No-Nonsense Reviews 2019

Our reviews are invited. If a show does not appear, the company has chosen not to have it reviewed.

So much more than jazz in a church

The Metamorphoses Project, presented by the Chris Skepper Jazz Quintet and guests, part of Geelong’s Windfire Festival, All Saints Church, Newtown, May 24, 2019.

This was groundbreaking stuff in an unlikely venue.

That’s unlikely, not unsuitable. Because the venue - a Victorian era bluestone church on the outskirts of Geelong’s CBD - was selected for its excellent acoustics. And those acoustics gave the concert’s small but appreciative audience, the clearest, cleanest perception of an expert investigation into crossed musical genres.

For the core of this ‘project', (for project, read concert) was to present classical music played by a modern jazz ensemble. 

This was, as Chris Skepper, the band’s leader and music arranger explained, both inventive and unprecedented.
“This sort of thing is not going on anywhere else in Victoria, including Melbourne,” he explained. “Windfire and Geelong should be congratulated in taking such an advanced initiative.” 

His message was well received, not just by the audience, but by one of the group’s prestigious guests, organist Frank De Rosso, who is the Windfire Festival’s artistic director. 

The other guest performer was pianist Wendy Rechenberg and both these classical musicians were primarily used to introduce selected works, most frequently playing the piece’s recognisable intro which would lead the group to riff away its melody into their own domain of modern jazz. The group’s line-up was most often trumpet (Chris Skepper) and saxophone (Stephen Murphy) with a rhythm section of Vince Hopkins (guitar) Geoff Woods (double bass) and Chris Lewis (drums).
It’s my guess that this would have been the first time that such a combo had resonated All Saints’ rafters in the church’s long history.

The concert comprised nine pieces, not all of which were in the experimental format. 

Included was an organ solo of variations of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ played by Frank De Rosso minus his shoes, which were parked neatly behind his seat. His socked feet presumably allowed greater control for one of the variations which was ‘hands free’ - played only on the instrument’s pedalboard and giving the audience a wonderful view of Frank performing a delightful seated tap dance with both hands gripping his bench for stability.
The other non-metamorphing piece was an original jazz number by Chris titled ‘Don’t Know’.

The concert had begun with Dietrich’s Passacaglia in D minor which probably was the least effective inside the context, with the thunderous organ having little in common with the cool jazz notes that followed.

But it was followed by Beethoven’s Prelude No 2 Op. 39, led in by Wendy’s piano, which was a much neater fit. 

And then came Bach’s Air in D String - provoking memories, but not mimicking the Jacque Loussier Trio version from  the 1960s.

For Erik Satie’s Gnossienne, Stephen switched his sax for clarinet, Chris picked up his fluegelhorn, and their jazz notes could have graced a synagogue rather than the church venue. 

Wendy’s piano interlaced beautifully with the band for Chopin’s Prelude No 24 Op.28, and the whole septet combined for Arvo Part’s Fur Alina - with Frank’s socked feet now providing an effective underlying drone  - and the whole concert finished on an effective, triumphal note with Handel’s Hornpipe from Suite in D for orchestra.

The Metamorphoses Project was unusual for a number of reasons. It’s not the first time I’ve seen a jazz combo in church, but it was unusual to see each member concentrating so intently on keeping to their scores. And the venue was acoustically perfect.
In the end, this project was enormously entertaining, interesting - and most certainly worthwhile.

- Colin Mockett

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A calm musical oasis in the city

Organ Plus One, presented by Frank De Rosso and Shannon Ebling, part of Geelong’s Windfire Festival, in St Mary’s Basilica, Yarra St., May 22, 2019.

This small, quiet, free concert had to be the among the purest forms of musical entertainment.

For the venue was St Mary’s Basilica, where the acoustics are perfect, but the venue's hard wooden pews are all aligned toward the altar, while the two performers were situated in the organ loft - a balcony high at the rear.
Although there were static-camera images of the performers projected on to the venue’s two small screens, most of the audience appeared satisfied to sit with eyes closed to allow the music to flow past and around them. For much of the concert’s chosen material was meditative, reflective - or lilting enough to encourage that thoughtful state.
This atmosphere was enhanced by a complete lack of distraction. There was no introduction, and between each musical piece, merely a break of perhaps thirty seconds- just enough time for polite applause.  

And it was well deserved, for the musical combination of Frank De Rosso at the Basilica’s Fincham organ with Shannon Ebling’s saxophone(s) was excellent, their execution flawless.
This, coupled with their position high in the rafters, sent their music resounding and re-echoing throughout the venue, which further enhanced those contemplative elements.

The concert began in stirring style, with Hans-Andre Stamm’s Under The Starry Sky, before moving to a more lyrical and tender feel with the same composer’s Romance. Then came an organ solo with two pieces from modern composer Carson Cooman’s Gregorian Diptych. The first, a pensive Adoro te devote, the second the thundering, triumphal Da pace Domini.

Then followed the beautifully reflective Prayer of Saint Ambrose with Shannon’s alto sax soaring over Frank’s sombre bass notes, before Shannon switched to his soprano sax to play David Conte’s modern jazz-flavoured Aria. Then followed another organ solo, this time Malcolm Archer’s pretty Sicilienne which led to the concert’s resounding - and curiously satisfying - finale. This was George Philip Telemann’s Polonaise and Rejouissance,  a glorious celebration of intricate and interweaving musical patterns.

The Windfire Festival’s free 30-minute concerts in fine acoustic venues throughout our city are an excellent initiative, making, as they do, an unexpected calm musical interlude inside, what is for most of us,  the frantic pace of today.   This was no exception.

- Colin Mockett

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Modern Three Sisters excel in the Memory

The Memory of Water, directed by Sandy Fairthorne for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Price St Theatre, Torquay, May 13, 2019.

In many regards, this was a perfect play for the Torquay Theatre Troupe in that its small format and unchanging set suited their venue’s restrictions.
It was also a typical presentation for the company in that they had selected a well-written work and then staged it on a neat, accurate set with some clever touches to overcome those space restrictions.

And again, in another regular TTT feature, this Memory of Water introduced two fresh faces to the region’s theatre scene, both skilled actors.

So it’s small wonder that the house-full preview audience appreciated this play with long, warm and sincere applause. For this was a fine piece of modern theatre that had been very well presented.

The play’s storyline centred around three adult sisters who had returned to their northern England family home in order to bury their recently deceased mother. They each exposed long-suppressed memories and sibling rivalries that, from a theatrical standpoint, brought about moments of laugh-out-loud comedy and heart-rending truths.
At its base the storyline held an honesty of our modern human behaviour that was recognised and therefore resonated through its audience.

Much of this was due to director Sandy Fairthorne’s sure touch and the quality of her acting pool.

This was led by Kathryn O’Neill’s convincing performance as elder daughter Mary, a successful, obsessive, driven medical practitioner who was conducting an affair with a married man and who also held a repressed secret.
Middle sister Teresa had taken the alternative route to natural medicine and products, and, in the hands of TTT newcomer Frankie Swithinbank, came over as controlling, awkward and wonderfully, comically frank when plied with unaccustomed alcohol.
The youngest and self-proclaimed prettiest sister, Catherine, played by another newcomer, Skye Staude, was the catalyst for much of the play's comedy antics in that she was beautifully tuned out most of the time while harbouring resentment that she, the sexiest sister, had failed to find a permanent partner.
Her interaction with her sisters and, especially, their hapless partners brought many of the play’s elements of high comedy.
Those men were portrayed by Michael Baker and Ethan Cook. The former’s acting skills bringing authenticity to his unsympathetic role as an insincere two-timing doctor, while the latter appeared totally at home as a downbeat put-upon alternative-medicine salesman who didn’t really believe in his products.
Adding to all of the above, Claudia Clark appeared briefly but effectively as the spirit of the dead mother to sharply insert her acidic viewpoint into Mary’s dreams.
This The Memory of Water was an excellent piece of theatre from a first-class non-professional company.
Go see it, you’ll love it.
And you’ll come away awed at what this company can do with such slim resources. I personally look forward to seeing what TTT will do in a real theatre once the Surf Coast Shire finally halts its procedural dithering and provides one.
- Colin Mockett

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At last a musical with Flash! Bang! Kapow!

It’s a Bird, It’s A Plane - It’s Superman! directed by Shayne Lowe for Theatre of the Damned, Shenton Theatre, May 10, 2019.

I have to admit to a soft spot for Geelong's Theatre of the Damned and its policy of bringing fresh musical theatre to the region. This was the fourth musical the company has staged with only one, Chicago, on the regular performance circuit. 

It’s a Bird, It’s A Plane - It’s Superman! was first presented on Broadway in 1966, and although it ran for 129 performances, and garnered three Tony nominations, it failed to ignite much international interest. 

So this Geelong performance was, to the best of our knowledge, the show’s first staging in our region, if not in Victoria. 

That’s not surprising, for the show calls for six lead performers, all of them with the ability to sing, dance and act.

Director Shayne Lowe’s ToTD cast was particularly strong in this regard, with her six leads triple-threat talented - and more. 

For not only could they act, sing and dance with polish and style, they did it all with their tongues firmly lodged in their collective cheeks.
Because this It’s a Bird, It’s A Plane - It’s Superman! was a delightfully cheerful, cheeky send-up of the whole superhero concept. It bought as much laughter as applause from its packed opening night audience.

The show’s plotline was, of course, predictable, lightweight and daft. The citizens of Metropolis, safe and secure thanks to the efforts of their crime-fighting superhero, found themselves under threat from a mad scientist, who, teamed with a bunch of Greek acrobats and a vengeful journalist, targeted Superman’s popularity in their quest for world domination. For a while they succeeded, and who would have thought that without his self-esteem, Superman would become an introverted, couch-lounging messy slob?
There was the compulsory love interest, of course, some wacky special effects, and plenty of bright, upbeat 60s-era songs backed by a tight eight-piece musical ensemble led by Eric Von Ahlefeldt.
All this was dressed in colourful costumes with some neat choreography from Tegan Drever. This ranged from a tap-dance courtship duet between Tara Dunstan’s sweet Lois Lane and Andrew Coomber’s offbeat nuclear scientist, to a Hollywood-style soft-shoe routine between vengeful journalist Liam Erck and mad scientist David Van Etten. The former was all slender, graceful flexibility while the latter buzzed with wild-haired energy.
As Superman, Thomas Membrey was perfect. Sometimes a delightfully naive muscled poser, other times confused by events and occasionally revealing a singing voice as strong and manly as Tara’s was bell-like and feminine.
As a bonus, beside these five strong lead performers, Aashley Oakes regularly stole scenes with her sultry, sexy siren of a put-upon rejected suitor.
The ever-versatile Trent Inturissi led a strong supporting ensemble which included a trio of pint-sized villains in Guy Wingrave, Riley Drever and Ryan Milich who were regularly ‘Zapped’ and ‘Powed’ by our hero. They, with Brooke Chapman, Jake Beasant, Jasmin Wilson, Katelyn Williams, Liam South, Nikki Arnott, Patrick Bongiorno, Rachel Helwig and Seth Baxter included plenty of scene-shifting along with their on-stage commitments. 

It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane It’s Superman is of course, quite ridiculous. But it's also wonderfully, happy, tuneful grin-making fun.

And it showcases a whole batch of Geelong’s highly talented young performers.
The show continues in the  Shenton until May 18, and I highly recommend you go see it. You’ll be infected with its happiness.

 - Colin Mockett

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Trumpets sound with Wind and Fire

Sound The Trumpet, presented by Geelong Chorale directed by Allister Cox, St Mary’s Basilica, May 10, 2019.

This, the opening concert of Geelong’s annual Windfire Music Festival, proved perfect for the occasion. It was a memorable concert that took full advantage of the Basilica’s superb acoustics. 

My initial impression was of a warm, welcoming atmosphere with hanging glass lanterns and glowing radiators.
A welcoming address from from Fr James Clarke led to a stirring, resounding intro, Entrata Festiva, a modern (20th Century) piece featuring Daniel Ballinger and Sarah Hepworth’s trumpets, Melissa Shirley’s horn, Stewart Armitage’s trombone and the Basilica’s thundering, mighty organ played by Frank De Rosso.
Then the Chorale members entered, only to disappear again as they took up positions in the acoustic sweet-spot in the space behind the venue’s original altar. 

The blend of their voices, without accompaniment was perfect in its resonance as they sang Guerrero’s Cantite tunba in Sion.
That musical contrast between first and second items assured us in the audience that we were about to experience a programme of thoughtful excellence. 

The choir then moved into sight at the front of the original altar, resplendent in their neat black and red, and Allister Cox introduced us to three works from the 16th century. First, Jacobus Gallus, whose Pater Noster used choir and brass to excellent, full and harmonious effect, followed by an a capella rendition of Giovanni da Palestrina’s  calm and beautiful Sicut Cervus.  

This was followed by Scarlatti’s glorious Exultate Deo with its joyful praise to God ringing throughout the rafters.

The choir changed position once again to risers on the right of the first row of pews, allowing the brass to move closer on the left.

Together they presented Gabrielli’s Canzona ´a 4 with sympathetic style.

Then followed a sharing of brass and voices to present the music of Hassler’s Missa Octo Voci, sung in Latin and accepted with warm applause. 

At one point the director’s microphone failed mid-introduction, but Allister simply raised his voice to be clearly heard, demonstrating the excellence of the venue’s acoustics. 

After a short interval the concert took a more modern, contrasting turn with Christopher Willcock’s challenging Easter Moon. The composition’s strident and sometimes pensive tones were handled with accomplished ease by choir and musicians. 

Then came an unusual inclusion, with three different versions of Ave Maria, from Bruckner, Biebl and Laurisdsen. Allister explained that he had chosen them as appropriate because of the venue, (St Mary’s Basilica) as well as referencing the forthcoming Mother’s Day. The subtle differences and variations of tune and style added a deal of interest as the pieces were sung consecutively. 

Then followed a triumphal and stirring Grand Choeur Dialogue with Frank De Rosso at the organ and the Choir in full voice, thundering down from the venue’s choir loft. 

The concert finished on a different, but equally stirring note with the brass leading into voices to present Pachelbel’s rousing Nun Danket all Gott.

Taken together, this concert set the Windfire Festival to a stirring start while demonstrating our city’s exceptional quality of musicianship and choral abilities.

- Shirley Power

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The Importance Of Being Authentic

The Importance of Being Earnest directed by Elaine Mitchell & Julie Fryman for Theatre of the Winged Unicorn, Ceres Hall, May 3, 2019.

Quite apart from taking one of the lead roles of Algernon, Alard Pett is named in this play's programme as it’s set designer, properties manager and part of the construction team.

In the director’s notes, he’s credited as the instigator of the project - conceived over a coffee with producer/director Elaine Mitchell - and further thanked for his creative vision behind the production. 

If Alard's name isn’t immediately familiar to you, it should be. He was the director and creative force behind Geelong Rep’s memorable 2017 production of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which won awards and plaudits while quietly lifting the bar on the standard of non-professional theatre in Geelong.

Now, with the smaller Theatre of the Winged Unicorn budget and stage, Alard has achieved a similar experience with another classic play, this time Oscar Wilde’s ‘trivial comedy for serious people’ The Importance Of Being Earnest.
This production shared much with that remarkable Pygmalion in its detailed authentic settings, its painstaking attention to detail, and its emphasis on theatrical accuracy and integrity. It also shared the same leading man in Ben Mitchell, who played Prof Higgins in Geelong, and now Jack Worthing in Ceres. 

But then, this production has also absorbed the homely, artistic, friendly culture that typifies Theatre of the Winged Unicorn’s plays.  Apart from the friendly introduction and homely interval supper, it used skilled, experienced actors from the Unicorner’s talent pool who were rehearsed to word and movement perfection.
It also introduced a new element, in that the players were dressed in  eye-catching bespoke Victorian costumes from stylist/seamstress Bridget Dustan.

And all that preamble goes to explain why this production was so well received, with its packed opening-night audience laughing and applauding throughout. 

For what Alard, Elaine, Ben, Bridget and the ToWU team had done was to provide the perfect platform for the sharp, sparkling diamonds in Oscar Wilde’s vintage wit.
Because, along with all the style, sophistication and skills employed, the real star of this show was probably its 124-year-old script.
The audience’s rapid and consistently regular laughter was testament to the timeless quality of Oscar Wilde’s writing. 

All the ToWU Ceres team needed to do was ensure that it was delivered with as much clarity and authenticity as it was when first presented at the turn of the 20th Century. And they did this in rare style.
To this end the play’s central seven characters were suitably cast with Alard’s off-hand wilful Algernon neatly balancing Ben’s stodgier, principled Jack, with both decidedly Earnest when it came to the fairer sex. This was represented by Jocelyn Mackay’s elegant schemer Gwendolen and Stacey Carmichael’s dreamy innocent Cecily, whose elegant outfit perfectly matched her dewy blue eyes. Miriam Wood gave us a wonderfully confident and dominant Lady Bracknell. Marylin Nash and Allister Cox provided delightfully dithering support as Miss Prism and Rev Chausuble, while David Marrie and David Keene were a pair of upright, subtly snobby butlers. 

And the background  to their skills were three superbly elegant, carefully thought-out  authentic Victorian-era sets. 

Word has it that this Importance Of Being Earnest  enjoys heavy pre-booking.  I can only recommend that you move fast to see what is a beautifully staged, lovingly re-enacted and thoroughly delightful piece of theatrical history.

- Colin Mockett

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Katie's a shoe-in for Julie in a sumptuous Cinderella

Cinderella directed by Simon Thorne for CenterStage Geelong, GPAC’s Playhouse, March 22, 2019.

I have seen and reviewed more than a dozen Geelong productions of Cinderella over the years, mostly staged by Medimime or GSODA Juniors. Though they each differed in approach and application, none would compare with this CenterStage version. This show would have to be the biggest, best dressed and glitziest to have been staged at GPAC for years, if not decades.  

It had 46 on-stage performers, a 33-member orchestra and a 20-strong support and backstage team.
Their presentation could be modestly described as lavish, with every cast member elaborately costumed, bewigged, and wired for sound.
 The show’s lighting effects were dazzling and its properties included a full-size statue and drive-on electric-powered Royal carriage with life-sized faux horses. It also had a large unwieldy set that needed to be occasionally manhandled by a small team of skilled scene-shifters.
I would estimate that some of the previous Cinderellas I’d seen had a total cost well below this show’s budget for its wigs. Which were, incidentally, spectacular.
It’s fair to say that this was not a Cinderella operation at all. It was big-budget, big-scale, opulent and ornate.

And yet there were similarities to the previous productions. The first was storyline, which stuck faithfully to the centuries-old ‘girl makes good through fairy intervention, marries prince and lives happily ever after’ framework, despite today’s more enlightened gender expectations.
Director Simon Thorne’s traditional approach held few surprises or novel touches, preferring to accent the show’s pageantry and glamour.
MD Brad Treloar’s string-heavy orchestra - situated, unusually, at the back of the stage - was as lush, grand and gorgeous as the show’s presentation.

The base of this Cinderella was a 1957 US TV production, written by Rodgers and Hammerstein as a vehicle for the then-young star Julie Andrews.
As such, all the show’s songs, although previously unheard, seemed to have a familiar sound, as if they were cloned from Oklahoma! or South Pacific.
As for the on-stage talent, Katie Loxston was an excellent substitute for Julie Andrews with her clarity of diction and beautiful singing voice. Joni Gardner made the most of the limited opportunities as her Prince, while the rest of the name characters were, at best, sketched in. This was, after all, a vehicle for Julie Andrews, so King Brendan Rossbotham, Queen Amy Curtis and Godmother Louise Walter, though each sang beautifully, were essentially written as support roles in front of the chorus. So too was Stepmother Michele Marcu along with grimacing Stepsisters Jamie Long and Caitlyn Lear. Dom Wolfram and Damian Caruso were effective courtiers along with Jack McPhail, while the show’s large ensemble sang, danced and somersaulted to add colour, movement and lush spectacle whenever the action looked like flagging. Take a bow, Madelyn Ludbrook, Ruby Buchanan, Rebecca Harland, Cate Dunstan, Ben Hargreaves, Luke Carra, Annah Kucharski, Elliot Senftleben, Amy Pullen, Chloe Stojanovic, Leanne Treloar, Joel Lane, Amanda Biffin, Will Johnston, Rebecca Wik, Sarah Jeffreys, Sue Rawkins, Trent Inturrisi, Chloe Lewis, Jemma Lowther, Maddy Horne, Tyler Stevens and Oliver Russell with youngsters Molly Martin, Mia Hayden Brooks, Elyssa Jeffreys, Einbhlinn Sharkey, Milla Best, Katie McKeague, Annie Grave, Rosie Tuck, Charlotte Piec, Lochie Slater, Guy Wingrave and Hamish Veronie. 

To sum this all up, this was the Cinderella story, simply told with an excellent star - and sumptuous, eye-catching staging. 

- Colin Mockett

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G & S Pleasures Come In Endless Ceres

For The Love Of Gilbert & Sullivan presented by Theatre Of The Winged Unicorn, Scarecrow Patch, Ceres, March 17, 2019.

Take a pair of sparkling eyes, and a voice to make you swoon; the ingredients comprise, of a splendid afternoon…

This delightful celebration of the works of the G & S was packed with sweet surprises. Firstly, there was the song selection, which went beyond the obvious to include some lesser-known but highly worthwhile numbers. We may not have met a modern Major-General, or heard a little list; but instead we were seduced by a couple of witty and wacky love duets in There Was A Time (from The Gondoliers) and Never Mind The Why And Wherefore (from HMS Pinafore) among the 22 slickly delivered non-stop songs.
We were enthralled by seven pirates advancing With Cat-Like Tread, enchanted by Three Little Maids From School, and agog at what Allister Cox got up to When He Was Alone And Unobserved. 

Allister served as the concert’s MC, giving occasional insights into the popularity and impact of WS Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan who were as dynamic a duo as Lennon and McCartney in their own time. Only funnier and more subtly socially cutting. 

Among this concert’s other surprises were the number and quality of performers - there were, at times, all seven singers with Sonoka playing the Baby Grand piano on the tiny Scarecrow Patch stage. Dancing! Such was the tightness of space and schedule that we audience were frequently treated to the spectacle of our performers wriggling to change their costumes, seated in venue’s one-metre-wide wings.

Those performers included the dashing Tim Hetherington, impressive Nadine Joy, splendid Miriam Wood, sterling David Marrie and admirable Ben Mitchell (this performance deserved, nay demanded, the dignified, courteous language of the times.) And those were alongside the versatile aforementioned Allister Cox and the truly memorable Jocelyn Mackay. The concert’s musical director and eighth performer, Lisa Breen, had been unable to appear due to illness, so Jocelyn had clearly taken on Lisa’s parts as well as her own. She appeared in 13 of the show’s 22 segments, faultlessly delivering each number with the correct nuances of grace, aplomb or jocularity.

And that overall level of impeccable performance was set and maintained by the immaculate piano accompaniment from the beautiful and elegant Sonoka Miyake. 

All up, this concert went well beyond the realms of a pleasant Sunday soiree.
To borrow from another generation, it was an afternoon delight.

* Since this review was published, TOWU co-founder, and concert director asked for the following credits to be included. The concert's  technical /lighting/piano  was by  Ben Mitchell; poster/digital Design by Claire Chilcott; front of house hosts were Kath O'Neil  and Alard Pett, and the director/producer Elaine Mitchell also created and/or supplied the costumes. 

- Colin Mockett

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GSO brings romance - and a sight for sore eyes

Two Romantics presented by Geelong Symphony Orchestra, conductor Richard Davis, soloist Rio Xiang. Costa Hall, March 2, 2019.

Call it serendipity, happenstance, providence… Either way, it occurred to this critic at this concert.

It really began on Wednesday, when I had surgery to remove a cataract and place a new lens in my left eye.
By Saturday, I was seeing things with astonishing clarity and distinction. Not that that should have made any difference at the Geelong Symphony concert. This was, after all, showcasing the music of two great romantic composers, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. So it was to be a treat for the ears, not the eyes.
But then we were handed tickets to the third row, front and centre which allowed a remarkably close-up view of the pre-concert string section. With my new enhanced vision, I saw things unnoticed before. Like concertmaster Olivier Bonnici’s cheeky mustard-coloured socks, Emily Frazer’s look of concentration as she led the warm-up, lead cellist Timmothy Oborne’s laid-back stance contrasting Jamie Parker’s total concentration; violinist Eve Gu’s beautiful black-lace shoes…

Then guest conductor Richard Davis took the stage in full tail suit, white tie conflicting just a little with the GSO’s more relaxed outfits of men in dark lounge suits, women in black ensembles. 

Then the opening piece began. It was Brahms Academic Festival Overture Op. 80, and nicely suitable for Deakin University’s showplace hall with its themes of student drinking songs. It was presented in what is now the accepted GSO manner - neat, faultless delivery in cool professional style. 

Still I had no real inkling of what was to come as the Costa’s Steinway grand piano was moved centre-stage for the evening’s second piece of romance, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 Op.23. This was to be played by Rio Xiang, the young man who had won last year’s Youth Classical Music competition in Geelong, with appearing at this concert part of his prize. 

Rio is a tall, slender 20-year-old who appeared reserved, perhaps a little awkward as he took his welcome applause and sat at the piano. 

Conductor Richard Davis is, by contrast, an old hand. He’s chief conductor and head of orchestral studies at Melbourne Conservatorium and he regularly conducts orchestras worldwide including the BBC Philharmonic. He holds a top reputation for bringing the best out of orchestras and soloists, using a unique style of expressions, flourishes, smiles, frowns and gestures.
As this is directed at the players, it’s usually unseen by the audience who would simply see the back of that elegant tail suit.
Unless you happened to be in seat C30 in the Costa Hall, 2 metres away, in direct line of sight between conductor and soloist - and with newly enhanced vision. 

I can tell you this piece was enthralling. Illuminating. It was thrilling, compelling stuff, watching Rio’s pale long fingers dancing his keyboard for the 20-minute piece without sheet music while being wordlessly led, stimulated, encouraged by his conductor who twisted and turned to make eye contact while still in full control of the orchestra.
I should also add that the music was wonderful, faultless - and that it drew  long, loud applause and no fewer than four call-backs before the concert’s interval.

The concert’s second half consisted entirely of Brahms’ Symphony No 1 in C minor Op. 68 in its four movements. There was no piano, no Rio, just gorgeous, flowing, soaring lush romantic music played with the GSO’s gloss, style and verve. 

But, for me, it was just a bit anticlimactic following that (literally) brilliant Tchaikovsky piece. I felt privileged to have been in that place at that time.

So this concert redefined memorable for this critic, who now looks forward to hearing - and seeing - the GSO’s next concert, when the gorgeous Rebecca Chan plays all four of Vivaldi’s seasons. I just hope this vision enhancement doesn’t fade.

- Colin Mockett

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Beautiful music, perfect setting

Summer Sounds featuring Vox Angelica with elements from Geelong Symphony Orchestra, Geelong Gallery February 24, 2019

It takes something special for a concert to sell out a week ahead, especially one featuring classical music played and sung by lesser-known newish performers at an unusual time in an unfamiliar venue.
But that was the case with this concert, which paired the four-year-old Vox Angelica acappella choir with a sextet of young string players from Geelong Symphony Orchestra (which celebrates its third anniversary this month) in a 5.00pm concert at the Geelong Art Gallery. 

Though the two groups performed separately, their music perfectly complemented each other. 

And that capacity crowd, which I gauged to be an even mix of Gallery regulars and well-informed music patrons, turned out to be excellent judges, for the concert proved to be musically elegant with plenty of delightful surprises.

The first was the quality of the venue. Quite apart from its ambience - we were surrounded by our city’s choice artworks - the room’s dimensions, height and hard surfaces meant that it was acoustically brilliant, with every note clearly, distinctly audible.
There was not a microphone or speaker used, or needed.

Then there was the high quality of the material presented. The programme was loosely selected on the theme of ‘Summer’, but strayed into the realms of ABCFM’s ‘beautiful music’.

We began brightly with the GSO sextet - four violins, viola and cello, presenting Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins with Jamie Parker and Emily Frazer the two violin soloists.
Their faultless accomplished handling of the Baroque favourite, with its three subtle movements, drew enough warm strong applause to settle any nervousness for those performers to come, while setting a standard of excellence that was to be matched and occasionally surpassed.

For Vox Angelica followed. 22 accomplished adult voices that were not auditioned  - they were selected by director Tom Healey.
Master musician Tom introduced each song succinctly and authoritatively without reference to notes, then his choir delivered in rare style.
Their segment began with the 12th Century Sumer is acomin’ in, which, in common with Geelong’s summers, was delivered in 12 parts. This was, Tom explained, because they can.
This was followed by a simply exquisite treatment of Charles Villiers Standford’s The Bluebird, then another piece of delicate harmonies, this time the garden song Im Wald by Fanny Hensel, the sister (and acknowledged superior) of Felix Mendelssohn. Then followed four modern songs, each with its own challenges and delights. Eric Whitacre’s tricky The Marriage was neatly balanced by Clare Maclean’s We Welcome Summer, while Ian Grandage’s Sunset was followed (naturally) by Morten Lauridsen’s Sure On This Shining Night.
All were delivered with accomplished skill, all were warmly received and all loudly applauded. The room’s acoustics resonated to that, too. Then the six young GSO musicians returned, to be joined by Tom Healey on Continuo, and together they finished the afternoon with a flawless, intense rendition of Summer, from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with soloist Jamie Parker excelling, along with cellist Timmothy Oborne, and the septet drawing a storm of long, loud applause. 

Jamie is deputy concertmaster to Geelong’s GSO, which has a Two Romantics concert in the Costa Hall this coming weekend. 

That concert’s concertmaster, Olivier Bonnici, was at the gallery to witness to his deputy’s skill. He had to be. He was singing tenor with Vox Angelica.

Such were the surprises in what was essentially a delightful afternoon of beautiful music in a perfect setting.

 Here’s to the next time.

— Colin Mockett


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Geelong's Les Mis - A Powerful Musical Force

Les Miserables directed by Alister Smith for Footlight Productions. Playhouse Theatre January 19, 2019

There’s a six-part BBC adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables currently airing on British TV that’s attracted a flood of viewer complaints because it has no music. ‘Why Can’t We Hear The People Sing?’ say the British headlines, and it was even brought up in parliament. The furore highlighted the fact that the world’s most popular musical has entrenched its anthems into people’s minds, more so than the novel’s storyline.
But those whinging viewers would have no problem at all with the new Footlight version of Les Mis that’s currently gracing GPAC’s stage, because this was a show built around its musical excellence. 

It was driven by John Shawcross’s top-quality 16-piece orchestra which interpreted the show’s tricky cadences and repeated themes without missing a beat or hitting a wrong note.
And that high musical standard was mirrored by everyone on-stage, from the emotional leads - Brad Beales’ sensitive Jean Valjean, Vaughn Rae’s stoic Javert, Nicole Kaminski’s tragic Fantine - through to every support and member of the ensemble. The entire cast must have been selected for their vocal abilities because they all wore head-mics, and every one of the many big production scenes was memorable because of the power, or delicacy, of their combined voices. Much credit is due to the show’s vocal director, Anna-Lee Robertson, for moulding such a potent chorus. Kudos, too, to director Alister Smith’s pair of movement/choreographers, Brenton Cosier and Elinor Smith Adams, along with lighting designer Daniel Jow for the neat trick of starting each production number with what was essentially a tableaux. This appeared almost as a reproduction of a Vermeer-style street scene, but one which almost instantly morphed into musical life. It must have taken months of planning and rehearsal to achieve such simple elegance. And it was certainly helped by the show’s sombre iron-black set, with two steep black wheeled staircases manoeuvred by cast members to create smooth scene-changes. But , for this reviewer, the show’s stand-out elements came from the assembled male chorus under the leadership of rebel students Tom Phyland, Charlie McIntyre, Jonathon Gardner, Thomas Membrey, Elija Ivelja, Ash Chapel and others. This assembled group, which included at times Nick Addison, Josh McInnes, Aidan O’Cleirigh, Richard Senftleben, David Van Etten and Jordan Ybarzabal, provided the strong, vibrant male vocal base for the show-stopping signature ‘Hear The People Sing’ battle anthems. This team's sure voices and secure harmonies gave the whole production its power. This neatly contrasted the pathos wrung by Nicole’s Fantine, and especially, Morgan Heynes’ doomed Eponine. Her rendition of On My Own brought loud sobs from a woman sitting behind me, and the soft sounds of tissues extracted from boxes continued through the next few scenes.
But for all its musical, visual and emotional excellence, not all the innovations in this production worked. For this reviewer, the rogue Thenardier innkeeping couple of Greg Shawcross and Hayley Wood, though faultless in their performances, came across as grotesque pantomime caricatures, rather than devious villains.  And some lighting effects, which were, at times excellent in highlighting emotions and disguising scene-changes, occasionally dazzled when strong spotlights were directed straight into the audience. 

But that’s carping criticism of what was essentially a production of uniform, overall excellence. Most especially musically. 

It’s a show with surprising topical relevance, too, given the ongoing yellow vest protests in Paris, not to mention the British House of Commons calling for its songs to be broadcast.
So don’t miss this Les Mis. It’s good enough to drive a Pommie tourism push.

— Colin Mockett

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Standing ovation for a truly magnificent event

Geelong Summer Music Camp Showcase Concert at the Costa Hall, Friday January 18, 2019

This was the 39th annual Summer Music Camp Concert, and the 19th held in the Costa Hall. Those figures cover a trio of significant factors.  First, the camp, and its subsequent concert, are now second-generational, being organised by musicians who were past participants, and therefore have first-hand experience of what is at base an intense five-day series of musical masterclasses. Secondly, that system encourages friendship and camaraderie, so a  majority of the musicians and tutors taking part were regulars returning for what has become a familiar annual experience.
And thirdly, the tradition of working towards a final concert in the Costa Hall - Geelong’s premier musical venue - is now so entrenched that it holds no fears to either organisers or participants.
So presenting a slick and spectacular show using some 300 musicians with musical genres  ranging from  Welsh hymn to light classics, via big band and film musicals, and finishing with a spectacular all-on-stage finale would have been considered hard work, but not particularly stressful for them.  Because they have literally been doing it for years.
But for us in the audience, it was astonishing in its scale, width of material and skilled musical standards.
If this concert had been presented by a touring group of professionals, it would have been hailed as outstanding and memorable.
Because it was a display of slick, polished musical assurance from eight distinct groups with every musician under the age of 21.  
Each component part, linked by a loose common ‘Carnival’ theme, built to a big 'Greatest Showman' finale.  
It then drew three encores and a standing ovation.

But the most amazing, gob-smacking thing about this concert was that it was put together in just five days. 

Read that again. Then realise that when those 240 young people aged between nine and 21 came together in Geelong on Monday morning, none of them had seen any of the scores. They didn't  even know what type of music they would be learning to play on the Costa’s prestigious stage IN  FIVE DAYS. 

So above all, I guess,  this super show was testament to the astonishing  ability of the young brain to absorb information, and overcome pressure - given the right input and leadership.

I know that it’s normal for reviewers to list then critique each part of a concert, but I’m not inclined to do that here. Instead, I’ll say that this was among the best GSMC Showcase I’ve attended in its structure, overall competence and smooth operation. And that was probably due to it having a stable control team that has learned from, and built upon all those previous  experiences.
So instead of appraising, I’d like to list, and acknowledge the people who planned, then executed such a wonderful event. They provided the  musical expertise  so eagerly absorbed by their young charges.
At the top is musical director, Fiona  Gardner, and her committee of Shannon Ebeling (president) Leanne McCartney (vice president), Michael and Glenda Wilding, Ben Anderson, Helen Bourke, Kevin Cameron, Trish Kinrade, David Gardner, Rose Humphrey, Lesley Walters and Cathy Blake.
Then there’s their conductors; Robert Moffatt, Amberley Bremner, Sean Rankin, Ryan Bentley, James deRozario and Edward Fairlie. Their super talented arranger/accompanist Kym Dillon and their musical tutors Cathy Blake, Ben Castle, Jamie Parker, Jess Higgins Anderson, Timmothy Oborne, Michelle John, Luke Richardson Jonathan Woods and Martin DeMarte (strings); Brighid Mantelli, Kathryn Saunders, David Gardner, Kate Martin, Ben Anderson, Natalia Edwards, Adrian Meyer, Robert Moffatt (wind); Jacqui Anderson, Sharon Huber, Sean Laughran, Bryan Anderson (percussion) and Tania Grant, Jodie Townsend and Casey Reid (choir).
The concert was linked with energetic charm by Brian Alexander, who was another long-term participant, having children involved in the camps for most of the Costa years.

Together, this small team, their families and friends brought together a Geelong musical event like no other, one that truly deserved the title ‘magnificent’.
— Colin Mockett

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Unexpectedly satisfying concert in a new venue

Bach To The Bush a concert from Anthony Albrecht at the Geelong Boat House, Sunday January 13, 2019

This unheralded, largely unpublicised concert from travelling British cellist Anthony Albrecht was an unexpected musical pleasure. 

Anthony has been exploring the backroads of Australasia intermittently for the past four years presenting this concert in scratch venues. These had, we heard, mostly been researched and discovered on the internet by the artist himself.

The Geelong concert was, he thinks, his 70th. Or perhaps his 72nd. Either way, it was an exceptionally polished performance that was very well received by an appreciative audience that had, itself, been notified by social media and on-line sources including this website.
It’s something of an achievement today for a classical musician to stage a solo tour without backing or financing from any government or private source. To do so to the extent that Anthony has achieved is remarkable, and I would venture, unique.
It not only sets out an innovative new path for other young musicians to follow - it may well have also gifted Geelong a new performance venue. Because this concert was apparently organised by Anthony last week while he was in the Hunter Valley, NSW. Knowing he was booked next week in Tasmania, he looked for an unusual venue in Geelong to break his journey. Finding the Boat House on Google Maps, he noted its seafront location, contacted the venue’s owner, who swiftly agreed - and this concert was set up with six days’ notice. 

‘I probably should have changed the title from Bach to the Bush to Bach to the Bay,’ Anthony said in his introduction, looking out at the background seascape. ‘But I really didn’t think of it in time’. 

The Geelong Boat House is the fish & chip restaurant that projects into the sea at Western Beach. It has a licensed function room behind its shopfront, where two French doors open to seaborne decking. It would seat, at a guess, 80 people. Toward the end of Anthony’s performance, venue owner Malcolm pronounced the occasion a surprise success, and said he would welcome similar performances in the future. 

Given this short-notice background, the concert was understandably low-key and simple. There was no programme, so this review is compiled from memory and sketched notes. There was no lighting on the performer, and no amplification, either. They weren’t needed. Such was the selection of material and quality of musicianship that the audience was enthralled by the music and charmed by the artist’s frank and detailed introductions. 

Anthony Albrecht is no hopeful newcomer. He’s an established, accomplished and sought-after cellist of international renown. Newcastle-born and London based, he trained at the Juilliard School in New York.
That experience was evident from the outset, because his first piece was tricky - and Australian. It was Reclaiming The Spirit, written by Sarah Hopkins in 1993 on the handing back of Uluru to its traditional owners. In this, Anthony’s cello accurately replicated the sounds of the didgeridoo.

This was followed by the first of two of Bach’s Cello Suites, starting appropriately with Suite No.1 in G major.
This well-known piece was delivered on Anthony’s 300-year-old cello in the original Baroque style. This meant it had no floor-spike, but was gripped between the knees.
The sound was clear, clean and precise in spinning out Johan Sebastian’s intricate, elaborate musical patterning.
This was due, Anthony explained, to the use of authentic gut-wound strings and an old-style bow that was weighted differently to modern versions. He also explained that the glory of Bach’s music was his extensive use of the mathematical ‘golden ratio’ found throughout nature.  

Following a short interval, and a second Bach Suite, this time in D minor, ‘The key of loss… The most poignant key of all…’, Anthony revealed that his cello had a Geelong connection.

It had been bought from the estate of Francesca Rousseaux, the much-loved Geelong musical identity who died in 2013.
I’m certain that Francesca would have approved. Doubly so when Anthony said he now called the cello ‘Francesca’. 

‘I’m a custodian, just as Francesca was. I hope to hand it on in as good condition as she did..’ 

In all, this Bach To The Bush was fascinating, enlightening and musically enthralling. It was also satisfying, on so many levels. 

Watch out for an unheralded appearance near you - and keep an eye on this site for the next time that Anthony Albrecht returns to the Geelong Boat House venue.

— Colin Mockett

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