Tag Archives: reviews

All over the radios (including festival times)

15 Oct

Mstislav Rostropovich, Dmitri Shostakovich & Sviatoslav Richter in 1968. (Source)

I wrote and presented the most recent Composer of the Week programme for Radio New Zealand Concert. It’s not about a single composer; the topic is rather works written for Mstislav Rostropovich. You can listen to it here until Sunday 28 October (embedding won’t work sorry).

Yes, of course, there are the famous cello concertos: Shostakovich’s two, Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto, all of Britten’s cello works, but there’s a whole lot more besides.

In the programme I don’t even have a chance to mention any pieces by Olivier Messiaen, Iannis Xenakis, Pierre Boulez, Kaija Saariaho and James Macmillan, just to name a few. But I do get to play music by Aram Khachaturian, Leonard Bernstein, Krzysztof Penderecki, Miecysław Weinberg, and Boris Tchaikovsky (no relation).

Actually, I realise now I completely left out Ástor Piazzolla, not even name-checking the guy. Oh well, wasn’t just him I left out.

Well represented too is Alfred Schnittke, a name that’s often left off when talking about Rostropovich’s great composer collaborators. I get in a bit of his opera Life With an Idiot and his Cello Sonata No 2.

I reviewed four concerts in the recent Otago Festival of the Arts for Upbeat. Firstly, the Vienna Boys Choir and Hahn-Bin Amadeus Leopold on Thursday’s programme:

And then Le Vent du Nord and H’Sao today:

Besides these four, I went to see Rita & Douglas (compelling performance from Jennifer Ward-Lealand and very well-judged playing by Michael Houstoun, might have been a bit long though), the Spooky Men’s Chorale (lol), and the wind quintet Zephyr performing both for the Festival and for Chamber Music New Zealand (a well put-together programme with very interesting music).

But my most fun experience of the Festival? Catching up once again with an old mate from Wellington, Carlos Navae, and being invited to play trombone for his late-night Festival Club gig. Haven’t had a Latin jam in aaaaages. (Wellington: lots of Latin music. Dunedin: not so much.)

LEN LYE a review

7 Sep

I’m in Auckland until this afternoon. I came up on Wednesday to see my former composition lecturer’s new piece LEN LYE the opera, and to review it for Theatreview. (Actually there are more like four of my old teachers among the core creative team…)

It’s “a major statement of advocacy for the overlooked genius and forward-thinking artistry of Len Lye”. My review’s here. The NBR and the Herald carry shorter write-ups.

Today I meet with Penny Ashton, Thomas Sainsbury and James Wenley about musicals in various stages of development.

Next week I sing as a “baritone” on the stage of Marama Hall in Dunedin and play with the Court Jesters in Christchurch.

The week after I get to play Michael Parekowhai’s red carved piano at Te Papa in Wellington, and I do my first gig in Invercargill.

Life’s pretty good.

Organ & Orchestra developments

27 Mar

Pull out _all_ the stops!

Yesterday I was catching up on podcasts from Upbeat.

Phil Brownlee reviewed a concert by NZTrio in which they brought in a drum kit for Kenji Bunch’s Concerto for piano trio and percussion (from 10:38):

“It’s often challenging in a concert setting. [...] [An] issue with the drum kit is just the balance, particularly if you’re alluding to the rock setting, the rock-jazz kind of sound. Early on the piece it felt like Lenny Sakofsky was holding it down to balance with the trio and it doesn’t sound like a drum kit until you start hitting it hard.”

This resonated [pun] with me, as earlier that day I’d begun writing my own concerto for organ, drum kit and orchestra. Its working title is Relish in Immature Bombast, and I don’t want the kit player to feel at all like he needs to play down, because that’s when drum kit playing starts to suck.

(Image modified with apologies to Hyperbole and a Half.)

Zomburlesque reviews coming in.

16 Mar

Taking a narcissistic point of view, which is the more quotable review quote in the long run?

Jonathan W. Marshall on Zomburlesque for Theatreview:

A special non-zombie, non-burlesque treat is when Ellis, showing a musical and comic virtuosity which would not be out of place in the old Cotton Club’s own stage shows, effectively plays both the trumpet and the trombone at once, calling on the cast beside him to hold one instrument as he reaches to grab the next and immediately continue the same musical phrase on a new instrument.

From the same review::

…apparently heterosexual…

The second one is just a bit punchier, a bit more concise… brevity is, after all, a virtue.

With my lovely assistants, Jepha Krieg aka The Purple Rose aka Georgie; and Hans Landon-Lane aka Clever Hansel aka The Right Reverend Dr Aloysius Splitfoot. Photo taken last night by Deano Shirriffs.

(More photos on Facebook.)

Sorry, I meant to see your show – the lyrics!

5 Dec

By request, here are the lyrics to my song, commissioned to open the 2011 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards. I owe a clear debt of gratitude to the superb opening number to this year’s Tony Awards.

I’ve also uploaded the demo I made for the singers:

Sorry, I meant to see your show (demo) by Robbie Ellis

Some lyrics changed in the rehearsal process (and we certainly slowed it down from my speed-demon intentions), but most remained the same. Forgive my falsetto for soprano parts.

“Sorry, I meant to see your show” was performed last night at the Wellington Opera House by MC Emma Kinane and the Shoreline Cab Savs (Carmel McGlone, Bryony Skillington, Jess Robinson, Martyn Wood, Nick Dunbar & Gareth Farr/Lilith La Croix), with me (Robbie Ellis) on piano.

Wellington, you capital of culture!
We love you and we love your theatre scene.
There’s BATS for all the crazies, and Circa for old ladies,
And Downstage, where the finances are lean.
Pōneke, we welcome you this evening (haere mai!)
To a ceremony honouring success. (tino pai!)
With 108 shows eligible, from the tame to the unpalatable,
We’re giving props to just the very best.

It’s the critic’s job to say they’ve seen every blessed play
But I can’t come to everything, you know (bro you know!)
You simply can’t be thorough in Te Whanganui-ā-Tara
So sorry, but I meant to see your show.

I thought that your season was four weeks long,
But it was only three weeks, I got that one wrong.
I missed your presentation cause of my procrastination,
Sorry, I didn’t see your show!

I wanted to see it, don’t think I’m a jerk.
It started at 8:30 but I was at work.
No time for relaxin’, had to meet with Peter Jackson!
Sorry, (sorry!), I meant to see your show!

I’d never lie to you, I truly wish I could have seen it,
But The Hobbit made me sign a Don’t-See-Other-Shows agreement.
I booked my place for Tuesday night, I told you in a tweet,
But I got distracted up the Coast when I met Happy Feet!

The Cap Times, they loved it, Dominion Post too,
But I shouldn’t have logged on to read Theatreview.
My need to see it got away once John Smythe gave the plot away
So sorry (sorry!),
I really truly honestly no-shit sorry-my-cat-was-sick meant to see your show!

Ladies and gentlemen, your MC for the evening, the lovely Emma Kinane!

You scheduled your new play for during the Cup
But I was over rugby and I live in the Hutt.
C’Mon Black! and Nepia, nothing makes me sleepier,
So sorry, I didn’t see your show.

I heard that The Engine Room was awesome for sure,
But I was sick and tired of the ’81 Tour.
I’d beaten you to get a wage when we were on the set of Rage
So sorry (sorry!), I didn’t see your show.

You invited me on Facebook and I hit “Maybe Attending”
But Maybe’s really ‘No’ and that’s the message I was sending.
I’ve blocked your status updates so you might call me a wanker
But I’ve got so sick of theatre spam I’ve also blocked Brianne Kerr! (Sorry Bri…)

So… welcome to theatre’s Christmas work do
Just sit back, relax, as we congratulate you!
We’ll now get off the stage as this song’s lasted fucking (Os-)ages!
(Fuck me that was a long play…)

But… sorry, (sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry)
Sorry (sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry)
I really truly honestly no-shit don’t-you-believe-me dog-ate-my-homework had-to-wash-my-hair-that-night
Meant to see your show!

Sorry, I meant to see your show

5 Dec

I, George Nēpia publicity shot

I, George Nēpia - winner of four awards including Production of the Year, and yet another Wellington theatre success story I didn't end up seeing. (Publicity image thiefed from circa.co.nz.)

Last night the 2011 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards took place, an annual Wellington institution to recognise awesome. I played continuity music.

I also wrote the opening song called “Sorry, I meant to see your show”, which was performed brilliantly by the Shoreline Cab Savs and MC Emma Kinane. (Edit: Lyrics & demo here.) It’s quite appropriate: out of the nine shows that won awards – the cream of this year’s Wellington theatre crop – I saw only three. At least Nēpia has a return season starting tomorrow (Edit: Thursday) so there’s no excuse there.

I’m fond of groan-worthy musical puns, so every award winner (all twenty) had one as their walk-on music. Here’s the complete list – up to you to spot the connections.

The Critics’ Wild Card
Johann Nortje for AV design in Wake Less, Hear to See, When the Rain Stops Falling etc
Buggles: Video Killed the Radio Star

Downstage Theatre Award for the Most Promising Male Newcomer of the Year
Simon K Leary – Mates & Lovers
(acid-y jazz version): Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Circa Award donated by TACT for the Most Promising Female Newcomer of the Year
Lauren Gibson – August: Osage County
Afroman: Because I Got High

Toi Whakaari NZ Drama School & Victoria University of Wellington Award for Most Promising Director of the Year
Jason Te Kare – I, George Nēpia
Rod Derrett: Rugby, Racing & Beer

Peter Harcourt Award for Outstanding New Playwright of the Year sponsored by BATS Theatre and Taki Rua Productions
Ralph McCubbin Howell – The Engine Room
Blam Blam Blam: There is No Depression in New Zealand

Grouse Lighting Award for Lighting Designer of the Year
Marcus McShane – When the Rain Stops Falling
Australian Crawl: Boys Light Up

Weta Workshop Award for Set Designer of the Year
Andrew Foster – The Lead Wait
The Foundations: Build Me Up Buttercup

The Brancott Estate Award for Costume Desginer of the Year
Gillie Coxill – The Spy Who Wouldn’t Die Again
Satellite Spies: Destiny in Motion

Park Road Post Production Sound Designer of the Year
Chris Ward – The Lead Wait
Kool and the Gang: Jungle Boogie

Constance Scott Kirkcaldie Award for Outstanding Composer of Music
Richard Nunns – Hear to See
Dudley Benson feat. Richard Nunns: Ruru

The Absolutely Positively Wellington Award for Most Original Production of the Year
Hear to See – Capital E National Theatre for Children
Mi-Sex: Computer Games

The Playmarket / Capital E National Theatre for Children Outstanding New New Zealand Play of the Year
Slouching Toward Bethlehem – Dean Parker
The Knobz: Culture

The Whitireia Performing Arts Chapman Tripp Award for Supporting Actor of the Year
Christopher Brougham – When the Rain Stops Falling
Rihanna: Umbrella

The Orbit Corporate Travel Award for Supporting Actress of the Year
Erin Banks – The Engine Room
The Newmatics: Riot Squad

EAT Wellington Accolade for Outstanding Performance
Michelle Amas – August: Osage County
Madness: Our House

eCaster Accolade for Outstanding Performance
Phil Grieve – Slouching Toward Bethlehem
Kora: Politician

Chapman Tripp Award for Actress of the Year
Jennifer Ludlam – August: Osage County
Amy Winehouse: Rehab

The ProActors and Gail Cowan Management Award for Actor of the Year
Jarod Rawiri – I, George Nēpia
Howard Morrison Quartet: My Old Man’s an All Black

The Museum Hotel Award for Director of the Year
Jason Te Kare – I, George Nēpia
Queen: Radio Ga Ga

Chapman Tripp Award for Production of the Year
I, George Nēpia – Tawata Productions
George Nēpia: Beneath the Māori Moon

New Zealand Improv Festival – systems go!

12 Oct

A lightbulb moment.So I missed the first night of the New Zealand Improv Festival in Wellington. I was filling in for Kate Mead on Sound Lounge. And I’ll miss the second night too. I’m filling in for Kate Mead on Nights with Bryan Crump. (See what happens when people take leave from work?!)

But I’ll be there the third, fourth and fifth nights, playing musical accompaniment for ten different shows. You should come. Book at BATS Theatre.

Two in particular leap out at me as being very exciting:

The Long Weekend. I blogged about this a few weeks ago but since then I’ve actually workshopped it with the players! The ideas they have will make for some emotionally honest improv – the disconnect between idealised memories of uni days and the reality of late-20s-hood / early-30s-hood is perfect fodder for interpersonal relationships to laugh and cry over. Thu 13 October, 9:30pm.

Rebecca De Unamuno is… Open to Suggestion. I’ve performed with Rebecca in festivals in Wellington, Melbourne and Adelaide. She’s one of the most fantastic improvisers I know, and I think this’ll be the first time I’ve seen her do her solo show. I get to be her musician on acoustic guitar, and I have the feeling I’m going to get a lot out of it. As well as that, John Smythe has high praise. Fri 14 October, 8:00pm.

However, like any good parent, I love all my children shows equally. Just some of them are more special than others.

Finally, I’m particularly looking forward to massive multi-muso on the final night, when I’ll join with Tane Upjohn-Beatson and Sam Smith to make an improv band.

Until then, back to writing my slot for Nights!

The weekend

2 Oct

So it’s the weekend – the time between two runs of shows, and the time in which I can do a load of washing.

Last night was the close of The First Asian A* B* – it was a reasonably successful season, considering that shows from Auckland seldom get the same audience numbers as Wellington shows. There’s just not the same degree off on-the-ground promotion.

Tonight is the opening of Zomburlesque. Out of the band of six players, I’m the only one not to have seen any rehearsal of the action yet. But I’ve received descriptions from those who have… I reckon it’ll be epic.

I don’t have any proper training as a brass player, so today – with a rehearsal and soundcheck as well as a show – I’ll be saving my chops. Band-leader Hans Landon-Lane will be saving his voice too.

Aside from that I’ve been enjoying The Engine Room and Public Service Announcements, our BATS-mates (is that a word?). I ended up reviewing The Engine Room for Theatreview, and I feel it raises a bunch of questions. One is whether it’s okay to be apathetic about important political issues, or whether anyone should have the right to not get involved, regardless of how heated and intense the circumstances become. Furthermore, at what point does apathy and non-involvement become the best option; the most peaceful option? You can consider those questions yourself by catching The Engine Room at BATS. It runs until Saturday 8 October.

Moving away from Wellington (literally), I’ve been keeping track of the Dunedin rental property market. My frame of reference is the rectangle of Google Maps, but I feel like I’ve got a basic understanding of the city centre, the university area and the close-in suburbs. My Trade Me watchlist is well-stocked, and in a week or two I’ll start making appointments to see properties to rent. I’ll be down in Dunedin from 19 to 21 October, although I’ll only have really one and a half days to look at places. Pack the time in then!

The First Asian A* B* up and running.

24 Sep

Place of birth / Lieu de naissance: TAKAPUNA, NEW ZEALAND

We are two performances into our eight-show season of The First Asian A* B* by Renee Liang. In a show of provincial loyalty, I went onto Trade Me and bought a second-hand 2009 North Harbour rugby jersey as a costuming decision. Its size is L, about 1.5 sizes too large for me, but it works well enough.

John Smythe has reviewed us for Theatreview, concentrating more on the script and story construction than the performances. Laurie Atkinson from the Dominion Post attended opening night; there may well be a review in Monday’s newspaper. (Edit: Dom Post review indeed appeared on Monday.)

In each performance, three folk (Renee, Ben & Paul) are visiting from Auckland and two (Fern and myself) live in Wellington. We’re currently sharing BATS with Death By Cheerleader, another rugby-themed show from Auckland. Last night, cheerleader Amy Waller gave me the beginnings of a lapdance in my second-row seat. All in the service of theatre, boys, all in the service of theatre.

My role in this season is really that of caretaker musician. Andrew Corrêa provided live music for the inaugural season at the Basement in Auckland, and two days after the Wellington season ends, the guys have a few performances at Auckland schools with Andrew once again. While I can’t diverge too radically from the cues as Andrew did them, I have been able to add some of my own touches: Samoa-ifying the ukulele playing; going slightly further over-the-top in the training montage; and hamming up God Defend Synth Zealand at the beginning. It’s fun.

You should come to BATS Theatre to see us. Six shows remaining, we run until Saturday 1 October. Starts 6pm. Don’t be a dumbass.


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