Saturday, September 30, 2017

MONET'S FLOWERS OF WAR: the last shining of the Belle Époque

Performed by the Flowers Of War
Jane Rutter, flute
Tamara Anna Cislowska, piano
David Pereira, cello
Christopher Latham, director and violin
James O Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia to 30 September

Reviewed by Len Power 29 September 2017

If you’re lucky enough to go to L’Orangerie in Paris on a quiet day and sit for a long period in the centre of the room surrounded by Monet’s vast Waterlillies canvases, you’ll have the extraordinarily strange feeling that you are being drawn deeply into these huge paintings.  The Flowers of War concert at the National Gallery provided a similar experience.  With Monet’s work projected on a large screen and impressionist era music played by four consummate musicians, this was an especially immersive and memorable concert.

In the program notes, Christopher Latham explains that the music program is about the last flowering of impressionism in art and music, an era swept away by the Great War.  Using Monet’s late work, it is also an exaltation of his exploration of the emotional resonance of pure colour as he struggled with eyesight problems.

From left: Jane Rutter, Tamara Anna Cislowska, Christopher Latham and David Pereira

Tamara Anna Cislowska played piano for all of the works presented and was joined as required by Jane Rutter, flute, David Pereira, cello, and Christopher Latham, violin.  Grouped in themed sections such as ‘The Garden’, ‘The Weeping Willow’, ‘The Shimmering Pool’ etc., they played works by Debussy, Ravel, Cras, Gaubert, Boulanger and Saint-Saёns, all composers prominent in that impressionist era.

Highlights of the concert were many, including Tamara Anna Cislowska’s solo piano on Lili Boulanger’s ‘D’un jardin clair’, Jane Rutter’s exquisite playing of Jean Cras’ ‘Paysage maritime’ and Philippe Gaubert’s ‘Soir sur la plaine’, David Pereira’s especially sensitive cello on ‘La cygne’ by Saint-Saёns and the beautiful combination of piano and cello with Christopher Latham’s violin in Ravel’s ‘Passacaille’.

The selection of paintings projected as the music played were a feast for the eye and matched perfectly the mood and atmosphere of the music.

The Flowers Of War concerts remember the lost voices of World War One.  More than 350 French artists were killed during that war.  These concerts are a sombre reminder of that tragedy but also an opportunity to ensure that these artists are not forgotten.

Photographs by Peter Hislop
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Edwin Kim in Recital

High Court of Australia
September 20, 2017
Review by Clinton White
Photos by Peter Hislop

In one of the most engaging and deeply personal recitals I have had the fortune to attend, Edwin Kim, winner of the 2017 Australian International Chopin Piano Competition, gave a sublime performance of music that had been important to him throughout his yet short but interesting life.

The program was in three segments: the first, “The Night”, featured two nocturnes, one by Paderewski (gorgeous!) and the other by Chopin; then it was “The Road Not Taken”, with a mazurka by Chopin and another by Moszkowsi.  The final grouping was the curiously-titled “If by Life You were Deceived”, featuring a work by Kim’s first piano teacher, Dong-Chang Lim, alongside Chopin’s Ballade No 4 and the Polonaise-Fantasie, Opus 61.

Introducing each segment with poetry, Kim told his very appreciative audience about the events in his life that have shaped his career and personality and the place each piece has in that shaping.

He spoke of his family moving from South Korea to the US when he was 14 years old, unable to speak a word of English.  He talked about how his parents had to work while his aunt, with whom they were living, became his surrogate mother.  He told his audience how his aunt had beaten cancer, only for it to return and take her life.  Unlike his audience, Kim’s aunt never got to hear him play Chopin’s Mazurka Op 17 No 4.

He spoke of a very low time in his life, at age 17, when he knew he wasn’t practising enough and thought he had lost his talent.  He was learning the Ballade at the time.

He spoke of  his experience with other students, living   high in the Korean mountains through the depths of winter.  He played his “Fantasy on Arirang,” based on a well-known folk tune that was sung through a tragic time of Korean history.  The work reminded Kim of the group’s weekly treks through the snow-encrusted mountain paths to the village below for food supplies.

And so it was with the entire program; heartfelt stories of the good and the not-so-good, with intimate connections to the pieces he played, ended in triumph for this extraordinary artist.

His playing of such a diverse program showed exactly why he was so deserving of the win in the Chopin competition.  It was thoughtful but dynamic, technically perfect but intensely personal, brilliantly fresh but beautifully shaped.

This was an immensely satisfying recital.  Kim’s personality and life experiences, impeccably attuned to his superb musicianship, moved the audience to demand two encores. 

The first I didn’t know, but the second was something completely unexpected.  Having earlier explained that he had taken singing tuition, Kim closed the program by accompanying his own quite superb voice in a soft, gentle, contemporary setting of Mary Frye’s poem, “Don’t Stand by My Grave and Weep”. 

I just wanted to go up and give him a hug!


Based on the book by Shaun Tan
Directed by Philip Mitchell
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre
The Street Theatre to 30 September

Reviewed by Len Power 27 September 2017

Shaun Tan’s wordless ‘graphic’ novel, ‘The Arrival’, was based on stories from his friends, historical narratives and also his own father who immigrated to Australia from Malaysia in the early 1960s.

The story has a timeless feeling about it as we follow the experiences of Aki, a migrant who leaves his wife and family to travel overseas to a foreign country with the goal to provide a better life for them all eventually.  We follow his interaction with people and their strange customs.  Life is hard but he finds work, earns money, makes new friends and builds for the future.

This is a startlingly good theatre version of Tan’s novel.  Philip Mitchell’s production utilizes projections, puppets, light and sound to capture the dreamlike, timeless atmosphere of this compelling story.

Ellis Pearson as Aki
As Aki, Ellis Pearson beautifully creates a likeable and moving character without the benefit of words.  The other cast members, Alicia Osyka, Adrienne Patterson and Shirley van Sanden give nicely realized portrayals of people Aki interacts with.

This show makes clever use of projections especially when a sense of movement is required.  There are imaginative touches throughout the show.  Even the changing doors on the set are interesting.  The puppets are delightful and the actors show great skill working with them.  The paper bird suddenly taking wing was especially magical.

Shirley van Sanden
The lighting designed by Graham Waine and the sound by Jiri Zmitko complement the action on stage perfectly.

This show might be aimed at children but its themes and production will appeal just as much to adults.  At the opening performance, even very young children were clearly captivated by this show from start to finish.

Photos by Rebecca Mansell

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.


William Dooley – piano and violin
Musicians from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and the Canberra Wind Symphony
Wesley Music Centre, Forrest 23 September

Reviewed by Len Power

For a 12th birthday present, not many of us would have been given a concert to perform sonatas and symphonies we’d composed.  Young Canberra composer/performer, William Dooley, got exactly that as well as a nearly full house to perform to.

Twelve year old William Dooley, who plays piano and violin, has been enthusiastically composing since the age of six.  His concert gave him the opportunity to demonstrate his ability on piano and violin playing works he has composed himself.

In addition, a number of leading musicians from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and Canberra Wind Symphony formed an ensemble to play a couple of his compositions.  The group consisted of Barbara Jane Gilby and Timothy Wickham (violins), Iska Samson (viola), Alex Voorhoeve (cello), Sarah Nielsen (flute), Richard Mason (clarinet), Emily Leong and Michael Dooley, (William’s father) on piano.  That such an eminent group of musicians was prepared to play William’s music speaks for itself.

Colourfully introduced by his young brother, Anthony Dooley, William – resplendent in Mozart-style costume and wig - played his ‘Sonata No. 1 in C Major’.  This was followed by the Ensemble with his ‘Symphony No. 1 in A Major’.  Changing over to violin, William was joined by his father, Michael, on piano with ‘6 Little Pieces For Violin & Piano’.  Emily Leong and Michael Dooley alternated on piano with the lengthy ‘Piano Sonata No. 2 in C minor’ and the Ensemble returned with Michael Dooley on piano playing William’s ‘Waltz in C minor’.

Here was a serious young musician displaying great promise in both playing and composition.  Obviously his expertise with his instruments should continue to mature and it will be even more interesting to hear his compositions as he develops his own unique voice.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 24 September.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.


Directed by Marc Bruni
Book by Douglas McGrath
Words and Music by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Michael Cassell In association with Paul Blake & Sony/ATV Music Publishing & Mike Bosner
Sydney Lyric Theatre

Reviewed by Len Power 21 September 2017

Carole King’s ‘Tapestry’ is one of the best-selling albums of all time, with over 25 million copies sold worldwide.  ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ opened on Broadway in 2014 and is still running there.  The Australian production, at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney, has the same director, choreographer and scenic, sound, costume and lighting designers.

The show tells the story of the early life and career of Carole King from 1958.  According to the script, only men wrote popular songs in that era, so it was quite a break-through for her to have songs performed and published.  The first act surprises with the number of songs credited to her that we’ve all known for years.  The second act covers more of her personal life and marriage problems but has an upbeat ending with the triumph of ‘Tapestry’ and her 1971 Carnegie Hall concert.

The show has strong performances by the entire cast and a very appealing central performance by Esther Hannaford.  She sings and plays the role delightfully and puts her own stamp on the songs.

There’s a basic problem at the heart of this show, though.  Carole King, as presented in the show, is a pleasant, occasionally funny but not very exciting personality.  Her marital problems are nothing unusual and her husband, Gerry Goffin, played by Josh Piterman, is a rather unsympathetic character.  Song-writers Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, friends of Carole King, are much more interesting and fun – she is sophisticated and sassy and he’s a hypochondriac.  So much time in the show is given over to these two colourful characters and their music that it almost unbalances the show.  Amy Lehpamer is wonderful as Cynthia Weil and Mat Verevis is terrific as Barry Mann.

Maybe because of this, the show isn’t as involving emotionally as it should be.  Still, it looks and sounds good and is a slick, spectacular and expensive-looking production that’s quite enjoyable.  If you’re a fan of that era of music, you’ll have an especially good time.

I saw the show at a preview performance two nights before it officially opened.  ‘Beautiful’ is currently playing at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

BEAUTIFUL - The Carole King Musical

Book by Douglas McGrath
Words and music by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil
Directed by Marc Bruni - Choreographed by Josh Prince
Musical Direction by Daniel Edmonds
Scenery designed by Derek McLane – Costumes designed by Alejo Vietti
Sound Design by Brian Ronan – Lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski

Sydney Lyric Theatre from 23rd September 2017 to 21st January 2018

Reviewed by Bill Stephens 

Prolific singer/song-writer, Carole King, continues to enjoy a successful career, and this glitzy, hugely entertaining musicalisation of her story, will do that career no harm at all.

For his witty, perceptive book for the musical, Douglas McGrath has concentrated on perhaps the most fertile period of her life, where she met and married lyricist, Gerry Goffin, and together they earned a living writing hit songs for other artists. He also includes their friendship with rival song-writing team, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, together with a liberal selection of the quartet’s best songs, to create a fast-moving montage of their lives as jobbing song-writers in New York.

Along the way the audience is treated to interpretations of their songs from the point of conception, to their ultimate realisation by the artists for whom they were written. The Shirelles, the Drifters, the Righteous Brothers, Little Eva, Neil Sedaka, Janelle Woods and Marilyn Wald all make appearances in snappily choreographed vignettes, until the show reaches its emotional climax at the Carnegie Hall concert celebrating the success of King’s break-through solo album “Tapestry”.

Mike McLeish (Don Kirshner) -  Josh Piterman (Gerry Goffin)  - Esther Hannaford (Carole King)
Mat Verevis (Barry Mann)  - Amy Lehpamer (Cynthia Weil)

The friendship between the four is charmingly portrayed and you’ll be diving for your handkerchief before “You’ve Got a Friend” is even half-way through. But while the relationship between Mann and Weil appears steady, the bumps in the relationship between King and Goffin, including King’s early pregnancy, their hurried wedding, Goffin’s infidelities, his battle with mental illness, substance abuse and their ultimate divorce, provide the musical with a strong dramatic core.

Esther Hannaford as Carole King in "Beautiful - The Carole King Musical"

Esther Hannaford gives a warmly luminous performance as Carole King. Her transition from talented gawky teenager to mature performer is beautifully portrayed in a performance that convincingly captures King’s deportment, singing voice and piano style.  The emotional scene in which she sings “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman”, at first reluctantly, then triumphantly, in a hushed recording studio, is one of many memorable highlights in Hannaford’s immersive portrayal which lifts this show above others of the genre.

Josh Piterman also impresses as Gerry Goffin, bringing an admirable depth to his portrayal, and providing their scenes together with an intriguing undercurrent of suppressed frustration.  Amy Lehpamer and Mat Verevis as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, add the spice, with Lehpamer almost stealing the show with many of the best lines and the most stylish costumes. There are also fine performances from Mike McLeish as music publisher, Don Kirshner, and Anne Wood as King’s supportive mother, Genie Klein.

Marc Bruni’s slick direction brings real Broadway gloss to this impressive production with its lightning- fast costume changes, revolving pianos and funky choreography.  Spot-on musical direction by Canberra’s own Daniel Edmonds insures that precisely the correct mood is established for each of the songs which provide the memorable soundtrack for a feel-good musical which certainly lives up to its title.

                                           Photos by Joan Marcus

This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.