From Light Art to Latte Art

Kazuki Yamamoto is a Japense artist and barista whose latte art pops out of the coffee cups! Using just a toothpick and a spoon, Kazuki creates wonderful latte art. He also posts his latte art on Twitter (@george_10g) if you want to follow him and on Facebook.

Latte art seems to be commonplace in Japan, where many coffee shops add an artistic flair to their fresh brews. Only 6 weeks until we find out for ourselves!

Coffee 15

Coffee 20

Coffee 19

Coffee 18

Coffee 17

Coffee 16

Coffee Art by Kazuki Yamamoto, Osaka, Japan - 03 May 2013

Coffee 13

Coffee 12

Coffee 11

Coffee 10

Coffee 09

Coffee 08

The cast of Charlie Brown

Coffee 06

Coffee 04

Coffee 03

Coffee 02

Coffee 01

Coffee 05

Light Painted World

Light painting is one example of an art form born in the technological age. Light painters are able to create imaginative photographs by manipulating the amount and quality of light in a physical environment, by illuminating or creating effects using different light sources, which are then captured by a camera using a long exposure. So basically not what we do when we take photos 🙂 We have a different type of creative photography…

Light painting is a creative type of photography where the photographer actively participates in the creation of the image. This happens during the exposure and also before, using technology and innovation to discover ways to manipulate, transform and enhance light to express their own creative ideas. This process often results in development of new tools and novel techniques, using everything from a small light bulb or LED, to complex, choreographed routines using various mechanical devices or sophisticated microprocessor controlled lighting rigs and high-powered lasers.

One thing that connects all light painters is their love for light, how it behaves and interacts with the world around us. Light painters use the properties of light to transform space, objects and people into beautiful creations that capture a moment of extended time via a long exposure. These creations can be large in size and encompass an entire landscape or a building or extremely small capturing the texture of rock or the refraction of light. The resulting images are only limited by the creativity of the light painter, and the boundless properties of light.

A collection of top artworks from more than 50 artists across the globe was exhibited at UNESCO headquarters in Paris for the opening of the International Year of Light 2015 using a unique display concept of 10 LCD screen monitors.

Light Painting

Light Painting

Light Painting

Light Painting

Light Painting

Light Painting

Light Painting

Light Painting

Light Painting

Light Painting

Light Painting

Light Painting

Light Painting

To find out more about light painting and the works on display at events around the world to support UNESCO’s International Year of Light 2015, you can visit the following website:

http://www.lpwalliance.com/publication/

House of Dreams

Given it’s Chinese New Year, traditional pieces such as the Spring Festival Overture by Li Huanzhi and the New Year Eve by Liu Tianhua and ancient Chinese folk tunes such as Jasmine Flowers and Clouds Chasing the Moon might be more appropriate for a concert, but “she who must be obeyed” 🙂 is a fan of Baroque music and there is grand Baroque music concert on tonight!

Tafelmusik is back in Perth!

House of Dreams

Just before arriving in Australia in 2012 with The Galileo Project, Tafelmusik had premiered its brand new multimedia project, House of Dreams. Now they are back in Australia with this show to help launch Musica Viva’s 70th birthday year.

And the bears have a direct link to the performance at Perth Concert Hall 🙂

House of Dreams

The House of Dreams project is the second time Tafelmusik has made the leap from conventional concert to a fully-choreographed, dramatised performance. The orchestra has again memorised the entire program, which took weeks of rehearsals. That is a very un-Baroque thing to do. Musicians in the Baroque sometimes didn’t rehearse at all.

Instead of looking outward to the stars, House of Dreams looks inward to the junction of Baroque music and art, by visiting historic homes where compositions by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and Marais were heard against a backdrop of paintings by Vermeer, Canaletto and Watteau. This magical journey through five historic European houses is illustrated by glorious images and narrated by actor Blair Williams.

Tafelmusik’s House of Dreams is an evocation of rich and intimate experiences of the arts in the time of Purcell, Handel, Vivaldi and Bach. It is a virtual visit to London, Venice, Delft, Paris and Leipzig, where great masterpieces by European painters were displayed on the walls of five private homes. These houses were also alive with music, often played by the leading performers and composers of the day. Thus it was possible for visitors to drink tea in a Mayfair townhouse, observe how Watteau had applied his brushstrokes in the portrayal of a silk dress, and listen to Handel directing the rehearsal of a new gavotte.

The five historical houses are all still in existence and the Tafelmusik project has been planned as an international collaboration with their present owners and administrators. Invitations from the Handel House Museum (London), the Palazzo Smith Mangilli-Valmarana (Venice), the Golden ABC (Delft), the Palais-Royal (Paris) and the Bach Museum and Archive (Leipzig) to visit and photograph the houses have allowed the orchestra to portray for the audience the beautiful rooms where guests were entertained with art and music long ago.

Vermeer, The Music Lesson
Vermeer, The Music Lesson

The title of the concert comes from the atmospheric description of the ‘House of Dreams’ in Book 11 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In a dark cave where no cackling goose or crowing cockerel disturbs the still silence, the floor surrounding the ebony bed of the god of sleep is covered in empty dreams, waiting to be sent to the houses of mortals. The people, objects and animals in the House of Dreams are portrayed by the god’s children, Morpheus, Phantasos and Phobetor, who are re-imagined as messengers of artistic inspiration in the context of the script. In the course of the performance, dreams enter the houses in many guises, first during Handel’s music for the ‘Entrance of the Pleasant Dreams’ from his opera Alcina.

Alcina, like Messiah and Hercules, was composed and rehearsed on an upper floor of the London house where George Frideric Handel lived for the second half of his life.

Handel House Museum, 25 Brook Street, Mayfair
Handel House Museum, 25 Brook Street, Mayfair
Handel House Museum
We’ve been there!

The modest townhouse was built in 1723 as part of the new subdivision of Mayfair and Handel was its first tenant; as a foreign national, he was forbidden from owning property. The location at 25 Brook Street was a convenient distance from St James’s Palace, where he performed his official duties as the newly appointed Composer to the Chapel Royal.

The plan of the house was typical for row houses in London at this time. The kitchens were in the basement; each of the next two floors up had a front and a back parlour; the third-floor bedroom contained a fine crimson, canopied bed. We know these details from Handel’s estate inventory, the legal document recording the value of his possessions at the time of his death. Estate documents are one of the most important sources of information about the contents and layout of all of our five houses, along with wills, private listings of paintings, and catalogues from estate sales.

Ten months after Handel’s death, the London firm of Abraham Langford published an auction catalogue of 80 paintings and 64 engravings from Handel’s private collection. This document came to light in 1985 and revealed Handel to have been a dedicated and sophisticated collector of art. The Brook Street house contained works by many major English and Continental painters, including Antoine Watteau, Marco Ricci, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Canaletto and Rembrandt. It is not possible in most cases to determine the exact paintings that were on the walls, but the titles and detailed descriptions in the auction listing allow for an appreciation of Handel’s taste. He was attracted by the works of artists who had been active as set painters in the opera world, and he owned two paintings by Watteau called ‘conversations’. These were genre works depicting men and women in theatrical dress, often set in the world of the Paris Opéra or Comédie. Two works which depict pairs of dancers and groups of instrumentalists have been chosen for our performance because of an important link between the Parisian dance world and the composition of the opera Alcina.

One of Handel’s most popular Italian operas, Alcina was premiered on 16 April 1735 at Covent Garden. Shortly before, a read-through had been directed by the composer himself in the music room of his home. It was attended by Handel’s great friend, Mary Pendarves, who later remarried and is now known as the brilliant letter writer and paper-cut artist, Mrs Delany. (Her brother, also a great friend, had given Handel his View of the Rhine by Rembrandt.) Of the rehearsal of Alcina, Mrs Delany wrote to her mother:

Yesterday morning my sister and I went with Mrs. Donellen to Mr. Handel’s house to hear the first rehearsal of the new opera Alcina. I think it is the best he ever made, but I have thought so of so many, that I will not say positively ‘tis the finest, but ‘tis so fine I have not words to describe it. Strada has a whole scene of charming recitative – there are a thousand beauties. Whilst Mr. Handel was playing his part, I could not help thinking him a necromancer in the midst of his own enchantments.

One of several startling features of this letter is its date of 11 April – there were only five days between the first read-through at home and the opening night at Covent Garden. It was certainly common for London opera composers to hold open rehearsals before the move into the theatre. There is a charming series of nine paintings by the Venetian painter Marco Ricci (who had come to London to paint opera sets) depicting tea-drinking friends, patrons and dogs attending rehearsals of this sort.

Marco Ricci - Rehearsal of an opera
Marco Ricci – Rehearsal of an opera

One of these paintings forms a backdrop to the concert’s opening sequence. The premiere of Alcina featured dance music composed for the Parisian dancer Marie Sallé, whose diaphanous costumes and expressive choreographies, often featuring her brother as a partner, had created a sensation on the London stage earlier in the decade. She had made her debut at the Paris Opéra in 1721, placing her squarely in the world portrayed in Watteau’s ‘conversation’ paintings. The pair of dancers depicted in Watteau’s Plaisirs du bal would have been virtuoso performers of the French gavottes and other dance forms used by Handel for Marie Sallé.

Handel also owned a painting of the ducal palace at the harbour entrance to Venice, a famous view by Canaletto, who had started his career as a set painter for operas by Alessandro Scarlatti and Antonio Vivaldi. Canaletto painted a number of versions of this scene, sometimes including the Ospedale della Pietà where Vivaldi was the music master. At this time La Pietà was a large red brick building, slightly west of and entirely different from the white marble church we see today.

Canaletto - Venice Ducal Palace
Canaletto – Venice Ducal Palace

A version of Canaletto’s harbour scene was also hanging in the Venetian home of Joseph Smith, where Handel collected his forwarded mail when he was in Italy. The performance makes the move from London to Venice through the portal of the painting: it appears first on the battleshipgrey wall of Handel’s bedroom and then in the Grand Canal palazzo where it emerges on the red damask wall of Smith’s piano nobile – the ‘noble floor’ where Venetians entertained their guests, a level up from the odoriferous canal.

Palazzo Smith Mangilli Valmaran
Palazzo Smith Mangilli Valmaran

Joseph Smith, who had moved from London to Venice as a young man in 1700, became a merchant banker and wealthy trader specialising in wine, olives and dried fruits. In 1744 he was appointed British Consul in Venice, where he continued to live until his death in 1770. He lived just above the Rialto on the Grand Canal in a house known today as the Palazzo Smith Mangilli-Valmarana. It was famous all over Europe as a place of intellectual ferment and artistic activity. Carlo Goldoni, in the preface to his play Il filosofo inglese (The English Philosopher), which was dedicated to Joseph Smith, called the house the site of ‘the most perfect union of all the sciences and all the arts’.

Smith was a serious book collector with a magnificent library of printed books (including 248 printed before 1500) and rare manuscripts, including one of the oldest and most complete texts of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Anxious that his collection be kept intact after his death, he sold his books to George III in 1765 and they became a founding collection of the British Museum Library. Consul Smith’s reputation as a collector also rested on his patronage of Venetian painters. He became the agent for Canaletto in the 1720s, commissioning many paintings for his own palazzo and for English clients. His walls were covered in dozens of exquisite scenes of Venice, as well as works by old Italian masters. A large collection of the paintings as well as engraved gems and hundreds of master drawings and prints were also sold to George III and remain in the Royal Collection today.

Smith was a serious music lover whose collection of instruments used at house concerts was sold at auction in London after his death. His first wife, Catherine Tofts, was the English prima donna depicted in the version of Marco Ricci’s Opera Rehearsal seen near the beginning of the concert. In the 1730s Smith acted as agent for the celebrated castrato Farinelli in connection with opera performances in England.

Joseph Smith’s interest in musical instruments may have attracted him to the famous Vermeer painting now known as The Music Lesson, which he bought in 1742 from the estate of the Venetian painter Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini. Fifty years earlier the painting had been sold at auction as part of the estate of Jacob Dissius, a Dutch bookbinder with a small shop called ‘The Golden ABC’ on the main square of Delft. On 14 April 1680, Dissius had married a young Delft woman named Magdalena van Ruijven who tragically died after only two years of marriage. The widower was so badly off that he had to borrow money to pay for mourning clothes and the funeral. Yet the walls of his tiny house with its street-level bookshop were covered with one of the great treasure troves of Western art, for he had inherited 21 paintings by Johannes Vermeer from his wife. Vermeer had lived close by and had enjoyed the friendship and patronage of Magdalena’s father and mother, Pieter van Ruijven and Maria de Knuijt, who had bought many of the 34 Vermeers known to be in existence.

Het Gulden ABC (The Golden ABC), 32 Markt Square, Delft
Het Gulden ABC (The Golden ABC), 32 Markt Square, Delft

The house which was once home to 20 of Vermeer’s paintings, as well as to a collection of instruments, is now a pancake restaurant. And we didn’t have pancakes there 😦

Magdalena’s estate inventory lists 11 Vermeers in the front hall of The Golden ABC, one in the kitchen, two in the basement, several others in unspecified rooms, and four in the back room, which also contained a chest of musical instruments and music books. The young woman playing the virginals in The Music Lesson might have been playing a piece like Engelse Fortuyn, the early 17th-century set of variations on the English tune Fortune My Foe by the great Dutch keyboard composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck.

The music books in the back of the Dissius house might have contained later music from across the Channel, for throughout the 17th century the Dutch public had a high regard for English music, bolstered in the 1690s by the presence on the English throne of a Dutch king (William III of Orange) who employed Henry Purcell as his composer-in-residence and travelled to Holland with his English orchestra in tow. Jacob Dissius died in 1695 at the age of 42 and was carried to the cemetery by coach and 18 pallbearers (a sign that he had begun to prosper). Six months later, an announcement of the auction of the Dissius paintings with a number of their titles appeared in Amsterdam. We have chosen for our performance several of the paintings known to have been in the collection from the house.

This closes the first half of the concert, with the subtitle ‘Triptych’, partly because of the three houses joined by shared works of art, and partly because of the Vermeer triptych created with three famous tronies (character studies of expressive faces) – The Girl with a Pearl Earring, Study of a Young Woman and Girl with a Red Hat. When Jeanne Lamon, Christina Mahler and Alison Mackay met in The Golden ABC in Delft to play the violin and cello within the old rooms, it was possible to imagine the impact that the thoughtful gaze of these young women, forever captured in their youthful health by Vermeer, must have had in the little house which had lost its young mistress.

Vermeer - Girl With a Pearl Earring
Vermeer – Girl With a Pearl Earring
She's pretty, we'll take a photo with her!
She’s pretty, we’ll take a photo with her!
Vermeer - Study of a Young Woman
Vermeer – Study of a Young Woman
Vermeer - Girl With a Red Hat
Vermeer – Girl With a Red Hat

The second half of the concert, called ‘Mirror Image’, takes place in two houses where paintings and performances of music were reflected in large embedded wall mirrors. The Palais-Royal on the Rue St Honoré in Paris, just north of the Louvre, began life as the principal residence of the theatre-loving Cardinal Richelieu, first minister to Louis XIII. There was a private theatre in the east wing of the building, with sets and lighting designed by Bernini. When the Cardinal died, two years after the opening of the theatre, the house was left to the crown and the theatre gradually fell into disrepair. In 1660 the young Louis XIV granted use of the theatre to Molière’s acting company and then to Jean-Baptiste Lully, who renovated it for opera performance. It became the venue for every Paris performance of Lully, Marais and Rameau operas for the next 70 years. In 1692 the entire house became the property of the brother of Louis XIV, the Duc d’Orléans, known as ‘Monsieur’. His son Philippe became duke in 1701 and, four years later, Regent to the five-year-old Louis XV, great-grandson of the previous king.

Palais Royal, Paris
Palais Royal, Paris

The Palais-Royal became a sparkling centre of Parisian social life, with its beautiful gardens and rooms renovated by the architect Gilles-Marie Oppenord, who was charged with creating a magnificent setting for the Duke’s collection of 500 paintings. Now known as the Orléans Collection, it was in its time the most important private collection of art in Europe. The jewel of the palace renovation was a lofty salon and adjacent gallery covered in red damask with a huge mirror at each end, making the already imposing space seem twice as long. The mirrors reflected the dramatic scenes portrayed by Titian, Tintoretto and Correggio, many of which were derived from the stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The Metamorphoses also provided the plots for many of the operas performed in the theatre. Thus it was possible within the walls of the palace, open on certain days to the public, to experience the stories from ancient mythology in visual art and on the stage. The night of the Duc d’Orléans’ 14th wedding anniversary was marked by the première of Alcyone, an opera based on one of Ovid’s tales about a loving marriage, set to music by the great viola da gamba virtuoso Marin Marais. The storm scene from this opera was famous for many years and was the first use of a double bass in French opera. The style of décor and home furnishings found in the Palais-Royal spread across Europe as far east as the city of Leipzig, described by Goethe a generation later as ‘a little Paris’.

Bach Museum and Archive, Leipzig
Bach Museum and Archive, Leipzig
Bach Museum and Archive, Leipzig
Bach Museum and Archive, Leipzig

Across from the St Thomas Church, the signature of Goethe (who also made a pilgrimage to visit the grave of Consul Smith on the Lido) could be found in the visitors’ book of a beautiful house where a private collection of paintings by Rembrandt, Holbein, Rubens, Lucas Cranach, Paolo Veronese and Pieter Brueghel the Younger was open to the public one day a week for two hours. The art collection had been started by Georg Heinrich Bose, who had moved into the house in 1711. The Bose family became best friends to the family of Johann Sebastian Bach after the Bachs moved into the St Thomas School next door in 1723; four of the Bose daughters became godmothers to four of Bach’s children. The Bachs and the Boses also shared a love of domestic music-making, and scholars think it highly likely that the Bach family performed in the beautiful music room at the top of the Bose house. This room had its walls covered in large embedded mirrors in French style and had a hidden musicians’ gallery, revealed when a movable ceiling painting was mechanically raised. Details about the rooms, furniture and contents of the house are found in the family estate inventories. This is also true of J S Bach’s inventory, which lists his musical instruments, the titles of books in his library, his items of clothing, his furniture and his kitchen tools. This inventory is a still-life portrait of the rooms in his house, captured in words at the end of his life.

The Tafelmusik program uses meditative music for winds, arranged from an aria about the stillness of death from Cantata 135, to allow the audience to ponder three still-life paintings by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin portraying objects of the type described in the inventory: a silver goblet, a smoking box, and a copper kettle. House of Dreams ends with a review of the newly acquired art collection, as if visited in the museum of our mind’s eye. No imagined image or digitised projection can rival the experience of being in the same room with an original painting by Vermeer or Chardin. But lovers of Baroque music can be grateful for the technology that allows them to step back into a time when Canaletto and Watteau were creating modern art and when visitors could spend an hour or two in a room full of delights for the ear and the eye.

House of Dreams

This is the essence of House of Dreams, Tafelmusik’s new multi-media performance. Five countries, five homes, five historic art collections, five places where music was once performed, and five selections of pieces which could once have been played there. Through the ensemble’s dramatic alchemy of photographs, videos, projection, lighting, choreography and programming, audiences around the world can travel through time and space to experience a truly baroque marriage of music and image.

London, Venice, Delft, Paris, tick, tick, tick, tick, Leipzig next!

Three Goats to You!

Three goats to you

“Three goats bring harmony” is an old favorite Chinese greeting for the Year of the Goat. It comes from Taoism. The third month has three yangs (阳 from yin-yang theory), and corresponds to earth-sky (in Eight Trigram theory), meaning harmony. Later the yang (阳) was replaced with the yang (羊) for goat, which sounds the same, creating the current greeting.

What to you mean the next Year of the Dragon is in 2024?

Three goats to you

Keep reading, there is bound to be a fortune here that says if we eat the goats it will be the Year of the Dragon now…

Three goats to you

The decorations involve the colour red and lucky images. Red is the main color for the spring festival, Chinese New Year and the Lantern Festival, as it is believed to be an auspicious color. Red lanterns, red underwear for the bears 🙂

Very popular around this time, peach blossoms are popular in decorations. The plant is considered sacred in China. The flowers are customarily placed in beautiful and valuable vases. The peach fruit represents longevity and that makes the fruit and its flowers very important to the Chinese, especially around this time. In addition, peach blossom symbolizes romance, prosperity, and growth.

The bright pink flowers of plum blossoms symbolize perseverance and reliability — two traits essential to be successful in life. They are very common around this time of the year in parks and gardens. This is one of the most important symbolic flowers for the Chinese. It represents endurance and courage. The plum, along with orchid (purity), bamboo (uprightness), and chrysanthemum (humility), constitute ‘the four nobles’.

We have decorated with cherry blossoms…

Three goats to you

Certain fruits are eaten during the Chinese New Year period, such as mandarins, oranges and pomeloes. They are selected as they are particularly round and “golden” in color, symbolizing fullness and wealth, but more obviously for the lucky sound they bring when spoken. Eating pomeloes is thought to bring continuous prosperity. The more you eat, the more wealth it will bring, as the traditional saying goes. The Chinese for pomelo (柚 yòu /yo/) sounds like ‘to have’ (有 yǒu), except for the tone, and exactly like ‘again’ (又 yòu).

Three goats to you

Eating and displaying oranges is believed to bring good luck and fortune due to their pronunciation, and even writing. The Chinese for orange is 橙 (chéng /chnng/), which sounds the same as the Chinese for ‘success’ (成). The orange looks like the sun and is aligned with the yang (positive) principle, thus being a highly auspicious symbol of abundance and happiness.

Grapes and plums are also symbolic of good luck, wealth, fortune, gold, prosperity and fertility. These serve as holy offerings in Buddhist temples and are also used in cooking, not to mention gifting among relatives.

Three goats to you

It is traditional to place mandarins along with a red envelope next to children’s pillows in every Chinese household to bring them good fortune.

Three goats to you

We have no doubt that if cherries were in season in wintery February in China, they would be on the menu! Red is the lucky colour of the day. The Chinese warrior-farmers feasted on cherries and plums as their summer dessert as far back as 600 BCE.

Three goats to you

Fortune cookies on the other hand are served as a dessert in Chinese restaurants in the United States and some other countries, but are absent in China. The exact origin of fortune cookies is unclear, though various immigrant groups in California claim to have popularized them in the early 20th century, basing their recipe on a traditional Japanese cracker. Fortune cookies have been summarized as being “introduced by the Japanese, popularized by the Chinese, but ultimately … consumed by Americans.” And bears 🙂 They are crunchy and tasty…

Three goats to you

恭喜发财!

Three goats to you

Such a Little Girl

At 26cm tall, and her shoes weighing more than she does, Isabelle is definitely a little girl 🙂

Such a little girl

At 5.5m tall and 300kg, the Little Girl Giant is also just a little girl 🙂

Such a little girl

And they have so much in common!

No tantrums as they wait for someone to help them get dressed…

Such a little girl

They know they look really cool!

Such a little girl

They take the paparazzi in their stride…

Little Giant Girl

They drop their shoes wherever and expect someone else to pick them up!

Such a little girl

They like to play…

Such a little girl

And to dance…

And not to be left behind, there is a scooter on the way for Isabelle. A beary size one, not a giant one 🙂

Isabelle is rather pleased to have more than one dress, one coat and one pair of shoes, and she is not sure at all about showering. It’s wet!

Little Giant Girl

The giants have been and gone but they are still the topic of conversation in Perth and will be for some time yet. We are definitely fans now and yes, the cost was worth it. The production cost $5.4 million, most of it spent locally on street closures, staging and accommodating Royal de Luxe’s 100-strong team. About 600 WA staff and volunteers joined them to stage the event.

Perth Festival has been vying to stage The Giants for almost a decade. Sydney and Melbourne also sought to stage it, with Melbourne’s tramlines an impediment and NSW unwilling to commit funding. Sydney Festival director Lieven Bertels on Friday tweeted a pic to former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell of the vast crowds in Perth saying: “I trust you are watching this.”

Perth crows on Sunday to farewell the giants
Perth crows on Sunday to farewell the giants

The giant spectacular in Perth almost didn’t happen. A crucial sponsor pulled out in June last year, leaving the event in doubt. When it was revealed that Perth was likely to miss out on one of the world’s greatest free public spectacles because the Festival had fallen short of its target to secure the show, Royal de Luxe decided to extend the booking deadline so Festival organisers could drum up more support. The Premier had enough sense and the backbone to decide to provide $2 million to the event and had a chat with Crown Resorts chairman James Packer who then contributed $1 million towards the event through his new $200 million philanthropic foundation, the first WA arts partnership. I think they are all breathing a sigh of relief that it has been such an outstanding success.

Jean Luc Courcoult, the founder and director of Royal de Luxe, never refers to these creations as just puppets – he calls them “the giants” and hopes audiences will connect to them emotionally. He wants spectators to feel that they are as real as the dozens of people who tug on the ropes that work them.

You really have to see them live to see how life-like they are. I looked at photos and YouTube videos last week and I did think ‘what’s the big deal?’ It is difficult to explain just how special the giants spectacle is, no matter how many YouTube videos you watch. Luckily the bears took me out to see the big deal!

The Little Girl Giant is really beautiful. Yes, I know she is made from wood, but sometimes you really feel she is smiling and looking at you. That she is real.

I just love the way she bobs her head to music, sitting comfortably in her boat, taking everything in her stride, while everyone around her is fussing…

Royal de Luxe’s giant operators call themselves Lilliputians, after the race of tiny people in the novel Gulliver’s Travels. But, unlike Gulliver, these men and women dressed in crimson livery are not pinning the Little Girl Giant down, but instead seem to be freeing her, making her appear amazingly life-like and real. They describe themselves as a company made up of “inventors, stuntmen, poets and scrap dealers”. They bring The Giants to life with cranes, pulleys, electrics and hydraulics – and some exceptional timing.

Founded in 1979 by current director Jean Luc Courcoult, Didier Gallot-Lavallée, and Véronique Loève, Royal de Luxe staged a series of popular street theater productions in the 1980s, several of which they took on tour to various parts of Europe, Africa, and South America. In 1989, Royal de Luxe moved its operations from southern France to Nantes, a city in western France, and in 1993 embarked on a new phase of its history, when it presented the first of its “giant” pieces.

The company now has several giants – The Giant (who played the Giant Diver in Perth), giant Africans, a giant giraffe and giant baby giraffe, a giant elephant, the Little Girl Giant, a giant rhinoceros, a giant dog and a giant grandmother!

The company has two golden rules: performances must be outdoors and must be free to the public.

It looks like the adorable Little Girl Giant made her appearance in May 2005, in the show “The Visit Of The Sultan Of The Indies On His Time-Travelling Elephant” in Nantes and Amiens in connection with the Jules Verne centenary of his death. It is the story of a sultan who travels around the planet through time and space on an elephant and it is based on the Jules Verne novel The Steam House recounting the travels of a group of British colonists in the Raj in a wheeled house pulled by a steam-powered mechanical elephant.

Such a little girl

Such a little girl

Such a little girl

She then appeared in May 2006, in London in an outdoor performance of “The Sultan’s Elephant”. The story told of a Sultan who dreamed about a little girl and traveled in his elephant time-machine in search of her.

From May to October 2006, the Sultan perched on his elephant and the little girl were spotted on the streets of London, Antwerp, Le Havre and Calais. And the Little Girl Giant began to steal the show 🙂

In 2007, at the request of the International Festival Teatro a Mil, Royal de Luxe dreamed up a new Giant story featuring a meeting between the Little Girl Giant and a rhinoceros. “The Pequeña y el Gigante rinoceronte escondido” (the Little Girl Giant And The Rhinoceros Hide) was presented from January 25 to 28 in Santiago de Chile and the success exceeded everyone’s expectations. This was also the first outing of the giants outside Europe.

In May, the Little Girl Giant continued her journey in a new story through Iceland this time: “The Geyser of Reykjavik”. Created especially for the close of the season at the French art festival in Reykjavik, the story was based on Nordic folklore.

A new story following the saga of the Giants was born in spring 2009 in the Royal de Luxe workshops in Nantes with a Deep-Sea Diver and the Little Girl Giant as main characters, armed with a boat and a strange wave manipulated by Lilliputians.

The Deep-Sea Diver and the Little Girl Giant had their first show in Nantes in 2009 and then travelled together to perform in Berlin (“The Berlin Rendez-Vous” opened the festivities commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in October 2009); in Santiago (“The Invitation” in January 2010 as part of the Bicentennial of Independence and 100 years of Chilean theater); in Antwerp (“The Diver, His Hand And The Little Girl Giant” in August 2010); Liverpool (“Sea Odyssey”, the story that celebrated the Centenary of the sinking of the Titanic in April 2012 and “Memories of August 1914”, the World War I journey in August 2014).

Part of the French company’s modus operandi is that it travels to the city chosen as a select venue and creates an original story woven from that place’s history, its people, sights and sounds, the result making for a personal, community event on a massive scale. These modern-day tales are performed across the city for three days and the story-lines are made available to a wide audience through the street performance, with the audience exposed to the emotion and poetry projected by these Giants.

Crowds in Perth, like many crowds before them, were simply transfixed by the stunning array of life-like movements, the pair’s humorous interactions with people and the impressive efforts of the Lilliputians.

In Perth, the production is based on the true story of a little girl – Fay Howe – from Albany’s Breaksea Lighthouse who was the last point of human contact in Australia for troops departing for Gallipoli in 1914. She is said to have signalled to the departing fleet in morse code. Weeks later, postcards began arriving from the Middle East addressed to “the little girl on Breaksea Island”. The story inspired author Dianne Wolfer’s 2008 book Lighthouse Girl.

The Deep Sea Diver and the Little Girl Giant portrayed an uncle and niece reunited 100 years after the landing at Gallipoli.

Such a little girl

Such a little girl

Such a little girl

Surprise is a key ingredient in Royal de Luxe’s shows, so they often go to great lengths to avoid media attention. And in a world of infinite diversity, some people have no sense of humour! The Little Girl Giant just had to pee-pee. So what if it was the middle of Hay Street? She was most lady-like in undertaking the activity 🙂

Little Giant Girl

As for the Deep Sea Diver, he really is giant! Yet he moved with incredible lightness and projected astonishing gentleness.

Such a little girl

Such a little girl

Bye-bye giants, hope to see you again!

Such a little girl

Some of the best videos from YouTube on the giants spectacular in Perth:

Music of the Spheres

No Cinderella movie, but a concert fit for a royal audience 🙂

Music of the spheres

Tafelmusik performs Vivaldi, Allegro, from The Galileo Project

In May 1999, Canadian astronaut Julie Payette, preparing for her maiden flight to the International Space Station, packed only the bare essentials: oxygen, water, food and a recording of baroque ensemble Tafelmusik performing Handel’s Messiah. The astronaut, herself a soprano and former member of the Tafelmusik choir, accompanied the recording to the galaxy’s outer reaches and, on playing it, exposed it to the stars.

One of the world’s leading period instrument orchestras, the Canadian-based Tafelmusik, was formed in 1979 and is a Baroque orchestra in residence at the University of Toronto. It regularly tours the world giving concerts and workshops, and its discography runs to more than 75 recordings. Tafelmusik was a term common during the 17th and 18th centuries which, translated from German, means table music, or music for a feast.

In 2007, Tafelmusik was approached by music lover John Percy, professor of astronomy at the University of Toronto, a fan and long-term supporter of the orchestra, with an unusual idea for a concert. Why not celebrate in music the 400th anniversary in 2009 (also the International Year of Astronomy) of Galileo’s first public demonstration of the astronomical telescope?

Galileo showed the Doge of Venice how to use the telescope (Fresco by Giuseppe Bertini)
Galileo showed the Doge of Venice how to use the telescope (Fresco by Giuseppe Bertini)

The result was The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres, which featured the music of Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Telemann and others, played from memory against a backdrop of high-definition images from the Hubble telescope, Canadian astronomers and astro-photographer Alan Dyer. Actor Shaun Smyth was also brought on board to recite the words of Galileo, Newton and Kepler.

The Galileo Project was premiered at the Banff Centre and in Toronto in January 2009 and has toured in Canada, Mexico, the US, Malaysia and China. At some performances, astronomers have set up telescopes so the musicians and the audience can see the sky the way Galileo would have seen it. The orchestra was honoured by the International Astronomical Union, which named an asteroid after Tafelmusik in recognition of this project. In 2012 Tafelmusik brought The Galileo Project to Australia for Musica Viva. Tafelmusik has now performed its Galileo programme more than sixty times around the world – far more often than any other programme the ensemble had assembled before then.

Tafelmusik, Galileo Project, Perth, February 2009
Tafelmusik, Galileo Project, Perth, February 2009

The performance used music, words and images to explore the artistic, cultural and scientific world in which 17th and 18th century astronomers lived and did their work.

In late 16th century Florence, the house of lutenist and composer Vincenzo Galilei was a fertile breeding ground for important innovations in the realms of music and of science. Vincenzo’s experiments with the expressive power of accompanied solo song influenced the creation of opera as a musical form, and the style of music we now describe as baroque.

He also conducted repeated trials under controlled conditions with lute strings to find the mathematical formulas that express the relationship among length, tension and musical pitch. He is thought to have been assisted in these experiments by his oldest son, Galileo Galilei, a brilliant young teacher of mathematics who went on to apply his expertise to world-changing discoveries about the universe.

Galileo inherited his spirit of scientific inquiry and a love of playing the lute from his father, and it is fitting that a musical tribute should honour an astronomer whose intellectual and artistic vitality stemmed from a place where music and science intersected.

Ancient civilisations depended on an awareness of the natural world for their livelihood and survival, and enjoyed an intimate relationship with the daily, monthly and yearly patterns of the night sky. The Greeks and Romans identified characters in their mythological stories with planets and stars and gave them names that we still use today. In Ovid’s story of Phaeton, the impetuous son of the sun god Apollo, the minutes, hours, days and seasons are personified as denizens of the palace of the sun.

Nicolas Poussin, Helios and Phaeton with Saturn and the Four Seasons
Nicolas Poussin, Helios and Phaeton with Saturn and the Four Seasons

At Versailles, the French “Sun King”, Louis XIV, created his own palace of the sun, a building that strongly reflected the cosmology of the ancient world in its statuary and decoration. Jean-Baptiste Lully, the resident composer at Versailles, wrote some of his most magnificent music for his opera Phaeton. Excerpts of the opera are included in the concert as an example of the cultural inheritance that the world of Baroque music received from the observations of ancient stargazers.

The first important opera, Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo, was composed in 1607 and published in Venice in 1609, the year that Galileo travelled from Padua to Venice to offer his newly created telescope as a gift to the Venetian Doge. Monteverdi and Galileo were exact contemporaries and hear the end of their lives, Galileo arranged for Monteverdi to procure a beautiful Cremonese violin (probably built by Nicolo Amati) for his nephew Alberto Galilei, the son of Galileo’s brother Michelangelo who composed the lute solo in the first half of the program. Monteverdi, Tarquinio Merula and Biagio Marini were the most important composers in Galileo’s world and the program includes some of their most beautiful works as a backdrop to Galileo’s account of his discovery of the moons of Jupiter and the events that followed.

Michael Slattery as Orfeo and Megan Monaghan as Euridice in Glimmerglass Opera’s production of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo
Michael Slattery as Orfeo and Megan Monaghan as Euridice in Glimmerglass Opera’s production of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo

England’s most important astronomer, Isaac Newton, was born within a year of Galileo’s death, in 1642, and was buried in 1727 in Westminster Abbey near the tomb of Henry Purcell. This period saw the establishment of a Royal Observatory in Greenwich, Newton’s creation of the reflecting telescope, his discoveries about the properties of refracted light, and his development of the principles of universal gravitation.

Newton used the musical analogy of a seven-note scale in explaining the seven colours of the rainbow, but unlike Galileo, he does not appear to have been a music lover. Having been to hear Handel play in a concert, he complained that there was nothing to admire except the elasticity of his fingers.

Coudn't resist...
couldn’t resist…

George Frideric Handel made more of a sensation when he travelled from his adopted country of England to his homeland of Germany in order to play at a glittering royal wedding celebration in Dresden in September 1719. It was a month-long ‘Festival of the Planets’, with numerous operas, balls, outdoor events and special concerts in honour of each of the known planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. (Uranus was discovered in 1781 by oboist, organist, composer and amateur astronomer Sir William Herschel who, like Handel, had moved to England from Hanover. Herschel also built the largest and finest telescopes of his day, catalogued nebulae and discovered infrared radiation with the help of his musician sister Caroline, the discoverer of several comets.)

There are detailed archives of the musical events at the 1719 Festival of the Planets, and we know that not only Handel but also Georg Philipp Telemann, who was living in Frankfurt at the time, joined the renowned musicians employed by Augustus the Strong in Dresden. These included double bass player Jan Dismas Zelenka and Silvius Leopold Weiss, Europe’s most famous lutenist. The program includes excerpts from works by these four composers, and a reconstruction by Lucas Harris of the Allegro from Weiss’s Lute Concerto in C major: all that survives of the original is the solo lute part, but the title page confirms that the lute was accompanied by two violins, viola and violoncello. Lucas has composed the missing parts.

The program begins and ends with reflections on the ancient concept of the ‘Music of the Spheres’, a heavenly ensemble of planets and stars making music together as they move through space. The concert’s opening speech from The Merchant of Venice contains Lorenzo’s beautiful expression of this idea: ‘There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st but in his motion like an angel sings, still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins.’

Music of the spheres

The subject was treated extensively in Harmonices Mundi (Harmony of the World, 1619) by Johannes Kepler, who used the formulas from his laws of planetary motion to derive musical intervals and short melodies associated with each planet. The program includes these short tunes on their own, and then they are weaved into the chorale tune Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (How brightly shines the morning star).

This is followed by music adapted from the opening sinfonia of Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantata of the same name (BWV1), and from the opening sinfonia of Bach’s Cantata BWV29. These two works speak profoundly and eloquently of what lay at the heart of the International Year of Astronomy – a celebration of the wonders of the cosmos and the achievements of the human spirit.

Listening to music of the past is like seeing the light of a star long dead. There’s that same sense of presence and absence you get looking at a photograph. So to combine Baroque music and projected images of the night sky with readings from the works of astronomers past in one magical concert is to experience joy tempered by wistfulness. And it keeps the royal entourage spellbound 🙂

Music of the spheres

Galileo Galilei was born on 15 February 1564 by the Julian calendar and on 25 February 1565 by the Gregorian calendar. Yes, there is a year and 10 days difference between the two dates. It has to do with the different definitions of leap years in the two calendars and the different definitions of the ends and beginnings of years in the two calendars in the place and at the time of the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, ie under the Julian calendar the year did not start on January 1. In 1564 Italy and the whole of Christendom was following the Julian calendar, which was replaced in 1582 Pope Gregory with the Gregorian calendar. Online date converter is the way to go!

Justus Sustermans, Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636
Justus Sustermans, Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636

Galileo Galilei was born in the duchy of Florence, into an eminent, musical family. His father Vincenzo Galilei (c1520 – 1591) was by training and profession a lutenist and composer. A year before Galileo’s birth, Vincenzo’s first publication appeared. It was issued at Rome, and was a collection of arrangements (intabulations) for the lute of vocal compositions by some of his Italian and Netherlands contemporaries, plus works specifically for the lute by him and the composer Francesco da Milano. This publication was followed by two books of madrigals by Vincenzo, in 1574 and 1587 respectively. In between came a substantial collection of contrapuntal instrumental music, and an instruction manual on playing and composing for the lute, entitled Fronimo [‘practical wisdom’, or ‘the wisdom of experience’]: this in turn contained a vast quantity of lute intabulations – 96 in the first edition and 108, many of them different pieces, in the 1584 revision, including a set of 24 ricercars in all the major and minor keys. A great deal more lute music, as well as arrangements for solo voice and lute, were left in manuscript at his death.

European lute
European lute

Clearly, Vincenzo was a very experienced and talented composer. However, he was also strongly attracted to the theory of music, and it is for his contribution in this area that he is most famous. In fact, he is now regarded as the most important music theorist writing in Italy during the late 16th century. He was also the first important music theorist of the Renaissance not to have been a priest. Perhaps not surprisingly, given that he was a layman, his main interest was in secular music. By the early 1560s he had attracted the patronage of the influential Florentine aristocrat and humanist, Giovanni Bardi, Count of Vernio. With Bardi’s sponsorship, Vincenzo spent the years 1563 to 1565 in Venice studying with Gioseffo Zarlino (1517–1590), maestro di cappella at the Basilica of San Marco, and the most famous and influential music theorist in Italy at that time.

Around 1572, back in Florence under Bardi’s patronage, Vincenzo began to compile a compendium of what he had learned from Zarlino. He also started to draft an original treatise, which he entitled Dialogo della musica antica et della moderna (Dialogue on ancient and modern music). However, he realised that he needed to unravel some puzzles relating to ancient Greek music and its relationship to the music of his own time before continuing. From Bardi he learned that a Florentine scholar living in Rome, Girolamo Mei, was doing research into ancient Greek music, and he began a scholarly correspondence with him, which lasted for seven years. The detailed information that Vincenzo learned from Mei’s investigative methods and from his ten years of research into ancient Greek music treatises led him to question much of what he had been taught by Zarlino. Around 1577 he abandoned the compendium and began the Dialogue in earnest. It was published in Florence in late 1581 or early 1582.

In this Dialogue Galilei adopts a practical, scientific approach to musical questions, putting aside appeals to authority, and applying instead the findings of reason and experience. His phrase ‘the perception of truth’ (apparenza di verità) indicates that he believed that the final judge must always be the commonsense experience of truth, and in assessing the music of his own time he relies primarily on his own experience. The most famous section of this treatise is Vincenzo’s critique of the contrapuntal style of composition (which was the dominant style of the 16th century), and the advocacy of monody (accompanied melody), which he rightly believed approached more closely the musical style of the ancient world. This monodic style was to play a leading role in the earliest operas and the emergence of the Baroque style around 1600.

Galileo from an early age no doubt absorbed his father’s investigative methods and scientific, objective approach to problem solving. Like his father, in his own scientific work he brushed aside received authority when it was in conflict with reality perceived through the senses and through experimentation. While he no doubt studied the lute with his father, and continued to play the instrument competently throughout his life, unfortunately little is known of Galileo’s personal view of and reaction to the music of his time. His attendance at operas, concerts, and other musical events is not recorded. However, indicative of the influence of the contemporary scientific spirit on the music of the time is the fact that even the composer Monteverdi was addressed as a ‘Great Professor of Chemistry’ in a laudatory poem published after his death. This was probably on account of his interest in alchemy, which is revealed in a letter that he wrote on 23 August 1625, since alchemy was then still regarded as a science.

The Harmony of the Spheres is a concept formulated by the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras (c570 – c495 BCE). For Pythagoras and his followers, harmony had cosmic significance, and they believed that the heavenly bodies (the spheres) produced a sound as they whirled through space. Since these spheres moved at different speeds, the Pythagoreans surmised that they must each produce different but harmonious notes. The philosopher Plato (c428 – 347 BCE) also taught this idea, stating that on each of the eight concentric circles in which the spheres rotate, there stands a Siren uttering a note of constant pitch, the eight notes forming a scale. The Roman writer Cicero (106 – 43 BCE) believed that Venus and Mercury were in unison, and that therefore the spheres “make seven distinct tones, with measured intervals between… but the ears of men are deafened by being filled with this melody; nor is there in mortals a duller sense than hearing… so that this harmony of the whole universe in its intensely rapid movement is so loud that men’s ears cannot take it in” (The Dream of Scipio, from Book VI of Cicero’s Republic).

In Galileo’s time the relationship between the arts and the sciences was much closer than today’s; indeed, not only was Galileo’s father Vincenzo a famous lutenist and composer; both men experimented with mathematical formulas in relation to lute strings, while Galileo and his brother Michelangelo were gifted lutenists. A solo lute piece by Michelangelo is featured in The Galileo Project.

Mark Peterson makes an extraordinary claim in his fascinating book focused around the life and thought of Galileo, Galileo’s Muse – Renaissance Mathematics and the Arts. It was the mathematics of Renaissance arts, not Renaissance sciences, that became modern science. He argues that painters, poets, musicians, and architects brought about a scientific revolution that eluded the philosopher-scientists of the day, steeped as they were in a medieval cosmos and its underlying philosophy.

According to Peterson, the recovery of classical science owes much to the Renaissance artists who first turned to Greek sources for inspiration and instruction. Chapters devoted to their insights into mathematics, ranging from perspective in painting to tuning in music, are interspersed with chapters about Galileo’s own life and work. Himself an artist turned scientist and an avid student of Hellenistic culture, Galileo pulled together the many threads of his artistic and classical education in designing unprecedented experiments to unlock the secrets of nature.

But could he have unlocked the secrets of the bears?