Archive for April, 2008

Arthur Calwell and Dorothy Hewett

April 29, 2008

Over the long weekend (which I lengthened by almost a day at each end) D and I went to Canberra to visit my father. My stepmother is in Italy at present – as at last weekend, Siena, to be precise.

At the last minute I tried to get to see the Bell Shakespeare Company’s As You Like It at the Canberra Playhouse, but decent tickets for the three of us were not to be had.

As ever, I also read some of my father’s books.

One of these was Dorothy Hewett‘s autobiography, Wild Card.

My father was at UWA for some of the time Hewett was there, and he remembers having some conversations with her. She was, he told me, a fine looking woman, though the conversations were not of this type – he actually said something to the effect of her being quite out of his league. Although father doesn’t get a guernsey (in any event, a dubious honour),  the autobiography does mention other WA figures who were known to my parents and to me via them, including Ron Strachan, who was a great chum of Hewett’s and subsequently director of Taronga Zoo. (This WA mafia was a funny thing: in my childhood we also occasionally met Vince Serventy, who had been my mother’s high school science teacher.)

Wild Card deals with Hewett’s life up to 1958, when she moved back to Perth from Sydney with her three children. According to Hewett, she did so after Les Flood, her then de facto and father of her children, who was exhibiting fairly florid symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia, burnt all her manuscripts and papers (save for the sole m/s which he thought politically acceptable) and one of her children told her that Flood was planning to leave her and take their children with him. 

In 1949, in order to move to Sydney with Flood, Hewett had left her first husband and Clancy, their son, in Perth.  Shortly after the move, she learnt that Clancy, aged three, was ill with what was “eventually diagnosed as acute lymphatic lukaemia, a killer disease for which there was no known cure.” She writes (p 177 in my 1990 Penguin edition, if you want to look it up or, for that matter, if you don’t want to but need a footnote):

I had never even heard of it before but, consumed with guilt and horror, I used money I didn’t have to send urgent cables to children’s clinics in the USSR and America.  I rang and consulted dozens of Sydney child specialists.  Each time the same answer came back, it tolled like a funeral bell. ‘You must face the facts,’ they said, ‘that there is nothing to be done.’  But I couldn’t face it.

Only in action could I get any peace, and there was no more action to take.  I even wrote to Arthur Calwell, the shadow Foreign Minister in the defeated Labor Party, whose twelve-year-old son had died of leukaemia.  He sent a Commonwealth car round to Marriott Street [in Redfern, where Hewett was living at the time] with a parcel of his dead son’s books for Clancy.  I stood in the ugly room, touched almost in spite of myself, with the pile of books in my arms.  In those days the Communist Party, echoing Stalin, saw the Labor Party as the main enemy.  Social Decmocrats were traitors to teh working class.  They always sold out under pressure. Lenin had described the Australian Labor Party as a ‘bourgeois reformist party.’  But the simple humanity of a parcel of used books that had once belonged to a dead child cut through all the theories.   I was conscious of Les [Flood] staring out of the window as the car drove away, laughing grimly with his brother.  ‘That’s an easy way to get a few votes,’ he said.’

The Monthly magazine runs a regular feature, “Encounters” on unlikely or unusual Australian historic encounters.  The August 2007 issue dealt with Arthur Calwell and Peter Kocan, who in his youth famously attempted to shoot Calwell at a political meeting in Mosman.  Calwell and Hewett is to me a more intriguing, and touching, “encounter.”

The books were presumably left behind somewhere along the way, if not burnt in the bonfire.

Opera Australia or Utopia Limited

April 23, 2008

Opera Australia ACN 000 755 153 (find out more here) is that rare beast, a company limited by guarantee.

This means that, rather than its members being shareholders entitled to dividends and a share of the net assets if the company were wound up, they are those people who have agreed to guarantee the company’s liabilities.

If you are a subscriber to Opera Australia, you are entited to become a member of the company. I am and I have done so. The potential liability under the guarantee is $20, so I am not taking a very big risk here.

Today I received the 2007 Annual Report. The AGM is on 22 May 2008. A covering letter states that “the information in this report is therefore embargoed until 23 May 2008.” This strikes me as just a little ridiculous. This is a non-profit company, kept afloat by the public purse. How can there be any governantial overviw of the the cosie coterie which constitutes its directors unless there can be some public canvassing of the contents of the Annual Report prior to the meeting? Otherwise, the only overview can be the withholding of grants or sponsorship funds. That would be a drastic remedy for us poor punters.

And it certainly is a cosy little club. The distributed proxy form only allows for votes to re-elect the existing directors and to approve the annual accounts. This almost makes the NRMA look democratic.

One of the directors facing re-election is Rowena Danziger. Regular readers of this blog may guess that this is one reason why I am tempted to attend the meeting.

In the meantime, I’m going through those accounts with a fine-tooth comb. Damn that embargo! Three snippets which are worthy of note are:

  1. The written-down value of sets, costumes, properties etc is $4.1 million. This is a decrease of about $200K, which is to say that the amount which has been spent on new productions is $200K less than the amount by which they have been amortised or written down for “impairment.” By contrast, the insured value is about $34 million. A fire must be a very tempting proposition! (And there have been fires before…[only joking!])
  2. The 2007 Sydney Winter Season saw lower attendances and box office than the 2006 one, and to a greater extent than can simply be accounted for by the reduced number of performances (which is probably APEC related) of from 99 to 96. The reason is probably that in 2006 Sydney winter season included over 30 performances of a Gilbert & Sullivan and 14 performances of a Puccini (the report is at home so I may have to correct the Turandot numbers) whereas in 2007 these numbers were 21 and 11 respectively (and the Puccini was Il Trittico rather than Turandot.) THe accounts are a bit more coy about profitability rather than box office of the individual seasons, but if you read between the lines the effect on profitability appears to be commensurate. The good news is that this sort of fluctuation appears to be within the usual bounds of year-to-year variation. The bad or good news is that this probably explains the very long run of My Fair Lady this year.
  3. Australia Opera persists in writing the accounts of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra as a corporation operating at a very substantial loss. Given that the opera is the orchestra’s no 1 customer (accounting, I would say, for about 70% of its performances) as well as its shareholder, this seems a bit artificial.  To make a profit or at least break even, surely the orchestra could just charge the opera more.  The true effect would be pretty much the same, whether recorded as a loss in shareholder’s (the opera’s) funds or an increase in costs (of running the opera). The loss can’t all be attributable to the orchestra not charging the ballet (the other customer) enough.  I suspect some kind of direct or indirect hard word on the funding powers that be is the reason for this peculiarity.

Summiteers

April 20, 2008

If anyone is reading this outside Australia, you might not know that this past weekend has seen a talk-fest convened by our Federal Government under the snappy title “2020.”

I’m astonished at some of the people who have been invited to participate in the summit. Of course I am a disappointed applicant. No, that’s not correct: I forestalled disappointment from the inevitable rejection by not applying at all, even though I was free for the weekend and it would have been convenient to visit my father, who is at present on his own as my stepmother has travelled to Italy for a month with one of my step-brothers.

Previously, I thought that the lowest point was the inclusion of Lachlan Murdoch and James Packer. Great, I thought: ideas = money. It’s obvious really, if you think about it. At least James was unable to go. (Or was it Lachlan? I can’t be bothered checking this out.) Maybe it’s because they don’t want to go to the same parties just now after the latest shafting/double cross or whatever.

But today I read that Miranda Devine was there as a participant. wtf? I guess it must be something about tents and where people are going to piss.

I am keeping an open mind, but this confirmed my skepticism-cynicism about the whole shebang.

“Windfall”

April 19, 2008

From an SMH story, Divorced from wealth, on the plight of older divorced women:

For the next generation of single women, it is about to get worse. Lawyers and social researchers believe changes to the child support scheme which come into force midyear will leave about 60 per cent of single mothers worse off than before. Fathers, in particular wealthy fathers, they say, will pocket the windfall.

This is a misuse of the term windfall. It is not a windfall which the fathers are going to pocket, it is their own money which the legislation has decided they are no longer required to pay.

Kim Walker

April 16, 2008

I have been getting some visits to a previous post of mine which, whilst primarily reporting on an Australia Ensemble concert, also touched on the then state of play concerning Kim Walker, the dean of the conservatorium whose position might reasonably be described as “embattled.”

Ms Walker (actually, it’s Professor Walker, but I can’t take these ex officio professorships too seriously) was suspended from duties last year for a while over accusations of plagiarism before being reinstated. Various bigwigs around town wheeled in behind her to voice their support, including Rowena Danziger. Ms Danziger’s support alone made me look on Ms Walker less favourably.

Now there are fresh accusations of plagiarism, this time centring around notes for one of a series of what can only be described as socialite adult education talks given by Ms Walker at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Like the last piece of writing which attracted accusations, which was a bundle of educational-managerial puffery, this was not serious academic writing. Even then, Ms Walker didn’t even claim to have done all the work herself. It seems like she can’t even give a talk like this without getting some research assistant/casually employed postgraduates to do her legwork (that is what I take to be the import of the acknowledgments to Paula Brusky and an untraceable “David Stefano”).

The SMH has helpfully reproduced the notes distributed on Kim Walker’s behalf, as well as the relevant chapter from Will and Ariel Durant’s The Lessons of History. These have been helpfully marked up by someone in purple and blue highlighter. I wonder if there has been a highlighter audit going on at the Con since then.

Bearing in mind the qualified privileges available under the Defamation Act, SMH has sought comment from Ms Walker and also reports a statement by an audience member on the night who was there, though not just any audience member.

The Herald approached Professor Walker for comment and she responded through her lawyer. Mr O’Brien said the name “James” was a typographical error. “The typo was corrected in the speech when proper attribution was given to Will and Ariel Durant,” he said.

An audience member, Mary Turner, said Professor Walker had referred to Will Durant during the speech.

“Kim always gives attributions,” Ms Turner said. “She’s quite punctilious about this. It’s not sourced [in the lecture notes] and when she’s actually giving the speech she references them.”

It seems a fair bet that the Mary Turner quoted is the niece of the Hendersons of the Henderson bequest. It might be more accurate to describe her as a loyal benefactor.

Even if Kim Walker had prefaced every use of the Durants’ words or ideas with the necessary “as the Durants say,” the use of verbatim passages and ideas seems to me to exceed the bounds of decency for a public talk about great minds by a person who sports the title “Professor.” However entertaining and thought-provoking her lectures are, it looks like she is serving up the warmed-up leftovers of other people’s work.

Why does she do it? Can she just not help herself? Is she too busy? In particular, is she too busy big-noting herself giving talks like this which she appears unwilling to prepare properly herself?

Whatever the true story, it is clear that, as no man is a hero to his valet, Professor Walker is no hero to some of her fairly immediate subordinates at the Conservatorium. I just don’t know the rights and wrongs of this (other than being inclined immediately to side against someone who has Rowena Danziger on her side). I don’t think they would be crying foul so quickly if they didn’t have some other grudges. Anyone could tell you that just as a hunch. It is even more clearly the case if you read Nicholas Pickard’s recent piece on this, and some (or at least one) of the comments to that piece.

Pickard has been sent a copy of an anonymous letter to the Chancellor of the University, NSW Governor, Marie Bashir. I can only quote the bits which he has chosen to quote:

Dear Marie,

We are writing to advise you that your support of Kim Walker is misguided and is causing seroius [sic] personal hardship to the staff of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, to its reputation and to the reputation of the university. You are also bringing your own reputation into disrepute and you are rapidly losing the respect of your colleagues at the The University of Sydney.

Pickard summarizes:

The letter also alleges that a string of staff have left the Conservatorium, including three heads of school and even accuses the Dean of financial mismanagement, harassment and bullying.

And finally (presumably the parting shot):

“If you do not reconsider your position and withdraw to a neutral place and allow the university to conduct its business, details of your conduct, including your financial support of Walker’s legal costs, will be put into the hands of the press where it will be open to public debate.”

This Pickard’s over-punchy final paragraph:

The allegations are strong, the bile is even stronger and it appears that a Governor hailed by her people as one of the best leaders of her time is about to be forced to dance to a tune that’s more allegro than adagio.

Calling any state governor a “leader,” let alone “a Governor hailed by her people as one of the best leaders of her time” is ramping things up a bit, surely. As for the tempo of the tune, there are some quite grim tunes which go quite slowly. The death of Siegfried in Götterdämmerung is just one example (OK, maybe not very dancelike) which comes to mind. (Winsome Evans always used to say that God Save the King/Queen was a sarabande, but that is another story, which -see comments below – it seems likely I have misremembered.)

Pickard’s piece has been followed up by another in Crikey by Alex Mitchell (not someone I think of with any overwhelming interest in the Arts, but judging from his stories, with fairly good links to the Liberal Party and likely to receive a call from Rowena or somebody like her) which I have not read yet (money is asked for) but which is headlined “The malicious attack on the Dean of the Sydney Conservatorium and the NSW Governor, marks a new low in academic intrigue and skulduggery.”

If the story continues in that vein (on a par with Pickard’s “bile”) it will miss the point.

Bashir is Chancellor of Sydney Uni. As Governor, she is also Visitor. In either role, she may have to look into irregularities. She can and should support the institution but she really does have to be careful about taking sides when disputes arise within the uni, as is obviously the case here. If she really has been paying Walker’s legal costs, that could be embarrassing for her.

On the other hand, the letter to Bashir doesn’t seem very well thought-out. (“Reputation into disrepute” – what were they thinking?) Threats (let alone anonymous ones, even though that is understandable in the circumstances) don’t seem the right way for Walker’s opponents to proceed, and Bashir is hardly likely to want to look as though she is giving into them. [Of course, we don’t know who has circulated the letter: it could very well be someone on Walker’s side.]

Oh, and did I mention Rowena Danziger?

Afterword

It is sufficient to quote the last 3 paras of Alex Mitchell’s crikey piece:

Who do the members of this sick-minded academic mafiosi think they are? Their very words should be sufficient to condemn them in the court of fair play, decency and scholarship.

As for Walker’s lectures at the Art Gallery – apparently the mole of this ivory tower clique had to sit through five lectures before finding one tiny error, a misnaming in notes of a source, which she corrected in speaking to the audience. The Herald’s Harriet Alexander stretched this footnote error into a shock-horror story, raising the word “plagiarism”, something which will always raise a headline among the cut-and-pasters at Fairfax.

Oddly, the latest brouhaha reported by Pickard had little effect on the lecture audience last Friday: they gave Walker the warmest reception – and flowers.

The last paragraph is really the only piece of new information Mitchell provides in the entire article. The rest is either comment or conjecture. Mitchell is wrong about Walker just slipping up on a footnote. Sure, a talk at the Art Gallery is hardly the stuff of high scholarship (nobody expects that of Professor Walker), but the purple and blue highlighters (you have to click on the links above for this) still tell a sorry tale. It’s only a few paragraphs, but it is the stuff that those Media Watch double-voiced read-throughs are made of. And I don’t think it is right to say that Walker was cleared last year – she was reinstated, but that is something quite different.

But I do love that “mole of this ivory tower clique.” Shades of “Dalai Lama clique” and all – you can always link it to Tibet if you want to, Nicholas (see comments below for explication).

Postlude (or Afterafterword)

The SMH is not leaving this alone. Wondering why I still get hits to this post, I discovered that I had missed this. The paper has obtained a number of letters from donors urging Kim Walker’s reinstatement written last year during her suspension. Their identities are masked but one is fairly likely to be Mary Turner. One letter referred to funds and pledges of $500,000 for a legal fighting fund for Walker. The article mentions that Danziger is now the Art Gallery of NSW Foundation chairman. It all reeks of her particular brand of influence peddling. I now regret not wielding my entirely symbolic vote against her at the Opera Australia AGM all the more.

Codetta – February 2013

The stately progress of this matter through the courts has now come to public attention. Professor Walker has John Garnsey, QC acting for her. Apparently it’s all about the employer’s implied duty of good faith. This is Mr Garnsey’s special topic – he appeared for David Russell in proceedings which raised some similar issues.

In the meantime, you can read an attention-grabbing report from last year on Crikey. It is sourced primarily from a complaint to ICAC [!] by “former conservatorium professor and Fulbright-winning flutist Alexa Still” “who has taken temporary leave from the Con to serve as an Associate Professor of Flute at the prestigious Oberlin conservatory in Ohio.” Italicisation is of the bits which, if the contents did not make clear anyway, suggest which side of the dispute this story is sourced from.

Watch for Development[s] – I’m notching back my settings into first-movement sonata form to accommodate what is to come.

Never too late to tell the truth – Change and decay revisited

April 14, 2008

Or is it?

This is an update to a recent post where I mentioned the passing of New-Zealand-born pianist, Tessa Birnie.  I’ve updated the original post, but that seems too an obscure spot for the following.

[as I was saying]…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 for years Tessa Birnie had put her age down by a decade – 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.” 

That makes me more curious about the mysteries and complications which presumably lie behind the following other details revealed in the obituary:

  • At 10 she had her first formal piano lessons after her mother had taken her to the North Island to find a teacher, leaving her father, William, behind.
  • She toured New Zealand at 14, before heading to Europe with her mother. After interludes in Paris and London, Birnie and her mother settled near Lake Como in Italy, where for three seasons she studied with Schnabel’s son, Karl.
  • Having spent her growing years confronting 88 ebony and ivory keys, she had not experienced normal adolescent relationships.
  • In her 20s, [or was that her 30s?]  in Italy, she was among young musicians, great music and great art. She later referred to these as her happiest years.
  • After returning from her initial studies in Europe, Birnie had again met her father, a World War I veteran who had been working in an engineer’s office. [Some very vague chronology here, probably because of the fudged decade.]  The family moved to Sydney in the 1960s and built a house in Middle Cove. 
  • After both parents had died, she shared her house with other musicians.  [Now that has really got me curious.  With whom exactly?]

I’m not dancing on her grave, but such posthumously revealed dodginess has tantalizingly excited my suspicion and curiosity.  And yes, one fib makes me suspicious for more, even if that is really just a question of unravelling tangled webs.

Multiple hire

April 14, 2008

On Friday to the SSO. My neighbour, Z, told me an interesting story.

Recently, Z shared a taxi from the airport with Matthew Wilkie, the orchestra’s principal bassoon. MW was ahead of her in the queue and was going to Paddington, as was she, and he agreed to let her go with him. Cabs, as you may gather, were in short supply.

When the taxi arrived at her place in Cook Road (strictly, Centennial Park) the fare was $17. Z asked the driver how much he was going to charge MW. The driver indicated that he would charge him whatever was on the meter. (MW was a little further on in Paddington, though basically Cook Road was pretty directly in the way and hadn’t involved much of a detour.)

Z didn’t think this was right. Shouldn’t the driver knock something off for the fact that MW had shared the cab? She was sure that drivers used always to do this. She said to MW, “That’s my car over there. I’ll give you a lift home.”

And she did. So the driver only got the one fare after all.

We lawyers would characterise this as a tussle over a windfall gain. Should the gain go to the passengers, who are headed in the same direction, or to the driver, who has found (and possibly organized, Z’s account was vague about this) the multiple hire?

Z affects a slightly ditzy girlie manner (especially for one who is I suppose about 70) but she is certainly not short of a quid (she also has a house down the South Coast somewhere). In my experience, the wealthy often have a sharp eye for questions of pence as well as of pounds.

Doubtless the cabbie thought that he was more than entitled to charge both passengers the full fare, especially given that he had drawn the short straw in getting a fare to Paddington ($17 must be about the minimum possible fare from the airport). The one thing he didn’t bank on was that, because of the orchestral connection, Z actually knew MW from afar already, and was prepared to give him the windfall monetary gain (a free trip home) when she had already received her windfall gain (a taxi earlier than otherwise would have been available). As a result the hapless cabbie was totally frozen out. I feel a bit sorry for him.

And to the music?

The program was:

Paul Daniel conductor
Ralph Kirshbaum cello

DVOŘÁK The Noon Witch
BLOCH Schelomo
BRAHMS Piano Quartet in G minor (orchestrated Schoenberg)

This was a program of rarities. It was the first performance ever by the SSO of the Dvořák, which is a kind of orchestral ballade (in the sense of Brahms’s Edward) or “orchestral tone poem” about a witch who comes at noon to take away the soul of a naughty child (cf Erlkönig). It was picturesque, though the narrative detail seemed to stop any particular part of the music from really taking flight in its own terms. It was good to hear it, though I can understand why this may not be the most frequently heard of these pieces by Dvořák.

Schelomo is a concertante work for cello and orchestra ostensibly about the mighty Solomon. Apparently, it draws on a lot of traditional Jewish music. Not really being so familiar with that music, I couldn’t respond to it in a really informed sense. It was only the most obvious bits (because of their familiarity through other pastiches) towards the end which really plucked (actually they were arco, but let that pass) at my heartstrings.

The Brahms/Schoenberg was the oddest piece. I heard the original quartet at a concert by the Australia Ensemble on 15 March. In the program note to that concert, Roger Covell mentioned the impending orchestral outing, but argued for the superiority of the original, and I have to agree with him.

One giveaway is that Schoenberg, having played the cello and the viola in the quartet, apparently claimed that in normal performances, the pianist was always too loud, and the better the pianist, the louder the pianist tended to play. I am surprised at this statement: in my experience, the better the pianist, the quieter the pianist is able to play. But beyond the empirical truth of the statement, there is a historical grievance in such music between the strings and the piano, and Schoenberg came to that grievance from one side, whereas probably, as a pianist, I come from the other. It is inevitable our perspectives will differ. To my mind, Schoenberg’s resolution of this in an orchestral version basically overlooks the interplay between the piano on one hand and the three strings on the other which is a hallmark of the original quartet and of its conception. That is the first problem.

The second, for me, was Schoenberg’s “updating” of Brahms’s orchestral style. Mostly this was fine, though I was nonplussed by his enthusiasm for whoopingly high horns well above the stave in big moments. Where this moved beyond mere orchestral style to musical substance was in the sheer scale of these big moments. They were twentieth-century loud – post Wagner rather than echt or even ersatz Brahms, and this changed the music. The most telling moment for me about that was the rather pompous march section which, in the original, seems to be a bizarre impersonation of triumphalist music but which, at the same time, because it is only being played by a quartet, still has a lightness of touch (actually I think it still has almost a fairy quality). This is entirely lacking when reorchestrated to be the “real” thing.

My favourite movement of the quartet is the Intermezzo: Allegro ma non troppo — Trio: Animato . It is my favourite in the orchestrated version also, though I felt either Schoenberg or Paul Daniels over-subjugated the persistent triplet rhythm. The final presto, a “Gypsy Rondo,” seemed less tidy than a truly virtuosic rendition required, though everybody else seemed to enjoy it well enough.

Love for Love at NIDA

April 10, 2008

On Monday night to the Parade Theatre to see NIDA’s production of Congreve’s Love for Love.

This was my first visit to the new Parade Theatre. It can’t be right, but I feel that the last time I went to the old Parade Theatre was in about 1972 or 1973 when the Old Tote Theatre Company had their last season there before (ill-fatedly) relocating to the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre. The theatre may be new but I swear they are still brewing the same terrible urn-stewed coffee. It could have been stewing for all that time, but time lends colour rather than flavour or aroma to the brew.

The theatre itself is rather splendid. It seems a shame to leave it to NIDA, though I recall that some attempts at commercial productions may have foundered on the out-of-the-way location, just as things always seem to have difficulty at the Seymour Centre. It must be unique in Sydney as a horseshoe theatre with two balconies – the auditorium is a more hospitable shape than the Sydney Theatre, though the stage is probably not nearly well equipped and its seating capacity is smaller.

Most of the front of house staff appeared to be made up of students, probably on a voluntary basis. The greater part of the audience were either students or people on comps. I spotted John Gaden, looking smaller in real life than he does on stage.

Despite boastful statements on the web page about productions selling out (counterproductive, in my view) and statements by the ticket seller that it was quite a full house, this was far from the case. Tickets were not sold for the balconies. The only excuse for the very crumby seat I was sold (near the end of row F) could be that there were heaps of uncollected comps.

It did feel rather like a school play: first, because of the extreme youth of the entire cast (including one particularly unconvincing old man) – especially at the start when it was all young men (though as a consolation, plenty of what D and I are inclined to refer to as “cuties”); and secondly, because of the loud and appreciative laughter from members of the audience who I can only assume to be the performers’ friends, amused to see them in costume and not as their natural selves and doing funny things. I found the laughter a little off-putting. I do hate being unable to share others’ enthusiasm.

Restoration comedy is rarely assayed in Australia: the director confessed in his program note that this was his first go at it, and I suspect the actors were even more in the dark.  It was difficult for the wits to appear other than hopelessly camp, or for the women to appear as anything other than total bitches of a late seventeenth century Ab-Fab variety.  The decision to put a lot of the characters in wigs that made them look like clones of Robin Nevin added another level of confusion. 

One mystery of the play is why Angelica, the main male character’s love-object, should appear so ambivalent towards him for much of the play – until, that is, her true plan is unveiled right at the end.  This poses some quandaries so far as the tone of her performance is concerned, and I didn’t feel that the actor or the director had quite settled the question. 

Just occasionally there were mysterious moments where the tone of the dialogue changed completely.  These were meant to be the love or sincerity moments, I think.  The secret of these is, I suspect, rather like changing dynamics or moods in Scarlatti: the switch must be instant and magical.  Sometimes it worked, but sometimes it felt like just a slackening of dramatic impetus. 

NIDA is an institution with a powerful self-myth, but the truth, readily revealed by looking at the serried production photographs around the walls, is that only some of its students go on to even a mildly glorious career in theatre or the theatrical arts. I’m not sure how fair it would be to predict any future winners in the lottery of theatrical fate based on this performance, since clearly it depends on casting decisions and the choice or roles which may or may not suit individual students’ strong suits. On this occasion, it was those playing the rustically-spoken characters (inexplicably tending towards Irish, perhaps because the easiest off-the-shelf accent) who made the strongest impression, and in particular those who played Sir Samson Legend and his younger, seafaring son, Ben, save for an excruciating excursion into song by the latter.

If I can find the program amongst the detritus in my car I will update with their names.

Trioz – poetic justice

April 8, 2008

Tonight I thought to go to hear “Trioz” (a piano trio convened by pianist Kathryin Selby) at Angel Place. The program was enticing:

Elena Kats-Chernin – The Maiden and the Well Spirit (2004)
Ludwig v. Beethoven – Piano Trio in B flat, Op.97, ‘Archduke’
Sergei Rachmaninov – Piano Trio No.2 in D minor, Op.9, ‘Elégiaque’

Mostly it was the Rhachmaninov I was attracted by.

Unfortunately, I left my run a little late.  Tickets are only sold for the first level (the stalls), and all at the one price, of $60, which is a little steep for me for an impulse purchase.  Faced with an entirely unsatisfactory range of seats (at the edge or at the back), I turned back. 

Not really an entirely rational decision, given that last night I paid $25 for a performance of Love for Love which I probably had considerably less desire to see than I did to hear this.  It was probably a question of expectations.  What I wanted to do tonight was to bowl up and sit up high in a cheap seat – for the first half, at least.

The moral?  Book earlier, or wait until some more success leads to cheaper seats being available once they are sold for the balconies.

So now I’m back at the office. Once I would have returned to sneak in at interval, but perhaps I’m getting too old for that…

Or so I thought

I confess, I returned. A regular concert attendee with whom I have a nodding acquaintance (he goes to everything – he is the large man with the Karl Marx beard, for those of you who may know him) pointed out to me a suitable empty seat, and I made myself comfortable. Kathryn Selby stood up to give one of those speeches which, in general and on principle, I rather loathe. It was all about the program underlying the Shostakovich Trio.

Trapped! My neighbour confirmed that the program (not that this would have been shown to me before I’d bought a ticket, if I had bought one) announced that the Shostakovich had been substituted for the Rhachmaninov because KS had injured her hand 2 (or so) weeks ago.

The little talk confirmed all my prejudices about such talks. We learnt that the trio was written in 1943 when the Russians were beginning to learn about the sufferings in the concentration camps (things were a bit vague here about which concentration camps we were talking about). There was a lot of stuff in the vein of “This bit might represent when the people had to dig there own graves before they were shot and fell into them” (about the second movement) and “We talked about it, and we agreed that this passage could represent the wind whistling over the graves.” (maybe the opening of the first movement). I’m not sure if Shostakovich knew about that digging-your-own-grave stuff. This sort of thing puts the performer in an awkward position since, as KS herself recognized, it is difficult to then commend the music to the audience’s enjoyment.

The performance was OK, if overshadowed by the heavy-handed programism, to which I didn’t really feel it lived up. Maybe I was still yearning for the Rhachmaninov; I’ve heard better renditions of the Shostakovich, or at least been more in the mood for it.

There was not a whisper of this program change on the website or on the posters on display at the venue. Still, in the circumstances I wasn’t really in a position to ask for my money back. The most I could really have done was to have walked out. That would have been too conspicuous, even for me.

[Marcellous] as Voss

April 7, 2008

On Saturday, D and I went for a walk at the Royal National Park which turned out to be a little longer than we (and in particular, D) had bargained for.  I refer (as we say in affidavits) to the following semi-map from Google.

As ever, we didn’t set out until quite late.  I blush to say exactly how late: suffice to say that we were able to drive in at the Waterfall entrance of the Park (W) without having to pay an entrance fee.

So far so good.

We stopped at the southern end of Lady Carrington Drive (A).  This is an abandoned roadway which descends to the creek level and runs all the way to Audley (north; off the map).  It is popular with mountain bikers and also as a 2-car walk.  I had been here a few years before.

D and I set off.  Even though many years ago I saw the melodrama The Birdsville Track, we left without any water to drink.  It was only to be a shortish stroll down the road and back again. 

After we had descended a fair way and been passed by a bunch of whooping bikers, we saw a turn off, (B) labelled “Curawalla Track.” I was enticed, as though I had been presented with a cake labelled “eat me” or a bottle labelled “drink me.”  We took the bait.

This track was a narrow but at some stage quite laboriously made path, a little out of repair, which doubled back along the other side of the creek at the bottom of the valley.  Eventually it came to a pond where it was hard to make out its continuation, but after crossing the creek we eventually found this.  A steep ascent which pretty well winded us saw us climb from the valley floor back to the plateau, where, shortly after, the foot path (retrospectively labelled with a sign prohibiting bicycles) became a sandy quasi-vehicular track heading through the characteristic RNP heathland. (C)

A moment of choice.  Should we retrace our steps, or could we keep going, strike the road and return by that?  I hate retracing my steps. I knew we must reach the road eventually.  I thought that, if it were to get dark, it would be easier if we were by then on the road.  I rallied my loyal (actually, already complaining a bit) follower, and we pressed on.

It was very pleasant.  The sun had a golden, end-of-the-afternoon glow.  There were even distant views of the Centrepoint tower.  We saw lots of little birds and a pair of black cockatoos (and heard more).  The one fly in the ointment was that we didn’t know exactly where we were going, or how long it would take us to get back.

Eventually, we reached the road (D).  By way of some sort of scale, the sign suggested that the distance back to (B) was 4.2 km.  We turned south and walked along the road.

There was surprisingly little traffic.  Cars were beginning to drive with their lights on. We caught up with a group who emerged from the bush at (E).  They had flown down from Brisbane early that morning, and had walked from Bundeena.  The track at (E) (the Curra Moors track) represented a wrong turning for them, because they had meant to keep to the coast.  My, they were impressive walkers.  Even though they were a good 10 years older than us, had full packs and had been walking 10 hours (compared to our, by now, one or two), we could hardly keep up with them.  They turned left at (F) for Garie (fortuitously, G!) to camp for the night.

It became dark.  Tiny bats flew over the road.  The odd kangaroo thumped away in the bush.  Every time we crossed a creek, D (that’s not “(D)“) asked if we were almost there.  Not that I would have known.  We weren’t.  And then at last (after dodging a few cars in the dark) we were.  Perhaps we walked for 45 minutes in the dark.

As you can see from the “map” (consulted on my return home), I had definitely made the wrong call at (C).  I didn’t know how far south the road swung.  If we had turned back, it might have been 2 or at most 2.5 km back to (A).  On my estimation, (based on the sign at (D)) the path forwards which we took ended up being about 8 km, albeit all on well-made paths or the road.  Altogether, the walk took us just a little less than 3 hours.  I was surprised not to feel more thirsty than I did.

That’s quite a lot more than we usually walk.  My legs are still a bit stiff today (Monday).