All posts by Paul Nolan

Paul Nolan was born on the New South Wales North Coast. He has been involved with musical theatre and choral groups on the NSW North Coast and in Sydney. Paul has had poetry published in various periodicals. He is trained in classical piano and has a Bachelor of Music from the UNSW.


Above : Musical Director and conductor of Sydney Chamber Choir, Sam Allchurch. Photo supplied. Featured image: members of Sydney Chamber Choir. Photo credit for for featured image: Pedro Greig

Sydney Chamber Choir opened its 2019 season with a joyous and diverse celebration of choral music spanning over five centuries. Titled ‘Music on Music’, the event delivered layers of choral composition from early music through to the innovative current day, The use of similar text or musical concepts across time reappeared in new guises throughout.

From the concert’s outset, newly appointed Musical Director and specialist choral conductor Sam Allchurch brought out a seamless blend from the combined talent of the choir.  Lush and warm singing delighted from the first phrase of Herbert Howells’  A Hymn for St Cecilia which opened the concert.

A recurring theme of the evening was the joy of music, and the need to sing to deal with existence in a complex world during any century. The use of text from Psalm 137 : “How can We Sing the Lord’s Song in a Foreign Land”, documenting the predicament of Jewish people needing to sing praise as captives in Babylon.

This text of this Psalm was heard presented in a densely polyphonic setting by Byrd. This was immediately followed by Australian composer Joseph Twist’s How Shall We Sing in a Strange Land?

This modern use of the Latin Psalm text introduced the sentiment of displacement within a setting of modern poetry by Noonuccal woman Oodgeroo.

Sydney Chamber Choir communicated complex emotions and predicament clearly here. Such intensity from juxtaposition via a ‘music on music’ layering beside Byrd’s sixteenth century version led to enhanced drama and creation of a multi-faceted concert environment.

Twist’s powerful eclectic work in English and Latin with words of an Aboriginal poet was delivered by the choir with inimitable care. The stillness and textural delicacy was beautifully handled by this choir, and especially by soprano soloist Josie Gibson.

The programme thereafter  underwent a fluid shift back from our time to the Baroque in proof that complex choral fare from early music times can be devoured by this choir equally as impressively as music full modern innovation.

More psalm text was heard elsewhere with dense double-choir polyphony in Bach’s Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied-the text ‘Sing to the Lord a New Song’ by JS Bach (1726). Throughout this motet the choir drenched us with busy counterpoint which always managed a skilful lightness and momentum. A quartet of soloists from the choir varied the texture in this work and showed off more individual talent within the choir’s ranks.

Above: Sydney Chamber Choir members, 2019. Photo credit: Pedro Greig.

The inside cover of the deliciously detailed printed concert programme suggested reasons we should be audience for the choir in 2019. Amongst them was ‘come to immerse yourself in beauty’. This was the case with this successful interpretation of Bach.

Amongst many lush moments of beauty here and elsewhere  for early music modern composers, the performance of the Kyrie from Palestrina’s Missa Ut re mi fa so la, performed surrounding the front of the audience in a single line arc with all voice parts mixed. The blend of vocal parts in this format was exquisite.

From the same printed programme cover, the audience are urged to ‘come to hear something you’ve never heard before’. This could be said for many of contemporary works by Eliott Carter (Musicians Wrestle Everywhere) Elliot Gyger (Ut queant laxis) and Paul Stanhope (Cherubic Hymn).

Sydney Chamber Choir here showcased its proficiency in virtuosic rendering of contemporary or twentieth century composers’ innovation for the genre, musical homage to choral music of the past and ambitious demands on voices to master effects needing great control in timbre, nuance and colour to convey text musically.

The choir was often combined with organist Joshua Ryan’s fine playing of innovative keyboard fragments against the choir in these works. The organist and vocalists worked hard and well in these and all works in the concert to achieve a dazzling and joyous sonic tapestry as well as fine promotion for this group’s communicative skill. The effectiveness of compelling utterances fashioned by composers both old and new was also on exciting display in this concert.

During this event, choir and conductor continued to create layers of timeless text and music packages from contrasting eras with equally successful result. This formidable start to 2019 left us craving more music on music to come. We listened with the confidence that as audience to these choristers we will continue to be deeply touched and taught so much.


Above:  Nicole van Bruggen performed Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto on period basset clarinet.  Featured image: Australian Romantic and Classical Orchesstra. Photo Credit: Nick Gilbert.

Following its formation in 2013 by founding artistic director Richard Gill AO, the Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra have continued to deliver vibrant and exciting programmes, re-inventing past music for us adhering to  historically informed performance (‘HIP) guidelines. The result is always  one which provides historic sound and performance event accuracy with stunning freshness.

The assembled crowd were obviously thrilled beyond all such expectations by this group of expert ‘HIP’ musicians from around the country and the world as well as the popular works to be played. Keen tempi, crisp articulation and brilliant  playing in bold broad strokes imbued this entire communication of instrumental and opera classics.

Authenticity of musical gesturing was further enhanced by a concert item ordering where the three movements of the Mozart concerto work were separated and heard as individual entities alternating with vocal duets and arias from Figaro.

As well as this being a reflection of concert programming from the era of Mozart and Beethoven, this rare separation of a work’s movements enabled us to explore Mozart’s dramatic and atmospheric skill as a composer as reflected so immediately between his loved concerto and opera genres.

The audience was able to enjoy each mood and character of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in stunning juxtaposition and appropriate matching with the surrounding opera confrontations between Figaro’s servants Susanna (Jacqueline Porter), and Figaro (David Greco) and the opera’s titled upper class couple.

Nicole van Bruggen’s presentation of each separated mood of the concerto was also designed with help from a period picture marketing a concert in Mozart’s time. Visually different in this way to longer keyed clarinet versions often seen, the instrument allowed beautiful subtleties of muted tone in slow expansive moments such as the joyous opening movement. The playing had alight agility of phrasing across registers in faster instances of eloquence such as the opening movement’s mood.

The depth of tone produced by this player and instrument in the inimitable basset low register was a very special and rare exquisiteness for us to witness. The blend and conversation with the orchestra was balanced. A clarity and airiness surrounded all exchanges between soloist and orchestra.

Above : Soprano Jacqueline Porter and David Greco joined the orchestra for semi-staged performances of  excerpts from Mozart’s ‘ The Marriage of Figaro’. Photo credit: Nick Gilbert.

In a similar vein the rendering of the Beethoven Symphony No 5 following interval was a brusque but beautiful reading. Charismatically and sensitively led by violinist Rachael Beesley, the performance  showcased the sheer excellence of the orchestra’s huge collective experience. It  also confronted us with the forthright nature of Beethoven’s declamations using tempi not often attempted.

The result was an enlightened forward rocket of expression in this Symphony. The playing was devoid of excessive vibrato or laboured playing of less crisp and heavy slower interpretations from years gone by. The playing by individual sections or tutti orchestra which breathtakingly highlighted the energy behind Beethoven’s expertly crafted rhythmic and melodic structures from ingredients which work well at a very sprightly and HIP speed.

The orchestra accompanied Mozart’s vocal writing with equal clarity and crispness. Respectful, rigorous and detailed figuration laid down a stable and colourful bed for the operatic voices. Greco and Porter’s fine chemistry and tension in the earnest and believable assorted characterisations were also finely supported musically.

Followng the active opening to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, Greco’s Count in the duet ‘Crudel! Perché finora’ sizzled and flowed over the instrumental foundations. Hot on the heels of the famous clarinet concerto  Adagio came Jacqueline Porter’s Countess aria ‘Dove sono’, warmly accompanied. It extended the poignant clarinet expression with a clear musical package of heartache. The pace and shaping of this aria left space for text delivery and acting on an elevated and appropriate level.

The refreshing delivery of such beloved classics and operatic moments on the concert stage brought the audience to their feet in thundering applause at the concert’s conclusion.  In addition to more such concerts, it would be exciting for continued recordings of such landmark compositions and the quality collaboration of performers to excite educate and enlighten with such style.


Above : Composer Ella Macens, one of the several Australian composers featured in this programme. Photo credit : Darwin Gomez. Featured image : Vox members in rehearsal. Photo credit : Roland Kay-Smith.

Vox is the young adult choir under the umbrella of the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs. Its latest concert, ‘Wonder’, presented original choral works and arrangements for choir which explored the joy and fragility of childhood.

This vivid hour of music was thoughtfully programmed and narrated by Vox’s conductor and musical director Elizabeth Scott is an asset to Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and wonder-ful musical parent to the talented vocalists of Vox.

The choir’s crisp and agile unison voice, a cappella precision, timbral diversity and impressive composite talents of Vox members in ensemble and solo roles were keenly showcased in this compact concert event. Continue reading ‘WONDER’ – VOX : SYDNEY PHILHARMONIA CHOIRS @ UTZON ROOM SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE


Above: Jay Cullen as Judas Iscariot, Rickard Roach as Annas and Mark Gardner as Caiphas. Featured image: Kyle Nozza as Jesus Christ with ensemble. Photo credit- Grant Leslie Photography

This is solid entertainment and a stunningly updated version of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original 1971 classic. Audiences will be moved and leave the theatre singing the well known music which has been excitingly repackaged. I still am.

Successful lighting, filmic rear-stage projection, a multi-level set design and a diversity of modern costuming ensure that this show is a visual spectacle throughout. These production values bring us an engaging, edgy and entirely believable piece of suffering.

It is a current and relevant retelling Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s nod at the Christian story of a sacrificed Saviour. It pushes creative boundaries quite far but not too far and delights our modern and very visual sensibilities.

Several ‘superstars’ grace this stage. Vocally, James Gander as Pontius Pilate is forever rewarding with warm controlled tone and measured swoop to his acting. ‘Pilate’s Dream’ was a well carved out signpost of foreboding and a well delivered mood changer.

Ileana Pipitone brought the role of Mary Magdalene to the Sutherland Entertainment Centre with an open directness of physical approach and truthful tone and expert blend in ensemble moments. These exchanges reached a relaxed intensity of colour in ‘Can we start again, Please?’ where she ably led the group emotional statement.

The shifting emotions in the final week of Jesus’ earthly life were sung with formidable clarity and with pleasing stage presence by Kyle Nozza. He demonstrates an amazingly keen and humble conversational lilt whilst delivering us some huge direct-hit notes. Challenging shifts between types of vocal voice and many chest voice high register exclamations were attacked with thrilling passion here.

Above: Ileana Pipitone as Mary Magdalene and Kyle Nozza as Jesus with ensemble. Photo credit: Grant Leslie Photography.

This show’s  traditional larger-than-life King Herod as played by Lachlan O’Brien and dancers illuminates the stage here. It is such a theatrical number as this which proves audiences need to leave the lounge room and reality TV to discover emerging talent supplying the real deal live locally. Herod’s dancers are ably re-invented later as an angelic hoodie hip-hop troupe in another stellar stage innovation.

Acting highlights include the multifaceted edginess displayed by Jay Cullen in a restless yet vulnerable portrayal of the torments of Judas Iscariot. The temple priests are also a terrific presence with varied dramatic tone and attitude in equal portions. The busy ensemble are also believable and focussed as they move smoothly through the constant shifts of the stage storyboard.

Some moments exist where the active ensemble’s vocal part-singing and textural power could be stronger or more defined within the melee but these are brief. However the languid hypnotic mood created in the ‘The Last Supper’ scene. Here, gorgeous groove and well blended part singing are up with the most seamless to be found in any historical stage or screen version of this musical.

At all times the band played with well chosen tempi and with the necessary momentum this rock musical demands. They were at all times successfully sympathetic to the onstage sound level being produced.

The ‘John 19:41’ 39 lashes scene is one of this version’s many standout action segments . As led again consistently commandingly by James Gander’s’ Pontius Pilate it uses the assembled sinners of mankind to slash n mark the Saviour in what is indeed a directorial and choreographic  master stroke. The macabre energy level and pace never wanes throughout this sequence.

Miranda Musical Society’s Jesus Christ Superstar concludes its run on Sunday Mar 23. Fans of blockbuster musicals should save the dates of September 25-29 for this group’s production of Les Misérables.







Above : the climactic scene in ‘The King’s Speech’ made use of Beethoven’s Symphony No 2 (2nd movement) as heard in this concert. Featured image: a powerful performance of John Williams’ Superman March was included in the first half of this concert.


Above: Gennadi Dubinsky as First Soldier, Paul O’Neill as Narraboth, Alexander Krasnov as Jokanaan, Lise Windstorm as Salome, Ryan Sharp as Second Solider and Alexander Hargreaves as Cappadocian. Featured image: Lise Lindstrom as Salome. Photo credit: Prudence Upton.

A visually stunning and musically riveting version of Richard Strauss’ Salome is now playing at the Sydney Opera House’s Dame Joan Sutherland Theatre. Opera Australia’s revival of this 2012
production is a compelling modern romp. The quality creative team and cast deliver a slick and penetrating performance event to us on a scintillating platter.

Presented without interval, this focussed tranche d’opera is an attractive package for all assembled. Vivid set design from Brian Thomson works very well with John Rayment’s relentlessly excellent lighting so the scandalous, self-centered and seedy world of Herod, Herodias and the manipulative young Salome are appropriately packaged.

There is a captivating rear tapestry with repeated full body x-rays which respond in savage mood-ring-like lighting sequences to reflect the manipulation of the sacrificial beast or prophet and the hysteria levels of other cast members. From a steamily lit cell comes John the Baptist’s voice foretelling the arrival of Jesus Christ to help the Tetrach Herod and other lusty punters repent.

The conflicts of faith, behaviour and persecution or imprisonments various on this layered stage set for this Biblical tale are many. This opera requires a troupe of fine character actors to satisfactorily
depict the predicament of all trapped dramatis personae from Oscar Wilde’s play.

Opera Australia’s version is not wanting in this regard. Even the mute moments of movement and curiosity depicted by the slaves and guards around the cell and Salome are fleeting moments
brimming with expression.

The infamous dance of the seven veils demanded by Herod of his step-daughter Salome is given a modern boost thanks to the innovation of choreographer Kelley Abbey, continued lavish and tongue in cheek costuming from Julie Lynch and a big salute to recent pop culture and fetish icons. The dance styles include pole dancers and acrobatic aerialists thrill. A favourite twentieth century movie star celebrity and special interest sex outfits are also tangled up in the stage drama as  fitting caricatures for Herod’s dwelling.

The successful stage chemistry is gilded not just by suggestive outfits but a realisation of Richard Strauss’ challenging vocal score and pointed German translation of Wilde’s play. Conductor
Johannes Fritzsch leads the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra in a compelling and bold delivery of the musical emotions throughout, from the tiniest motif to broader utterances.

Lise Lindstrom’s command of the stage, the music and facets of her character saw her work as an unfailing triple threat opera superstar. The crowd supplied primal cheers and applause at the conclusion at a fitting level for Salome’s demonstrated bloodlust.

The hero’s applause Lindstrom’s powerfully diverse tone and characterisation received rivalled any Australian sporting hero’s sideline screaming of fans. And rightfully so, as her chillingly athletic performance is not to be missed.

In the role of Herodias Jacqueline Dark’s beautiful timbral depths combine with cheeky and confrontational movement around the set swathed in wonderful colour. Andreas Conrads gives a lively performance as the failed lecherous King Herod in degrees of emotional and physical deshabillé as he struggles with the prophet, his women and his higher compulsive power. All crowned with a somewhat whimsical gold headpiece.

When either de profundis off stage or chained before us, Alexander Krasnov as the prophet Jokanaan’s vocal strength above the rich orchestral layer haunts us. His ensemble interactions are full of otherwordly mysticism and he moves as one whose cause can’t be silenced even if he is decapitated at the angry whim of a teenager imprisoned in a strange adult world.

This is a darkly sensual and exciting piece of theatre from which you just can’t turn away. Its compact length, visual packaging and directness make it a perfect vehicle to celebrate or introduce opera for us in a modern audience as a completely relevant and powerful way to be entertained.

Salome plays at the Dame Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until March 26.


Above : members of the Opera Australia Children’s Chorus. Featured image : Stacey Alleaume as Sophie and Elena Maximova as Charlotte. Photo credit : Prudence Upton.

Opera Australia impresses with the sparkling sheen it gives to the substantial theatrical package of Jules Massenet’s Werther. From the outset, this is a visually fresh and stunning production with engaged performances which do not disappoint. Its well-paced descent from Werther’s infatuation to tragedy is tightly blocked across the stage.

At all times, the realistic acting with penetrating vocal performances from ensemble and solo cast is ably supported by a vibrant realisation of the continuous intricacies of Massenet’s score.
The source text for this libretto is Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, with its  anguished letters between perhaps a lonely engaged woman Charlotte and Werther.                          Continue reading OPERA AUSTRALIA : WERTHER @ THE DAME JOAN SUTHERLAND THEATRE


Omega Ensemble principals for 2019.  Photo credit: Keith Saunders. Featured image : Anna Da Silva Chen (violin), Clemens Leske (piano) and Paul Stender (cello) performed Schoenberg and Mendelssohn at this concert.

Omega Ensemble began its Master Series for 2019 in the Utzon Room in fine style with a concert of piano trios before a standing room only crowd. Mendelssohn’s evergreen crowd favourite, his Piano Trio No 1 in D minor was flanked by arrangements of important ensemble works by Schoenberg and Beethoven. These condensed sextets and septets lost no dramatic focus in their trio guise and the principal Omega musicians and guest performers were all showcased well when presenting these versions.

Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht Op 4 in Eduard Steuermann’s 1932 arrangement for piano trio began the concert with shimmering atmosphere. Pianist Clemens Leske launched this concert’s three trio works with a great variety of nuance and effective tone colour choices to his pianism. Continue reading OMEGA ENSEMBLE : BEETHOVEN’S TRIO @ UTZON ROOM, SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE


Above-Quartet cellist for this concert, James Bush. Featured image- second violinist Simone Slattery.

Lovers of string quartet music and the diverse effervescence of Haydn’s mastery of the genre he helped develop are given a huge treat in Australian Haydn Ensemble’s first  concert of the 2019 season. This programme consists of a quartet of quartets and the concert is totally dedicated to AHE’s target or namesake composer.                         Continue reading AUSTRALIAN HAYDN ENSEMBLE : HAYDN’S NATURE @ INDEPENDENT THEATRE NORTH SYDNEY


Above: Soprano soloist, Emma Pearson. Featured Image : Guest conductor, Simon Halsey.

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs began their 2019 season with an exploration of the inimitable expressive voice of Johannes Brahms. Without orchestra, the scope of this performance consisted of selected lieder and the composer’s Ein Deutsches Requiem for solo voices or choir and piano alone.

Central to this exploration was the extremely fresh delivery of the composer’s requiem, a popular and searching choral work, skilfully setting German text from the Lutheran Bible. Choral timbres and
atmospheres were expertly manipulated by guest conductor Simon Halsey as instrumental colour and texture were reduced to piano duet for accompaniment. This was a flashback to the London premiere of the work in 1871 London, in the drawing room of Kate Loder’s house.                         Continue reading SYDNEY PHILHARMONIA CHOIRS-AN INTIMATE EVENING WITH BRAHMS @ CITY RECITAL HALL


Above: Guest conductor and fortepianist Dr Erin Helyard with AHE Artistic Director Skye McIntosh.

In the history of Australian Haydn Ensemble concerts it has always been a special event when we have had the chance to hear the group in its extended orchestral complement. Collaborations with early keyboard and historically informed performance expert Erin Helyard have also been a highlight of any subscription series.

In a special end to the 2018 concert season, the Sydney audience was treated to both of the above. The concert was a strident offering rich in dramatic contrast, humour and dazzling execution. A stunning calibre of performance practice with charismatic eagerness to convey fine emotion, architecture and context of the music quickly and consistently endeared the works and performers to us.

 AHE launched into the afternoon with an exciting reading of JC Bach’s Symphony in G minor Op 6 No 6. Following an interesting overview of the programme from Erin Helyard, this was a focussed and bold start to the event.

 With Erin Helyard conducting from the keyboard, the Sturm und Drang sentiment was solid and contrasts well harnessed. The full bodied horn declamations were particularly effective throughout and their tone was well blended with the precision and crispness of the parts from strings and other winds.

 This was an inspiring reminder of the expressive power and agenda of JC Bach’s music. It was a good choice by Erin Helyard to include in this programme alongside the colourful drama of the works of Mozart and Haydn. We could well benefit from the chance to hear more of JC Bach’s output in concerts in future.

Erin Helyard’s performances on the 2014 replica of a late eighteenth century Anton Walter fortepiano were as always a wonderful showcase for the fluid and unique tone of this instrument. The Piano Concerto No 12 in A major K 414 dates from Mozart’s time in Vienna The joy of Mozart inhis new environment plus the promotion of his pianism and more dramatic compositions such as opera is evident here. 

The slow movement of this work is based on an overture by JC Bach, which is a good tie-in for this concert as well as an interesting link historically between the two progressive composers. AHE as led by Helyard as soloist from the keyboard helped us make our own parallels between the two composers’ emotional directness and ease of writing for orchestral forces. 

This early concerto shone in the hands of Erin Helyard. Interaction with keyboard and orchestra was keen and intimate fortepiano voice was eloquent and well balanced at all times. Cadenza moments were especially poignant utterances endearing us further to this choice of instrument.

Such historically informed performance success from keyboard and orchestra continued after interval in the Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in A major K 386, her in its joyous restored manuscript version courtesy to the editing and research of Alan Tyson and Charles Mackerras. This true survivor of a single movement work restored from fragments various was performed vibrantly and gave us more seldom heard Mozart in a convincing and colourful expression. 

To conclude the concert, the colour, rhythmic variety, skilled orchestration and humour of Franz Joseph Haydn’s much loved ‘Farewell’ Symphony was a timely way to conclude the 2018 AHE’s 2018 series. As well as fine Haydn playing in is atypical but compelling symphonic score from this orchestra’s namesake composer, the legendary conclusion with the parts stopping and leaving the stage was expertly updated here.

To emphasise the idea of impending vacation, as much of the audience would be feeling, a theatrical enactment of trekking, skiing, kayaking, diving partying and other holiday activities other than performing were brilliantly enacted by AHE members. Concept by James Eccles and Glen Hamilton brought this excellent concert and yearly concert season to an even more colourful and dramatic close than fine orchestral stage performance alone.



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