The Planets

An astronomical evening awaits little bears with one of the most popular works of all time, Holst’s masterpiece The Planets. Even though Holst’s suite is not about astronomy, it’s about astrology. More about this later.

29 September 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Gustav Holst’s premier of his ground-breaking The Planets; a suite of sheer classical brilliance, which to this day has proven to be enduringly popular, widely performed and highly influential.

In 1914 Gustav Holst began writing what was set to become one of the world’s most famous suites of classical music, The Planets; each movement of the suite is named after a planet of the Solar System and it’s corresponding astrological character, as defined by Holst. Pluto wasn’t known to Holst at the time (it was discovered in 1930), and so is absent from his work. Holst managed to finish the work by 1916, by which time the First World War made all thoughts of a performance impractical. However, in the war’s closing days, and in between his own personal war efforts, he was granted the use of the great Queen’s Hall in London, as a gift from a friend, Henry Balfour Gardiner. He immediately commandeered the twenty-nine-year-old Adrian Boult to conduct his new suite. (The Queen’s Hall was destroyed in 1941 by an incendiary bomb in the London Blitz of the Second World War.)

Gustav Holst

The individual compositions were presented for the first time ever as their complete ‘suite’ on 29 September 1918 at The Queen’s Hall, before an invited audience of about 250 people. The first complete public performance was given in London by Albert Coates conducting the London Symphony Orchestra on 15 November 1920.

Composer and Holst scholar Colin Matthews composed an addendum 82 years after premiere of The Planets to include Pluto, the Renewer, in the suite. Some conductors have included it in their recent recordings of The Planets, Simon Rattle (EMI), Mark Elder (Hyperion), David Lloyd-Jones (Naxos), but since Pluto has lost its planet status, Matthews’s addendum has become redundant.

Holst’s suite The Planets is not about astronomy, it’s about astrology. Holst’s setting was astrological, his music reflecting the mythical properties of the planets, rather than anything physical. Holst was writing about Mars, the bringer of war; Venus, the bringer of peace; Mercury, the winged messenger; Jupiter, the bringer of jollity; Saturn the bringer of old age; Uranus, the magician; and Neptune, the mystic.

A great deal of Holst’s personality is captured in The Planets, with the extrovert in Jupiter, his sense of humour in Uranus, and his relaxed manner in the lyrical in the second movement of the work, Venus. Venus was the second of the seven to be composed and has an unmistakable air of calm contrasts with the first movement, which is very loud and thunderous. Listen for the French Horn call at the start which is answered by soft flutes, and the use of the harp – an instrument often associated with femininity, beauty and peace.

Mars

1. Mars, the Bringer of War
Angry and ominous, Holst’s first movement represents the Roman god of war, Mars. The craggy rhythms and pulsing drum beats give the music a military feel.

Venus

2. Venus, the Bringer of Peace
The cool blue Venus follows angry red Mars. The music is slower and beautifully eerie, complete with relaxing tunes played on harps and flutes, shimmering strings, and ethereal solo violin passages to call to mind the Roman goddess.

Mercury

3. Mercury, the Winged Messenger
Flighty and fast, the lively Mercury is quick and powerful in equal measure. The high-pitched harp, flute, and glockenspiel tunes hop, skip, and jump throughout the suite’s short duration – usually just over four minutes.

Jupiter

4. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
As the round-faced cheery uncle of all the planets, and king of the gods, Jupiter is impressive and majestic. The swelling brass and slow waltzing strings are met with moments of poignant beauty in the glorious tune now known as ‘I Vow to Thee My Country’.

Saturn

5. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
A favourite movement of Holst’s, Saturn is quite a shift from the positive music heard in Jupiter. The opening is slow and almost unsettling, until the music expands into a heavy march.

Uranus

6. Uranus, the Magician
Starting with four brassy notes, Uranus shifts from heavy timpani blows to a boisterous gallop. The full orchestra shows the impressive power of this icy planet, represented in Greek mythology as the god of the sky.

Neptune

7. Neptune, the Mystic
When Holst scored this work as a piece for piano duet, he used an organ to represent this planet – the piano, he thought, couldn’t portray a planet as mysterious as Neptune. Beautiful harp and string melodies slide over each other, until Holst brings out the crowning glory: a mystical choir, which gives the music an other-worldly quality.

Holst never wrote another piece like The Planets again. He hated its popularity. When people would ask for his autograph, he gave them a typed sheet of paper that stated that he didn’t give out autographs. The public seemed to demand of him more music like The Planets, and his later music seemed to disappoint them. In fact, after writing the piece, he swore off his belief in astrology, though until the end of his life he cast his friends horoscopes. It is ironic that the piece that made his name famous throughout the world brought him the least joy in the end.

When people think of Holst, they think of The Planets. Not much else springs to mind and, indeed, his output is comparatively slender – he was a slow starter and a slow worker – and few of his works were performed in his lifetime. He wrote much else of interest, his canon is extraordinarily wide-ranging, yet The Planets is such an overwhelming, original work that everything else pales into insignificance in scale and concept.

The Wildflowers Behind the Adorable Florables

Little bears are on a mission to Kings Park to find the wildflowers behind the Adorable Florables.

The vibrant floral costumes and dazzling personalities of the popular Adorable Florables have been on display in Kings Park every September since 2007. Through the flamboyant costumes and make-up, the Adorable Florables transform themselves into real-life representations of WA native species.

Little bears with Thinnid Wasp, Granny Bonnet, Kangaroo Paw, Silver Princess, Golden Wattle and Eva Everlasting

Before a WA native species is chosen to join the mischievous larger-than-life wildflower characters, each with a personality to match their bloom, quite a bit of research is done. The proposed character has to be distinctively West Australian and easily recognisable to the public, and its personality traits of the wildflower character have to reflect the real-life adaptations and characteristics of the native plant. A detailed character brief is created for each performer, so the actor can apply appropriate verbal and non-verbal techniques to the flower’s personality.

The Australian Everlasting is recognised as a symbol of the Kings Park Festival held in Perth each spring. Hundreds of thousands of people gather at the Festival every year to see the spectacle of more than 30,000 Everlastings in full bloom.

Pink Everlasting (Rhodanthe chlorocephala subsp. rosea)
Eva Everlasting

The pink everlasting daisy is a pretty, pink delicate flower with a sweet scent, so the character of Eva Everlasting is also sweet and slightly preening in personality, with a gentle, happy voice, light and floaty body gestures and a pretty pink costume.

The gift of winter rain to Western Australia’s harsh desert fringe brings a carpet of colourful and showy everlastings to life in early spring. Similar natural displays of floral colour, on a large scale, can be seen only in California and South Africa.

Pink Everlasting (Rhodanthe chlorocephala subsp. rosea)

The Red and Green Kangaroo Paw was proclaimed the floral emblem of Western Australia on 9 November 1960. It is one twelve species of the genus Anigozanthos which is restricted to the south-west of Western Australia.

Red and Green Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
The majestic Red and Green Kangaroo Paw surrounded by Adorable Florables

The majestic Red and Green Kangaroo Paw is an international ambassador of Australian flora and as such the character walks around with the dignity required by the role. Fresh and dried cut flowers are exported across the world with western Europe and Japan being the largest markets.

The Kangaroo Paw is a favourite with nectar feeding birds which often feed from the spectacular flowers. In its natural habitat Red and Green Kangaroo Paw flowers between August and October.

Little bears liked the pink Kangaroo Paw 🙂 It’s beary size!

Anigozanthos Pure Pink Kangaroo Paw

The Golden Wattle is the floral emblem of Australia. Although wattles, and in particular the golden wattle, have been the informal floral emblem of Australia for many years (for instance, it represented Australia on the Coronation gown of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953), it was not until Australia’s bicentenary in 1988 that the golden wattle was formally adopted as the floral emblem of Australia. In 1992, 1 September was formally declared National Wattle Day.

The Australian Coat of Arms includes a wreath of wattle; but it does not accurately represent a golden wattle. Similarly, the green and gold colours used by Australian international sporting teams were inspired by the colours of wattles in general, rather than the golden wattle specifically.

Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha)
Golden Wattle

The Golden Wattle is a shrub or small tree about 4 to 8 metres tall. After the seedling stage, true leaves are absent, their function being performed by phyllodes which are modified flattened leaf stalks lacking leaf blades. The leathery phyllodes are 6 to 20 cm long, broadly lance or sickle-shaped and bright green in colour. In spring large fluffy golden-yellow flower-heads with up to eighty minute sweetly scented flowers provide a vivid contrast with the foliage. While flowering can take place from July to November (late winter to early summer), flowering peaks over July and August. Each inflorescence is a ball-like structure that is covered by 40 to 100 small flowers that have five tiny petals (pentamerous) and long erect stamens, which give the flower head a fluffy appearance. The dark brown mature fruit, 7 to 12 cm long, splits along one side to release the seeds.

Orange Wattle or WA Golden Wattle (Acacia saligna)
Orange Wattle or WA Golden Wattle (Acacia saligna)

The Golden Wattle requires cross-pollination between plants to set seed. Birds facilitate this. Nectaries are located on phyllodes; those near open flowers become active, producing nectar that birds feed upon just before or during flowering. While feeding, birds brush against the flower heads and dislodge pollen and often visit multiple trees.

Several species of honeyeater have been observed foraging, including the Western Spinebill.

Male Western Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus superciliosus)
Female Western Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus superciliosus)
Little bears with the Adorable Florables in 2014 – The Western Spinebill, second from left, is holding Honey

The Western Spinebill occurs only in south-western Australia, mainly in the area north to Eneabba and east to Israelite Bay. It has a distinctive long, slender, down-curved bill. The male has an olive-grey crown with a white eye-brow and a black facial mask which is bordered below with a white stripe. The throat and upper breast are rufous, extending over the back of the neck as a collar; the lower breast has a white and a black band. The rest of the upperbody is olive-grey and the rest of underbody is cream. The female is duller, largely olive-grey above and cream below, with a diffuse pale eyebrow and a diffuse rufous collar, but lacks the black-and-white markings of the male.

Nectar is the main food of the Western Spinebill, obtained by probing flowers with its long, narrow beak. The species also takes insects, mostly caught while sallying in the air, or occasionally by pecking them from the surfaces of plants. Apart from the Golden Wattle, The Western Spinebill also feeds on Banksia, Grevillea, Adenanthos and featherflowers.

Eucalypts are another defining feature of Australia. To the uninitiated, most eucalypt species tend to look the same, and that can be excused, there are more than 700 species of eucalyptus and most are native to Australia. Apparently there are good features and clear characteristics to use in identification, mostly to do with leaf morphology. Unlike many flowers, the gum blossom doesn’t consist of petals. The colourful bloom is provided by the stamens, which attract pollinators such as insects or nectar-feeding birds. The petals are fused into the operculum, or cap (except in Angophora). While many gum blossoms are white, they come in a kaleidoscope of other colours, including sulphur, orange, vermilion, red, lime, purple and pink! Here is a link to an illustrated guide to some of the gum blossoms.

The Silver Princess (Eucalyptus caesia) is a mallee (woody plant that is multistemmed from ground level and seldom taller than 10 meters) of the Eucalyptus genus that is endemic to Western Australia. The name “silver” refers to the white powder that covers the branches, flower buds and fruit.

Silver Princess (Eucalyptus caesia subsp magna)
Silver Princess

The Silver Princess is an elegant and brilliant ornamental tree. It is a graceful, weeping tree with powdery blue-green foliage, a fascinating bark and unique pink or red flowers with yellow anthers. Flower buds hang on the tree for months and then flower from May through to September, soon followed by fruit (the gumnuts). The pendular, bell-shaped, silver coloured gumnuts extend the beauty and appeal of this very special tree through the summer.

Silver Princess (Eucalyptus caesia subsp magna)
Silver Princess gumnuts

Silver Princess is iconic West Australian flora, very sweet, loves herself and thinks everyone else loves her too!

There are 173 Banksia species, and all but one occur naturally only in Australia. South western Australia contains the greatest diversity of banksias, with 60 species recorded. There are no species which are common to eastern and western Australia except Tropical Banksia (Banksia dentata). The Scarlet Banksia occurs close to the south coast of Western Australia.

Scarlet Banksia (Banksia coccinea)
Little bears with the Adorable Florables in 2013 (before clothes and before Jay!) – Thynnid Wasp, Banksia, Queen of Sheba Orchid and Silver Princess

The Scarlet Banksia is widely considered one of the most attractive Banksia species.

The flower heads are made up of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of tiny individual flowers grouped together in pairs. The colour of the flower heads usually ranges from yellow to red. Many species flower over autumn and winter. The fruits of banksias (called follicles) are hard and woody and are often grouped together to resemble cones (which they are not, true cones are produced only by conifers).

A Western Spinebill resting on Scarlet Banksia (Banksia coccinea)

There are 283 known species of cycad (tree) worldwide with 76 species in Australia, seven species in Western Australia. The Zamia cycad is endemic to Western Australia. This plant is slow growing and the trunk of older plants can be up to one metre high, but are more often trunkless.

Zamia (Macrozamia fraseri)

One of the fascinating things about Cycads is the way they reproduce. They’re dioecious, which means that male (pollen) and female (seed) cones are born on separate plants. Once fertilised, the female cone of the Zamia cycad produces vibrant red seeds which are poisonous to humans, as Dutch explorers found to their cost when they first set foot on Perth soil in 1697.

Female cone of the Macrozamia fraseri
Zamia (Macrozamia fraseri) – male plant
Little bears with the Adorable Florables in 2014 – The Zamia Cycad Warrior, in the middle, is holding Puffles

Cycads are a great substitute for palms, where you want a good crown without the height of the trunk. In fact they’re often mistaken for palms or tree ferns.

Ancestors of the cycad existed 250 million years ago, before the age of the dinosaurs. It’s tough sharply pointed and leathery fronds protected the plant from grazing dinosaurs. Often these plants bear the blackened marks of a fire on their trunks – a testament to their hardy nature. A warrior plant indeed!

The Granny Bonnet is a short lived plant that is very common after bushfires, but usually quickly overwhelmed by hot dry weather or taller vegetation, leaving only odd plants in later years to germinate in open locations. They are a very pretty small plant with large (around 2 cm) brightly coloured flowers, which stand erect on long stems (5-30cm). The shape of the flower gives it the common name of Granny Bonnets, but it is also known as Lamb Poison and may contain poisonous toxins in order to discourage grazing animals.

Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cuneifolia)
Granny Bonnet

Granny Bonnets are distinguished from other Isotropis species by their long tapering cuneate leaves and the single flower on a long stem. As the plant grows it sets new flowers, so the flowering period can run for several months usually beginning in July and continuing until November, or the start of hot weather.

Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cuneifolia)

The veins on the back of the flower are very striking – it must be one of the very few plants which have evolved to have flowers which look even better (to humans) from the back than the front.

Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cuneifolia)

She is regarded as royalty, her hideouts are closely-guarded secrets and in August each year, her fans roam far and wide in the hope of catching a glimpse of her. It’s usually a two week window from the day that it flowers. She’s the elusive Queen of Sheba orchid.

There are three regional sub species of the orchid: thelymitra pulcherrima, thelymitra variegate and thelymitra speciosa, all occurring in Western Australia. They are distinguished mainly by flower colour and distribution, but there is considerable variation on colour in all three species. In the wild, sites are shrouded in secrecy to protect the Queen, and other native orchids, from being trampled or stolen. However, habitat clearing and degradation, from slashing, herbicide use and fire, are bigger threats to orchid populations than theft.

Queen of Sheba (Thelymitra variegata)

The orchid, which is characterised by its spiral leaves, takes between seven and ten years to flower. The Queen of Sheba grows leaf by leaf, year by year, and needs the perfect conditions to fully form, a lucky combination of perfect timing, perfect soil and perfect pollination. All orchids start their first years as small protocorms, basically a leaf attached to a very small tuber. Each summer they go dormant, to a tuber, then each year they grow back again, putting up little curly leaves. After seven to ten years, they might put up a flower spike. Hopefully, one day soon they will be in display in Kings Park.

They are known as “Sun Orchids” because the colourful flowers of most Thelymitra species only open fully on warm, sunny days. The rest of the time they stay closed. This encourages pollinators to visit in large numbers during one event, increasing the likelihood of depositing pollen from a neighbouring Queen of Sheba.

Queen of Sheba Orchid (Thelymtra speciosa)
Queen of Sheba
Little bears with the Adorable Florables in 2013 (before clothes and before Jay!) – Thynnid Wasp, Banksia, Queen of Sheba Orchid and Silver Princess

Orchids are more intricate in terms of their interaction with their ecosystem than any other plants. They have relationships with below-ground fungi, to get nutrients and to germinate. Above-ground they form relationships with their pollinators. The Thynnid Wasp!

Most orchids are pollinated in the traditional way; they produce attractive flowers to advertise the presence of nectar, and when insects visit to drink the offering, they brush up against the pollen and transfer it.

About 30 per cent of orchids produce stunning flowers but then don’t go to the trouble of producing nectar, so visiting insects complete the pollination job without any reward. A few have taken the level of deception to an extreme, employing sophisticated sexual trickery – and Australian orchids are the queens of seduction.

About 250 species in some 10 genera of orchids are deceiving male insects – mostly wasps – into believing that they’ve found an elusive female. Hammer orchids, spider orchids, flying duck orchids and elbow orchids all use the same devious approach.

Most Australian orchids that hoodwink hapless males in this way are pollinated by a group of wasps known as thynnines. The female wasps are dumpy, flightless creatures that spend much of their adult lives underground, laying eggs on beetle larvae in the soil. The males are fast-flying and large, with a wingspan of up to 5cm. Many thynnine wasps are black, but others are spectacularly coloured, with combinations of black, yellow, red and orange markings.

When a female thynnine is ready to mate, she crawls out of the ground and releases a pheromone to attract males. There aren’t many females around at any one time, so when one does come up, the males descend upon her in this massive scramble of wrestling wasps. The same happens with an orchid. A lone wasp picks up on an exciting scent. Instantly he zigzags, following the pheromone trail until he glimpses his target, 30cm away. Its allure is overwhelming. He flies straight at it and grasps it. But five other males have picked up the same scent, and they push and shove each other, competing to mate. With an orchid!

Once an orchid has lured a pollinator close, the colour of the petals and ultraviolet spots can make the flower hard to resist. When a male lands on the flower, its shape ensures he grips it in the right position to make contact with the pollen. Some orchids make absolutely certain the wasp does the job. The main lip of the flower of a hammer orchid is an insect-shaped blob hinged partway along. When the wasp grabs the flower, the momentum flips him upside down and whacks him into the pollen. Must be hillarious to watch! 🙂

Thynnid Wasp
Thynnid Wasp

Life is short . . . let’s start with dessert

Cherry dessert, in Paris!

In March this year, ground zero for the patisserie world opened in Paris – Cédric Grolet’s new pastry boutique, around the corner from Le Meurice, the historic hotel where Grolet is the award-winning head pastry chef at the Michelin two-star restaurant.

Cédric Grolet was chosen as the Pâtissier of the Year 2015 by Le Chef Magazine, the Best Pastry Chef 2016 by Relais Desserts Excellence Awards, and the winner of Les Grandes Tables du Monde’s Best Restaurant Pastry Chef in 2017 (renowned French pastry legend Pierre Hermé was one of the judges).

A uniformed doorman admits customers, one by one, into the narrow, laboratory-like sanctum. There is no display case. Instead, as in a fine jewellery store, the goods are stored on trays under the counter, from whence the white-coated staff produce each order. You have to arrive early, because when they sell out, they close.

The grapefruit, which looks exactly like a ripe grapefruit, is presented in a box worthy of the jewellery stores on nearby Place Vendôme.

Grapefruit

Grolet’s desserts these days have a fruity appearance, a molten-like ganache filling and the taste of fresh fruits is enriched by a hint of vanilla. As they are not overly sweet, the dessert doesn’t leave one overwhelmed even after finishing an entire piece. Which is great, since we will have so much more than just one piece! Upon the first bite, the vivid fruity notes explode in one’s mouth, yet the filling is light enough that it quickly disappears in the mouth.

We might even diversify from cherries 🙂

Although, check out these cherry creations…

Clearly we’ll have to join the Parisians in their pastry obsession! Next June sounds like a good time, not only are cherries in season 🙂 but the pastry show is on again, June 14-17. We’re even willing to deal with the more than 25,000 visitors who attended over the three days this year. They are fellow pastry addicts!

And doesn’t Le Dalí restaurant at Le Meurice look just like a little bear’s playground? 🙂 I wonder if they have a seven course dessert option on the menu…

The stunning interiors of Restaurant Le Dalí at Le Meurice

Isabelle even has her cup ready!

Fun fact: the French phrase for guilty pleasure (péché mignon) directly translates as “cute sin” 🙂

Musical Elevenses

Yummy! Cake!

Fresh from their appearance at the Perth International Classical Guitar Festival 🙂

On stage at Town Hall for the Perth International Classical Guitar Festival

Puffles and Jay are serenading their beary friends 🙂

The guitar holds an intriguing place within classical music. For many, it’s an instrument capable of great tonal beauty and high drama, with a repertoire steeped in both soulful pathos and graceful elegance. But it’s the very repertoire that, while a guitarist’s greatest gift, has also led to the instrument being marginalised by the mainstream. In many cases, certainly until recently, great guitar composers didn’t tend to write for other instruments – and the great composers of the rest of the repertoire didn’t tend to write for guitar.

During the five centuries of the classical guitar’s existence, the instrument has completely changed in physical dimensions, shape, stringing and tuning.

While a guitarist of the Renaissance may have played their way through delightful court music on a tiny instrument designed for strumming, by the time the 20th century rolled around the guitar had increased drastically in size and totally changed construction.

The Renaissance (c.1500-c.1650)

The Renaissance guitar is different from the modern instrument in almost every way. It was much smaller, to the point where it’s more like a large ukulele than anything else.

Each of the fourth, third, and second strings was paired, in the same fashion as each of the string pairs on a modern twelve-string guitar. These pairs and the single string on the Renaissance guitar are known as “courses”. Although there were plenty of different tunings — this early in the guitar’s life, there was no standardization — one of the more popular ones was G/G-C/C-E/E-A.

Though it was quite similar to a lute, not everyone was a fan. Sometime in the 1550s, one anonymous critic wrote, “We used to play the lute more than the guitar, but for 12 or 15 years now, everyone has been guitaring, and the lute is nearly forgotten in favor of heaven knows what kind of music on the guitar, which is much easier than that for the lute.”

Another dig appeared in a dictionary from the time, written by Sebastián de Covarrubias Oroszco in 1611: “But now the guitar is no more than a cowbell, so easy to play, especially when strummed, that there is nary a stable boy who is not a guitar player.”

The instrument tended to be used in ensembles, or as an accompanying instrument for a singer, more than in solo works, but there’s still some lovely unaccompanied repertoire for it. French guitarist, composer, and music publisher Adrian Le Roy’s collection of sheet music is some that has survived fully intact:

Adrain Le Roy’s Second livre de guiterre, 1555

The Baroque (c.1650-c.1750)

Sometime in the early 17th century, someone had the bright idea of adding an extra low string to the guitar.

Now a five-course instrument, the Baroque guitar was a fashionable item in France thanks to King Louis XIV’s fondness for it. It’s also thanks to him that composers Francesco Corbetta and Robert de Visée had jobs, since both of them were employed as court guitarists. Unfortunately their music doesn’t get played particularly often on the modern guitar, mainly because of the huge timbral differences from Baroque instruments to modern.

Gaspar Sanz was the most important Spanish guitar composer of the time, and music from his three-book Instrucción de Música sobre la Guitarra Española actually does get played. A fair few of the pieces are based on dances, and the “big hit” is “Canarios,” based on a dance from the Canary Islands.

Speaking of Baroque guitars, here’s a fun fact for the history lovers: There are only five Stradivarius guitars in the world, and only one is in playable condition. Only restored a few years ago, it’s literally invaluable.

Classical (c.1750-c.1830)

Early Romantic guitar (ca.1830, Paris) by Jean-Nicolas Grobert

In the late 1700s, guitars started to be strung with single strings instead of paired courses. Naturally, there are heaps of theories as to why, but one of the most convincing is also the most prosaic — six single strings are much cheaper than doubled strings. Generally, the instrument at this time was still fairly small and didn’t have a raised fingerboard, instead having the higher frets inlaid straight into the wood.

Today’s parlour guitars have much the same size and shape.

The guitar died off a little in the main chunk of the classical period (Mozart never had anything to do with the guitar, for instance), but the early 19th century saw another explosion of interest thanks to the two big names: Fernando Sor and Mauro Giuliani, both of whom are sure to appear on any classical guitar “best of”.

Sor was a bit obsessive about correct compositional rules in his pieces (his method book spends dozens of pages carefully analysing hand positions, let alone actually playing anything), but his pieces are gorgeous nonetheless.

Giuliani was popular enough to inspire one of the very first guitar magazines, called The Giulianiad. He also gets bonus points for being one of the very first to stick the guitar in front of an orchestra, and his Guitar Concerto, Op. 30 still gets played regularly today.

Romantic (c.1830-c.1890)

Sadly, the guitar really couldn’t keep up with the lush, chromatic musical style of the time, and, for the most part, the guitar was dead in the water at this point. There were a few composers who stuck with the instrument, however. The works of Johann Kaspar Mertz (aka Caspar Joseph Mertz) works are heavily inspired by the popular piano works of the time.

Child prodigy Giulio Regondi, whose music was only rediscovered in the 1980s, was also writing in a fairly similar style.

The end of the 19th century was, without a doubt, one of the most important times in the development of the guitar. Luthier Antonio de Torres collaborated with composer Francisco Tárrega to completely redefine the instrument, and their changes represent the classical guitar today. Physically larger than previous instruments, it’s the quintessential classical guitar sound.

Modern (c.1890-2000)

Andrés Segovia

The biggest classical guitarist of the early 20th century was easily Andrés Segovia (1893-1987). Born in Andalusia, Andrés Segovia is regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. He made a name for himself as a teenager after developing his own guitar technique that involved plucking with both fingernails and fingertips.

A key influence on future generations of players, he transformed perceptions of the guitar and brought it into huge concert venues around the world, receiving commissions from composers. Some of these composers are Heitor Villa-Lobos (best known for the Five Preludes), Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (best known for the Guitar Concerto No. 1, Op. 99), and Federico Moreno Torroba (best known for the three-movement Sonatine). In 1929 Villa-Lobos dedicated his 12 Etudes to the guitarist. Ever the showman, Segovia played to rapt audiences, from his landmark Paris concert of 1924 right up until his death in his 90s.

His idiosyncratic style and overtly romantic approach to playing won over legions of fans and helped secure his legendary status.

Julian Bream
John Williams

In the mid-20th century, Julian Bream and John Williams became household names.

Bream’s duo collaborations with John Williams — which produced a pair of brilliant studio recordings, Together (1971) and Together Again (1974) — remain favorites of many fans of each of those great artists; indeed, those discs remain on the all-time bestseller list for classical guitar recordings.

What is really interesting is their totally different approaches to playing the instrument.

Bream’s performances are wild and passionate, with frequent odd movements and grimaces as he plays. Bream was key in modernising the instrument, and his love of more hard-edged composers sent the classical guitar into new and uncharted territory (Bream’s 20th Century Guitar album is a must-own). By far the most significant work he inspired was Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal, Op. 70, a dark and complex reflection on a lute piece from the 1500s.

John Williams, on the other hand, is known for his perfect control when performing. Perhaps slightly more musically conservative than Bream, he’s explored a massive variety of guitar music ranging from Venezuelan traditional music to collaborations with jazz guitarist John Etheridge. On the solo side, he’s been instrumental in promoting the music of the early 20th century Paraguayan composer Agustín Barrios.

The latter half of the 20th century saw a huge upswing of interest in classical guitar, to the point where it’d be impossible to list all of the terrific new players and pieces. Still, players started exploring more music from around the world, such the music of Cuban composer Leo Brouwer and Russian composer Nikita Koshkin.

Craig Ogden at the inaugural Perth International Classical Guitar Festival

The Australia-born guitarist Craig Ogden was tipped in 1995 by BBC Music Magazine as a ‘worthy successor to Julian Bream’ when he released a disc of works that Bream himself had performed, including Tippett’s The Blue Guitar and pieces by Britten, Walton and Lennox Berkeley.

Craig Ogden is also beary friendly! 🙂

On stage at the Perth International Classical Guitar Festival – Puffles, Jay, Craig Ogden and Don Candy
Craig Ogden and his former student Don Candy at the Perth International Classical Guitar Festival

Craig studied guitar from the age of seven and percussion from the age of 13. Born in Perth, Australia, he received a music degree from the University of Western Australia. To pursue his ambition of making a career out of music, in 1990 he went to the UK to study – where he stayed, forging a reputation as an outstanding artist.

In December 2004, he was honoured by the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) in Manchester with a Fellowship in recognition of his achievements. He is the youngest instrumentalist to have received this award from the RNCM. Currently, Craig is Head of Guitar at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, Visiting Lecturer at London’s Royal College of Music, Adjunct Fellow of the University of Western Australia, Associate Artist of The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, Curator of Craig Ogden’s Big Guitar Weekend at The Bridgewater Hall and Director of the Dean & Chadlington Summer Music Festival.

Craig still has time to be one of the UK’s most recorded guitarists and to appear regularly as soloist and chamber musician.

Craig Ogden and Paul Tanner at the Perth International Classical Guitar Festival
Craig Ogden and the UWA Chamber Orchestra perform the Australian premiere of Andy Scott’s Guitar Concerto at the Perth International Classical Guitar Festival

Brazilian guitarist Josinaldo Costa also balances teaching with regular concert performances. His research in performance practice of the 18th and 19th centuries has a focus in the adaptation of the music of J.S. Bach to the classical guitar. He is artistic co-director of the Sydney Bach Society. His playing is exquisite!

Josinaldo Costa at the Perth International Classical Guitar Festival
Puffles and Jay on stage with Josinaldo Costa at the Perth International Classical Guitar Festival

A CD with Josinaldo Costa… Dedicated to Puffles and Jay!

They will soon be on the list of the best classical guitarists! 🙂

Then we’ll all go out to see them in concert!

Preparing for Halloween

We’ll need cake… and spooky cocktails… and cake… and spooky decorations… and cake…

We’ll have a vampire party!

These cakes are perfect for Halloween! Mmm…

‘Silk’ with cherry cremeux from Choux Patisserie and ‘Choco Cherry’ with cherry gel from Chu Bakery
‘Choco Cherry’ with cherry gel from Chu Bakery and ‘Silk’ with cherry cremeux from Choux Patisserie

Deliciously Spine-Chilling

Aurelien Scanellla’s obsession with Bram Stoker’ tale of insatiable desire has led him to direct WA Ballet’s most ambitious production and a return to the stage.

Aurelien Scannella as Old Count Dracula

To realise his vision of Dracula as soaring romantic hero and not simply the bloodsucking monster of dozens of B-grade movies (and Mel Brooks-inspired parodies), Aurelien Scanella orchestrated the biggest, most ambitious production in the ballet company’s history and put together a “Drac Pack” team to pull it off.

The team was headed by celebrated Polish choreographer Krzysztof Pastor. Scanella wanted Pastor because he knows how to use dancers, design and music to tell a grand story.

Krzysztof Pastor creates Dracula’s role in rehearsals

What attracted Pastor to the production was Scanella’s inspired idea of using the music of the great Polish composer Wojciech Kilar, whose film credits include Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady, and most significantly, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 cult classic Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The film score has the heartbreaking, haunting quality perfect for the story of a man trapped in the memory of his dead wife. As there was no written score for several of the pieces selected by Pastor (Kilar was not a great archivist), Michael Brett, WA Ballet’s music co-ordinator, had to piece together the music and transcribe by ear from several films the score for the WA Symphony Orchestra. Twenty six pieces of music composed by Kilar, many from the film Bram Stoker’s Dracula, were adapted for Dracula.

WA Ballet Music Coordinator Michael Brett had the task of piecing together the music from Coppola’s movie.

Scanella’s next choice for his “Drac Pack” was the ace design duo of Charles Cusick Smith and Phil R Daniels, whose work on WA Ballet’s 2016 blockbuster The Nutcracker had reviewers reaching for superlatives.

Set and costume designers Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith used their hometown of Gloucester, UK, for inspiration

One reason Scannella and Pastor wanted to work with Charles Cusick Smith and Phil R Daniels, apart from their international reputations, is that they’re British. While Bram Stoker’s night-crawling antihero is from Transylvania, most of the story is set in late-Victorian London. Pastor wanted to capture the sense of London around the time of Jack the Ripper, the sense of darkness and danger, of fear and paranoia. The sets that sweep you away to London’s high society, Transylvanian doom and Dr Seward’s mental asylum with a clever use of straightjacket straps were constructed in collaboration with Black Swan State Theatre Company’s production department.

So under Pastor’s watchful eye, the “Drac Pack” set about building a ballet from the ground up – writing a libretto, creating a score, crafting and constructing sets, designing lighting, conjuring an exquisite array of costumes (with an occasional hint of nudity) and inventing the physical movements that would tell the story of Count Dracula and his compulsion.

Little Puffles and Honey are beyond excited with anticipation!

Scannella wanted the audience to see the character of Dracula in a more romantic light and Pastor ensured the dancers delivered emotion as well as skill. Scannella has not only delivered a new level of creative energy but, by dancing the leading role, has demonstrated new and effortless moves with those he partnered. After 10 years away from dance, a remarkable feat. His presence inspired the troupe as the precision demonstrated by the company was at its best.

One of the highlights was Mathew Lehmann’s young Dracula and Oscar Valdes’ Frederick dancing a ‘man’ tango together in the first act.

Mathew Lehmann and Oscar Valdes rehearsing with Krzysztof Pastor

The Argentinian-style tango duet between Mathew Lehmann, as young Dracula, and Oscar Valdes, as Jonathan Harker, the solicitor, was synchronised poetry in motion to Wojciech Kilar’s powerful music from the film Jealousy & Medicine.

Act I, Scene 2 – Matthew Lehmann as Young Dracula with Oscar Valdes as Jonathan Harker

Krzysztof Pastor’s modern choreography made for a visual feast. Pastor blended neoclassical movement with some unpredictable distortions and nonconformity, creating an unceasing undercurrent of unease, with many lyrical romantic moments retaining an off-kilter heart, and elegant group waltzes a glittering edginess. Two dancers share the role of Dracula in order to reveal how the tragic suicide of Dracula’s wife Elizabeth led to his degeneration. Old Count Dracula (Aurelien Scannella) is the monstrous, murdering vampire he became, and Young Count Dracula (Matthew Lehmann), shows his more sensitive former self, with the transitions between the two cleverly, seamlessly achieved.

The way the two men seamlessly interchange has great dramatic effect, each being a powerful counterpart for one another to communicate the character’s raw nature.

In contrast, Carina Roberts as sweetheart Mina and Melissa Boniface as the ill-fated Lucy are the epitome of feminine beauty, bringing softness and strength to their respective roles.

Matthew Lehmann as Young Dracula

The spellbinding sets and costumes designed by Phil R. Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith are works of art, with meticulous attention to detail and historical accuracy. They transform the stage with stunning, distinctive, all-encompassing imagery, which is well lit by John Buswell, creating atmosphere and mystery in every scene.

WA Ballet dancers in Dracula
Melissa Boniface as Lucy and Aurelien Scannella as Old Count Dracula

The whole company performed admirably and undoubtedly repaid Krzysztof Pastor’s faith in them all. Carina Roberts (Elizabeth/Mina) rose to new heights in a beautifully danced, eloquent, breathtaking performance; Matthew Lehmann danced with flair and power, partnered flawlessly, and was entirely convincing as Young Count Dracula, revealing his inner turmoil, conflict and attempts to resist his dark urges.

Matthew Lehmann as young Dracula and Carina Roberts as Mina
Carina Roberts as Mina and Oscar Valdes as Jonathan Hawker

A highlight of the show was the performance from Jesse Homes who played the mentally disturbed Renfied. The sequence which introduces Renfield and the asylum at the start of the show’s second act was a perfect mix of comedy and presence. Jesse Homes gets to the guts of Renfield’s adoration of Dracula with the energy and athleticism of his performance.

Jesse Homes as Renfield and Adam Alzaim as Professor Van Helsing

Identical twins Oliver Edwardson and Matthew Edwardson (Phantoms) were scene-stealingly superb.

Matthew Edwardson and Oliver Edwardson as Phantoms and Aurelien Scannella as Old Dracula

The three vampire brides, Alexa Tuzil, Sarah Hepburn, and Kymberleigh Cowley, ghoulish in their spikey flowing white dresses and wigs, were all in top form.

Vampire Brides (Alexa Tuzil, Kymberleigh Cowley and Sarah Hepburn)

WA Ballet’s Dracula was an artistic triumph. Every element of the production was truly magnificent.

To borrow a quote from Ron Weasley, that was bloody brilliant!

That was deliciously spine-chilling! It’s a good thing we don’t have a spine or it would be totally chilled right now!

The music was surprisingly expressive and, at times, melancholy. We’ll have to watch the movie now!

Synopsis

PROLOGUE
Scene 1. Dracula’s despair
In the 15th Century, Count Vlad Dracula set off to war against the Turks, to defend his native Transylvania. Rumours of his death soon spread, and his beautiful grief-stricken wife Elizabeth threw herself from the castle tower. But the courageous count hadn’t perished after all. He returned to his castle and became sick with despair over the loss of his beloved wife. When the clergy refused burial to the suicide victim, Dracula renounced God and humankind, transforming into a cruel vampire.

Prologue, Scene 1 – Melissa Boniface as Lucy, Matthew Edwardson and Oliver Edwardson as Phantoms and Aurelien Scannella as Old Count Dracula.
Prologue, Scene 2 – WA Ballet dancers in Dracula

Scene 2. Jonathan’s farewell
London, 1897. Jonathan Harker, a young solicitor, is going to Transylvania to finalise the mysterious Count Dracula’s purchase of an estate in England. Before he leaves, he and his fiancée Mina visit the hospitable home of Mrs Westenra to say goodbye to their friends. The hostess, who has a heart condition, is being courted by the eccentric Professor Van Helsing. Her vivacious daughter Lucy is being wooed by two friends: aristocrat Arthur Holmwood and psychiatrist Doctor Jack Seward. Lucy is more favourably inclined towards Arthur. Meanwhile, her friend Mina is filled with serious misgivings about Jonathan’s departure for a distant country. Bidding him farewell, she offers her beloved a decorative likeness of herself, and then confesses her sadness to Lucy.

ACT I. TRANSYLVANIA
Scene 1. In front of Dracula’s castle
A coach carrying Jonathan arrives at the Count’s castle. The passengers include a Mother with her baby and child. When Jonathan leaves his companions outside the castle, he sees they become inexplicably anxious.

Act I, Scene 2 – Oscar Valdes as Jonathan Harker and Matthew Lehmann as Young Dracula with dancers of WA Ballet
Act I, Scene 2 – Matthew Lehmann as Dracula with his Vampire Brides (Alexa Tuzil, Kymberleigh Cowley and Sarah Hepburn)

Scene 2. The party at the Count’s
There is a party in progress at Dracula’s. Jonathan has no suspicion yet that this is a meeting of vampires. He feels uncomfortable when some of the women harass him. Finally the old count dismisses the whole company so the solicitor can conclude the property transaction. His host, however, doesn’t seem very interested in the deal. When the inebriated Jonathan cuts his finger, Dracula becomes excited and tries to suck the blood from his guest’s hand. He then notices that Jonathan is holding Mina’s portrait. He is fascinated by her likeness, as she reminds him of his beloved wife Elizabeth.

Jonathan is finally alone and, being tired from his journey, nods off. In his half-dreaming state he is accosted by the obtrusive women he met earlier, but Dracula unexpectedly rescues him by offering the female vampires the body of a baby. At that moment Jonathan regains consciousness, but Dracula leaves again. Intrigued by his strange dreams and his host’s behaviour, Jonathan follows.

Meanwhile, the mother Jonathan met on his journey is in front of the Count’s castle, distraught and seeking her lost children. Nuns have found just one of her children, and she realises her infant has been lost forever.

Act I, Scene 2 – Oscar Valdes as Jonathan Harker and the Vampire Brides (Alexa Tuzil, Kymberleigh Cowley and Sarah Hepburn)

Scene 3. The vampires’ lair
Vampires gather in the gloomy vault of the Count’s castle, where they do their ghastly dance. Dracula also arrives. He performs the ritual of shutting his semiconscious companions in boxes and then takes his own place. Creeping in after him, Jonathan only sees the lid of the box closing. He is terrified. When he raises the lid of Dracula’s bed, the count tries to pull him inside. Suddenly, the grief-stricken mother appears in the vault, holding a cross. Dracula slams the lid shut and the brave woman leads the shocked Jonathan away.

ACT II. LONDON
Scene 1. Renfield
The inmates at Doctor Seward’s mental asylum include the exceptionally peculiar Renfield. He is obsessed with insects and birds, which he maniacally devours when he catches them. His growing frenzy gives the doctor concern and scares the other inmates. He gets especially tense when those familiar boxes from the vault of the Transylvanian castle are carried past the asylum windows by porters. When the concerned doctor leads the other inmates out of the room they share with Renfield, Dracula appears at the hospital window. Renfield humbly invites him inside and, believing that Dracula may offer the gift of eternal life, he declares his complete submission.

Scene 2. Lucy’s engagement
Mrs Westenra is having an engagement party for her daughter Lucy and Arthur. The partygoers have no idea they are being observed. When the guests move to the garden, Lucy – weary from dancing – falls asleep. Suddenly Dracula appears next to her, displaying supernatural powers. A dose of fresh blood restores him to the form of young Count Vlad Dracula, who blends in unnoticed with the company returning indoors.

Seeing how weak Lucy is, Mrs Westenra seeks the help of Doctor Seward and Professor Van Helsing, who is considered an expert on supernatural phenomena. He discovers a bite mark on the neck of the fainting Lucy and leads her from the room with Arthur’s help. As the blissfully unaware guests continue having fun, Mina notices the handsome stranger, and the Count recognises her as the girl from Jonathan’s portrait of his fiancé. Their relationship grows into fascination. Mrs Westenra is worried about her daughter’s health and bids the guests goodbye. Only Mina stays, still shocked by her uncontrolled weakness for a strange man. The next moment, however, she notices Lucy sleepwalking into the sinister arms of Count Dracula. Disconcerted by Mina’s presence, the vampire leaves Lucy alone in her fainted state. Mina rouses her friend from sleep and realises that the seducer was the same handsome man who had also charmed her that evening.

Mrs Westenra approaches with Doctor Seward and Van Helsing. The professor suspects a vampire is involved, so he tries to safeguard Lucy from future danger. Garlic and crosses placed around the girl are meant to protect her from another attack of the evil force. Mrs Westenra stays to watch over her daughter, but soon falls asleep from fatigue. When Dracula reappears, the woman awakens and is so terrified that she suffers a heart attack. Unfortunately, as she dies, she destroys all of Professor Van Helsing’s safeguards. Now there is nothing to stop the vampire, who sucks out the rest of helpless Lucy’s blood. When the friends rush in, it is already too late; both women are dead.

Scene 3. Renfield’s transformation
Mina meets Jonathan as he returns from his journey, but her joy is overshadowed by the death of her friends and her meeting with the mysterious stranger. Mina and Jonathan go to Doctor Seward’s asylum, where they encounter Arthur and Professor Van Helsing. The doctor wants to consult the professor about Renfield’s case. They notice that the patient gets excited by the sight of Mina, but his behaviour is more suggestive of concern. He seems to want to warn and protect her. As the professor pacifies Renfield, they are watched through the window by a furious Dracula and a blood-thirsty vampire, Lucy.

Scene 4. Lucy the vampire
In the cemetery, vampires hunt for fresh blood with Lucy among them. Trying to protect her from a vampire’s fate, Lucy’s friends arrive at the cemetery and open her grave, but her body is missing. Meanwhile, she circles around them, desperately trying to get close to her beloved Arthur and give him a sinister kiss. The vigilant Professor Van Helsing saves him and Doctor Seward drives an aspen stake through her heart. The devastated Arthur cuts off her head and frees his beloved Lucy from eternal damnation.

Scene 5. Dracula’s death
Mina wants to protect Renfield from the vampire’s vengeance, but she arrives too late and witnesses his death. Her confrontation with Dracula is dramatic and the intensity of their connection can no longer be denied. He shows her the portrait of his beloved wife Elizabeth, and Mina finally understands the Count’s heart, and his pain. She surrenders to his power.

Matthew Lehmann as young Dracula and Carina Roberts as Mina

Jonathan and her friends return from the cemetery and are shocked by the disturbing scene. Taken by surprise, the Count tries to hide. When everyone rushes after him, Jonathan stays to guard Mina.

Now returned to his ancient form, Dracula reappears and is drawn towards Mina. A struggle ensues and he is wounded but Mina defends him from further harm. Filled with emotion for the Count, she kisses the aged vampire. Moved by her gesture and wanting to protect her from his own fate, he convinces Mina to drive a stake through his heart, freeing him from his eternal suffering.

Dying, he is the young Count Dracula once more.