With Sydney a week in a new lockdown, musicians and artistic organizers from Melbourne, a city that knows all about the ravages of COVID-19, are lending a helping hand to their colleagues in NSW.
Melbourne Digital Concert Hall hosts a series of live concerts from the Concourse Theater Concert Hall in Chatswood, on Sydney’s north coast, and as former Musica Viva Australia CEO Mary Jo Capps puts it in her introduction to the second, the cellist co MDCH director Chris Howlett and marketer Adele Schonhardt raised $ 1.4 million for artists who got “the rug under them”.
The first concert, on Friday July 2, brought together renowned pianist Gerard Willems, pianist and conductor Roland Peelman, soprano Maija Kovalevska, early music ensemble The Marais Project and countertenor Russell Harcourt.
The second in the series was, as Capps pointed out, a concert of various halves with the unusual pairing of Australian Andrew Blanch’s classical guitar with American Emily Granger’s harp opening with a recital that included arrangements of well-known works, a few and the world premiere of Elena Kats-Chernin’s Tango for Harp and Guitar, composed especially for the duo.
Blanch and Granger are star artists of Musica Viva and although they both live in Australia, they started performing together when working as artists in residence on a Canadian campus.
They opened their set with their own arrangements of three of Enrique Granados’ 12 Danzas Espanolas for piano – Oriental, Villanesca and Rondalla Aragonesa – Jota (the latter arranged by Blanch’s friend and fellow guitarist, Richard Charlton). The arrangements worked very well, with the two instruments swapping the main melody, although even the best microphones and state-of-the-art audio system couldn’t quite do justice to the subtle timbre and colors of these mostly acoustic instruments.
Charlton was also responsible for the arrangement of the following work, the much loved and often reworked work of Maurice Ravel. Pavane for a deceased infanta, one of the first pieces Blanch and Granger worked on while in Canada.
Kats-Chernin’s new piece turned out to be short and very sweet – a rather romantic and elegant bottom filler with a fiery melody.
Then there was a change of program – Gabriel Fauré’s Impromptu for harp was initially planned but was unfortunately withdrawn from the recital. Instead, we got another arrangement of a piece composed in Australia, The Charming Emily’s song of Mantras and night flowers, a work he originally composed to encourage his daughter to continue her piano lessons, but a piece that has since taken on a life of its own.
The final half work was the work of Argentinian composer Maximo Diego Pujol Magic Suite. Its four sections cover a lot of ground and it ends with a Candombe blues, which reminds this listener of the jazz classic Work Song by Charles Mingus. Superbly performed by Blanch and Granger, it was a neat staging for the second half that featured Sydney pianist Simon Tedeschi and the inimitable violinist-singer George Washingmachine playing a selection of songs by George and Ira Gershwin.
Tedeschi kicked off the session on the large Kawai with Rhapsody in blue – a work which “inadvertently” associated with him. “I’ve played it so many times in so many arrangements and combinations. But I never tire of it. Sparkling and sounding always fresh under his fingers, he made the perfect curtain raiser for a relaxed couple of two old friends from very different musical backgrounds.
Tedeschi, although one of Australia’s finest classical pianists, has always had a penchant and natural flair for contemporary jazz, having accompanied world-renowned harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler on numerous tours – “he m Said I was the best pianist he had ever worked with – I found out later that was what he told all his pianists, but I was the last!
Multi-instrumentalist and storyteller Washingmachine then embarked on a swing version of I have rhythm with a violin solo worthy of his great hero Stéphane Grappelli or Stuff Smith.
Relaxed and funny together, and seemingly unfazed by the empty, cavernous concert hall, the duo joked and made their way through other Gershwin classics, including But not for me, kiss you, they all laugh and ended with the ubiquitous Summer time of Porgy and Bess.
“I imagine all the viewers at home in their Ugg boots in Terylene pajamas with their cups of tea,” Washingmachine joked at one point.
Either way, the concert was a big consolation for the temporary loss of live music in Sydney. And, of course, provides income for musicians who have struggled so hard over the past 18 months.
The third concert in the MDCH series, featuring the Offspring Ensemble, Roland Peelman and Anna Fraser, will be broadcast live de Chatswood Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $ 24.