At the library 2

January 26, 2023

I am in Canberra just now. The library is closed for a public holiday as per the above screen shot. If you click through on the “Learn more” link you will eventually find out what holiday it is.

Clutter

November 27, 2022

I was in a tight spot, on my hands and knees in my friend X’s bedroom, when I saw the bookmark.

“I [heart] books,” it read.

I laughed.

I was there because X, who is some years older than I, had lost their glasses.  They must have slipped somewhere behind or beneath X’s bed.  I had offered to go round and retrieve them.

At the point when I spotted the bookmark, I was vacuuming around and under the bed prior to peering beneath and behind it with the assistance of a handy bicycle headlight which I use as a compact torch.

I spotted the glasses but after I had vacuumed under the bed the pile of the carpet obscured my view.  The glasses were lying flat at an angle which resisted my attempts to coax them out with the aid of a “grabber” stick.  The obvious solution was to move the bed away from the wall.

Which brings us back to the books.  X must have thousands of them, far exceeding any available shelf space. 

I had already had to move some away to get a good angle to look under and behind the bed.  The bed was effectively wedged in by books and I would have to remove these to move the bed.

The problem was, where to put them?  Attempts to shift them to the top of teetering columns of books just led to further bookslides.  Eventually I gave up and piled them on the bed.

The glasses were retrieved, the bed moved back.  But where to put the books on the bed?

I suggested to X that we might make available some cubic space by disposing of various stacks of magazines and other printed matter.  Somewhat to my surprise, X embraced this proposal, and was soon on a roll.  I filled up a whole yellow-topped wheelie recycling bin (it started off empty), almost entirely with material from the bedroom (the other stuff came from the bathroom).  I could only just wheel the bin back to its proper place.  Glossy paper is very heavy.

Stable spots were found for the books heaped on the bed, though without much regard to any system other than their size and shape. The volume of matter disposed of exceeded that of the relocated books so the net result was also an improvement in access, as well as the removal of a not insignificant amount of dust and fluff.

I left exhausted, but also more than a bit self-satisfied with a good deed well done.  The situation reminded me of the mystery first encountered in my childhood, probably when I was aged about ten or eleven.  Our family lived in and out of the house of another family a few doors away and they in and out of ours.  The mystery was that I could quite enjoy helping my friend tidy up her bedroom when we were sent there together by her mother and charged with the task, even though my own room at home languished in a far worse state and I would definitely not have welcomed a similar command from my mother.

Meanwhile, while he still sallies forth for other items, D’s forays to salvage a free replacement TV have come to an end. None of the four TVs he sourced was adequate, for one reason or another.  D bought a factory second which may or may not prove satisfactory.  We now have five surplus large flat-screen TVs, or maybe four and a half if (as I would prefer) our original TV could be repaired (I prefer its picture to the new one, which feels more like an enormous computer monitor than a TV).

I also have more books than shelf-space, and plenty of other superfluous stuff.

Mote: beam.

Hate crime in Broulee

November 23, 2022

Pictured above (ABC News: Holly Tregenza) is a power line easement just outside Broulee.  Here, on the afternoon of Sunday 2 February 2020, the body of Peter Keeley, 56, was found. His feet and arms were bound with masking tape (the arms behind his back) and there was also masking tape around his head.  A nearby car still contained the keys, his wallet and his mobile phone.

Keeley had been lured with the prospect of a sexual encounter from Canberra to this spot by AN, aged 17. They had been communicating on Grindr since the previous afternoon.  When they got to the spot (after Keeley picked AN up at Broulee), AN attacked Keeley and was almost immediately joined in the assault by LM and WD, also both 17, who were lying in wait nearby as a result of a plan which had been hatched between them earlier that afternoon.  The trio beat and bound Keeley and left him there.  Keeley was found dead about an hour later by a man who had gone there to walk his dog.

All three were charged with murder.  AN and LM were acquitted in a judge-alone trial, because the possibility could not be ruled out that Keeley had died just from the drugs he had been taking, in particular methamphetamine.  Justice Walton’s reasons for this are here.  The murder charge against WD was then withdrawn.

AN, LM and WD pleaded guilty to specially aggravated kidnapping under s 86(3) of the Crimes Act – the special aggravation consisting of the kidnapping having been committed in company and on the occasion of assault causing actual bodily harm.

You can read the sentencing judgment here.

AN was sentenced to 5 years and eight months with a non-parole period of 3 years and 8 months, eligible for release in December 2025.  LM got 4 years 4 months, non-parole 2 yrs 11 months (eligible for release June 2024) and WD 3 yrs 10 months, non-parole 2 years 7 months (eligible for release in September, ie, already by the time the judgment was handed down).

Justice Walton held that  AN, LM and WD were entitled to “discounts” for pleading guilty of 12.5%, 20% and 15% respectively.  This is a reduction in the sentence which would otherwise be imposed, on account of the utilitarian value of a plea in saving society the aggravation and expense of a trial. The differing discounts relate to the differing circumstances in which pleas of guilty had been offered by each.  He held that AN’s culpability was greatest as the instigator (it could not be proved that LM and WD had any involvement until about 1pm on Sunday, by which stage AN’s plan to lure Keeley was well-advanced).  WD benefited from ameliorating circumstances relating to a deprived upbringing.

It’s a mug’s game to argue about actual sentences.  So many things go into the mix.  Young offenders are entitled to a more lenient treatment: there is a greater emphasis on rehabilitation than either retribution or deterrence.

All the same, if you can bear to read the judgment, your blood may well boil, as mine did, at some of the arguments offered by the offenders’ representatives to talk the sentencing range down.  All sorts of straw men were put forward as potentially more serious specially aggravated kidnappings which could have occurred and which would be offences which might attract a top of the range sentence – the maximum sentence being 25 years.  There was no torture (how do we know? – OK I realise that this just means no torture was proved beyond reasonable doubt), no ransom demand, and, best of all (at [156] of the judgment):

the precise period of the detention is not known since it ended when the victim passed away for an unrelated reason. …There is no suggestion that the intention of the offenders was to detain the victim for a long time and the court could not be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the offenders detained the victim for more than a few minutes. At most, it could have been for the 30 minutes suggested by the Crown. In any event. the period of detention was well short of the hours or days which are often involved in more serious examples of the offence.

His Honour rejected the “few minutes” submission, but to me the obvious rejoinder to that is that even if technically the detention only lasted while the three offenders were present, its effect continued after they left the scene, as they must have been aware.  As the court held, on the basis of agreed facts, when the offenders left the deceased, he was in a very vulnerable position. Having been seriously assaulted, he was left unable to move or call for assistance. He was left alone in a remote area.  No attempt was made by any of the offenders to obtain medical assistance for the deceased. 

As to the “no ransom demand,” that seems to be lining this crime up for comparison against totally different types of kidnappings. 

His Honour identified that the vigilante aspect of the crime was one which called out for deterrent sentencing, but he also said “it was not an adult-like offence” [227].  This was a further reason for not punishing them as adults, and hence effectively letting them off or at least substantially reducing the deterrent imperative in sentencing.

And here is the rub.  It all starts with the characterisation of the offence and the offenders’ motives.  This was what the judge said about that:

Motive and Purpose of Detention

161.       The submission of the Crown with respect to motive has been set out in AN and LM (No 1). AN accepted that the purpose and the motive of the kidnapping was to derive “some sort of attempt to humiliate the [deceased] and to dissuade him from sexually exploiting underage young men in the future”. There was no attempt to hold the deceased for ransom and it was submitted that the expectation was that the deceased would eventually free himself (although it is not at all clear given the binding of the deceased how that expectation may have been held by the offenders).

162.       I consider there is considerable force in the submission advanced on behalf of WD in this respect. The purpose of the detention was to facilitate, in the case of AN and LM, to assault, intimidate and humiliate the deceased. In the case of WD it was the opportunity of assaulting, intimidating and humiliating the deceased. I agree that that purpose is less serious than to torture, or sexually assault the deceased or to hold him for ransom but it nonetheless reflects at the offending’s serious [sic].

163.       As to the question of motive, I accept the submission of the Crown and WD that the motive for the offence and the acts of intimidation, humiliation and assault was the perception that the deceased was a paedophile.

164.       This is not a mitigating motive. Nor is it an aggravating one. This is vigilante conduct, but it should not be taken into account as an aggravating factor, particularly since intimidation, humiliation and assault are integral to the offence as charged: Sorensen v R [2016] NSWCCA 54 at [128] – [129]. Whilst the motive does not elevate the objective seriousness of the offence, it is relevant, in my view, as to the question of general deterrence, although counterbalanced with other factors I will discuss. This is particularly so, because, as the Crown submitted, the offenders were each of the distorted view, at the time, that their behaviour was justified. This Court should actively discourage the type of vigilante justice which lays at the centre of the offenders’ motive.

165.       An additional motive for AN was to rob the deceased of drugs he expected him to bring.

It’s not possible to follow up the reference to AN and LM (No 1) because that case (R v AN; R v LM [2021] NSWSC 1657) which was the decision acceding to AN and LM’s application for a separate judge-alone trial on the murder charge is for no very clear reason not published on the internet.

If the prosecution had submitted that “the motive of the kidnapping was to derive “some sort of attempt to humiliate the [deceased] and to dissuade him from sexually exploiting underage young men in the future” that is, in my opinion, an insulting trivialisation of the trio’s motives.  Likewise and even more so even if understandably if that was a defence submission.  The motive was not merely to dissuade “the [deceased]” but to punish him.  This was ostensibly because he was a pedophile, but even that doesn’t quite tell it all.

The basis of the claimed belief that Keeley was a pedophile was (1) in the Grindr chats with AN, Keeley had told AN that he had once had sex with someone who he was told was 16 but who turned out to be 14 and (2) because he wanted to have sex with AN.  (LM told the police (sentencing decision at [127]) that the plan was formed: “because [AN] is underage, and he [ie Keeley] wanted to meet up with [AN] to have sex, from what I’ve heard, and that he has had sex with a 14 year old in the past.”)

Leaving aside that AN had told Keeley that he was 18 (which he may not have told the others), AN was not “underage.”

Lurking behind this belief and ascription of labels is something going waay back with which gay people are all too familiar.  We could still be at Alexandria and the murder of Richard Johnson.  To describe the crime as a vigilante crime sells it short.  It is a hate crime, in the sense that the motive is a hatred for a despised group which is accompanied by a perceived entitlement to mete out punishment to the despised group.  The despised group at the outset was homosexual men, because that is what AN sought out in Grindr.  We don’t know what he thought he would do but he was never there in search of gay sex.  He was always there with malicious, hateful motives.  Justice Walton acknowledged that in what he possibly thought was just a wry remark at [194] when he described the Grindr messages between AN and Keeley:

“The content of the communication unambiguously demonstrated an intention of the two to meet for the stated purpose (in retrospect probably untrue from AN’s point of view) of engaging in drug-taking and sexual activity.”

Keeley’s mention of the time he had sex with a 14-year-old was confirmation of what AN was predisposed to believe.  AN only learnt of it because he had embarked on a hateful course of action from the outset.

The elision of gay man with pedophile is familiar to gay men as something analogous to the blood libel for Jews.  It lingered in the grudging equalisation of the gay age of consent.  It’s definitely still out there.

Practically speaking, many vigilante crimes are also hate crimes, in the sense of motivation by hatred of a group, because it is the perception of a group as despised which emboldens the vigilantes to act.  This is a point which has recently been made in Western Australia following the death of Cassius Turvey.  In my opinion (well, I would say that wouldn’t I, as a member of such a victim group) that is an aspect of vigilantism which needs to be specifically addressed and denounced in sentencing over and above merely condemning people for taking the law into their own hands.  Hate crimes hurt the group against which they are directed.  It is not just a matter of what these young turds did to Mr Keeley.

Actually, s 21A(2)(h) of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act says that it is an aggravating factor (ie warrants additional punishment) if

“the offence was motivated by hatred for or prejudice against a group of people to which the offender believed the victim belonged (such as people of a particular religion, racial or ethnic origin, language, sexual orientation or age, or having a particular disability)”

which makes surprising (to me) the judge’s remark that it was not an aggravating factor that a motive for the crime was the perception that Keeley was a pedophile.

I need to get this off my chest and move on.  There is more I could say about the judgment, even though I understand that, because the offenders are young offenders, much of it is a kind of Dutch auction to talk the sentence down from what would normally be imposed to something more “rehabilitative.”  All the same, I can’t help mentioning two more things.

Section 21A(3)(i) of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act identifies “remorse” as a mitigating factor in sentencing.

When AN was arrested, he was of the belief that he was responsible for Keeley’s death.  Quite frankly, but for the reasonable doubt, I expect that will be the view of many.  The reasonable doubt got them all off the hook for criminal responsibility.  AN said to his father at this moment:

“Dad, I’m sorry Dad…I didn’t do it on purpose, it was an accident, I didn’t mean it to happen. I didn’t mean to Dad. I didn’t want it to happen.”

At [239] Justice Walton says: “the immediacy of the admission in such circumstances amounts to tangible evidence of remorse and contrition.”

Really?  Sorry to his Dad that he’s got into trouble, coupled with exculpatory statements in relation to Keeley’s death is an indication of remorse?  Puhleez! (OK, I can have a queeny moment here if I like.  No-one’s going to kill me for it, are they?)

Finally, because the offence for which AN, LM and WD were being sentenced was aggravated kidnapping, his brother and former wife were not able to read victim impact statements to the court.  That is because relatives are only victims if someone has been killed.  The only person who got to speak up for Mr Keeley in any way was Chantelle Walsh, a young druggy associate whose statement got into evidence in the murder trial.  Her statement is summarized at [196] to [209] of that judgment.  It’s not much, but in a case which otherwise is far from devoid of a kind of pervasive victim-blaming (see [193] of the sentencing judgment for an example), it’s worth a read.

I suppose I’d better get on with my life now.

Frusta!

October 19, 2022

As Adam Bandt would say, “Google it!”

On Saturday to the SOH to hear the Sydney Symphony, conducted by Pietari Inkinen.

On the way in the town was abuzz at the end of a rare fine day.  The warning was that wet weather would soon be setting in again.  Carpe diem!  At Circular Quay shorts-and-t-shirt-clad day-revellers crossed paths with those headed out for the evening, generally a bit better wrapped-up.

The program was:

RAVEL La valse
RAVEL Piano Concerto in G (Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, soloist)
CHLOÉ CHARODY My Australia (50 Fanfares Commission)
BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique

These days I’m a bit ambivalent about the Symphony fantastique, especially in prospect.  Am I too old for it?  Is it already irretrievably consigned to the museum of adolescent enthusiasms?  As Gordon Kerry put it in his program note, referring to Harriet Smithson, “Reader, she married him.”  As adults, we know that this didn’t work out so well.   Otherwise, it is a question as to whether the (ooh, naughty!) opium-attributed March to the Scaffold and Witches’ Sabbath can arouse the same excitement they did when one was aged about fifteen.

Happily, these misgivings proved to be misplaced.  It was a cracking performance.  We even had an ophicleide (Nick Byrne) though only one, which meant that its distinctive tone was at some points masked by the more common tuba.  I also liked the way that, when Shefali Pryor left to play the off-stage oboe, David Elton (principal trumpet) moved a row forward into her place to form part of the dance band for the ball scene (it’s actually a cornet obbligato – a bit of a thing).

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet gave a great performance of the Ravel concerto, which also is a bit of a woodwind showpiece.  Famously, it starts with a percussion slap.  In the last movement there is another slap, which comes just after a solo passage.  Flamboyantly, Bavouzet spun away from the keyboard and clapped his own hands.  At interval afterwards I still didn’t quite believe what I thought I’d seen.  “Did he really clap his hands?” I asked a friend at interval as we took in the harbour view from the northern balcony, now very accessible via the tunnel which runs through from just outside door 13. “Yes, he did!” confirmed a total stranger likewise enjoying the fresh air.

Encore was Debussy, L’isle Joyeux, generous if not a patch on C Tiberghien playing all of Gaspard de la nuit back in 2007.  (CT’s coming back next year to play the Ravel left hand concerto.)

As for the other two items, La Valse was a high-octane curtain raiser.  The double bass opening especially benefited by the improved acoustic. “My Australia” was agreeable if also corny/Korn[gold]y. The program notes told us nothing in advance about the music and all about Charody’s involvement in various circus projects which makes me think the conspicuous triviality was part of the aesthetic. Traces also of John Williams. If you are in that territory that’s a difficult influence to escape. Even if you weren’t thinking of JW at all, your audience probably will be.

Comprehensive review in Limelight by Phil Scott (and a bit fairer than I have been to Charody in the above) here.

Somewhere in my computer are a number of still-born posts about my other visits to the Concert Hall since its re-opening in July.  A combination of Simone Young hitting the ground running as chief conductor of the SSO and the revelatory impact of the new acoustic has imparted a buzz.  To this I should probably add my own rediscovery of the excitement of live performance and a crowd of people gathered to enjoy it after the recent years of relative deprivation.  Maybe before the great shut down I had unwittingly become a bit blasé about that.

There may also have been a bit of a turnover in the audience.  A friend who sits in the rear stalls keyboard side tells me that he has sensed an absence this year of what he terms “the diaspora” – meaning Jewish people (mostly in their eighties and older).  I myself wonder if, as well as the habit-breaking effects of the shut-down, Frank Lowy’s Aliyah has had something to do with this.

So far the concert which made the greatest impression on me was Simone Young conducting the Eroica and Javier Peranes playing the third piano concerto, with Brett Dean’s Testament as a kind of Beethoven-ward pendent. 

There was a spectacular French horn moment in the Eroica. “Wow!” I thought,  “I’ve never heard that bit like that before.  This acoustic is really fantastic!”

Later I checked the list of musicians.  “Guest principal horn” was Stefan Dohr, which was probably also a factor. (He will be back next year to play the Strauss second concerto.)

Exit Commendatore

October 16, 2022

As Limelight put it, Lyndon Terracini is leaving Opera Australia “ahead of schedule.” Previously he had been due to leave at the end of 2023.

At the company’s AGM at the end of June, I asked the board the only question:

The upcoming production of Il Trovatore has a strong international roster for the 4 main principals. Could this not have been cast locally? Is the board considering a return to an approach which nurtures a local ensemble?

The then Opera Australia chairman, Glyn Davis, flicked it to Terracini.

Terracini said that Il Trovatore had not been able to be mounted for a long time because it needed the four best singers in the world. (This involves a misinterpretation of a famous remark variously attributed to Caruso or Toscanini that all that is needed for a successful performance of the work is the four greatest singers in the world.) He told a cautionary tale of some tenor in a European house (I can’t recall now which or who – maybe he didn’t say) who couldn’t sing the notes of the big aria and suffered shame and derision. For good measure, Lyndon somehow got on to the Ring Cycle and that only three singers in the world were capable of singing Siegfried.

Really? It was like watching Alan Jones at Q and A with his snippets of factoids which rarely sustain interrogation beyond the moment they are spoken.

Of course my question was really about the direction that the company would take in the future – ie at a time going beyond LT’s tenure, given various statements already by Fiona Allan about a future change in direction including more support for local artists. It was futile to expect an answer about that from Terracini.

Not that there would have been much point in asking Glyn Davis about the board’s plans either, since, although he had just stood for re-election as a director, he had a month ago been appointed as Secretary for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and could hardly be expected to remain on the OA board for long.

OA announced its 2023 season in August, disappointing enough for Sydney but scandalously minimal for Melbourne.

Fast forward to Rod Sim’s appointment as director and election as chairman of the board in the last week of September. Amongst the flurry of stories based on either press releases or interviews (eg (1) (2)), I noticed the following:

  1. Sims would have a great team to work with. Fiona Allan was name-checked and the board mentioned, but not Lyndon T.
  2. There needed to be a ‘shifting of the dial” to more collaboration, support for local artists, for OA to be a leader in the sector and not be arrogant. (Has a government lost its way?)
  3. Sims was more keen on opera than musicals (though he didn’t expect the company to take artistic direction from him [laughing]); and
  4. While musicals bring in a lot of money at the box office, “that is just revenue….Box office is to do with revenue, but I’ve been in the business long enough to know that it’s profit that matters. So, before I form a view [about musicals], I want to know how much money they make.”

It was hard to see what Terracini could really be doing in 2023 (even allowing for the vague HANDA emeritus role) other than kicking his heels at Milthorpe and drawing his salary. Surely he wouldn’t be planning the 2024 season?

So it’s not such a surprise that Lyndon is leaving.

It would be more of a relief he was still in a position to do very much more.

On the verge of a nervous breakdown

October 16, 2022

Hopefully that’s an exaggeration.  But definitely the verge has got a lot to do with it.

Alternative title: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

“Don’t tell people we pick up things from the street!” D said to me the other day.  “Other people won’t understand.”

Fortunately this blog is pseudonymous, if not really anonymous for determined doxxers.

We have plenty of things found on the street in our house.  Twenty years ago, when we moved to Perth and found a house in an area in the throes of an annual hard-rubbish collection, we practically furnished it from the street, and we didn’t even have a car to pick things up.  D managed to hitch a (found) trolley to the back of his bike to take bulkier items.

Recently, D has latched onto a facebook group devoted to tip-offs about items abandoned on the street. 

As D is not very confident about his navigational skills, I am a necessary participant.  It’s all a bit like being stationed at Biggin Hill in the blitz.  The call to scramble can come at any time.  You can imagine the recriminations if we get somewhere only to find the desired object has already been taken.

We’ve driven to Enmore for a worm farm and Tempe for a double-barrelled compost tumbler.

On our back lawn four found chairs now surround a wonky table which we were given to go with the worm farm.  One more thing (well, five more actually) to move before mowing.

Then something went wrong with the HDMI inputs to our TV.  D is a great TV fan and the TV also serves as a big screen for his laptop on which he watches all sorts of online material.

A whole flat had been emptied at Hurlstone Park and we recovered a 55 inch TV.  D had to take the back off that in order to attach a replacement power cord as the ubiquitous electric cord scavengers (who ruthlessly and selfishly in my opinion cut the flex off otherwise likely as-not functioning appliances) had already struck. 

Unfortunately, you need a remote to unleash the full range of functions of this TV.  D has ordered one online.  Meanwhile D found another TV about the same size .

Together with the one-metre square coffee table we collected from Annandale (handsome but too large for the space available) and our original TV or a similar size, our living room is now jampacked.

Not everything comes from facebook.  A few weeks ago we brought home one of those enormous folding clothes racks which are particularly usefull if you need to dry things flat.  It was a bit broken in one joint, but D was able to effect a satisfactory jury rig.  Then he found two more, so now we have three.

I keep hoping we will reach peak scavenging.  On Friday I drove D to an appointment in nearby Campsie.  He was running late, but not too late to command that I stop when he spotted one of those rather attractive folding ladders sitting on a street corner.  I backed up.  D looked around for an owner but, finding none, had it in the car quickly enough.

In the remaining minute or so before I dropped D at his destination, I was instructed to return and leave a note giving D’s mobile number and inviting the true owner to call him. (Call it a retrospective scruple.)

It was but a short drive back, where I immediately clocked a tallish bloke in blue overalls on his mobile phone.  “Are you looking for anything?” I asked.  “A ladder.”  As I could now see from the insignia on his overalls, he was a council inspector of some sort – there was some building rubbish on the verge and this may have been what he was investigating.  I doubt if a private tradesman would have been quite so relaxed about leaving his ladder unattended.   Obviously he was happy to see it again and took my explanation in good sport.

Today D enlisted me on an expedition to Redfern and then Summer Hill in search of other items.  We were there too late.

D is sure that “professionals” are swooping before he can get there.  We know such people exist because you can see them out in force in more prosperous areas which still run periodic general hard rubbish clearups.  Why should they not also be scanning the facebook page?

Of course D also blamed me for not scrambling quickly enough.  He has declared that in future he will just go on his own.  I hope he keeps to his word.

…..

At which point I was interrupted. We have just been to Hurlstone Park for a “reproduction antique” desk. The discarding couple came out to speak to us – they are getting ready for a move but in fact the desk came from a storage facility that the man had been cleaning out this morning. The woman told us it was her first move-out-of-home desk. It didn’t quite fit fit in our car though if we’d had ropes I wouldn’t have put it past D to work something out. The man kindly brought it back to our place on his roof rack..

Number Nine Number Nine

August 3, 2022

On Sunday before last, having learnt that my neighbour at the SSO concert the Thursday before that had been suffering from covid, I was not optimistic about my own prospects.

On Monday I took a PCR test for which on Tuesday I received a positive result.  A mandated 7 days’ isolation at home ensued.

But how to isolate from D?

As it happened, uncharacteristically sunny weather allowed us to keep the house open and well ventilated.  I kept to my bedroom or the “study room” (this is D’s term: a translation from the Chinese: 书房; the piano is also there) and kept excursions to common areas to a minimum.  We ate apart.  D reverted to sleeping in his own bedroom rather than (as is his wont) the living room.  I used the outside facilities.  We no longer shared the bathwater.  (Usually I go first because I am fatter and like hotter water; D goes second because he likes a much longer bath.)  TMI?

Cut off from the world and each other, it was a strange time.

The seven days (now more) up, D seems to have survived unscathed.

Meanwhile, left to my own devices, I had a breakthrough playing Brahms’ Variations Op 9 on a theme by [Robert] Schumann.  The Variations are part of a famous story. In June 1853, Clara presented Robert with her own set of variations (op 20) on the same theme, No 4 from Schumann’s Bunte Blätter Op. 99 .  When Brahms sent his set of variations to Clara next June, Robert was already in Endenich.

Brahms’ variation 9 adopts the key and figuration of another work in Bunte Blätter, Albumblätter II.

The edition I play from suggests by fingering indications that the moto perpetuo semiquaver triplets be redistributed between the hands so that sometimes (not always – the suggestion is not maintained for the middle section) the first note of the bar is played in the left hand. After the first bar this is done by playing the first note of the bar as the last of a descending group of 4 notes.

I’ve been playing this piece, on and off, for more than twenty years.  My breakthrough was to realise that I could practise the triplets in three different ways, with the accent falling on the first (the normal way), second or third triplet.  I also rethought the fingering of the third last bar which has its own moment of cross-rhythm over a contrary motion broken arpeggio.

It didn’t have to be fast to be quite engrossing.  And soon it was even quite fast, at least compared to what it was.

There’s still one other passage in these variations which I expect always to need to work on.

Auferstehen

July 24, 2022

Last Thursday and Saturday back to the SOH Concert Hall to hear the SSO on its return there after a two and a half year absence. (Actually, a bit over two and two thirds years since I was last there, when I did indeed kiss the lintel as I left.) I filched the above picture from Reddit.

The main item was Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony.  We also had a choral “fanfare” by William Barton.

My Thursday ticket, towards the western end of Stalls Row L was a freebie from the orchestra courtesy of my friend C.  This may yet do for me as he struggled with a shocking bronchial rumble which I have now learnt was the feared virus.  Too early to tell whether our mutual masks will have saved the day.  I’m not optimistic.

Aside from that, the other price to be paid was 20 minutes of speechifying, starting with a rather discursive welcome to country, and continuing with the NSW Minister for the Arts (making rather too much of New South Wales’ global reputation in the arts – who knew?) and then the Chair of the SSO Board (“world-class” five times).

On Saturday I was in my subscription seat in the middle of row U of the stalls.  This time we only had a speech from principal double bass Kees Boersma, which was mercifully relatively short.  I’m not a fan of speeches at concerts.  I hope this will not continue to be a thing.

Critical response to the concert has focused on the acoustics of the hall as a result of the renovations whilst the orchestra was away.

People have been complaining about the Concert Hall’s acoustics for years.  It’s only when I have returned from better halls overseas that I have realised how poor they are. That’s probably why some of the loudest complainers have been visiting artists. A friend who is a pianist now living and working in Europe complains about the piano sound in the hall.

I still wouldn’t pick the right hand end of row L as the best seat in the house, but I’m sure it is now better than it was.  The big improvement is clarity, mostly by suppression of the school gym-ish echo which previously bounced off the straight timber walls.  It felt like we were in a room with the musicians rather than (as has previously tended to be the case) a barn.  When the children’s choir raised their clap sticks in the Barton you could hear where each sound was coming from.  Bass and baritone registers were also more present.

By Saturday maybe I’d already “priced in” those improvements, because apart from clarity the overall sound did not seem so different from what I’m used to from the rear stalls.  Rattly sounds still bounce of the side wall – maybe more noticeably because the sound is otherwise so much more clear and direct.  We no longer get the funny echo which used to be cast by the horns from the wall next to and behind them.

Possibly the violins are the losers in the new acoustic because they have lost a helping hand from the general resonance, now reduced.

Peter McCallum, who generally sits a bit closer than row U, was in rhapsodies in his SMH review.  I mostly agree with what he wrote, and particularly his observation that “Absolute quietness in silent moments is a crucial feature of good acoustics and the banishment of rustling distractions is also remarkable.”  If the walls no longer bounce back to us every little fidget, maybe this is setting up a virtuous circle of attentiveness.  It certainly felt that way.

This remark by McCallum, however, surprised me:

The second movement [of the Mahler] explored the warmth of string sound and the delicacy of plucked notes where the abrasion of every players finger nail on rosined string could be heard.

And I don’t just mean the missing apostrophe.

Abraham and his seed

July 9, 2022

It’s never too late to learn something new.

Yesterday I spotted a tweet from our (still) new Prime Minister, Mr Albanese, announcing “warm greetings to Muslims in Australia and around the world” on the occasion of “the great festival of Eid al-Adha.” (Derivative link here.)

I knew about the Eid which marks the end of Ramadan. What was this other Eid? It turns out that this celebrates (thankyou WikiP, though WP says “honors” rather than “celebrates”):

the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Ismail (Ishmael) as an act of obedience to Allah’s command. Before Ibrahim could sacrifice his son, however, Allah provided him with a lamb which he was supposed to kill in his son’s place because of his willingness to sacrifice his own son in the name of God.

But hang on! Doesn’t this ring a bell? Didn’t Abraham do something similar with his (other) son Isaac (pictured above in a characteristic soft-core treatment attributed to but it turns out possibly not actually by Caravaggio)? A famous Wildean aperçu comes to mind.

It’s hard to see how the two stories can be reconciled with each other. One version (I hardly dare say which) has much earlier documentary provenance, for what that’s worth. For a spirited defence of the other, see here.

In his seasonal greetings, Mr Albanese says:

The symbols and ceremonies of Eid al-Adha speak to us of the human capacity for sacrifice in the name of love. Of the sacrifices made by a parent for a child. Of a friend for a neighbour. Of a community for the greater good.

That strikes me as a triumph of interpretation. What couldn’t Mr Albanese make of the story of little Pavlik?

At the library

July 5, 2022

Sent to me by a friend.