Keegan nails jazz recollection of Vienna

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Matt Keegan. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / Matt Keegan “Vienna Dreaming”, The Street Theatre, April 17, programmed by the Canberra International Music Festival. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE.

IT’S not often jazz would be associated with so-called programmatic music. That nomenclature usually would tag works such as Beethoven’s 6th symphony, or Albert Ketèlbey’s “In a Persian Market”.

But jazz saxophonist, Matt Keegan’s composition, “Vienna Dreaming”, takes all that a giant leap further. The 50-minute, multi-movement suite is a musical biography of his Austrian great-grandfather, Heini Portnoj (1895-1984).

Heini was a pianist, composer, and band leader. “Vienna Dreaming” tells the extraordinary story of his work in Austria between the two World Wars, falling in love with and marrying Keegan’s great-grandmother, Annie, fleeing Austria for Singapore with his family when the Nazis came to power, fleeing Singapore when the Japanese invaded and, finally, arriving in Australia as a refugee where, first, he spent time in an internment camp and, later, made a career in music.

Keegan and ensemble. Photo: Peter Hislop

In this preview concert for the Canberra International Music Festival, whose theme is “…the idea of Vienna”, Keegan played baritone sax and alto clarinet. With him were Ben Hauptman (electric guitar), Véronique Serret (violin), Freyja Garbett (keyboards), Cameron Undy (electric bass), and Miles Thomas (drums).

Throughout the performance, a large screen displayed a stunning array of animations by Monica Higgins, intelligently illustrating the story’s progress, including images of Heini and Annie. Sometimes the animations were subtle to the storyline, but mostly they were bold but tastefully understated.

The whole production created an extraordinarily compelling experience for the audience. From the very first mysterious, ethereal moments, through the salon music of Vienna, the love story of Heini and Annie, and the violent disruption of war, to the didgeridoo sounds of Australia, “Vienna Dreaming” crosses many musical boundaries from acoustic to electronic, classy solos and duos to blistering ensemble work.

“Vienna Dreaming” pumped with energy; it was creativity on steroids. For Keegan, it probably was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  He absolutely nailed it.

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Helen Musa
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