Lockdown 5

August 3, 2021

So I washed the socks. There were more than I had pegs for.

Take it from one who now knows, unless you want to spend time sorting approximately 80 black socks into pairs (including, inevitably, a few pseudo pairs at the end) it’s probably a better idea to just wash your socks as you go along.


I have also been playing some Schumann – Op 12, Op 21 – and, following on from listening to op 21, listening to his Op 56 for Pedalflugel.

Lockdown 4

July 26, 2021

The idea was to wear all my winter socks. To make sure I wore them all I would save them up for one enormous sock wash.

Fugitive and compromised socks were re-united and darned as applicable.

To speed things up, I took to wearing double socks. Not too bad at this time of the year.

“The excitement’s mounting,” I announced.

“Corona, set him free!” cried D, as if to the heavens above.

Lockdown 3

July 20, 2021

General mood (not just me): Cranky.

Where to start?

Forget the specifics of the pandemic.  Too depressing.

Better far a remoaner grudge against the forced amalgamation in 2016 of Canterbury with Bankstown to form the mega Canterbury-Bankstown “LGA” (Local Government Area, if you haven’t mastered the lingo).  This has been revived by the NSW Health Officer’s habit of imposing restrictions based on LGAs.

From today’s SMH:

Suburbs such as Hurlstone Park, Earlwood, Croydon Park and Canterbury have barely a case between them and are a 28-kilometre drive from virus-ridden Fairfield.

They appear to have been caught in tougher restrictions due to 2016 council amalgamations, when Canterbury and Bankstown merged to form the most populous local government area in Sydney.

‘‘We at the ‘Paris end’ of Canterbury should not be lumped in with Bankstown, Fairfield,’’ commented [Hurlstone Park] local Jeff Swain.

What about Ashbury? Is this how the SMH rewards Con Vaitsas?

Lockdown 2

July 12, 2021


July 11, 2021

D wanted hot-pot. This is everything ready to go.

Hot-pot cries out for company. It’s a lot of fuss for only two.

We didn’t manage to polish off all of this. There will have to be a second sitting tomorrow.

Rest assured, the prawns are safely dispatched.


June 24, 2021

On Saturday to the Town Hall to hear the SSO.

Conductor was Nick Carter.  Program was:

BEETHOVEN Triple Concerto
SCHREKER Intermezzo
BRAHMS Symphony No.3

Torrent was part of the 50 fanfares project.  I especially enjoyed the glittering opening.  “Film music!”declared a friend afterwards.  Maybe so but not to its detriment.  I could fancy it to be a cheerful, non-northern, uptempo version of the theme music from the TV series, Vera.  It’s pointillistic sparkles in the orchestration which give me that idea.   Succeeding sections included a great oboe solo and the work covered a lot of territory in its eight or nine minutes.

Soloists for the Beethoven were Piers Lane, Umberto Clerici and Andrew Haveron.  Perched above the double basses I wasn’t in such a good spot for this, especially for the piano.  This may be why the first movement didn’t really work for me.  I was more persuaded by the slow movement and the last movement was fun.  It could have been even more fun had Lane not been sitting with his back to Haveron and Clerici, which rather limited the scope of their interaction.

The Schreker was new to me.  The program notes approached Schreker’s life as a bit of a tragedy so the music’s lush romanticism (predating by some decades Schreker’s later difficulties) came as a relief.

I really enjoyed [loved? – see F Sagan reference in title] the Brahms.   Most of all I like the grazioso stuff in the first movement where the woodwinds tumble over each other in interweaving quaver figurations.  Nicholas Carter eschewed bombast.  Yet again the Town Hall acoustic felt appropriately retro: vinyl (metaphorically speaking) rather than digital.

Virus rules seem[ed] to have relaxed a bit.  Apparently seating capacity and distancing limits have/[had] been lifted, though there was still no bar and we were discouraged from leaving our seats at interval.  Onstage, string players were back to sharing music stands and the wind and brass were brought in a bit closer, which was an improvement. I can’t remember now whether the musicians were still going through that slightly ridiculous thing of putting on masks to go backstage. It could even be that I have got used to it.

In hindsight, last Saturday proved to have been on the cusp of the latest outbreak.  If people at bars and the like were still living an unrestricted life, not so at the Town Hall.  Masks were freely distributed and the compliance level was pretty high.  

Since then the virus situation has become more volatile.  This week the SSO cancelled 2 concerts at Angel Place.  That bodes ill for Opera Australia’s Attila, opening on 29/6.  Tickets for 29/6 are no longer on sale.  They’re still on sale for 1/7 when D and I are due to go.  I’m steeling myself for a disappointment. 

It will be a shame if Attila performances are cancelled, especially after last year’s run was cut short after only two shows.  Maybe this could be the occasion for going ahead without an audience and recording it -Just a thought – to keep faith with the artists and the art form.  Most of the money has been spent already, after all.  Pity to waste all that effort.

Update: Attila cancelled by 4.46pm email. Later performances at this stage still going ahead.

Further update: later performances of Attila cancelled; two new dates announced, vulnerable if the lockdown ends up being extended by another week.


June 14, 2021

Ian Mckellen has turned 82. The Guardian has a birthday piece.

Amongst the hundreds of comments praising him in accordance with his generally acknowledged much-loved-actor sainthood, this comment by Gilmfeeks stood out:

Sir Ian McKellen: ‘What does old mean? Quite honestly I feel about 12’

13 Jun 2021 14:24

Met him, with a rather handsome friend of mine at the time, on a bench outside the pub next to the Old Vic in the mid 90’s. We had a long chat during which he barely looked at me once.

Blink and you’ll miss it

June 11, 2021

This little graphic appeared in the Letters page of the SMH today.

Australian World Orchestra

June 10, 2021

On Thursday last to hear the Australian World Orchestra, conducted by Alexander Briger.

I’d only heard the AWO in the flesh once before.  They’re a bit expensive and touring orchestras come with too much brouhaha for my taste.  Still, the idea (a kind of Australian Youth Orchestra reunion between expatriate and local top players/friends of Nick Deutsch) is a cute one.

This year Covid-enforced musical autarky ruled out the return of expatriates other than those who have already taken refuge back here.  A Meiningen-sized band was scheduled to play at Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne on 2, 3 and 4 June.  The Melbourne lock-down put the kybosh on the last of these which must have been a bitter blow.  According to Limelight, the opening night in Canberra attracted only a modest crowd to the Llewellyn Hall.  Could price be the problem or was it a lack of publicity infrastructure?  Possibly a bit of both.  In Sydney, at Angel Place, only Levels One and Two were sold.

It was a very social audience – made up I fancy to a large extent of friends and supporters of the orchestra, which really means a kind of extended Briger Eastern suburbs social network.  You can tell because they clapped between movements.  At interval I overheard someone praising the lady clarinettist.  There wasn’t one though there was an oboist.  Briger wore his AO lapel pin.  The Governor was there and other bigwigs. Afterwards when we left the foyer was rather ungraciously given over to a private function.  The queue for the cloak room had to skirt round the edge of this and the exit which leads more directly towards George Street and hence Wynyard was blocked off.

But back to the beginning.  In the otherwise empty level three there was a bunch of teenagerish young people in white shirts in the gallery at the far end from the stage.  I wondered who they were.  Could there be a choir for one of the items?

Hard to see how that could be.  The program was:

Beethoven Coriolan Overture and
Brett Paul [See comments below re my foolish error] Dean, Symphony (a new commission) and
Schumann, Symphony No 2.

First Alexander Briger gave a little speech, mentioning in particular Peter Weiss and Carla Zampatti as supporters of the orchestra who had recently died.  Then it was on with the music.

The Beethoven was punchy.  When you are as close to the orchestra as I was, it can be pretty loud.  I prefer that to being distant, and I could mentally recalibrate the balance, which privileged the wind and brass (to whom I was closest) over the strings, especially the violins.

The Dean was a commission by the orchestra for its tenth anniversary.  Apparently it has a “five-minutes-to-midnight” environmental theme.  The first movement reminded me a bit of the last act of his brother’s opera, Bliss.  It’s a long time since I heard that so doubtless the resemblance is superficial. In that and the succeeding movements there were some great orchestral effects.  There is a detailed account in Limelight Magazine’s review of the AWO’s Canberra concert the night before.  Hopefully in due course we can hear this played by a bigger orchestra – ie, the SSO should program it. [Afternote: it cries out for a bigger string section – I am far from the first to express this view – see eg here.] 

I definitely look forward to hearing it a few more times when this program is eventually broadcast/internet cast on ABC “Classic FM” as I’m told it is destined to be.  Not that one can ascertain any projected date from the ABC’s website, apparently maintained on a “need to know” basis. [Update: the date is now online – 27 June.]

After interval, the mystery of the white-clad youngsters was solved.  AWO includes in its season a youth orchestra drawn from regional conservatoriums in NSW.  They sit in on rehearsals, a few AWO members play with them and they play in a concert.  They played a Brahms Hungarian dance – No 6.  It’s a nice gesture and a good deed.  You could tell it’s a regional orchestra because there are so many blond kids and relatively few “Asians.” 

Then it was the piece I’d most of all come to hear, the Schumann.  I have been obsessed with this symphony since the SSO’s performance under Asher Fisch earlier this year.  It was possible for quite a long time to listen to it again on the ABC “Classic” FM website because it was broadcast twice and so available for however long they make these broadcasts available online.

Maybe I was over-invested in that recording, because it took me a while to warm to Briger’s approach.  There was for me too much Beethoven in it and not enough Mendelssohn, let alone Schumann. 

Last year I had a bit of an affair (I suppose on reflection I mean an infatuation) with a recording of Mendelssohn’s Paulus, a work enthusiastically received by Schumann almost 10 years before he wrote this symphony. For me there is a line from the overture to Paulus (built on Bach and Wachet auf) to the first movement of the Schumann and the trumpet chorale which appears at the outset and recurs through the whole symphony.   The second movement is even more obviously Mendelssohnian and especially the framing scherzo with the moto perpetuo violin work punctuated by wind crispness.  Both these movements were simply too muscular. 

Things improved for me in the slow (third) movement – an amazing piece which feels quite ahead of its time. The tempo took a while to gell (I wanted AB to pay more attention to the offbeat accompaniment in the violas which provides the crucial beat subdivision) but by the end I had been drawn into the spell. In the last movement, the Ludwig-ish approach paid off and all was fine – a crack band playing a cracking finale.

All this is just my opinion of course, but what else do we have?  Maybe once I’ve listened a few times to this performance as recorded it will be imprinted on me and I’ll be persuaded.  Meanwhile, the live performance certainly stirred up my recollection of the work and it has been ringing in my head since.  Off to Endenich for me!

On the posh bus

June 6, 2021

“Wow, this is a posh bus!” I thought to myself as I settled down on the 442 from the city to Balmain a bit before 6pm.  The mix of passengers was a cross-section well above that on other buses I generally catch towards where I live in Canterbury.

Balmain’s current upward social trajectory started about 50 years ago, as the locale invoked (retrospectively, he’d left years ago) by Neville Wran as a tough school (“Balmain boys don’t cry”) became a byword for inner-urban trendiness (“Balmain basket weavers”).  There’s still some public housing in Balmain, but its residents are in the main public housing aristocrats. They probably weren’t on an early evening bus out of the CBD.

I was on my way to a “conversation” between Benjamin Law and Emily McGuire about Emily’s new novel, Love Objects.

The bus heads straight out of the CBD over Darling Harbour without any of the usual (for me) jolting stop and start through city streets, and the crawl over ANZAC Bridge passed more quickly than I expected before the first stop after the bus turned off Victoria Road into the lower reaches of Rozelle.  I got off at the last stop before Darling Street, just around from the Balmain Library, where the “conversation” was to occur.

The library occupies the ground floor of the Balmain Town Hall.  In fact the event was in the actual hall, upstairs.  I’d never been there before.  You can get better pictures on the web. The one at the head of this post is mine.

I was particularly taken with this (I’m guessing) ventilation thingy in the middle of the ceiling.

I’d not seen one of these before.  I wonder why they stopped being built.  Is it a relic of gas lighting?

A few more people arrived after took the top picture, though I doubt if our number rose above fifty.  Aside from me and D (who came direct from home, though passing up the opportunity to take the 445) there were perhaps 3 or 4 men apart from the pair manning the desk pre-emptively set up at the back corner for post-event book sales and signing.

Benjamin and Emily took to the stage.  Benjamin (I’m going to presume on first-name terms for the balance of this post) thanked us for coming out on a rather chilly “school night” and the conversation got underway.

Benjamin started the ball rolling by talking about hoarding.  His play which was put on last year in Melbourne dealt with this topic, and it is also a central theme of Love Objects.  Though Benjamin didn’t mention it I recalled that, in a detail which didn’t make it into the TV adaptation of The Family Law, he had his own experience of something not quite hoarding but not so far removed.  In the 80s his (from memory here) uncle and aunt and their family were on the run from Australian immigration.  They were ultimately deported.  Their personal effects remained, stuffed in cupboards, in Benjamin’s childhood home.

It’s hard to sit through a conversation about a book you haven’t read – God knows I did that in a few tutorials when I did a degree in English Literature.  Thanks to the wonders of the internet and the smart phone, I was able to read a first-chapter teaser from the online preview.  It starts with the main character, Nina, on her way home in Leichhardt from her job at a local supermarket, lingering over various found objects.  It is artfully done from Nina’s point of view and textbook dramatic irony.  As the details build up little by little you gradually triangulate your own perspective. 

I may not be a hoarder at Nina’s level but I am definitely on the spectrum.  My appetite was whetted.

Benjamin is obviously a dab hand at this sort of thing and he steered the conversation adroitly through the three main characters and some plot themes.  The questions afterwards, unlike many questions at such events, were mercifully unexcruciating.  There were not all that many.  To each of them Benjamin responded “Thank you so much for your question.”  Laying it on with a trowel?  “He’s very sweet,” D later remarked.

Then it was over.  We were asked to fill in audience-feedback sheets, and people began to gather and line up at the desk in the back corner.  As far as D is concerned, I have far more than enough books already.  “Don’t even think about it!” he said – or words to that effect. 

The Inner West Library has 6 copies of Love Objects.  I am 74 on the reservation list.