Author Archive | Kevin Purcell

Orchestra Musicians Never Fail To Amaze Me

Kevin_PurcellI had the great pleasure last weekend of working with an essentially ‘scratch’ orchestra comprised predominantly of musicians teaching instrumental music in Schools in Melbourne and regional areas; including some musicians from the ADO roster, all of whom gave so generously of their time.

The ADO, through Managing Director, Janine Hanrahan, and Artistic Administrator, Briony Buys, was asked to curate this concert for the inaugural Independent Schools Victoria (ISV) Arts Learning Festival. I was delighted to return to Melbourne to work with the orchestra on a program of music specifically composed for Children.

We really need to celebrate the capacity of orchestra musicians who live in Australia: their willingness to tackle difficult music – with far too little rehearsal time; an undaunted enthusiasm for the task of finding their musical way through a barrage of notes, rhythms, dynamics and endlessly shifting tempi and, ultimately, their conviction that they can “pull it off” when the moment really counts – the concert!

We underestimate and under-appreciate orchestra musicians generally.  I believe this is true in most places in the world with very few exceptions. What is asked of them – in terms of the minutely exacting technical and artistic expectations  – is a continuing feat of human dexterity and skill-level that belies any general understanding of what they individually and collectively accomplish in the process of making music. Continue Reading →

How We Researched & Prepared For Our Forthcoming Concert

Eleanor_Rawling_Cover_GurneyIt probably would come as a surprise for some to learn, that much of the planning for ADO concerts happens at least a year in advance of presenting the concert itself.  In itself, this is actually fairly common practice for orchestras around the world; the preparation to put 60-100 players onstage to present a program having started long before the  first note of music has been performed.

In the case of our forthcoming ‘A Foreign Field That is Forever England’ concert, the preparations have been even more time consuming, and involved many more people than is usual.

Firstly, without the very kind assistance of the Ivor Gurney Trust we would not be performing the composer’s A Gloucestershire Rhapsody.  Specifically, the cooperation and willingness by former chairman of the Trust and composer, Ian Venables and the scholar and composer, Philip Lancaster to provide us with critically edited new performing materials has allowed us to prepare the work in the demanding and limited rehearsal schedule under which the ADO operates.

But then, how to explore the world of Ivor Gurney himself?  Fortunately, one of the most interesting and inspiring books I have come across about Gurney was published in 2011 by Eleanor Rawling (see the book cover above left and click image for further details).

Continue Reading →

Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Sir Mark Elder

Sir_Mark_ElderI’m in the midst of learning quite a lot of music for concerts and upcoming recordings.  However, I decided to take some time out for the rare, and very great, privilege of sitting in on rehearsals with one of the great British conductors of this generation and one of the great American orchestras of any generation.

I have spent the last week re-absorbing Sir Edward Elgar’s monumental Symphony No. 1 in Ab Major, Op. 55, conducted by Sir Mark Elder and performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

I wonder whether there is a better 20th-Century symphony than Elgar’s first?  For a very long time, I have held resolutely to the contention that William Walton’s mighty Symphony No. 1 in Bb Minor from 1935 was the apex of 20C British symphonic achievement.  But, after hearing this work assidusouly taken apart and expertly re-assembled by the British maestro, I fear I may have to re-think my position.

Elgar’s work is an extraordinarily tight and focused masterpiece of thematic lyricism and variation across a large canvas of both time and orchestral texture.  It’s also extremely challenging to perform for both conductor and orchestra.  Given that the last time this symphony was played in Chicago at Orchestra Hall was 1983 under the brilliant (and not well enough known British conductor, Raymond Leppard) it is not suprising that the very fine Chicago ensemble responded wonderfully under the expert stewardship of Sir Mark to ignite the engine of Elgar’s compositional constructs and style requirements. Continue Reading →

Aaron Copland’s Misunderstood Opera

With the first performance of the ADO coming up on May 29, I thought I would write a short introductory piece to the suite that Aaron Copland extracted from his ‘Americana’ opera, The Tender Land which we are performing along with Brenton Broadstock’s Made in Heaven: Concerto For Orchestra (rev.).

I find it fascinating that this opera is not better known.  I am assured by people in the know here (opera-wise) in New York that the opera is performed with some regularity – but not by major Opera companies.  I certainly know it was performed last year in Melbourne by Lyric Opera of Melbourne because I was asked to review it for Limelight but couldn’t with a schedule conflict.  I was also interested to see it, as I wanted to look at the young Australian conductor, Pat Miller.

All that aside, the opera appears to be a bit of an enigma.  I have sat and played the work at the piano.  Like all students of the pre-eminent French composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger, there is nothing in Copland’s score that is not securely and persuasively written.  In fact, it is beautifully rendered on a small scale as it was originally intended to be heard as a television opera. Continue Reading →

We Begin Where We Ended

By: Kevin Purcell

I am delighted to have been asked to write the first blog on the Australian Discovery Orchestra web site.  As the ADO has yet to give a performance to share, the closest thing we have is an excerpt from a 2010 concert given by the Tasmania Discovery Orchestra conducted by the late, Myer Fredman.

This is fitting in several ways. Most importantly it shows the work of the British-born Maestro, in the twilight of an extraordinary life – notably as one of the finest Opera conductors Australia has seen – as well as providing the merest of glimpses of his consumate artistry during the ‘Indian Summer’ of his musical life. Myer passed away on July 4, 2014. He was 82 years young.

Secondly, the footage shows the depth of individual and collective talent of Australian orchestral musicians – notably spanning several decades – who came together from all across Australia up to four times per year (and sometimes even more) to perform masterworks from the orchestral repertoire mixed in with additional concerts of the American Songbook. With few exceptions (excluding the cast of professional Opera singers highlighted in this video) none of the TDO’s instrumentalists were engaged in full-time musical activities. Their musical commitment and resultant efforts are truly wonderful to hear and watch.

In 2016, the Australian Discovery Orchestra will pick up from where its ‘heyday’ activities left off under its previous (but different) guise, in the full knowledge that an orchestra like the ADO is a very much needed enterprise in the artistic life of Australia. The difference five years on is that computer and Internet technologies have advanced to a degree that the ADO is now able do things which, for all intent and purposes, were previously impractical (even in 2010). Continue Reading →

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