Lior and the Australian Youth Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre, Monday 10 July at 7:30pm

Lior and orchestra

Westlake – Flying Dream

Westlake – Spirit of the Wild, featuring oboist Diana Doherty

Westlake/Lior – Compassion

Australian Youth Orchestra conducted by Nigel Westlake

Lior and the Australian Youth Orchestra erupted with the energy and optimism of young professional musicians intent on sharing their artistry with the world. Indeed, each of the three pieces in the concert program explored three significant issues that concern young people today: finding solace and triumph in pursuing a dream; protecting the Earth’s natural places; and seeking peace and reconciliation across cultural divides. Conducted by the composer, this inspiring program featured Nigel Westlake’s Flying Dream, Spirit of the Wild for oboe and orchestra, and Compassion for vocalist and orchestra.

Flying Dream is a short orchestral piece based on Westlake’s soundtrack for the 2015 Australian film Paper Planes. Paper planesIn the film, 12-year old Dylan, who is grieving over the recent death of his mother, immerses himself in making and flying paper planes, leading him to the World Paper Plane Championship in Japan. The film captures the essence of youthful resilience and passion, as lofty dreams become reality. Undoubtedly, resilience and following a dream are themes that musicians of the AYO could relate to as they soared their way through Flying Dream. Each year, the AYO brings together the finest young musicians from around Australia to help launch their musical careers with an intensive training period leading up to a concert series. Lior and the Australian Youth Orchestra was part of this year’s concert series. Charged with fresh passion and professionalism, the AYO’s performance was exciting, vivacious and authentic.

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Another Australian musical icon who breathes excitement and energy to classical music is principal oboist of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Diana Doherty. Her solo in Spirit of the Wild seemed effortless, despite the fiendish tempo of many sections of the piece. The perfectly cascading melodies and runs that arced around the concert hall were a delight to listen to as much as they induced amazement. These ascending and descending flourishes, inspired from Doherty’s freeform improvisations, are reminiscent of the pristine mountains and valleys of Tasmania’s World Heritage Area that gave Westlake the impetus to write the composition.

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Diana Doherty – Photo by Richard Dobson

Westlake’s appreciation of the natural world can be heard in the immensely popular music from 1991 IMAX feature film Antarctica, which catalysed his career into writing music for film. Many will remember the Golden Globe winning film Babe: Pig in the City, and more recently in 2006, Miss Potter. In Antarctica and Spirit of the Wild there is a compassionate element of Westlake’s work that recognises the need for beautiful places, such as Tasmania’s World Heritage Area, to be protected and nurtured.

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Westlake and Bob Brown in Tasmania

This sense of nurturing extends into advocacy for peace and reconciliation with Westlake’s collaboration with ARIA-award-winning, Australian-Israeli vocalist, Lior Attar, in creating Compassion. This exotic and mesmerising work, made up of seven songs with orchestra, is based on ancient Hebrew and Arabic spiritual texts. Musically and vocally expressing peaceful religious ideals from Judaism and Islam, Lior and Westlake bridge cultural divides by showing religious similarities and their potential for beauty and peace. Lior’s captivating intensity and smooth vocal quality were a superb match for the vigour of the AYO. Together they brought this incredible work to life, digging into the raucous sections framed by the percussionists having a ball, and then moving into entrancing bliss in the still, meditative sections.

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Lior and Westlake

As this cohort of AYO musicians progress through their careers, they will take with them the essence of this concert program. They will have absorbed the musical understandings of pursuing a dream, protecting the earth, and the importance of peace and compassion. They will have felt the power of delivering these human messages, so desperately needed in our world, in an artistic form that slips, almost unnoticed, beneath the barriers of their audience’s fears and inhibitions. Music is a back door into people’s feelings, perceptions and attitudes deep within. It can change the world by changing people’s minds and hearts. Wielding this incredible power, these promising young musicians can look forward to playing an important role in making the future world a better place.

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Southwest National Park in Tasmania’s World Heritage Area – Photo by J. Harrison

National Reconciliation Week – Story, song and Jessie Lloyd

Monday 29 May 2017 at 11am, Wallaroo Community House, 6 Wallaroo Place Hastings West

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As part of 2017 National Reconciliation Week, Indigenous musician Jessie Lloyd gathered with local people from the Mornington Peninsula area to share true-to-life stories and heartfelt songs. These stories and songs are from her Mission Songs Project. The Project has taken Jessie to different parts of Australia to meet Indigenous Australians who were affected by Christian missions, state-run camps and relocation. As part of the Project, Jessie collects songs that Indigenous Australians have written and sung depicting their mission experiences. Through sharing songs from the Mission Songs Project and encouraging others to do the same, Jessie aims to preserve and pass on this precious cultural practise and in doing so, shed light on the history of Indigenous families, elders and communities.

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Jessie’s warmth of spirit and openness with which she shared the knowledge and stories of her family delighted each of the 40-odd people who attended this unique and inspiring event. Jessie’s impact was immediate, as many people went away humming a tune before enjoying the delicious lunch provided. Adding to the atmosphere of warmth and sharing was the enthusiastic address and attendance by the Good Shepherd staff who organised the event, and the friendliness and hospitality of the volunteers at Wallaroo Community House who hosted the event.

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Jessie Lloyd’s visit was inspiring for our local community, bringing people together in the spirit of reconciliation. What is more, recognising the historical experiences of Indigenous people through music fosters the healing that will unite the people of Australia towards a better, fairer future.

For more information on 2017 National Reconciliation Week and events near you visit reconciliation.org.au/nrw

Visit the Balnarring Hall on Friday 2 June at 7:30pm for a free film event hosted by Willum Warrain Aboriginal Association. Prison Songs, a groundbreaking documentary that gives voice to Indigenous Australians behind bars – through song.

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Copyright © 2017 Jade Barker

 

Shirley Valentine

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Friday 5 May 2017, 8pm in Frankston Arts Centre main theatre
130 min duration including 20 min interval

What makes for a satisfying life? This is one of the most sought-after questions of the human journey. It is a question that the HIT Productions play Shirley Valentine explores.

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Shirley Valentine tells the story of a woman who, disillusioned by her “unused life”, takes a holiday to Greece to discover the person she wants to be. Highly acclaimed, British-born actress and singer Mandi Lodge stars as Shirley Valentine in this funny and thought-provoking one-woman show. The play was written by Willy Russell in 1986 and made into film in 1989, thematically drawing upon the bittersweet realities of marriage and the human desire to find a place to express the essential self.

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The character of Shirley is portrayed as a suburban wife to a husband who wants “everything to be as it’s always been” and a mother to adult children who take her for granted. After a brief but moving encounter with an old school friend, it dawns on Shirley that her life has made her into a shadow of her former self. This is not necessarily because she is a wife and mother but because of the belittling ways that she has been treated and the restrictions that this has placed upon her personal development. Shirley has devoted her whole life to caring for her family’s needs, only to be taken for granted and treated as though her efforts are insubstantial, as if her life has amounted to nothing.

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When her friend offers her a trip to Greece, Shirley leaves her family life behind for two weeks despite the protests of her husband and daughter who think it is “not right”. Shirley goes anyway, knowing that the trip will free her from the “terrible weight” of her “unused life”. Reflecting on the hopes and dreams she had a young woman, Shirley breaks out of her cocoon and the expectations of her family and community when she is swept off her feet by Costa, a seaside barman. As Shirley discovers, “When you’re with someone who likes you, it makes you feel alive.” She later admits that she has “fallen in love with the idea of living”. Greece gives Shirley an open space to reflect on what is inside herself, who she wants to be, and what is important to her – to enjoy the pleasures of realising her deepest desires.

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Shirley Valentine is touching, bittersweet and funny. Mandi Lodge’s brilliant performance as Shirley keeps the energy going and the laughs coming for the full two hour duration of the show. Lodge cleverly weaves elements of conversation into the solo delivery of her story to give the impression that a range of different characters are part of the play. She does this by using different voices to introduce new characters and uses an interesting variety of vocal inflections. Time flies as warm, inclusive physical gestures and fluent monologue draws the audience into the story she is telling. Lodge’s friendly, familiar and upbeat tone makes her funny anecdotes and jokes seem effortless, allowing the audience to make light of the questions that are embedded deeply within us all – How did I get here? Am I living a fulfilled life? What is important to me?

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Like a person who goes on retreat seeking inner reflection, so too Mandi Lodge in Shirley Valentine takes the audience on a journey within themselves and out again – all with a touch of sexuality, abandon and plenty of fun!

Shirley Valentine is currently touring Australia. See HIT Productions Facebook page for more information.

Copyright © 2017 Jade Barker

The art of nature

The Autumn trees are turning beautiful shades of gold and red and the air is beginning to get cold and crisp. The end of daylight saving means that the long, warm evenings of Summer are over. It gets dark at 6pm now, and earlier each night until solstice. As the quality of the light becomes softer, the last of the clear sunny days of Autumn become precious and treasured with the approaching darkness and cold of Winter. Easter has just passed, giving a reminder that death and rebirth is a theme that must be confronted in human lives. These feelings draw the mind inward and the senses outward. The only thing to do, it seems, is to seek quiet joy  in the final days of sunshine by being out in the garden or walking outside. These pursuits allow the mind to rest, take stock and be inspired by God’s creations through slowing down and noticing the details of the garden. Birth, death and rebirth can be seen all around – it seems that nature can help the mind process the dramatic themes of Easter as well.

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Nature is as intrinsic to art as it is for humans to breathe air. Even a contemporary sculpture may give the impression of a crystalline form, water, a seed or a living thing, or be crafted from the earth’s wood, rock or metal. Infinite numbers of artworks have taken their forms, sounds, colours and rhythms from nature. Famous examples include French painter, Claude Monet (1883 – 1926), and composer, Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770 – 1827).

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Monet’s garden at Giverny

Monet’s garden in Giverny provided peace, inspiration and immersion amongst natural colour and light that made his impressionist paintings such masterpieces. Beethoven is reputed to have spent a great deal of time walking in the country areas outside of Vienna. The first movement of his Pastorale Symphony, which premiered in 1808, is notated with text that translates as ‘awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside’, which gives an indication of his love for nature. Closer to home, William Ricketts’ (1898 – 1993) appreciation of the Australian bush and the connection that Aboriginal people have with the land, inspired the creation of a large number of ceramic sculptures depicting Australian aboriginal people, animals and plants. Many of his sculptures are now in a bushland setting in Mt Dandenong, called William Rickett’s Sanctuary, which is open to the public.

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Sculpture of the artist at William Ricketts Sanctuary

In more recent times, Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Radio National began the Trees I’ve loved project in 2013, inviting audiences to contribute their stories about their relationships with trees. The ABC received hundreds of heartfelt responses. Forty are available online to enjoy. These stories were edited by Gretchen Miller and compiled into a book entitled In their branches.In their branches CD.jpg

Following that, ABC Classics
label released a delightful CD in 2015 with the same title, featuring 18 pieces about trees. Among the Australian-composed pieces are Jane Rutter’s Kodama tree spirit, Percy Grainger’s My robin is to the greenwood gone, David Jones’ Forest walk, Richard Mills’ The nocturnal power of trees and Peter Sculthorpe’s The rain-forest.

 

This example from only a few years ago shows how the human experiences of nature are still forming a strong basis for the art of story, literature and music. What about contemporary sculpture and visual art?

McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park is a feast for the artistic senses. The bushland setting of the many large and unexpected sculptures, draws the visitor into un-earthly realms that stir the imagination. The indoor café and gallery provide an intriguing nook for exciting Australian visual art. Dame Elisabeth Murdoch was a significant contributor to the establishment since its beginning in 1971. Dame Elisabeth understood that there is a link between gardens and art, and that people need these two things to nourish their souls.

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Dame Elisabeth was also the founder of the Royal Cranbourne Botanic Gardens as well as creating her own garden at Cruden Farm in Langwarrin. A variety of rose has even been cultivated with her name and is widely available at rose nurseries. Additionally, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute commissions an Australian artist each year to create floral images for gift cards to promote the Elisabeth Murdoch Mother’s Day Appeal.

Dame Elisabeth spent her life patronising establishments to make art and beautiful gardens accessible to all. At McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park and Cranbourne Botanic Gardens, anyone can enjoy world-class art in a natural Australian garden.

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Dame Elisabeth Murdoch holding a bloom of her own rose cultivar

As Autumn and Winter take hold in the coming months, future articles will be posted here on the art that can be enjoyed at McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park and Royal Cranbourne Botanic Gardens. Visiting gardens in the cooler seasons, rugged up with woollies, releases the confines of the indoors and flushes away the Winter blues with fresh air, visual delights and artistic inspiration.

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Royal Cranbourne Botanic Gardens

Copyright © 2017 Jade Barker

Mr Stink live on stage

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Friday 17th March at 6pm, Frankston Arts Centre main theatre

Those who love British comedy will probably be familiar with David Walliams, the writer of, and lead actor in the popular BBC television series, Little Britain. Less commonly known, is the array of children’s books that Walliams has written, including a book called Mr Stink (2009). Maryam Master, Australian writer of children’s productions, who has also written 80 episodes for Home and Away, adapted the book into a play that premiered at the Sydney Opera House in April last year. A team of this calibre, including award-winning Australian director, Jonathan Biggins, indicates that there is more to Mr Stink than pure children’s entertainment.

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David Walliams Promotes His Book “Mr Stink” At Bluewater Shopping Centre In Kent. (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)

 

Like any good comedic art, Mr Stink engages people of all ages in fun and laughter, but also raises and addresses moral challenges that our society faces today.

Twelve-year old Chloe (played by Romy Watson) faces bullying and cyberbullying by her school peers and is downtrodden by her overbearing, career-driven mother Mrs Crumb (Anna Cheney), who fails to listen to or recognise her daughter’s talents. Chloe is a wonderful story-writer with a vivid imagination and has a talent for listening and engaging compassionately with others. Instead of praising Chloe, Mrs Crumb favours her other daughter Annabelle (Amanda Laing) for going along with her wishes in engaging in an exhausting regimen of extra-curricular activities such as ballet, panpipe lessons, basketball and yoga. Even Chloe’s father (Darren Sabadina) is too scared of Mrs Crumb to admit that he has lost his job, resorting to locking himself in the cupboard under the stairs, but “only during business hours”.

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Things start to change for Chloe when she meets Mr Stink (John O’Hare), a homeless man living in a nearby park. Although Mr Stink is very stinky and behaves oddly and amusingly at times, he has an innate gift of being real, honest and a good listener. Mr Stink tears down all pretences and in doing so, creates the avenues needed for Chloe’s family to talk to one another and remember the things that are truly important.

This delightful play is hilariously brought to life by skilful actors. Anna Cheney fabulously portrays Chloe’s highly-driven mother falling apart at the seams. Darren Sabadina cleverly switches between three very different but engaging characters: Raj the shopkeeper, Mr Crumb and the Prime Minister. John O’Hare, Amanda Laing and Romy Watson create convincing characters that the audience can relate to. Skilful acting aside, Mr Stink is also thought-provoking. The play encourages the audience to consider a range of issues that contemporary children and young people are grappling with, and provides insight on how to help young people deal with those issues. Mr Stink may be at the bottom of society’s hierarchy, but his kindness, humility and ability to stand up for the justice of others, heals a family and a community.

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See FAC website for details on exciting upcoming shows for families, including Seussical, We’re Going On a Bearhunt, Diary of a Wombat, Saltbush and Horrible Harriet.

Copyright © 2017 Jade Barker

Birds take flight at Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery

‘Birds: Flight paths in Australian art’ – Visual art exhibition at Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery

Sponsors: Mornington Peninsula Shire; Creative Victoria; Beleura House and Garden; Friends of MPRG; Mornington Peninsula Vignerons

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If you have never been to Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery before, here is a gem of info: It is a cultural treasure run by some of the most highly-skilled gallery specialists and curators in Australia. In addition to volunteers, the team consists of eight core staff members: Danny Lacy, Narelle Russo, Ainsley Gowing, Elizabeth Jones, Rowena Wiseman, Jane German, Jill Anderson and director, Jane Alexander.

MPRG always packs a punch for the size of the gallery, consistently providing sumptuous exhibitions with a variety of artworks to induce wonder, excitement and delight. The team at MPRG cleverly designs exhibitions to appeal not only appeal to young people, but to inspire people of all ages. Interwoven with every exhibition, is a wealth of events, public outreach programs, artist talks, tours and interactive artworks to delight and engage all members of the community. The cost is minimal so that everyone can access MPRG: entry fee is $4 for adults and $2 concession (cost varies for other activities). These attributes make the gallery a hub of activity and enjoyment. The current exhibition, ‘Birds: Flight paths in Australian art’, greets visitors with a large flock of brightly coloured bird sculptures created by local school children, and encourages visitors to place black bird stickers on the walls to create a spectacular interactive artwork in the foyer.

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The current exhibition is based on four bird themes: collecting, identity, symbolism and the environment. The artwork, ‘Prattle, scoop and trembling: a flutter of Australian birds’ 2016 by Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, puts a delightful spin on a naturalist journal that might have been created by a 19th Century colonial bird collector. Each of the 15 sections contains a text page describing the qualities of birds depicted in the adjacent black and white graphite images, as well as providing a collage of the birds over an original black and white portrait. Not without a touch of tongue-in-cheek humour, the birds appear to be interacting with the person in the portrait and demonstrating their own importance in spite of European colonial attitudes of the time.

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Collage images from ‘Prattle, scoop and trembling’ by Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison

Unlike the sense of foreignness that 19th Century Europeans may have felt towards birds on the ‘new’ Australian continent, birds such as the ngak ngak (white-breasted sea eagle) were an intrinsic part of the stories and rich culture that formed the identity and lives of the Indigenous Australian people. Ginger Riley Munduwalawala’s painting ‘Limmen Bight River Country’ 1992 depicts the ngak ngak as a guardian who looks over Riley’s mother country around Limmen Bight River in South East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. A large painting approx. 2.5m by 2.5m, Riley uses vivid, unmixed colours to divide the canvas into three horizontal sections. The top section shows two large birds facing each other, high atop mountains. The middle section depicts small black images of humans hunting kangaroos, and the lowest section, a peaceful campsite and undisturbed wildlife.

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For Arthur Boyd, however, birds do not necessarily represent peace and security. In his oil on Perspex painting, ‘Lovers in a boat at Hastings’ c. 1955, the black swan hovering above the lovers symbolises the lovers as victims. Dark greens, browns and blues, mixed and smeared on the Perspex in flowing strokes gives the image a heavy, foreboding mood. This heaviness surrounds the boat, which is the central feature, glowing red and white with only a few strokes to delineate the tangle of lover’s legs, hair and arms. The swan flying large and flat over the lovers, completes the fluid, passionate image.

Boyd is not the only artist in the exhibition to depict images from the Mornington Peninsula. James Smeaton’s four photographic portraits of birds are taken from the Devil Bend Natural Features Reserve, a 1000 hectare environmental reserve that supports a spectacular array of shorebirds and waterbirds, including threatened species. The four images are part of a larger series of 133 bird portraits created in 2007 called ‘The birds of Devilbend’.

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With artists Arthur Boyd and James Smeaton deriving their inspiration from the beautiful Mornington Peninsula, it is enough to fill anyone with gratitude at the natural and artistic treasures of the area, whether they be the parks, sea and wildlife or the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery. If you have not yet seen ‘Birds: Flight paths in Australian art’, it is open until Sunday 12th February. Inspire yourself and your friends with a trip to Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery.

Click here for more information about this exhibition and future exhibitions at MPRG