Julian Day

Julian Day

Julian Day is a composer, artist, writer and broadcaster living in New York. He has written for Limelight, Runway, Un Magazine, Leonardo Music Journal, Tempo and Contemporary Music Review, and has presented work in the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, Asia Pacific Triennial and Bang On A Can Marathon.

Articles by Julian Day

CD and Other Review

Review: John Cage: As it is (Alexei Lubimov, Natalia Pschenitschnikova)

It’s tempting to think of John Cage as the dangerous, if smiling, radical. After all, he did pioneer the prepared piano, welcomed turntables and radios into the concert hall, and scored the most famous four-and-a-half minutes of silence in history. Unlike his close colleague Morton Feldman, however, the musicality of his work is easily overlooked. This haunting recording from ECM reminds us of the colour, precision and sheer beauty of his compositions. The pieces are mostly from Cage’s early rhythmic period, the 1930s and ‘40s, and are for solo piano or prepared piano with occasional voice. Pianist Alexei Lubimov is a significant proponent of 20th-century music in Russia, giving premieres of pieces by Boulez, Stockhausen and Ligeti; by the time he met Cage in 1988, he had been playing this music for decades. He is also known for his Haydn and Mozart, and to that end brings a considered, even classical approach to Cage’s work. The opening Dream of 1948 sets a tone of hypnotising reverie. By contrast, the chiming pieces for prepared piano, such as the buoyant The Unavailable Memory Of, are rhythmically repetitive; other works are a little more astringent and evoke Cage’s teacher Schoenberg and the ghost…

November 14, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: Westlake: Missa Solis – Requiem for Eli (Liam Crisanti, MSO and Chorus/Westlake)

Before 2008, Nigel Westlake was simply one of our most successful composers, his many film scores complementing a growing acclaim in the concert hall. After 2008, he became a father in mourning. It was in this year that Westlake’s 21-year-old son Eli was killed, leaving the composer deep in grief and suddenly bereft of meaning. It took a whole year before Westlake could compose again and he turned to a work that, ironically, he’d already sketched before Eli’s death. Missa Solis builds on themes from Westlake’s earlier film score Solarmax, transforming mythological and astronomical references to the sun into a hymn to his tragically lost son. The 16th-century ode from which Missa Solis grows takes on a new weight in this context: “My joy is born every time I gaze at my beautiful sun”. Added to this are texts from Shakespeare, Pharaoh Akhenaten and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Across its eight movements, this secular mass is a focused refinement of what Westlake does best, drawing together perfectly crafted miniatures sculpted with imaginative colour and lingering emotion. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Chorus are at their peak throughout, in clear artistic sympathy under Westlake’s guidance. The solo treble…

November 2, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: Grant Foster: The Pearl of Dubai Suite

Whoever said grand sweeping melodies were a thing of the past? Grant Foster clearly has a penchant for the archetype of the brooding Russian virtuoso pianist-composer, despite being based in Bowral. You may remember Foster from his in-depth Limelight interview a few months back. After initially studying in Sydney he set off for Paris and London, where he built up a solid reputation as a pianist and composer before returning to Australia to settle in rural NSW. This CD is a follow up to The Music of Grant Foster and features two main works: the Russian-inspired The Pearl of Dubai suite for piano, cello and orchestra, and a setting of Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol for tenor and piano. As a bonus there is a DVD of the Ballad and part of the suite played live in concert. The overall impression of Foster’s orchestral music is that of a stirring and decadent black-and-white film score, albeit with super-smooth edges and superior sound quality. The pieces are unashamedly Romantic, as if Rachmaninov had been cryogenically frozen and thawed out in the 21st century. The Pearl of Dubai is the most…Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $4 per month…

October 12, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: Australian Portrait (Hindson, Smetanin, Broadstock, Boyd)

Look no further than the title. Australian Portraitis a collection of recent Australian pieces for saxophone and piano that are mostly recorded here for the first time. Alongside composers Matthew Hindson, Anne Boyd, Brenton Broadstock and Michael Smetanin are less-familiar names worth getting to know: Andrew Batterham and Mark Zadro. It’s a diverse and compelling set from the Sydney-based HD Duo. The repertoire ranges from breezy post-minimalism and jazz-inflected tunes to meatier fare with the emphasis on the melodic and rhythmic interplay between the two players. Hindson’s Repetepetitionis a buoyant opener that matches the confident flair of Batterham’s Duke’s Crusade. Broadstock’s Not too near … not too faris uncharacteristically bouncy for a composer best known for his bold and elegiac orchestral works. Equally surprising is Anne Boyd’s edgy Ganbawhich, unlike her more meditative pieces, isn’t afraid to let off steam, its raucous sax calls inspired by Indigenous responses to early steam trains. Likewise the Smetanin is gritty and chiseled, setting out as a sort of demonic warm-up exercise before easing into more florid climes. The disc concludes with an extended suite by Mark Zadro that fuses…Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $4 per month Subscribe Already a subscriber? Log…

October 12, 2012

Musical Journey: Manchester

Once a town known primarily for bedsheets, Manchester is now vying with the world capitals as a centre for creativity, as Julian Day discovers. Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $4 per month Subscribe Already a subscriber? Log in

August 17, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: MEALOR: A Tender Light, Choral Works (Tenebrae, Royal Philharmonic Orch)

Like me, you may have found yourself glued to the telly last April to watch the latest royal wedding. Like me, your ears may have been glued in particular to a short choral work that was sung during the ceremony. That piece was Ubi caritas by Paul Mealor, who has been described by the New York Times as “one of the most important composers to have emerged in Welsh choral music since William Mathias”. Your familiarity or otherwise with Mathias should not inform your opinion of Mealor, as his is an impressive talent.  This CD features not only the little wedding gem but an entire collection of the composer’s work for choir and it’s mostly very strong. The opening quadrant of madrigals Now sleeps the crimson petal features gorgeously subtle twists of harmony and Salvator mundi tempers strident modal declamations with memorable ornamentations. However the disc dips a bit with the Stabat Mater, which tends to cycle through clichés to simplistic emotional effect (Mealor describes this as the “most personal work on the disc”, which may be revealing). Perhaps the reason Mealor has become the royals’ latest go-to composer is that he’s such a known quantity; each piece here is so…

May 8, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: FLASH: Works for Percussion (Claire Edwardes)

Percussionists are a resourceful bunch. Not only must they master an endless battery of instruments (there will always be new objects to hit), they’re often required to build their repertoire from scratch. Here Claire Edwardes sets out to expand the range of short pieces available for marimba by arranging various piano miniatures alongside newly-composed Australian works. It’s a win-win: Aussies get more exposure and percussionists get a whole lot more music to play.  Edwardes has already proven her entrepreneurship. She started out as a pianist, only switching to percussion at university. She won the ABC Symphony Australia Young Performer Award and spent a decade within Europe’s new music scene. Since returning home she’s co-directed the innovative Ensemble Offspring and premiered more than her share of new works.  This CD lays the old and the new side by side, a rewarding strategy that brings freshness and surprise. It’s revealing to hear the snaking counterpoint of JS Bach alongside the bounce of Matthias Schmitt, for instance, or the brittle Russians Shostakovich and Kabalevsky bookending Gerard Brophy’s loose energy. Some composers are especially well served by their percussive transformation; I wouldn’t have imagined Schumann’s rich pianism suiting the marimba but his three children’s pieces sound…

December 8, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: GLASS: Mad Rush (piano: Sally Whitwell)

First of all I need to put my cards on the table – I am a Philip Glass fan. I’m not sure why that feels like such a confession but it probably needs stating, like declaring hidden goods at customs. This is a collection of piano pieces by the “mature” Glass, not the early radical who alternately awed and angered the music community with his heavily amplified and surreal take on Western music’s basics but the genteel classicist who has embraced symphonies and concertos with increasing ardour. For many years Glass retained strict control over his catalogue, ensuring a steady stream of performance engagements, however since his extraordinary commercial breakthrough the gates have slowly opened to others revealing a more nuanced character than one might assume. This is a beautiful and sensitive reading of the repertoire by Sally Whitwell, one of Sydney’s busiest and most broadminded pianists. Whitwell’s take on works like Mad Rush and Wichita Vortex Sutra (originally a duet with Allen Ginsberg) reveals a passion often absent in Glass’s own interpretations; likewise she brings refreshing chiaroscuro to the famous Opening from Glassworks. In her hands the latent echoes of earlier composers become clear: Glass, schooled by Nadia Boulanger,…

August 29, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: ROSS EDWARDS: Heart of Night (Diana Doherty; Riley Lee; David Thomas; MSO)

Within seconds you recognise the voice, the unmistakable hypnotic undulations of one of our most frequently performed composers. Ross Edwards’ mature style began with a concerto, the ebullient Piano Concerto of 1982, and like his teachers Richard Meale, Peter Maxwell Davies and Peter Sculthorpe he has since embraced the key structures of Western classical music with enthusiasm. The recent Edwards oeuvre is dense, with multiple symphonies, string quartets and many concertos. This disc features three works in the latter genre for clarinet, oboe and shakuhachi, each written for and performed by principals from major orchestras (Diana Doherty and David Thomas) and notable soloists (Riley Lee). Each concerto is extremely well written, masterfully balancing slippery virtuosic solos with understated chamber-like orchestral writing. They are languid yet optimistic in character, their gentle edges unfolding effortlessly. Which is where I start to feel frustrated: there’s so little bite. Edwards has perfected his approach to such an extent he risks becoming a well-oiled machine, unlike the harsher, more intangible composer of the 1970s for whom nature remained a mystery and metaphysical questions couldn’t yet be answered. It’s not about pace: even the glacial First Symphony of 1991, reflecting anxiously on war and mortality, stepped…

August 17, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: THE METALLIC VIOLINS (Natsuko Yoshimoto, James Cuddeford)

You’d be surprised what just two violins can do. Natsuko Yoshimoto and James Cuddeford, formerly the upper half of both the Australian String Quartet and Grainger Quartet, have long commissioned more than their fair share of inventive, witty and often very beautiful Australian duets. This excellent disc presents the final fruits of their joint mission and the array is diverse. Echoes of folk music appear in Stuart Greenbaum’s Danny Boy Variations and Andrew Ford’s affecting pair of works, balanced by Cuddeford’s sober memorial to the victims of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. Roger Smalley and Elena Kats-Chernin both turn in sets of neat miniatures alongside a clever Compossible by David Harris. For me, however, the standouts are the opening and closing tracks. Matthew Hindson’s titular piece is hedonistic and energetic, maturely fusing his early attraction to pop music with new sonic complexities. By contrast Mary Finsterer’s Spherica No 1 is ethereal and otherworldly, the violins spinning a careful web of glistening harmonics.  Cuddeford and Yoshimoto were married at the time of this recording and the disc is by default a powerful portrait of their lengthy musical and personal partnership. The pair sound highly attuned to each other, almost as if…

August 4, 2011