SIPCA 2016 3 – the verdict

July 24, 2016

On Friday and Saturday with D to the C19 and C20 concerto finals of the Sydney International Piano Competition.

We were home for the announcement of the prizes.

No complaint about the winner: Andrey Gugnin looked a likely winner from the first round (according to others I respect).  I really liked his Kreutzer sonata with Tasmin Little and his Prokofiev, and his semi-final recital was also impressive.  And though we only saw his C18 concerto streamed, D and I both thought he was the best of that night.

The special prizes awarded by the jury, so far as I correlate them to players I heard live (or, if streamed, the comments of those who were there), also seemed well-judged.

The Sydney Symphony gave their own prize for best concerto to Gugnin.

With the introduction of internet voting and also earlier “paper” voting the people’s choice prize was always going to be a bit of a wild-card. You wonder how exactly the voting could be audited – in previous years a vote at the finals with a piece of paper from the program had at least a fairly straightforward means of verification of votes.  I was a bit surprised to see this prize go to Xie Ming, given that he hadn’t reached the finals, but he was definitely a likeable and popular competitor.

It was gratifying to see each that each of the three players whose failure to progress to the semi-finals I regretted were awarded special prizes, including the jury chipping in for a special prize for Martin Malmgren.

But I might as well cut to the chase.  Given that the jury thought Kong Jia Ning played the best semi-final recital (memorable Bach and then the Diabelli variations) and that he played the best eighteenth century concerto, it seems strange that at sixth place he came in last of all the finalists.  Was his Brahms concerto (by far the most difficult choice and yes, an ambitious choice for him) really that bad?  It didn’t seem so to me.  I know  (eg but not only him) I’m not the only one who thinks Kong could have been more highly placed.

All right, have it your way…

July 24, 2016


OK, there are better pictures, but I was quite pleased to find when I took a quick loop around the Opera House prior to Saturday’s 5pm session of the finals to the Sydney International Piano Competition that the other international visitors were in residence.

I was surprised to find their presence (albeit it was a fairly static display) so unremarked, though not entirely:





[Title reference]


July 23, 2016


Recently there has been so much po-faced recollection of battles fought in France a century ago and extraordinary expenditure on the retrieval and identification of the remains of men whom few alive can possibly have known .  By now there must even be relatively few people who will have known people who knew them and grieved for them. What is the purpose of this expenditure? Is it to offer encouragement to existing servicemen and their families that if they die their bodies will be retrieved?  If so, it seems to me, the expenditure is by way of encouraging further military adventures rather than commemorating the fallen.

Both my grandfathers were at Gallipoli and then in France.

My maternal grandfather, who joined as a saddler, afterwards became a big figure in his country town RSL branch.

According to my father, his father (who enlisted in Perth on his return from Cambridge for the long vacation) never spoke of the war to his family.

After Gallipoli, my great-grandparents and especially my great-grandmother pulled all sorts of strings (letters to Sir John Forrest, visits to the War Office in Whitehall) to get my grandfather out of the AIF so that he could take up a commission with the British Army in the Field Artillery.

Some years ago my father gave me this ashtray. I know it came from his father and it seems likely to be a bit of war memorabilia.

This is the obverse:


Ironically, the war casualty in the family turned out to be my great-grandmother. Having spent most of the war in London – doubtless in part to be close when my grandfather was back from the front, she died in the 1918 influenza epidemic

Schumann Scherzo

July 21, 2016

schumann scherzo (2)

I’ve been at home with a shocking cold, so have had a chance to catch up with some of SIPCA that has now been posted to Youtube.  I hope legitimately, because otherwise it will presumably be taken down as the preliminary rounds were.

The two performances of the Schumann quintet were by Xie Ming and Kong Jia Ning.  Kong went through to the finals; Xie did not.

Xie’s performance begins at 1:15:30 in the link below.

My friend Lw thought Kong Jia Ning’s performance better, and in particular that it was better Schumann. I was a bit disappointed that Kong seemed so impassive – whether or not it actually makes any difference it is always nice to see some interaction between the players. Xie did more of that. Lw nicknamed Xie “Liberace.”

Liberace or not, Youtube revealed one little touch, at 1:30:19 and 1:30:42 which made me smile.

Although you can’t judge it very well from the recording, I think Kong’s balance was better.  Compare the beginning of the last movement, Xie at 1:34 Kong at 1:15:10 below, though I like the way both of them move briskly into it in their own ways.

SIPCA 2016 2

July 19, 2016


Last week I got to some but not all of the semi finals for the Sydney International Piano Competition. I saw 6 of the semi-finalists’ 65-minute recitals, on Wednesday and Thursday nights, and I saw 9 of their chamber music rounds, on all of Friday and Saturday night.

Because I only went to day one of the preliminary rounds, there were still 3 semifinalists whom I never heard in any round, including the much-fancied Oxana Shevkenko from Kazakhstan.

On Saturday night the finalists were announced.

Dealing first with those who were eliminated, in playing order:

Gyu Tae Ha – one of the younger competitors, not yet 20.  My friend P preferred his Mephisto Waltz to that of his compatriot in the same session.  I otherwise only heard him in the chamber-music round, where he played the Brahms violin sonata.  Maybe not yet, my friend Lw opined, a true Brahmsian.

Sergey Belyavskiy  – I heard him o  nly in the first round when he launched, impressively, into a “Rage over a lost Penny.”  He struck me as a bit of a barnstormer.  Correction: I also heard him play the Franck Sonata with the violin, which was less “barnstormish.”

Xie Ming – early on the commentators described him as “flamboyant” – which always makes my heart sink.  Not because of him but because of all of us.  At some point he declared an allegiance to Jean-Yves Thibaudet which is manifested by something red in his footwear.  I heard him in round 1 and in the semifinals.  I liked his novelty number in round 1 which required the use of the sostenuto pedal.  I thought his statement of the theme in the Beethoven “Rule Britannia” variations was too bombastic: has he not heard Wellington’s Victory?  Xie Ming has loads of personality and had quite a following but perhaps for the jury the ratio of personality to music was too high.

I never heard Alexei Melnikov or Poom Prommachart in the flesh.

Tony Lee, the sole Australian semi-finalist, was slated to play last. I heard both his semi-final rounds.  The solo round started very well as he strode out with an air of determination and sat down at the keyboard to launch into Schubert’s 3 Klavierstücke D.946.  The first two were the best.  After that, as he moved on to Chopin, I began to worry if he was playing too much “pretty” stuff.  Is that a wise tactic?  It was a relief that he played Prokofiev 7 rather than the over-exposed Prok 6, even if I disagreed with what he did in the slow[-ish] movement, where I would have preferred he changed the colours rather than dragged around the tempi quite so much.

In the chamber music round, Lee played the Brahms [violin] sonata.  This started well, especially the slow movement, but something went amiss, I think, in the last movement, and the big finish eluded him.  There  was an agonising slightly non-plussed pause before rather desultory applause from the audience.  I think Lee deserved better than that and I really felt for him.  Maybe everyone was just exhausted.

As I am, other than to mention that the picture above is a tribute to Tasmin Little’s and Andrey Gugnin‘s performance of the Kreutzer sonata.  They may have been winging it for co-ordination (they only had one and a half hours to rehearse about 40 minutes of music) but both of them were sizzling pretty hot.  Tasmin could have done worse than to sweep up young Andrey from the keyboard at the end.

PS: It looks as though SIPCA itself has now put the semi-finals and finals up on Youtube. You can see the exhilaration at the end of the Kreutzer at about 2:47:47 here.







Pas devant les enfants

July 18, 2016

At the dentist today for what I gleaned, from the technician’s chatter, they refer to as RCT.

“Will we have some LA?” she asked the dentist.

The dental dam was not yet in place.

“You’d better give me some LA,” I interjected, “before I have to come up with the LSD.”


SIPCA 2016 1

July 15, 2016

This is a belated post.

Last Thursday I went to most of the first day of this year’s Sydney International Piano Competition. Having been delayed by torrential downpours, already too late for the first competitor, I also missed the second.  There was only one computer at the box office, manned by box-office personnel from the Opera House (to which the competition has outsourced its ticketing for this competition).

How it was that I hadn’t booked tickets earlier is another story. Suffice to say that an unwieldy computer booking system, SOH box office staff who weren’t entirely familiar with what they were selling and the notably more expensive tickets for this year each played a part.

Still, that left 6 more players at 20 minutes each in the first session, and another 8 in the evening.

That is almost too much piano music for me to sit and watch in one go (or, I suppose, two goes), though once you get into the rhythm of it, it has a certain Zen.

I now regret that I missed the gala concert the night before as this would have been a great opportunity to hear the active pianists amongst the jurors.

The competition is being live-streamed with visual as well as the audio which, as in previous years, is produced by ABC “Classic” FM.  Someone has now put up the streaming of the gala concert and the first two rounds of the competition on Youtube.  [See afterword below: it was evidently unauthorised and has now all been taken down.]  It’s not really a substitute for being there because recordings do not give a true record of how the instrument sounds in the hall.  This also varies according to where you are seated but the main thing which the recording doesn’t capture is that the hall is quite resonant.  Sound is clearest up the back upstairs where the jury sits.  My feeling is that it took a while for some competitors to make the necessary adjustments to speed and pedalling, though the recordings may not show that.

I had to miss day 2 and all of the second round, held from Saturday to Monday, though I caught some of the broadcast.

When the semi-finalists are announced there is always some disappointment – this year sharpened by the omission of an intermediary “Quarterfinals” round.  The main disappointment is, as ever, the omission of some interesting pianists as the verdict of the jury converges on potential “hero” concert pianists.

With one exception, all the semi-finalists are either from successor states to the former Soviet Union or of (in Australian terms) “Asian” background.  Only one woman made the cut.

The three pianists I heard in the flesh whom I was sorry to see eliminated were Daniel Lebhhardt, Alyosha Jurinic and Martin Malmgren.

It seems the competitors were asked to give a little statement about what they feel about the competition. The compilers of the printed program then extracted a sentence or two which is reproduced as part of the blurb about each.  Some of these are cringe-makingly politic (wonderful to play before such a distinguished jury; competition very prestigious etc).

Malmgren’s was:

I consider this event to be just as much a festival as a competition, celebrating diversity in repertoire and performing styles.  For the unprejudiced listener, there will be much to be discovered.

Unfortunately, we won’t be hearing some of Malmgren’s more interesting choices for following rounds, including the Medtner concerto, but we did hear his choice of Australian work for the first two rounds, Brett Dean’s Equality.  It starts at about 16:30  hereWords are by Michael Leunig, by the way.

Afterword:  Friday:  the Youtube links in this post are now all defunct.  Presumably they were all unauthorised rips from the livestreaming.  The dead hand of intellectual property has struck again.  I think it would have been worth leaving them up for at least the duration of the competition but obviously somebody has thought otherwise.  Perhaps the jurors took exception to the gala concert being put up – unlike the competitors, I doubt if they had signed all their rights away to the competition.

Romantic Fantasies

July 7, 2016

Last Saturday July 2 to the SOH to hear the SSO in the concert titled as per above.

The bill of fare was:

  • SHOSTAKOVICH Festive Overture
  • TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto
  • BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique


  • Shiyeon Sung conductor
  • Vadim Gluzman violin

Nothing even remotely romantic about the Shostakovich, dashed off in a mere few weeks by DEsCH and given a bracing performance under Shiyeon Sung’s direction.

Guzman made a big sound, especially on the G string, in the Tchaik, playing the very instrument on which it was [hoped to be: see comment by Yvonne below] premiered.  I enjoyed it.  I think it is the first big violin concerto I heard, played by (then) Jimmy (now) Cho-Liang Ling during his youthful sojourn in Sydney.  I felt sometimes Guzman wanted to move a bit faster forward than Sung but maybe that is ever the way.  There is also a bit (an orchestral tutti) in the middle of the first movement which felt distinctly humdrum – we had to fill in a bit of time going through the circle  of fifths or something like that a few times before things got exciting again, which they did.

I enjoyed the Berlioz more than I have in the last few times I was exposed to it.  I hope Ms Sung comes to Sydney again.  There were, however, no ophicleides. Things sounded distinctly muscular in the brass section at almost all times. The slow movement was, as ever, a bit of a test of the audience’s concentration.

In the cello section, young Hyung-Suk Bae has been trying out this month and last month for an associate cello position.  In this concert, he played up the front with the beauteous one whilst the (not necessarily unattractive) Umberto Clerici hung free at the back desk.

There was an acknowledgement of country at the beginning of the concert.  Will this be a regular thing or was it just for NAIDOC week?

Three Oranges

July 3, 2016

On Saturday night to Opera Australia’s production of the above.

Is it really 11 years since it was last on?

Well, yes, it is.  And whereas the 2005 production was tied up with a recording deal with Chandos, a comparison of the casting says something about where Opera Australia has gone since 2005, even allowing for the revival casting factor.  Not least because in 2005 Opera Australia actually had a music director.

To me the glory of the piece (notwithstanding the striking production) is the brilliantly inventive orchestration.  That’s a bit problematic at the Sydney Opera House given the constraints of the pit.  Where I sat, up close, the problem was overcome, though there were still points where I thought the characterisation could have been more sharp: I wished at these moments that conductor Tony Legge could have been just a bit less imperturbably mild-mannered. But my gosh he and the orchestra had a lot to deal with and I don’t want my comment about those moments to suggest that it wasn’t still very exciting.

The singing was fine – some bits finer than others.  The group of the chorus known as “the ridiculous ones” relished in the chances Tom Stoppard’s snappy English translation gave them to engage directly with the audience which is not always the case for the chorus.  I remain a bit ambivalent about why they had to be so extremely camp (a bit like the “French Mistake” chorus boys from the neighbouring sound-stage in Blazing Saddles) but I suppose it was comedy and, as they say, can’t you take a joke?

I intend to listen again (well, actually, for the first time) to ABC Classic FM’s broadcast of the previous Thursday’s performance, which is available still for a few weeks.  If I were feeling richer, I would probably try to get to one of the three remaining performances.  Apart from the final Saturday matineee, each of these (on Monday and Wednesday) still shows up as having about 700 seats going begging.

As ever, you have to wonder what Opera Australia thinks it is doing with these seats.  It’s not as if can seriously be taken by surprise by this state of affairs and indeed Mr Terracini almost delights in declaring how such works lose money for the company.  To let the seats go empty may vindicate Mr Terracini, but it is the Government’s money  which is being wasted.  Where’s the governance?




Books do Furnish a Room

June 30, 2016


I’m unpacking and shelving my books after moving.

Once, inspired by the book-lined walls of lecturers’ offices in which tutorials were conducted, I aspired to acquire books.   I suppose I felt that to own a book was to own its contents.

At some point I began to cast off books. What’s the point of owning them?  If you need one, find it in the library!  Well, if not the library, given the way libraries are going these days, the internet.

I have sometimes sold old books.  In preparation for the move before last, I found that so dispiriting and the prices offered so insulting that I arranged for volunteers from 2MBSFM to come to my house.  They took boxes and boxes away (as well as practically all my LPs).

On my latest move I didn’t manage such a ruthless culling, though I did take a few boxes over to the radio station and gave others away.  That included my set of Anthony Powell novels which I had previously given away to my friend Sq/Sx.  After his death, his parents offered them back to me and it seemed churlish to decline the offer.

I still have just a few vestiges of a collection: the remnants of a poetic canon, books about music, a few favourite writers.  Otherwise, it’s a scrappy assemblage: books with some sentimental attachment (school prizes, parental keepsakes, books by friends/relatives); a very few books that I expect I will want to read again; some reference books (increasingly supplanted by the internet); books which are rare or hard to replace (foreign language materials; obscurities which will never make the internet); and, worst of all, books which I have not previously discarded because I thought I ought to read them first.  Some of these I’ve had for years and still not got around to reading.

And so this week I finally got round to reading James Baldwin’s Another Country.  I took it with me for train reading on the way to and from Armida.  There my (somewhat older than I) friend CB told me that Another Country  was originally banned in Australia and that CB had only a single weekend to read the illicit copy passed to him before returning it.

My copy is a book club edition from London which has had the bookplate torn out but retains a pencilled note that it was a gift on 23.6.67.  Somebody, possibly me, paid 20 cents for it.

It took me a while to get into it.  Everyone was either an artist or a novelist or a musician.  The central character, Rufus, beats  up his girlfriend and takes his grievances out on a male lover as well. He’s a black jazz musician down on his luck – why doesn’t he just get a day job?  – and then Baldwin lets slip that Rufus is a drummer.  But as Rufus’s despair spiralled the writing drew me in.  Rufus jumps off the George Washington Bridge to his death on page 72.

It’s a well known book and you can find out practically everything you need to know about the plot on the internet so I won’t attempt to recount it further.  But there were two little aspects I want to record as a memento – a way of, possibly, saying goodbye to the book before I pass it on.

One of the characters is an expatriate actor in France.  He has a (younger) boyfriend.  They are somewhere warm and sunny and going swimming.  The boyfriend goes swimming in a “bikini.” I suppose that means that bikini originally meant any skimpy swimming costume. Who knew?

Here Baldwin is describing a scene in a bar.  It’s ostensibly from the point of view of Vivaldo, an Italian-Irish wannabe novelist who a little later has an MSM epiphany which is central to the book.

Another Country page 235

I just love “who really should have been home in bed, possibly with each other.” I don’t think that is Vivaldo – his gay sex is yet to come, and it’s too sharp.  Baldwin just couldn’t help himself from slipping it in.


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