now stood down from her important positions as Governor of NSW and Chancellor of the University but continues to enjoy high respect among the State’s music community, not least us. Another of our admired friends, the great Joan Carden AO OBE, was also present. Both ladies joined the Committee for a post-concert reception in the Senate Room, which the soloists and their guests also attended.

The Choir’s path-finding role in Sydney’s musical life is underlined by the fact that Israel in Egypt is scheduled for performance in 2016 by Sydney Philharmonia. Next year, Grads will have the chance to renew acquaintance with Handel’s most popular work, the iconic Messiah, to be performed with guest choristers in the Sydney Town Hall in November as part of our ‘Sydney Sings’ series.  Those parts of Israel In Egypt, which Handel reused in Messiah, were an interesting preview of that event.

It is also noteworthy that the Sydney Symphony’s  publicity for next year highlights the orchestra’s ‘return to our former home’, the Sydney Town Hall, with its ‘spectacular acoustics’, for performances in August of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. Once again, Christopher Bowen is ahead of the curve.

John Bowan

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Further news of Grads’ soloists…

Anna Dowsley

Anna Dowsley, following the Verdi Requiem at the Sydney Town Hall, 2013

A number of the soloists who have given great pleasure in their performances with the Choir are currently doing very well with Opera Australia (OA).

In particular, Anna Dowsley, the young mezzo-soprano who starred in our memorable Verdi Requiem in April 2013, after being highly commended by the judges in the 2012 Joan Carden Award), and who also was a soloist in our December 2013 concert of baroque music by Zelenka and Vivaldi, has begun to sing important principal roles. She has received favourable reviews for her performance as ‘Cherubino’ in the current production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro; in the words of Limelight magazine, Anna is ‘a singer very much on the rise’, and is proving ‘a firm audience favourite’. In the Sydney Morning Herald, Peter McCallum wrote that she sang ‘the character’s two magical arias with fresh bright-eyed colour’ and ‘brought credibility to the chemistry that must be ignited between her and the Countess.’ Having attended a performance of this production, your correspondent can attest to the fact that Anna belongs on the stage of the Opera House. She received a particularly warm curtain call and was an obvious hit with the audience.

Opera Australia clearly has great expectations of her. Writing in OA’s prospectus for 2016, Lyndon Terracini, the company’s Artistic Director, singles Anna out for special mention: ‘In 2016, we see Australian singers take on new roles, such as Nicole Car in Luisa Miller and Anna Dowsley in The Barber of Seville.’ Anna, in fact, is scheduled to sing the role of Rosina, the female lead in Rossini’s masterpiece, and will also be singing Dorabella, one of the two female leads in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. A singer very much on the rise, indeed.

In the light of this career momentum, it is great to be able to say that Anna will be singing in the Choir’s next concert, our performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt on 6 December in the Great Hall. We can feel very gratified that, through the Joan Carden Award, we have established a strong relationship with this outstanding singer.

Adrian Tamburini

Adrian Tamburini: An Australian War Requiem, August 2014

The career of bass Adrian Tamburini is further developed than Anna’s. His excellent singing was very significant in our performances of Christopher Bowen’s An Australian War Requiem in August 2014 and Dvořák’s Stabat Mater in May this year. Adrian sings roles in a number of OA productions next year, including the important one of the Speaker in The Magic Flute. He sang the role of the Gardener in the production of Figaro mentioned above and made it into a memorable and central one.

Tenor Stuart Haycock sang in our performance of The Creation of Haydn in August 2009 and our Australian premiere of Beethoven’s Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph the Second in May 2006. He sings a couple of roles in OA productions in 2016, in Verdi’s Luisa Miller and Simon Boccanegra. Baritone David Greco, who sang with us in the December concert of music by Finzi and Vaughan Williams, has a small role in Prokoviev’s The Love for Three Oranges.

Former winners of the Joan Carden Award (JCA) are also represented in next year’s OA program. Eva Kong, who, as Jinhee Uhm won the JCA in 2008, also has a role in Verdi’s Luisa Miller, and sings the important role of ‘Liu’ in Turandot, OA’s Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour for 2015. Eva sang the role of ‘Barbarina’ in the recent production of Figaro, and brought out all the charm and loveable nature of this character. (Eva won your correspondent over by referring specifically to her performances with Grads, in our performances of the Saint-Saëns Requiem (2009) and Mozarts ‘Great’ C Minor Mass (2010) in her biographical note in the program.) Finally, Agnes Sarkis, JCA winner in 2012, sings Cherubino in the 2016 touring production of The Marriage of Figaro.

Beyond Opera Australia, it is a pleasure to record major success for another young singer, who has been a soloist with the Choir. Baritone Alexander Knight has sung with us on a few occasions, notably in the title role in Mendelssohn’s Paulus in May 2012. On 1 August in Melbourne, Alexander won the German-Australian Award for 2015, which carries with it a Principal position at the Wiesbaden Opera. It is very good to see this accomplished young artist recognized in this way.

John Bowan

 

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