SSO 2018

August 14, 2017

The Sydney Symphony has announced its season for next year.

There’s not too much to frighten the horses – or the accountants.  We have a Mozart festival.  (There is also still the Mozart series at Angel Place.)  The concert performances of operas have been abandoned.  The Carriageworks venture is not slated to continue.

The orchestra’s year in Sydney ends in mid-November to make time for a European tour.  That might make the accountants nervous.

A second “Meet the Music” series has been reinstated on Thursday nights – not a repeat of Wednesdays but a selection of other programs.  This must be a good thing, though if you take the brochure literally the deal for <30s entails relegation to C reserve unless accompanied by an >30 [>29?] ticket buyer.  Can that really be the case for school groups?

There is no Berlioz.  Hint: he died in 1869.

Emmanuel Ax headlines the Mozart series.  Other pianists I’m looking forward to are Simon Trepceski, Steven Osborne and Benjamin Grosvenor (who has been to Sydney before but not for the SSO) and of course NF (see below).  Stephen Hough seems squandered on the Rach/Pag variations and midweek/daytime gigs.  Thibaudet plays the S-S “Egyptian” (why does that always make me think of Cardinal Pirelli?) in what should be a particularly beguiling program (Debussy Faun & Sibelius 2)

Anne Sofie van O sings Schubert orchestrated[!] – which I suppose is a way of presenting her in this repertoire in the Concert Hall, coupled with Mahler “10” (D Cooke).  (Simone does 6.)

I can resist the special pricing of the other Anne-Sophie despite a symphonic rarity by Kalinnikov.

Edo de W conducts Beethoven 9 – I would have preferred something more adventurous but his return is always welcome.

Speaking of returning former chief conductors, Caetani is back [in Sydney] again and welcome here so far as I’m concerned whatever they feel about him and he about them there. He will channel his Italian side for a change with the Verdi Requiem. Then again, let’s not be complacent: when are we going to hear Stuart Skelton back in his home town?  He’s all over almost everywhere else in Australia like a rash (Melbourne next year, anyway.)

Particular highlights for me:

  • Oboist, François Leleux, whose almost totally unheralded visit here in 2012 made quite a buzz amongst double-reedists, returns for the first of the Angel Pl Mozart series. (How does an oboist pop up on tour in Sydney for just one gig?  Possible answer: because he comes with his violinist wife, Lidia Batiashvili.)
  • Nelson Freire playing Beethoven 5 with Wagner bleeding chunks – a sin I expect I will be able to forgive since committed by Runnicles.
  • Masaaki Suzuki – this time to conduct a program including Beethoven’s Mass in C – not LvanB’s greatest moment but  also not bad, and MS should offer something interesting in that and the Haydn symphony it comes with.  Local ladies take vocal solos with some intriguing overseas gents.

When you look forward to a new season it is easy to concentrate on either old favourites or long-anticipated rarities.  Not so many of the latter in prospect.  Doubtless I’ll strike some surprises next year when it comes.  Meanwhile, as pure straightforward enjoyment, I expect the Debussy/Saint-Saens/Sibelius combination will be hard to beat.

 

 

Seen and heard

August 8, 2017

More for my benefit than anyone else’s, an update on live performances I have been to recently – well, by now not so recently:

1   SSO, Mozart series, Angel Place, Orli Shaham

I went to hear Orli Shaham with the SSO at Angel Place.  The program was Haydn Midi symphony, Mozart, Piano Concerto No 21 and, as a quasi encore (it is a tradition in this series to end with a mystery piece) the last movement of Mozart’s piano quartet in E flat.

In the Haydn I found myself wondering if the SSO couldn’t afford to be a little less robust in its approach. This seemed more to scale for the next day’s outing at the Concert Hall of the SOH than Angel Place.  As for the Mozart, my memory is now dimmed but I remember thinking Shaham and indeed her colleagues most relaxed in the piano quartet at the end.  Perhaps my reception of the concerto was too much overshadowed by fixed notions from other interpretations.

2    Aphra Behn, The Rover.

With D to this, at the Belvoir/Company B.

D and I hardly ever go to plays.  I was drawn to this by the rarity of Restoration plays in Sydney’s theatrical bill of fare and Aphra Behn’s reputation as a kind of Germaine Greer special topic.  Victor has rightly remarked on the trio of exceedingly skinny-legged (male) actors.  One of these is Toby Schmitz, who featured prominently in the publicity.  Is it him or just the characters he plays that I find just a bit irritating?  He has a line in boyish charm which somehow misses me.  It might be (to coin a phrase I first heard applied to Teddy Tahu-Rhodes) a “chook magnet” thing.

We were promised a “rollicking” show.  Some of this felt a bit forced as the actors ran around madly to convey the sense of Naples at carnival time.  Moments when the actors broke through the fourth wall and played against the work were evidently loved by others more than by me.

I could have done with a bit less physical comedy, especially when this delayed the plot, and more verbal thrust and parry (there was also a bit of sword stuff).  I had a look at the script later on the internet.  There is probably a reason why we don’t see much restoration comedy these days.  It would take an effort to bring that script alive for a modern audience – but in this case I felt a bit of a lowest common denominator approach was taken.  Since I first wrote this I have found that Kevin Jackson expresses a similar view much more cogently than I can.

I was a bit disappointed in it but I did still enjoy it.  Maybe my expectations were too high.   D, did not share my disappointment.  We did still both enjoy it and I’m glad I went.

3.  SSO, Robertson, Graham, Mahler 3.

I heard this once live and then in the car on the way to a funeral at noon on the following Saturday.  In the live performance I thought Robertson’s approach to the first movement was a bit “cool” and “objective;” listening to the broadcast I appreciated how clear it all was.  I wonder if it is actually something about his rather brisk manner on the podium which created that impression.  Whatever, any such impression was not sustained into the impassioned last movement.

Susan Graham was great.  For the bimm bamms and associated Wunderhorn song the choirs sang without scores – not such a feat for the Sydney Children’s Choir (ratio of boys to girls about 1:3) maybe but assisting an pleasingly bright sound from the Ladies (or are they Women now? – that’s what the ABC announcer called them afterwards) of the Sydney Philharmonia.

The posthorn solo was less offstage than usual.  The mystery was only solved when Paul Goodchild emerged for his bow at the end in the organ loft – he must have been hiding round the corner and taking direction from the organist’s video screen.

4.   Omega Ensemble – Schubert “Trout” Quintet and Octet

This too was an event for which I nursed high expectations [/hopes?] which weren’t quite met [/fulfilled].  Both are, as one says if put on the spot, “great works.”  The shadow of well-known recordings and impactful live performances (and the first exposure is always impactful even if in retrospect not so great) hangs over any live encounter. That must be for true even though I am very much not a “record-head” who judges everything against particular recordings with which I am familiar.

In the “Trout” I think the cellist could profitably have swapped places with the bassist and sat in the bow of the piano facing the audience directly.

I always suspect that the issue for the OE is that, as an ad hoc ensemble, they have less chance (than a more permanent ensemble) of things gelling as a result of frequent experiences of playing together.  It is hard in those conditions to obtain an optimal freedom and warmth of expression.  The concert was well attended and warmly received.  I enjoyed both, the octet more than the “Trout.”

I’ll have a chance to hear another Octet in a week or so when the Australia Ensemble plays it on the 19th.  Meanwhile, despite my lukewarm words above, I seem to have been stirred to a bit of a Schubert craze and am stumbling through D568.  There is something about Schubert that for me really hits the spot.

Nasty

August 7, 2017

Last Friday I drove out to Concord Hospital to pick up D, whom I had dropped off at 7am for day surgery.

For some reason the car radio was tuned to 98.5 fm.  According to Wikipedia:

2000FM (callsign 2OOO) is a multilingual community radio station broadcasting to Sydney in languages other than English from studios in the suburb of Burwood. It is a volunteer run organisation and is funded through listener support, grants and limited commercial sponsorship.[1]

The mission of 2000FM is to provide a service through dedication to enrich the cohesion of our cultural diversity via tolerance, understanding and respect for each other.[2]

When I turned the radio on just after setting off a man was reading from John Hewson’s article in the SMH, the substance of which was to complain that members of the Liberal Party who were agitating for a free vote on marriage equality were grandstanding at the expense of the coalition’s electoral prospects.

Hewson had written:

To be clear, I support same-sex marriage, and like so many who do, don’t, and are just a bit “here and there”, I would like to have seen the matter dealt with expeditiously, given what is perceived as widespread community support.

Up till then, I didn’t know what station I was listening to – I thought it might have been RPH (PH for print handicapped).  I was swiftly disabused of this when the reader interrupted his reading at this point to ask John Hewson, as a politician, if he ever would have been asked to write an article on SSM for the SMH if he did not say he was in favour of it.  Then I knew what side the wind would be blowing from.

Not that Hewson was actually there to answer the question.

From there on the reader interspersed Hewson’s text with his own comments. By the end (he hadn’t finished when I finally got out of the car) he was in full flood.

The argument as far as I recall it was:

  1. The trouble all began when we let same sex parents have children.
  2. Children hate to be left out or to be different.
  3. Same sex parents therefore wanted to be married so that they could go to parent teacher nights etc and be recognized. [so far an interesting inversion of the ‘all about the children’ arguments – it shows how people attribute to their opponents their own ways of thinking]
  4. So now they were trying to subvert our traditional notion of marriage, and take away our marriage, the institution of which we are a part;
  5. Which is part of our Armenian cultural heritage [he didn’t sound very Armenian, if that is possible, and maybe I’m a bit mixed up here with the announcements from time to time that the program was sponsored by St Gregory’s Armenian School – an institution which in fact was wound up some years ago with its premises at Rouse Hill now sold to Malek Fahid Islamic School and much productive – for lawyers – litigation]
  6. And not, (implicitly, like homosexuals) a matter of genital-to-genital.
  7. And now some of our politicians think they know better than us!
  8. there’s this Warren Entsch “not that I know Warren Entsch from a bar of soap – except that a bar of soap leaves you clean
  9. So you should get on your computers, I know you have them, and tell them that you don’t want it;
  10. Don’t let those homosexuals get their fingers on our marriage!

There was more with which obviously I disagree, and I haven’t remembered all the nasty swipes along the way – I’ve only really clearly the remembered the one at Entsch.  I think the “fingers” (why not hands?) remark was also associated in some way with some snide suggestion (maybe about genitals again) that made it seem nastier then than it does as I have reported it.

Meanwhile, today the Liberal Party, summoned by Malcolm Turnbull, has stuck to Tony Abbott’s poison pill.  It’s not that both major political parties (Julia Gillard was a particular disappointment and Penny Wong not much better) haven’t had to wrestle in their own ways with the art of the politically possible, but surely the politically possible is changing?  The biggest irony is that, at least from where I stood, Abbott’s slippery entrenchment of the plebiscite by a joint party meeting was the final nail in his political coffin, because it was not how many had understood his previous political undertakings, even if it was consistent with the fine print.

Even the statutory embedding of a man-woman definition into the Marriage Act in 2004 (one of John Howard’s many bad deeds, though not without accomplices) was such an entrenchment – because if there was nothing to try to resist in a last ditch way there was no point in it at all.

The only consolation I can see at present is that if the head of steam builds up strongly enough, the change, when it comes, will be less traded off for little sheltered pockets of bigotry.

Here’s hoping.

 

 

 

 

Conundrum 2

July 27, 2017

I’s taken me a while, but back to Calokerinos, Executor of the Estate of the late George Sclavos v Yesilhat; Yesilhat v Calokerinos, Executor of the Estate of the late George Sclavos [2017] NSWSC 666.

You will recall that George Sclavos, a pharmacist who had been generous to many or at least relaxed in his attitude to recovering monies lent to many, died suddenly aged 65, survived by his two nieces, Anna and Cleopatra, in whose favour an informal will was found.

Okan Yesilhat disputed the validity of the will. He said he was George’s surviving de facto partner. Okan said this relationship, of many years’ standing, had been a secret.

Obviously there must have been some kind of a relationship between George and Okan. George had advanced substantial sums of money to Okan – well above the other amounts known to have been advanced by him to others – and he had given Okan the means and authority to conduct his bank accounts.

To me, as a gay man, Okan’s claim of there being a sexual relationship is a plausible one. On reflection, perhaps that is putting it too simply. To me it is plausible that, if there was a sexual relationship, it would have been conducted in complete secrecy in the way that Okan alleged.

On the other hand, it is very easy to make up a story about someone who is dead. A court must scrutinize carefully any claims of dealings with deceased persons and especially where those claims rest entirely on the word of the surviving person who makes the claim.

Lawyers often talk about whether one judge or another is a good “draw” for their client. This preserves what in some ways must be a legal fiction, that there is some random process of selection of which judge hears a case. Often it may be that the selection of a particular judge from those available is a matter of chance, but the selection of judges itself is clearly far from being so.

In any case, it doesn’t look as Justice Slattery was a very good draw for Okan. As he said at paragraph [28] of his reasons for judgment:

The Court soon began to doubt Mr Yesilhat. Early in his evidence he explained how he deliberately deceived his first wife about his alleged relationship with George. Without a flicker of shame he elaborated upon a cynical scheme to mislead his first wife, Ms Susan Katri, into believing he was not with George at night. His story of lying to his first wife is barely worthy of credit. But the fact that Mr Yesilhat was prepared to parade such studied trickery carries its own significance. Why would one who shamelessly avowed deceit of a spouse, not practise deceit on this Court?

When I first read this, I thought “Whoah!” There seemed to be a kind of paradox  – a variant on “all men [sic] are liars” – in this case, “all closeted gay men are liars.” So is no self-confessed closeted man to be believed?

What Slattery J found “barely worthy of credit” (credit here means worthiness of being believed rather than reflecting well on the teller) was Okan’s claim that he used to go to a gambling club before leaving without placing a bet to spend time with George.  Okan said he did this so that he could produce the ticket to his then wife (who had already complained that he saw too much of George) as, in effect, an alibi.

Slattery J didn’t accept this.  I’ve inserted in bold the numbers for his reasons:

[211] (1) First, it is difficult to accept that Mr Yesilhat could have kept up this pretence for years, when he claims his visits to the deceased were regular. (2) Secondly, his claimed alibi was unstable. Other people frequented the same club and would have been able to see that Mr Yeslihat had left to go elsewhere. (3) Thirdly, such an alibi was likely to create quite separate domestic concerns: that he was gambling away the family’s money. He sought to answer that threat by explaining that this poker club was not one where gambling for money occurred. But that does not meet the problem that to a person being shown sign-in slips at a gambling club it may not have looked that way. (4)Finally, Mr Yesilhat’s case of arranging regular assignations with the deceased behind his first wife’s back infers that the deceased was complicit in this deception. How else could the deceased believe that a married Mr Yesilhat could spend so much time with him?

[212] (4A) But that is not consistent with the deceased’s character.  All the evidence about the deceased points to a man who  (4A1) had an open and friendly nature, (4A2) had deep moral feelings and religious scruples especially about his sex life, (4A3) maintained warm relationships with family and friends and (4A4) had never been involved in fraudulent activity. But Mr Yesilhat seemed comfortable to accept that the deceased was as dishonest as he was in conducting this relationship.

That’s a lot of reasons. Maybe 2 is the best, were it not that many affairs are conducted under cover of equally risky alibis.  My own skepticism would be of the elaborateness and consistency of the claimed ruse rather than its fragility – why not a variety of garden husbandly lies?   3 assumes Okan’s wife did not know/believe that no money was gambled at the club.  I don’t think I would be as ready as Slattery J is to take 1 and 4 (4A4 in particular is a stretch – how can you prove such a negative?) as from the start tending to preclude the truth of Okan’s account.

There’s a lot more in the judgment and the judge had plenty more reasons to which I find myself without the energy to do justice.  The thing is, unlike the rest of us who can afford a Marabar-caves sort of indeterminacy, he did have to make up his mind. That’s his job.

From which you’ll probably realise that Justice Slattery totally dismissed Okan’s claim, and upheld Cleopatra’s claim for repayment of all monies paid to or taken by Okan, with interest.  Okan’s story was just that: the story Okan had to tell if, following George’s sudden death, he was to avoid having to repay the money he had already received from George and hang on to the money he opportunistically grabbed by continuing to use after George’s death his capacity to operate George’s accounts. That Okan had obtained monies on such a scale and authority to operate George’s accounts in this way was not to be attributed to any sexual relationship between them, but rather that (at [312]) Okan was an “intuitive and manipulative individual” who well understood and was close enough to take advantage of George’s generosity.

So much (so far as the monies obtained by Okan and his company in George’s lifetime were concerned) for any credit in heaven which George professed a hope to attain on account of funds unrepaid at his death.

Nieces and intestacy

Why, asked Cleopatra (rhetorically), would she seek to forge a will as Okan claimed she had when, as George’s nieces, she and Anna stood to benefit anyway under what looked like otherwise being intestacy?

It is possible that this emerged during submissions as a result of a remark by the judge himself.  As he said at [688]:

the Court did raise the hypothesis in submissions that George’s nieces would take on George’s intestacy. But in the course of preparing these reasons it is clear that hypothesis was based on an erroneous assumption as to the present State of New South Wales law at the time of the deceased’s death. The nieces or nephews of an intestate in New South Wales have no entitlements; the State of New South Wales would be entitled to his estate: Succession Act, Parts 4.3 and 4.5.

I think his Honour’s first instincts were better than his afterthought.

This is the contents page to parts 4.3 and 4.5 of the Succession Act (part 4.4 deals with indigenous families) to which his Honour refers:

PART 4.3 – DISTRIBUTION AMONG RELATIVES
Note

   127.    Entitlement of children
   128.    Parents
   129.    Brothers and sisters
   130.    Grandparents
   131.    Aunts and uncles
   132.    Entitlement to take in separate capacities

   PART 4.5 – ABSENCE OF PERSONS ENTITLED

   136.    Intestate leaving no persons entitled
   137.    State has discretion to make provision out of property to which it becomes entitled

If you go by the contents listing alone, there is no section which, going by the headings, deals with the entitlements of nephews or nieces.  However, section 129 is as follows:

129 Brothers and sisters

(1) The brothers and sisters of an intestate are entitled to the whole of the intestate estate if the intestate leaves:

(a) no spouse, and

(b) no issue, and

(c) no parent.

(2) If no brother or sister predeceased the intestate leaving issue who survived the intestate, then:

(a) if only one survives-the entitlement vests in the surviving brother or sister, or

(b) if 2 or more survive-the entitlement vests in them in equal shares.

(3) If a brother or sister predeceased the intestate leaving issue who survived the intestate:

(a) allowance must be made in the division of the estate between brothers and sisters for the presumptive share of any such deceased brother or sister, and

(b) the presumptive share of any such deceased brother or sister is to be divided between the brother’s or sister’s children and, if any of these children predeceased the intestate leaving issue who survived the intestate, the deceased child’s presumptive share is to be divided between the child’s children (again allowing for the presumptive share of a grandchild who predeceased the intestate leaving issue who survived the intestate), and so on until the entitlement is exhausted.

If I am reading this aright, contrary to his Honour’s observations, nieces and nephews (and for good measure any intersex children of siblings) do have entitlements under intestacy in the event that their parents had an entitlement but predeceased the intestate person.  Siblings have an entitlement if a person dies without parents, spouse or issue.

If George died without leaving a will, under s 129(1), George’s parents having predeceased him and he dying single and childless, his brother would have been entitled to the whole of his estate. George’s brother having predeceased him, under s 129(3)(b), that brother’s daughters, ie, Anna and Cleopatra, his nieces, would have been entitled to share that brother’s presumptive share equally.

 

 

 

 

A conundrum

July 9, 2017

Maybe we are all unusual people, if you can only look closely enough, but George Sclavos, who for many years conducted a pharmacy at Leppington must have stood out.

From the late 1980s, George, who graduated as a pharmacist in 1973 when he was about 25, owned and ran a pharmacy at Leppington (near Campbelltown).  George never married and you’d have to say that the pharmacy really must have been his life.   He befriended many of his customers, including the local “down and outs” from the caravan park nearby whom he would often invite in after hours to spend time with him after the pharmacy had closed.

George was the “go to” man amongst his fellow shopkeepers at Leppington for making up a float at the start of the trading day.  He lent many people money, but if they didn’t pay him back was apparently content to leave that as something which would rest on their consciences or probably souls (he was devoutly religious) if they failed to repay him.  He told a friend “If I die and they owe me the money maybe God will put that in my credit to cover my sins.”

George was a heavy smoker, and it seems that other aspects of his shopkeeping lifestyle were quite unhealthy.  In 2013, aged 65, he died suddenly at the pharmacy.

George’s older and only brother, his father and his mother had predeceased him in 1980, 1979 and 1992.  He was survived by Anna and Cleopatra, his brother’s daughters.  George had told his nieces that they would find a will in his house.

George had lived since 1983 in a house in Strathfield first owned by his father and later by him.  He was a bit of a hoarder.  His nieces and family friends set about tidying things up in the hope that the will would surface in the process.

A document later admitted to probate as a informal will was found in George’s bible (which was on the table next to his bed), folded around an old photo of Anna and Cleopatra.  This appointed Cleopatra (who is a barrister by profession) as his executor and left George’s estate of about $6 million to her and Anna equally.

But there was another claimant.

Okan Yesilhat claimed he had met George in 1999 when Okan was 17 and George about 51.  Okan said he had been in a sexual relationship with George from that time and was in a de facto relationship with George at the time of George’s death.  Okan said that the document found in the bible must have been planted there and was not a will.  He said that probate of the will should be revoked, in which case (on his contentions) he would take the entire estate as de facto “widower” on intestacy.

As a fall-back Okan claimed family provision on the basis of his asserted relationship with George.  As a fall-back or parallel claim to that, Okan also said that money which he had received from George in George’s lifetime was a gift rather than money that Okan had to pay back. This was about $386K less payments by Okan or his company in George’s lifetime of about $82K – a net amount of $304K.

Okan had also taken money out of George’s accounts after George’s death using means of operating these accounts which George had given him.  Even if you are authorised to take money from someone’s accounts while they are alive, that authority ceases on their death and any money taken out after usually has to be repaid to the estate.  One way or another (as the heir on intestacy or by means of provision in a greater amount) Okan sought to resist having to repay these post-mortem amounts, of about $206K.  Okan had made a further $7-8K of withdrawals from George’s accounts which were reversed by the bank when it stopped the account at Cleopatra’s request.

Anna and Cleopatra knew about Okan, because in 2011 George had told them that he had lent upwards of $100K to Okan for a tyre business on Canterbury Road in Lakemba.  Anna and her husband had visited the business and met Okan not long after that.  You could not blame Anna and Cleopatra for feeling some disquiet about this, let alone about the full picture which came to light after George’s death, not only of the substantial amounts which had passed in his lifetime, but also the post-mortem withdrawals from his accounts.

But Okan’s claim of a 14-year homosexual relationship with their uncle came as a complete shock to them.  As far as they were aware, although unmarried, George had had a number of girlfriends in his life.  There was a bit more mystery over the circumstances in which George had harboured in his home from 2005 to 2008 a (since deceased) married mother-of-five sex worker with a drug problem whom he had met on Canterbury Road.

To Cleopatra and Anna Okan’s claims were not only a shock but a calumny.

Okan for his part maintained that his relationship with George was secret for cultural reasons.  He rubbed salt in to the wound (so far as Anna and Cleopatra were concerned) by claiming that George was dismissive of and said disparaging things about them.

By the time the matter came to trial, it emerged that if Okan was telling the truth, he had his own cultural reasons for keeping his relationship with George secret, including two marriages of his own.  For good measure, witnesses claimed that even when married he was seen consorting with other women.

There was no evidence from anyone, even Okan, of either George or Okan having any other same-sex relationship.

The matter was heard over 21 days in early 2016 before Justice Slattery. It took his Honour over a year to deliver his decision: Calokerinos, Executor of the Estate of the late George Sclavos v Yesilhat; Yesilhat v Calokerinos, Executor of the Estate of the late George Sclavos [2017] NSWSC 666.

That seems a long time, even if his Honour was off on leave for some of it, though the reasons are certainly lengthy.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to skip to the end of the book to find out the ending, or to look up the endings of TV serials on the internet (I am that kind of person) you can find out more there. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until I have the energy to write another post.

SSO, Dutoit, not Argerich but Wang

July 3, 2017

On Saturday to the SOH to hear the SSO, conducted by Charles Dutoit.

The program was:

Stravinsky, Funeral Song
Beethoven, Piano Concerto No 1
de Falla, 2 suites from The Three-cornered Hat and
Ravel, La Valse.

For the concerto, Martha Argerich, originally slated to appear (for the third time for the first time in Sydney) was (yet again) a late scratching, this time replaced by Yuja Wang. Wang has probably been able to make a bit of a career out of stepping in when MA has cancelled.

Because of the Argerich factor, the SSO had hiked up the prices. In response, and bearing in mind the MA-no-show risk, I pegged down my seating reserve. At about the same price for my usual rear-stalls spot I was in Box Y at the side of the stage, diagonally behind YJW’s left shoulder.

Empty seats were conspicuous in the more expensive areas. Had I paid such top dollar, I too would have been tempted to return my ticket, which is just about the only recourse the orchestra allows. If there was a chance to buy tickets at a now reduced price (or to trade “up”, as I might have) they certainly weren’t advertising it.

What that really means is that the orchestra toughs it out on the laziness tax against everyone else who has paid the premium price on what was always (as the orchestra surely knew) a chancy prospect. That included me, and to be frank I felt a bit grumpy about that.

I wouldn’t want always to sit at the side, but it does have some benefits. There is a loss of balance and in particular of the frontal projection from the violins and the soloist/s. The gain is that you are much closer and the sound comes to you directly rather than bounced around the hall, so that what you do hear you hear much more clearly. And there is a big gain for the woodwind – often missing in action even in the rear stalls. Once you adjust for the diminished front it is like seeing and hearing the orchestra in cross-section.

This was particularly rewarding in the Stravinsky – a recently rediscovered early work for which I was totally unprepared. The big surprise was the obvious influence of Wagner. Alex Ross in the New Yorker gives the most succinct list of the Wagnerian elements (which are not confined to Siegfried’s Funeral March).

From my cross-sectional vantage point the bit I most liked was a kind of undulating accompaniment figure which emerges at about 6:30 in the youtube version (there is more than one) of last year’s second performance conducted by Gergiev in Leningrad/St Petersburg.

The Gergiev version sounds different from Dutoit and the SSO’s as I recall it, especially in mood, which in Sydney was more sombre than the recording comes across. There is surely an intrinsic interest in hearing different approaches to such a “new” work. It would be nice if the SSO’s performance could be available for a while on ABC “Classic” FM’s “Listen Again” facility. Given that P&M is already up there, I can only presume there is some rights obstacle to this.

In the Beethoven, what I was particularly able to see was how Dutoit energised the orchestral accompaniment figures, especially in the first movement. I was also in a good spot for Mr Celato’s clarinet solo in the middle movement. This movement was probably the high point of the Beethoven. People behind me said it was very slow. I honestly wouldn’t know. What with the clarinet and all I was most of all feeling how Mozartean it was.

It wasn’t the best spot to hear the piano sound, but when it came to the encores, starting with the Prokofiev Toccata, I had an extraordinary view of every muscle and bone in Yuja Wang’s back courtesy of her (almost) backless dress. It was like an anatomy lesson or one of those films of the inside of a big pipe organ at work. Wang’s other encores were the Rachmaninov Vocalise and the Horowitz variations on the gypsies’ song in Carmen.

I enjoyed The Three Cornered Hat without being particularly blown away by it – I’d say that’s the work rather than the performance, which was predictably brilliant. La Valse, for me, is a more compelling and made a great finale.

Afterwards I spoke to a couple (well, friends, but two of them) who, like me, had also come the week before for Pelléas et Mélisande. They enjoyed this concert more and I expect that is the taste of most of the SSO public. As for me, it is the Debussy which is still resonating most and I expect it to do so for a while.

Pelléas et Mélisande

June 24, 2017

Last night with D to the concert performance by the Sydney Symphony of Pelléas et Mélisande.

Although the two tickets that I picked up just a day or so before were shown on the booking plan as the only free pair of seats in the stalls, there were quite a lot of empty seats at the start. Some of these were filled by latecomers who overlooked the 7pm start, but I got the impression there was a bit of an interval exodus to offset this. As ever, it seems that a segment of the SSO subscriber base is simply not so keen on vocal works, even though this was conducted by Charles Dutoit, and even though the orchestra plays such a prominent role.

In terms of plot and incident, the opera is a bit slow – it’s symbolism rather than drama, though things get moving a bit more in about acts III and IV. The strongest impression one gets is the atmosphere of a remote place in a distant time – you really feel that a whole world is created. It’s hard to put your finger on why this is so but in away the elusiveness yet distinctinveness of the atmosphere and the music is exactly the point.

I’m going again tonight and am very much looking forward to it.

Update, 1 July

I went and, despite an unwelcome work-related thought which stole up on me and I found impossible to banish for an entire scene, enjoyed it very much. This afternoon I was able to hear about half on ABC “Classic” FM, where Saturday’s performance remains available to listen to again for the next 28 days.

1983

June 24, 2017

I was away in Canberra for a belated/extended Queen’s Birthday long weekend so it was only at the last minute on my return on the Wednesday after that I arranged to go and see some films at the Sydney Film Festival.

The first, on Thursday night, was Call me by your name. D (who can only be persuaded to go to the cinema to see “gay” films) came with me for that.  I sensed while I was watching that this might well be an adaptation of a novel, and indeed that turns out to be the case.  The film is full of little details shown to us which, to me, at least, were not really explicable at the time and are only made retrospectively clear by reading up on the book.

The story is set “somewhere in Northern Italy.”  The context for the depicted coming-of-age is that European kind of long languid summer which we don’t really have here in Australia.  (A quibble: even this European summer could not really have been as languid for the 17-year-old protagonist as depicted. Surely he needed to put in a bit of piano practice?)  It is all very beautiful in a Merchant-Ivory kind of way (Ivory wrote the script).  I enjoyed it, as I think did D, though he afterwards observed that he feels he is too old for this kind of movie.

On Friday afternoon I snuck away early from work to see The Teacher .  I was drawn to this in part because of my own friendships (dating from Berlin 1987) with a family from die ehemaliger DDR.  One feature of life in the DDR, and I think of all then-communist states, was that in the absence of a market economy, people resorted to informal networks for exchanges of goods and services and favours.  (Not that this doesn’t occur always, but then and there it was to a greater extent than since or then in the “West.”)   As the eponymous teacher (in the then Czechoslovakia) asks, “Shouldn’t we all help each other?”

Ironically, my East German friends remember this response to adversity favourably as giving rise to a greater social connectedness than under capitalism – which on one view just substitutes different adversities such as lack of money for those at the bottom of the pecking order.

But back to the film.

At the start we see the teacher getting each child in her middle-school class to tell her what their parents do.  Helping each other, in this case, turns out to mean the parents helping the teacher, in exchange for which she dispenses favouritism and tip-offs as to what to revise for class quizzes.  That may seem benign.  The darker side is if co-operation is not forthcoming, because the flip side of favouritism is victimisation of the children of parents who refuse to play the game.

As the music makes clear from the outset, this is all played as a comedy, obviously with a bite.  Zuzana Mauréry in the title role gives a bravura performance.

Both films were screened at the State Theatre, which for me was part of the point of going. In these multiplex days there is something of a time warp in going there – not just for the glorious fantasy architecture, but also of being part of a really big audience with a sense of occasion.

At the start when I go to the State I always have a bit of a double-take at the relatively small (to the size of the cinema and the proscenium) screen. In fact, I find I adjust to that quite quickly, and the sound system (obviously updated) rises well to the feel of the big room full of people.

The afternoon session of The Teacher still had a bit of the duffle-coat-and-and-thermos atmosphere of film festivals of yore.

The other more specific time warp was that both films were set in 1983.

In CMBYN that presumably came from the novel. The film signalled it in various ways, starting with the Sony walkman (Sony also produced the film) which the young protagonist was wedded to as he transcribed music with pencil and paper, and including the various popular-music-themed t-shirts he sported. Obviously cars and decor also matched the period. My own memory of 1983 is that news of HIV/AIDS was beginning to trickle out. Yes, I know the first news was in 1981, but I wonder if the boy’s parents would have been quite so open to his having a gay romance even a year later, in 1984. At the very least, they would have surely felt obliged to have a little chat about precautions.

In The Teacher, the period setting obviously had a specific historical function – the eponymous teacher is also a Communist Party leader and the willingness or unwillingness of any of the parents to complain has a lot to do with that. A particularly delicious aspect of the film is its period retro-look. As the reviewer in The Hollywood Reporter puts it:

Cinematographer Martin Ziaran, art director Juraj Fabry and costume designer Katarina Strbova Bielikova have come up with a warm look, with colorful, 1970s-like patterns. This initially counterintuitive choice is the opposite of the cold, austere and bleak way in which the Romanian New Wave has visualized the Communist era, for example. But it works beautifully as a counterpoint because despite the warmly nostalgic look, the film’s themes and message make it clear the era was not something we should look back on fondly in any way.

That’s a US perspective. I’m not sure if things are quite so black-and-white as that (the film itself offers a little 1991 postlude).

I’m probably a bit of a fraud to claim any film-festival-going credentials for having seen either of these films. Given Sony’s moniker on CMBYN and Palace Cinema’s on The Teacher my guess is that, provided you live in a metropolitan area of Australia, you can expect to see both of these films coming soon to a cinema near you.

Pinchgut – winter festivities

June 20, 2017

Pigmalion curtain call

I went on Saturday afternoon to the second and on Tuesday night to the last performance of Pinchgut Opera’s triple bill:

Rameau Anacréon (libretto by Pierre-Joseph-Justin Bernard)
Vinci Erighetta e Don Chilone (libretto by Vinci)
Rameau Pigmalion (libretto by Ballot de Sauvot)

I had picked up at the last minute two restricted view seats  – on opposite sides for obvious reasons.

Erighetta e don Chilone was a genially amusing (if not quite side-splitting) two-hander for Taryn Fiebig and Richard Alexander.  It’s a Neapolitan piece from the 1720s so stylistically think Pergolesi, who apparently studied with Vinci.  I enjoyed it though the business with a book (apparently it was meant to be a play within a play and a read-through at that) didn’t really add much for me.

The two Rameau works are both Actes de ballet.  Dance is a big element of them.  That is always a bit tricky because our modern tastes for dance and, I venture to say, the significance we attach to it, are probably not the same as in the original context.  Or maybe not so different.  Pigmalion, where there was actual dancing, managed this more successfully;  Anacreon was a bit busy and the resort to rhythmic movement as a substitute for dancing always feels a bit lame.

It’s said in such texts as I found in fragments on the web (or at least some of them) that Pigmalion is Rameau’s most successful work in this genre.  On Saturday, Anacreon had the advantage with me because (as I later realised) I have repeatedly listened to a chunk of it as part of a very old Les Arts Florissant compilation set of CDs.  By Tuesday, Pigmalion prevailed. I also felt that stylistically it was the more successfully realised.

I’m not a critic, so no roll call and just nice remarks.

Lauren Zolezzi, L’Amour in both works (first a kind of feminine Cupid in something rather like Con High uniform and then more adult and in masculine attire a la Cherubino) was probably the newcomer of the night.

In the orchestra, the violins were in fine form – how standards have risen over the years in the early music biz here in Oz!  Leader Matthew Greco played up a storm, especially in a very striking solo in the Vinci. I only noticed one tiny suspect moment in the oboes, which also is a sign of progress in the reliability stakes over the years though perhaps the parts in these works were not the most demanding or exposed.  Both of the Rameau pieces reserved particular moments of poetry for the flutes, and these were delectable.

The fast section of the Pigmalion ouverture includes what I can only describe as a particularly mind-blowing double hemiola system .

I don’t find it so easy to get worked up for an afternoon performance. I’m sure that on Tuesday I was in a more receptive mood than on Saturday. But there is also much to be said for what you can get out of something the second time around, provided of course that it is something that bears repetition.

On Tuesday I enjoyed the program very much.

[Picture from Pinchgut Facebook: I’m in there somewhere.]

Temporary postscript: for the next 3 or so weeks the performance broadcast on Sunday night can be heard from the ABC “Classic” FM website here.

 

 

 

My new scenic ride 2

June 12, 2017

After Steel Park, the bike path skirts foot of the sandstone plateau of The Warren, under what I like to think of as the Poo Bridge:

poo bridge

Another view:

poo br 2

Not long after, the path emerges just behind the Concordia Club near Tempe.

I take a left along Carrington Road.

Carrington Road

Once we spoke of remnant bushland (until Mike Baird had it bulldozed to make a parking spot for heavy equipment whilst the M5 is extended); now we might as well speak, in the inner city at least, of remnant industrial areas.  The buildings pictured (or some of them) were built in 1926 as a car assembly plant for General Motors.  Ibis roost in the palms and patrol the battlements.

Facing them are some strange almost-neighbours, the Sheik Alawy Youth Centre:

sheikh alawy centre

and

Rosicrucian Lodge

Who even knew there were still Rosicrucians?

Pictured in the foreground is a separated cycle way which the now-merged Marrickville Council installed. Problematically, the cyclists are faced with a “Give Way” sign each time a side street (itself with a “Give Way” sign in favour of Carrington Road) intervenes.  Further on, the cycle path dumps cyclists across the road with no warning to motorists other than an overgrown sign.  I find it safer to stay on the road.

The Carrington Road “precinct” has an almost-forgotten air to it.  To me that is part of its “you-find-this-ugly” charm.

The precinct is unlikely to remain forgotten for long.  It looks as though it will soon be thrown to the wolves of “urban renewal” – ie, more apartments.  There is money to be made.  Urgers are already on the case.

untitled (5)

Until that happens, the precinct and the larger Marrickville-Sydenham precinct which I then ride through after ducking under the railway (past the mysterious and only really visible from the train Sydney Water pumping station  where there also appears to be movement at the station) is given over to mixed light-industrial uses – distribution centres of one sort or another, motor workshops, community welfare groups and a strange preponderance of coffee roasters and wholesale bakeries emitting tantalising aromas.

Build it and they will come, I previously posted about the bike racks at Sydenham Station.  It is time to tether my steed.

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