Writing, concerts, theatre and a little bit of travel

Tag: Ensemble Francaix

Seeing Earth: a Concert!

It’s really going to happen. After waiting almost two years because of Pandemic lockdowns, Stuart Greenbaum’s piece Seeing Earth, written for Ensemble Francaix — and commissioned by me — is to receive its world premiere performance tomorrow evening. The ‘live’ performance will take place in Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre but, if it’s too hard to get there (eg if you live in England) you can tune in through the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall:

I have mentioned Ensemble Francaix elsewhere on this blog: a fine Melbourne-based chamber trio: Emmanuel Cassimatis – Oboe, Matthew Kneale – Bassoon and Nicholas Young – Piano.

A couple of years ago I decided it was time for me to stop playing oboe. I had two fine instruments, which I would sell. But I wanted the money from the sale to go towards something musical — in a sense, for me, something in memory of my oboes. I love the combination of oboe, bassoon and piano and indeed I had enjoyed playing some of the limited number of compositions for this ensemble — notably by the composer Francaix and also Poulenc. How exciting it would be to add to this repertoire. I approached Ensemble Francaix and they suggested that we ask Stuart Greenbaum whether he would be interested writing a piece for the trio.

The result is Seeing Earth. Stuart Greenbaum is professor of music composition at the University of Melbourne and currently the Head of Composition at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. His work has been performed by both the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. He has written opera and choral music as well as instrumental. Some of his works suggest a fascination with space and the future. For example, his work 90 Minutes Circling the Earth was named Orchestral Work of the Year at the 2008 Classical Music Awards. Another work, The Year Without a Summer was toured nationally and internationally at the City of London Festival (2011).

The concert includes another world premiere performance: Panvino’s Gluttony for Solo Bassoon. Other works will be Borodin, arranged by Davies – In the Central Steppes of Asia, Britten, Pan from the Six Metamorphoses after Ovid for Solo Oboe and Johann Sebastian Bach – Allemande, Courante, Sarabande & Gigue from French Suite No. 5 in G Major, BWV 816 (1725) — I assume this will be played by Nicholas on piano.

Do tune in to Melbourne Digital Concert Hall if you possibly can. They are fine players. It will be a great concert.

And here is a review of the concert:


Ens F 1

ENS F 9.jpg

I have written recently about the beautiful setting for chamber music provided by the Murdochs at Lowland Farm, Mount Macedon. Sixty or so people sit in a living room looking out of large windows to autumnal colourings in the near distance and then, further away, rolling hills of Australian bush.

ENS F 10

I have also written of the wonderful combination of double reeds (oboe and bassoon) and piano that is the chamber group Ensemble Franҫaix. What bliss to combine the two in the Macedon Music concert last Sunday.

Three pieces in the Ensemble Franҫaix repertoire have become old favourites for me: the Trio by Jean Franҫaix, which started this concert and then later the Trio by Francis Poulenc and the final piece, the excitingly jazzy Trio by André Previn. For descriptions of these pieces, please see earlier entries that describe Ensemble Franҫaix concerts.

Ensemble Franҫaix commissions works for their somewhat unusual combination. Last Sunday we heard a Ricercare by Queensland composer Chris Healey. Indeed, it was a world premiere. ‘Ricecare’ is a term usually associated with baroque music – music of a contrapuntal style that often weaves around a theme, teasing it sometimes, then ultimately establishing it. For me, one of the best known baroque examples of this device is the theme of Bach’s A Musical Offering. In Chris’s work there were fugue-like passages, but he said he used the idea of ‘ricecare’ as a kind of launching pad. Chris is a relatively new composer who has written for various combinations of instruments and also piano solos. He says he wants to stand on the shoulders of musical greats such as Ravel, Debussy and Stravinsky.

Ens F 6

Chris Healey

We heard the Australian premiere of Waharoa, by New Zealand composer Ben Hoadley. Ben travels a lot from New Zealand to Australia and the piece was, to some extent, a blending of these cultures. For example, a motif inspired by the New Zealand bellbird, and another, the Australian grey butcher bird. The title of the piece is a New Zealand place in the Waikato region.

Another piece new to me, but not a premiere, was Terra Incognita by Katia Beaugeais. The piece has two movements, the first, ‘misterioso’ depicts the mystery of the ‘unknown’ land that Europeans of the time before the 17th century believed must exist somewhere in the south.

Ens F 2

The second movement ‘appassionato’ suggests the land and its native bird life. One interesting device was to have the oboe and bassoon blow into the open grand piano – the open lid deflected the sound in an eerie way.


Ens F 4


The concert finished with André Previn’s Trio and we went home refreshed by its jaunty final movement.

It is well worth visiting the Ensemble Franҫaix website I look forward to hearing many more concerts from this talented group.

Ens F 3


Earlier this year I wrote about the enterprising work of Ensemble Franҫaix, a trio of Oboe (Emmanuel Cassimatis), Bassoon (Matthew Kneale) and Piano (Nicholas Young). They have now returned from a successful time at the Osaka Chamber Music Competition and on Friday 21st July were joined by guest artist Natalie Wong, harp to present a lunch-time concert at the South Melbourne Town Hall.

ensemble francaix in Osaka 1

That week, Emmanuel had a bike accident leaving the outward evidence of a black eye, but he must have been very much shaken by the experience – others might well pull out of a challenging concert in the same week. Apart from playing only one movement of the opening piece, the Poulenc trio, he played the program as though he were under no difficulties at all.

ensemble francaix at ANAM

One of the many commendable things about this group is that, although they are young and relatively new to the music scene, they commission works.  In this program we heard Silk Road, by local composer and brilliant pianist, Peter de Jager and a piece by Natalie Wong, I recount I construe. For both of these pieces the trio was joined by Wong on harp. I was entranced by the way de Jager combined harp and piano – a prepared piano giving an oriental flavour to the whole, which, for me, was a seamless melding of east and west. Natalie’s piece was at times lyrical and at times playful – to the extent of briefly having Emmanuel and Matthew play on just their double reeds.

mondrian chequerboard

The concert finished with Mondrian Interiors, by local composer Stuart Greenbaum, who was in the audience. The Ensemble was joined by clarinet and horn. Each of the eight movements depicts, or was inspired, by paintings of Mondrian that the composer saw at an exhibition in London in 1997. The piece was composed ten years later. The images were projected as each movement was played.

Mondrian church at Domburg

I look forward very much to further concerts by Ensemble Franҫaix. To support them in their commissioning of new works, go to their website:

Ensemble Franҫaix

Ensemble Franҫaix is a newly-formed chamber group for oboe, bassoon and piano – a fairly uncommon combination although some beautiful chamber music has been written for it, particularly by French composers, Jean Franҫaix (1912 – 97) and Francis Poulenc (1899 – 1963). For both concerts Franҫaix’s Trio for oboe, bassoon and piano was performed.

Jean Francaix

Jean Franҫaix

This piece suits the double reeds perfectly and is woven together by an often jazzy piano part. Many of the movements are lively – phrases are tossed off, as if playfully (although in fact many are difficult to execute) contrasted with lyrical writing, in particular I noticed some beautiful phrases for bassoon – it does a great deal more than plod around the bass line.

Ensemble Francaix 1

At the first concert the trio was joined by clarinet and horn to perform Paul Stanhope’s Morning Star II (1993). Stanhope is a Sydney composer. Much of the work was minimalist in nature, but lyrical passages reflected aspects of Australian Indigenous music.

The clarinet and horn remained with the group to perform Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (1874). I didn’t think that the instrumental arrangement added much to the overall conception of the piece, although it did bring out aspects that usually aren’t prominent. My preference is for the original piano solo version.

The second concert featured Ensemble Franҫaix without additional instruments and displayed the inherent versatility of the oboe, bassoon, piano combination. Here we heard a trio by André Previn (1994) – known for his jazz writing. As the three movements suggest (Lively, Slow, Jaunty), much of the music is busy and syncopated, but, particularly in the slow movement, also smooth with rich harmonies.

The final piece is a favourite of mine: Francis Poulenc’s Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano (1926). Matthew, the bassoon player, reminded us that Poulenc was influenced by Mozart – and although I’m very familiar with the piece, I’d never thought of that before. Knowing this helped me to become aware of the beautiful aria-like phrases that mingle with French jollity.

ensemble-francaix 2

Ensemble Franҫaix: Emmanuel Cassimatis, Matthew Kneale and Nicholas Young

Ensemble Franҫaix has a mission to encourage more writing for their combination of instruments. For the second concert they had written their own arrangement of Grainger’s Molly on the Shore, which was lively and appealing. They are preparing for their first international performance at the Osaka International Chamber Music Festa in May. Let us hope that it is the first of many successful international performances.

ensmble francaix 2

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