SSO – Caetani – Schubert 3, Tchaikovsky Manfred

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.

3 Responses to “SSO – Caetani – Schubert 3, Tchaikovsky Manfred

  1. Victor Says:

    Are you an Old Sydneian? I am (vintage 1965). Some from our group are meeting at the school this Friday for something called a ‘tuck shop lunch’ followed by a tour of the school escorted by the Burser who is also an OSU1965 ‘boy’.

    Victor, no I am not, though I sometimes wish I were. I just fell in with a bunch (rather younger than 65) of them at one stage.

  2. Rachel Says:

    I think you should relapse almost on principle. How rude of your neighbour to even comment on such a personal matter! Those SSO subscribers are a mean and trivial bunch sometimes.

    Rachel, I can be as mean and trivial as the best of them at times. Unfortunately, any relapse will not require any principles to sustain it.

  3. Club Troppo » Missing Link Daily Says:

    […] Marcellous goes to another SSO concert. […]

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