Archive for March, 2008

School’s out! – Pilgrim’s Progress and Un ballo in maschera

March 30, 2008

On Thursday night, to the Opera Australia concert performance of Vaughan Williams’ opera/”morality” Pilgrim’s Progress.

Vaughan Williams spent years tinkering with this – rather an odd exercise, one might think, for an avowed “cheerful agnostic.”  His is probably the last generation which actually read this book, and his persistence with this project strikes me as the working out of a kind of cultural nostalgia.  I own a copy from the Harvard Classics, but I have never managed to finish it. I just know the odd purple passage and of course the song (popular as Gordon Kerry said in his program note, in private school chapels, though he really means boys’ protestant private school chapels) Who would true valour see.

The opera is a series of tableaux. It is not really dramatic because there is no real chance that the pilgrim (Bunyan’s Christian renamed) will not make it to the home stretch. The plot doesn’t really have any twists or turns: it’s all about keeping to the straight and narrow of the King’s Highway to the Celestial City. At the end of the first act, I didn’t think I had heard much that one couldn’t hear in shorter compass in RVW’s Five Mystical Songs, though there were a few nice modal biblical songs here and there, and perhaps a few bits which could have come out of Five Tudor Portraits.

Things looked up in the second act, when we came to Vanity Fair (Thackeray got his title from Bunyan). The devil does get the best tunes! And with the Opera Chorus joining forces with the visiting Bach Choir from London, there was a truly thrilling wall of choral, vocal (from the soloists) and orchestral sound. After that it was back to RVW’s picaresque pastoral, and even if there was a spot about 15 minutes before the end where it all seemed to be going on for rather a long time, it all came together pretty well.

One criticism I do have is that, given the fame of the text, we could have been given libretti in our programs or (better still) projected surtitles as the SSO have managed with recent concert performances of such works. The choral words were particularly hard to catch, even when I knew them, and some of the singers’ English vowels (especially the women, according to my old teacher, Ex) left something to be desired. I expect there wasn’t as much coaching given as would have been given for a run of an opera.

It was a pleasing novelty to see so many of the company’s singers out of costume and appearing as their natural selves. With the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra up out of the Opera Theatre pit and on the Concert Hall stage, an enormous cast of vocal soloists and the chorus as already mentioned, it all rather reminded me of a school concert or speech day, not least because this is the last week of the opera’s summer season in Sydney.

On Saturday night, D and I went to A Masked Ball.  I had heard mixed reports of this production, which has been around since 1985 and is showing signs of age.  The opera deals with the assassination in 1792 of King Gustav III of Sweden, and the first half sustains a conceit relating the action to the Drottningholm Theatre in Sweden.  So, in particular, when Gustav goes to visit a medium/prophetess, the action appears to be backstage, with racks of costumes and the king’s own regal attire (when he casts off his disguise as a sailor) pulled out of a trunk labelled Hamlet costumes (in Swedish), though they he looks more like the player king than Claudius.  In the second half, although the Drottningholm-style proscenium and footlights (including a pretend prompt box) remain, this seems largely to be abandoned until the last minute when, for some strange reason, the flats to the wings make a reappearance at the side of the stage.  I can’t really figure it all out.

The cast was:

Oscar – Lorina Gore

Amelia – Nicole Youl

Mademoiselle Arvidson – Bernadette Cullen

Judge – Geoffrey Harris

Gustavus – Dennis O’Neill

Anckarstroem – Michael Lewis

Horn – Richard Alexander

Ribbing – Richard Anderson

Conductor – Andrea Licata

Dennis O’Neill carried the greatest burden.  He is an excellent singer.  Unfortunately, he is, so far as D is concerned, too short, fat, old and ugly.  I try to tell D that that is perfect casting for a royal personage, and though his statue in the last act doesn’t look much like him, this is also not unusual. 

As is so often the case with operas, there are some implausibilities to do with disguises.  In Act III, we must suppose that Anckarstroem cannot recognize his (and Michael Lewis’s real-life, as it happens) wife, Amelia, behind a veil (but otherwise presumably wearing her usual attire).  In Act IV, at the eponymous masked ball, the would-be assassin asks Oscar, the king’s page, what disguise the king is wearing.  You want to yell out, pantomime style, “There he is!  It’s the short old fat ugly one!”  This wouldn’t be so wide of the mark for lots of tenors who are up to singing a role like this.  Funnily enough, the real-life Gustavus was easily spotted at the ball (at the opera house as a matter of fact) “mainly due to the breast star of the Order of the Seraphim which glowed in silver upon his cape” (Wikipedia there) and this also seemed to be the case in this production.  More funnily, Gustavus had already removed his mask before he was assassinated, so the question of his disguise appears to be totally irrelevant.  This must be another point in the production which I don’t understand (or possibly he is unmasked because he is telling his true heart to Amelia).

The other singers were fine (or better than that).

As ever, something about Richard Alexander’s acting rubs me up the wrong way. When he decides to Act with a capital “A” he has one particular action, involving putting his hand portentously to his brow or his face. I still can’t work out what this is supposed to mean, but obviously he thinks it is a very valuable movement because he deploys it at almost any moment of Significance.

At the end of the performance I thought I detected a certain end-of-term atmosphere on the stage and in the pit. On a completely different note, both flautists, unusually, were male. These days flute playing has become very much a feminine pursuit.  It’s something to do with the instrument’s pitch and the associations of sweetness and light with its semiotic field of play.

I have, in fact, seen this production before in 2002, and a little googling brought this piece of passing publicity, in an article entitled “Going through a busy stage: musical revival hits Sydney” published on 27 July of that year.

“Opera Australia’s latest production, Verdi’s A Masked Ball (Un ballo in maschera), opens at the Opera House tonight, starring Australian soprano Lisa Gasteen and Canadian tenor Richard Margison. Among subscribers, it’s the season’s hot ticket – not even the perennially popular La Boheme has stolen its thunder. “Un ballo in maschera has a stellar cast and great tunes,” says Collette.

A huge attraction is Gasteen, who triumphed at the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden earlier this year in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, earning accolades. She has become one of OA’s great stars, championed by music director Simone Young, who conducts the first four performances. Gasteen and Margison are a vocally dynamic duo…”

But what really caught my eye was the immediately preceding part of this article, which after discussing a mini-boom in musical productions in Sydney went on:

‘However, it is not just the commercial players reaping rewards. Opera Australia is enjoying one of its best winter seasons to date. Ticket sales are up 16,000 compared to last year’s box-office figures.

OA’s chief executive, Adrian Collette, said subscribers and single ticket buyers had responded to the balanced repertoire and calibre of artists.

“Numbers can come back to bite you but it’s a significant development,” he said. “We’ve invested a lot in the quality of the music-making and people are getting more confident of seeing work of a high standard.”‘

In A Masked Ball Gustavus is told by a fortune teller that he will be assassinated by a friend.  In September 2002, Opera Australia announced that Simone Young’s contract wasn’t being renewed because, as Collette amongst others made clear, her grand plans were too expensive. Don’t ever say that opera isn’t true to life.

Opera Australia opens in Melbourne on 9 April, but there is only really a 5-week opera season there, because from 15 May to the end of the Melbourne season on 31 May it is just 15 straight performances of My Fair Lady.   Perturbingly, this then opens the Sydney winter season on 21 June.  Opera proper resumes from 5 July. 

Lentz, Shostakovich, Zimmerman, SSO, Sloane

March 29, 2008

On Friday night to the SSO. The program was:

Steven Sloane conductor
Tabea Zimmermann viola

LENTZ Monh for viola, electronics and orchestra AUSTRALIAN PREMIERE

Tabea Zimmerman is a terrific player and easily the best violist I have ever heard.  I have been looking forward to her visit here ever since 2005 when Wolfgang Fink, the artistic administrator of the orchestra, mentioned to me that a visit was in the offing.  I had complained to him about a concert where Richard Gill was the conductor and Roger Benedict, the SSO’s principal viola, played Berlioz’s Harold in Italy on the grounds that that was just a bit too much local product for the one concert.  Regular readers of this blog may know that as a subscriber I am sensitive to being given short or budget measure.  I’d have been happier with Richard Gill (if they must, but that’s a topic for another day) and some big name soloist, or Roger Benedict, but supported with a really good conductor. In passing I had mentioned that I had heard Zimmerman play not long before in Beijing.  (You have to keep your end up with these arts administrators.)

My heart had sunk just a little when I saw that she was playing a newly-commissioned work by Georges Lentz.  Why couldn’t we hear her play some mainstay of the (not particularly large) viola repertory? (I know that’s a bit tough on Ms Zimmerman as it means she’ll spend her life touring the world and playing about 3 pieces only, but heck, I won’t get many times to hear her and sometimes the audience has to come first, right?) My heart sank again when I read in the program note that the piece was mostly slow and quiet (or words to that effect).  On both counts I was wrong.

To take the second count first: although you might call Lentz’s music slow and quiet, this is not the kind of slowly measured but essentially arhythmic or rhythmically abstract measured time that is my bugbear in much modern music.  The title of the piece apparently means “stars,” and its texture was one of myriad details like moonless night sky far from the city.  There was always something engrossing going on, and even if the big pulse was slow, events within it moved faster, like an updating of the semiquaver pulse in Bach, but also at varying duration levels.  Peter McCallum has described this well in his SMH review as “a carefully calibrated rhythmic sense, with layers moving at radically different time rates.”

The big thing I remembered about Zimmerman’s playing was her projection.  This is something common to many big name soloists.  It is hard to say what this exactly consists of – it’s not just a question of volume because a lot of the music was so quiet.  Some of it could be the instrument.  Lentz also procured projection at a quiet volume with quite a lot of sul ponte playing – that overtoned buzzy sound which is produced when the bow is drawn over the string closer to the bridge.  (It’s often used to denote “sinister,” or, for example, used for the opening of Vivaldi’s Winter.)  There was only one really big loud moment (mostly loud because of the percussion), after which, like driftwood left behind by a receding wave, for a moment only Zimmerman and 2 other violas played.  The other two were Benedict and Anne-Louise Cornerford, the regular principals, and at this point they seemed to be playing scordatura violas – that is, violas tuned differently to enable them (in this case) to play lower than a viola usually goes.  (Certainly, I saw them change instruments just after.)

That’s just one interesting little point about the piece, but the orchestral writing had many other felicities and fascinations.  Lentz has played in the SSO since 1990, but it is not simply experience which shows here, but also imagination.  The electronic part of the music (another potential bête noire for me) was digitally manipulated harp and not at all jarring or disproportionate.

So back to the first count.  Definitely, to coin a phrase, Zimmerman could play the Nokia phone tune and it would be compelling. But I am glad that Lentz’s piece had her very superior advocacy.  She played the premiere in Lentz’s home town in Luxembourg in 2005, so it wasn’t just something learnt out of duty for this tour.  The really telling question, unlikely to be even asked in my own concert-going experience given the relative infrequency of viola concertante works in the repertoire, is whether the piece would make such an impression in somebody else’s hands.

The second half was the Shostakovich 8th Symphony. Amazingly, this was only the second ever performance by the SSO (the first was conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite in 1985). That’s presumably because Shostakovich wrote 14 other symphonies, though it does make you wonder about the following bit of puffery in the SSO’s concert blurb:

The opening lament of Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony has been described as music ‘which by the power of its human emotion, surpasses everything else created in our time’. Intense, grief-stricken, bitter and one of the essential works of 20th-century art, Shostakovich’s Eighth is a requiem, secretly dedicated to the victims of Stalin’s war on his own country.  

I guess the quotation marks mean that somebody said it, a bit like the now customary use of inverted commas in headlines for anything which in the body of a news story is otherwise said to be “alleged.”  As for the rest of the program attributed in this blurb, it is a symphony written during the war after the propaganda triumph of the Leningrad symphony (No 7) but without the big finish (which may also be another factor in its less-performed status).  Earlier in the week the SSO was offering discounted tickets, which I now regret not taking up for Wednesday’s performance.  Which is to say that I enjoyed the Shostakovich (especially, I think, the rather subdued passacaglia and the quiet ending), but I have exhausted my critical stamina on the Lentz. 

Speaking of which/whom, Lentz came up from the stalls at the end of the first half and took a bow as composer, looking (as composers tend to) just a little bit nerdy and rumpled. It was good to see he’d slipped into something less comfortable at interval and taken his usual place towards the back of the first violins for the Shostakovich.

Ten months review

March 17, 2008

At the time of writing (Sunday), the position was:

Total Views: 14,397

Best Day Ever: 174 — Sunday, March 9, 2008

The best day came from a sudden interest in Geoffrey Leonard, possibly because the you-tube footage of his A Current Affair outing achieved new currency for some reason. 

Total views for months 9 and 10 are 2,967 compared to about 2,666 in months 7 and 8 and  about 3,500 in months 5 and 6.  Obviously, the ten-monthly average of 1,439 (2-months: 2,878) is easy to compute.  On that basis, the last 2 months are just above average, though overall, allowing for the opening position, I’d describe the situation as steady.

Change and decay in all around I see

March 14, 2008

Friday night to the SSO.  This was my first attendance at this series for this year, as in a touch of curmudgeonliness I exchanged my ticket to Nigel Kennedy in February for The Dream of Gerontius in November.

I almost exchanged my ticket for this concert also.  The program cried out for it:

Wayne Marshall conductor

Rustic Wedding Symphony
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Candide: Overture.

Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, except where’s the soloist?  I always suspect the SSO of saving money with concerts like this and taking advantage of its subscribers.  (OK,  it was a big orchestra, especially for the Bernstein West Side Story.)  And there is something odd about a concert which ends with the Candide overture. Obviously, something had to be put in because otherwise the concert was really very short measure – 25 43 [see comments below], 22 and (with Candide) 8 minutes all up.

Most of all, I had to wonder exactly who thought it would be a good idea to program the Goldmark?  If you read Philip Sametz’s program note [link no longer available, but the last line “You may kiss the bride” gives the general tone away] you can see that he was struggling to say much about it.  The first movement, in particular, was a pedestrian set of variations – at least as it came out this time.  [Mon: Harriet Cunningham was of much the same view in the SMH.]  I find it difficult to believe that it was Wayne Marshall’s special request.  I wouldn’t say it got a particularly distinguished performance (the third and fourth movements were the best), and even with a distinguished performance you would have to say that there must be something better which it was keeping out of the program. 

A more interesting program might have been had if SSO could have spent enough money to mount a concert performance of Candide, or if the second half had been the first half (opening with Candide), and then something American but more modern had been put after interval.

My neighbours to my right have been an older couple (well, they are nearly all older – I am often the youngest person in row T of the stalls).  Last year, from time to time the man of the couple, inclined towards cravats, was replaced (on account of his illness) by a rather talkative woman, Q (I still don’t know her name).  Q was there again on Friday, and told me that she would be coming for the rest of the year because Doug (I never knew his name before) died about three weeks ago.  He is survived by his partner, Jim, also in his eighties.  They were both architects.  Jim didn’t really like going to concerts (D also is not so keen on concerts, and my neighbour recalled that I had mentioned this to her before), which is why Doug went with his female friend. 

It just goes to show that you can never judge from appearances: I had thought Doug’s female companion to be more conservative than that.  (I had wondered just occasionally about the cravat, but Doug was of an age and, to be fair, state of health where sexuality is almost unthinkable). 

As Q said, Doug was a bit of a grump, and he never really invited small talk, but now I regret not having struck up some kind of conversation: gay men of his generation living in established relationships were (and are)  comparative rarities, pioneers, if you like, of the modern emancipation of gay people.  Well the opportunity is missed now.

I tried to search the obituaries in the SMH the better to identify my erstwhile neighbour, but this proved a fruitless endeavour.  It would be easier to go to a library and look at paper back issues for the right days.  However, I did discover that the New Zealand-born (but long-time Sydney-resident) pianist Tessa Birnie died this week.  I would have been curious to go to her funeral (which I missed: it was this afternoon), not because I knew her at all (though I did go to some activities and concerts run by the grandiloquently named Australian Society for Keyboard Music which she founded and ran for many years) but because I would have been interested to see who was there.  She was 73, which is actually a bit younger than I had thought – though to be fair that is based on a view formed in about 1972 or 1973!

Postscript on age:

I wasn’t so wide of the mark after all. It turns out that Tessa Birnie had put her age down by a decade for years – probably to account for the delay which WWII must have caused her career, and to make more youthful her Paris debut in 1960. The obituary in the SMH puts the record straight with the rather lame apology as follows: “Her autobiography, I’m Going To Be A Pianist, was published in 1997. Although Birnie had claimed she was born in 1934, the book shows 1924 as the real year.”

Still, it casts a certain ironic shadow over this paragraph, from earlier in the same piece [emphasis added]:

“Tessa Daphne Birnie, who has died aged 83, was born in Ashburton, near Christchurch, and first heard the sound of a piano, in the local hall, when she was three or four. She never forgot the moment, claiming later that she was so entranced by the sound that she knew her destiny before she knew her age.”

The ASKM was basically a kind of music club for piano music. I expect that to be in the inside crowd for this you basically had to belong to the Tessa Birnie fan club, but TB did have a lot of energy to rally her supporters.  My first exposure to the ASKM was when I went with my mother to a remarkably ambitious series of concerts which it put on in the old Eisteddfod Centre (the former 2UE radio theatre, I think) upstairs in George St just around from the corner from the State Theatre.  This must for a good part piggy-backed on the ABC’s roster of touring pianists.  The series included Michael Ponti, Richard Goode, and some other players whom I ought to remember.  I think the young Katherine Selby impersonated the young Mozart or possibly his sister Nannerl on one occasion. There were also playing afternoons where members participated, and a gestetnered journal “Key Vive” which I used still to see, many years later, lying around to be picked up at the Conservatorium.

Music clubs themselves are an institution which appears to be in decline.  This is a pity because they used to give exposure and experience to a lot of young and local musicians.  I ought to be able to find something Panglossian to say about that, but I can’t summon the spirit for it.

Howie J almost throws the book and misses

March 12, 2008

Director of Public Prosecutions (Cth) v Elisabeth Sexton [2008] NSWSC 152

Do you remember Jim Selim of Pan Pharmaceuticals?  His factory was shut down owing to dodgy pills and criminal charges were brought against him – ultimately dismissed.   Along the way, he tried to stop the trial going ahead, without success.  The SMH published an article about this.  The journalist was Elizabeth Sexton.  It referred to his unsucessful attempt to “derail” the proceedings.  Concerned that this might prejudice the jury against Mr Selim, the District Court judge aborted the trial.  Sexton and the SMH were charged with contempt of court.

The charge was tried before Roderick Howie, generally (or so barristers practising in crime tell me) considered to be a hanging judge – “they’re all guilty so far as he is concerned” said one to me.

One issue was whether the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt that Sexton was the author of the article and, in particular, whether she was responsible for the word “derailed” which was considered to make the article so mischievious.  This is how his Honour dealt with it.

Authorship of the article
14 The first issue to be answered is whether the journalist was the author of the article, particularly of the last four paragraphs including the word “derail” which was described by the prosecutor before me as containing the “sting” in the article. There is no issue that there is a person named Elisabeth Sexton who is a journalist with the newspaper.
15 On behalf of the journalist Mr Sackar QC submitted that I could not be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that she had been responsible for the whole of the article and thus guilty of any contempt as an accessory to its publication. There was no evidence before me from the journalist or any other person connected with the newspaper or its publication. However it was submitted that I could not act upon the attribution on the face of the article to the journalist as its author and that the byline did not give rise to any inference that the journalist accepted responsibility for the contents of the article. It was submitted in effect that the Court should accept that there were persons, such as a sub-editor, who were entitled to, and did, alter articles submitted for publication by at least changing particular words or inserting and deleting words, even though the article was under the byline of a particular journalist.
16 I am not prepared to take judicial notice of the role played by employees of the publisher in the preparation of the contents of newspapers. In particular I am not prepared to accept without evidence that there are persons in the employment of the publisher who do “interfere” with the contents of an article to which there is attached a byline. Frankly I know little or nothing of the role of a sub-editor in the preparation of the contents of a newspaper. I can accept that there may be a need for some alteration to the length of an article submitted for publication in order that it can be accommodated within the available space in light of advertising, material submitted by columnists and other articles that may be thought to be more newsworthy. But I know nothing of how that alteration is carried out or any of the mechanics by which the final set out of the paper is achieved.
17 Perusing this edition of the newspaper it can be ascertained that there are articles without any byline, those with a single name at the top of the article, some with two names, some with a name and a title such as “National Security Editor” and “Higher Education Reporter” and others with a name and a location, such as “in London”. It seems to me that, having regard to the nature of this particular newspaper, it is intended by the publisher that the reader should attribute the whole of an article to the journalist whose name appears in the byline, otherwise I do not understand what the byline is suppose to signify. Similarly I should infer that it is significant to a journalist that his or her name appears over a published article by way of indicating that the journalist authored the article and is responsible for its contents
18 I appreciate that the newspaper is not the journalist’s document and therefore I cannot use her name appearing over the article as some form of admission by conduct. But I can infer that as a journalist for the newspaper she understands the way that articles in the newspaper are published and that she knew and intended that the article would be published under her byline. It seems to me that the overwhelming inference to be drawn from the appearance of the byline in the context of the newspaper as a whole is that the person named in the byline is the author of what follows and the person responsible for its contents. This is so whether or not some other person within the paper’s organisation also had responsibility for what was published, at least so far as the internal management of the newspaper is concerned.
19 The prosecutor sought to rely upon a judgment of Gillard J in the Supreme Court of Victoria in The Queen v Nationwide News Pty Ltd (unreported, 22 December 1997). In that case the article in question appeared under a photograph and a byline of the journalist against whom contempt proceedings were brought. Gillard J concluded beyond reasonable doubt that the journalist was the author and responsible for the article. This was a question of fact for his Honour and of course does not bind me. However, Mr Sackar submitted that the case before Gillard J was different from the present because the whole of the article was a contempt whereas here only the last four paragraphs are relied upon by the prosecutor and considerable weight has been given by him to the use of the word “derail”.
20 Mr Sackar relied upon the judgment of Mahoney JA in Registrar of Court of Appeal v John Fairfax Group Pty Ltd (NSWCA, 21 April 1993, unreported) where his Honour considered the liability of reporters for contempts arising from the publication of a newspaper. With respect I can find little of assistance in the passage to which I had been referred. It concerned the basis upon which a reporter might be held liable notwithstanding that the reporter did not actually publish the material that is said to give rise to the contempt. His Honour wrote

“The reporter does not ordinarily do those physical acts which are the publication of the article to the public. Her role will be to prepare the material which is to be published. Her liability will therefore ordinarily be secondary, that of an accessory or person knowingly concerned in that which constitutes the offence, the publication of the article. There may be circumstances in which the reporter’s liability goes beyond this. The reporter may be actually concerned in the publication of the article or, whilst not concerned in the physical acts constituting publication, may in the relevant sense cause the publication to take place. In such cases, the reporter may, to adapt language more appropriate to other offences, be liable in the first degree rather than as a party in the second degree.
If the liability of the reporter is not for publication as such or causing publication but arises only from the assistance given to the publication, it will be necessary to determine whether what the reporter did had such a connection to the ultimate publication as constituted an offence. This will require consideration of the kinds of questions arising in other cases in which liability of a secondary kind has been considered. This may be illustrated by reference to the facts of the present case. The vice of the action of Fairfax lay not in the publication of the article alone; it lay in the publication of it at a time and in circumstances such that the publication was apt to prejudice the fairness of the trial. If the reporter wrote an article for publication but did so upon the basis that it would not be published at a time or in circumstances when the publication would prejudice the relevant trial, then ordinarily the reporter would not be accessory to the criminal publication of it. On the other hand, if the reporter knew the article was for publication and was to be published during the trial when prejudice would be apt to result, then her actions would ordinarily be sufficiently accessory to the ultimate publication as to involve criminal liability.”

21 The passage stresses that the liability of the reporter will generally, as here, be based upon the principles of accessorial liability and, therefore, it does not necessarily follow that because the publication is a contempt that the reporter is guilty of the offence. But it says nothing about whether I can draw an inference, beyond reasonable doubt, that the journalist was the author of the article and hence the prosecution can establish that she was an accessory to the publisher.
22 I note in passing that there was no issue raised before me as to whether, even if she were the author, the journalist had a sufficient mental state about the publication to make her liable as an accessory. Contempt is a strict liability offence in that, while the publication of the article must be intentional, it does not have to be published with the intention of interfering with judicial proceedings, see Registrar of the Court of Appeal v Willesee(1985) 3 NSWLR 650; Hinch v Attorney General (Vic) (1987) 164 CLR 15; Attorney General (NSW) v Dean(1990) 20 NSWLR 650. For a person to be guilty as an accessory before the fact to a strict liability offence, the person accused must be shown to have known all the facts that would make the principal guilty of the offence: see Giorgianni v The Queen (1985) 156 CLR 473. If, as appears to be the case, the author’s liability for the publication is based upon being an accessory, then it would seem that the prosecution has to prove more than the fact that journalist was the author of the article. The prosecutor should have to prove that the journalist knew that the article would, when it was published, have the necessary tendency. In the present case, because of the contents of the article, the prosecution may have been able to prove that knowledge, but the issue was not ventilated before me.

23 I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the journalist was the author of the article including the last four paragraphs and the use of the word “derail”. As such she was liable as an accessory before the fact to the publication. It is clear from the contents of the article that she intended that it would be published at a time when Mr Selim was being retried on charges of “tampering with evidence” after a previous jury had been discharged.

This seems precisely back to front to me.  The key question is whether Sexton was responsible for the word “derail” but he seems to have held that she was because she knew that if her byline appeared at the end of the article, people would assume that she was responsible for it.  This still seems to beg the question.  Have I missed something here?

Fortunately, his Honour went on to say that the mischief was one which could have been overcome by suitable directions and that therefore the article was not one which constituted a contempt of court – though it came as close as possible to being so without being so.

The DPP are clearly on the defensive in this matter: Selim was acquitted by direction (ie, the judge told the jury when the matter eventually came to trial in the Supreme Court that they must acquit Selim).  One wonders if they are looking to deflect blame by means of this prosecution.  Print journalists are rarely prosecuted precisely because it is difficult to establish beyond reasonable doubt (without a sufficiently enthusiastic judge) that the author is responsible for the precise words used – though these days it would be possible to execute search warrants and uncover some kind of electronic audit trail which might do the job.

It may be that Justice Howie is also on the defensive.  The Herald has also reported at length (three times – they have their own agenda here) that he had to make some apologetic noises about handing down what he then claimed to be a draft of the judgment, which said even nastier things about Ms Sexton. (“Reporter wrongly insulted“, “Judge regrets journalist’s distress” and “Judge regrets distress.”)

Twelfth Night

March 11, 2008

Last Thursday to Twelfth Night, produced by Siren Theatre at the ATYP .

I went on the recomendation of Nicholas Pickard, who wrote (in part):

“Walking into Twelfth Night in the magically transformed theatre of Australian Theatre for Young People in Walsh Bay, you immediately feel like you are entering a very special world.”

It may have been magically transformed, but it still left something to be desired. The theatre itself is enclosed by a kind of slab wall (you can see the late afternoon light coming in through the cracks) underneath the main concourse level of the Wharf Theatre. Further up the wharf, the Sydney Dance Theatre conducts dance classes. Those attending the classes then hang around outside the theatre and shout out and call to each other – all fairly clearly audible inside the theatre. Maybe they should try a “Quiet – Performance in progress” sign outside rather like the signs outside exam rooms. I found the noises off quite distracting.

As I have commented on Nicholas’s blog, there was a lot which was commendable about the performance/production, but I didn’t find it such a stunning success as Nicholas did. Perhaps I get to see less theatre than he does, and either I am less of a buff or else I see less really terrible stuff than he does. Though these needn’t be mutually exclusive, I favour the first explanation: if I were more of a theatre enthusiast, I would see the glass half full of the good aspects of the performance, much as I probably would for a similar level of musical performance. Otherwise, perhaps the moral is that a performance which is worth $25 (that was the ticket price, and I’m not saying it wasn’t worth the price of admission) is unlikely to be worth it for me. This was roughly the reasoning on which one friend turned down my suggestion that she come along with us.

There were only 7 actors. This also imposed an extra level of difficulty in terms of appreciation, although there was one rather good piece of business playing against that when Sir Anthony Aguecheek and Sebastian (played by the same actor) fought each other by “exchanging” blows and emerging from behind a curtain with instantly exchanged hat and other costume accoutrements.

The main thing this production made me appreciate was the extreme difficulty of creating what I think of as the necessary lyricism (itself a compound of many things: I’m not saying there is only one way to get there) for Shakespearean comedy. Kate Gaul (the director) had lots of good ideas and the production was headed in the right direction, but for me it didn’t quite get there unless I willed myself to go there with it, which still felt a bit of a strain. It made me appreciate what Bell Shakespeare managed in As You Like It all the more in retrospect. Some of it is probably resources; some of it is probably experience; and some of it, I suspect, is just good old fashioned technique. This is not to say that the actors in this production were lacking in that, but they were still a young cast.

Others in the audience enjoyed it more than I did, though I also suspected that rather a lot of them may have been friends and relations.  There was a bit of a “luvvie” atmosphere afoot.  The woman who sold us our tickets laughed the loudest.

Peculiar usage

March 5, 2008

From the SMH’s coverage of a hostage crisis in Xi’an China, Aussies taken hostage (emphasis added):

Local Xian newspaper Hua Shang Bo reported on its website that hijacker Xia Tao, from Xian, held up the bus yesterday morning in the middle of Xian’s central Belltower Square.

He said he had an explosive device.

Police agreed to Tao’s requests to negotiate with him after he threatened to blow up the centre of the city.

He eventually released nine tourists but held the NSW woman and a translator hostage for an unknown period of time.

Chinese authorities, led by the Xian Public Security Bureau, later stormed the bus and secured the woman’s release.

Police reportedly then gave Tao another vehicle and allowed him to drive to the airport. He was executed by a sniper as he travelled to the airport three hours after the hijacking began.

The paper said security forces were pleased with the speedy resolution of the incident.

Excuse me, executed?  Try just plain killed.  But undoubtedly a speedy resolution


OK, it was a rush early version of the story, probably based on the Chinese report carelessly (or callously) translated.  A later report says:

At 12.52, as he approached a toll station near the airport, members of the bureau called out to the man to get out of the car before shooting and killing him.

Looked at another way though, maybe “executed” is the right word.

The Long Boom comes to an end

March 5, 2008

On Monday night I went to hear the Goldner Quartet with pianist Stephen Osborne at Angel Place City Recital Hall – a Musica Viva concert.

That I went owes something to MV general manager Mary-Jo Capps’s devilish cunning: having accepted a free ticket from her last year after complaining to her about the heavy-handed promotion of this -year’s Musica Viva series, I felt somehow obliged to take things further.  Anyway, the program was attractive, even allowing for the incredibly awkward 7 pm start time which required me to rush home very early indeed for the requisite nap and, because of a (possibly unfounded) fear about parking at that hour, take the train back in.

In the foyer, I ran into Justice H, whom I had appeared before earlier that day.  He told me that his wife takes his mother-in-law to the MV concerts, but that G QC (whom I also know) usually had a spare ticket, and he was hoping to get in by this means.  This struck me as a remarkably insouciant attitude, but also confirmation of the 6-degrees-of-separation thesis that the rich most like giving favours to each other.  I saw later that H J had successfully made contact.

The program was:

Richard MILLS
String Quartet no 1(revised 2007)
Performed by Goldner String Quartet

Piano Quintet in G minor, op 57

Préludes (Book 1), nos 6–10 (1910)
Performed by Steven Osborne
[Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps in the Snow): Triste et lent
Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest (What the West Wind has seen): Animé et tumultueux
La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair): Très calme et doucement expressif
La sérénade interrompue (Interrupted Serenade): Modérément animé
La cathédrale engloutie (The Engulfed Cathedral): Profondément calme ]

Piano Quintet in E flat major, op 44

Mills is Musica Viva’s featured composer this year. Dene Olding gave a narrative account of his quartet which would probably madden Mills. It started from the well-known characterisation of a string quartet as a civilized conversation, and warped this into a drama of a bridge game between two couples (the Goldner Quartet, who are also the string core of the Australia Ensemble, is two married couples) which goes rather badly wrong, leading to some heated recriminations before, as Dene put it, everything being made right on the way home in the car. I couldn’t really put that quite homely (if rather Musica-Viva oriented) narrative aside and listen to the music properly at all after that.

The Shostakovich lived up to expectations, but (possibly because I was thinking of the trio) ended more mildly than I expected.

It was odd hearing a slab of Debussy preludes in this way. That said, Osborne’s approach really grew on me, and by the end of La cathedrale engloutie (which was obviously where he was planning on heading when he chose these 6 preludes) he had the audience eating out of his hands – even some chronic and unmuted coughs did not break the culminating “profound calm.”

But it was really the Schumann I had come to hear, and I was not disappointed. I remember EN once offering the opinion to me that Schumann was really rather a minor or second-rank composer. At the time I thought he was wrong and this performance reminded me why. I think that is an impression based on a superficial assessment of composers’ pecking orders based on well-kn own orchestral works. For a pianist, it is a difficult view to hold, and equally if one takes into account the richness of his vocal and chamber music legacies. The quintet is thoroughly engrossing, in a dramatic and romantic way.

At interval, I also ran into J and Lx.  They are now both AIDSocrats.  We discussed the David Russell case (because G QC is appearing in his appeal) and also the more recent (so far as the denouement is concerned) and tangledly tragic Robert Sharwood case (you’ll have to google about this yourself for the time being because there is no single convenient link) in the train on the way home.  It may have been too much for some of our fellow travellers.

This is not intended as a boast, but because of the Mardi Gras film festival and associated events, not all of which I have yet blogged about here for an obvious reason, this was (starting on February 15) the 18th straight night in a row when I had been out for some kind of entertainment – that is, either a film or a live performance. I am sure that this is a record for me. It has come to an end: on Tuesday night I stayed at home.

A common error

March 4, 2008

When I first studied contracts, I was constantly tripped up by the way that the textbooks and the cases adopted the terms “promisor” and “promisee,” as in, for instance, “consideration must flow from the promisee.”

I am now acclimatized to that, though occasionally I have to think about it just a little.  Promisees are the parties who (subject to some exceptions) seek to secure the benefit of a promise which a promisor made to them.

Yesterday, I was in a court on level 8 of the Supreme Court, and I passed a court room absolutely packed with lawyers and presided over by the Chief Judge in Equity, Justice Young.  This man was in the witness box, and yes, he did have a rather gravelly voice:

alex vella

He is Tony Vella, a bikie leader and property owner who is suing various banks which took mortgages which were given to them as a result of transactions which Vella says were fraudulently procured by a former friend of his, one Mr Caradona. An account of the case in the Sydney Morning Herald is here. It includes the following paragraph (emphasis added):

The money is gone and Mr Caradonna is now bankrupt. Mr Vella is suing the bank that paid the money, some of those who received some of it from Mr Caradonna, and the mortgagors who want to sell Mr Vella’s properties in Enmore, Mangrove Mountain and Leppington to recoup theirs.

For mortgagors (people who mortgage their property to someone: gage as in pledge) read mortgagees.

Margaret Cho – “Beautiful”

March 2, 2008

On Wednesday I went with D to see Margaret Cho.

The show was at 10pm and as we arrived the 8pm show crowd were just spilling out onto the street.  It was perhaps the gayest theatre audience I have ever seen, except for the audience for the 10pm show, which was even more so.  D wondered at it.  Where did all these handsome men and cuties (not entirely mutually exclusive categories) come come from?  How come we hadn’t seen them at the Mardi Gras film festival?

I can only speculate, but a few stabs at an indirect answer to D’s amazement are:

  1. there were quite a few American expatriates in the audience (one, not necessarily in this category but probably so since otherwise a bit of a poseur, even had an “Obama 08” t-shirt);
  2. judging by the audience response, not only the expatriates were US-savvy – are these returned (from the US) expatriates? or are these cable watchers who get more detail on US culture than I do?  For example, they knew the name of the congressman busted in the toilet.  I knew the story well, but not the name.  It’s clear they also watched TV shows which I don’t watch.
  3. Cho is an international celebrity (in the sense of coming from outside Australia) and such a visit and live appearance have their own draw-power;
  4. People dress up more for a $60-65-a-head live event than for a $10-15 a head film.

Margaret Cho was supported by Ian Harvie, a female to male pre-op transsexual lesbian.

I was a little disappointed in the evening  It wasn’t so much the performers as the genre.  I am not sure if I have ever been to a night of stand-up comedy before but this event made me realise why if I have I have forgotten it and if I haven’t why that is the case.  There is a kind of mass-hysteria when a bunch of people get together in a room determined to be amused, and a kind of mutual desperation then seems to yolk performer to audience.  I didn’t think everything Ian or Margaret said was all that funny, and some of the ploys (including no small amount of audience flattery on Margaret’s part) struck me as pretty transparent.  (It must be rare that a comedian does not tell his or her audience that they have been terrific, but the flattery went further than that.)  So even when I got close to abandoning myself to mirth, I still felt self-conscious and as though I was in some way forcing it.  I have enjoyed Cho’s filmed shows on TV.  Maybe this is a rare occasion where I will enjoy the film (which can be edited for the best takes or versions of the jokes over a number of performances) over the live gig.

Perhaps my expectations are too high.  Maybe whatever it was is my problem, a bit like when I had to leave Nigel Kennedy’s concert last year because I couldn’t bear him cheering the audience along and telling us all what a good time we were having when I didn’t find his playing quite so remarkable at all.  Nigel and Margaret have uncovered my curmudgeonly streak.

I don’t want to overstate this.  I did laugh, and over all, a good time seems to have been had by all.