Archive for July, 2008

SIPCA 11 – Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia – a snippet

July 29, 2008

I have been listening to the Mozart concerti on the radio while settling an affidavit and enormous bundle of exhibited documents.

I can’t say I have been able to give them my full concentration, and unfortunately, I missed all of Ran Dank’s performance of K466.

I say unfortunately because, for what it is worth, Marion Arnold, one of the ABC announcers, let slip that one player has spoken to her (metaphorically, I mean) in this competition in a way in which no other player has spoken in the many previous Sydney International Piano Competitions for which she has been the announcer.

Marion tried to cover her tracks (as she said, it isn’t her place to express such opinions) but in the context I would say she was talking about Ran Dank, whose concerto performance Gerard had recapitulatively praised immediately before she embarked on this revelation.

Roderic Kefford and academic freedom

July 29, 2008

“Academic freedom,” presumably includes as a minimum the capacity of “academics” to express freely their views on matters within their academic competencies. Sometimes it’s said that university teachers have it; but it is clear that Roderic Kefford, the headmaster of Barker College, an Anglican school in Hornsby, sees a limited role for it.

I read today his letter in the SMH (the headline of course is theirs):

Writers unblocked at Barker

Barker College unequivocally dissociates itself from remarks attributed to Sue Marks (“Keyboard kids losing art of writing”, July 28). Barker College students are highly competent and confident in writing essays and the kind of extended answers required in examinations conducted by the Board of Studies in NSW.

From year 3 onwards, they have abundant opportunity to develop skills in planning and writing extended pieces of work. The school’s commitment to educational technology ensures that all students have highly developed skills in the appropriate use of that technology.

Dr Marks is not the senior English teacher at Barker, and her remarks do not reflect the school’s position.

Rod Kefford Headmaster, Barker College, Hornsby

Oh my God, I thought. Someone must have been hauled over the coals at the headmagisterial study. What must she have said?

The senior English teacher at Barker College, on the North Shore, Sue Marks, says she has had top students forced to do remedial courses to get their handwriting legible enough for HSC examiners to read.

….

Barker’s Dr Marks said: “The process of writing – whether it be by hand, or on a computer keyboard – is closely connected with the process of thinking. Research points to the fact that thoughts are generated, not merely recorded, through the process of writing. So my fear, in relation to the rise of abbreviated forms adopted by many when emailing, text messaging and instant messaging, is that the capacity for deep thinking, fostered through writing, will be eroded.”

Dr Marks said it was not that writing using these technologies was inherently detrimental to deep thought. “In my view, as society becomes more and more dependent upon technology, it will become increasingly important for clear and cohesive writing to be taught in schools.

“If this is not the case we run the risk of students’ writing – and thinking – reflecting their text-messaging practices and becoming little more than a series of truncated ideas. Many of today’s students are quite capable of sophisticated thought, but as grab-bites become the norm in modern communication technologies, it is vital that the skills involved in producing thoughtful, developed compositions, reflective of higher order thinking, are fostered in our schools.”

The article has its own agenda, but those are the only views attributed to Dr Marks in it.

I wonder why Dr Rod Kefford bothered.

Gilbert Grace

July 28, 2008

Saturday was Marrickville Open Studio Trail. D and I came across this entirely by accident as we headed out on an impromptu search for coffee and food after some walking about then sunny Dulwich Hill. We found ourselves in Constitution Road heading towards the well-situated and correspondingly well-priced [10% surcharge on weekends, and you can imagine what I feel about that] “Sideway” Cafe which presides over the remains of a long otherwise deserted commercial hublet in that side of Dulwich Hill.

As we passed Johnson Park, and even within sight of the cafe, we spotted the studio of Gilbert Grace, who is in fact responsible for the map (at present only a link) above, which gives a route to visit all 35 of the studios which were open in Marrickville on Saturday. We were hungry, so we ate first, then returned to the studio.

Maybe, as a mere renter and a person without children, I pay too little attention to my local area. Apart from that, MOST is surely a venture which might consider itself aimed at people like me, but any news of it had entirely failed to reach me. I don’t know if Gilbert’s studio received many visitors in the course of the day.

Well, the studio is his flat – a front room with a northerly aspect overlooking the opposite park. I warmed to quite a lot of Gilbert’s pictures, if only for the rather naive reason that I was familiar with so many of the urban-pastoral locales (that’s one of his at the head of this post; more at the link). It was also interesting to feel the concatenation of interesting objects and a kind of hand-made practicality which in my very limited experience is a feature of artist’s households.

Gilbert is a wiry fellow, and he must definitely be a fitter cyclist than I am. He has devised a bicycle route to retrace the steps of Brett Whiteley’s life, which basically entails taking the ferry to Huntley’s point and then riding a fairly hilly cross-section of the lower north shore foreshore back to the Harbour Bridge, and then ending up at the Whiteley studio in Surry Hills. I don’t think I’m up to that ride quite yet, but if so, I think I would prefer to take up Grace’s suggestion that it might be more interesting to take the ride in reverse, with a variant entailing return via the ferry from Woolwich. I’m sure that, if Grace waited for the ferry at the hotel, he would make sure to be there on a weekday and avoid the weekend crowd.

There was something a little odd about being in somebody’s home as a stranger. I felt obliged to constrain my curiosity, even though a point of the occasion must surely have been the performative aspect of an artist’s life and situation.

I always wonder about the economic situation of a free-lance artist. How can Gilbert manage it? Is he (as is the case with many artists) able to practise his art because his capital needs in life (and particularly housing and studio space) have already been taken care of? Rent is definitely one thing which drives most of us into wage slavery.

There was also the awkward tension between artist and the artist’s public – how is the artist going to get the public to pay for it all? This manifested itself in my fear that I was wasting his time by giving only interest and no custom.

D asked about the prices. If Gilbert makes his living from selling his art works, he makes that living from people who must be richer than I am. That of itself strikes me as an interesting fact, because whatever the exact incidents of his financial situation, Gilbert himself seems to live a life of artistic frugality – a kind of “slow-food,” low-consumption high contemplation life. He provides the following brief statement at the link above:

Art is language. Art is not a spiritual endeavor or vocation. I make a conscious effort to create tangible objects in a professional and workmanlike manner. I incorporate personal concerns for quality of life, the environment and economy of materials in the finished product.

How does such artistic frugality coexist with the necessary patronal extravagance?

Artists generally like to think of their art as a necessity, at least for themselves and often for others. Squaring this with an economic position as a producer and supplier of a luxury, mostly to the rich, must be constantly vexing.

This is the Whiteley ride (at least it should be the map itself, but it seems you need to click on the link):

You can click on a link there to see the vertical cross-section or profile of the ride.

Can spring be far behind?

July 27, 2008

A few weeks ago, on Wardell Road in Marrickville/Dulwich Hill.

This Sunday afternoon D and I went for a walk on the Burwood Heights side of Croydon.  I had seen this tree a few weeks ago in its prime; by today it was past its best.

The picture itself isn’t flattering.  Unfortunately, this angle is if anything less prepossessing.

It looks to me as though a bunch of speculative builders must have made a fortune building Croydon shopping centre presumably at around the time that the PO was built (1913), though the buildings’ appearance suggests a little later than that.  The garage (out of view to the left in the picture below) is probably newer.

Other visions of Croydon vernacular:

The box on the ground in the front rather spoils something that is really quite immaculate.  The variegated coloured tiles are repeated on the roof.

It is hard to overlook the statement in pink in this feature balcony above a feature window:

As you head south-west towards “Burwood Heights,” things get decidedly posh.  The Appian Way has possibly Sydney’s only London-style private park:

We walked as far as Burwood Road, and then looped back towards Croydon.  

This place oddly made me think of  Rockwell’s “American Gothic”:

This hitherto unknown to me vehicle caught my eye:

and again:

 

Apparently this is a Vanden Plas Princess, based on the Austin Princess, from circa 1963-1965.

And finally, from closer to our starting point in Croydon:

My Fair Lady

July 26, 2008

On Saturday night D and I went to see this, produced by Opera Australia.

When I saw that MFL was included in my Opera Australia subscription, my first instinct was to exchange my ticket: that’s not really what I subscribe to opera for. In the end, I yielded to inertia and the company’s obvious pride in the production and let the booking stand.

A moment of glory of my youth was to appear in a school production of this musical as Henry Higgins. I cringe to think of that now. I had already had a few cringeworthy moments watching from the Opera Theatre foyer when attending something at the Concert Hall, so the portents were mixed.

I should have trusted my first instincts more.

SSO, Trpceski, Strauss, Saint Saens, Sibelius

July 26, 2008

Tonight (Friday) I took a break from SIPCA and went instead to hear the SSO in the above, very attractive program, namely:

Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks
Piano Concerto No 2
Symphony No 2

D came too as my usual neighbours were unable to come. I took their tickets and after various unsuccessful attempts to interest others in my own ticket, ultimately exchanged it yesterday for a second ticket (for D) to hear Yefim Bronfman with the SSO on August 9. Bronfman was originally to play the Bartok Concerto No 2 but has now substituted Tchaikovsky 1, which will doubtless suit D better though less so me, as Bartok’s concerti are the one part of his piano oeuvre which I actually like. I wonder why the substitution: were the tickets proving slow to shift?

Michael at the box office (who also doubles as an usher at the opera house – talk about vertical integration!) told me that tickets for the two matinee performances of S,T,S,S&S were selling like hot cakes, and that there were only a few pockets of seats left for the Friday evening performance. My old seat did not sell – ridiculously, I felt strangely slighted.

Trpceski had attracted a sizeable Macedonian contingent. This is his second trip here. He had been billed as “the best thing to come out of Macedonia since Alexander the Great.” Possibly, given Macedonia’s long dormancy as a state, the only thing since A the G. I’d be intrigued to know if Trpceski had his own channels of publicity, or whether the SSO had indeed managed some ethnic marketing of their own. At the end of the Saint-Saens, he gave a contemporary rather jazz/Bartok treatmen of a Macedonian folk song, newly composed for the tour. There was definitely a different feel to the audience as the Macedonians injected a whole new range of people. There was some heroic coughing between movements in the second half but the feeling was sort of cosy and in a way (I think because they were such a partisan audience, for Trpceski, at least) warmer than usual.

In the second half, Sibelius 2. This is probably everybody’s first Sibelius. It’s one of those pieces where I can quite clearly remember the moment I first heard it, probably because it was at a concert rather than simply as a recording, when the BBC Symphony played it in Canberra, where I lived aetat 21-23. I remember it as more of a gentle thaw than Thomas Dausgaard, the conductor, seemed to conceive it. His approach was more in terms of cracking glaciers. It was strongly played.

More and more I become annoyed at lack of clarity in the Concert Hall’s acoustic. De Waart was right to start the push for some improvement here, because definitely that is a limiting factor both on what an audience can hear or even, I believe, what the orchestra can hear to enable them to improve. In this case, a lot of woodwind detail, in particular, had a hard time, in both the concerto and the symphony.

Till E was loud and jolly.

There were even some slogans hung from the organ gallery and displayed in the choir stalls. In the first half, these were clearly in honour of Trpceski and Macedonia. We were all taken by surprise when, at the end of the Sibelius, two Danish flags were raised in the choir stalls. This was in honour of the conductor, who is chief conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. Who would have thought the Danes would have gone in for something like that? (Admittedly, the flag raising was effected as demurely as possible.)

What with the piano competition and all, we have been running into Lx rather a lot of late. In a pleasant extension of the sociable basis of the evening, we walked together to the car (at a location indisclosable but fairly distant from the opera house) and then dropped Lx off a few hundred metres up the street from our own (that is, our rented) Dulwich Hill abode.

Lx has a thing that the SSO strings have a recurring fault of what he calls “scratchiness.” In the big sul G violin tunes this is not a problem, but it tends to emerge in sections of eneegitic but detailed fiddling. Lx says “They can get everything else so good, so why not this?” I hazarded the view that it could be because of the disparate backgrounds of the string players, that the lack of a uniform tradition is exposed as a scratchiness which is partly just a kind of lack of unanimity – after all, all fiddling is really scratching, or at least scraping. I sometimes think what we are picking up are the clashes from how individual players’ notes are speaking as a result of multiple but microscopic differences of attack, bow speed and weight through the note, rhythm (at the sub-articulation level); etc etc. Oh well, this is a theory. But it is also and has been a bee in Lx’s bonnet for at least 20 years, so he wasn’t ready to accept that explanation just yet or so easily.

The alternative explanation is less kind, and that is simply (though in fact just as realistically) that sometimes their concentration or technique or a combination of these fall between the cracks. My own theory is that this sort of thing really needs a bit of conductory support, so that depending on the conductor (and maybe whether they are scared enough of him, I am sorry to say) the violins can get through without scratchiness, if not quite to the extent that the edited recordings of the world’s best orchestras of the vinyl era, which have been Lx’s mainstay in his formative years, manage to do.

SIPCA 10 – Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia – a trainspotter’s notes

July 26, 2008

Finalists announced this evening. They are:

Ran Dank , Tomoki Kitamura, Tatiana Kolesova, Takashi Sato , Konstantin Shamray, Eric Zuber

which is nothing you couldn’t have found out from the ABC site yourself.

That means:
Mozart:
K466 – Dank, Kolesova, Zuber.
K595 – Sato, Shamray
K453 – Kitamura

Other:

Beethoven 4 – Kitamura
Beethoven 5 – Sato
Saint-Saens 2 Kolesova
Tchaikovsky – Zuber
Prokofiev 2 – Shamray
Prokofiev 3 – Dank

One might have hoped for a wider range of Mozarts (they also had K467, K503, K537 to choose from) but the range of 19th/20th century concerti is wider than has been the case in some recent years. Over all, the concerti seem sensible choices for all of them (subject to confirmation on the night for Zuber/Tchaikovsky – I’ve no reason to assume he isn’t up to it, but either it must be very good or it will be very bad). In particular, the disposition of Beethovens between the Japanese [boys/men] is just right.

Additionally, as a result of this week’s and the weekend after next’s scheduled concerts, the SSO will give 2 versions of Saint Saens No 2 within a week of each other, and 2 versions of Tchaikovsky No 1.

From memory, in his pick for the final 6 Gerard had Pham and Vacatello instead of Sato and Kitamura.

At this stage, I’m not sure if I’ll go to any of the Mozarts. D and I are both going to the 19/20th Century finals next Friday night and Saturday afternoon.

Update

Playing order (together with typos) from ABC site as follows:

Tuesday 29 July 20:00 – 22:00 Sydney Symphony conducted by Nicholas Milton.

Ran Dank : Mozart – Piano Concerto KV 466 in d minor
Tomoki Kitamura : Mozart – Piano Concerto KV 453 in G Major
Tatiana Kolesova : Mozart – Piano Concerto KV 466 in d minor

Wednesday 30 July 20:00 – 22:00 Sydney Symphony conducted by Nicholas Milton.

Takashi Sato : Mozart – Piano Concerto KV 595 in B Flat Major
Eric Zuber : Mozart – Piano Concerto KV 466 in d minor
Konstantin Shamray : Mozart – Piano Concerto KV 595 in B Flat Major

Friday 1 August 20:00 – 22:00 Sydney Symphony conducted by Kirill Karabits.

Tatiana Kolesova : Saint-Sea – PianoC oncertoN o 2 in g minor Op 22
Tomoki Kitamura : Beethoven – Piano Concerto No 4 Op 58 in G Major
Ran Dank : Prokofiev – Piano Concerto No 3 Op 26 in C Major

Saturday 2 August 14:30 -17:00 Sydney Symphony conducted by Kirill Karabits.

Konstantin Shamray : Prokofiev – Piano Concerto No 2 Op 16 in g minor
Takashi Sato : Beethoven – Piano Concerto No 5 Op 73 in E Flat Major “Emporer”
Eric Zuber : Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No 1 Op 23 in b flat minor

When Warren Thomson announced the finalists, he spoke of the possibility of re-arranging the order to avoid repetition of the same work on the same night. If the original playing order had been adopted, all performances of K466 would have been on the second night. Another solution could also have broken up the repetition of K595, and one wonders just a little why that was not adopted.

SIPCA 9 – Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia – Auld Lang Syne

July 25, 2008

On Thursday night, I went to session 4 of Stage IV – that is, the semi-finals.

The program was:

Konstantin Shamray (Recital)
Hoang Pham (Chamber Music)
Tatiana Kolesova (Recital)
Tomoki Kitamura (Chamber Music)

This was good because it included 3 players whom I had not heard in the flesh, and one favourite (Kitamura) whom I wanted to see again.

The potential downside was that there were two Hammerklavier sonatas.

Which of the two anybody liked tended to depend on how you like your Hammerklavier. Both players were Russian, and the differences seemed really to boil down to gendered readings. Shamray (Steinway) gave the piano the classic thrashing. This was exciting in the big boilings up in the first movement, but for me less effective in the long slow movement, and a bit too much in the last movement, where he made a habit of landing on fugal trills with a kind of initial crushed note which must have been deliberate but just sounded messy. Shamray also played some Scriabin which amongst other things allowed him to deploy his large hands (protruding beyond his coat sleeves with no sign of a cuff) to advantage.

Kolesova (who also played the Steinway, by now a bit the worse for wear in its top register) took a feminine route – her dynamics had a lower ceiling which coincided with a politer range of pianistic tone. I thought her slow movement had more shape. She did, however, seem to have a tiny memory lapse at one point.

Juror Michael Brimer is probably the one to ask about this, since a few years in a critical cause celebre the Herald’s reviewer, Harriet Cunningham, accused him of memory lapses in this sonata, and he responded (backed up by Daniel Herscovitch and the recording of the concert) that this was just the way the sonata goes. (The only web-based link I can find for this, strangely, is in what appears to be Icelandic Swedish.)

As so often happens in contrasting approaches like this, I found myself wanting the best of both approaches, even though that may simply not be possible. Overall I enjoyed Kolesova’s more, though I would have preferred a bit less pedal. Nevertheless, having literally played up a storm (you could hear the rain beginning outside as it thrummed on the Seymour Centre roof – one of a number of technical deficiencies of the York Theatre) she seemed to get the warmer audience reception.

Kolesova preceded the Beethoven with an attractive arrangement of Gluck but which, with the shadow of an impending Hammerklavier hanging over it, was difficult to take too seriously.

Hoang Pham (Yamaha) played the Mendelssohn Trio with Dimity Hall and Julian Smiles. This was polished playing by all, though I still felt that Pham could have engaged a bit more with his fellow players. Most of the time the piano is playing so many notes that the other players simply have to go along with it. In that case, all the more important in the easy bits to establish rapport.

Kitamura played the Schubert B flat major trio with Helen Ayres and Timothy Nankervis. They are a more dramatic pair of players than Hall and Smiles and this does raise the question of whether there were advantages in playing with one pair of string players over another. Someone suggested to me at interval that they [gender neutral plural for anonymity] didn’t think Dimity and Julian had given one of the other competitors a fair go: they must have meant Miyeon Lee, who played the Brahms in the first half of the afternoon session.

I don’t know what was their [sic] basis was for saying that. I would be most surprised if that were the result of any conscious decision by Hall and Smiles. They have a slightly cooler, objective, way of playing than Ayres and Nankervis – and I think their long musical partnership might be a bit harder for the pianist to really break into in the competition circumstances. I’m now venturing into dangerously speculative territory, but if anything it feels as though Smiles and Hall are being almost self-consciously fair in their approach to the pianist: they will match his approach as possible, but also try their best to make it look as good as they can – the traditional accompanist’s approach. Ayres & Nankervis play more riskily, not always without mishap, but in a way which maybe leaves more openings for the pianist and for a collaboration to occur between all three.

All of this is based on precisely two hearings of each string pair (though many more of Hall and Smiles on other occasions), so it’s got to be dodgy and especially for one particularly obvious point: it could really be the pianists who were the decisive factor in each case.

Kitamura’s choice of the Schubert is technically, I would say, one of the easier choices, but everybody has that choice in this round, and what’s important is or should be what you can do with the music. I came already well-disposed to Kitamura, and I wasn’t disappointed. At the risk of sounding offensive, I can only say that when he is playing he narrows his eyes to slits – in repose when he was bowing at the end his eyes were not so. The look is definitely part of the charisma. It’s all part of his intensity of concentration – it doesn’t seem “bunged on” for effect. He can really play Schubert. I didn’t think he was quite as good as Dank at the chamber-music thing, but you could see and also hear the collaboration. Some of the result was quite electric – at least up to the last movement, where he seemed to get more back inside his own head space and for me the heavenly length began to make itself felt just a little. It was late in a long program, after all.

Since I first arrived late to one of the morning sessions in Stage One, I have regularly encountered a fellow-member of the audience at the downstairs coffee-cartish refreshment bar. He is always the first there to order a coffee. On the first time and also the next day, I was there having arrived too late for the first half, and had just ordered my coffee before the first interval exiter arrived. After that, because I too do not like to queue for interval refreshment, we met almost every interval. Last night we met also walking up behind the Seymour Centre, and he graciously allowed me to beat him for the first time ever as we strode purposefully down the steps at the head of the interval rush (there was open space behind us, let me tell you). As we were drinking or waiting for our coffee we were joined by some other acquaintances of mine (P, who had not been able to come since Stage II, Lx, who came yesterday, and R) which finally gave the occasion for some kind of introductions, including to each other.

RR, from Hobart, has been attending his second competition this year, having also come in 2004. He’s been to most sessions, but also fitted in some golf, and on Wednesday (when I noted his absence from the cafe bar) he and his wife went instead to Otello. They fly on Saturday to Hawaii for their daughter’s wedding. Last night was my last semi-final round. We said goodbye for this year. Provided we are spared, we may see each other again in four years’ time.

SIPCA 8 – Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia

July 24, 2008

On Wednesday night with D to the Seymour Centre for session 2 of the semifinals.

The program was as follows:

Mariangela Vacatello (Recital)
Daniil Tsvetkov (Chamber Music)
Takashi Sato (Recital)
Ran Dank (Chamber Music)

Mariangela Vacatello played Beethoven and Chopin and then Ravel Gaspard de la nuit.  That’s quite a program.  She is very competent and secure.  I especially got into Le Gibet, which is surely one of the longest pedal points in the history of western art music.

The other soloist was Takashi Sato, who played Beethoven and Chopin. 

For the second part of each half, we had the chamber music.  First Tsvetkov with Dimity Hall and Julian Smiles playing the Shostakovich Trio.  This is a great piece.  It must have been a bit odd for Ian Munro, one of the judges, to be sitting up the back and hearing someone else play with those two string players with whom he so frequently plays himself in the Australia Ensemble.

In the second half, Dank played the Brahms Trio Op 8 with Helen Ayres and Timothy Nankervis.  Lx, my former high-school drama teacher was there and had also been there for the afternoon session.  He said that Konstantin Shamray’s version had been boring and he was not relishing a repeat.  Indeed, some audience members near me left before Dank’s turn with a similar justification – that they had “already sat through it once today.”

D said he liked the Brahms more than the Shostakovich because it was more dramatic. This might seem odd because there is a lot which is dramatic in the Shostakovich.  The “x” factor was that Dank got a much higher level of interaction going on with the string players than Tsvektkov managed.  

When you learn chamber music you are always told to look at your fellow players.  You might wonder how necessary that is, especially for the pianist, who can listen and watch the score, but in my experience it really does make a difference – probably because when you just listen you may think you have a rapport, but (all other things being equal) you will actually get a better rapport if you are also looking.   Ran was always making eye contact with the others and they with him and the result was certainly a team effort from them all.  Tsvetkov only rarely did so, and all the dramatic impetus of the performance seemed to come from Smiles and Hall, with Tsvetkov more of a co-operative bystander than a co-participant.

So for me Dank et al’s Brahms was the stand-out of the evening.  Lx said it was much better than Shamray’s effort earlier that day and in his opinion the best chamber music of the day, despite moments where he thought Dank too loud.

SIPCA 7 – Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia – Semi finalists

July 22, 2008

Are:

Hoang Pham
Tomoki Kitamura
Mariangela Vacatello

Takashi Sato
Miyeon Lee
Yoonsoo Rhee

Konstantin Shamray
Tatiana Kolesova
Daniil Tsvetkov

Ran Dank
Charlie Albright
Eric Zuber

Amongst other things, that makes Pham the winner of the prize for the best Australian competitor. And in terms of my previous post, so far at least it has proved possible to have both chalk and cheese.

Full schedule is now here.