Marianna Grynchuk
Leigh Harrold in rehearsal
Langbein String Quartet, Marianna Grynchuk and Gareth Chin in rehearsal with Quincy Grant

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Firm Music Online

de la Catessen Records, founded and directed by composer Luke Altmann, has an expanding range of experimental and classical music recordings available for purchase in electronic and hard copy.
Releases include works by Luke Altmann, Raymond Chapman Smith, and David Kotlowy, with performers including Konstantin Shamray, Stephen Whittington, Amir Farad and the Benaud Trio.


See the Youtube video from our final concert in Season 2015, with sopranos Emma Horwood and Ali Bollard, and pianist Marianna Grynchuk, performing Dvorak's 'Moravian Duets'.
The clip was put together by Ray Thomas (Audio Production) and Peter Day (Video Production) of HitchHiker Video Productions


Recent Reviews


July 24th, 2023


Marianna GrynchukMusic review: The Firm presents Marianna Grynchuk

Broadway World, July 25th 2023

The Firm's mission to turn the course of contemporary art music found intriguing success in the hands of Adelaide's returning pianist Marianna Grynchuk with a performance in the remarkable setting of the North Adelaide Baroque Hall.

Pianist Marianna Grynchuk had the audience in thrall at the North Adelaide Baroque Hall.

It once used to be that "new music" concerts were boldly experimental affairs, with composers on a mission to challenge (and taunt) audiences with anything beyond the familiar or remotely connected with tradition. What invigorating experiences they were – though the music itself often made you want to duck for cover.

My goodness how times have changed. Out of the nebulous, directionless post-avant-garde scene of the 1990s emerged The Firm, a distinctive Adelaide composer outfit that have made it their business to chart a 180-degree in contemporary art music. Led by Quentin (Quincy) Grant and Raymond Chapman Smith, they characteristically embrace the mellow, reassuring hues of 19th-century romantic piano music, chamber music and Lied in a hope that this will be composition's future.

After quietly plying their craft for years, The Firm have declared their colours even more openly by relocating to the North Adelaide Baroque Hall (having mainly used Pilgrim Church and Elder Hall in the past). In this "new" venue, their transformation is complete: inside this remarkable replica of an ornate European rococo chamber they presented a salon concert such as Robert Schumann or Johannes Brahms would have recognised it.

One really needs to set foot inside to appreciate what this Baroque Hall is all about, but suffice to say it is just as perfect a home for gut strings and harpsichords as it is for the kind of music The Firm produces.

Marianna Grynchuk was their first performer for 2023 in a concert entitled The Fantasie. A marvellous Adelaide pianist making her return after many years in Switzerland, she is in truth more accustomed to playing standard repertoire than new music. But so much the better, considering what she was asked to play: recent pieces by Grant and Chapman Smith, along with others by Ukrainian composer Valentyn Silvestrov and Baroque Hall's designer and owner, Julian Cochran.

In their subtly different ways, all these pieces were echoes of a distant past, eerily so given that they come from the 21st century.

Every sunrise by Grant was unique among them in suggesting visual imagery and states of moods as Romantic poetry might. Its six "scenes" each generated a different imaginative picture through their closely formed repeating rhythms. It sounded like a freed-up reinterpretation of minimalism (think: Glass, Reich) but enriched by warm harmonies and finishing affirmatively with a simple old-fashioned major chord.

Grynchuk played this lovely work with unaffected grace; and the piano itself sounded well: pearly and even in tone but for a somewhat recessed bass register.

Chapman Smith travels on a different but parallel path, whereby he invokes the great Romantic and pre-modern masters by incorporating signposts in their music inside his own epigrammatic designs. It is as if Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms magically reappear, but in a ghostly, spectral way.

Bergseeklavier Teil I is a case in point. This 14-movement album piece sounds Brahmsian in its resonant chordal sonorities and roaming melodic phraseology; and its harmonic progression is sometimes reminiscent of Schubert. At times you hear also Chopin, and even a theme from Richard Strauss's Eine Alpensinfonie materialises – the lush string melody "On Flowering Meadows". These references are all there to admire but are frozen in time and tinged with nostalgia, particularly with the sensitivity and understanding that Grynchuk was able to bring.

With Cochran's Fantasia No. 7 – Sul Settimo it was as if all three composers had converged on the same ground. He, too, shares in a back-to-the-future vision, the difference being that this ex-Adelaide composer takes on more of the overtly emotional directness of Romantics such as Chopin. A concert pianist himself, he knows all about their grand rhetorical style and is able to recreate it in his own compositions. At the same time, this proved an alluringly lavish but mysterious piece of its own. Grynchuk, clearly an exponent of big pianism, seized on it commandingly.

What a glorious confection this concert was turning out to be. A real surprise came, though, with Silvestrov's Zwei Dialoge mit Nachwort. Here again allusions to Chopin but accompanied by experimental effects as well. Later in this piece, the pianist is required to reach inside the piano to pluck low notes: this came as a bizarre, incongruous shock, but a reminder that modernism has not yet been completely outlawed.

For much of this concert, one felt caught in a timewarp – intriguing but disturbing. It all came to a head in the last item, Liszt's Après une lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata ("Dante Sonata"), one of the piano repertoire's most thunderous and titanic creations. The piece itself has one utterly in its thrall if played well, and Grynchuk delivered all its glories with sensational technique and fully magnified expression. She is a true Lisztian, and a pianist Adelaide must hear again on future occasions.

One might have imagined the Baroque Hall would be barely big enough to cope with Liszt's extremes of dynamics, but it did. But it also made you question which century we are living in. Such, perhaps, is the novelty of new music concerts these days.

- Graham Strahle


Aug 23rd, 2021

Michael Ierace 'THE FIRM: 2021 NO. 1; STRING QUARTETS, NEW AND OLD'

Broadway World, August 28th 2021

Delayed, but worth waiting for.

The Firm, that enterprising bunch of local composers, have made a late start to their 2021 season of chamber music in the Elder Hall with String Quartets, New and Old. Of the 127 concerts that they have presented over the years, this is the first that has had be cancelled and rescheduled. It was well worth the wait.

The quartet was brought together especially for this event, and the rescheduling required the replacement of violinist, Belinda McFarlane, with Belinda Gehlert, who took her place alongside Helen Ayres, violin, Martin Alexander, viola, and Sharon Grigoryan, 'cello.

Haydn, they say, taught Mozart how to write a string quartet. Mozart, they add, taught Haydn how a string quartet should be written. From that day to this, the string quartet, of two violins, viola, and 'cello, has provided composers with the opportunity to create great music, and audiences to enjoy the form for its emotional depth and breadth of expression.

Indeed, Musica Viva, one of the world's most enterprising concert giving organizations, sprang from the desire of European migrants post-war to enjoy the musical lives that they had been forced to leave behind in Germany and Austria.

There were three works by local composers on the program, two of them from British women, and three more by masters of the form. Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Hannah Kendall are both black women and take very different approaches to what is, after all, quite an imperialist art form, even if that empire is the Austro-Hungarian.

Witter-Johnson blends the sounds of bento, a Jamaican folk style, with the instruments of the quartet, loosening the relationship between the instruments, and giving 'cellist, Sharon Grigoryan, the chance to show off her percussion skills, beating out the rhythms on her instrument.

Hannah Kendall is much more politically direct. Her work is entitled Glances/I Don't Belong Here. The seven miniatures are inspired by what she calls her "most cherished non-urban settings". They are also inspired by British-Guyanese artist Ingrid Pollard's series of photos of black British subjects in the Lake District. That sense that black people are not indigenous to the English countryside, not comfortable there, not welcome there, is one of the factors that has over the last few years made it the mission of the National Trust to encourage Britain's urban black population to travel to the countryside of the green and pleasant land.

The program then returned to the classic tradition of the quartet with Stelae for String Quartet, by Raymond Chapman-Smith, one of the founders of The Firm. It's a memorial piece for W. G. Sebald, a German born writer whose early death put paid to a career many believed would lead inevitably to the Nobel prize. Inspired by a poem by Paul Celan, it is rich in the sonorities of the Viennese tradition.

Then the recital moved up. The Langsamer Satz of Anton Webern from 1905 predates his influential exploration of tonality that made him one of the most influential composers of the early part of the twentieth century. It's essentially the slow movement of a quartet, the rest of which was not composed. It's sombre and full of longing, inspired in part by a hiking holiday with his fiancée in the mountains. It is so beautiful, and was played with such tenderness, that it rather outshone everything else on the program.

Two more pieces from established composers followed it. The intermezzo movement, from Arnold Schoenberg's third string quartet, is a skittish, rhythmically unsteady work, much more reminiscent of the developments in chamber music of the early twentieth century. Schoenberg claimed his string quartet writing was heavily influenced by Mozart. I'll take his word for it.

Two bars into the next work, and you know it's Philip Glass. His fingerprints are all over it, and the players maintained its impetus throughout with perfect balance. It is essentially an epitome of Glass's style and it will recall for you everything he's written. There's a bar or two that sound like Mendelssohn with the deep surge of the Hebrides Overture.

The concert began and ended with the lights lowered. Luke Altmann's Irenabyss is a Firm commission, infused with lyric inspiration, and the final piece, Penumbra, by Belinda Gehlert, was a joy to hear, and I'd love to hear both these pieces, indeed, the whole concert, again.

This quartet has come together especially to present this concert and it would be a really fine addition to the chamber music resources of Adelaide. Every string quartet needs a name and might I have the temerity to suggest the Hendrickson Quartet, a tribute to Lyndall Hendrickson. She was a South Australian violinist, a child prodigy, whose international career was terminated by polio. She became an acclaimed teacher, and researcher into neurodiversity. She was a dear friend, and she lived to be 100.

- Ewart Shaw


Dec 3rd, 2018


Michael Ierace'New life breathed into past masters'

The Australian, December 2018

Attending a concert by Adelaide's new music collective, the Firm, is rather like walking into a hall of mirrors. Beethoven, Brahms, Ravel and other figures from the past appear consciously and frequently in their works to open defiance of modernist styles, and the effect can be intriguing. At times one can feel one is losing track of what is new and what is old.

That seems to be the intention. Each year the Firm curators and principal composers Raymond Chapman Smith and Quentin Grant, rather cheekily appoint a "posthumous composer in residence" as their guiding light.

This year it is Ravel, and let's just say it has been one of their trickier choices because this French composer's style is at once so personal and distinctively his own. Any attempt to re-imagine it in new contexts risks descending into mimicry or parody.

Grant's Zircusvolk succeeded most remarkably because it quite cleverly absorbed elements of Ravel's pungent harmonic language and simultaneously catapulted the listener into intensified states of imagination.

The subject matter is as horribly fixating as Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, which in the magical hands of pianist Michael Ierace served as this concert's centrepiece. Along with snippets from Kafka, there are accounts of how an elephant was hanged from an industrial crane in the US for attacking its handler and how zookeepers in Chile two years ago shot two lions after they mauled a man who entered their enclosure. A storm of textures daubed across the full length of the keyboard conjured a macabre picture.

Ierace has an exceptional gift for creating seamless, imaginatively vivid textures on the piano, and his gifts yielded similar results in Anne Cawrse's The Red Buoy, a gorgeous little character piece inspired by a painting of the same name by impressionist Paul Signac. It was like encountering a reincarnation of Miriam Hyde's Water Nymph.

Chapman Smith's La chute des etoiles (Falling Stars) was spectral, like summoning Beethoven from the dead. While not aping the style, he is able to recreate 19th-century pianistic language with uncanny realism, and here the picture of Ludwig at the piano felt immediate and real, glowing with a kindred, gracious warmth.

David John Lang's wedding pieces, Adventure and Romance, exuberantly elevated the spirit of this program.

The high point, though, was Ierace's shiverly beautiful playing in Gaspard. Steeped in mystery and hypnotically imaginative, it felt as dazzling and ecstatic as if it had been composed yesterday.

- Graham Strahle


'Total control, resolute rhythm and vivid imagination'

The Advertiser, December, 2018

Michael Ierace Hats off to The Firm for engaging pianist Michael Ierace for this concert.

Much admired as an accompanist and chamber musician, his talents as a soloist have been less in evidence.

He proved superbly equipped to undertake a solo program influenced by the sort of French impressionism and expressionism popular at the turn of the twentieth century with its mind games and darker depths.

The program’s inspiration, Maurice Ravel, was represented by his magnum opus for the piano, Gaspard de la Nuit, and Ierace projected all its frightening spiritualistic allusions and equally frightening technical challenges with real flair and finesse.

There was hardly a note put of place as incandescent colour poured from the Steinway, Ierace’s total control, resolute rhythm and vivid imagination allowing the shimmering water sprite Ondine, the sinister Gibet and the frightening Scarbo out of the bottle and into Elder Hall.

This was big scale pianism with exquisite detail.

Earlier Quentin Grant’s Zirkusvolk(2016) with its grotesque Kafka circus scenarios paved the way very aptly for the Ravel to come.

More gently, Anne Cawrse’s deliciously impressionist The Red Buoy and David John Lang’s lushly configured The Wedding Album benefited from Ierace’s generously broad tonal palette.

And Raymond Chapman Smith’s 17 reminiscently Brahmsian morsels Lachute des étoiles (2016) eloquently reminded us that German music ruled the roost at this time with much of it worth reflecting on as well.

-

Concert 2: Aug 13th, 2018


'Trio gives The Firm a delicate quality'

The Advertiser, August 17, 2018

The Benaud Trio The Benaud Trio gave a nuanced performance exploring a breathtaking array of timbres in their concert for The Firm.

The Firm’s concert series feature a “posthumous composer-in-residence” each year, which in 2018 is French composer Maurice Ravel.

On this program was Ma Mere L’Oye arranged by the Benaud Trio’s guest pianist Benjamin Martin.

This arrangement for gave the work an intimate, and often delicate quality, bringing out many gorgeous colours and textures.

Violinist Lachlan Bramble and cellist Ewen Bramble’s tone quality was beautifully controlled, particularly in the many softer moments of the work, and Martin’s neat, precise playing in the glissandi section in the fifth movement was impressive.

The other three works on the program were all by Adelaide-based composers.

Raymond Chapman Smith’s Serenata is a three-movement work in the composer’s signature neo-romantic style.

The work was tightly constructed, with repeated motifs woven throughout the first two movements.

Luke Altmann’s Holy Fools also used repetition to great effect, with a gently rocking ostinato figure continuing throughout the work underneath sustained melodic lines.

Jakub Jankowski’s Piano Trio No. 2 was quite a change of pace.

According to the composer, this work explores the Dionysian - the Nietzschean concept of an artistic energy encompassing spontaneity, chaos, and strong emotions.

This work featured some really striking use of heterophony, with the players phasing in and out of unison lines.

Jankowski’s background as a cellist was evident in the idiomatic string writing and extremely effective use of a range of string techniques.

- Melanie Walters



Featuring the Firm:

Quentin Grant and Raymond Chapman Smith


Listen to a podcast about the Firm, with works by composers Raymond Chapman Smith, Quentin Grant and Anne Cawrse, performed by soprano Greta Bradman and pianist Leigh Harrold.

- The Music Show, ABC Radio, July 2009, via CanadaPodcasts


'Radically retro' by Graham Strahle

Adelaide Review, November 2014

The Firm, the city’s maverick new music presenter, embraces all things conservative and seems to delight in continually reaching back into the past.

Cut off from the nation’s east coast loop, Adelaide’s arts scene sometimes looks like a case of backward evolution. Sometimes it results in throwbacks, cultural artifacts that may look bizarrely original but are actually rooted in the past. That thought crosses one’s mind with The Firm. Looking at their next concert program, one sees, of all things, Johann Strauss waltzes, albeit in arrangements by Schoenberg and Berg. And last year Schubert was named The Firm’s posthumous composer- in-residence. Next year it will be Brahms.

What have these figures got to do with new music, and what does it say about new music in Adelaide? There’s of course a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek humour in the way The Firm’s affable co-directors, Raymond Chapman Smith and Quentin (aka Quincy) Grant, like to turn new music on its head by adopting what appear to be completely antiquated models....

..... And they’ve been successful. To date, The Firm has staged 105 concerts in 18 years of continuous operation, and they’ve premiered some 300 new works penned by around 40 living composers. For a small new music outfit, that’s quite remarkable. read more



'The Firm: It's not Brain Surgery' by Emily Heylen

Resonate, Australian Music Centre magazine, 2009

'Being an old-fashioned anarchist, I think art should be free to anybody, and in any sane civilised state that would be the case. That would be my ideal, you'd just open the doors...', Raymond Chapman Smith, co-leader of The Firm, says.

The Firm may not quite have realised this democratic dream, but it's a quirky and wilful contemporary music organisation. It is driven mainly by the desire to present new works to its Adelaide audiences but inspired equally by the poetic shape of the perfect program, by the need to provide opportunity to young musicians, and by the inclusive spirit of chamber music: breaking down barriers between audiences and performers. read more