What I did in the holidays

At the piano

Reviving from estivation, I have struggled to find a topic momentous enough to justify a re-entry to the blogosphere. With the journal habit broken, I’m confronted by the unimportance of anything I have to say. In addition, the staples of such reportage I have to offer have themselves been in recess.

I have been to only three musical events over the summer break.

One was All Tomorrow’s Parties – the Nick Cave curated festival held over two days in January on Cockatoo Island as part of the Festival of Sydney. D and I went on the second of those days on the strength of a personal connection. Festooned with an “Artist” laminate which gave me access to some backstage areas (and refreshments), I was spared some of the rigours of the event: never have I seen so many nocturnal people out in the open huddling in so little shade.

It wasn’t really the kind of music on which I feel qualified to offer much of an opinion. The review in the Herald seemed transfixed by the event’s boutique nature and atypically well-behaved and middle-aged crowd. I guess the $150+ ticket price played a part in this. D received a big smile from Justice Liz Fullerton (in a sensibly big hat), though he wasn’t sure what provoked this beyond the prevailing agreeable mood. Apparently on the first day Malcolm Turnbull was spotted bopping up the front, though I suspect the Sydney Festival free list rather than the trifling ticket price played a part in that. “That’s it!” one musician was heard to exclaim, “I’m giving up playing.” That seems an over-reaction.

D and I also went to the first night of Cav & Pag and, with K and J, to the second night of The Magic Flute. Neither of these was really earth-shattering.

I’m inclined to agree with Sarah that Jonathan Summers was the real star of Cav & Pag, and particularly in his bravura delivery of the prologue to Pag.

The Magic Flute was K and J’s first night ever at the opera, and so their reaction is probably more important than my own slightly jaded one. Emma Matthews as Pamina and Catherine Carby (2nd Lady: luxury casting in OA terms) were (disappointingly, to me) indisposed, but this didn’t matter for K and J. A good time was had by all.

I share Peter McCallum’s view in the SMH (not online) that Ollivier-Philippe Cunéo, the conductor, was tipped into something a bit beyond his present capacities in being entrusted with the whole run of this work. Mozart is never easy. Even allowing for the possibility that McCallum’s review put me onto the case, there seemed to be rather a lot of “unforced errors” – mostly to do with cadential relaxations of tempo (or not) and negotiation of transitions between tempi. These cried out (to me anyway) “conductor needs more experience.” The general orchestral sound was also rather underwhelming – I wondered if they’d decided to skimp on the string numbers.

That’s it on the musical front. Otherwise, up to last weekend, I have been immersed in the responsibilities of keeping the machine for living going whilst my sisters and nephew have been staying with me, off and on, since before Christmas. I’m still recovering from that.

Both of my sisters left Sydney in their twenties. The result when they return is a bit like drilling down for a core sample, as they revive contact with the friends they have left behind – including family friends from our childhood who remain in Sydney but whom I never see except when my sisters are here. In addition, there has been the annual stocktaking of a kind which Christmas brings. All of this brings me back into contact with the world of families – children, parents, grandparents, from which my own day-to-day life is largely insulated.

If there were really any doubt about it, this all brought middle age home to me. Friends and contemporaries now have children ranging from infancy to university age; at the other end, parents are becoming infirm (well, a few have died) or, even if not yet infirm, talk of Exit International.

This last parenthesis will presumably lead to this post being banned once the great firewall of Australia goes up.

Finally, as per the above picture, I’ve started playing the piano again. Perhaps that’s another reason my blogging has faltered.

So far I am specialising in pieces which are either simple or slow. As the above picture shows, my current fare includes, for the benefit of the curious: (left) the Liszt-Schubert Ständchen as well as (at this stage more a technical exercise than anything musical) Abschied; (centre) a Hungarian anthology of “Early Dances” (from a series called “Piano Step by Step”) – I particularly like the breezy Handel Courante; and (right) Chopin Nocturnes, starting with the first two, which are probably also the easiest and simplest.

Now I have to get the piano tuned.

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