All posts by John Pollak

John Pollak did Arts and Law at Sydney uni. He practised Law for a short while and went into business. He made too much money for his own good and today is not so much retired as having little to do. He plays tennis and carries the bags for his wife when she goes overseas. When prompted and badgered he does the occasional review. He goes to Ethiopia every now and then and where, with Professor McGuigan of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, he is bringing the Sodis Program for safer water to the Tigray region. When seen in public he is often hunched over a cup of coffee and a foccacio whilst immersed in a diabolical suduko. Or he is driving his wife to bridge.


The Opera House Concert Hall lends itself quite well to a transformation into a vast cavern. The opening of this performance found the audience in an enormous cathedral cave bathed in an eerie light ..the massive organ pipes were stalactites and the doughnuts enormous shimmering droplets of water.

It was a perfect setting for Antony Pitts XLX Mente Cordis Sui (in the imagination of their hearts).. a 50 part motet . From the dark recesses of the transfigured hall..north south east west and central..came 100 voices, choristers discerned only by their illuminated song sheets, their voices an array  of Gregorian style chants in a multiple of directions.
The motet was a sound bridge between Bachs Magnificat and Mozarts Great Mass. Pitts is an Australian composer with a provenance of international performed works, and this composition was specifically commissioned by Brett Weymark , conductor and artistic director of the Sydney Philharmonia choirs. It was a world premiere.
Bachs Magnificat in D major  is one of the cornerstones of the church’s choral liturgy. “My Soul doth magnify the Lord”. Also called the Song of Mary now that she is to be the mother of Christ, and of the humility she feels that she has been chosen. And it is an affirmation of the power and the glory of god written by a penitent and humble Bach.
 And then came the Mozart Great Mass in C Minor.
From the opening Kyrie to its final Hosanna this was a full-throated adoration of The Creator and His Servant Christ.
Soprano Sara Macliver and Mezzo soprano Anna Dowsley sang their heads their heads off. Mclivers voice soared to effortlessly to fill the entire auditorium .Following her so did Anna Dowsley. It was an outpouring of faith and religiosity… captivating in its intensity.
The 150 plus choir was a wall of sound. Visceral. Alive. Sensitive to all the nuance and subtlety of the mass.
It was a huge conglomeration of Capella and Choristers and Florian Lohmann conducted it all with verve and precision…to be met at the end with a thunderous applause.
This was music from a time when God was in his Heaven and all was right perfect and secure on Earth.
It was also a rare moment in the choral history of Sydney.  The concert took place on Sunday 21 April, 2019 at the Sydney Opera House.


RBG is a documentary film directed and produced by Betsy West and Julie Cohenwhich recently premiered at the Sundance film Festival . RBG is Ruth Bader Ginsburg ( nee Ruth Joan Bader). She is a member of the US Supreme Court. At times almost painfully shy and reserved she is 83 years of age she has become an icon to liberal America and its youth.
How did this come about?
The film explores her path from a working class family in Broklyn to Supreme Court Justice. But it is more than that for her journey parallels the the enormous social and legal victories women were able to achieve from the 1970s.  Central to that change was RBG. Six times she appeared before the Supreme Court to argue for womens rights..the right to equal pay, the right to own their bodies, for equality before the law. And five times she won. She was not only an advocate for women.

Continue reading RBG


Gretchen Parlato.

The Sydney Con International Jazz Festival is awesome. A superb smorgasbord of jazz talent. Geoff Bull and the Finer Cuts. The Judy Bailey Trio. The Darren Heinrich Trio. You get the picture. As the promo says “…90+ artists  24 Concerts. 5 world class venues.”

At the apogee of these events is Gretchen Parlato. She is immediately arresting on stage..a little girl, shyly grasping at bits of her dress while singing to her mom. At other time a mother in a lullaby to her child. At other times a lilting dancing voice .. early morning sunlight on the waves at Bondi. Sometimes a voice tinged with hope and despair. With Artyom Manukan in a perfect partnership with the hypnotic caramel tones of his cello.

Manukan played what is called a cello..but it is an electric cello, a kind of cello on steroids, that he played at times to sound like the mad voice of a circe (siren) into the wind inviting sailors to their doom. The traditional tonal sonority of the cello is in no way diminished by this modern adaptation.

Manukan was part of a band..Marcel Carmago guitar and Leo Costa on drums/percussion…giving Ms Flors’ concert a dimension of excitement and rhythmic vitality. Continue reading GRETCHEN PARLATO WOWS AUDIENCES @ SYDNEY CON JAZZ FESTIVAL


The Nexus Quartet is a miniature “Big Band”. It is a big sound and often evocative when in the jazz mode of the mood of the 30’s, the era of the Speakeasy, of smoke filled rooms, money, danger and illegality. The quartet are four classically trained Saxophonists and there being a dearth of classical compositions for this type of quartet, it often dips into the the oeuvre of the great composers such as Ravel, Debussy and Cesar Franck to play transcriptions of their works.

From the classical genre we heard Debussy’s  ”Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune” with Emily Granger at the Harp. Emily is Chicago’s great loss and our great gain. In Chicago she was principal harpist and since coming here has firmly established herself as an outstanding addition to the Australian concert scene. The prelude is one of the most popular in the concert repertoire and its performance was a contrast in tone, timbre and gravitas.

The mellifluous, sonorous voices of the saxophones contrasted the twinkling agile magical sound of the harp, so superbly played by Ms Granger, a lithesome figure with her long blond hair draped over her shoulder as she bent forward to play an enormous golden Harp. Continue reading THE NEXUS QUARTET : SAXOPHONE HEAVEN @ THE INDEPENDENT THEATRE


All images: Ranui Young

FIVE ELEMENTS concert . (Enigma Quartet and Riley Lee)

The Shakuhachi is a Japanese flute whose sound embodies ancient Japan .  The world then was thought to comprise of five elements ( earth fire water air and ether ) melding into a divinity of nature its plants and animals.

The Enigma Quartet comprises four adventurous and accomplished female musicians. There’s no surprise that they fell in love with the Shakuhachi and one of it’s foremost exponents, Riley Lee, an expatriate American musician now permanently living in Australia.

It was a great concert .  The shakuhachi is both hypnotic and spiritually soothing. Listening to it you sense  the stillness of a falling leaf  .. mists descending through mountainous ravines… a small bird  capturing it’s prey in full flight…the sudden swiftness of death. Nature is sacred and ephemeral and primordial and the sound of shakuhachi is an embodiment of it. Continue reading ENIGMA QUARTET: A DIALOGUE BETWEEN EAST AND WEST


Andrew Chubb gave this Recital to celebrate Glass and his oeuvre last Sunday afternoon, 17th September, at the Independent theatre, Miller Street, North Sydney.

It was a masterful performance by him. Chubb is an Australian pianist composer and educator, the latter being via the Newcastle Conservatorium where he has been for the last 18 years. He is also a noted promoter of other contemporary composers and has premiered performances of their music.

Glass is a contemporary modernist composer, and his best works  are characterised by repetitive hypnotic rhythmic patterns which are often an underlay to striking melodic lines. The results tend to capture the insecurities and brittleness of today’s consciousness. Not surprisingly Glass’s  work has featured in a number of films, especially The Hours, the score for which earned him an Academy award nomination. Continue reading PHILIP GLASS @ 80 : ANDREW CHUBB ON SOLO PIANO @ THE INDEPENDENT THEATRE


Prior to the performance there was a pre-concert talk by Mark Grandison. His exposition of the works by Borodin and Brahms was by itself worth attending…highly illuminating without lapsing into a dirge of technicalities.  

The Omega Ensemble is another nascent rising star on the Australian Music Scene. It was founded in 2005 and Simone Young is its current patron. Much loved composer George Palmer is also a supporter.

The program commenced with Schumann’s Fantasiestucke for Clarinet and Piano. Maria Rospopova at the piano  (she is  co Artistic Director of the Ensemble with David Rowden)  sensitively accentuated the light and shadow of this piece frantically composed by Schumann in just two days. Continue reading ThE OMEGA ENSEMBLE PRESENTS ‘A BRAHMS AFFAIR’ @ THE CITY RECITAL HALL


“All the jolly chase is here
With hawk and horse and hunting-spear,
Hounds are in their couples yelling,
Hawks are whistling, horns are knelling…”

Hunting Song by Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832)

The Australian Haydn Ensemble is garnering an iconic reputation as one of Australia’s best chamber music performers.

Their performance last Sunday of works by Haydn Mozart Janitsch was a sell out event. It was held in the Utzon Room of the Opera intimate setting looking out past the opal blue bay of Farm Cove towards Mrs Macquarie’s chair.

The program derived its inspiration in part from the 18th century fascination with the Hunt, in particular Haydn’s Op1 No.1string Quartet “La Chaisse”. Also in the program was an Oboe Quartet in G Minor By Johann Gottlieb Janitsch, an eighteenth century German Composer whose prolific output of chamber and orchestral symphonic works is beginning to be recognised.

The performance featured some some sterling performances by its particular violinist Simone Slattery whose playing with a baroque bow and  infectious enthusiasm breathed life and vitality into both the Janitsch and the Mozart String Quartet. Anthony  Albrecht’s cello playing gave the concert depth and incisiveness. Mozart’s Oboe Quartet, composed to show off the virtuosic talents of his friend Friedrich Ramm, was effortlessly played by Amy Power, indicating the profound evolution of the instrument and its technique over the past few hundred years. The Janitsch was a moody and reflective work, interesting and quite uncharacteristic of the era.

The occasion also was one of maternal celebration for Skye McIntosh the founder and Artistic Director of the ensemble, who had recently had a child…coincidentally as pointed out by the cellist Anthony Albrecht, both the string quartets the ones by Haydn and Mozart which buttressed the program, were in b flat major, a key said to reflect hope and optimism  …a motherhood key!



This performance, like so that of so many by student bodies, is full of verve, gusto and raw excitement.  

Sondheim’s story revolves around Robert or Bobby, as he is affectionately known, played convincingly by Nic Savage.  Bobby is in his thirties, successful yet bored, a focus in the lives of many of his friends, but ultimately alone. Good looking and charismatic, he is strangely detached and isolated. He has it all…or  perhaps he has nothing. Continue reading STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S ‘COMPANY’ @ STUDIO ONE, UNI OF NSW


It really was a dark and windy night, and we were lashed by squalls of wind and dense, sleeting rain as we made our way by train from the Land of the East (Edgecliff station) to the Riverside Theatre at Parramatta. To those of you who have not made this journey, let me commend it to you.

Upon leaving Town Hall station our white and middle class train suddenly morphed into a sort of immigrant express. From all over Asia they piled in – from Pakistan. Bangladesh, India. China, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

For many of them, exhausted from the day’s work, a seat on the train, as it glided along toward home, would have been a tender mercy. Continue reading THE AGE OF BONES @ RIVERSIDE PARRAMATTA



Have you ever considered the fate of the humble childhood toy  “Jack in the box”  ?

Well, Rosemary Dobson has:

“He crouches low and supplicant/His elbows knocking on the wood…/He waits the tapping at the locks/He hears the children calling”Jack!”…/They think he sleeps, but how he weeps/His small tears falling with no sound……”

Rosemary Dobson was a distinguished and prolific Australian poet who died in 2012 at the age of 92. Her poetry is somewhat more intellectual and detached rather than visceral…but nevertheless she still writes movingly of the human experience.

COCK CROW puts a handful of her poems in a musical context. Leonie Cambage is the poet’s voice (she trained as an opera singer), Shaun Ng plays Lute, Viola da Gamba and Theorbo, and  Diana Weston plays Harpsichord. Continue reading COCK CROW : ROSEMARY DOBSON IN WORDS AND MUSIC @ MOSMAN ART GALLERY