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CSO Mixtape: Steve Fitzgerald

Steve Fitzgerald, Percussion (Image: Martin Ollman)

Steve Fitzgerald was born and raised in East Gippsland. He studied at the Victorian College of the Arts under the direction of Peter Neville, and at the Australian National University with Gary France.

Steve has performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, the Basel Festival Orchestra and the Australian Youth Orchestra, with whom he performed as principal percussionist in 2006. He is currently a member of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra.

As a chamber musician, Steve has been involved with numerous groups including the Astra Ensemble, Speak Percussion, Synergy Percussion, Graeme Leak & Strange Fruit Theatre, Australian Boys’ Choir and TaikOz.

In 2007, Steve was a cast member of RAWCUS’ Green Room award-winning production of Hunger. Other highlights include touring with OzOpera’s production of The Sound Garden, cabaret diva Meow Meow’s production of Little Match Girl and working on the shows Kitchen Beat and Chip & Dale’s Cool Service for Tokyo Disneyland.

As a composer, Steve has twice scored for Canberra’s The Street Theatre: Widowbird (2012) and Johnny Castellano is Dead (2014). He recently performed a live score for Christopher Samuel Carroll’s production of Howie the Rookie (2019). More about Steve

Selected listening notes

Mike PATTON, Mondo CANE Che Notte!
Written by Fred Buscaglione, Leo Chiosso

I believe that Frank Zappa passed the torch of American iconoclast / art music / rock music / workaholic / mad genius / test pilot / record producer etc. to singer and voice artist Mike Patton, a year or two before his death in 1993. Patton’s output since then could be described as Bach-like (or Zappa-like). Che Notte! is from a collection of Italian pop songs from the 1960s that Patton recorded with the Metropole Orchestra in 2011.

Igor STRAVINSKY Pulcinella 2. Serenata: Larghetto: “Mentre l’erbetta”

Pulcinella is like the first ever dance remix. The harmonics in the strings at the beginning of this movement are ghostly and awesome.

Neko CASE Train From Kansas City (Album: The Tigers Have Spoken)
Written by Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry

If Judith Durham and Jimmy Barnes had a baby girl who grew up to sing Americana and folk music, she’d be Neko Case’s number one fan. This song sounds like it was written both in 1968 and last week, and has a superb harmony vocal throughout from Case’s regular collaborator Kelly Hogan.

FAITH NO MORE Midnight Cowboy (Theme From) (Album: Angel Dust)
Written by John Barry

John Barry’s theme from the 1969 film gets a majestic treatment from the mercurial, genre-busting terrible infants of the 1990s, Faith No More. That’s lead vocalist Mike Patton on melodica (and if anyone can find me a ride cymbal that sounds like the one at 2:50 I’d love to hear from you!)

ENSEMBLE AMBROSIUS Sofa (arr. O. Virtaperko)
Written by Olli Virtoperko

This group of Norwegian early music specialists arranged a number of Zappa’s instrumental pieces for their ensemble and produced something wholly original. This one was a song to begin with and features the memorable lyric “.. I am the eggs of all persuasion, I am your sofa.”

Friedrich Gottlieb KLOPSTOCK, Gustav MAHLER, TRAD. Symphony No. 2 in C minor “Resurrection” IV. Urlicht. Sehr feierlich, aber schlicht
Performed by Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic

I’d like to say that Bernstein is to Mahler what Boulez is to Stravinsky. ‘Urlicht’ translates as primal or original light. Somehow the melody in the oboe reminds me of Astro Boy. Oh, let us never drift too far from Mahler! 

SALYU Kaifuku Suru Kizu (Allbum: Kill Bill Vol. 1 Original soundtrack)
Performed by Lily Chou-Chou
Written by Takeshi Kobayashi

This piece is here because “Who Needs the Kwik E Mart? (Reprise)” isn’t available on Spotify, and I wanted to include the only other piece of music I know that articulates so vulnerable and sorrowful a feeling. Quentin Tarantino lifted this from the soundtrack to a Japanese film called All About Lily Chou-Chou. I saw it once; it was really slow and I couldn’t figure it out.

Edward ELGAR, Richard GARNETT Sea Pictures, Op. 37 IV. Where Corals Lie

A bit of nostalgia here: picture an 18-year-old Stevie Fitz in the deep end, learning to count his rests behind the timps of the Preston Symphony Orchestra. This song has really stayed with me.

Fritz HAUSER Tutuguri (Album: Solo Drumming)

Take a chance on this one – find a quiet moment or two and listen carefully! I had the good fortune to spend some time with Fritz Hauser at his home in Basel, I learned an enormous amount from him.

Maurice RAVEL String Quartet In F major, M.35 2. Assez vif. Très rythmé
Performed by Tinalley String Quartet

Wes Anderson used this over the opening titles to his 1998 film The Royal Tenenbaums. I think this Decca recording of the Aussie Tinalley String Quartet gets the tempo just right.

Johann Sebastian BACH Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 639
Performed by Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, Yo-Yo Ma

This begins the Chris Thile portion of the playlist! The American virtuoso mandolin player has been on my radar since his days with Nickel Creek, a slightly different kind of trio to this one and well worth checking out.

Aoife O’DONOVAN, Chris THILE, Edgar MEYER, Stuart DUNCAN Here and Heaven
Performed by Aoife O’Donovan, Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, Stuart Duncan, Yo-Yo Ma

This one speaks for itself! Enjoy.

PUNCH BROTHERS Passepied (Debussy) (Album: The Phosphorescent Blues)
Written by Claude Debussy

These guys are a bluegrass band that defy the category of bluegrass band! Some people call them “newgrass”…I don’t. This features Chris Thile on mandolin.

Joni MITCHELL Both Sides Now
Performed by Joni Mitchell, Vince Mendoza

The orchestral arrangement of this classic is just the best! The strings sound like the very end of Strauss’ Alpensinfonie and the soprano saxophone of Wayne Shorter is the last thing you’d expect to hear in a song so seemingly sad. 

JD McNAIR Until You Run Out of Time (EP: Any Day Now)

From local songwriter JD McNair’s EP of last year. It’s pared back and haunting and hopeful.

Calum BUILDER, Tate SHERIDAN Unrequited (Album: In Hiding)

Tate and Calum are ex-Canberran jazz musicians who have recently been doing very different things (opening for Elton John and composing liturgical masses, respectively). This piece is so simple and the theme (the ‘chorus’ or ‘head’ as they say in jazz) is often somewhere in the back of my head as I go about my day.

Joni MITCHELL Amelia (Album: Hejira)

This song was written about the pioneering pilot Amelia Earhart, from my favourite Joni Mitchell album: Hejira. It’s the kind of record you might play on your CD Walkman in 2007 while walking around the rainy streets of Melbourne with a broken heart :’ )

Igor STRAVINSKY Pétrouchka Tableau 2, Petrushka’s Room

We named our son Peter after finding out that ‘Petrushka’ is a common nickname for Peters in Russia. (Ok, there are a couple of other reasons he’s named Peter!) The three bars of piano at 2:06 are so beautiful!

Ennio MORRICONE L’Ultima Diligenza di Red Rock (From “The Hateful Eight” Soundtrack / Versione Integrale)

In the opening credit sequence, the hi-hats enter with the title card ‘The eighth film by Quentin Tarantino’ and it’s just about as cool as anything ever put on celluloid. Listen out for the pairing of contrabassoon and double bass. I love the contrabassoon – in the CSO percussion section, we’re often sitting right behind Kristen Sutcliffe when she’s playing it. Fun!

Francis POULENC Tel jour, telle nuit: Nous avons fait la nuit

This song cycle was included on a weird Naxos compilation I bought because it had Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite on it. I’ve been listening to this song for 15 years and have never Google translated the lyrics…I still have no idea what the guy is singing about! My guess is it’s about love though – and if it is, I think it’s the greatest love song ever written by a man or a woman. The piano postlude is utter magic. It’s impossible to tell if we are re-entering reality or leaving it behind completely.

Ennio MORRICONE Jill’s Theme (From “Once Upon a Time in the West”)

Is there a more beautiful melody than Jill’s leftmotif from Once Upon a Time in America? The prolific Ennio Morricone was composing remarkable music up until his death this year. Vale.

Jeff BUCKLEY Corpus Christi Carol (Album: Grace)
Written by Benjamin Britten

A perfect performance from a perfect album. I don’t think that Grace will ever age.

Jaco PASTORIUS Three Views of a Secret (Album: Work of Mouth)

I still can’t get over the level of invention that went on with pioneer jazz bass player Jaco Pastorius. He’s up there with Stravinsky and Zappa as far as I’m concerned.

Sviatoslav RICHTER Gaspard De La Nuit

I love everything about this piece: the spacey tempo, its central place within the suite, that scary bell that tolls throughout.

Frank ZAPPA, ENSEMBLE MODERN Peaches en Regalia

One of the five instrumental numbers from the Hot Rats album of 1969, this sparkling, virtuosic arrangement is just another day at the office for Frankfurt’s legendary Ensemble Modern. As Gail Zappa said regarding this one, “Everybody deserves a great dessert.”

Curator profile: Steve Fitzgerald

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

Hi everybody! I’m Steve Fitzgerald. I’ve been a percussionist with the CSO for ten years now and I live in the cosiest suburb in Canberra: Hackett.

How did you come to be a musician? 

As a kid I had eight years of Saturday morning piano lessons. At the same time, my big brother was teaching me what he knew about the drum set. When the Musica Viva percussion ensemble “Woof” came to my school in Year 12 I got up the courage to talk to them after the show about “how do you become someone who can do what you just did?” They gave me the number of the Victorian College of the Arts’ head of percussion, Peter Neville. That was when I began to get serious about being a percussionist.

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

I loved hearing my Mum play piano in church. Her style of piano playing is pretty unique: she had a kind of 1970s gospel-stride thing going on, and a really mean left hand! She would end most songs with these fast, arpeggiated runs of the tonic chord with a major 6 added. Nowadays, I know the sound of that chord anywhere!

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

I met composer and percussionist Graeme Leak in the final year of my undergraduate performance degree and he really changed the way I thought about what it meant to be a performing musician. He had a classical training but made his name in theatre and comedy and all manner of cross-disciplinary artistic ventures. He is my hero. His awesome sister Lyn lives here in Canberra and was a music teaching colleague of mine at Canberra Grammar until she retired a few years ago.

Who or what motivates you to pursue music? 

I am motivated to pursue music because of a deep-seated and perhaps unreasonable hope that eventually I may stumble upon a form of musical expression that can be of some help to someone (other than myself, that is!).

What’s the hardest part about being a musician?

Certainly the hardest thing about being a percussionist is that journey of finding an identity. Percussion isn’t an instrument, so it doesn’t help that much to say “I’m a percussionist” and expect people to know what exactly that means. (I mean, it doesn’t mean anything exactly). People inevitably tend to think it means a) that you play the bongos (even though they mean ‘congas’); b) that you’re using a fancy word for ‘drummer’; or c) *insert triangle joke*.

What does creativity mean to you? Is everyone creative?

Of course, this depends on what we mean by ‘creative’. I suspect there’s a spectrum at play. My theory on this is that, yes, everyone is creative on some level. We could certainly say that my cousin is very creative with her scrapbooking hobby. However, the creativity that we talk about in terms of the arts is very rare and kind of a terrifying thing. In that sense, no, I don’t think that everyone is. I think that people who deal in that kind of invention and creativity are often walking on a tightrope between the real world and some future madness. It’s a relief not to have that kind of burden!

Are there any assumptions about these composers that you’d like to challenge?

I think that Poulenc is too often considered as light and fluffy or a dandy. I think that Frank Zappa is too often considered as a crazy or undisciplined character – which couldn’t be further from the truth! Zappa worked 16-hour days, either writing or recording in the studio, when he wasn’t on tour. This schedule lasted 25 years.

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

One has to be Faith No More at Festival Hall in 2010 – they broke into a flawless rendition of the shout chorus from Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke in the middle of their classic Midlife Crisis. It was the best! They returned to their song without skipping a beat.

Another was Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s 2004 performance of Mahler 2. It was unforgettable; when the organ entered in the fifth movement, I’m pretty sure that the ground was shaking.

There was also Queenie van Zandt’s Joni Mitchell tribute show in the Wolumla Town Hall a year or two ago.

I miss gigs!

For what in life do you feel most grateful?

I suspect that I am most grateful for the traditions of language, religion and culture that I have inherited. Given the horror and misery that characterises the bulk of human history, I am also grateful for every day in which things haven’t devolved into terror and chaos!

Describe your best and worst gigs

When Lalo Schifrin came to Melbourne in 2007, I was in with the Melbroune Symphnoy Orchestra for the week as a casual. His arrangements of his film scores and jazz music were surprisingly un-cheesy and the band playing out the front of the orchestra included James Morrison on brass instruments and the great Sydney drummer Gordon Rhytmeister. I was playing a shaker part all the way through Birdland and I was so in time with Rhytmeister’s hi-hats that my mind dripped into the cracks of the stage and I was at peace!

I’ll ditto Tim Wickham on describing the worst gig – no comment!

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