Posts Tagged ‘paul grabowsky


Katie Noonan & Brodsky Quartet: With Love and Fury


Katie Noonan & Brodsky Quartet: With Love and Fury

QPAC & Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University

QPAC Concert Hall

April 28 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

There is not a voice in the world more evocative or more exquisite than Katie Noonan’s. Her latest collaborative magic trick, with the world class Brodsky Quartet, is testament to Noonan’s vocal mastery, and her endless cycle of creative genius and generousity.

Australia is for us not a country but a state of mind. We do not speak from within but from outside. From a state of mind that describes rather than expresses its surroundings or from a state of mind that imposes itself upon rather than lives through landscape and event.

– Judith Wright, Because I Was Invited (1975)


“I forgot how much I love poetry.”

Analiese Long


The People Who Live in Victoria Street John Olsen 1960

I painted a picture from the attic window named “The People Who Live in Victoria Street” – John Olsen


Elena Kats-Chernin’s Late Spring is the perfect opener, bringing us the sounds of the earliest morning, the light barely appearing, a pale moon barely visible, disappearing yet reluctant to leave its place in the sky. Women believe in the moon. Women believe in the moon. Such sweet sadness, such longing, a lifetime of memories…and of hope. 

The moon drained white by day

lifts from the hill

where the old pear-tree fallen in the storm

springs up in blossom still.

Women believe in the moon:

this branch I hold

is not more white and still than she

whose flower is ages old,

and so I carry home

flowers from the pear

that makes such obstinate tokens still

for fruit it cannot bear.


David Hirschfelder’s To A Child transports us (and it’s not until I re-read the poem later that I wonder about its dark lens). At the time it feels like smiling, tiptoeing towards the child’s room after nine o’clock to see if she is reading or sleeping or struggling with difficult dreams…or not even there, stolen away by gypsies or goblins…it’s sometimes my greatest fear. The violins (and viola dart playfully around the voice while the cello grounds us. There’s such tenderness in this piece; it could be a letter to my ten-year-old self, or to my turning-ten-year-old daughter. It sounds like discovery and wonder, and those moments when we glance up from what we’re doing to take in the smallest detail, to let the sun warm our cheeks and forget the evil of the world.

Paul Dean’s haunting composition for Sonnet for Christmas gives a nod to Michael Nyman, and Andrew Ford’s After the Visitors begins with a bit of the baroque and goes the way of John Bucchino’s gentle manipulation of the emotions in Sepia Life. The house – or the heart – asks, “Is it you again alone?” Judith Wright’s words are so, so emotive, conjuring images of our country’s aching, yearning soul as it prises open my own.

We are old companions, self.

We can go on, sometimes in love, sometimes


With the old pang, the old delight

The living balance between waking, waking and


Katie Noonan’s The Surfer (with arrangement for strings by Steve Newcomb) is one of my favourite original pieces of the evening, evoking the mystery and majesty and security of the ocean. He thrust his joy against the weight of the sea… she lilts and sighs into the end of this delicate piece, just beautiful.

I love Iain Grandage’s work and in Night after Bushfire we are taken to a chilling, desperate place. Did you see The Rabbits? The Secret River? Grandage handles melody with the same mastery Wright had with words. Then there is the deep sweetness, sadness and acceptance of Paul Grabowsky’s Company of Lovers. It’s actually incredible just how personal each piece becomes, and yet Judith Wright was remembered by her daughter, Meredith McKinney, as saying, “the personal is not interesting. It’s what is beyond the personal that is of importance.” Perhaps this is The Slope (Carl Vine). And yet…

We often hear Noonan muse over the awesome power of music…


John Rodgers’ Failure of Communication is an intense attack on the senses, finishing abruptly and leaving us to recognise the silences between us. Richard Tognetti’s deceptively gentle treatment of Metho Drinker is utterly compelling and ultimately heartbreaking; it’s a careful, mournful, soulful ode to inebriation and the peace that death will bring, although there is violence in the col legion – is that the correct term? It’s perhaps the most unforgettable piece of the night because of it’s open, weeping dismay.

His white and burning girl, his woman of fire,

creeps to his heart and sets a candle there

to melt away the flesh that hides from bone,

to eat the nerve that tethers him in time.

He will lie warm until the bone is bare

and on the dead dark moon he wakes alone.

It was for Death he took her; death is but this;

and yet he is uneasy under her kiss

and winces from that acid of her desire.

It’s a sombre end to the first set. After Interval we are treated to three works, collectively titled Australian Triptych: Peter Sculthorpe’s short and sweet From Nourlangie, Ford’s bittersweet Cradle Song…in fact, it’s completely devastating and I realise a tear slides down my cheek as the song disappears, giving way to Robert Davidson’s beautifully lively and evocative Stradbroke.


I love hearing again, Bjork’s Hyperballad (Noonan brings so much more richness and love to it than fear), the magical Possibly Maybe, and the exquisite Love’s My Song For You. Paul Cassidy’s arrangement of Elvis Costello’s I almost had a weakness is a delight. Sting’s Fragile (Noonan’s vocal interpretation and Cassidy’s arrangement for strings) includes a couple of violent, really terrifying moments in case you’d forgotten the extent of the damage we’ve done to the earth already; it’s achingly simple and poignant after that, and the addition of the voices of everyone in the space makes it another favourite, the collective choral sadness and sense of community – the longing – lingering still.

Katie Noonan never ceases to amaze me. To have brought together Brodsky Quartet and some of our country’s greatest composers for this world premiere landmark event is an astonishing accomplishment.

With Love and Fury is a stunning collaboration; an incredibly beautiful, evocative song cycle encapsulating the haunting, shifting beauty and history of Australia.



The Quartet is named after the great Russian violinist Adolf Brodsky, dedicatee of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto and a passionate chamber musician. Daniel Rowland plays a violin made by Lorenzo Storioni of Cremona in 1793; Ian Belton’s violin is by Gio. Paolo Maggini c.1615 and Paul Cassidy plays on La Delfina viola, c. 1720, courtesy of Sra. Delfina Entrecanales. Jacqueline Thomas plays a cello made by Thomas Perry in 1785.


Production pics by Darren Thomas



Banquet of Secrets

Banquet of Secrets
Brisbane Powerhouse & Victorian Opera
Brisbane Powerhouse Performance Space
April 7 – 9 2016


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward




Featuring David Rogers-Smith, Dimity Shepherd, Michael Carman, Kanen Breen and Antoinette Halloran.


I wasn’t going to publish this review because everything I’ve seen about Banquet of Secrets is amazing; it’s been exceptionally well received by everyone in the country except me…and Sam, who has since referred to it as “Banquet of Boredom”.

As a reviewer, I often wonder about the value of putting my opinion out there at all.

When we write for free, we write for ourselves. And yes, while it would be nice to at least cover the cost of fuel, parking and dinner, and while we’re at it, a lovely little Wheels & Dollbaby number every month, I’m also just putting here for later, something that might be useful or interesting one day about Queensland theatre. Live performance disappears once it’s done, but some sort of intelligent or heartfelt response to the work is a worthwhile record of what our creatives are doing, and how they’re doing it, and where we’re heading together, surely.

I don’t know. It probably doesn’t help that I’m terribly inconsistent, and I continue to resist further tertiary study and the sort of academic writing that appears to be the only way to add any sort of gravitas to a body of work, and instead stay stubbornly more or less within my own little world. That’s right. Write for free, but only for yourself…….

In the case of Banquet of Secrets, I’d decided that since this year has been challenging enough already (and it’s only April!) it was hardly worth making a comment about it. Who am I to say it’s anything less than brilliant? I’ve wondered, “HAVE I MISSED THE POINT?” (if you loved it you will answer yes, yes I have) and, “WHAT IF I’M WRONG?” (if you loved it you will answer yes, yes I am) and, “WHO EVEN CARES?” and, “WHO WILL EVEN NOTICE IF I SAY NOTHING, OR IF XS DISAPPEARS FOR A WHILE?”, which is something I’ve been wondering a lot about lately. At the same time, on several different occasions, I’ve been told by industry friends that they always look forward to reading what’s here and I must publish this review because…well, perhaps other (louder) voices have offered accolades with which they also disagree.

So I persist with this blog (and the reviews that are not as favourable as some) because who even am I if I quit responding honestly to what I’m seeing? 

This work is certainly challenging. It’s probably some of Paul Grabowsky’s best work, brilliant by design, comprising complex orchestrations that boast multiple layers (and he conducts from the piano); entire worlds exist beneath discordant harmonies. I don’t mind a bit of discord (life is dishing up plenty of discord!), but it’s not my favourite new work and it might not be yours either… But will you say so? 

The reason musical theatre and opera remain separate is because they are separate entities. Each form has its merits and the two haven’t mixed well here.

Actually, they’re calling it “chamber music theatre” but chamber is more lilting and haunting, opera is slicker and music theatre more entertaining. The dialogue is cliched, uneventful, the banter not witty enough. The only real comedy comes from the waiter, who describes each course of a ridiculously decadent dinner in flowery language and declares triumphantly each time, “You’re welcome, thank you very much!” before exiting. He is clearly relieved not to play a larger part in the evening’s proceedings.

Kaneen Breen’s character, the host Jean Pierre, is the next best established (and next best dressed) character but he can only do so much with what he’s been given. Breen’s first solo, establishing that everything must be perfect, reveals the Last Supper premise and his final piece confirms it; it’s the only musical number to make me feel anything; his love, and admiration and appreciation for the friends is touching.

The opening scene however, a thunderstorm (Sound Design Jim Atkins, Lighting Design Matt Scott & Set Design Christina Smith; we’ll say nothing more of her costumes), does little to establish each of the four characters and doesn’t make us keen to hear more from them. The first ten minutes of the classic comedy Clue, inspired by the board game, should have provided Director, Roger Hodgman with some sense of setting up a similar story. Yes, yes, it’s all there, but we don’t believe a word of it. It’s a shame because they are such beautiful, accomplished vocalists and clearly capable of tackling meatier roles.

Unashamedly contrived, Banquet of Secrets makes a mockery of the quest to discover, develop and disseminate “new” art to intelligent audiences. While other writers struggle to garner support to bring their work to the stage, Steve Vizard and Grabowsky over promise and under deliver in this poor excuse for a musical theatre / opera hybrid. They’ve created an elitist monster, which rears its ugly head in a landscape that consistently offers more interesting and challenging work. It’s simply not audience friendly.

We see each secret coming and feel nothing for any of the four characters; predictably, a lawyer, a writer, a doctor and the collector, our host. We can’t ever be sure whether or not the friends meet in a restaurant, despite the program notes advising that this is the case according to the friends’ tradition. (It might have been a more intriguing night had events taken place in Jean Pierre’s home). Apart from the immediate breathtaking impact of the overhead ornate mirror, which is not used to its full effect, the staging is arbitrary, with musicians to one side and an under-utilised upright piano and bar setting opposite. The singers either stand across the downstage space or sit at the dining table. Quite often there is some aimless wandering around the table and through the space. Characters connect with each other by placing a hand on another’s shoulder as they pass, or holding a gaze for a moment too long… Oh! And one number is staged on the table top. Nuance is lost or never there to begin with.

The music is mostly jarring, largely repetitive (Sam enjoys it much less than I do; clearly the world of commercial radio is beginning to have an effect), and it doesn’t help the performers to embrace their characters in order to give us the guts (or hearts) of the people they claim to be. It’s all rather surface level, like a dinner with strangers might be. We never feel as if we get to know them and because we don’t know them we don’t feel any sympathy for them. As each secret is revealed we feel nothing. Transitions are slow and mostly awkward. There is polite applause at the end of each number,although a substantial number of older audience members give much more generous applause during the curtain call. I’m pleased that they’ve enjoyed it! Do we recall any of the melodies at this point? No. In fact, during the curtain call Sam reminds me: even CATS has a memorable tune…

And why didn’t we see them eat? And why didn’t the food on the plates match the foodie photos projected across the mirror’s tilted surface? Perhaps it’s okay to gloss over these details in “chamber music theatre”???


As an experiment, Banquet of Secrets is an interesting attempt to seek a broader audience but sadly, it’s self-indulgent and reeking of desperation, like the mediocre children we insist – not all of us insist – have what it takes to “make it”. Ugh.


Banquet of Secrets appears to have been written for the elite old-school upper classes; the Racer Cruisers. They spend vast amounts of money on well appointed, comfortable racing yachts, defeating both purposes and impressing those who know no better.



Read Grabowsky’s tribute to Prince.


Hear more of Grabowsky’s work at QPAC this week.


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