CSO Mixtape: Evocative Landscapes

As I listen to the music and write these notes, I’m sitting outside on my deck, absorbing the sights and sounds of this lush springtime amongst rural bliss. The garden is flourishing and fragrant, wildlife abounds and the boronia and roses form a beautiful foreground to the mountains in the distance.

I feel fortunate to be able to enjoy this scenery, not just because of current world crises, but also after years of crippling drought followed by firestorms in Australia. I dedicate this mixtape, “Evocative Landscapes”, to those who wish a musical escape into serene beauty for healing and refreshing, and to celebrate landscapes from around the world.

Whilst featuring Nordic and French composers, from late Romantic to early Twentieth Century, missing from the mixtape is a host of other composers and pieces that celebrate nature, like Pēteris Vasks’ recent string music or his piano landscapes, late Liszt, Messiaen, Rautavaara, Janáček, Delius, and Kodaly… as well as scenes from so many other countries and Australian composers – but we would be here for weeks! Therefore, I have just included music that reflects the mood I am in now, with some of my favourite pieces that blend together or that feature a performer / composer I admire, to form a cohesive playlist.

Leanne Bear

A woman in a red coat holding a violin

Leanne Bear, CSO Violin (Image: Peter Hislop)

Violinist and composer Leanne Bear graduated from the University of Queensland and travelled on scholarship around Europe with violin and purple suit, performing her avant-garde violin works and learning from acclaimed teachers. Back in Australia, she married Tor Frømyhr and moved to Canberra in 1997. Since then, Leanne has enjoyed performing regularly with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO), as well as other Australian orchestras including the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, and as Concertmaster of varying ensembles from the Opera Orchestra in Brisbane to the Canberra Bach Ensemble.

Leanne is an enthusiastic chamber musician; memorable performances include: Pereira/Australian String Quartet for the Leigh Warren and Dancers Quiver tour (1998), performing and tutoring at Mt Buller Chamber Music School (2003), National Music Camp, Taabinga chamber music schools and festivals, and conducting at Coffs Harbour String School (2015).  In 1999, Leanne played solo violin in Andrew Ford’s Furry Dance with the CSO. While still a student, Leanne became a tutor at the University of Queensland in harmony / counterpoint and aural. She was also director of the Contemporary Ensemble at the ANU School of Music until 2012.

As a composer, Leanne has focused on large-scale chamber works since 2011. A career highlight was conducting and performing the highly acclaimed Imaginessence concert (2012), featuring her piano sextet and cello ensemble work among others – the first concert of her major works to be presented in Canberra. Other highlights include her Postcards to Hungary piano trio, commissioned and performed in Budapest by Fezek Music Club and Kodály Liszt Academy (2015); Märchen aus dem Wienerwald for salon orchestra, Bruckner Hall, Linz (2015); Auvergne for cello and piano commissioned and performed, Auvergne, France (2016). A 2018 highlight was her CSO commission, Art Nouveau, premiered in the Recital Series by Bernadette Harvey (piano) and Julian Smiles (cello) and described by a CityNews reviewer as “…the work of a major composer….who is making Australian history”. In 2019, the renowned PLEXUS trio commissioned and premiered Leanne’s Nôtre Gothique at the Melbourne Recital Centre – PLEXUS will perform the work in the CSO’s 2021 Australian Series.

Marriage, three children and a property in the Yass Valley seem to be a vibrant environment for this versatile artist’s forest of inspiration.


Chants d’Auvergne
2. Bailero

We begin this musical adventure in the mountains of the Auvergne in Southern France, where Canteloube was born. These folk-song arrangements reflect the composer’s love of his rural homeland and form the priceless heritage of his collection of folk tunes throughout France. Baïlèro is famous for its beauty; one can imagine the shepherd and shepherdess calling out to each other across the hills in their native Occitan, but how often do we hear the other richly evocative songs from all five suites?

So here is another:

Chants d’Auvergne
5. Pastorale

I chose a similar piece – another shepherd’s song, which begins with a Mahler-esque evocation of spring, the clarinet cuckoo, cor anglais and flute, and rustlings of rebirth. One can almost see the lush spring meadows brimming with life. The colours and contours of orchestration are skilful and empathetic, often with woodwind solos of chromatic and modal figures, and the golden voice of Kiri Te Kanawa soars above. As with Grainger, Canteloube is most famous for his folk-song settings, but it would be wonderful if his other works could be better known. Reminds me of Puccini and English composers of the time.

Edvard GRIEG
Holberg Suite, op. 40 
I. Preludium (Allegro vivace)
II. Sarabande (Andante)
III. Gavotte (Allegretto) – Musette (Poco piu mosso) – Gavotte (Allegretto)

Helsinki Strings conducted by Géza Szilvay 

This was the first piece I listened to for this project, and I was moved to tears by the power of the music after a long drought of music-making. My mother instilled in me a love of Grieg who we later learned was Nordic / Scottish – given she is mostly Scot and I’ve married a mostly-Norwegian, this is musical home! Included here are three of the five movements of this well-loved work.

I had to include some recordings by the celebrated Helsinki Strings – not only do they produce the most lush and harmonious sound, with astonishingly beautiful interpretation, but I was astonished upon hearing this music to learn that they are a youth orchestra conducted by their teachers: Géza (violin) and Csaba Szilvay (cello), the Finland-based Hungarian brothers who created the Colourstrings method! I was compelled, hearing their music, to go and study with Géza, and later had the honour of conducting the Helsinki Strings in a workshop of my music. His brother Csaba introduced my music to the Liszt Academy in Hungary where I had commissions and whole concerts of my music! This has been the musical highlight of my life.

Edward ELGAR
Serenade for Strings in E minor, op. 20 
III. Allegretto

Helsinki Strings

The entire work is warm and expansive and reminds me of Brahms sextets. I’ve included just the third movement here – I wanted to include his monumental Introduction and Allegro, but the serenade better fits with the atmosphere.

Rakastava Suite, op. 14

Helsinki Strings conducted by Géza Szilvay 

I. The Lover

Throughout his illustrious composing career, Sibelius wrote often for strings; being a violinist himself, his consummate mastery of string writing and possibilities is clear. Rakastava, “The Lover” seems a shimmeringly sensitive and passionate expression of a love story.

II. The Path of the Beloved

This scherzo-like movement seems to gather momentum through a winter expanse, and the bells (triangle) perhaps signal imminent arrival.

III. Good Night – Farewell
Featuring Lea Tuuri (violin), Csilla Szilvay (cello)

I love the insistent suspension. The coda really does sound like a tearful farewell. The interpretation is so poignant and moving.

Symphony No. 6 in D minor, op. 104 
i. Allegro molto moderato

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Järvi

The ultimate blissful Spring symphony by Sibelius. Lush and lyrical – but surprisingly short, and described by the composer as “pure spring water”. You can actually hear the rustling birch forest, nature exploding in its brief warm season. At the poignant moment of cherished bliss, it modulates with dissonance that reveals the incoming key, and continues. Then, once again startling in the double ending. Search out the other movements and enjoy another joyous musical celebration full of momentum, and a surprising finale that drifts off into another world.

Lemminkaïnen suite op. 22 
I. Lemminkaïnen and the Maidens of the Island

The Kalevala is Finland’s national saga, passed down orally by the Poets for centuries, and treasured most in the areas of Karelia which is now part of Russia. The Kalevala is a limitless source of inspiration for Finnish artists; Sibelius delved into these legends for his music. I actually visited the area north-east of Finland closest to the Russian border, and was utterly captivated by this unique Karelian culture. Having absorbed as much of Sibelius’ works as I could find – soaking up the violin concerto, all seven symphonies, the Karelia and Kuolema suites, Tempest, Oceanides, Tapiola, and as much of his string orchestra music as I could find – it came as a total surprise to hear this early work of his. I was blown away by the opening horn chords; the rest is a gorgeous musical legend.

I know I’ve included a lot of Sibelius, but I had to put this one in for it to be more recognised. Can you hear the symphony 2 & Karelia sounds that swirl up to a passionate dance, and, later on, a violin solo? Enjoy the inimitable Sibelian long climax that swirls the listener along with the musical drama irrevocably to the finish.

4ème Livre de Pièces de viole: Le Badinage

Featuring Jordi Savall (viol), Rolf Lislevand (théorbe) 

A poignant tune from the 1992 film Tous les Matins du Monde (featuring Gerard Depardieu and his son), about the young Marin Marais who travels to the countryside hoping to learn from the austere master violist Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe. Grief-stricken after the death of his wife, Sainte-Colombe builds a tiny hut and retreats there to endlessly play his viol. With only a chair, a table, some bread and wine, and the vision of his dead wife, he writes his impassioned compositions in a large leather book (I love that scene and have tried to recreate it at times!). The viol music is so complex and rich.

It’s no surprise therefore that my son now learns the viola da gamba, and that we drove down to Melbourne to see Jordi Savall perform.

Gabriel FAURÉ
Après un Rêve

Janos Starker (cello)

Beau Soir, L. 6

Janine Jansen (violin)

Edvard GRIEG
Våren (orchestral version)

Barbara Bonney (soprano)

Various arrangements exist for these three love songs, but I think these versions beautifully capture the atmosphere of each poem. We get swept along by the musical beauty, poised on a precipice. The wistful and dreamlike “after a dream” on cello, the ecstatic moonlit tryst of “beautiful night” (also a favourite violin piece), and the colours of “last spring” shimmer in the orchestra with the crystalline beauty of Barbara Bonney’s voice. I adore her CD Diamonds in the Snow of Scandinavian gems for voice and piano.

Gnossiennes: No. 4

Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)

Satie is famous for his Gymnopedies and Gnossienne No. 1, but the other four Gnossienes are just as original and charming, evocative of an ancient Greek scene, perhaps picturing rugged sun-drenched hills, with olive trees or the stone steps of architectural ruins.

Variously described as a genius or a joker in his lifetime, his music is now celebrated as revolutionary. From the early Gnossiennes onwards, Satie got rid of bar lines, and wrote surreal notes in the score for the performer, and was the inventor of furniture music. I have long admired his Bohemian lifestyle and collaborations with the avant-garde artists of his day. When I visited Paris for the first time in 2015, I stayed in Montmartre near to Satie’s flat and paid homage.

Maurice RAVEL
Miroirs, M. 43 
No. 2, Oiseaux Tristes

Jacques Rouvier (piano)

Totally enraptured by Ravel, I played this incredibly atmospheric piece as a teen, learning how to really sing notes on the piano – Jacques Rouvier explains this in his masterclass on YouTube. Just watching him play those bell-like sounds is revelatory. It evokes a languid summer scene; one can imagine the heat shimmering, the silent expanse broken by the call of the lonely bird. Recalling the songs of the Auvergne, it’s a similar kind of scene to Ravel’s birthplace in the mountains of southern France.

Further listening: The rest of the Miroirs, Gaspard de la Nuit (piano original), everything by Tzigane.

10 Preludes, op. 23
No. 4 in D major

Another “landscape of the soul”, as I call these wondrous pieces that transport us to somewhere in our imaginations, in our hearts. I had to throw in this favourite, heart-wrenchingly sublime piece of Rachmaninoff.

String Quintet in C, D. 956
2. Adagio

Miklós Perényi, Takács Quartet

I’m transported by this serenely beautiful work by Schubert. I also wanted to include a work featuring my favourite cellist, Miklós Perényi. Along with the Takács , his musicality and devotion to the score is supreme.

Symphony No. 3 ‘Pastorale’

The title says it all, save for utterly unique sound world that is Vaughan Williams – each of his symphonies is so novel! Notable string writing – luxurious and textured, as in his Thomas Tallis piece. Listen for the beautiful violin solo reminiscent of Lark Ascending, as well as surprising modal transitions and suspensions similar to those that Sibelius and Canteloube employ. But essentially, be carried away on a luscious symphonic fantasy.


Briefly introduce yourself – tell us your name, your instrument, where you’re living and how you’re connected to the CSO.

Hi, I’m Leanne Bear, violinist, and I live on 17 acres on the Yass River. I’ve been playing violin in the CSO for over 20 years now!

How did you come to be a musician?

My mother was a piano teacher; I think I was born listening to Bach. Mum taught me the piano – and at 90 she is teaching my daughter fourth grade! – and I started learning violin at school. But it was an overall love of music that was there from the start such that I couldn’t be anything else.

If I wasn’t able to be a musician I would be a creative of some sort – an artist or a writer. I think I already am really, I just love splashing paint on a canvas and I’m currently writing a story with music for a young friend. My grandfather was a one-man newspaper and I’ve inherited a love of typography and stationery.

What’s your most treasured childhood memory related to music?

Growing up in country Queensland, my musical opportunities were few, but when I attended McGregor Summer School in Toowoomba at 13 I was utterly blown away by the experience of playing in a full symphony orchestra – playing Sibelius 2 and Prokofiev’s Troika from Lieutenant Kije! – and also the total absorption into chamber music and the love of music shining through the influence of tutors Len Dommet, Nelson Cooke, Rob Harris, and many more.

Tell us a bit about someone who had a formative influence on you in your creative development.

I want to mention an unsung hero: my first violin teacher at age 11, Glenys Shannon. Glenys started with nothing and built up an entire string school in Hervey Bay / Maryborough, thanks to her devotion to music and persistence. I also want to mention Spiros Rantos, a teacher I saw monthly in Toowoomba, whose impeccable musicianship and Viennese technique taught me how to play Mozart.

Describe a memorable music experience you enjoyed as an audience member.

When I was studying in London I went to a prom concert at Albert Hall. Ruggiero Ricci was playing but all I could focus on was a single pink balloon that was cycling through the expansive ceiling draughts, poised at once on the rafters and then floating down, directly towards Mr Ricci! You could hear a collective intake as the balloon nearly touched down on his esteemed head before slowly drifting up to the ceiling and bouncing gently across the rafters, before the ineffable drifting downwards again. Ricci was utterly unaware of the circus going on above his head! I was trying so very hard not to laugh. How did these Britons do it?

Name three places in Canberra that hold some significance for you.

Canberra is the best place to bring up adventurous children! The National Botanic Gardens, Parliament House café and the National Museum of Australia are memorable places because they had child-friendly, free, open spaces where I could hang out with my tiny children and let them joyfully run about!

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in the past year?

I’ve learned this past year that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that there will be lush regrowth and recovery in nature.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Just because someone is in an influential position, that doesn’t make them right. Don’t listen to the rubbish that selfish people spout and stick to your instincts. If only I’d known that I had ADHD, I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself and so misunderstood. Locked in tiny cupboards to practice … Bear, go outside and practice under a tree!

Name three people you’d like to invite to dinner, living or dead.

Well, I always feel for the incredible artists who died unrecognised or forgotten, but being limiting to three is hard! Let’s have Van Gogh, Schubert and a lucky dip draw of a female composer. Hopefully they wouldn’t mind that I’d be too overawed to cook!

If you were a piece of fruit, which would you be and why?

A cloudberry. They live forever and don’t get wrinkles or something?

What’s something you love that has nothing to do with music?

It was the most rewarding experience when my beautiful red border collie Rosy had six pups. Is there anything better in this world than being clambered all over by fluffy, cute, loving puppies?

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