A ZOFOlicious experience

ZOFO duo Eva-Maria Zimmerman and Keisuke Nakagoshi perform works by contemporary composers based on selected art works.

Well,  thanks to YourTime magazine and the generosity of beloved Musica Viva I get to see and hear this year’s concert program – always a thrill!

So off I went to the season’s kickoff at the Queensland Conservatorium – the extraordinary piano pairing of Keisuke Nakagoshi and Eva-Maria Zimmerman as ZOFO whose four cunning hands take audiences to the very precipice of contemporary musical expression, without quite dropping into the chasm of musical nihilism.  It’s touch-and-go for those of us who have traditionally got our thrills from Rach 3 and any sonata by Beethoven and certainly not for those whose love of music is enshrined in their CDs featuring the second movement of every famous piano concerto ever written.

But for those who like to test their boundaries and go beyond their musical comfort zones the ZOFOMOMA experience is truly thrilling.  Luckily I took along my friend Pauline, pianist and cellist, who embraces the shock of the new with fervour and understands the keyboard in a way I, a mere string digitalist, cannot!

Musica Viva has put out a very good program which explains the music and the vision better than I ever could and so, having already written a brief review for the middle-brow YourTime readership, I shall devote this article to my own take on the show.  And “show” it is, make no mistake!  The mere word “concert” does not do ZOFO justice because Keisuke and Eva are showpeople who don’t just play – they perform with a capital P.  In his day, Liszt was considered a flamboyant virtuoso whose keyboard antics drew audiences likes moths to the flame of his passion. But I’m willing to bet that even with his flowing locks and priestly garb the romantic Franz was never as exciting as ZOFO.

All the music performed in the ZOFOMOMA tour sponsored (in Australia at least) by Musica Viva is original.  It was commissioned by the duo from 15 contemporary international composers whose brief was to base their short piano pieces on favourite paintings that represented their respective cultures.  So, when we in the audience read this in our programs we know we are in for an evening of out there music.  For some of us – certainly for me – this is going to be a challenge.  I have very mixed feelings about what my traditionalist husband calls “plink” music.  How well I remember years ago going to a performance of Mahler’s Ninth and first having to sit through a piece by Richard Mills entitled something to do with the rainforest.  I mean, do Australian composers EVER come up with anything that is NOT inspired by the landscape or indigenous culture?  Small wonder we have produced no Mozarts – but I digress – Mills’ composition, which I would probably understand better today, seemed to consist mainly of pianistic “plinks” (hence the name which we gave to Australian contemporary music for years afterwards!) and an occasional plucked string, with long silences between.

And there was a fair bit of plinking in some of the ZOFOMOMA pieces.  But, in these four sure hands the plinking seemed to work, though it was still a bit of a challenge for those of us who like an accessible melody.  Take for example Cecile Marti’s Wendung (Turn) based on a painting by the same name which, apparently, was in turn based on the concept of opposite-perspective.  Whatever that means.  I found this strange sliver of a painting utterly incomprehensible but the music with its fourths segueing into clumped octaves, though dense, did intrigue my ear.  Perhaps because I respond more easily to music than I do to paint.  And then there was Gabriel (yes, he’s the grandson) Prokofiev’s edgy Untitled Etching 3 –based on  a sort of darkling cartoon by Robert Fry, Pawelk Mykietyn’s SM 34 which appears to be inspired by an eyeball – the painting, that is.  The music, according to the composer “is a technique founded on an algorithm using a formula for uniform acceleration of the tempo”. Well, why not?!  Just because this idea seems eccentric to me (and, I bet, a lot of others in the audience) doesn’t mean it is without musical logic.  I seriously disliked Englishman Jonathan Russell’s composition based on the Untiltled (Skeleton) work by street artist Stormie Mills – definitely not for those of us who think art should exalt life not imitate it or even reflect it. Again, though, the music was interesting.  I don’t mean that to be condescending – it WAS interesting if you did what I did and just opened your mind and tried to embrace strangeness of a work which forces the two pairs of hands to switch and swap, back and forth, shambolic but weirdly compelling.  Like the cartoon itself.

It was a relief, I admit, to sink softly into the spiritual solace of Lei Liang’s Will You Come into My Dream based on a fragment of a traditionally-inspired Chinese landscape painting and, even more so, Kenji Oh’s exquisitely misty and mystical Sacred Chichibu Peaks at Spring Dawn.  Both these works were performed with immense subtlety and sympathy by Eva and Keisuke and of course this is the ZOFO secret – they can, as a duo, put themselves inside each very different composition with the same suppleness and apparent ease with which they occasionally astonish the audience by entwining their bodies.  While still sitting on the stool!  While still hitting the keys!  I’ve never seen any other pianists behaving like beings from La Cirque du Soleil!

So this is the part where I should mention that between each piece one or other of them gets up from the stool and wanders slowly yet compellingly (they are dressed in charcoal/black and move like shadows) around the stage before swapping stools – and thus piano ends – with the other, who keeps on playing the promenade theme that links the separate works in a way to heighten audience anticipation.  These are arranged by Keisuke and are traditional in form; according to the program they are a nod to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and of course this program takes Mussorgsky’s idea and expands it into something much bigger and bolder and globally diverse.  For example I Wayan Gde Yudane takes a Bali street scene painted by his fellow countryperson as an inspiration for a work that throbs with optimistic human life while Sahba Aminikia turns exiled Iranian artist Nicky Nodjoumi’s politically powerful Inspector’s Scrutiny into a dark, discordant paean to human struggle.  My friend Pauline was particularly taken with the painting by Sattar Bahlulzade entitled Spring Morning in Baku which inspired Franghiz Al-Zsdeh’s eponymous composition.  Like the composer, Pauline  was attracted by the painting’s reflection of a new day dawning, with its Caspian breezes and wildflowers.   The music did indeed seem to reflect this; a hint of Azerbaijanian threnody overlaid by western jazziness.

My personal favourites came at the end – Argentina followed by Cuba.  The Argentinian painting was a black-and-white abstract in which I vainly searched for what the program referred to as “tango idioms”.  I couldn’t find them there but detected them in the music which called for some dramatic fingering from the two pianists. It was splendid, stimulating stuff!  And then the grand finale with a vividly naif tropicana on the screen which apparently had a political message but reminded me delightfully of something Ken Done might have painted after too many pina coladas!  This music has Russian as well as traditional Cuban elements and demands much of those who play it – including some glissandos that seemed to surge along the keyboard like musical tsunamis.  I found myself carried away by the sheer bold, syncopated exuberance of this marvellous work – one of three in the selection by women composers.

I have mentioned only a few of the compositions here but all fifteen fitted beautifully together to make for 75 minutes of simple enjoyment spiced by constant challenge to the musical intellect. And, much as I, too, revere Chopin and never tire of a melodic nocturne or three, it IS exciting to go to a concert where the music is so new and different.  Keisuke and Eva are a fortuitous pairing.  Born respectively in Japan and Switzerland both now live in San Francisco. They met when Keisuke, having  crushed the fingers of one hand in a lift door (bad enough for anyone, but for a concert pianist!) found himself turning pages his replacement artistes, one of whom turned out to be Eva whose  arm-crossing technique with difficult piano pieces really impressed him.  And indeed Eva DOES appear, on stage, to have amazingly long and flexible arms that remind me of ballerina Darcy Bussell  dancing Odette in Swan Lake. Offstage, you see her arms are actually quite normal but when she is playing the piano they seem to have a life – and a length – of their very own, quite independent of the rest of her body.  As for Keisuke, he has a hard-man fitness unusual in a pianist.  Together, they move and play and twist and twine and throw their hands in the air or along the keys with such apparent ease and abandon – and they even sing a bit too, or make sort of singing noises when the music demands it – all part of the show!

Ah, but the skill!  The technique!  Those twenty fingers (some of them back in action after the crushing) tackling with such assurance some devilishly difficult sections written by composers who obviously think pianists should be tested to the utmost. This is music at its most physical.

That’s why I so enjoyed the privilege of seeing and hearing ZOFO in action.  Two pianists and one piano is an unusual musical duet form today.  Keisuke explains that it was very popular back in the 19th century when most middle class western homes had pianos and people played together as a form of entertainment.  When, if we enjoyed music, we had to make it ourselves.  Then along came the gramophone and the radio and the cinema and the TV and the webcast and composers stopped writing music for duetting on a single piano because there seemed no demand for it.   Keisuke and Eva are reviving this art form and to keep audiences coming back for more they need new works – thus ZOFO will always be at the cutting-edge of contemporary music, taking us on journeys that cross the boundaries of culture and harmonic possibilities.

Full marks to Musica Viva for having the vision and courage to help Australian audiences make that journey.

 

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The pros and cons of Evans Head

Jan, this blog post is just for you.

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Poets honour our own Poet Laureate

From here to the wild world’s end! – The view westward that so inspired the young Raymond Curtis –

 

We said farewell to Raymond Curtis a few weeks back but last Monday night the poets and poetry lovers of Tamborine Mountain bid their own special hail and farewell to the man who had been an inspiration to so many of them.

Judith Wright may have been the most famous poet to live on Tamborine but Raymond Curtis was our poet laureate; the one who had lived longest here and written most about it, as celebrated in his anthology The View Westward.

It was, like all the nights at Clancy’s Bar organised by local poetry group Calanthe Collective, a wonderfully warm and humanist gathering.  We are from many nations, with many different viewpoints and of differing ages too, but our love of life and sometimes our despair of it, expressed poetically, unites us all for those few felicitous hours.

Except for a small infusion of Longfellow and Goethe the evening was unabashedly Australian in tone. This was enforced by our guests for the evening, the Beaudesert Bush Bards.  Here are just a few of the performers:

 

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We Are Australian!

Dressed in my Aussie colours – the flag and the green and gold of the wattle – and happily celebrating Australia Day 2019

The good people of Capo and some friends from elsewhere on the mountain proved our pride in being Australian by celebrating Australia in fine style with a drinks-and-nibblies under the pergola.

We decided it was just too hot for a lunch right now so we gathered at 4pm to sing Aussie songs, recite Aussie poetry (and some Pommie stuff too – though I doubt Dylan Thomas would care for being called a Pom, don’t you, Robin!) and compete in teams in an Aussie quiz for a prize of – you guessed it – lamingtons! (Well, as I donated the prize I can now reveal that it was either that or a jar of Vegemite of a Violet Crumble!).  We also ate and drank a lot.

It was a beautiful, breezy evening by the pond and I’ll let the pictures tell the story:

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Why I hate banks – and the NAB in particular!

Customer service at banks has gone the way of the dinosaurs – and just like this ancient crocodile the modern banker will take all in one big bite and give back nothing!

When I was a teenager my father went with me to a local bank to open my very first account.  The bank manager, a family friend, was exactly what bank managers used to be – conservative, avuncular, nicely dressed.  He positively exuded TRUST!  And my father said “Always remember the bank manager is your friend.  And that the bank is the best place for your money.”

How times have changed!  We don’t have bank managers any more; they have gone the way of those other dinosaurs, financial accountability and customer service.  TRUST?  Don’t make me laugh.  Banking today is awash with scandal as over-paid CEOs and other senior staff vie with shareholders to grab and mis-spend your hard earned dollar.  Maybe if you’re Warren Buffett you might get some customer service – but if you’re Josephine Average, forget it.

I embraced internet banking with enthusiasm.  The fact that sometimes I can’t get into my accounts because the site is for some reason unavailable I have tried to bear with patience.  The other fact, that if for any unfortunate reason you should need to contact them direct you will wait for up to an hour gnashing your teeth on the phone I have born with less patience.  Banking today is not for wimps!  And certainly not for the elderly who were raised in a different and more gracious era.

The only reason I bank with the National Australia Bank is because it was one of the two banks on Tamborine Mountain to offer counter service.  You could actually go in there and meet REAL people.  And there was a handy ATM outside.  A few months ago they arbitrarily closed this branch despite Tamborine being a growing community – and likely to grow more as a dormitory suburb for the Gold Coast and the new satellite community of Bromelton.  Customers were not consulted.  Instead they got an insulting letter from some bloke in Brisbane telling us how wonderful the bank was and how it  had our interests at heart.  Oh yeah?  Do they really think we fall for that stuff?  They even took away our ATM!

So this week I have bought new a car and need to pay for it.  Because, even in this digital age,  bank transfers take up to three days, and as the car is ready to collect tomorrow, I wanted to pay by bank cheque.  Remember cheques?  They do at least have the virtue of taking effect immediately. So we ring the head office and after the usual long wait we are told we will have to get a cheque from the Nerang Branch – a 40 minute drive away.  Knowing full well that this will mean queuing for gawd knows how long (bearing in mind our ages) in a bank in a hot and horrible place we try to arrange for this to be ready for collection.  But, oh no, that’s MUCH too difficult for the modern bank.  We are told that the Nerang Branch “isn’t answering its phone”!!!!!!

Well, obviously we are not going to take the risk of going down there and suffering all the usual mucking about that passes for customer service these days.  It’s too stressful.  So, we have to delay picking up our new car from the dealer while the bank takes its own sweet time to transfer OUR money – just a few kilometres to Robina, down the road.  No wonder people rob banks – it’s probably the easiest way of getting your money out!

If you go onto the NAB website you will be able to read all the guff about how socially responsible they are and how they offer services to those with language difficulties, visually impaired, otherwise challenged etcetera etcetera and sobloodyforth!  How about offering some service to ordinary people…or, more importantly, those customers who are elderly and often frail and who need all banking transactions to be as simple and straightforward as possible.  THAT”S customer service.

Banks are so big that it’s difficult for any of us to do anything about them.  We can’t fight them, or appeal to their better natures – in fact today it’s almost impossible to get into any meaningful contact with them at all.  We put up with them because we don’t know where else to put our money.  All we CAN do is vent our rage on social media – oh, and of course be as difficult with them as possible.  When I have time I shall amuse myself by continuously ringing them up and tying up bank personnel with frivolous questions, going into what I call my dithering Margaret Rutherford old lady act.  Bombarding them with ridiculous queries.  Going into bank buildings – when one can find such a building  – and dithering around in the queue and at the window.  If I can’t be a respected customer I can at least be a damned nuisance.  Because the one thing we oldies DO have is time!

Oh and by the way, I am going to transfer my accounts to Suncorp – because that’s the only bank we have left here on the mountain.  At least one can go in there and deal with real people and sort out problems in THEIR time without hanging about on a phone line or web line.

Goodbye, NAB, it’s been no pleasure knowing you.

 

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Happy New Year!

Bob and I on Christmas Day – our 54th Christmas together

Well it’s been a very pleasant Festive Season with heaps of activities – singing, acting, partying – leading up to a quiet family Christmas lunch and culminating in one of the best New Year’s Eves I’ve had in many an auld lang syne!

In fact I went to TWO parties this year.  One next door with a quietly merry bunch of Anglicans (Church of England to non-Aussie friends and relos) including one bishop, two vicars and little old wine-drinking atheistic me!  Not, mind you, that this lot can’t knock back a glass or two when the occasion warrants it.  Anyway,  it was all thanks to our lovely neighbours Barbara and John who put on a good spread along with the good cheer.  Also present were our other lovely neighbours The Rev Rev Robin and my even uglier older sister Pauline.   I should explain, Pauline and I played the Tarty Twosome in a very adults only version of Cinderella – the Capolettes (our community players) panto for this

 

At Barbara and John’s, all dressed up ready for a festive evening

Christmas 2018.  Me busting out of my bustier and she with flashing nipple decorations and both of us with fright wigs – but I digress….

So I left Bob safely at home and ventured forth at 8 pm with friends Brenda, Bernice and Wolfgang to a party at the home of our madcap Scottish friend Louise who really knows how to turn on a guid hogmanay.  There were banners on the gates to her exceedingly long driveway – the cross of St Andrews and the Lion of Scotland or whatever it’s called, and more of them at the front door.  It’s a great house for a party – huge kitchen, wide deck overlooking her green acres, great sunken music room with baby grand.  And it was there we gathered to sing our hearts out- many a Jacobite song was bellowed bravely along with some feeble Sassenach responses from myself – my valiant attempt at Rule Britannia and Jerusalem was quite drowned out by Scotland the Brave and various laments from all those battles which the English won (okay, there was Bannockburn but after that we didn’t let them have a single tartan triumph until we thoroughly got our own back at Culloden – Will he no come back again? Not bloody likely and who’d have wanted him anyway that plump little princeling?!) ….where was I?…oh yes, we sang all the lovely old Scots favourites like Annie Laurie and Ye Banks and Braes too.  And what Hogmanay would be complete without a rousing rendition of Donald Whaurs Yer Troosers!

Cometh the hour, cometh the man and this hour produced a couple of very good male singers among the predominantly female chorale, some of us Bella a Capella members who – though only five of us – did a fair job of I am Australian.

Then it was Auld Lang Syne and promises of eternal friendship and let’s do it again next year and a bit of dancing.  The party was still going strong when  Brenda, Wolfgang and I dragged Bernice away and as I climbed thankfully into bed after a quick shower I tried to remember the last NYE when I was carousing after midnight.

I still managed to be up by 6 – an hour later than usual this time of year – and Bob and I did our usual walk (in his case ride) over to The Knoll which was deserted at that hour.  We sat at our favourite table and ate our bacon sandwiches and drank our coffee and made our new year’s resolutions.  2018 was a pretty good year for our family so let’s hope 2019 produces more of the same.  Here’s wishing a Happy New Year to all our friends and relos around the world!

 

I took a pic of Wolfie napping in a chair, with Beau the Beagle, and he promptly woke up. Obviously a power nap because he was up dancing with Sandy not long afterwards!

Bob is happy he’s made it through another year!

The morning after – and a somewhat hazy westward view from the spot where for yonks now Bob and I have celebrated the coming year with a picnic breakfast. Not so long ago that view showed little signs of habitation – now there are houses and dams scattered everywhere

Looking forward to the first breakfast for 2019!

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The baton and the fire!

The ceremonial fire comes to life on our mountain

Well April 1 2018 was a great day for those of us lucky enough to live on Tamborine Mountain.  The community turned out in force to welcome the Queen’s baton relay, the end of a worldwide and then Australia-wide journey for the Brisbane-made baton that carries the Queen’s message to the 2018 Commonwealth Games.  From here the baton was carried down the mountain to the Gold Coast below, where the games are being held.

Actually the Commonwealth Games bore me rigid but it was still nice to see such enthusiastic support for our local baton carriers.   And our beloved mountain looked lovely in the aerial shots on TV.

For myself and friends the real highlight of the day was the Shared Fires Celebration  which began at sundown with a welcome to country by Aboriginal Elder Aunty Ruby and some spectacular lighting of the fire circle and adjacent flame trees (to commemorate Judith Wright’s poem, written here on Tamborine and locally much-loved).

The whole event took place on the Geissman Oval, within easy walking distance of my house which was good because all available nearby parking was taken up by the crowds and the workers, with people being bused in from various parts of the mountain.  The oval and its forest backdrop was brought to life with fire pits around which people could sit, craft stalls, food trucks, a bar,  tables and chairs, lights.

Bronwyn Davies who looks after such cultural events for the Scenic Rim Regional Council did us all proud and so did all of her helpers.  But my personal gratitude goes mainly to Andrew Veivers, a lovely man and Brisbane-based musician, musical educator, composer and fine flamenco guitarist (think the acclaimed Flamenco Fire) who pulled the whole musical event together.  This involved the specially-formed Scenic Rim People’s Orchestra featuring musicians from all over the area as well as school orchestras and a guest singer (Kaycee? Casey?) to lead the vocalisation of the song and music composed by Andrew especially for the occasion, Quiet Enough to Hear.

We were all given our scores on-line and had only four rehearsals to pull it all together (though of course we practiced in our various sections with members of our local ukulele group, led by Linda, rehearsing together. Thus we had five ukulele players and the same number of guitarists, all of us friends.  Thanks to sophisticated sound techniques and good micing up we were able to be heard up there on stage with all that brass and woodwind!

The didgeridoo gave the evening a haunting start as the firelighting ceremonies began and then the combined choirs and orchestras played and children  costumed as fireflies and birds and others a-twinkle with lights (as were those of us in the orchestra) paraded and danced.  It was a glittering spectacle in the gathering darkness when the rain clouds, presumably summoned by Aunty Ruby who spoke of the rain spirit in her welcome, began to threaten.  Luckily they waited until we were headed for home.

A great day for Tamborine, a great night for myself and musical friends, and I am just so happy and proud to have been a tiny part of this historic event.  Playing up there with an orchestra!  Who’d have thunk it!

Linda, Brenda and I pose with musical director for the event, Andrew Veivers.

The Queen’s message baton arrives on Tamborine Mountain

It comes with a large support group as well as TV crews

…and a police escort

The baton relay ends in Main Street before heading down to the Gold Coast for the start of the Games

Our fifth and final rehearsal in the Vonda Youngman Hall, Andrew out front as the kids gather below/ We are on stage behind him, before going down to the oval to perform

Barry and Linda dressed up and raring to go – it’s always so much fun to play and sing with them.

The distant stage taken from the audience – and by my friend Pat.

Bob, sitting with friends around one of the fire pits, waits for the entertainment to begin

The fire circle is lit by traditional Aboriginal methods

The fire circle is complete….

…and now the flame trees on either side, commemorating Judith Wright’s famous poem, are lit too.

The flame bearers take the fire through the crowd

The choir and orchestra perform Quiet Enough to Hear, celebrating the natural wonders of our region. I can just be spotted far left behind the keyboard player

The view from the stage, looking over the crowd

Barry and Brenda all smiles once the performance is over and our efforts over the past many weeks have come to a successful outcome

The rain held off until it was time to go home.  Here Sue and Dave perform their version of Singin’ in the Rain, wearing ponchos thoughtfully provided by the organisers, before  a wet walk back to ours for a welcome drink to end the night.

 

 

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