Saxon Baroque

The Choir’s August Great Hall concert for 2016 presented a program of two religious works from eighteenth century Germany: the Missa No.9 in D by the little-known Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729) and the Magnificat by the impressive but difficult to classify Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), of whom Brett Dean has made the inspired comment that ‘he would be much better known if he had a different surname’. The Magnificat was not entirely new to us but Heinichen and his music were. Emanuel’s fast and florid fugal writing proved a great challenge to us, leading Christopher Bowen to say, on several occasions, that Baroque music was not suitable for a large choir like Grads.

The Choir’s very satisfying recent record of engaging excellent soloists for our performances was maintained in spades on this occasion, with the participation of an outstanding solo quartet, all of whom had sung with us before. Anita Kyle (soprano), who sang in Handel’s Israel in Egypt with us in December 2015. Ashlyn Tymms (alto), winner of our 2015 Joan Carden Award (JCA), who had sung in our performance of Dvorak’s Stabat Mater in May of that year; Ashlyn was back briefly in Australia from her studies at the Royal College of Music in London – she was delighted to be with the Choir again and we were delighted to have her back. Richard Butler (tenor), a specialist in this repertoire, had also sung in our Israel in Egypt and had been the Evangelist in our St. John Passion of August 2013. And Simon Lobelson (bass), who is also a veteran of our Israel in Egypt and our St. John Passion, who managed to fit in our gig, while appearing in Sydney Chamber Opera’s current production run of Notes from Underground. Unlike us, they had no technical problems with the vocal demands of the music; and, collectively and individually, gave irresistible performances.

L-R Christopher Bowen OAM, Richard Butler, Anita Kyle, Simon Lobelson, Ashlyn Tymms

L-R Christopher Bowen OAM, Richard Butler, Anita Kyle, Simon Lobelson, Ashlyn Tymms

Yet again, our orchestral players were exemplary. And so it was wholly appropriate that the Choir’s President, David Moser, took advantage of the presence at the concert of our esteemed Patron, Professor the Hon.Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO,  to organise the presentation of the Patron’s Award to Pamela Traynor (sop), the Orchestra Manager. Pamela had been severely tested over the preceding few days by the sudden and unexpected news that the designated organist would not be able to perform. After an intensive search and negotiations, she was able to offer the gig to Ross Cobb, organist and Music Director of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, who seamlessly and skilfully took over this important role with virtually no rehearsal. We are very grateful to him, as we are to all our instrumental players. Kirsten Williams, our new Concertmaster, led for the second time and is clearly enjoying the role. The playing of the strings was very fine. In both works, Bronwen Needham, our Principal flutist, gave ravishing performances of solos for her instrument. Heinichen’s Mass makes virtuoso demands of the horns and Graham Nicholls (Principal) and Paul Stiles met these with style.  Our trio of trumpeters, Leanne Sullivan (Principal), Owen Morris, the newly appointed Principal trumpet of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra who flew across from Adelaide to take part, and David Pye took the opportunities provided by this Venice-trained composer’s brilliant brass writing to shine.

Patron's Award 2016

Pamela Traynor, presented with the Patron’s Award 2016 by Professor the Hon.Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO

Performers and audience alike were very taken by the Missa of Heinichen , whose music was a revelation to pretty well everyone – one exception to this was Christoph Kaufmann (tenor), who had suggested pairing it with CPE. Bach’s Magnificat. Christoph’s advocacy for Heinichen nicely paralleled Christopher’s enthusiasm for another Dresden court composer, Zelenka, whose Missa Dei Patris we performed in December 2013.

The audience was decent but short of a sell-out, despite David Moser’s urging on of the Choir to sell tickets. We were delighted to welcome Professor Bashir, who was very enthusiastic about the concert, and Joan Carden AO OBE,  who was particularly keen to hear Ashlyn Tymms again, the current holder of the eponymous JCA. Audience members to whom I and others spoke were particularly impressed with the Heinichen and generally enjoyed the concert, including the performance of the Choir.  This is no doubt a tribute to Christopher’s relentless insistence on correct muscular control and voice placement. We were perhaps a little daunted by the complexities of some of the singing demands made by these two Saxon masters, notably Emanuel’s long, nightmarishly difficult fugue on Sicut erat in Principio, which concludes the Magnificat. On the day of the concert, the omens were suddenly very positive, when some of us heard Colin Fox on ABC Classic FM’s Sunday breakfast program give a detailed, expansive plug for it. The bright, sunny day gave the lie to the generally gloomy forecasts. Professor Bashir’s warmly enthusiastic comments about Christopher, the orchestra and Choir in her remarks during the presentation to Pamela also helped to lift morale. In any event, we performed these works with great gusto and not a little skill. Final judgment will, as usual, await the recording. The Chamber Choir, with Ros Moxham once again taking some of the rehearsal load off Christopher’s shoulders, was given some of the more exposed passages to sing and did so beautifully. (One of the less salient outcomes of the concert is that, from now on, the Geelong Football Club will be known to Stephen Mills (bass) and your correspondent as the MagnifiCats).

All in all, this was a very successful venture by the Grads into unfamiliar but rewarding territory, following the exploratory journey in May into the terra incognita of von Suppé’s Requiem. It will put us in good shape to charge down the autobahn towards Handel’s Messiah and Haydn’s Die Schöpfung at the end of the year.

John Bowan

 

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Colin Fox on von Suppé’s Requiem

A few weeks ago, we sent a copy of the recording of our May performance of von Suppé’s Requiem to the respected ABC Classic FM presenter, Colin Fox,. In 2012 Colin had warmly praised our performance of Mendelssohn’s Paulus, praise we greatly valued.

von Suppé - Requiem

von Suppé – Requiem

Colin wrote to us on 21 August, commenting that he had listened to the first few numbers of the von Suppé work and was enjoying the work and the performance. He had earlier told us that he had never heard or heard of it, which adds force to his final comment: ‘What a find!’

Colin Fox’s enthusiasm is further vindication of Christopher Bowen’s judgement in proposing the performance of von Suppé’s work and a thoroughly deserved rebuff of those in the Choir, who had (almost) died in a ditch opposing its programming. Scoundrels! Philistines!

The Choir can take satisfaction from the fact of being held in good standing with someone as professional and informed as Colin Fox, as can be seen from the generous, detailed announcement he made on air for our ‘Saxon Baroque’ concert on 21 August.

John Bowan

 

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Anna Dowsley in Mozart’s ‘Cosi fan Tutte’

Earlier posts have reported on the rapidly developing career of mezzo Anna Dowsley, one of the Choir’s favourite soloists, since being highly commended by the judges in the 2012 Joan Carden Award and starring in our memorable Verdi Requiem in 2013 and, most recently in our outstanding von Suppé Requiem in May this year.

Nicole Car (left) as Fiordiligi, Anna Dowsley as Dorabella and Taryn Fiebig as Despina in Opera Australia's Cosi Fan Tutte. Photo: Prudence Upton

Nicole Car (left) as Fiordiligi, Anna Dowsley as Dorabella and Taryn Fiebig as Despina in Opera Australia’s Cosi Fan Tutte. Photo: Prudence Upton

Anna is currently performing with distinction in the role of Dorabella in Opera Australia’s (OA’s)current production of Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte, the third opera in the trilogy of masterpieces composed by Mozart to libretti by the great Lorenzo da Ponte (the others are Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni). Your correspondent has attended a production and can confirm that Anna gave a classy performance in what is a classy production by the celebrated English director, Sir David McVicar.

Reviews for the production and for Anna have been warmly favorable.  Jo Litson, in Limelight magazine, wrote that “Anna Dowsley confirms her promise with another lovely comic performance, her silvery mezzo-soprano well suited to the role.” Peter McCallum in the Sydney Morning Herald, observed that Anna’s voice matches “the manic intensity and exaggerated passion of her character and she cuts through ensembles with thrilling definition” (Your correspondent is reluctant to differ with Professor McCallum but would offer the humble opinion that Anna’s acting on this occasion is the most balanced and convincing of her short OA career).

Anna’s performance is especially meritorious in that her character, Dorabella, is the confidante of and foil for Fiordiligi, played in this production by soprano, Nicole Car, the hottest name in opera in Australia at the moment. They made a brilliant pair and both of them received warm ovations from the audience. (There was also some lovely singing from tenor, Jonathan Abernethy, who was an OA Young Artist with Anna in 2014).

Anna’s performance in Cosi, as in earlier OA productions, indicates that she is completely in love with life on the opera stage, an impression confirmed by an ABC Radio interview she gave during an interval of a live broadcast of the production on Saturday, 30 July. With charming, unaffected enthusiasm, she conveyed a sense of passion for and delight in her new life.

It is great to see “our Anna” so obviously in her element and achieving such success on the big stage. This outstanding production can be whole-heartedly recommended to anyone looking for a rewarding evening at the opera.

John Bowan

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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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