Archive for May, 2008

SSO – Alpine, “Jupiter,” Dutoit

May 31, 2008

Tonight with D and Mxx to hear the SSO with visiting conductor, Charles Dutoit.

A few years it was hoped that his presence in Australia would tempt the elusive Martha Argerich to keep her contractual commitment to come and play here. Billed as “for the first time” it turned into “for the second time” because for the second time she was a no-show. Still, the disappointment wasn’t too bitter, because anyone who knew anything about her track record would have known that her appearance was not to be counted on. This year, no such risk was taken, and Dutoit was billed without any ancillary soloist.

You could tell it was a red-letter day for the orchestra, even if the choir stalls were less than half-full. (“It’s the economy,” said my neighbour. Is it? I shivered, though not without delicious anticipation of a wave of insolvency work bouying up my profession.) Julian Smiles of the Australia Ensemble was a guest principal cello, and he was joined by Catherine Hewgill and Nathan Waks.

The program was:

MOZART Symphony No.41 in C (Jupiter)
R STRAUSS An Alpine Symphony

It was an odd choice of repertoire, but I guess Dutoit doesn’t always want to be typecast as a musical francophone.

A few stylistic fingerprints in the Mozart (a performance seemingly untouched by the historical performance movement and, it seemed to me, still distinctively “francophone” in approach): feminine endings to phrases which shrugged themselves into pianissimo and then silence (true piano playing in general was a notable feature); a very relaxed Lander-like third movement; perkily articulated woodwind. He certainly kept the violins on a tight leash for those tricky passages in the last movement. The first movement was perhaps a little too stately for my own taste, but that is clearly part of Dutoit’s style and it was a coherent part of his vision of the whole.

I sit in the middle of a little pocket of South Africans (probably, by other indications, Jewish, as so many South Africans in Sydney are) who all know each other and catch up with each other at each concert. One said to another just behind me “I prefer the 40th.”

The Strauss depicts a day in the life of a mountain. I kid you not. It is played in 22 continuous sections lasting circa 47 minutes. It is fun though a lot of it is pretty low-grade music, even when it is high-grade orchestration. One section is arguably even deliberately bad and ugly music: entitled “Durch Dickicht und Gestrüpp auf Irrwegen (Wrong Path through the Thicket)” it reprises the confusion of the critics or the Beckmesser strains of (Wagner’s not Strauss’s, of course) Die Meistersinger as a foil to the succeeding splendour when, ascending the mountain, the musical narrative reaches the mighty glacier.

My neighbour and I had a giggle when I whispered to her just before it started: “Of course, I prefer Ein Heldenleben.”

As fresh wonders of musical pictorialism are trotted out, it is all a bit like going to a 3D movie, but Strauss still manages to pull the rabbit out of the hat for a typically Straussian finale – in that mellow, sacher-torte-ish (even though he was Bavarian) manner of In Abendrot or the end of either Die Rosenkavalier or (I only mention since recently heard) Arabella.

After, D, Ma and I went to dinner in Newtown. On the way home, I was random-breath tested. The thing I hate about this is the bit where they ask for your licence. I fear this because it is possible that sometimes I will have left home without it. What gives them the right to ask for my licence if they have no reason to suspect I have done anything wrong? It’s meant to be a random breath test, not a random licence check. That’s what happens once you start giving police powers like this.

Fortunately, I had remembered to bring my licence and found it readily, so there was just the unpleasant humiliation of being at the mercy of the state for even a moment. The breath test was nothing to fear, as I have been almost “on the wagon” since Chinese New Year, and had drunk nothing (something which the policeman seemed to find difficult to believe). But my diaphragm still trembled nervously as I counted from one to six (that was enough, it seemed).

I do not like police. Like military personnel, prison warders and censors, I know they are a necessary evil, but I don’t personally see why it is necessary for any decent person to become one – except perhaps to stop one of the sort of people who otherwise want to be police/prison warders/censors et al from being so.

Mind you, I guess there are people who think much the same about lawyers.

Trivia note

Half way through the Alpine I remembered that its scoring includes the elusive (apparently only 100-120 are in existence) Heckelphone. Shefali Prior was listed as playing the “bass oboe,” which is not quite the same, though it plays the same range. Unfortunately, I cannot lay claim to sufficient expertise to be able to distinguish these instruments at the distance I was sitting, and I remembered the fact too late to pay any particular attention to its timbre other than as the foundation of the oboe section. Despite my particular attention, its solo moment, if any, had already passed.

Miranda and mother church

May 29, 2008

Ninglun has commented on Miranda Devine’s latest outpouring on the Bill Henson saga. I haven’t joined in this before because it all seems so pathetic and because it is just another instalment in the contemporary moral panic whipped up ostensibly for the kiddies’ sake, which I have commented on before on numerous occasions.

I was intrigued, however, by the following passage in Miranda’s piece:

As a reader, Nikki, wrote to me last week: “What’s next? Will Sesame Street have ‘young adult’ action soon?”

A randy Cookie Monster sounds preposterous, but so to a previous generation would the idea of a court ruling that a 12-year-old girl was mature enough to embark on a sex change, against the wishes of her father, as was reported last week in the Family Court of Victoria.

Note the straw-man tactic. No-one is actually suggesting a young-adult segment, let alone “action” on “Sesame Street,” which isn’t to say that there can’t be older-age-group angles on its themes, such as the delightful Avenue Q.

But back to Miranda (weary sigh).

Miranda’s account of the 12-year-old starting sex-reassignment treatment is misleading by omission. It is easy to find the source of her story because there is no such thing as the “Family Court of Victoria,” so if you google the phrase you find the story, in various News Ltd publications, eg here. There you find out that [I have not reproduced the whole story]:

An endocrinologist, a psychiatrist, a family counsellor, a Victoria Government watchdog and a lawyer acting on the child’s behalf all supported the plan.

Only her father, who lives interstate, opposed the proposed sex change, though he did not attend the final court hearing and could not afford to send a lawyer on his behalf.

The court was told the father could not accept that his daughter had always seen herself as a boy and he considered her too young to make such a decision.

The mother expressed sadness and deep concern for her daughter, but said she would stand by the girl.

The child’s lawyer told the court she considered the girl capable of making an informed decision about the procedure.

The court was told early intervention was needed because the child was stressed and anxious at the prospect of starting her period and had threatened self-harm.

The court decision means hormones can now be implanted under the girl’s skin every three months, which will stop her menstruating and suppress her hips and breasts from growing.

The court heard the therapy is reversible and would give the family “breathing time”.

A further court application must be lodged in coming years for testosterone treatment to deepen her voice and promote growth of facial hair and muscles.

Surgery to remove her womb or ovaries, or build an artificial penis, must wait at least until she turns 18.

The key to this and likely source of the story, as well as Miranda’s look-what-they’re-up-to-now passing outrage, lies in the following snippet in that piece:

Medical ethicist Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filippini said yesterday the decision was astounding.

Nicholas Tonti-Filippini is, amongst other things, Institute Associate Dean (Teaching, Learning and Research) and Head of Bioethics at the “John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family.”

My new bike

May 25, 2008

My new bike is giving me considerable pleasure. It is lighter than the old one. The chain and gears run more smoothly. I luxuriate in the front-fork shock absorption when going downhill over bumpy urban roads and even speed humps. The hydraulic disc brakes are easier on my wrists.

From this, incidentally, you can deduce why D considers it to be such an extravagance. Even so, when we went for a ride together yesterday and he took a turn on it, he did acknowledge its superiority to the old bike.

I have also purchased a bright new set of LED lights. I particularly like the pattern emitted by the rear light, which has two light-emitting elements: a ring which flashes frequently and a bright inner core [tautology?] which pulses more intermittently. I need these lights because I commonly ride home after dark. Indeed, in winter, anyone with an office job would be hard-put not to do so.

Which is why I am particularly unimpressed by the manufacturer’s “warning” transfer affixed to the top tube [emphasis added]:


As an attempt to limit liability, the italicised portion strikes me as either ridiculous or ineffective.

Possibly the second-most boring film

May 24, 2008

I read the following from a review in the SMH of Flight Of The Red Balloon, the latest film by Hou Hsiao-hsien.

The clamour and frustration engendered by Suzanne’s attempts to inject some order into her life, as well as Simon’s, are all that Hou offers in the way of drama. He is more interested in mood than action, which means that you have to slow your pulse rate and adapt your expectations to the gentle, floating rhythms of his camera if you are to get anything out of the film.

Long-term readers of this blog may remember my account of the last film of his of the same ilk I saw (Correction: in fact it was I don’t want to sleep alone by Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang, often counted a disciple of  Hou Hsiao-hsien), in my post The most expensive convenience shop in the world: the most boring film.

The headline to the review is “Slow, light work through the skies.”

Don’t say you haven’t been warned…

Opera Australia Annual General Meeting

May 22, 2008

Today I attended the Opera Australia Annual General Meeting.

I went there with the express purpose of voting against Rowena Danziger’s re-election as a director, but I am afraid the whole thing was such a cup-of-tea-and-bikkies occasion that I piked on this and did not raise my sole hand to vote against her. It would have been futile, and she is still not a woman lightly crossed.

Mrs Danziger has been a director for 18 years, and quite apart from my opinion of her personally, I think that is more than enough for anyone to serve on this sort of board. On the other hand, she is good at rallying the funds from her big end of town mates. I suspect this is an aspect of her still-not-relinquished power at Ascham, and it is clearly part of the basis on which board members get co-opted at the Opera, and as an opera-goer, I suppose I have benefitted from this, even if the really big money still comes from the government and the board members are riding on the coat-tails of this. My, that board is a cosy club.

Perhaps I will be able to mount a more concerted campaign in 2 (or maybe it is 3) years’ time when Mrs Danziger is next up for election. 20 (or 21) years is surely more than enough.

Judging from the minutes of last year’s meeting (11 members present in person and chairman holding 14 proxies) or my observation of this year’s (a little more – I came in just when the numbers were being read out, but not more than 30 or 40 including proxies so far as I made out) this would not necessarily be difficult, though of course if the board got wind of any ambush you could expect a more healthy round-up of proxies.

So it is tempting to start asking anyone I know who is a subscriber to the opera to become a member of the company, and then to solicit their proxies. Maybe I should be canvassing amongst disgruntled former Ascham students. I am sure there are some.

Signs of the times

May 21, 2008

Today I joined a gym. That will be unlikely to anybody who knows me corporeally, and is in itself a sign of the times. Time will tell whether I have just wasted a lot of money.

The sign of the times I was thinking of, however, was this health-related question on one of the forms I had to fill in:

Do you smoke tobacco?

A counterpart to this is the sign which has been adopted by Cityrail for some time now but which still amuses me:

Smoking of any substance prohibited


Annual review

May 18, 2008

This blog has now turned one year old.  That’s a lot of time wasted

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

Total Views 18,542

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

Geoffrey Leonard continues to be my most popular (in a manner of speaking) subject, followed by a misleadingly-titled post about my cat.

The dashboard now confirms this:

Top Posts

Pedophile “monster” knee-jerk reaction, 1,220 views

Pussy porn, 813 views

Never fall in love with a prostitute, 712 views

Top Searches

geoffrey leonard,  Geoff Leonard,  kim walker plagiarism

Total views for months 11 and 12 are 4,145 compared to  2,967 for months 9 and 10 and 2,666 in months 7 and 8 and about 3,500 in months 5 and 6. However, my census point is a day or so late, so I am overstating the true result.  The monthly average over the year as a whole is about 1500.

Warlock, The Curlew, Australia Ensemble

May 17, 2008

On Saturday night with my former piano teacher P to see the Australia Ensemble.

The program was:

+ Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930): The Curlew for tenor voice, flute, cor anglais and string quartet (1922) – words by Yeats

+ Elliott CARTER (b 1908): Con leggerezza pensosa – Omaggio a Italo Calvino (With thoughtful levity – Homage to Italo Calvino) for clarinet, violin and cello (1991) – 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth

+ Elliott CARTER (b 1908): Canon for 4, Homage to William [Glock] for flute, bass clarinet, violin and cello (1984) – 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth

+ Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928): String Quartet No 1 (The Kreutzer Sonata) – after Tolstoy (1923)

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937): Piano Trio in A minor (1914)

The first half (marked +) was billed as “Homage to authors,” though William Glock was stretching it a bit for this category.

The bookends to that half, the Warlock and the Janáček, made a sombre pair. The Warlock (1922) inhabits a rather bleak pastoral world – it’s hard to describe – something which perhaps could be a GPO Films Unit documentary a few years later. Henry Choo – a singer I admire (seen last year as Almaviva, amongst other roles) – sang these well and with terrific composure – broken only by one high and loud note which came from nowhere near the end.

Warlock, incidentally, must be one of the most fictionalised ever composers in English literature. To quote Wikipedia (but a warning: you need to go there for any of these links to work):

An intriguing figure, Warlock has served to inspire several characters in English-language literature, among them: Coleman in Aldous Huxley‘s Antic Hay (1923), Roy Hartle in Osbert Sitwell‘s Those Were the Days (1938), Giles Revelstoke in Robertson DaviesA Mixture of Frailties (1958) and Maclintick in Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant (1960) by Anthony Powell. D. H. Lawrence‘s use of Warlock as the model for Julius Halliday in novel Women in Love (1920) led to a threat of a lawsuit, followed by an out of court settlement.

I was amused to read in the program notes that at a rehearsal prior to the premiere, Janáček urged the quartet to play faster in order to struggle against the subjugation of women. Janáček had an unhappy marriage. It’s not clear what if anything he did to struggle against the subjugation of his own wife: most of his struggle in this area seems to have been against the subjugation of other men’s women.

The audience was smaller than usual and I am not quite sure why. Of course, it may have been the suddenly cold weather. Perhaps this is the time of year when retired academics fly to Europe to preempt summer, now that they are not confined by the semester break. Perhaps people don’t like sombre. Quite possibly they took fright at two pieces by Elliott Carter, though the audience is usually quite receptive to modern works. All the same, I have to confess that my own reaction when those two pieces came to an end involved a reflexive sense of relief – I found myself thinking “Well, they weren’t so bad at all.”

For the Ravel piano trio in the second half we had a Steinway, as the Ensemble’s Stuart & Sons piano is away for reconditioning. This made for a possibly more beautiful sound at the beginning, but a blurrier wall of sound at the big finish, which was less favourable for the violin and cello to be heard through.

The Ravel trio is one of the earliest piano trios with which I became familiar. The first movement is my favourite, followed by the second and then the third. The final movement includes some rhythmic reminiscence of the first, but for me doesn’t quite live up to it. I could just as easily have heard the entire first movement again instead – especially since first time round about a sixth of it was accompanied by a noisy husband and wife sweet-unwrapping team towards the end of my row. I know they were trying to do it quietly, but that just made them take longer. If only they had just ripped into it, like tearing an adhesive bandage off hairy skin. Otherwise, why can people not muffle the unwrapping crackles underneath a jumper or scarf, or even in a pocket?

Enough grumbling about that.

The other big news is that on Saturday I finally committed to buying a new bicycle, which I expect to pick up on Sunday. The bike I chose (I first looked at it a few weeks ago) cost rather more than the amount which D considered proper for me to spend. In the car on the way home from the shop, D rehearsed an amazingly comprehensive catalogue of what he considered to be expensive and ill-considered purchases where I had ignored his advice or acted without it. I expect I shall be hearing some more of this for a while, and of course, the bike will now be added to the series.

The ushers at the Australia Ensemble concert are recruited from musically inclined students at UNSW. I recognized one as a salesman at Inner City Cycles in Glebe who a few weeks ago almost succeeded in selling me a perfectly acceptable (including acceptable to D on the price front) bike – except that by the time I had made up my mind and returned they no longer had my size. In the circumstances, I didn’t think it was necessary to remind him where we had met, or mention that I had now made my purchase elsewhere.

Marvellous 墨尔本 (Mò ěr běn)

May 12, 2008

Last Wednesday, D and I drove down to Melbourne.

We didn’t actually leave until 2pm, and consequently spent the night at Albury. We reached Melbourne on Thursday afternoon after detouring via Yackandandah, Beechworth (highlight: the Kelly gang’s armour on display at the court house) and Wangaratta.

The motive for the trip was twofold. My friend, P, has married a German man and will be leaving Melbourne in 3 weeks for Munich. This was a last chance to see her and, incidentally, to stay at her conveniently situated Collingwood cottage. Secondly (if you are counting) I wanted to get to see Arabella again, and to sample the ambience of Melbourne’s Arts Centre State Theatre.

This is only the fourth time I have ever driven down to Melbourne, and now I am reminded why. The drive is not for the faint-hearted. I’m not sure the length of our visit really justified it.

I am shy to touch on Australia’s perennial chestnut [are chestnuts perennial?] but it is difficult to avoid some kind of comparison between Sydney and Melbourne. On so many counts, Melbourne and Sydney must be each other’s closest sibling city, but this only throws into relief the scope for variation. Why, for instance, do Melbourne’s pubs so often favour externally the tinted windows and that drab dark brown, which to me can only bode very ill indeed? I could go on, but it’s mostly all been said before.

On Friday we visited Ph, a friend of D’s from Shanghai who has moved with his boyfriend B from Newtown (where B half-owned a house with his brother) to St Kilda, where B has bought a quite swish unit at a price still unimaginable in Sydney. After lunch, Ph and D went window shopping in town, and they later joined up in the evening when Ph gave D a guided tour of 5 of the (he says – can this be right?) 11 gay bars in Collingwood.

P and I went to Arabella. A Melbournian sitting to my left offered me the oft-repeated (more oft, I suspect, in Melbourne than in Sydney) remark that Sydney and Melbourne have Australia’s best opera house, but that the outside is in Sydney and the inside is in Melbourne.

The State Theatre has rather too much red velvet for my taste, and the foyers are cramped and fearsomely subterranean (the whole theatre from the circle downwards is essentially underground, and the toilets must definitely struggle to flush uphill to the sewerage line), but the moment the orchestra started playing, there was no doubting the superiority of its open pit to Sydney’s semi-enclosed one. In Sydney, the players have to send themselves deaf to project the still inadequate sound which emerges into the auditorium. In Melbourne the sound is unimpeded. String sound is warmer, brass barks have an impact; there is detail and there is aural space around the details. The bigger stage and seating capacity are also obvious advantages, but the pit is the telling point of comparison. Remediation of the Sydney pit, if it can be afforded (and that is a big big if, since it will also presumably reduce the capacity of the theatre) should be every Sydney opera-goer’s prayer and wish.

On my right was an enthusiast from Hobart, who had come this weekend, as he and a number of others do each year, to catch all three of the season’s operas (My Fair Lady does not count) on the one weekend. Left and right neighbour developed the usual theme of “if only the Australian Opera would live up to its name and serve all of Australia” etc etc. To me this is missing the point. If the support was there in Melbourne, Opera Victoria would surely still be in business. I don’t make the same complaint about the Australian Ballet.

I enjoyed Arabella even more, if possible, the second time around. Though in some ways an unbelievable silly romance of finding a Mr Right who also, fortuitously, is Mr Rich, it manages to play against its own grain as a confection of an art-form in its decadent phase to be at the same time strangely worldly and grown-up. I cannot help reading Zdenko/Zdenka, the girl brought up as a boy (on economic grounds) who is in love with one of her sister’s suitors, as a coded gay character. That’s probably my own preoccupation, which also comes out in my response to the other Strauss’s Prince Orlovsky.

In Melbourne there were four performances. After the show P and I had supper with L, a very old acquaintance from my musical adolescence who is now in Orchestra Victoria. She told me that they had 12 rehearsals for the orchestra alone, and that in Sydney there were 14 (for 5 performances). It makes you realise (yet again) why the art form is so expensive, and also wonder if they couldn’t have managed to mount more performances. L said (I paraphrase here) that Lionel Friend, who conducted the Melbourne run, told the orchestra at the first rehearsal that he didn’t expect that they would be able to play all of it. This may partly have been because of the tempi he adopted – which he himself (or so L said) also said would not necessarily be the “natural” tempi – apparently he shaved 15 minutes off Hickox’s timings in Sydney. I did notice a tendency to approximation in the strings in the very brisk Vorspiel to the last act, which is pretty much a parody of that to Act III of Der Rosenkavalier.

On Saturday afternoon I returned for good measure to see A Masked Ball. This was mostly the same cast as before, save that Julian Gavin took the role of Gustavus III which in Sydney had been sung by Dennis O’Neill. I know I had some sport at the expense of Dennis as the short fat old ugly one in my account of that performance, but I hope I made it clear that little of that matters to me when Mr O’Neill sings. Mr Gavin is far from being a negligible singer, but he sings with a kind of head tone and with a reluctance to break the line or interrupt it (particularly with palatal consonants) which to me resulted in a loss of vehemence.

I went to the Verdi with my former colleague, F, now a partner in a big law firm. F told me that she is required to generate annual billings of at least $2 million. This must include supervisory billings as well as her own personal time. I don’t know how quickly they show you the door if you don’t make the grade. It’s a tough (if lucrative) world out there.

On Thursday night P, D and I went to the Shanghai Dumpling Restaurant, tucked away in one of those little Melbourne lanes. This is apparently a Melbourne institution (since about 1993 at least). We were probably the oldest there. On the way, I was intrigued to pass a shop offering flights in a Jumbo (and other) jet flight simulator, starting at $175 for 30 minutes. If you could take passengers and they could share the thrill and spill, it might be worth it. Their market seems to be the cashed-up young overseas students who inhabit that part of town.

On Saturday night, P, D and I dropped in at Readings Bookshop before seeing Auf der anderen Seite, from which D and I had been turned away at the Sydney German Film festival. It was a bit too dark and also political for D; I’m still trying to work it out; but it did make both of us cry.

On Sunday we drove straight back in one stint with only coffee stops. It took us just under 10 hours and 68 litres of petrol.

SSO – Caetani – Schubert 3, Tchaikovsky Manfred

May 4, 2008

Late on Friday afternoon a colleague offered me 2 tickets to hear the SSO in the above program. There was a catch – they were his elderly father-in-law’s tickets, and they were at his home, but I knew that you can get replacement tickets in such circumstances at the venue, and so it proved. D came in to join me.

The seats were excellent. Just behind me was a fellow barrister, N, known to 宁论, and his (I took to be) boyfriend, R.

In fact D and I noticed rather more gay couples than I usually detect at SSO concerts. Maybe it is because I go on Saturdays, and the glitterati prefer to keep their Saturdays free for more sociable activities. I spotted a few others known to me.

More bizarrely, after the concert, a complete stranger introduced himself to me as J. He apparently remembered me from almost 30 years ago – if that is the link, it must have been from when I was a schoolboy debater!

It is also possible we met through C, one of a group of boys a year younger than me from Sydney Grammar whom I got to know when they started uni a year after me and with whose younger sister, K, I subsequently went out with for a while. I regret to say that at the end of that relationship I behaved very badly towards her. Even though there were some extenuating circumstances, I am sure it was very hurtful to her and even 15 years later when I ran into her (she now lives overseas) she cut me absolutely dead. I deserve that, though I am sorry for it. I have tried the odd apologetic overture through intermediaries but to no avail. Funnily enough, I still run into C and K’s younger brother, Ju, very occasionally, as we from time to time catch the same train. He is the only one of the three who still lives in Sydney.

To retrace my steps, J’s sister, E, went out for some years with C. So maybe the true link is that his sister’s onetime boyfriend was my onetime girlfriend’s brother. There is something quaint about that.

It also shows how long I have been living in the one town.

As to the music, my anticipation was sharpened earlier in the week by reading Yvonne Frindle’s Impressions on first hearing Tchaikovsky’s Manfred in concert. Manfred is Tchaikovsky’s wildest, Berliozian (and, not coincidentally, Byronic) symphony, though on this occasion it was performed without its post-Byronic angelic apotheosis. Instead, the last movement finished with a recap of the first movement finale.

Numerically speaking, Manfred is Tchaikovsky’s 4.5th symphony – falling between the fourth and fifth, but it is not as frequently performed as either of these or his sixth. It was last heard in Sydney in 1996. It seems to be having a sudden rush of popularity in Australia – it is due to be played by the WASO next month in Perth conducted by Verbitsky (who last conducted it in Sydney), in a program which is rather more generous than the SSO provided, combining it with Schumann’s Manfred overture and Pascal Roge playing a Mozart piano concerto.

As my headline above indicates, we heard it with Schubert’s youthful (or extra-youthful – they are all youthful) third symphony. The two pieces were chalk and cheese.

As we went out to interval D and I enjoyed singing to each other the perky phrase which was thrown around the orchestra in the Tarantella-like last movement of the Schubert. Some of the orchestral writing brought to mind that although the young Schubert grew up in the Vienna of Beethoven, he is also of the musical generation of Rossini. Perhaps this impression was reinforced by the prominent woodwind writing in this symphony, which was not in fact performed in Schubert’s lifetime.

Because YF has already written in such detail about the Manfred, I am embarrassed to add much more. One thing which did strike me was how the bass clarinet and the clarinet, when doubled with the bassoons to play Manfred’s theme, sounded very much like the orchestral use of the alto saxophone.

The other two who are really chalk and cheese are Oleg Caetani,the visiting chief conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and the SSO’s own chief conductor, Gianluigi Gelmetti. Just to start with stature and manner – Caetani is tall and thin, with an air of courtly modesty. His arms are extraordinarily long. My neighbour commented that his approach seemed to be very organised and polished. Those who know Gelmetti will think of a few points of contrast from those descriptors straight away.

Judging on this concert and his last appearance, when he conducted Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony, Caetani will definitely be welcomed back in Sydney by both orchestra and audience. Incidentally (though for understandable reasons he chooses not to draw attention to this) Caetani is in fact the son of Igor Markevitch, to whom he bears quite a resemblance.

In other news, on Tuesday, my elder sister rang me from London to tell me that she had just heard that her first really serious boyfriend (with whom she lived for a year or so straight after she left school during her Socialist Workers Party and initial Jazz period) died, aged 52, in Adelaide. We last saw him in August 2006 and he looked a little the worse for wear, and I had heard a further unhappy story about him in the intervening period. My first surmise was that he may have ended it all, though that is definitely a question of jumping to conclusions.

Note on “security”

There have been some changes in the security arrangements at the Opera House. The rope at the base of the staircase from the box-office level has gone, and it is replaced by mildly vigilant operatives who do not actually ask for tickets. Tickets still seem to be asked for at the external doors (presumably to deter sight-seers). On returning from interval I overheard an usher at the actual door to the auditorium justifying a request for a ticket on the basis that now there was no peripheral ticket check.

Is there a change afoot in these areas? Any relaxation of such things will be osmotic and barely perceptible. Conversely, stung by the “no War” graffiti 5 years ago, ramping up of security at the Opera House has been pretty relentless, culminating in the removal of external bins pre APEC and the prohibition on sliding down the slopy walls at the front, long enjoyed by opera-house-going children without, so far as I am aware, any particular mishap.

Whatever the trend is, it seems like it will be a while before I can smuggle friends in to the second half as was once my very occasional wont.


On Saturday I went to the concert again, as part of my normal subscription. Second time round the Tchaikovsky was less stupendously awesome (or, for that matter, awesomely stupendous, or on reflection, awesome, or stupendous), but with the benefit of an afternoon naplet, I was in better condition to enjoy it.

My rather bossy South African neighbour, in between dropping anecdotes of his travels to concert halls of Great World Orchestras (his phrase), took it upon himself to commend me for giving up smoking (it’s now just on 6 months, give or take the occasional gasper). In the past he had complained about my smoker’s stink – a complaint which he retrospectively renewed as part of his “commendation.” This makes it rather difficult should I relapse – which is why this is a subject people should steer clear of, a bit like bad-mouthing a friend’s girlfriend or boyfriend when they have difficult times, only to find that they end up getting back together. Here, because of his bossiness, I feel the burden to be reversed: in the event of a return to the evil weed I suppose I would have to change to another seat. Mind you, his friends who sit just behind me are such inveterate program-rustlers that I am sometimes tempted to do so anyway.